I again owe my beta Liz a huge thank you for her efforts on this. She held my hand when I got bored with it and kept me writing with clever suggestions on how to move the story forward. I would also like to thank Carol for providing a forum for all of our efforts.
This story is the second part of a trilogy that began with Our Service Binds Us. This story starts very shortly after the conclusion of the previous story. I suggest reading them in order. The last story in the trilogy is (or will be when I finish it) Leave to Strive.
TO MEET THE HOUR
Be well assured, though in our power
Is nothing left to give
But chance and place to meet the hour,
And leave to strive to live.
Till these dissolve our Order holds,
Our Service binds us here.
Then welcome Fate's discourtesy
Whereby it is made clear
How in all time of our distress,
As in our triumph too,
The game is more than the player of the game
And the ship is more than the crew!
A Song in Storm by Rudyard Kipling
"Morning, Skipper." Jamieson rested his hand lightly on Lee's shoulder.
"How can you tell when I'm awake or do you just not care?" Lee pushed the light blanket angrily down toward his waist and tried very carefully to stretch without tearing anything loose.
"Frank said you had a bad night so I figured you were probably awake."
"Frank has a big mouth. Damn it, Jamie. Let me out of this place; I'm going crazy in here."
Jamieson pushed the bed control and brought the head of the bed up until Lee was sitting nearly upright. "If you can make it to the head on your own I'll let you go, but John walks with you. I haven't gone to all this trouble to have you die on the floor in Medbay."
Lee smiled at him broadly. "This I can do."
"Yeah, I know you can, don't think I don't have my sources. Chip will be by at lunch to take you home. Stay home two days, if you check out okay you can go to work half days, you good with that?" Jamieson knew there was no point in his making any pronouncements if he couldn't get Lee to agree to them up front. He'd made too many good recommendations over the past year to see them completely ignored. Now he tried to negotiate with Lee where he could and reach some sort of consensus on his return to duty. Didn't always work but at least there was less yelling.
"How long until I can drive?" Lee feeling his way into this particular agreement with caution, not wanting to commit to something he couldn't get out of later.
"Your car with that arm, two weeks before you can shift, probably three weeks until it's really safe. Your reaction time with the arm is going to be slow, Lee, there's a lot of muscle damage it's …"
"Yeah, yeah it's going to take time, I could dance to that tune." Lee scowled. He was tired of being sore and he was tired of not being able to do what he wanted. But he decided most of all he was tired of living and sleeping in a fish bowl. "I'll take going home now; half days starting in a day or so, see how I feel. I'll come by here first thing the day I start back to work."
Jamieson laughed. He knew how desperate Lee was to get out of Medbay and this time he couldn’t blame him. He'd been nine days in Sickbay coming home from Pakistan and three days in Medbay before he was finally released home. Unfortunately the healing wound on his arm had become infected and Jamieson had needed to operate again. Now here it was another four days in Medbay and Jamieson was surprised Lee was still as civil as he was. He suspected that all that had saved any of them was that Lee and Chip had been busy with some project. The two had been in Sickbay and Medbay and at Lee's place all hours with books and papers and laptops. At first he'd tried to discourage them from doing so much, but finally decided that if Lee could stay awake and it kept him in bed, he would just enjoy the peace and quiet.
Yesterday, they had apparently finished whatever they'd been working on and that was the end of Lee's patience. He'd returned to his usual desperate to get out of Sickbay self. The infection was finally responding to the antibiotics and with Lee's temperature once again normal Jamieson was glad to cut him loose and let Chip and Nelson worry about keeping him quiet enough to finish healing.
"Mind you, Frank is going to come over evenings and change that bandage. You aren't going to just walk away no strings."
Lee gave him another smaller smile, "The walking away is the important part, Jamie. And thanks for that bit."
"Give yourself some credit too, Lee." That first week in Sickbay on the Seaview had been tough for all of them with Lee badly injured and in a lot of pain. Since then it had been primarily a test of both men’s patience as Lee's wounds went from life threatening and excruciating to annoying and painful.
"What about the bad nights? Can I help with that?"
Jamieson thought that perhaps they were done with that conversation. Lee surprised him by looking up through half closed eyes and saying. "This isn't new ground. It just takes a little while to put all the demons back."
Jamieson looked at Lee a moment, the other man returned his gaze frankly. He was right, this wasn't the first time Lee had been injured in such a way that he ended up with nightmares or worse. Jamieson had never seen him not deal with his monsters, usually fairly expeditiously. All things considered, given the life Lee lived, he was remarkably well balanced. Or, he thought, he was stark raving mad and hid it well. But he guessed as long as everyone thought he was sane he must be sane, or at least sane enough for NIMR and ONI.
"You want any sleeping pills?"
Lee laughed that genuine humorous laugh that Jamieson heard from him too seldom in Medbay. "What do you think?"
"Okay. John will be here in a little while. One more blood work up and a bandage change and Chip should be here to play taxi."
Lee awkwardly balanced the cardboard tray with the two Starbucks cups as he carefully set it down on the table in the small NIMR conference room before pulling the chair out with his now freed hand and sitting down next to Chip. It wasn't so much that he only had one hand but with his right arm strapped across his body he was so unbalanced he had a hard time walking a straight line let alone doing anything else. He found himself constantly annoyed with either his arm or his balance and knew that in both cases it was a reaction to his being tired and sore and still stressed from the last mission. He seemed to spend the whole day reminding himself to calm down and count to ten.
Chip grabbed his cup and inhaled a chunk of its contents as if he hadn't already had three cups of coffee in the last two hours. Somehow the strong Starbucks coffee tasted different enough from the NIMR coffee to be like drinking something else with the same caffeine punch as coffee.
"So?" Chip asked.
Lee reached inside his sling and pulled out a letter and dropped it on the table in front of Chip." Came this morning. Read it." Chip opened the letter although he thought Lee's face probably said the whole story.
"Grats, bro, or should I call you Master." Chip gave Lee a gentle shove with his shoulder looking carefully first to make sure Lee wasn't going to hit something with his bad arm before he shoved him. "And not just any Master either, summa cum Master, eh. Very nice."
Lee smiled back at him. Truth was he felt pretty chuffed with himself. He'd been sure his thesis was good enough for the degree; the honors part was a nice touch. "The best part is the last paragraph." He pointed out, lest Chip miss the icing.
Chip looked at the letter again. "We are pleased to offer you a place in the Marine Geology Doctorate Program to continue your research into the interaction between the chemical and mineral discharges of black smokers under deep sea pressure in the formation of new geological materials."
"Damn, Lee. Damn, that's really good." Chip had a huge smile on his face that matched the one Lee now had.
"Couldn't have done it without you buddy. I needed to do that last practicum and if you hadn't driven around, dug up my rocks… Well, no thesis no degree."
"No problem. Actually, worked out not too bad, you had the three weeks you needed to finish the thesis. You'd have been another semester if…" at that Chip stopped dead. "Jesus, I'm sorry Lee. Of all the stupid things to say."
Lee smiled at his friend. "True, but perhaps not quite…"
"Yeah, glad you got tortured and almost killed so you had time to finish your master's. I'm sorry that was really stupid."
"Come on, let’s go celebrate. Beer and pizza?" he offered, not wanting Chip to start down the why he was in Medbay road.
"You sure you aren't just after a ride?" Chip cocked one eyebrow at Lee as he stood up from the table.
"Oh, like you’re the only ride in the building. Let me think now, how could I get a ride…" Lee looked up at the ceiling for inspiration.
"Stop. Don’t even go there. Let me get my stuff and meet you out front in half an hour. You told the Admiral yet?"
"No. I never told him I was working on the degree. Now that I'm done, seems kind of…. funny." Chip looked at Lee for a moment.
"What's going on?" He easily read that Lee's primary concern wasn't that he hadn't told Nelson he was working for the master's degree. He knew Lee had been looking forward to telling the Admiral once the degree was fait accompli, now suddenly Lee seemed much less excited about the whole project.
"Stark was in there with him all afternoon."
"Ooooh," Chip thought about that. "And you're still free for dinner. So Stark isn't here to wine and dine you?"
Lee laughed. "Yeah, pretty shocking, huh? I figure he's maybe here to visit the Admiral and try to get me fired again."
"Nah," Chip smiled wickedly, "I bet he's just up there trying to get permission from the Admiral to invite you out for drinks and dancing."
"Damn, guess I better not make any plans for tonight then." Lee got to his feet, smiling at Chip, his good humor mostly restored.
"You going to take them up on the doctorate?" Chip reread Lee's letter as he walked beside him.
"I don’t know. I rather think not. I don't think I want to spend that much time on it. I'll talk to the Admiral about it after I've had more time to think."
Chip smiled at him again. "Grats though, Lee. Nice job."
"Jiggs?" Nelson prompted his friend. After two hours of reminiscing and gossiping about not much he figured his friend must be ready to tell him why he had flown to Santa Barbara to see him.
"Harry, you remember Adam Dressler?"
"Sure, he had the Tennessee."
"Yes, well, he just completed his shore rotation and used the time to finish his second PhD, this one in Marine Biology. You maybe didn't know he already had a PhD in Naval Engineering. He's put his research together to come up with a new deep submersible vehicle using a new metal compound for the hull construction. The new vehicle is lighter than any diving we’ve had before. Because of the decreased weight we've developed a new fast winch system. The whole thing is operated from a control ship via computer. It can take passengers but is designed to be operated remotely."
"Yes, I've read about it and got the tour from Dressler the last time we stopped in Pearl. It's very promising. The fast winch and remote operation will really increase collection capability, since we won't need to decompress passengers and can control all the collecting from the control vessel. It's very nice work."
"We're ready to test it and want a nice big boat for the purpose."
"Jiggs, you've got a navy full of ships sailing out of Pearl. Why us?"
"You're right, Harry. I want to use Seaview because I want you to sail with Dressler and take a look at him as a replacement for Crane."
Nelson sat still, studying Jiggs Stark. It wasn't like they hadn't had this discussion about a hundred times in the past year. For the month Nelson had tried to get Crane permanently assigned to the Seaview Jiggs had fought him tooth and nail with one roadblock and alternative candidate after another. Since the appointment had become permanent Jiggs had already offered a dozen alternative captains and at least twenty reasons why Nelson should fire Lee.
So what surprised Nelson was not Jiggs' proposal but his straight in approach. Normally Jiggs snuck up on these suggestions, threw the candidates in Nelson's path or dropped criticism of Lee into conversations. He didn't just come right out and ask Nelson to fire him. He wondered was this a new strategy or had something changed?
"I'm not interested in replacing Lee." Nelson decided he didn't care if this was a new strategy or what. He was tired of having this discussion every month and every time he saw Jiggs.
"I know you aren't. God only knows I know you aren't. But I'm afraid that may be out of your hands very shortly."
"What do you mean?"
"ONI wants him back full-time. Things are heating up in Pakistan as our final draw down in Afghanistan is nearing. They've made me a proposal for Crane you need to hear and I think once you've heard it you're going to want to inform Crane of it. Before you made a decision I wanted you to have a chance to get to know Dressler, see him in action and realize he's not only a viable alternative to Crane but actually an improvement."
"What does ONI want now? Christ, Lee's just out of Medbay from the last time they needed him." Nelson made no effort to keep the disgust out of his voice or off his face. He'd just about had it with Johnson and ONI. The last mission had nearly gotten Lee killed. Had ended up with Lee being tortured and shot. Three and a half weeks later Lee was just now coming back on half duty and would be a while more getting back to a hundred percent. Nelson was heartily sick of ONI and their constant 'need' of his captain.
"They want Lee undercover in Pakistan full-time for a year. After that they want him to head up their Middle East Information Intelligence Section for two years. At the end of the two years we make him a full captain and he gets a three-year tour on a boomer. His shore tour after the boomer would be at the Pentagon and include his Naval War College courses. I believe I can guarantee he would come out of that tour with flag rank." Stark had a smirk on his face. He knew Harry wouldn't give up Crane for Stark's sake or for Nelson's sake but he'd give Crane up to Crane's betterment.
"So you're looking to sea daddy Lee? I thought you didn't like him?"
"I don't dislike him…" Stark temporized, "I just don't—not wanting to be best friends with him like you, doesn't mean I don't know he's a good officer." Nelson could see Stark was getting angry now. It wasn't really very hard to get Stark angry when discussing Lee. Stark usually came to any discussion of Lee already angry about something. Nelson thought about Stark's sudden interest in promoting Lee's career.
"This is because of Struthers? I begin to see," and seeing, Nelson smiled. Stark had been sea daddy to Mark Struthers for most of Struthers' career until last year when, having been newly appointed Rear Admiral Struthers had made the mistake of sleeping with his twenty-eight year old female aide. The whole thing had been hushed up in the best tradition of the Navy but it had also been the end of Struthers and of Stark's aspirations of advancement for Struthers. The Navy might be willing to ignore such behavior to avoid a scandal but the powers that be were much too wise to advance a flag officer with so little discretion. Struthers had retired six months after the affair had been discovered. And here was Jiggs looking for a new protégé.
"Harry, don't deny that Crane's career is worth advancing," Jiggs looked at him belligerently, daring him to disagree. "There are only four commanders on active duty with the Navy Cross and he's the only one in submarines. Styles is pushing for the Congressional Medal of Honor for the mess that Crane just cleaned up in Pakistan. If Crane gets the MOH he'll be the most decorated officer in the navy."
Having determined Jiggs' motivation Nelson now took a moment to think through what he'd said. Lee made a captain in three years, and an admiral by his early forties. It was all well within the ability of both Jiggs and Lee, he rubbed the back of his neck angrily.
"You know yourself ONI has had him in the field for two out of the past twelve months and how much time has he spent sick-listed or limited duty as a result? They need him and he can't say no, that won't change. You want a captain for Seaview or a part time spy?" Jiggs had that smirk on his face he always ended up with eventually when he started talking about Lee. Nelson sighed; this was more complicated than Jiggs just saying Lee was too young or too inexperienced for the Seaview. This was Jiggs offering to fulfill what was no doubt Lee fondest ambition, command and flag rank in the regular navy.
"He graduated first in his class at Annapolis. Oh, we both know someone does that every year but when was the last time a new graduate caught as much attention as Crane? First in command school, not to mention what he did at the Naval Warfare College three years ago. The next war we find ourselves fighting could be with Somali pirates or off the coast of Yemen; it could be a war needing a Navy commander. Who is that going to be if men of Crane's ability are off driving civilian research vessels?" Jiggs sat back drinking his coffee, waiting.
Nelson had known Jiggs Stark for over thirty years. He recognized Jiggs' strategy of getting the best cards on the table and waiting for the other man to fold. Nelson considered Jiggs' play. He was without a doubt right about Lee. Indeed it was the very argument Nelson had made so many times to Jiggs so he easily recognized it coming back. Surprised to hear it but not surprised by its content.
Yes, Lee was one of the best and brightest young officers the navy had seen in several years. His record of advancement in the service reflected the fact that the potential he represented had been recognized. The navy had tried to school and advance him to realize as much of that ability as possible. Until he, Harry Nelson, had entered the picture and co-opted Lee right out of the Navy and into the Seaview.
"Dressler has two PhDs. He's already stated his intention to leave the Navy next year at the end of twenty-five years to go into research. He's commanded a boomer very successfully. He would be a good commander for the Seaview, as well as a worthwhile associate for you in the research end of things. The best Crane can be for you is a glorified bus driver. Let the Navy have him back where he can do his country some good with his strategic abilities as well as his sub skills." It was easy to argue with Jiggs when all he did was run down Lee's abilities. But this new Jiggs, singing Lee's praises, was a much more difficult adversary.
"Why don't you just put it to Lee yourself?"
"Because he won't leave you, you know that. It would be a question of loyalty to him, you've both made no secret of your friendship. If he's the man I read him as being he'll stay with you no matter what he wants for his own career."
Nelson considered Jiggs and thought he was probably right. Lee would view returning to the Navy as deserting Nelson and Seaview. He was surprised how well Jiggs apparently knew Lee. He hadn't realized how much attention the man had been paying to Lee and his career.
"So you want me to fire him?" Nelson couldn't prevent a small laugh at this suggestion.
"No. Right now I’m asking you to look at Dressler and see if he isn't a better match for you. If he is, the two of us talk to Crane and explain to him what the Navy can offer him. Explain that ONI needs him in Pakistan. If you explain that you see that as the best path for him and that you want Dressler for the Seaview…Well, I'm sure Crane will recognize his duty."
Harry gave a sigh and stood up from his desk taking his cigarettes and lighter with him. He walked over to the big windows over looking the ocean and lit his cigarette. Was he holding Lee back? He thought of the ambitious young cadet he’d known at Annapolis and the young officer Lee had been serving under him on the Nautilus. He knew Lee's loyalty to him personally. It would certainly keep Lee from leaving Seaview.
Nelson knew there was an element of the self-serving in Stark's sudden desire to stand sea daddy to Lee. Promoting an officer of Lee's caliber could only reflect well on Jiggs, just as the scandal with Struthers had left Jiggs looking the fool, Jiggs pushing someone to flag rank who couldn't keep it in his pants.
Harry wasn't sure where his primary responsibility rested here or what the best path was. Yes, the Navy could use Lee; certainly the loss of an officer of his caliber was a significant loss to the service especially since with Jiggs' support his rise to flag rank was assured. As an admiral Lee's influence over the service could be significant. He'd never thought of Lee as a bus driver on the Seaview. He felt that Lee's different perspective and skill set was a good balance to his own more research driven goals, but he couldn't deny that he had no strong scientific deputy at NIMR. Dressler with his blue water and scientific training could be a tremendous benefit to the Institute. But to lose Lee as captain…. He tried for a moment to picture Dressler and Chip at the chart table working together and not seeing Lee there. Not seeing Lee sitting on the corner of his desk, walking into the Wardroom.
"So when does the Navy want to test this submersible?" Nelson thought he would do this one step at a time. It might turn out he couldn't stand Dressler. He needed to think this through about Lee. Had he been so concerned about what was best for Seaview that he'd not considered what Lee really wanted? He watched the waves breaking against the sand out his window while he lit another cigarette and thought about Lee and about his fondness for him.
He heard Jiggs talking behind him and brought himself back to the current discussion with a start. "I'm sorry, Jiggs say that again." He turned to face the other Admiral. "When is Dressler ready to go with his new submersible?"
"I knew you would see reason, Harry." Jiggs gave him a big smile. "This is for the best, the relationship you have with Crane, well, it's not a good command relationship, you don't want to be making friends with your officers, you know that. But enough said." Jiggs finished quickly when Nelson turned his best glower on him. "Back to Dressler's submersible. He's sure this thing will go to the bottom of Challenger and bring back samples, that should pique your interest."
Nelson laughed and allowed Stark to move the conversation toward Dressler and the proposed Navy mission to test his submersible.
"Chip, Lee, how's the arm?" The Admiral looked up as Lee and Chip came through the door to his office.
"It's fine, sir."
"Good, good, sit down." The younger men took seats on the two chairs opposite his desk and waited quietly to see what this summons foretold.
"I'm sure you heard Jiggs Stark was here yesterday to see me." Nelson didn't wait for a reply knowing that Stark's arrival would have been common knowledge all around Institute grounds before he'd made his way from the front gate to the administration building.
As always in these three way meetings Lee took the lead for he and Chip. "Yes, sir. We did hear a rumor to that effect." Nelson returned Lee's smile careful not to look at the dark blue sling tying Lee's arm across his chest, a constant reminder of how close they'd come to not being able to have any conversations at all.
"Captain Adam Dressler is doing some work with a new submersible and it's ready for final testing. Its’ computer controlled so it can be operated entirely from the boat, makes the dives much quicker and safer. The Navy hopes we can make a trip to the Challenger and give her the full test."
Lee and Chip both raised their eyebrows at that and Chip gave a soft whistle. "The big one then?"
"They want tests at increasing depths of both the submersible and the winch and if all goes well on the preliminary tests the Navy would like us to do test her all the way to the bottom of Challenger Deep. You both know Adam Dressler right?"
"Of the Tennessee, yes, sir." Lee looked over at Chip who was nodding his agreement.
"Quite a remarkable man, not only a sub driver but he also has two PhDs, one in Marine Biology and another in Marine Engineering. He could have some worthwhile suggestions for improvements to the Seaview. We'll be giving him the full Navy tour when he gets on board and I want to spend some time with him going over the blueprints and the boat, too, get his input." The man really did have quite a unique collection of training and experience; his comments would be well worth hearing.
"Try to include him in the cruise as much as you can, I'll check and see if he'd be interested in standing some watches, get a real feel for the boat." Nelson found he was getting excited about Dressler. This could very well work out to everyone's benefit. Lee could pursue his obvious enthusiasm for ONI and get the recognition his talents deserved while he could get a really interesting research partner.
He found he was staring at the blue sling across Lee's chest seeing again the awful wounds put there on Lee's last ONI mission. Lee still looked pale and tired. It was certainly too much to expect him to captain the most exacting submarine in the world while also playing international spy, unfair to Lee and unfair to the Seaview.
"Yes, sir. When is this cruise scheduled?"
"We have a six week window before the Peterson Labs mission, it’s the only free block we have until summer. Stark wants to do the tests during that period." Nelson smiled gently as he saw the looks of consternation on the faces of the two officers.
"Yes, yes, I know, it’s a bit sudden but it's such an interesting proposal, I thought it was worth seeing if we could fit it into our schedule." Nelson rubbed his hand on the back of his neck, a sign both of the younger men recognized as connoting annoyance but not sure with whom; Lee for asking why now, or Stark for asking Nelson to undertake the mission so soon.
"Are we going to need to do much refurbishing for the new submersible?" Lee asked.
"They want to test their winch and then use ours for the deep dives. The new winch they want to test will be here tomorrow. We'll be picking up the new submersible, DSB 63, in Pearl along with Dressler and Jiggs, who will sail out from Pearl with us for the test dive." Nelson tried to keep an eye on Lee's reaction without letting Lee know he was watching him.
"Admiral Stark, yes, sir." Lee made no attempt to hide his concern. He and Admiral Stark had never rubbed along very well together. Stark seemed to take pleasure in finding anything he could to criticize about Lee, and tended to make any cruise the two men shared painful for the entire crew and agony for Lee. Nelson certainly hoped, now that Stark had suddenly become so ambitious on Lee's behalf, he wouldn't feel it was necessary to cut the younger man off at the knees at every perceived opportunity.
"There will need to be some adjustments made to the launch gear for the new submersible and to the storage area to hold her. Shouldn't be anything we can't get done in time for our cruise." Nelson shook his head dismissively. He saw Lee and Chip glance at each other and laughed gently. "Well, nothing you can't get done, I've sent you both all of the schematics for the needed adjustments. Let me know if you see a problem, Lee. Otherwise let's try and get out of here on time. If we don't keep Stark waiting in Pearl..."
"Yes, sir." Lee smiled broadly, a Stark at least starting the cruise not angry with him because of a delayed departure would be a step in the right direction.
"Sir, we have twenty thousand feet of cable on our winch." Lee reminded the Admiral of the mundane reality of how deeply they could test the new submersible.
"Yes, yes, Stark was going to talk to Dressler. He really wants to try for the thirty five thousand Challenger Deep dive. The plan is to splice the cables from our winch and their winch and dive the Seaview to get the full depth?"
Lee fiddled one handedly with his class ring looking off into the distance. "We'd need to lower the submersible to the end of the new winch's ten thousand feet find a place to set her down so we could get enough slack to make a splice." Lee looked at Chip for his input as he spoke. "Splice into our winch for the remaining twenty thousand feet and if we dove to four thousand feet with the Seaview that would be thirty four thousand feet. Somewhere in that process we'd need to drag the new submersible to the trench hanging at the end of at least ten thousand feet of cable." Nelson and Chip waited, now following Lee's thought process easily as he worked his way through the problem. Lee stopped speaking and all three men thought of the problems involved in trying to prepare for such a dive on such short notice.
"Sir, I don't think we should do the splice and tow of the submersible. If we did splice and tow, it just wouldn't be wise to take the Seaview that deep in that environment. And even if we did splice the cables and take Seaview to four thousand feet we would still be over a thousand feet short of cable." Lee gave a small shrug of his shoulders. "I'm sorry, sir, I don't see how we can do it."
"As it is we're going to have a hard time just getting their winch installed to test by our sail date. Why don't they just use a conventional surface vessel?" Chip asked looking up from his perusal of the specs for the new winch on his laptop.
"What about changing out our winch to one that can handle the additional cable?" Nelson suggested, avoiding Chip's question about using another vessel since he knew a major reason for using the Seaview was to throw Dressler and Nelson into each other's company for the cruise. "Could that be done before our sailing date?"
"No, sir, not if we're to sail by the 15th, we don't have the winch or the cable. I'm sorry, sir, we just couldn't get it installed in time even if we had the equipment here." Lee was sorry. He felt his job was to facilitate Nelson's research, to make the Seaview perform to Nelson's sometimes unrealistic expectations and whenever he had to say 'no' he felt he'd failed in his job.
"Damn. Can you put more wire on the existing spool?"
"Perhaps another thousand feet, sir, since the new submersible is lighter the spool should be able to handle that much more wire. Any more and we risk losing control of the initial roll off." Lee explained, indicating that too much wire on the spool would impede their ability to control the spool when the wire came off it as it lowered the submersible.
Nelson tapped the top of his desk with his pencil apparently lost in consideration of the rhythm. Chip and Lee waited, having seen the Admiral lost in this sort of thoughtful haze before. Either Nelson would come up with a way to add enough wire to the amount available to make the dive or he would resign himself to the inevitable. In either case all they could do was wait while he worked his way through the problem.
"All right, Lee. I agree, I don't see any solution for this cruise. I'll notify Dressler and Jiggs and see if they want to cancel the deep dives or proceed with the levels we can manage."
"I'll call Jiggs as soon as we finish here." Nelson suddenly felt hopeful that this whole cruise and the questions Stark had posed could perhaps be put away forever or at least for another time. He remembered Stark's enthusiasm for this latest scheme and knew he was being unrealistic. The questions and opportunities Stark had brought to NIMR yesterday were going to need to be addressed- and soon.
"Chip and I'll get on the preliminary design work on the installation so if they decide to proceed we can go right to work."
"Make it so, Captain." Nelson smiled at Lee. "So, Jamie will pass you fit for this cruise, Lee?"
"Yes, sir. If we make this cruise we're going to need the next ten days to make the adjustments and installations. I'll be fit by then. Hope we can all get in some diving in the Marianas, it'll be a good chance on some follow up collections for the coral regeneration studies." Lee smiled at Chip. They were going to some of the finest diving areas in the world, and he had no intention of missing those dives.
Nelson looked at him skeptically. "You think Stark will be interested in collecting coral samples in the Marianas?"
Chip and Lee laughed. "Well, perhaps not, sir."
Nelson made a harrumphing noise, "And such diving parties would no doubt include you two at some point?" Seeing their deliberately sheepish looks he smiled at the two younger men before turning the conversation to the upcoming Peterson Lab cruise.
He listened to Lee and Chip report on their progress with the very complex Peterson proposal and thought about not having Lee on Seaview. Oh, they would remain friends, he liked Lee Crane too much to allow his friendship to lapse. But he knew it wouldn't be the same with Lee out of his boat and his life to such a large extent. He also knew he couldn't stand in the younger man's way. He couldn't allow Lee's respect and, if he was honest with himself, Lee's affection, to stand in the way of the great career Lee could have in the Navy. What kind of a friend would be that selfish?
He felt a sudden overwhelming sense of sadness though, at this parting of the ways. The last year since they had all become so comfortable with each other had been so… well, it had mostly been a great deal of fun.
"Captain Dressler, this is Commander Lee Crane, captain of the Seaview, and Seaview's XO, Lt. Commander Chip Morton." Dressler and Chip exchanged handshakes while Lee gave an apologetic grimace indicating the dark blue sling holding his right arm strapped across his chest and nodded his head to Dressler.
Dressler looked at the two younger men assessingly. He'd certainly heard a great deal about Lee Crane. He'd pulled what he could find about him off the Internet and spoken to two fellow officers who had served with him as JOs. Even knowing how deep the Navy had reached twice to promote Crane he'd been surprised at his age. Now seeing the man, looking even younger than his thirty-one years, Dressler was surprised that Nelson had been willing to risk the Seaview on such a young, inexperienced commander. Crane had only had a year's experience commanding an attack submarine before being tapped for a TAD to command the Seaview on a special mission. He thought that special mission must have gone extremely well to make such an inexperienced, young officer attractive to as canny a man as Admiral Nelson.
Like most of the submarine commanders in the Navy the selection of Crane to remain on to command the most famous boat in the world had come to Dressler as a shock. Men of Crane's age didn't command submarines, let alone a boat like the Seaview, with all of the responsibility and prestige that came with such a posting.
Dressler had not been surprised when Stark had approached him explaining that Nelson was considering a change of commander and wanted to meet and work with him on this mission. Wanted to assess his suitability to replace Crane who was returning to active service.
Now looking at the young commander he wondered that he had remained at NIMR for the past year. The man was obviously unwell; over taxed by his responsibilities, he surmised. He was surprised Stark was even considering returning him to active duty. He supposed that would depend upon the man's ability to pass a regular navy physical. Dressler examined Crane's too thin face and the arm strapped to his chest--seemed an unlikely eventuality. He suspected Crane's career was probably over, a young man who had been promoted too fast and had reached too far.
Lee stood up and stretched carefully, mindful of how he moved his shoulder so he didn't jar his arm. He needed to be careful all the time that he didn't do something that would look awkward and call attention to the healing wound. "Anyone else need more coffee?" he asked as he headed over to the side table of hot coffee and wilted sandwiches left from lunch two hours ago.
"I'll have a cup since you're pouring, Commander," Dressler didn't bother to look up at Lee as he spoke. Lee was amazed how quickly he'd forgotten what it was like to be the low man on the totem pole at Navy meetings. Two admirals and a captain bossing him around Seaview for a three - week cruise was going to be a good test of his self-control.
"Yes, sir." He waited a half second to see if anyone else wanted a cup. Hearing no takers he shrugged his good shoulder. "You'll all want some soon." He stuck his head out the office door and asked the secretary to bring more coffee and, grabbing the half empty carafe. returned to his seat setting the carafe carefully in the center of the table. He thought he did a good job of hiding the fact that he couldn't bring two cups to the table but didn't make eye contact with Chip in case he hadn't been as clever as he thought.
"Let's run through this one more time and maybe we're finished," Nelson rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. "We have six and a half days of sailing to get to our test area from Pearl, where we’ll spend four days doing shallow depth test dives with the DSB and testing the new winch. Chip, you have the schedule we've been slaving over on the dives?"
"Yes, sir." Chip indicated his computer. "I've sent you all copies."
"We complete four days of shallow trials and collection dives and we head out to Challenger for our deep dives. That’s four and a half days sailing to the Marianas and ten days of testing before we return to Pearl; provided all the tests go well," the admiralconcluded, looking around at the other three men. He allowed his eyes to rest the longest on Lee. His arm was still in the sling and he looked gaunt and tired. He'd only been out of Medbay for five days; today was his first full day back at work. Nelson thought he should have wrapped this meeting up hours ago as soon as they brought in lunch. Lee wasn't really up to an all day meeting. He wondered why it was taking so long to pin down a schedule that the three of them would normally have worked out in half the time.
He looked over at Dressler. The man was trim and neat with brown hair just beginning to grey. It wasn't that Dressler had said anything in particular to slow the meeting down, but he had a way of questioning each decision and analyzing it one time too many that Nelson was finding both time consuming and annoying. He stopped himself. He, Lee and Chip had been working together so long now that they were beginning to think alike on many subjects and didn't need to discuss things for very long to reach a consensus. Was he being fair to Dressler? He needed to give the man a chance to make a good impression. He knew he'd come into the meeting wanting to not like the man, wanting to not be able to work with him. He was looking for an excuse to tell Stark that the man wasn't suitable for the Seaview.
Truth was the questions Dressler asked were good ones, he just seemed to ask them once too often. Nelson sighed, he needed to end this meeting and get Lee out of the office and home where he could rest before Jamieson saw him looking exhausted and snatched Lee back to Medbay.
"I think that should do it for now, we can pin down the deep dive schedule when we get a look at conditions at the Marianas." Nelson collected his papers into their folder and pushed his chair back.
"Commander Crane, you're confident of your ability to get my winch properly installed? I can easily stay over a few more days and help supervise the installation?" Dressler scrutinized Lee as he spoke, apparently seeking to see some inability to get the work done written on his forehead, Nelson thought sardonically.
"We have all of your specifications on the winch and the installation requirements and the winch is on the dock now. It’s a very basic install, I foresee no problems." Nelson was pleased to note no sign of the irritation he must be feeling in Lee's tone. Dressler had asked this question in one form or another five or six times in the past three hours. Nelson knew the man must be anxious about this test of his equipment, but if a crew as able as NIMRs couldn't successfully install the winch than it couldn't be installed by anyone.
"We’ll have the winch installed and ready for testing by the time we arrive at Pearl," Lee affirmed
"I hope, sir, that once we've completed our testing of the winch you'll reconsider your reluctance to go to four thousand feet with the Seaview. This is really an excellent chance to test the DSB at the full Challenger depth. You've agreed to splice the cables for deep tests, if you'll do the four thousand foot dive with the Seaview we can get the DSB to the bottom of Challenger Deep. This'd be quite an accomplishment for all of us and well within the capability of both boats."
Dressler made yet another plea for the deep dive test of the DSB to Nelson, seeming to ignore Lee's answer to his previous question. Had Nelson not seen the slightly condescending nod the man had given at Lee's answer he'd have thought he’d ignored Lee totally. He understood the man's anxiety to do the Challenger test--it would make Dressler's DSB only the second vehicle to ever reach the bottom of Challenger. But they'd been over this several times and he needed to move this meeting along or they would be here all night as well as all day.
"I'm sorry, Captain." Nelson rubbed the back of his neck again, he knew a clear indication to the two younger officers who knew him best that Dressler had made his pitch for this dive one time too many. "We don’t feel that this is safe for the Seaview given the geological instability of that region, even if your light-weight cable is up to the strain."
"Yes, sir. I understand the concerns your staff has elucidated, but enough for today. I can see that Commander Crane is tired and I have a flight to catch back to Pearl."
Nelson saw Lee lay his hand on Chip's folder next to him on the table to draw the other man's attention. Chip had his best XO face in place, which could only mean the man was getting angry.
"Thank you for your consideration, Captain." Lee smiled his kindest smile at Dressler; the one Nelson knew Lee saved for politicians and terrorists. "If you have other issues to discuss I'm more than happy to remain until you are satisfied with all of our arrangements." Seeing Chip go all military and XO was not an unusual sight but now he thought he could see Lee beginning to get angry. He knew why. It was one thing for Lee's friends to tease and chivy him about his health; it was another thing for this comparative stranger to throw his weakness back in his face as a challenge to his fitness to handle his job.
"I'm sure we're all ready for a break, it's been a long meeting." Nelson jumped quickly into the fray before too much testosterone caused someone to say something regrettable.
"We're planning a 24 hour layover in Pearl to give the crew a one night liberty so we'll be sailing from Pearl on the 19th, Captain." Lee awkwardly gathered his maps and shoved them into his laptop case, keeping most of his attention on Nelson not looking at Dressler.
"I'll be in Pearl tomorrow and we'll have the DSB ready to load when you arrive. It shouldn't take more than two or three hours to get her aboard the Seaview. We can easily do a quick turn around and be at sea late on the 18th."
"It's, of course, up to you, Admiral, but an over night liberty would be nice," Lee directed his response to Nelson, ignoring Dressler.
"They'll have been ashore here for almost three weeks before you sail, Commander." Dressler smiled slightly at Lee. "I know a civilian vessel must be different, a commander must use other means than duty to motivate his crew but surely a four week cruise after a three week shore leave doesn't require an over-night leave after only three day's sailing?"
When Nelson saw Lee stiffen at the criticism and look over at Dressler and smile at the man slightly he knew sparks were about to fly. "I don’t believe you'll find the crew of the Seaview different in their sense of duty from a regular Navy vessel, Captain. The Seaview has just returned from a two-month cruise during which we sustained some serious damage to the boat. Since we’ve been in port we've been repairing that damage as well as making all of the modifications for the DSB. Most of my crew have been working twelve and fourteen hour days. We'll be continuing repairs on the trip to Pearl with much of the crew standing extra watches. While they don't require an overnight liberty to cement their loyalty to the boat I'm sure they could use one and certainly deserve it."
Nelson could feel the anger radiating off his command pair and hastened to move Dressler out of their radar. He decided that the man must be deliberating trying to antagonize Chip and Lee and wondered why. He wondered if this was something Stark had put the other man up to. That caused him to wonder just how well Stark knew Dressler and if there might be even more to Stark's agenda then he'd at first thought.
"Captain Dressler, I know you must be anxious to get back to your room and prepare for your flight," Nelson rose from his chair, forcing Dressler to rise as well. "Angie has arranged a car for you to your motel, the driver will wait to take you to your flight from Ventura. I'm sure I speak for all of us when I say how much we're looking forward to the coming cruise."
Lee and Chip stood and smiled at Dressler as Nelson escorted him out of the room. The man was only half-way to the door before Nelson saw Chip whispering out of the corner of his mouth into Lee's ear. By the time Nelson had the door closed and was walking back to the desk Chip had succeeded in jollying Lee out of his anger and the two men were smiling.
"I'm glad you two saw something amusing in that," Nelson harrumphed sourly.
"I don't think we may be 'old navy' enough for him," Chip offered and joined Nelson and Lee in laughing at the old joke about Stark's thinking Lee was 'New Navy' while all things good were 'Old Navy.'
"Perhaps he is a bit more 'Regular Navy' than NIMR but he's still a serving officer. Let's cut him a bit of slack. Once he sees the Seaview in action I'm sure he'll be smart enough to realize there's more than one way to skin a cat or run a submarine." Nelson felt like a schoolmaster as he attempted a halfhearted rebuke of the two grinning officers.
Lee Crane stood in the control room watching the last of the afternoon watch make their way to their stations, returning the quiet greetings of those that passed him in the tight space around the chart table. "You are relieved, Mr. Morton," he heard John Lewis inform Chip as Lewis finished initialing the Captain's Order Book.
"Aye, Mr. Lewis, you have the watch." Chip finished the age-old process of handing over the watch to his relief and, smiling at Lee, gave him a nod toward the nose. Lee and Chip poured themselves cups from the coffee carafe kept perpetually full and hot by the minions of Cookie, as much a necessary fuel source for the Seaview as the nuclear reactor. The two men silently sat in the chairs facing the eponymous sub windows sipping their coffee and watching the water cascade over the herculite.
"So, was that really Lindsey's cousin?"
"Yeah," Lee didn't try to keep a slight smirk off his face.
"How come when Derek set me up with his sister she looked like a horse and Lindsey's cousin looks like a fashion model?" Chip rolled his eyes skyward as if the answer was somehow written on the bulkhead.
Lee laughed softly and then smirked at Chip. "RHIP."
"I'll remember that the next time you're looking for someone to pick you up when the cobra quits on you. You can try flashing your rank at some passing motorist."
"She hardly ever breaks down," Lee sputtered, offended at the slighting of his beautiful little car.
"Hardly ever when you're at sea, as far as I can see she breaks down every time you have shore leave."
Lee considered this slander for a moment and decided he'd better change the subject. There was just enough truth to Chip's allegations to make an argument on his part dangerous, especially since Chip was usually the one he called for taxi service.
"I didn't tell you before we shoved off but Enrique called to invite us to Baja three days after we get back. He said to come for a week."
Chip's face split into a huge grin. "A week. Wow." Lee returned his smile whole-heartedly. The two had been trying to get away for a week's scuba diving with their friend Enrique de la Tores in Mexico for almost six months with no success. Finally, they'd appeared to find a match in their two sailing schedules. "Now if we can just make it back on time."
"Navy mission, schedule should be fairly firm and we're due back three days before we should leave for Mexico. We can easily get in the week of diving before we need to be back to prep for the Peterson cruise." Neither man was willing to voice the fate tempting words that surely they could keep to their schedule on such a simple mission.
"Well, let's get to work on the Anderson proposal. I sent their recommended dive sites and the computer route simulations to you,” Lee said as the two men flipped their laptops open and began working their way through the dive sites and the route simulations.
"So, we're going to split these dives?"
"I was thinking I could take all the ones in the warm water and you could have all the cold water ones. You have all that body fat and I'm just the poor skinny guy who needs the warm water." Lee kept his head down and looked up at his friend through half closed eyes.
"Oh, that look may work on the girlfriends but it hasn't worked on me for ten years. I suppose you're going to go get a note from Jamie next saying you can only dive in warm water?"
"Wouldn't work," Lee laughed. "He'd just tell me to eat more or, worse yet, tell me not to dive at all."
The two men laughed so loudly at that truism that several heads in the control room glanced briefly in their direction. Chip never had a chance to turn his XO look upon the Conn crew before all heads were back where they belonged, but not without an exchange of a few smiles among the crew. The whole crew knew that their captain and XO were best friends and enjoyed the easy camaraderie the two men allowed the crew to share.
"I think that's the worst of the Anderson proposal, we've got time for half an hour in the weight room before lunch."
Lee laughed at Chip, told him he should stop measuring his day by what meal followed or preceded every event, and gave him a clap on the back as he steered him up the ladder toward their quarters. It was nice to be at sea again. He could feel how relaxed and contented everyone was on board. The last mission had been a tough one. Tough for the crew as they waited for him to get back from a dangerous ONI mission, and tough on the long cruise home with him in Sickbay and a saboteur on the boat. He felt a lightheartedness throughout the boat now as they started on what should be their favorite kind of mission, interesting technical work and no searching for unknown dangers. An easy cruise as long as he could steer clear of Admiral Stark.
Admiral Nelson and Will Jamieson were already eating when Chip and Lee arrived in the Wardroom an hour later freshly showered after their workouts. Lee and Chip joined them at their table and updated the admiral on their location and speed. Chip suggested they could make better time if they could somehow chain Lee to the reactor, use all that energy he wasted pacing up and down the corridors of Seaview
The admiral mentioned that Dr. Singba had been at the Institute to go over the Peterson cruise schedule and was pleased with their proposal. Both of the younger men kept their faces carefully neutral, as Lee said they had seen Dr. Singba in the corridor yesterday after his meeting with Nelson. Jamieson and Nelson exchanged glances. "I gather from those looks that you had an opportunity to meet Dr. Singba's associate?" Nelson drawled.
"Sir? It was such an honor to meet Dr. Singba. Chip and I were both very excited about having two Nobel Laureates on our boat's next cruise."
Nelson smiled, "Ah, so you met Dr. Toulouse as well." The two younger men exchanged a quick look.
"Would that be the …ah … person with Dr. Singba? We were so excited about meeting a Nobel…"
Nelson interrupted by holding up his hands, "Enough, enough, I gather that you have met her."
Chip and Lee exchanged another lookbefore Lee said, "Actually, sir, we met her before your meeting with Dr. Singba and while you met with Dr. Singba, we took Alaine out for lunch."
"That was Dr. Toulouse?" Jamieson gave the group an exaggerated look of amazement. Lee and Chip smirked at him slightly, their expressions so similar that Nelson laughed out loud.
"They've been hanging around together so long they're beginning to look alike."
"Yeah," Jamieson quipped, "if you mean that 'cat swallowed the canary' look is a familial one."
The four men laughed and Will stood up and said he was getting worn out just listening to the two of them. As he left the room he rested his hand on Lee's shoulder and leaned down to speak softly in his ear. Chip didn't miss the tightening of Lee's face but made no comment, knowing when to tease his friend and when to let well enough alone. A short time later the admiral, who claimed work in his lab was calling, left as well.
"Jamie after you again?"
"Yeah," Lee gave Chip a look of exaggerated annoyance before smiling. "No biggie, I owe him for marking me fit for duty."
"You are fit."
"Didn't feel like it on the treadmill."
"Well, you managed to get in 200 crunches." Chip feigned a punch at Lee's stomach.
Lee blocked his arm easily, "Believe me I know." He laughed. "Well, I guess I better not keep Jamie waiting." He sighed and winced at Chip's laugh as he got up.
Dr. Jamieson was waiting for him in Sickbay when he got there half an hour later. He managed a detour to the Missile Room to check on the deep diving air unit they hoped to continue testing in Marianas, if they got a chance to do some diving. Reluctantly, having no real reason to postpone the visit, he headed forward to Sickbay.
Jamieson was in his office working at his computer when Lee came in the door. "You wanted me, Jamie?"
Jamieson laughed softly, "You know I did and you know the drill." The doctor, out of his office now, walked over to the gurney meeting Lee there as the other man reluctantly came across the room.
"It feels fine, Jamie."
"And I intend that it should continue to do so, shirt off and get your butt up on the table," Jamieson spoke good naturedly, no doubt trying to keep him happy about this little visit Lee thought sourly.
Lee removed his shirt revealing an ugly scar the whole length of his right bicep. He gave a sigh and hoisted himself up on to the table and layback, his legs bent at the knee.
"Light duty isn't you standing and walking all day." Jamieson groused, looking at the angry scar. "This needs to heal, Lee. Just because it isn't bleeding all down your arm doesn't mean it's healed." Lee sighed melodramatically; they had had this fight so often that both men could have scripted it in their sleep.
Jamieson flexed the arm and manipulated it in ways Lee would have preferred he didn't. He kept his other arm thrown over his eyes, a carefully neutral expression on his face. He made no response until Jamie pushed gently a couple of inches from the scar and made him jump. Lee looked at him accusingly.
"You're right, I'm sorry. Lee, this is healing on the outside but it's got a lot of healing to do yet, please take it easy as much as you can." Jamieson seemed to be almost pleading with him.
"Jamie, don't you think I am?" Lee gave an exasperated sigh as he sat up and swung his legs off the table. "My job is not done sitting down."
"It will be if you don't give this more rest, look at it."
Lee gave the arm a quick glance and looked away. He was tired of the stupid arm and the stupid wound. He was tired of the arm being weak. He was tired of the wound aching, and he was especially tired of talking about it. "It's fine," he gave Jamie his most charming smile. "I never move faster than a walk and I go to therapy every day, twice a day, with Frank. Another week and I'll be swimming; that’s great for it."
"Okay, BP and we're done here."
Lee nodded and waited until Jamie finished, looking at the doctor quizzically. "You're better, but you had a lot of trauma to that arm, it's going to be a while before it’s a hundred percent, again." Lee nodded, he didn't really need Jamie to tell him that. He looked away from the doctor trying not to think about the wound, not remember the feeling of the warm blood pushing between his fingers as he held his arm together.
"I'm off to do reports in my cabin, sitting down.” Lee gave him a triumphant smile as he pulled his shirt back on and buttoned it, ostentatiously using both hands. "I'll see you later."
"Wait, Lee, I've got something I want to give you for the arm." Jamieson went into his office while Lee stood up and awkwardly tucked his shirt in. There were still a few things the arm wasn't very good for, that particular bend he needed to tuck his shirt in was one of them. He tried to turn his back just so to Jamie's office, in hopes he wouldn't notice him using only one hand.
Jamieson came back and showed him a jar of salve. "Let me put some of this on it." Lee didn't sigh as he unbuttoned his shirt and pulled the tail out of his pants. Could have saved a bunch of subterfuge and trouble there. Jamieson smeared the stuff on his arm.
"That's cold." Lee jumped and winced when his arm banged into the bottle in Jamie's hand.
"Sorry, that's the Tetratricine, it gives a cold feeling. It doesn't just help regenerate cells on the surface, it'll go right through the skin into the damaged area of the arm and carry the salve with it, it’s the same stuff we had such good luck with on your chest."
Lee laughed sourly, "Yeah, like that looks so good."
"Well, it's healed."
"It’s the Frankenstein at the beach look, it’s a little off putting."
Lee looked up at Jamie a bit sheepishly. He really should be more grateful to Jamie. He always came in here meaning to be patient and polite and the next thing he knew he was getting snarky again. Jamie put the cover back on the small jar and handed it to Lee.
"Use it three times a day, with that and your PT I think you'll be diving in another week." Jamieson paused, his hand on Lee's shoulder. "The scars will fade, Lee, most of them you won't be able to see in a year."
Lee nodded at him. "I know, Jamie, sooner would be better though."
He smiled to himself as he finished tucking his shirt in again. He’d told Chip he'd be diving this trip but the way his arm had been feeling he hadn't really been sure. Some days it felt great. Other days it didn't seem like it was ever going to be right again. "Thanks, Jamie."
On the way back to his cabin he made a detour to Engineering to check on O'Brien's progress rebuilding one of the shaft housings. By the time he was half way there he was silently cursing Jamie. His arm had felt pretty good; well, tired and weak, but by this time he was used to that, but it hadn't hurt. That is until Jamie got pushing it around, bending it in directions he really didn't need to be bending it. Now his whole arm ached and he felt a headache coming on as well. Almost 1430. He would check out the propeller housing before he went back to his cabin.
He knew Jamie was right and the arm would feel better if he used it less. But he also knew he didn't want it getting any weaker from lack of use. If he spent as much time as Jamie wanted mollycoddling his body every time something unfortunate happened he'd spend his whole life in Sickbay or bed. He knew from experience he could push through the pain and the weakness and live his life as he chose while he healed. Or at least live it as well as Jamie and his well-meaning friends would allow.
He spent two hours with O'Brien in Engineering. Once they got the housing off the propeller shaft they found a suspicious collection of metal filings on the outside of the shaft and inside the old housing. They spent some time trying to decide if the shaft might have been damaged and examining the housing for any tell-tale chipping. In the end they couldn't see any damage to the shaft and decided they could just clean out all of the particles and install the new housing. Lee donned breathing gear with the rest of the ratings and O'Brien and watched them clean off the exposed section of propeller shaft with a new aerosol heavy metal retainer they had been testing for the Navy. O'Brien ran an ultrasound scan on the shaft and they decided it was undamaged.
"The HST should have gotten all of the metal particles, but give it an hour and do another HST spray down of the whole section before you put on the new casing." He didn't want to take a chance on having to rebuild this shaft again.
Leaving Engineering, he stopped in the Torpedo Room to check on the installation of the new Raytheon torpedo guidance systems. They were testing yet another improvement to the troublesome guidance system for Raytheon. The old ones had been pulled when they returned to Santa Barbara after the last cruise. They were being replaced with these new ones Raytheon swore would not need recalibrating every time the boat dove. Sharkey and three torpedo ratings had the big heavy weapon dismantled and were half through with their installation.
"Is it still calibrated?" Lee stepped up behind Sharkey looking at the work in progress on the bench.
"We had to tweak it a little when we unpacked it, thing is awful sensitive, just moving it around disturbed it. I don't know, sir."
"Yeah." The new guidance systems were very accurate at the firing end of a torpedo's run but thus far had been too sensitive to keep calibrated without constant tinkering once they were installed. The idea of computer-controlled torpedoes similar to the Air Force smart bombs was a good one; he wasn't sure what Raytheon's problem was with the manufacturing.
"Get it installed and let it sit while we do a few dives, I'm not going to have it pulled out every day for testing, give it four days and pull it again."
"Aye, sir." Sharkey turned back to his work. Lee stood watching for a few minutes longer exchanging comments with the ratings about the amount of adjusting needed in the torpedo to retrofit the guidance system. He was getting less and less confident about the Raytheon system with every test. They just didn't seem to be making their improvements fast enough to justify the amount of crew time he was putting into the testing. He would check with the admiral and get the figures for how much Raytheon was paying for the tests. He'd run those against the crew work time again and see what this was really costing.
Back in his cabin he began work on the Hurley proposal for testing a new type of wetsuit material at deep depths. He was about half way through his recommendations when Chip called him on the intercom.
"Ensign Wilson is ready to dive the boat, sir."
"Very well." He smiled to himself as he left his cabin and made his way to the Conn. This was Jimmy Wilson's second cruise with the Seaview. He was part of a program they were trying, in cooperation with the Navy, to give second year ensigns a six month tour on the Seaview as part of their first submarine duty rotation.
Lee found the whole bridge crew waiting suspended in motion for his arrival. He walked over to Chip and exchanged a brief nod with him.
"Mr. Wilson, will you dive the boat to the depth specified in the Captain's Order Book," Chip instructed as Lee stepped back away from the chart table to stand near Chip adjacent to the periscope housing. Both men watched the now obviously nervous young ensign begin the process of diving the boat.
Wilson picked up the mic "Rig the bridge for diving." Once he had confirmation he ordered them to clear the bridge."
"Mr. Craig, sound the diving alarm."
"Dive, Dive, Dive." Sounded through the boat followed by the unmistakable sound of the klaxon signaling a dive.
"Bleed air." Wilson commanded.
"Pressure in the boat," came back the response a moment later.
"All ahead two thirds, rig out the bow planes."
"Green board, sir."
"Green board, aye."
"Make your depth 200', five degree down bubble."
"Depth 200', aye, sir."
"5 degree down bubble, aye, sir."
"Blow safety. Blow all ballast tanks."
Lee watched with pleasure as the young ensign went through the motions of diving the boat. He enjoyed watching each crewman wait to be asked for his report, not prompting or in any way rushing the young man who gained obvious confidence as he moved through the drill.
"Open vents, aye, sir."
"All departments report condition normal on the dive, sir."
"Secure the phones."
"Secure the phones, aye, sir."
"Ease your bubble."
"Ease your bubble, aye, sir."
"Secure the air."
"Air secured, aye, sir."
"Steady on 200'."
"Steady on 200', aye, sir."
"Depth 200', sir."
"Mr. Morton, depth 200', speed 20 knots course 250 degrees."
"Very well, Mr. Wilson, I have the Conn." Chip replied.
"Aye, sir." Jimmy Wilson gave them a shy smile and Lee returned it.
"Good job, Mr. Wilson. You'll have those Dolphins this cruise you keep that up."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." Now the young man was positively beaming. Not an attitude Chip would allow on his Conn for any length of time.
"And just how is your electrical DC work going, Mr. Wilson?"
"Umm… I’m working with the COB after my watch, sir. He's going to take me through it again." How quickly are the joys of the young shattered, Lee thought, and gave Chip a little shove in the back as he passed him on the way to the ladder back to his cabin. When Chip looked at him all offended, he smiled back at him.
"I'll be in my cabin bringing order to the chaos of the Hurley proposal."
"Aye, sir." Chip ostentatiously rubbed his ribs.
Three hours later he finished his summery and was just beginning on a cost comparison on the Raytheon project when there was a quiet knock on his door.
"Hey, Lee." Chip stepped inside and closed the door. "Making any headway?"
"Very slowly, what can I do for you?"
"I want to run a DC electrical drill at 1930 and a hydraulic one at 2040."
"Very well." He rarely questioned Chip on his DC drills and with three new crewmen aboard this trip there were going to be a lot of them. They still had seven other sailors working for their Dolphins besides Wilson. The drills would help those sailors meet their qualifications but were also just a basic part of daily life on any sub.
"I stopped off in Engineering on my way back from Wilson's dive. O'Brien says they should have the shaft housing finished by 1900 hours." Lee reported.
"Yeah, I just came from there. They're testing the seals now; they should be finished in another two hours."
"Good, I don't like sailing with one screw non-functional." Lee leaned back in his chair, absent-mindedly rubbing his right arm and rotating the shoulder slightly.
"Too bad the parts were so long coming in, I was afraid we were going to need to scrub the mission." Chip, watching his friend's movements, wondered if he should have invited Lee to work out that morning. Lee had been careful to do nothing with his right arm, but Chip could see now that it was bothering him.
Lee nodded absent-mindedly, "It'd probably have been fine this trip, all the sensors were in the green, just once we knew they'd been having problems I wanted it out."
Chip nodded his understanding. They'd never had any trouble with the parts but the shipyard at Philadelphia had notified them three days before sailing that they were seeing long term metal fatigue issues and were sending them replacement housings for both shafts. Lee had opted to sail with a dysfunctional propeller and make the repairs at sea, rather than cancel the mission. It was a good experience for the on board engineering ratings to make the repairs and it kept them to their tight sailing schedule.
"Are you going to change out the other casing on this trip?" Chip thought about the watch schedule. He had Sparks covering O'Brien's watch at 2000 so O'Brien could work straight through on the repairs.
"No, if you agree I think we can wait. We replaced the other housing nine weeks ago when that explosion damaged the propeller shaft. The housing we're replacing is six months older, the starboard one should be fine until we get back to Santa Barbara." Lee paused, thoughtfully. "Let's give the housing a few hours to seal in firmly and we'll run some speed drills in the forenoon watch tomorrow."
Chip nodded, knowing Lee had selected the forenoon watch so he could go down to Engineering during the speed trials since Chip would have the Conn. "Just basic running speeds, nothing dramatic, maybe ten minutes at full speed. We'll test again the following day. I don't want to rush it, give the housing plenty of time to seat in."
Chip nodded again and they discussed the speeds and times on the test runs for a few minutes until they were in agreement. "You want O'Brien in Engineering for the test runs I assume?" Lee agreed, and rotated his shoulder again, resting his left hand on his sore arm when he did so.
"You want to catch some dinner before our DC drills?" Chip tore his eyes away from Lee's hand rubbing on his sore arm when he caught Lee glaring at him. He would save his big brother act for when it was really needed and not waste it on an already nearly healed wound. Lee looked away from Chip and up at the chronometer over his desk.
"When did it get so late? Sure let's go eat, I'm still trying very hard to keep on Jamie's good side, at least until I can get cleared to dive. He should be tucking in about now."
"You sure you can eat enough to get yourself cleared to dive and still fit in your wet suit?" Chip smirked slightly. He was going to enjoy watching Lee watching Jamie and trying to eat enough to keep the CMO happy.
Lee made a wry face at him, "Going to give it a try any way, let's go get started. By the way if Jamie's not there I'm not eating, I want him to see every mouthful I take for the next week."
Chip joined in the easy laughter and the two walked out into the corridor and headed aft talking about the up coming dives.
Lee turned his face up to the bright sun and smiled. He loved being a submariner but on a beautiful day like this it was wonderful to just stand in the sun and feel the heat on his face. He heard Chip laugh beside him and looked over at him, exchanging a contented smile.
He glanced aft again checking that the channel behind them was clear. Any time he came into an anchorage as crowded as Pearl, channel boat guide or not, he spent the whole time feeling like a cat in a room full of rockers. It was so easy for some lame brained JO to run his ship over the back end of the Seaview. It'd happened to too many submarines over the years for him to have a moment's real peace, sun or no sun, until they were tied up at their dock.
He clicked the mic again, "Come right five degrees." Speaking of JOs it looked like their harbor boat was being driven by someone's ensign out on his first cruise the way it was weaving around.
"There's our dock." Chip gave him a slight nudge in the ribs to call his attention to the port side of the boat.
"Then where is this idiot in the harbor boat taking us?" Lee wondered sotto voce. It didn't do for their own JOs to get the wrong idea about what command officers discussed while on the bridge.
Carefully bringing the Seaview over to starboard another five degrees following their wandering harbor guide Lee again looked over his shoulder at the aft end of the boat.
"I think he found it," Chip gave him a smile as the harbor boat made a sudden correction thirty degrees to port.
"Duh." Lee radioed the new course to the helmsmen. "All ahead slow," he called down a moment later as he waved the harbor boat off. "All stop port engine, back slow starboard engine," and a moment later, "all stop," as the Seaview slowly slipped alongside the quay. Lee watched deck hands catching the lines from the shore and making the Seaview fast. "Carry on, Mr. Morton." Lee ordered Chip with a smile and dropped down the ladder to the Control Room.
"Mr. Lewis, order the liberty party to the Conn." Lee told the JOOD as he paused in the Control Room, "I'm off to the admiral’s lab."
"Aye, sir." Lewis called to his retreating back, a big smile on his face, a twelve-hour liberty in Pearl--not as good as a week but not to be missed by any chance.
"Welcome aboard, sir." Lee stood precisely at attention at the end of the gangway to greet Admiral Stark as he boarded the Seaview.
"Yes, yes, Captain, thank you. Nice to be aboard again." Stark saluted the colors and Crane as he came aboard, pausing at the end of the gangway to look assesingly at Lee. "I see you've recovered from your trip to Pakistan, eh?" Stark gave Lee a smile.
"Ah, Yes, sir." Lee was so astonished by the smile and question from Stark that for a moment he was wordless. He fell easily back into his training of always answering a superior officer in the affirmative when no other immediate answer presented itself.
"Good, good, we need you fully recovered and completely fit, eh?" Stark further astonishing Lee with the warmth of this comment. Lee happily passed Stark on to Admiral Nelson who was just coming across the deck. This happy to see him, jolly Stark was an unknown entity and Lee wasn't quite sure how to handle him.
Lee kept his best 'welcome to Seaview' smile in place as he turned back to welcome Dressler aboard. He'd welcomed a few very difficult scientists aboard the sub in the past year. He was sure Dressler couldn't be any more obnoxious than the marine biologist who'd tried to sink the Seaview with his out of control slim experiments. He found that if he just thought of Dr. Westlake whenever he had an unwelcome guest to greet he felt so cheered by the absence of that particular scientists that anyone else seemed quite charming by comparison. He was having a hard time seeing Dressler's charm but had no trouble hiding the fact.
"Captain Dressler, welcome aboard Seaview." Dressler saluted the colors and Lee and Chip with a sour look on his face and didn't cheer-up as he introduced them to an older MMCS (Senior Chief Machinist's Mate).
The loading of the DSB had gone quite smoothly the previous day and the new submersible was now safely stowed in the Missile Room. Dressler had not been pleased with the installation of the new winch, however. He'd wanted the Seaview's existing winch relocated so his could be installed on that winch's stronger frame. Lee had explained to him that they needed the stronger winch frame for Seaview's, since it was so much heavier with its longer run of cable. Dressler had eventually accepted that there would be no moving of the existing equipment, but with ill grace, and, Lee thought, several unnecessarily snide comments about the crew's performance. Now as he came aboard Lee could see the night ashore had done nothing to improve his attitude.
"Commander Crane, this is Senior Chief O'Malley." Dressler made an offhand gesture toward a burly Senior Chief.
Lee smiled his welcome at the Senior and extended his hand. "Welcome aboard, Senior Chief. I'll let our COB show you around." Looking up, he spotted Sharkey on the deck explaining a rating's shortcomings in a typically dramatic manner. He easily caught Sharkey's eye and with a gesture called him over.
He handed the Senior Chief off to Sharkey's care and the two old salts walked aft together quite happily, comparing old ship stories before they were even out of hearing. He got Dressler and Stark safely ensconced in the nose with Nelson and climbed back up to the bridge for the ritual of leaving harbor. He took Ensign Wilson on the bridge with him to act as OOD and left Chip in the Conn. The experience would be good for Wilson, but no way he was allowing the young man to work Seaview out of the busy anchorage without standing behind him the whole way.
Just as they dropped their last line and eased away from the quay Dressler, Stark and Nelson joined them on the bridge. Nelson seemed to be busy with Dressler pointing out those features of the Seaview that were only visible the small amount of time she spent surfaced. Stark came over to stand beside Lee.
"I'm pleased to see you well recovered from your difficulties in Pakistan." Stark actually clapped him on the shoulder as he spoke.
After giving the admiral a bemused glance Crane answered him with the always safe, "Yes, sir." His attention never leaving Wilson, he suggested, "You might consider all stop on that port engine now, Mr. Wilson, if you don't want to drive our nose right into the Dallas."
Wilson quickly repeated Lee's suggestion into the microphone, "Sorry, sir."
"Not a problem, but remember that a boat this size has a tremendous amount of inertia. Get her moving and she'll keep moving for a long time. Now I believe you're going to want some more starboard movement to bring us into line with the harbor boat." Lee found he was almost holding his breath as he waited to see what Wilson was going to come up with next.
"Starboard engine ahead slow." Wilson called through the mic to the Conn causing Lee to smile thinly. Better slow and right, he guessed, than quick and wrong.
Dressler and Nelson went below after a few more minutes, with Nelson offering to take Dressler forward to watch from the herculite windows. Stark remained standing beside Lee for the next half hour as they got Seaview away from the quay and beyond the breakwater. Lee was concentrating so hard on anticipating Wilson's commands he was only half listening to Stark. He knew this was dangerous with an admiral who was constantly looking for places to criticize him, but Wilson needed much more supervision than he'd anticipated when they started leaving the harbor. Clearly the young man needed some more time with his manuals before they arrived at their next port.
"I'm sure you'll enjoy returning to the regular Navy, shame to waste your obvious mentoring skills on a private boat." It was only when he heard the note of praise in Stark's voice that Lee really processed what the man was saying, as he also had Wilson slowing the Seaview before she gained so much way she ran up the stern of the harbor boat.
"Return to the regular Navy, sir?" Lee momentarily looked away from the harbor boat to glance at Stark.
"Well, nothing settled of course, but Dressler is an obvious fit here, don't you think?" Stark smiled at him broadly. "He's an intellectual like Admiral Nelson, while you and I, we're simple sailors."
Lee wasn't sure what he found most astonishing in this statement, Stark's smile or his assertion that he and Lee were both simple sailors. He was sure Stark was neither simple nor, he thought, did Stark think of himself as a sailor with anything in common with Lee Crane. Return to the regular navy?
"Give Harry someone he can talk to about his projects, help him run NIMR, take some of the weight off his shoulders." Stark was looking at him now obviously waiting for a reply.
"Yes, sir." Lee kept his reply as simple as he could while his mind was racing, trying to catch up to wherever Stark was in this conversation. Or, he wondered, where was Nelson in all of this? "Slow it down, Mr. Wilson, the harbor boat will be leaving us soon we don't want to swamp her in our wake."
"Aye, sir." Lee thought he could hear tones of near panic in Wilson's voice and thought he knew just how the ensign felt.
"Nothing decided, of course, just a cruise, while we all get a feeling for each other. You have a career you need to be taking care of, Crane, you spend much more time here and it's going to be leaving you behind."
"Yes, sir." Lee dully watched the way fall off the Seaview.
"Radio to Bridge."
Wilson picked up the mic, "Bridge, Aye."
"Harbor boat says Farewell and Good Sailing."
"Bridge, Aye." Wilson returned the mic to its holder, his eyes still staunchly forward, all of his attention on the empty sea in front of him.
"Instruct Mr. Morton to dive the boat, Mr. Wilson." Lee ordered and nodded at Stark and waited for him to precede him down the ladder to the Conn. Return to the regular navy?
Lee finished showering and wet a washcloth with cold water and wrapped it gently around his arm while he shaved. The long scar looked a little inflamed but that was nothing to the way it was feeling. It felt as if his arm was sitting in a fire. He tried to remember if he had done something he shouldn't have. Had he reached for something with his hand that caused him to over-use the arm? He tried to think through the previous day. They'd spent most of it wrestling with the new submersible but he'd been careful not to get his hands dirty.
He wet the washcloth again with cold water and laid it back on his arm while he finished shaving awkwardly with his wrong hand. Washing his face he re-wet the washcloth yet again and took two ibuprofen before going to sit at his desk. He sat with his head back holding the washcloth on his arm with his left hand while he waited for the ibuprofen to kick in.
Finally, thinking he maybe felt a little better he got up and threw the washcloth in the laundry and changed into a clean uniform. He had dinner tonight with the two admirals and Captain Dressler. He really wished he could just blow it off and go to bed. Maybe a good night's sleep would mend whatever was wrong with his arm now.
He finished dressing and carefully knotted his tie, taking it slow, not wanting to make the arm any worse, especially in front of hours of sitting at table with Dressler and Stark. It was going to be a long dinner. He sighed, giving his rack a last wistful glance. He shouldn't have spent so long in the torpedo room messing about with the Raytheon stuff.
He and Sharkey had pulled one of the guidance systems out and after finding it, not surprisingly at this point, out of calibration had returned it to the torpedo. They'd then tried replacing the gyro system in the torpedo with the one from another torpedo in case there was a problem with the gyro and not the guidance system. It had taken most of the afternoon and had happily kept him out of the Conn and away from Stark and Dressler. Now it was time to pay the piper though, as he had no doubt Stark would want to know exactly how he had spent his day. He did a last quick check in the mirror and headed off the "state dinner."
Nelson and Stark were already sitting in the nose of the sub, the big doors separating the nose from the Conn closed. The two men were drinking some of the admiral’s scotch. Nelson offered him a glass, which he accepted, vowing to make it last until dinner. He was going to need a very clear head tonight to navigate these conversational waters. Chip joined the group in a few minutes followed almost immediately by Captain Dressler.
The two admirals dominated the conversation, as expected at any such gathering of four-star admirals and nonflag rank officers. After half an hour of Stark/Nelson stories Stark turned to him and asked him where he'd been all afternoon and he explained about tearing the Raytheon guidance system down one more time.
"You're very hands on in your command style," Dressler observed from his position adjacent to Stark, his back to the big windows.
"Yes, I suppose I am," Lee thought Dressler was right, that he probably spent more time with oil and grease on his hands than most of the commanding officers he'd worked with over the years. "This boat is a bit different than regular Navy boats; we test a lot of new equipment. Most of the officers spend quite a bit of time working with ratings, tinkering and testing, it’s a big part of what we do."
Dressler raised his eyebrow at him interrogatively but aside from a small smile made no comment, leaving that to Stark.
"Still, Captain, that's why you have trained ratings and chiefs to do the grease work. I've always believed that men have more respect for an officer that leads than one who's working in the trenches with them." Stark gave that four-star smirk of which Lee was so often the recipient. He wondered did Stark reserve that smile for him or use it on all the captains he didn't agree with?
"Yes, sir," Lee had no doubt of the respect of his crew and was sure he would never change Stark's opinion. Yes, sir, I agree, sir. Was a perfect answer to any superior officer and always seemed to work with Stark.
Stark looked at him speculatively for a moment and Lee wondered if the man was intending to follow up on his victory with a killing blow but the admiral let it go and turned back to Nelson.
"So how do you like the Raytheon system? We've been waiting for you to pass them on to us for final testing."
"You'll have to ask Lee about that, I leave all of that sort of testing to Lee and the crew."
"Really? I'm surprised, Harry, I'd have thought you would want to be more involved." Stark looked at Nelson and then over at Lee.
"I used to be, but since Lee's taken command I find I can leave most of the hardware testing to him and just concentrate on the more theoretical parts of our research." Nelson smiled at Lee and gave a short nod.
"I didn't realize you had that much of an engineering background, Crane?"
"I have a Master's Degree in Marine Engineering, sir." Lee was sure that Stark knew exactly what his engineering background was and wondered where this was headed. He wished the two admirals would go back to exchanging old war stories.
"Yes, that's right, from MIT, makes Lee especially useful on Seaview since my current interest is more in the biological sciences." Lee was surprised to hear a note of defiance in Nelson's voice. That was the sort of defensive note the Admiral usually sounded when he was trying to put an end to a conversation he didn't like.
"As I recall, Crane, you completed that degree when you were on shore assignment at the Naval War College." Proving Lee's earlier supposition that Stark knew all about his background and was headed somewhere with this cross examination.
"Yes, sir, I did most of the work while at sea and finished it up while I was in Command School in Newport." Lee noticed he'd finished his scotch in spite of his resolve to make it last and headed over to the drinks table to replace it with some ice water. He definitely needed a clear head tonight to figure out what was going on.
"That's the same place you got your engineering PhD isn't it, Dressler?"
Lee relaxed a little as he thought he'd figured out where Stark was headed. This might just be a straight Crane bash and sing Dressler praises conversation. But that got him thinking about why Stark wanted to have this conversation now, in front of Admiral Nelson.
"Yes, one of the best engineering schools in the country. I worked with Professor Kempenwolf there on the titanium alloy fabrication project for the new deep-water sensors. I believe you've been using the new sensors here on Seaview?" Dressler turned to Nelson. "You've been installing them along the Pacific Rim of Fire I understand, Admiral."
"Yes, yes, Captain." Nelson seemed to cheer up a bit with the change of subject. "They've been working very well, with the new alloy we've been able to set them deeper than anything we've previously used. Lee, how deep did we go with those we set in January?"
"The deepest one was set at 15,000 feet and it's still sending readings. They're the only probes we've ever had we could set so deeply." Lee gave Dressler credit where it was due.
"The interiors are a good size and allow us to send a great package." Nelson resumed his praise and the conversation turned to what sorts of instruments the admiral had been deploying. Stark took the conversation from there to a discussion of the possible use of the same probe shells to sink ship proximity sensors in various parts of the ocean. This more general discussion lasted until Cookie and two ratings appeared to serve dinner.
Dinner went fairly well with Chip and Lee keeping quiet and listening to their superiors. Lee watched the interplay between Dressler and the two admirals with keen interest. Dressler was certainly deferential, but Lee had to give him credit, the man had some strong views and, while he'd try to avoid topics where he disagreed with the two admirals, if he was caught out in a difference of opinion he defended his position well and didn't give ground to rank. He knew this was a characteristic Nelson valued and found himself impressed with Dressler's adroit ability to disagree without drawing fire from his opponent. Dressler would certainly be an easier man for Nelson to work with than him, he thought sadly.
After dinner discussion began with the results of the earlier test dives with the new DSB. The conversation quickly moved to talk of the geology of the Challenger Deep. Lee found himself very interested in this discussion since it bore so closely to the work he'd recently been doing for his Master's thesis. He was surprised that Stark seemed to be the one moving the discussion to more technical topics with his probing questions of Dressler. He decided Stark was trying to show Dressler's scientific knowhow off to Nelson.
When Nelson began talking about the samples they'd collected at some of the black smokers they'd investigated during their January cruise placing seismic probes, Lee exchanged a look with Chip. It'd been thanks to those dives that he had enough material for his thesis.
He'd become caught up in Nelson's talking about the interaction of microscopic bacteria and the newly formed minerals around the black smokers when Stark cleared his throat. "Perhaps we simple sailors should leave these two scientists to their technical talk. Captain, I wonder if you would be willing to show me one of those deep sea sensors we were discussing earlier?"
Having no choice Lee smiled. "Certainly, sir."
Like the good Lt. Commander he was, Chip said that he had to check the dogwatch. The two younger officers excused themselves and headed into the Conn while Stark finished speaking to Nelson. Lee and Chip stood at the control for the huge doors that closed off the nose waiting for Stark.
"Maybe we simple sailormen could go plot a course or something else nautical?" He suggested to Chip sotto voce and was rewarded with Chip's first smile of the evening.
"I'm going to want a full report on what's going on later." Chip returned softly, giving Lee a mock stern look before he moved away to make room for Stark.
Stark evidenced very little interest in the seismic sensors when they finally got to the Missile Room. He spent most of the trip through the boat pontificating on the current situation in Afghanistan and the progress of the U.S. troop draw down. He mentioned that ONI was looking to increase their presence in the Pakistani Tribal Areas. Lee listened to this with a sinking feeling in his stomach. This sounded very much like Admiral Stark talking to Admiral Johnson, the head of ONI, about Lee Crane. He couldn't imagine how having two four-star admirals talking about him could result in anything but trouble.
Once Lee had shown Stark the new titanium alloy sensors and Stark had grumped they looked very nice, he asked Lee to join him in his cabin for an after dinner drink. Such an invitation being a command appearance, ten minutes later Lee found himself sitting opposite Stark in a straight-backed chair with a glass of rye and ice in his hand.
"Johnson is very keen on getting you back into Pakistan," Stark finally came right out and stated what Lee now knew he had been leading up to all night.
"I see, sir," Lee was damned if he could figure why the ComSubPac would be talking to the captain of the Seaview about ONI assignments.
"I'm reluctant to let you spend three years on an ONI shore rotation, especially after you've spent a year on this reserve assignment." Stark explained. "However, Johnson and I discussed your future and he's agreed after a one year assignment in Pakistan he'll promote you to Commander ONI-MidEast. It would be great strategic experience for you, that assignment would last two years and at the end of it you'd be made full captain and be given command of the North Carolina." Stark sat back with a smile on his face and a look that Lee could only think of as, well, sort of, paternal satisfaction.
Lee felt as if the boat had just made a sudden dive for the bottom. It was only having had a lifetime of expectations explode in his face that kept him from catching his breath as Stark spoke. As it was, he managed to keep his face schooled in a carefully neutral expression and thanked the Naval Academy yet again for preparing him so well for life as a serving officer. Nothing like having a second year man screaming in your face to teach you to suck it up and ignore the bewildering vagaries of the Navy.
"ONI needs you, Crane, I know Johnson will be in touch with you about this when we return from this cruise. They need officers with your experience and skills in that part of the world during this very difficult time for our country. But you've never let your country down and I'm sure you won't now. I just wanted to let you know that the Navy recognizes your contribution and that this ONI assignment will advance your career, not hold you back. Johnson and I will make sure of that."
"I see, sir."
"It's fortunate that Dressler is such a good match for the Seaview. He'll be able to help Nelson at NIMR as well as pick up the slack on the boat. Not that I'm suggesting you run a slack boat, just that once you're gone, well, they'll need a new captain here." Stark was smiling at Lee again. He decided that on the whole he preferred Stark scowling at him rather than smiling.
"Well, just wanted to give you a heads up on this, as I said Johnson will be in touch once you get back to Santa Barbara."
"Drink up, Drink up, been a long day, eh?"
"Yes, sir." Lee set the nearly untouched glass of rye on the edge of the desk recognizing his dismissal and never happier to receive it. "Thank you, sir, and good night." Lee gave Stark a nod and headed out of the room his head spinning.
Lee sat on the floor of his small head the cold wet washcloth on his arm, his head leaning back against the wall waiting for the ibuprofen to take effect. Periodically he would reach up and rewet the washcloth in the water in the small sink and return it to sit on his arm. His head ached, his arm was killing him, and he couldn't understand why Stark had suddenly decided he was God's gift to ONI and ComSubPac. He knew he needed to get some sleep but his arm was too sore to let him sleep and his mind was still spinning two hours after his conversation with Stark.
Deciding his arm wasn't going to feel any better or his head stop spinning he pulled himself tiredly to his feet and put his shirt back on. Carefully tucking the tail of the shirt in his pants with one hand he looked at himself in the mirror. His shirt wasn't as pristine as when he'd put it on five hours ago but he thought it would do for a late night ramble.
Leaving his cabin he began walking forward keeping his right hand tucked in his pocket in an effort to reduce the movement of his arm. He was tired and sore, two feelings he'd almost gotten past in the last week, and now he was very worried on top of that. He wondered how long Nelson and Dressler had remained in the nose after he left. He wondered if they were still there lost in conversation on some scientific topic close to the Admiral's heart and far from Lee's understanding.
Two hours later, no less sore but quite a bit more tired, Lee had another attempt at his rack and fell into an exhausted sleep.
Morning came early since he hadn't gotten to sleep until after 0230. He rolled out of his rack at 0600 and groaned softly to himself. His arm was worse than the previous day. He looked down at the scar expecting to see it in flames. It felt as if the arm was on fire. The scar looked a bit redder than it had and the arm felt very warm to the touch. He went back into the head and repeated his useless ritual with the cold water and the wet washcloth to no avail. The heat and pain remained unabated. He was going to have to go see Jamie.
He showered and dressed in a foul mood. The pain and tiredness were bad enough but add a visit to Sickbay, and Chip and the Admiral all over his case, claiming he'd been over doing it and he wanted to yell at someone. He paused in his silent rant at the forces of nature and his life as he remembered the presence of Stark and Dressler on the boat. He remembered Dressler's remark back in Santa Barbara about Lee being too tired for the meeting in the admiral’s office. All he needed now was for Jamie to consign him to Sickbay with Stark and Dressler conniving around Seaview after his job. He dressed as quickly as his near inability to use his right arm allowed, ignoring the sharp pains shooting all the way to the top of his head.
He met Chip just going into the Wardroom and gave him a half smile as he headed over for his second cup of coffee of the morning. He grabbed two pieces of toast and a glass of orange juice and refilled his cup. Then he sat down to wait for Jamie to arrive so he could eat his toast for the maximum effect. He didn't want the damn toast so he was going to make sure Jamie saw every bite.
Lee listened to Chip talk about the previous day's DC drills while he moved his toast around on his plate and drank his coffee. He'd already read through Chip's report on the drill so he was only half listening to him, most of his attention on a mental replay of the previous evening's conversation with Stark. He wondered how much of Stark's plans for Dressler Admiral Nelson knew? He remembered again Nelson's eager interest in discussing the Seaview with Dressler and the rapt expression on the older man's face the previous evening as he and Stark had left Seaview's nose.
"Earth to Lee?" Chip spoke softly making sure no one else in the Wardroom could hear him teasing his friend.
"I'm listening, you’re pleased with Kelly's performance and want to have him take the PO exam." Lee answered, after a momentary scramble to catch up with the conversation so he was indeed telling the truth.
"I won't ask you to go back any further in your memory banks, I know when you're only half listening so don't pull that recall trick on me." Chip looked at him with a half smile that disappeared when Lee just looked at him silently.
"Okay, so what gives? What was going on last night with Stark? What did he want?" Chip kept his voice low. There was a certain amount of teasing that the two men shared with their crew but questioning his commanding officer about his interactions with a superior officer wasn't something that a subordinate did. It was something that Lee's best friend Chip might do, however, but not where he could be over heard.
"I'm still working my way through that." Lee told him truthfully. "I just can't quite believe it…" Lee looked up, glad for the interruption when Jamie and Nelson came in the room and they all exchanged good mornings. Once Jamie was seated with his breakfast Lee made a point of eating his cold toast and drinking his juice, successfully ending his uncomfortable conversation with Chip, although he didn't miss the speculative look on Chip's face. This conversation wasn't over.
The remainder of the breakfast conversation was mostly about Chip and Lee's plans for the day so the other two men would know what to expect. Lee and Chip had decided on a healthy schedule of DC drills all over the boat on the theory that once they started doing the test dives on the DSB there would be much less time for crew training.
Lee finished his toast and coffee and bidding the other men a good day, headed to the Control Room for another check of the situation before he started his first walk through of the day.
In the end Lee never managed to talk himself into going to see Jamie with his arm. By the time he'd checked in the Control Room and walked through the boat it was the forenoon watch and time for the speed trials he and Chip had scheduled. Ending up in Engineering at 1000 Lee called up to Chip and they began the speed tests.
An hour of testing the propeller at various speeds finished with everything in the green. Lee was very pleased with the job the black gang had done and told them so. Happy with their skipper’s approbation the men smiled sheepishly at each other. Lee left O'Brien and his crew running a full diagnostic on the propellers and turbines and headed forward to the Missile Room to talk to Sharkey about the Raytheon Guidance Systems. He thought somewhere in his late night perambulations he might have had a revelation about the guidance system.
Sharkey was bent over the test torpedo with two of his ratings running a computer diagnostics against the Raytheon specifications.
"How's it look, Chief?" Lee peered over Sharkey's shoulder at the computer screen.
"Still good, sir, maybe it was just the gyroscope, that would be nice if it was just an unstable gyroscope." Sharkey sounded much less confident about the temporary stability than he might have.
"Yeah, listen, Sharkey, I was thinking, what say we take that spare Raytheon system and install it in one of the new Titanium Sensor Probes? We can lower it using the Diving Bell access bay while we're testing the DSB. We can drop that probe down 15,000 feet and see if it stays stable. That's thousands of feet deeper than we'll ever need a torpedo to go and a big enough elevation differential to give us a good test."
Sharkey's big smile was shared by the two torpedo ratings. "Brilliant, sir. With that much depth we'll know right away if it’s the gyroscope or the guidance system."
Lee laughed at Sharkey's enthusiasm. "The question is can you fit it all in a probe? I'd like to use one of the new ones that have the directional jets and the electric engine, so that way we can move it around once we get it down to depth."
"It'll be tight, sir." Sharkey looked at the two ratings for their input.
"We can use one of the ones that we just got with the cameras, those are a lot bigger than the old ones, should fit in there fine," one of the crewmen offered.
"Give it a try, I'll stop by in an hour or so, see how you're getting along," Lee hurriedly finished, as he saw Dressler, Stark and Nelson coming into the Missile Room. He turned toward the three men, carefully lifting his hand out of his pocket as he turned and holding it naturally at his side. He paused before he started walking as the sudden pain made him momentarily dizzy.
What was going on with the arm? He would have thought it was infected again, but he had fought enough infections in his time to know that an infection causing this much pain would bring a fever. While the arm was warm and very painful he had no fever, just the pain.
Knowing he would need all of his concentration for the verbal sparring with Dressler and Stark he pushed the pain and worry to the back of his mind and focused on the three men.
Nelson looked quite pleased with something. The nice thing about Nelson's temper was you never had to wonder for long how he felt about anything. Just now he was very pleased about something.
Lee guessed he'd been showing Dressler around the Seaview and enjoying the tour himself. A look at Dressler revealed that the captain, too, appeared quite pleased with something. Lee almost sighed. All three men were looking like they'd just had a very pleasant day out with good friends.
"Lee, I've been giving Adam and Jiggs the full tour of Seaview." Nelson smiled proudly and stepped to the side to include Lee in the group.
"Very impressive boat you have, Captain," Dressler smiled the first genuine smile Lee thought he'd seen from the older man. "It's an amazing concept, no-one has ever envisioned a submarine as anything but a weapon, looked at in a new way it's amazing the possibilities that open up." Dressler's pleasure and enthusiasm were unmistakable. Lee recognized the emotions from his own first tour of Seaview.
"Yes, sir," Lee could hear the lack of animation in his voice and silently cursed himself. All the pain and lack of sleep seemed to be falling on him as he stood there. He should've kept his hand in his pocket and to hell with how it looked to the admirals. At least he wouldn't have sounded like someone coming off a double shift in a coal mine, worn to the bone and ready to sleep. He tried smiling and putting more enthusiasm in his voice, "She never fails, sir."
He could see Nelson looking at him a bit strangely and decided that sounded like he was talking about a particularly clever trick dog. He thought he'd better cut his losses, "I'm just headed up to the Conn to compare notes with the XO on our speed test of the port drive shaft."
"You testing a new drive shaft, Captain?" Stark frowned at Lee with some of his old animosity.
"No, sir. We replaced the propeller shaft housing on the way to Pearl and just finished our first speed tests this morning." Lee was proud of the work done by his crew in replacing the housing. It was work that would normally have required a shipyard or at the very least would have been done by shore-based shipwrights. That his engineering crew had handled it spoke very well of them.
"Do you normally need to do that sort of work while cruising?" Lee thought Dressler acted more surprised than the question really merited for effect.
"No, sir, Philadelphia has recalled all of the housings for the Mark VII propellers because of metal fatigue issues. We didn't want to delay our sailing so we replaced the port housing en-route." Lee was sorry now he had made such an excuse to escape the trio. Surely, he could have thought of something simpler, that wouldn't have given Dressler yet another opportunity, for what, Lee felt sure, was going to be some sort of slighting remark about his crew.
"Yes, I suppose you must do a lot of that, sailing without everything being a hundred percent, since you don't have to worry about being war ready the entire time you're sea. It must be very liberating, Admiral, to view your vessel as a research facility and not a man-of-war." Dressler moved the conversation away from Lee and allowed him to smile slightly at the three men and make his escape.
As he walked out of the Missile Room he tried to figure out if that'd been an honest opinion on Dressler's part or a put down of the Seaview. He hadn't viewed sailing while the repairs were underway as making the Seaview less than war ready but he realized it'd been exactly that. Dressler was correct; he no longer viewed his vessel as an instrument of war.
He turned into the corridor and started forward, carefully lifting his hand back into his pocket as he walked. He released a breath he hadn't known he was holding as some of the pressure eased on his arm. He wasn't a U.S. Naval officer any longer. He no longer went to sea with his first thought being the defense of his country. He now went to sea on specific scientific missions. He'd never really thought about the difference, it'd snuck up on him one mission at a time.
He stopped walking and stood lost in thought. He liked that he didn't have to run every thought and decision he made as captain through the prism of National Security. He thought about the long cruises on the attack submarines as a JO and later as captain. The lurking off shore, trailing possible enemy boats, the long hours and days of dangerous cat and mouse with no purpose except the most extreme one of saving the world from disaster. The success of a cruise measured by the fact that they'd never been perceived and hadn't had to do anything.
He wondered if he could go back to that after Seaview? These Seaview voyages, discovering new species not all of them friendly or wisely discovered but still doing something, fighting pollution, saving coral reefs learning about the ocean about the world. Could he really give that up and go back to being an underwater spy?
He walked into the Conn and made the round of the various stations, speaking to each man, checking their instruments, sharing his appreciation of their good work and care. Chip stood at the chart table waiting for him to work his way around the room.
"Was waiting for you, Mr. O'Brien, having finished playing with his shaft housing, has the Conn, want to get in an hour in the weight room before lunch?"
Lee groaned softly at Chip's attempt at sophomoric humor. He thought about the weight room. He could think of few things, other than talking to Stark, that he wanted to do less at that moment than try and make his body work. "I have a stack of reports in my office crying out for attention, I'll meet you for lunch at 1330," he suggested, checking the time on the chronometer set in the chart table, so he didn't have to meet Chip's eyes. He might as well have saved himself the trouble.
"You okay? You don't look very good."
"Well, thanks a lot, since I'm the good looking one what's that say about you?"
"It says you don't look very good, don't try to change the subject," Chip stuck his chin out toward him and nearly hissed the last part.
Lee sighed, might as well try arguing with Jamie for all the headway he was likely to make once Chip decided he needed looking after.
"I'm headed to my cabin," he knew the discussion would continue, either now between the two of them or later in front of either Jamie or Nelson. He at least knew Chip would never say anything in front of Stark or Dressler. He had no such faith in Jamie, however, and needed to get Chip straight before he started Jamie on his case.
The two men climbed up the circular stairs to the officer’s cabins on the next deck. Lee stopped outside his cabin door. "Really, I'm going in, sitting down and reading reports."
"What's wrong, Lee?" Chip had lost all the humor he'd displayed in the Conn for the crew and was now at his most big brother.
"The arm's been bothering me, I must have overdone it," Lee wanted to get his position clear and then he could defend himself from Chip's well meaning mothering efforts.
"You see Jamie?"
"With Nelson and Stark interviewing Dressler all over the boat for my job?" He hadn't really meant to say that, but once it was out there he was glad he'd spoken. Nothing less than the truth was likely to stop Chip. He very much hoped that Chip would tell him he was a fool. Then he could go see Jamie, get some antibiotics, which, in the perfect world of Dressler not being lined up for his job, would cure his arm. Then he could go to bed and sleep and wake up pain and worry free.
Chip stepped around him and opened the door to Lee's cabin, "Inside, now."
Smiling at his XO's preemptory command Lee preceded Chip into the cabin and sat down on his bunk, leaving the desk chair for Chip. "What's going on?"
Lee rubbed his forehead, knowing it would alert Chip to his headache but beyond caring. "Stark told me last night ONI is going to recall me to active duty and when they get finished with me Stark has a boomer with my name on it. Dressler is here trying out for the admiral’s approval."
"Oh, shit… Oh, shit."
The two men sat silently lost in their thoughts. "I wondered in Santa Barbara," Lee confessed, "it just all seemed sort of strange, testing a submersible from a sub, sort of spur of the moment, thrown together."
Chip was silent, Lee could see him thinking this revelation over, considering Dressler's performance at dinner.
"Yeah…What are you going to do?"
"No idea, I've been trying to think about it in between doing my job and dodging Stark," Lee gave Chip a small smile.
"Well, the first thing you need to do is lie down and sleep for a few hours, you look awful. You aren't careful you'll have Jamie in the mix. We have another command performance dinner in a few hours; can't go looking like something the cat dragged through the bilges."
Lee rubbed the side of his head again and smiled slightly at Chip. "Thanks, you are too kind," then sighing he confessed, "sleep has been a bit elusive."
"I can imagine, lie down for a couple of hours and just close your eyes. Honestly, Lee, you don't look well, that’s not going to do you any good, they all start looking at you like you're about to keel over."
Lee sighed and nodded his head, "Okay, wake me on your way to lunch."
"Right," Chip laughed, "like you'll need waking, lie down, close your eyes and I'll pick you up on my way to eat."
Chip was wrong as it turned out. He was sound asleep when Chip woke him, shaking his shoulder at 1330. Lee smiled at his friend, "bet I look great now, huh?"
Chip laughed and agreed to meet him in the Wardroom in twenty minutes, which gave them both time to shower. Cookie grumbled at them for arriving so late for lunch but managed to find the sandwiches and pie he'd saved for the two men and gave them the fresh pot of coffee he'd just brewed for the Conn. They ate quickly before both heading out to supervise the afternoon drills they'd scheduled over breakfast.
Dinner later was pretty much a repeat of the previous night. The big difference coming at the end of the meal when Dressler informed Lee he wanted access to the machine shop. He also wanted couple of hands to help Senior Chief O'Malley, the MMSC assigned to the DSB, to replace a section of his winch.
"Is something damaged?" Lee was suddenly afraid they'd somehow damaged the winch during the installation and he would have to listen to Dressler go on about the crew's incompetence yet again. The man seemed to measure competence by how quickly the men snapped to attention when he came into a room. A waste of time and effort on the part of his crew, in Lee's opinion, and not much of a reflection of Dressler's command ability. Still he could see why Stark was so taken by the captain. All that standing around looking respectful would charm the admiral.
"No, no, everything is fine." When Lee made no comment and continued to look at the older man quizzically Dressler turned to Nelson. "I have a gear section I want to use for the tests made of the new metal alloy."
The admiral and Dressler talked for sometime about the proposed alteration to the winch, Lee listening carefully. After some discussion Nelson turned to Lee and arched an eyebrow at him. "Can you accommodate Captain Dressler?"
"Yes, sir, has this new gearing been tested?" Lee was as diffident as he could manage. He truly didn't want an argument here in front of Stark and Dressler but he was worried about how much experimental gear they were going to be working with at such depths.
"No, but it’s a harder alloy than the existing gears, it won't be a problem." Dressler smiled at Lee.
"My understanding is that the existing winch has been tested to five thousand feet and on this test you propose to test it to ten thousand feet?" Lee spoke slowly, hoping that Dressler would understand his concern and interrupt him, not make Lee voice it for him.
"Yes, that's correct, the DSB has been tested to seven thousand but we've only used our new winch to five thousand feet. I assure you it will perform perfectly, the only difference will be the extra weight of cable."
Lee nodded and waited a moment, glancing at the admiral and Chip. He could see that Chip understood his concern, but he thought that the admiral was much more interested in the submersible and the possibilities of so much more exploration at depth. He didn't think the admiral had considered the same dangers that seemed to cry out to Lee. Nothing new there, he thought dryly.
"I'm concerned that while your winch and DSB have been tested together to five thousand feet, you are now planning, if I understand your conversation with the admiral, a major change to the winch and then immediately beginning testing at much greater depths."
Dressler laughed. Lee glanced at Chip. He often found it easier to keep his temper if he could watch Chip working to keep his. He wasn't sure if it was because of the distraction of watching Chip stew, or the knowing that the two men could laugh later at an incident that at the time seemed so provoking. But it always seemed to work. He wasn't sure if it helped Chip, he'd have to ask him later when the two of them talked about Dressler laughing at Lee's concerns.
"There's nothing to worry about the new parts are stronger than the parts they're replacing, they'll allow the winch to work faster and provide a greater safety margin."
"I'd still be more comfortable if such major changes to the winch had been subjected to the same degree of testing as the rest of the equipment," Lee persevered although he suspected from the narrow eyed look Nelson was giving him that he wasn't going to make much headway.
"Really, Lee, I think Captain Dressler is probably the best judge in this instance. I don't see how replacing parts of the winch can possibly endanger the Seaview." Nelson finally spoke, forestalling Stark who already had his mouth opened.
Lee tried not to think of all the experiments that shouldn't have endangered the Seaview and had left them all fighting for their lives. He took a moment to think about the winch. He could see any number of ways its malfunction could endanger the boat and decided to give it another try.
"Sir, if the winch malfunctions it's quite possible for the cable to break and do the boat a great deal of harm." Lee knew from past experience of disagreeing with Nelson's scientists that tone was as important as the worth of his argument. He needed to combine the right amount of deference, to not ruffle any egotistical feathers on the scientist, while projecting enough self-confidence to give his own arguments weight.
"Oh, come, Crane, a cigarette lighter malfunctioning at the wrong time could endanger the boat, isn't this the classic case of the loss of a nail destroying an empire? You're a research vessel, do some research." Stark smiled at his own wit.
Lee cast another look at Nelson but got nothing back from that man except an annoyed scowl.
"We'll have a chance to test the new gears in our preliminary shallow dives." Dressler reassured him, Stark nodding in approval.
"I never thought of you as a nervous Nelly, Crane."
"Sir?" Lee couldn't believe that one, even coming from Stark. What else was a captain’s responsibility except to worry about the details and keep the safety of his boat and crew uppermost in his mind?
Dressler looked over at Lee, "May I use your machine shop and have the assistance of a couple of machinists for my work, Captain?"
Nelson ignored Lee's hesitation, "Certainly, Adam, we'll be happy to assist you in any way we can."
The next morning Lee thought his arm felt a little better and the following morning better still. So when Jamie caught him at breakfast and asked him to come to Sickbay to have a look at it he wasn't too concerned. He'd forgotten that, while he felt better, he by no means felt as good as he had at the beginning of the cruise. Once Jamie examined him he made no bones about his dissatisfaction with the condition of Lee's arm.
"What have you been doing? Look at this, it's all inflamed and warm to the touch. Why didn't you come and see me when it first started hurting? Because I can guarantee it's hurting now!"
"I don't know what I did, I've been careful, must have just moved it the wrong way." Lee almost said it felt better now. Then he thought that would be a tactical error, to let on to Jamie how badly it had felt two days ago, and shut his mouth on any additional excuses.
"Well, you're going to need a sling now for a few days to give it a rest." Jamie twisted his arm too far to the right and Lee came halfway up off the gurney, grabbing Jamie's wrist with his free hand and glaring at the other man.
"I am not wearing a sling," Lee sat up and reclaimed his arm from the doctor.
"Oh, yes you are or I'll just keep you in Sickbay until you don't need one." Jamie fired back, "Sir."
"It's fine, I don’t need a sling, it hurt much worse than this when I left Medbay."
"That was almost three weeks ago and you were wearing a sling then."
"And it's better and I'm not wearing a sling now." By this time Lee was on his feet pulling his shirt back on and Jamie was standing in front of him, the sling in his hand.
"Captain, that arm needs support, the muscle needs time to heal. You need to keep the arm immobile while the muscle heals." Jamie spoke slowly as if addressing an idiot or a child.
Lee glowered and spoke back at the same measured cadence, "I am not wearing the sling."
"Lee, for heaven's sake, the arm needs the support, it's not healing."
Lee sighed. He was going to have to explain to Jamie, much as he hated to. But the "Lee" was Jamie asking Lee to talk to him as a friend, not as his commanding officer. "I can't wear the sling, Jamie, I have enough trouble with Dressler and Stark respecting my authority without wandering around the boat like an invalid."
Jamieson stepped back from Lee at that and looked at the younger man more closely. He knew that Stark's visits were always hard on Lee. Stark didn't seem to like Lee very much personally and made no effort to temper his constant criticism of Lee's performance, style and character.
The entire crew knew by this time that Stark and Dressler both had been constantly wandering the boat with the admiral and the skipper pulling out blue prints and questioning the crew and Lee on the most minute aspects of the Seaview's performance and maintenance. Jamieson hadn't really considered what this constant drilling of Lee, and of his crew in front of him, must be doing to the skipper. Lee did look tired and Jamieson now suspected it was more than just his sore arm wearing him down.
"I see," Jamieson conceded. "Yes, I hadn't thought of the amount of ammunition the sling might give Admiral Stark." He smiled at Lee as he folded the offending cloth away. "Could we compromise by decreasing the PT for a week? Give it a chance to do some more healing."
"I hate to let the muscle get any weaker, Jamie," Lee temporized his tone to meet Jamie half way.
"It's not getting stronger this way, it needs to heal before you can build it back up."
Lee nodded disgustedly. He thought Jamie was probably right. Truth was, he'd not made any progress in his PT with Frank in the past four days. Yesterday he hadn't been able to do as many repetitions of the simple arm curls as he'd done the previous week. The whole thing was so very tedious.
Leaving Sickbay in a fairly foul mood, the first person Lee met was Admiral Nelson.
"Oh, Lee, I thought I might find you here, I saw Will speaking to you at breakfast,” Nelson explained when Lee gave him a quizzical look.
"Yes, sir, just a check up."
"Good, good, are you headed for the Conn?"
"If it's nothing pressing perhaps you could keep me company to my Lab?"
"Certainly, sir," Lee started to smile, but, unsure if he could carry it off with sufficient sincerity, he decided he'd better not and merely nodded his agreement.
"I understand Jiggs has been on to you about returning to active duty," Nelson started five strides into their walk.
"Yes, sir, he did mention that ONI was planning to reactivate me." Lee kept his tone carefully neutral.
"Yes, that's what he told me, and a captaincy at the end of a three year ONI assignment."
"One of the new Ohio Class boomers, I believe he said." Nelson looked up at Lee smiling. "You would be far and away the youngest man to ever captain a boomer, Lee, be quite a feather in your cap."
The two men stopped outside the admiral’s while he unlocked and opened the door, preceding Lee into the large space. "Yes, quite a boost to your career, having Jiggs take such an interest."
"Yes, sir, very kind of Admiral Stark to involve himself." Lee was amazed he could sound so calm. He wondered if maybe some part of him did want this return to active duty. Maybe he was kidding himself? Maybe he was bored with the Seaview and NIMR and was ready for a return to the real military? He thought of the Seaview and knew he wasn't bored with his current duty. He was exactly where he wanted to be, doing exactly what he wanted to do.
He looked around the lab at the specimen tanks and the equipment as if he'd never seen the room before. Back to the regular Navy, back to the constant preparation for a war only a mad man could desire, but for which he would spend the rest of his career preparing. He wondered that he hadn't found it boring before his tour on the Seaview. He guessed he just hadn't had anything to compare it to. He loved the submarines and had known no other way to serve aboard one. It'd been the Navy or nothing. Now he knew there was an alternative, or, he thought sadly, there had been an alternative.
"Well, you'll certainly make Admiral Johnson happy, he's been trying to get your services exclusively for ONI all the time I've known you."
"Yes, sir." Lee wondered now if the ONI work hadn't been him seeking relief from the repetition of the Naval submarine experience. Time at sea interspersed with time in either the SEALS or ONI had been a good mix for him coming up through the JO ranks. Now three years ashore with ONI, two of them behind a desk. He sighed softly.
"You don't seem too excited about the change of assignment."
"Sorry, sir, it's just a bit of a shock, I thought I was set at NIMR and aboard the Seaview; it’s a bit of a surprise." Lee floundered. He didn't want to make Nelson think he was ungrateful for the attention he and Stark were paying to his career. It was very generous of both men to take the time and effort to help further his ambitions. Unfortunately they were ambitions he no longer held, but that didn't negate their generosity in furthering them for him.
Nelson was speaking of Captain Dressler and the tour Stark, Nelson, Dressler and Lee had made of the Engineering spaces the previous day. Dressler and Nelson had been deep into a discussion of the repercussions of changing the propulsion system from two props to four. The discussion had lasted most of the afternoon and was still going strong when Stark had again dragged Lee away from their dinner for another late night drink in his cabin and more talk of promotions and careers. Neither discussion had seemed very worthwhile to Lee.
"Captain Dressler suggested that by manufacturing our propellers from the new titanium alloy he's using in the DSB we might be able to overcome the cavitation’s problems at high speeds with the four screws." Nelson sounding quite excited about the prospect.
"Yes, sir, I followed that part of the discussion." Lee kicked himself for sounding so sour. He'd had no trouble following the entire discussion. He just didn't believe it. Lee, Chip and Nelson had tested four screws in as many different ways as they could imagine on computer simulations and they cavitated at anything over twenty knots. He didn't think a slicker metal alloy was going to change the basic physics of the interaction between the rotating propellers and the water.
Lee hadn't bothered to make that observation to Dressler during the other man's lengthy soliloquy the previous day. Just hadn't seemed worth the effort after Dressler had ignored every comment he'd made during the man's other lengthy explanation on how they could increase output from the reactor by running hotter steam to their engines.
The man seemed to Lee to be full of theoretical notions with little understanding of how the change in one system impacted everything else on the boat. To run hotter steam from the reactor they would need to change the entire type of piping used to transport the steam to the turbines. The additional cooling needed to protect the steam system would draw so much electrical power that they would need to run a larger reactor pile. That would require more coolant and so it went. But all Dressler could talk about was the hotter steam.
Lee understood Admiral Nelson's infatuation with the other man. Nelson truly enjoyed an involved theoretical discussion on almost any topic. Dressler was a man after the admiral’s heart seeing a new possibility in every situation. Lee thought the two men would have wonderful cruises redesigning the world. His own much more pragmatic approach to achieving the best performance from the existing systems and situations seemed so prosaic to him compared to the other two men's imaginative speculations.
Lee left Nelson in the lab happily inputting information into the propulsion simulation program Chip and Lee had developed the previous year when they'd first discussed redesigning the Seaview's propellers. Walking slowly forward to the Conn Lee thought about Dressler and NIMR. The man would make a good deputy for Nelson there too. He had the same imaginative take on the world that Nelson had. Seeing opportunity in everything where, Lee admitted to himself, he often saw danger.
Lee hated thinking of himself as a cautious man. It made him feel old before his time. But he guessed compared to Dressler and Nelson he was cautious and fearful of the unknown. Always imagining the worst that could befall the Seaview while the admiral would see opportunity for new knowledge. God, he thought, what a stick in the mud you are, Crane. Good place for him running a boomer, hiding on the bottom of the ocean waiting for a war that never came, fearful of every sound in the water lest it be an attack submarine.
"Lee, Lee, you okay?" Chip came into Lee's cabin cautiously. He turned the desk lamp on and called out to his friend again. "Lee, wake up."
"Sorry, Chip, did I wake you?" Lee sat up in the rumpled bed, his hair tousled and his eyes bleary.
"Sounded like you were fighting World War III in here." Chip kept his voice as light as he could. Certainly wasn't the first time he'd woken Lee from an unpleasant night's sleep and he doubted it would be the last, given the sorts of things Lee did for ONI. Well, he admitted to himself, just the sorts of things that happened on Seaview were enough to give a grown man nightmares. He'd needed waking a few times himself during the past year.
"Sorry." Lee got up from the rack, throwing the blanket back into the bedding when it tangled about his leg and walked into the head where Chip could hear him running the water. A minute later Lee came back out wiping his face with a washcloth.
Chip looked at Lee dressed in a pair of pajama bottoms, noting the long scar down his right arm standing out nastily against Lee's dark complexion. Chip walked over to Lee and stopped him with a hand on his shoulder and turned him so the desk light illuminated his arm. "That looks like it could have woken you all by itself." He nodded at the scar.
"It didn't help," Lee admitted and, shrugging grabbed his watch off the desk, checking the time.
"It's 0530," Chip supplied unnecessarily as Lee already had the watch in his hand.
"Too late to go back to sleep."
"Speak for yourself, I don't have the duty until 0800, I’m back for another hour anyway." Chip paused with his hand on the doorknob. "You too, Lee, go back to bed for another hour." He spoke softly, almost pleading with the other man. "You look exhausted."
"Too much thinking," Lee confessed, running his hand through his hair, further disarranging it.
"Yeah, I can imagine, have you decided what you're going to do?" Chip turned so he was leaning against the door jam, his hand still on the knob.
"I don't see where I have much choice, Nelson has all but killed the fatted calf for Dressler and if ONI calls me back up…I just don't see much choice here." Lee rubbed his face again with the washcloth and then threw it into the laundry. "Sorry I woke you, go back to sleep."
"It's still night, go to sleep," Chip commanded opening the door and stepping out of the cabin.
Dressler stood looking at the winch for a moment in silence before moving closer to examine the replaced gear section. He'd expected to find O'Malley at the winch ready to report about the work and was unhappy to not find the chief in the Missile Room. He looked about the huge space disgustedly before walking over to one of the ratings inspecting dive tanks.
"Do you know where Chief O'Malley is?" He asked the man after waiting almost a full minute for him to come to complete attention. The standard of discipline was so slack on the boat that he was amazed the men even bothered to say 'sir' when addressing their officers. He knew that proper naval discipline had to be enforced from the top down and he'd seen the casual interaction between Crane and Morton in the Control Room and was unsurprised to see the same informality all through the boat. That, at any rate, could be quickly changed once he took command.
"I don't know, sir, he could be in the Aft Torpedo Room; he was working with Chief Sharkey on the skipper’s Raytheon project earlier."
Dressler nodded sourly, not bothering to grace the useless answer with a reply. Looking at the winch one more time to make sure that the new gears were indeed installed and greased he left the Missile Room and headed aft. Captains should not need to look for chiefs and he'd make sure O'Malley knew that. The rest of this lazy, lax crew might be able to get away with this level of performance based upon their being a private boat but O'Malley was still very much a part of the United States Navy and he would make sure he didn't forget that fact.
O'Malley, the COB and two ratings were indeed in the aft Torpedo Room bent over some project on a workbench that seemed to include one of the deep sea probes they'd discussed the other night at dinner. After waiting uselessly for the men to notice him and come to attention, Dressler was finally forced to clear his throat and call O'Malley by name to get their attention. He allowed the four men to stand braced for a moment while he surveyed the Torpedo Room. There were parts of a torpedo and two probes disassembled and spread out across the deck and workbench and at least one other torpedo in the process of being disassembled across the room by two other ratings and, from the parts of khaki pants Dressler could see, an officer.
He stopped for a moment in some disbelief at the sight of the officer half way inside a torpedo doing something as a rating handed him tools. He decided when he was finished with O'Malley he'd get the youngster aside and tell him to straighten up and fly right. No way an officer should be crawling around inside a torpedo in front of crewmen. It was bad for discipline, the chain of command and morale for officers to be working with ratings in this manner. The youngster no doubt hadn't thought about the impact of his actions on the men. Certainly, with the type of mentoring he no doubt received on this cruise ship, he'd have no way of realizing the inappropriateness of his actions.
"O'Malley, I was looking for you." Dressler tore his eyes away from those khaki legs inside the torpedo with difficulty.
"Sorry, sir, I was helping Sharkey and the skipper try and install this torpedo guidance system in one of these probes." O'Malley wiped his hands on a rag as he spoke. Dressler marveled at how little time it took to ruin proper discipline as he waited for the chief to stand to properly.
Once he'd let O'Malley cool his heels for a moment he nodded his head, not having missed the ‘skipper’comment. Aboard the boat a week and he forgot for whom he worked. Skipper indeed.
"I'm sure there are plenty of men on board Seaview to do that work, your responsibility is the winch. Is the replacement gearing in place?"
"Yes, sir, Sharkey and Donnelly helped me machine the parts this morning and it's all installed and ready for testing," O'Malley paused for a moment before standing up a bit straighter. "Might I speak to you a moment, sir, about the changes?"
Dressler nodded. No point in bringing the experienced chief, along if he didn't listen to his comments. He stepped away from the other three sailors since clearly O'Malley had something private he wished to say to him.
"Sir, I wonder are those stronger gears to allow you to run the winch up faster?"
Dressler carefully didn't sigh. Give a rating a few years of experience and he thought he knew as much as an engineer.
"Yes, Chief, they're going to give us another ten percent increase in speed at the very least." Dressler wouldn't ordinarily have bothered having this discussion with O'Malley but the man had done an excellent job getting the gears machined and installed and would benefit from knowing the value of his efforts. "This will make our winch thirty percent faster than any other marine winch in use."
"Yes, sir, that was actually my concern. The faster speed is going to create even more heat in the pulley area when the wire rewinds. I wondered if we should look into putting some sort of a fan in there or something? Try and dissipate some of that heat, I'm not sure how hot it's going to get but I'm concerned those new gears could run pretty hot."
O'Malley was properly diffident and hesitant in his comments but like any chief, Dressler thought dryly, considered his experience to be at least as worthwhile as Dressler's education. Dressler knew that education trumped experience every time, just as officers trumped enlisted personnel. The laxness of this boat threw that natural order into disarray; hence, he thought sarcastically, this wasted discussion with O'Malley.
Not wanting to hurt the chief’s feelings too badly he paused for a moment as if considering what the other man had said. Then he smiled and shook his head kindly. He could afford to be magnanimous, he thought. There was no way that this man could ever hope to understand the engineering involved in the winch but he was trying to help.
"Thank you for your concern, Chief, I've run all of the numbers several times. We're well within our safe parameters for both the lubricant temperatures and the metal fatigue, there's nothing to worry about."
"Ah, yes, sir, actually, I wondered, sir, about the cable temperature as it passes through those gears sir. They're going to be getting pretty hot, I wondered if it might damage the cable, weaken it over time, sir."
Dressler laughed good-naturedly and gently clapped O'Malley on the shoulder.
"No worries, Chief, that wire will have plenty of time to dissipate heat against the mass of the rewound wire on the drum. Now, if you'll excuse me I'm going to go speak to that officer over there and then we need to go and run some diagnostics on the winch to check the gearing."
O'Malley started to speak again but Dressler forestalled him with a raised hand. He didn't have time to give the man an engineering degree. "That'll be all, Chief, meet me in the Missile Room in ten minutes."
"Aye, sir." O'Malley straightened to attention again and turned back to the three men at the workbench.
Dressler walked across the Torpedo Room toward the second working party. The two ratings who were stooped down passing tools and talking to the officer with his head inside the torpedo looked up at him when he stopped beside them. He again had to stand and stare before the two men finally stood to attention. He feared it was hopeless to try and single-handledly instill a sense of proper conduct in these men but he would do what he could.
"Phillips head," came the muffled call from the officer inside the torpedo, his hand waving about for his tool.
"Excuse me, sir," one of the ratings ducked down and deftly filled the questing hand with the required tool.
"Might I speak to you?" Dressler addressed the half body in the torpedo when it became apparent the man wasn't planning to come up for air any time soon. He used his most cutting command tone so the youngster would have no doubt he was being spoken to by a ranking officer.
"Do you really need me now? Took me five minutes to crawl in here."
"Now, yes." Dressler looked at the two ratings. He would not dress this officer down in front of these two sailors.
"Okay, just give me another minute, I almost have it."
"Would you men excuse us for a moment?" Dressler spoke with all the authority of his rank, allowing a good part of the disgust he felt about the slovenly conduct on the boat to come through. The two ratings both mumbled indistinct 'yes, sirs' and looked anxiously at the long lanky body slowly unfolding itself from inside the torpedo before moving away uncertainly. Dressler kept his best command stare fixed on the two men. This was just ridiculous. Maybe he wasn't cut out for civilian command. He hoped he could whip these men into shape; maybe they were too far-gone into sloth to be saved?
He looked back at the khaki figure appearing out of the torpedo and found himself staring into the amber green eyes of Captain Crane. He stood speechless for a moment unable to believe what he was seeing. The captain of the largest submarine in the world crawling out of a torpedo, grease all over his hands, a pair of small screw drivers in one hand and some part of the torpedo in the other.
"Riley, give me a hand here," Crane called after one of the retreating crewman and the man ran back to grab the captain’s left wrist and haul him the remainder of the way out of the torpedo.
"Thanks, Riley," Crane gave the boy a big smile which the kid had the audacity to return.
"No problem, Skipper, tight fit."
Crane laughed easily, passing the crewman the two screwdrivers and grabbing the rag the rating offered him as he looked over at Dressler his eyebrows raised. "Captain Dressler, sorry, sir, I didn't realize it was you. What can I do for you?"
Crane had a faintly quizzical look and small smile whose sincerity Dressler had come to suspect. He didn't think the man liked him and thought maybe Crane knew how much he disapproved of his command style. He'd never said anything to the youngster, of course, but he knew that on one or more occasion he'd been slow to school his features to his normal command look when he'd seen Crane interacting so casually with his crew. Now he found himself at a complete loss for words.
He couldn't give the captain of the boat the dressing down the young man should receive for his inappropriate behavior. The sort of dressing down the young man clearly hadn't received when he was oh-so-quickly passed through the junior officer ranks. This was why men his age were still lieutenant commanders. They were still learning the command skills they needed to run boats. Crane clearly didn't understand how to interact with his crew or maintain discipline, but even so this was well beyond the pale of anything Dressler had ever seen on any boat.
"Uh…" Dressler found that in spite of everything he was tempted to say something. Surely, even now it wasn't too late to teach this boy how to handle the work and men for which he was responsible. Even if Crane left Seaview he was still an officer and as a ranking officer it was Dressler's responsibility to help him learn his craft. Smiling as kindly as he could at Crane, he decided to make an effort to help the young man.
"Well, actually, I thought you were a junior officer, Captain. I came over to suggest that crawling into torpedoes was better done by crewmen than officers. But I see I'm mistaken, you aren't a junior officer." Dressler didn't feel he could go any further with his criticism but felt sure that his message would be understood even by someone as obtuse as Crane.
The man just smiled at him, "No harm done, Captain, I managed to get the part out and don't need to try and crawl back in there again." Dressler decided at that point that there was no redeeming Crane. He hoped the rest of the boat's officers weren't so far gone down this path of casual command that they couldn't be saved. Clearly, captaining the Seaview wasn't going to be some walk in the park.
Looking past Dressler, Crane called out to the COB over at the workbench. "Here's the gyro linkage, Sharkey, try this; it should save you a few inches."
The COB came across the room and took the proffered piece of equipment from Crane with a smile.
"Should just about fit, sir."
"Well, Captain, if you'll excuse me, I'm finished here and headed for the engineering spaces to check on the condition of that new shaft housing we installed."
"Yes, yes, Captain Crane, I was headed foreword to the Missile Room. We completed the modifications to the winch I was just going to check them with my Chief."
Crane nodded and Dressler thought he might be going to say something and forestalled a revisit of the previous evening's argument about the safety of the modifications by turning and walking away. He'd had quite enough second guessing from O'Malley who was at least an expert on the winch without having to listen to more stupid concerns from a man who didn't know any better than to crawl around inside torpedoes.
The next four days consisted of the preliminary dives of the DSB and the testing of the new winch. Lee spent the first morning watching the operation but, found it as dull as paint drying, He decided that as long as they were going to be stuck in one place for the next four days they might as well rebuild the other propeller casing.
The engineering ratings were so accustomed to the skipper getting his hands dirty that no one thought it unusual that Lee spent most of the day in the Engine Room assisting with the rebuild. Chip eventually came down and got him at 1900 hours and dragged him up to the Wardroom for dinner.
"How did your day go?" Chip looked at the grease stains Lee hadn’t been able to clean off his hands with a smile on his face.
"It's actually a good thing we did it now, the casing was already breaking down; we found more metal filings in the shaft housing. We used about a gallon of that HST to clean out the housing. We're going to need to get more of it from Crastico if they want us to test it for the full six months."
The two men discussed the work in a desultory fashion while Chip ate and Lee moved his dinner around on his plate. "Eat something, Lee, it'll all look better if you aren't starving yourself."
Lee laughed at Chip softly. "Not starving, just not hungry. Ensign Wilson was assisting O'Brien and managed to trip over the recovered HST and spill it all over the Engineering spaces. The smell made me a little sick to my stomach, kind of took my appetite."
"You see Jamie?"
"No. I feel fine now, Mother, it just ruined my appetite is all."
"What appetite?" Chip asked and laughed at Lee's sheepish look.
"Well, it's my appetite, be it ever so humble," they both laughed as Chip swapped his dinner plate for Lee's.
"Hate to waste all that good food."
Lee leaned back with his coffee and watched Chip finish his dinner. He absently felt the scar on his right arm. Ever since the afternoon his arm had been aching more and more. He was surprised when he pulled his hand away to see blood on his palm. Oh, oh, this wasn't good.
"Lee?" Chip reached across the table and grabbed his friend's wrist and turned his hand over so he could see his palm. "Where did that come from?"
"My arm, I think." Lee looked at his arm and could see the tell-tale stain on his uniform sleeve. "I don't understand, I didn't do anything."
"Yeah, right, Sickbay for you."
"I'm going to my cabin, it might be nothing."
Chip got that stubborn set to his mouth that Lee knew only too well. "I'll help."
Lee got his own stubborn look and the two men might have sat like that all night had not Jamieson come into the Wardroom. As soon as Lee saw him come in the door he nodded his acquiescence to Chip and got up from the table. Carefully keeping his left side to Jamieson he said his 'good evenings' to the other officers and headed out the door, closely followed by Chip, a scowl on his face.
"What the hell did you do to yourself?" Chip practically slammed the door to Lee's cabin on his way past Lee toward the head. Lee slouched over toward the desk unbuttoning his shirt and pulling it out of his pants.
"Nothing, Chip, I did absolutely nothing." He pulled the shirt off as he sat down and, wincing, bent his arm around to examine the old wound. The long scar on his arm was blistered all down its length and in several places had opened and was slowly seeping blood.
"Well, that's obviously not the case, you need our favorite doctor."
Lee tried flexing his arm and blanched at the pain. He thought Chip was probably right, This was going to need more than a wet washcloth and two ibuprofen.
"Go get him, I'm not going to Sickbay."
Chip considered Lee and looked at his arm. "You got to, buddy, no way he can take care of whatever is going on with that in your cabin. No way he will."
Lee nodded tiredly, with every passing moment the pain in his arm was growing. "You win." He stood and started to bend down and reach for his shirt where he'd discarded it on his desk and would have fallen over had Chip not grabbed his shoulder.
"I need to sit down."
"I think you better go get Jamie."
Chip looked at his friend for a moment. Lee's face was pale and beaded with sweat.
"There's something wrong, Chip."
Jamieson was surprised to see Chip come back into the Wardroom a grim scowl on his face. He was even more surprised when he came over to him and spoke softly in his ear that Lee needed to see him in his cabin, immediately. When Jamieson gave him a questioning look Chip hurried on. "I don’t know, Jamie, something with his arm but he almost fell over."
"Sickbay, now." Jamieson rose quickly to his feet.
"Cabin. I think he's going to need help getting to Sickbay."
Jamieson nodded and followed Chip from the Wardroom to Lee's cabin. He found Lee sitting hunched over at his desk, shirtless, his right arm cradled in his left.
"Lee?" Jamieson pulled the other chair over so he was sitting in front of Lee. "What happened?" He shifted the desk lamp to better illuminate Lee's arm and sucked in his breath at what he saw. "What did you do?"
"I didn't do anything, Jamie; it really hurts."
This stopped Jamieson for a moment. He'd been treating Lee Crane for a year and had seen the captain with some very nasty injuries. He could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times the captain had admitted to feeling discomfort from any of them. If Lee said this hurt he knew Lee must be in some pretty fierce pain.
"This isn't an infection, Lee, this is burned. What did you do today?"
"He was in Engineering all day, they were rebuilding a propeller housing."
"Jamie, I didn't do anything to my arm."
"I believe you, Lee, this looks like a chemical burn. What were you exposed to?"
"Jamie," Lee stopped a moment, "could it still be burning, cause it's really quite uncomfortable."
"Come on, Chip, help me, we need him in Sickbay now." Jamieson rose to his feet and helped Chip get Lee up from the chair. Chip grabbed Lee's shirt and pulled it over his shoulders and, with Chip on Lee's left side and Jamieson leading, the three men headed for Sickbay.
"We cleaned the housing out with HST. We used oil, of course, and there was hydraulic fluid and grease." Lee walked as quickly as he could toward Sickbay every step jarring his arm, hoping they didn't run into any admirals or captains.
"Are you still using the Tetratricine?" Jamieson asked.
"Yes, three times a day like you said."
Jamieson opened the door to Sickbay and held it for Chip and Lee. "Get him over to the shower, Chip." When Frank came out of the office to meet them Jamieson ordered him to help Chip get Lee into the shower. "Chemical burn. Frank, get the water on it now, twenty minutes in the shower. Chip, come with me."
Two hours later Lee was lying on a gurney and Jamieson was gently bandaging his arm and apologizing to him yet again.
"It's okay, Jamie."
"No,it isn't." Jamieson looked sadly at Lee's arm.
"You want to blame someone, blame Wilson for spilling the HST."
"I should have realized the first time you came in that there was some sort of a chemical reaction between the Tetratricine and something. I should have known then." Jamieson almost moaned.
Lee reached over with his good arm and grabbed Jamieson's wrist, forcing him to stop and meet Lee's eyes. "Jamie,how were you supposed to know. It didn't react with the HST; it's an acid burn, it must have reacted to the Hydrochloric Acid the HST precipitated out of the metal filings. Write a memo to the Navy and alert them, that's why we test these things so we find out the problems no one can imagine. They're both good products, just not on the same captain."
Jamieson nodded and marveled again at how Lee could not only cut to the essentials of an issue, but also see the best way to move another man forward in solving a problem in the most productive way possible. Jamieson thought that not enough credit was given to the kind of genius that it took to bring the very best out in others. Lee would never win the Nobel Prizes that Nelson had, but in his chosen field Jamieson guessed that Lee brought the same extreme level of brilliance as Nelson. He thought that while there were thousands of scientists recognizing each other for their brilliance all around the world there were only about a hundred submarine captains and except for a few thousand crewmen no one knew how brilliant some of them were.
Jamieson put his hand on Lee's wrist and looked him in the eye and gave him a small smile. "Thanks, Skipper, I'll try and remember that the next time I bandage this."
Lee returned his smile. "I expect at least one scathing memo on these products before the end of the cruise."
"Oh, don't worry about that by the time I get finished they'll be lucky to ever get another Navy contract, either of them."
Lee nodded and closed his eyes. "I want you to stay in here tonight, Skipper. In the morning we'll clean the arm again and you can have a couple of days in Sickbay to get you back on your feet."
"Jamie, I don't want to make a big deal out of this, I would just as soon you didn't say anything."
"Lee, this is a big deal, you have second and some third degree burns here as well as the wound open again. I can't slap a Band-Aid on this and send you back to duty."
"Dressler is here with Stark, interviewing for my job." Lee avoided Jamieson's eyes and stared at the opposite bulkhead instead. "I need to look capable, not like an invalid."
"Look capable? Look capable! For God's sake, Lee, you’re the most capable man I've ever met. How could you not look capable? And why in the world would the admiral be interested in replacing you with Dressler? You've got nothing to worry about."
Lee looked at Jamieson and gave him a small smile. "I could look not capable by laying in Sickbay wrapped in bandages. I promise I'll be careful, just let me go to my cabin, I'll take tomorrow real easy."
"I can't believe the admiral would consider replacing you. Did you talk to him?"
"Yeah, he and Stark have a plan for my future, I'm going to make admiral in ten years." Lee smiled at Jamieson. "You can say you knew me when."
Jamieson looked up at Chip on the other side of the room and got the same grim look back he knew was on his own face. "I think you need to talk to him again, Lee."
"Yeah, but not from a bunk in Sickbay."
Jamieson considered. He had no other patients now in Sickbay. It wouldn't be that much trouble for him to do what he needed to do in Lee's cabin. "All right, but you've got to stay in your cabin at least the next two days, give this arm and yourself some rest," he bargained.
"Most of it, I need to get out once or twice and show the flag."
"A sling for a week, you have to give it a chance to heal."
Lee smiled. He didn't think there was any way he was going to go anywhere without a sling but he didn't want Jamie to think he had given up too easily. That would just make him realize how much the arm hurt.
"For as long as I need it."
"Four days or no deal, and I know for a fact you aren't going anywhere without one for the next couple of days because that arm is hurting big time."
"Deal," Lee smiled sourly, he thought Jamie was probably right about the damn sling.
Lee didn't think that the admiral and Dressler had even noticed he'd spent two days more or less sequestered in his cabin. He guessed that meant he'd been very successful avoiding Dressler the past week. He didn't allow himself to think that it also meant the admiral and Dressler had been nearly inseparable during the same period.
It wasn't unusual for the admiral to become so engrossed in a project that they barely saw him for a week at a time. Lee knew he wouldn't have noticed or cared that the admiral was so engrossed if the someone he was with hadn't been after Lee's job.
Two days rest had been enough to make him nearly scream with boredom; but he was caught up on his reports and his arm was on the mend. Tired from doing nothing and with nothing to do, at 1400 hours on his second day of confinement he lay down on his rack and fell asleep. When he woke four hours later it was to find Chip sitting at his desk working on his laptop.
"Guess Jamie was right and you did need to rest," Chip gave him that smarmy 'I'm smarter than you smile' that Lee always found so provoking.
"I'm fine, just got so bored I couldn't keep my eyes open," he responded sourly. Getting out of bed he left Chip grinning like an idiot and went to take a shower.
"Jamie says you're to join us in the Wardroom for dinner, you are sprung from your prison. I'll wait for you, grouchy," Chip yelled after him.
Lee shaved and showered, taking his time, making Chip wait, and, truth be told, not able to move very fast with the stupid arm so sore. After he turned off the shower he just stood for a minute leaning against the stall wall feeling sorry for himself. The damn arm had been healed. It'd been healed twice and here it was just as bad as the day he got hurt. And here he was again, weeks more of everything taking forever to do, not sleeping because of the pain, wandering around lopsided and clumsy. He smacked the stall wall hard with his good hand in frustration.
"Don't break anything or you'll be in worse shape than you are now." Came from just outside the shower. Lee opened the shower door and took the towel Chip handed him. "You're on the boat, you're getting better," Chip read his mind with no difficulty.
"Yeah, sorry about the sour welcome."
"What? Was something different? Wasn't my ever gracious captain, oh my Captain?”
Lee smiled, as he knew Chip had intended and made a shooing motion to get Chip out of the tiny head so he could finish drying off. "So, what did I miss? The tests go alright?"
"Yes, Dressler couldn't be any happier with himself if he won a Nobel Prize. He's been lowering the DSB and whipping it back up with that winch like a yoyo all day. I keep hoping he'll drop the stupid thing and we can all go home."
"How did the test go on the guidance system in the probe?"
"Sharkey decided to wait until tomorrow so you could be there, this being your idea and all." Chip had a clean uniform on the bunk for him by the time he came out of the head. Without making a fuss or saying anything he helped Lee dress and tied his shoes for him, talking all the while about DC drills he'd run in the Forward Torpedo Room during the afternoon watch. The help and the talk were just part of Chip, Lee thought, just Chip trying to make his life easier because he was his friend. As they were getting ready to leave the cabin, and Chip finished fussing with the stupid sling, Lee gave him a quick clasp on the shoulder.
"No problem, Skipper, what's a good exec for if not to keep his captain looking sharp?" Both men laughed as they headed out into the corridor and toward the Wardroom for dinner.
"At least no command performance in the nose tonight." Lee felt considerably cheered from just a short time ago. After all, things could be a world worse than they were. He was on the mend and who knew what good things might happen?
"Really, Captain the crush depth for the Seaview is 4,500 feet. If you'll take her down to 4,000 that'll allow us to reach the bottom of the Challenger Deep with the DSB. It's well above your crush depth and no danger to your boat, I thought research was the primary aim of the Seaview?"
Dressler had a slight smirk on his face at that last question. A smirk Lee had come to dislike very much the past few days. He'd mentioned it to Chip one evening and he'd sworn the man didn't smirk. Lee wondered if you had to be on the receiving end of the questions to see the smirk. He thought he'd wait until Dressler had been in command of the Seaview for a month and then ask Chip if he could see the smirk, if Chip lasted a month. Chip had already told Lee that he thought if Lee went active again he'd probably re-up as well. They'd probably never get to serve together again, but Chip had confessed he just didn't see himself playing second fiddle to Dressler for the rest of his career.
Lee waited for Nelson to say something but the admiral just looked at him with his eyebrow quirked interrogatively.
"I'm sorry, Captain, we had this discussion at Santa Barbara, these waters are too unstable for the Seaview to operate safely at those depths." Lee replied patiently. He'd dealt with plenty of unreasonable scientists in his year on the Seaview and was well accustomed to having the same argument over and over again with them. Clearly Dressler, Navy career or not, was simply one more scientist with tunnel vision.
"There's been no seismic activity in this area the entire time we've been here and you'd have five hundred feet of safety net under you. Really, Captain Crane, I think you're being unrealistically cautious here." Dressler spoke to him but Lee could see all of his attention was on Nelson watching how his argument was playing with the admiral, not with Lee.
"No, I'm sorry to disappoint," Lee lied. By this time he was delighted to disappoint, annoy, anger, anything that frustrated Dressler. At least one advantage to returning to the Navy was that he wouldn't be ferrying idiot scientists around any more. "We're not diving to 4,000 in these waters, I'll take you to the 3,000 we agreed upon if you still wish to do that?"
"The area has been very quiet, it'd be nice to be able to collect soil samples from the bottom of the trench." Nelson suggested, rubbing the back of his neck in a characteristic gesture.
"I'm sorry, sir." Lee was very sorry to hear the request coming from Nelson. He'd expected a bit more support, but he thought he should have known once they got into the area the admiral’s curiosity would trump his caution. "I can't dive the Seaview to that depth here."
Lee paused to see if the admiral wanted to discuss the situation further. He wished if the admiral had been going to question his orders he'd had the good grace to do it in private. But he knew the man wouldn't consider this to be undermining Lee's authority. He’d just think they were having a discussion about the dive.
He knew that the reason Dressler felt he could bring this up every time they talked about the last dive was that Nelson kept supporting him in this manner. Still, that was the admiral. That the admiral felt free to discuss Lee's decisions did not extend the same right to Dressler and Lee was getting very tired of the man not understanding the distinction between Admiral Nelson, the owner of the Seaview and world famous genius, and Adam Dressler, Captain USN, soon to be retired. But he decided it wasn't his responsibility to explain the rules of life on the Seaview to Dressler and he suspected with Dressler in command those rules might be changing soon in any event.
"Very well, Captain, let's proceed with the dive you consider to be safe," Dressler spoke with ill grace. Lee was pleased to hear a small chuckle from Stark who was standing not far away watching the exchange. Lee wondered if the laugh was for his stubbornness or Dressler's rudeness.
"Very well," Lee said, in unintentional parody of Dressler. "I'll be in the Conn, once we have extended all of the remaining winch cable I'll take the Seaview down to 3,000 feet." Lee nodded to Nelson and turned smartly on his heel and left the Missile Room. He wasn't surprised to see Stark fall in behind him. The admiral had been spending almost as much time in the Conn as Lee the past few days. Lee suspected, Stark had become quite bored with Nelson and Dressler's fascination with the water samples they were collecting with the DSB.
"Missile Room to Conn, we are at 31,000 feet on the cable," Sharkey radioed up to the Control Room half an hour later.
"Aye, Missile Room." Wilson looked over at Lee who put his hand out for the mic.
"Commencing our descent to 3,000 feet," Lee radioed on the ship wide intercom.
"Take her down, slow and steady, Mr. Wilson. Mind your trim, I want a nice even descent."
Lee had thought that as long as he was going to be in the Conn anyway; the long stationary descent would be good practice for Ensign Wilson as Diving Officer. It was so seldom that the boat dove to such depths and almost never when not in forward motion.
The descent was performed with all of the care that the inexperienced twenty-three year old ensign could muster. Between his care and the deft work of the experienced crewmen there was almost no sense of the boat's descent to the deeper water.
"Three thousand feet, sir." Wilson reported.
"Nice job, Mr. Wilson." Lee picked up the mic to inform the Missile Room they had reached the desired depth.
"We are at 3,000 feet, I'll hold this depth for ten minutes if you wish to collect some samples." Lee informed Dressler, and whoever else was in the Missile Room and cared to listen, he thought, remembering the admiral questioning him about the dive.
The entire dive went without incident and Lee was beginning to wonder if he'd been over cautious. Once they reached a thousand feet he took control of the Seaview and moved her over to the edge of the trench so they could complete the retrieval of the DSB. Kowalski fed him the depths using the sonar until they found a level place to put the DSB down and retrieve the Seaview's winch cable up to the splice in the two cables. Lee stood next to Kowalski watching the sonar paint a picture of the bottom of the seabed.
"Skipper, that looks good." Lee gave Kowalski's shoulder a quick squeeze by way of acknowledgment.
"Chip, we're going to put her down here." Lee listened as Chip informed the Missile Room and then Lee began the dive taking Seaview down slowly.
"Conn, Missile Room."
"We have 19,900 feet of cable retrieved and the DSB is on the bottom. Can you give us another hundred feet of depth and we will retrieve the splice.
"Missile Room, aye."
Lee slowly brought the boat down to 2,900 feet so the Missile Room crew could bring the cable in by hand.
"Conn, we have the splice on board."
Lee stopped the descent of the Seaview and using the planes and rudders held her as stationary as he could while the Missile Room crew cut the splice and connected the cable to Dressler's winch so the rest of the cable and the DSB could be retrieved.
"Conn, Missile Room."
"Conn, aye," Chip answered.
"We're ready to retrieve the cable."
"Missile Room, aye, we'll be rising to 100 feet."
"Conn, aye, we're retrieving cable."
"Chip, bring us up to hundred feet, slowly," Lee smiled with relief that the tricky part of the dive was behind them with the cable safely installed on the second winch.
They were at 2,800 feet and rising on an even keel, which is probably what caused so much initial turbulence. Had they had some forward motion on the boat that would have eased some of the turbulence but, as it was, the pressure wave rocked them hard on their beam-ends. The boat rocked so hard that the only men who retained their places were those that were belted in. The warning from sonar did them no good as they had the DSB still hanging below them on 7,000 feet of cable and could do nothing to avoid the turbulence.
The officers standing watch were thrown wildly about the Conn. Lee ended up slamming into the periscope island and wondered, not for the first time, if it wouldn't be better to just cover the damn thing with foam rubber. He tried folding around his right arm when he felt himself losing his balance and managed to prevent it hitting the platform on the first roll. He wasn't nearly so fortunate on the next one. By the time the Seaview had settled enough for him to regain his feet he was holding his arm across his chest by the elbow and breathing carefully around the pain. Still he was in one piece which he thought was more than could be said for some of the crew who were laying about on the deck in various states of injury.
Lee's first look was for the depth gauge, which showed them at 3,200 feet and still sinking. "Blow negative, all rise on the planes." Lee called out as he came to his feet. "Engineering, all ahead slow."
"All ahead slow."
"Thirty degrees up bubble on the planes."
Lee watched the depth gauge as it continued to fall.
"Blow all ballast." He called, as the depth fell below 3,800 feet. "All ahead one third." He felt Chip coming to stand beside him,the two men watching the gauge intently. Lee picked up the mic. "Silence on the line, DC report."
"Damage Control, Wait." Came back and Lee exchanged a glance with Chip while the two men waited for the DC report and watched the gauge. Their descent had slowed and by 4,200 feet they had finally stopped going down and begun to rise. When the gauge reached 3,500 feet Lee secured the blow on the main ballast and watched the boat continue to rise. No reason to pop them out of the ocean like a champagne cork. If they slowed their ascent enough, and still had the DSB, they might manage to hang on to the submersible in spite of their recent escapades.
"Secure the air to bow buoyancy. Cycle the vents."
"All stop, negative rise on the planes," Lee commanded at 3,200 feet. The boat continued her rise through the water at a more moderate rate as the stations began reporting their condition to the bridge.
At 2400 feet Lee commanded, "Pump from after trim to forward trim. Flood auxiliary from sea." And that was when the big pressure wave hit them with no warning, the turbulence in the water from the previous wave hiding it from sonar.
Lee never even felt the boat move. One minute he was standing the next minute he was lying under Chip up against the starboard side of the chart table. He couldn't prevent a sharp gasp as Chip grabbed his arm to help him back to his feet. He wondered how mother nature always knew what part of his anatomy was the sorest and managed to land something on the damaged part? As he began giving commands he glanced down at his arm expecting to see his shirt covered in blood, but except for a small discoloration at the top of his sleeve, he seemed fine.
"Blow all ballast. All ahead two thirds, fifteen degree rise on the planes. Pump from forward trim to after trim. Pump from auxiliary to the sea. Pump from aft trim to the sea." Lee blew everything the Seaview had into the pacific and waited to see if it would be enough.
"No response from the starboard ballast tanks," Lewis, the diving officer, reported.
Lee could feel the Seaview already listing as the air filled her port ballast tanks while her starboard tanks remained full.
"Thirty degree rise on the planes," he called to adjust as much as he could for the failed ballast tanks. He grabbed Jimmy Wilson by the arm and leaned toward him, "Go down to the starboard ballast tank manual pumps and make sure there is a DC team on the pumps. Once they're pumping inform the Conn." Wilson nodded his understanding and walked quickly aft from the Conn.
Lee could hear and feel the men moving around him. He was vaguely aware of Frank moving about helping the injured and knew Chip was moving the unfit out of the way as their replacements came in to relieve them at their duty stations, he kept his attention focused on the depth gauge and the diving officer.
"Conn, Damage Control."
"Conn, report." He heard Chip on the mic.
"We have flooding in four compartments starboard between frames 64 and 68. The starboard ballast tanks are not blowing."
"Depth 4200 feet." Lee considered the affect the starboard list was having on his forward planes and decided they were no longer providing the maximum lift at 30 degrees.
"All ahead flank, thirty degree rise on the starboard planes, five degree rise on the port planes." He kept an image of the position of the Seaview in the water as he watched the depth gauge. 4,300 feet, 4,400 feet, 4,500 feet.
"She's slowing." Lee was glad to hear Chip beside him.
"Yeah." Not bothering with any of the obvious comments about their being below their crush depth and still sinking. There wasn't a person on the Seaview who didn't know their crush depth.
"Negative rise on the port planes." Lee called out compensating for their continuing list to starboard.
"Negative rise port planes."
Lee looked from the depth gauge to the Dive Officer. "Make thirty degrees starboard planes."
"No response starboard planes."
"All ahead slow."
"All ahead slow, aye sir."
4,600 feet, 4,700 feet, 4,750 feet, 4,780 feet, 4790 feet and the depth gauge stopped and held before gradually rising. 4,760 feet, 4,700 feet. The Seaview rose much more slowly than she had sunk, but she rose, and with every foot she rose some of the awful pressure decreased.
"Guess 4,500 isn't our crush depth," Chip spoke softly in Lee's ear as they rose past the magic number.
"Silence on the line. Damage Control reports all compartments." Lee heard Chip on the intercom and listened as the reports came in one department at a time.
"Secure the auxiliary blow," Lee ordered as they passed 1,500 feet.
"Captain, I have ten degree negative rise on the starboard plane." Came from Lt. Lewis in a loud call over the chatter of the DC reports on the intercom.
"All stop," Lee called and held his breath as the way came off the Seaview and she steadied at 1,200 feet with a fifteen-degree starboard list.
"I don't know, Skipper, the yoke is frozen, the port plane is answering normally."
"That's as much as we can blow." Lee kept his voice soft so only Chip could hear him. They'd blown all the ballast they could but still had all the flooded compartments and the starboard ballast tanks nearly full.
Chip nodded, "Aye, sir." Knowing Lee was thinking aloud and keeping him in the picture at the same time.
"Damage Control," came the call over the radio.
"We have the flooding under control. We have five flooded compartments water tight doors are secure and holding."
"Can you pump to the bilges?"
"Negative, sir, flooding is exceeding pumping." Chip held the mic and looked at Lee waiting for his next order.
"Conn, Missile Room."
"Missile Room, aye." Chip still looking at Lee.
"The cable from the new winch has broken, sir. The winch has caught on fire, we have the fire under control but need to vent the space.
"Missile Room, aye." Lee nodded to Chip, accepting the report and wishing he could vent the boat.
"I'm going aft, Chip, I'll see if they can pump to the aft starboard trim tanks and vent those. You have the Conn."
The four men stood silently watching the monitor as Chip carefully manipulated the controls for the survey probe. "Hold it there, Chip, and rotate the probe thirty degrees forward." The view on the monitor changed slowly as the camera panned down the length of the Seaview. "Stop it there," Lee ordered and they watched as the camera showed a fifteen-foot long gash along the side of the Seaview. They were all silent as they looked at the damage.
"She's doing well to hold her water tight compartments at this depth." Lee marveled at Seaview's ability to not only withstand the tremendous pressure on her damaged hull but on her interior compartments as well.
"They'll hold." Nelson affirmed. No one refuted his statement.
"That takes care of the starboard ballast tanks then, we'll need to surface to repair that. Give us a look at the bow planes." No one disputed Nelson's assertion. There was no way the ballast tanks could hold pressure with that long tear down their length.
Chip manipulated the controls and the probe continued its trip forward along the side of the Seaview until Chip stopped it next to the forward starboard bow plane.
"Increase the magnification," Nelson ordered. The magnification increased and Chip manipulated the probe's position until they could all clearly see the section of cable wrapped around the bow plane.
They were experienced submariners and didn't need to say anything. There was no way the bow plane could be moved with all of that cable wrapped around it.
Stark suggested tentatively to Nelson, "You could try manipulating it see if you can shake it loose?"
Lee stepped closer to Chip and they bent their heads toward each other while Nelson and Stark talked about trying to shake the cable off the bow plane. Something they'd already tried twice.
"We're going to need to send out divers to clear the drive plane."
"We're at 1200 feet."
"We've risen as far as we can. We've blown all the ballast we're able to and with negative rise on the planes we can't use our engines to surface her. It's either repair the starboard ballast tanks or clear the planes." Lee thinking aloud as much as talking to Chip, who listened grimly, knowing what was coming.
"The scrubbers aren't keeping up with the smoke off the winch, so we only get one chance at a solution. O'Brien estimates four hours and we're going to be breathing carbon dioxide."
Admiral Nelson stepped closer to where his command team stood talking, followed closely by Jiggs Stark. "Lee?"
"The scrubbers were damaged by the Ethel-oxide burned off the winch, which has reduced their effectiveness. O'Brien estimates two hours and we'll begin feeling the effect, four hours and they won't be clearing the air."
"So we have five, six hours to surface?" Nelson confirmed what he had heard.
"Yes, sir. We have flooding in four compartments on the starboard side between frames B64 and B68 and we can't vent from the starboard ballast tanks." Lee nodded toward Chip; "Mr. Morton had suggested setting up an auxiliary pump and pumping the flooded compartments into the port ballast tanks and trying to get a DC party into one of the damaged areas to make a repair."
Lee paused while all four men considered the amount of effort that would be involved in setting up the equipment and the plumbing necessary to clear the compartments. "Since we can't see any additional exterior hull damage they must be holed through to the ballast tanks, no way to tell how badly or if we can out pump the flooding," Lee waited while the admiral thought it through. "We've got a damage control party working on setting up the pumps but I don't think we can rely upon that to surface the boat."
"I agree, Lee, we could do the entire thing and accomplish nothing. I assume that brings us to the four mix diving compound?"
"Yes, sir, we have enough of the floridine and helcium on board for six dives of half an hour each."
Nelson nodded rubbing the back of his neck in thought. "It's completely experimental at this depth."
Lee exchanged a look with Chip. As two of the six divers on the boat qualified for trimix diving and the two who had done all the deeper dive testing of the new four-mix gases, they knew they'd be doing the dives.
The four men stood silently waiting to see if Nelson had a miracle inspiration that'd escaped them.
"All right, Lee, tell me what you're proposing," Nelson sighed sadly. He knew this solution was going to put his two young commanders in a great deal of danger.
"As I said we have DC working on cross pumping the flooded compartments. I have Carson and Donnelly working on the scrubbers with O'Brien to see if we can find a way to repair the damage caused by the Ethel-oxide and increase their capacity. I have a third team trying to free the Flying Sub launch hatch to see if we can get that open. That one is a complete unknown. The doors are badly warped we may not be able to open them at all or we may get lucky and they may open in the next minute. But even if they do we couldn't evacuate everyone in the time we have and there is no way of knowing if we can get the doors open." Lee looked at Chip, again sharing his thoughts with the other man, neither of them needing to speak a word. Chip nodded to Lee, his face grim.
"They aren't going to buy us enough time, sir, or at least we can't count on them doing so. We need to send out divers and see if we can free the bow dive planes."
"At 1200 feet," Stark sputtered outraged. "What are you talking about! You can't dive at 1200 feet."
"We have a new gas mixture we've been testing," Nelson explained. "We've tested it to 900 feet and it's very effective, theoretically it should be effective to 1400 feet possibly deeper. We've been testing it a bit deeper each cruise for the past eight months and monitoring the health of our divers, thus far no adverse effects."
Stark looked silently at the other three men for a moment before he shook his head and said almost reverently, "1200 feet, my God."
"Yes, sir, we have two divers who have experience with the gas to 900 feet and two divers who have been to 300 feet with it and enough gas for six half-hour dives."
"What are you thinking, Captain, two teams of two or four solo dives?" Chip speaking softly to Lee, but keeping it formal in front of Stark.
"It's possible we can just unwrap the cable, if that's the case we could get lucky, unwrap the cable and the plane works and we surface. We get unlucky we need to cut the cable. We get very unlucky the planes are damaged." Lee kept his attention on Nelson as he spoke, hoping the other man would yet come up with an inspired solution to their problems.
"I want you to lead the first dive team, Chip, take Kowalski, that'll be our strongest team. Take cutting equipment in case it's our worst case scenario and stay until you have five minutes left on your mixture. We'll wait until you're back aboard before Pat and I go out, if we need to go out at all. That way we'll have a full report from you and can plan our approach." Lee raised an eyebrow to Nelson waiting to see if the admiral had any improvements to offer on his plan.
Chip put his hand on Lee's right shoulder and looked at his friend. "That's why I'm sending you and Ski." Lee answered the unasked question about diving with his injured arm.
"But if you can't get it done…well, if you can't get it done Pat and I'll just have to save the day." Lee smiled at Chip and was relieved to see Chip return the smile, albeit a bit grimly.
"Admiral," Lee turned to Nelson and Stark and allowed the one word to address both men. "I'm going down to the Missile Room with Chip now and get him and Ski set to dive. It's fairly complicated to get the four-mix set up and Chip, the admiral, our COB and I are the only ones qualified to do the set-up," he explained to Admiral Stark.
"Chip, get Ski and Pat and explain the situation to them. Take photos from the probe here and work out a plan of attack, half an hour is going to go fast."
Chip nodded and bent back over the computer to send the pictures to his iPad.
Lee picked up the mic and summoned Patterson and Kowalski to the Missile Room. Then he double clicked and summoned Riley to the Conn to take over operation of the probe camera.
Nelson put a hand on both Lee and Chip's shoulders. "You both know how dangerous this gas is, you need to start back when you hit the twenty-five minute mark. We know the helcium can only neutralize a half hour's worth of the floridine. Once the helcium stops working your system is going to start absorbing the floridine and stop absorbing oxygen."
Lee smiled at Nelson who looked a bit sheepish, "I know you know this but allow a man to worry about his friends, don't overstay your time I don't care what you're doing."
Lee spoke for both younger men, "We'll be as careful as we can, sir."
Nelson nodded grimly, "It’s the 'as we can' part I'm worried about."
"I'm heading down to the Missile Room with Chip now, sir."
"I'll be there by the time Chip's ready to leave. I want to check with O'Brien on the air scrubbers and see how they look. If we can get more time out of them maybe we can get some of those compartments pumped and repaired." Nelson put his hand on Lee's shoulder for a moment. He wanted to say something more about how dangerous the gas was, about diving at 1200 feet and not taking any chances. He said nothing though in the end. Lee knew all this. He gave his friend's shoulder a squeeze and let him go.
Lee met his eye and nodded then headed out of the Conn after Chip. Halfway to the Missile Room Chip stopped and turned back toward Lee. "I didn't say anything, but you need to go see Jamie about your arm before you dive."
"Look, Chip, if you can't free that plane I have to dive." Lee didn't want to get into an argument with Jamie that could only cause hurt feelings without changing the reality of their situation.
"I know that, but see if he can do something for the arm before you go out. Who knows what diving at this depth is going to do to it."
Lee smiled at Chip, "You be careful, twenty-five minutes and then back here. Twenty-five minutes."
"I promise, you promise to go see Jamie before you dive."
Lee nodded, reluctantly, "Doesn't matter what he says, and you be careful, don't leave until I get there. You see me here on my way to Sickbay."
Chip nodded and smiled at his friend, "Hey, Ski and I are going to make history here, don't look so grim."
Jamieson looked up from the sprained ankle he was wrapping at the change of sound in the room; the softening of the voices and an almost imperceptible stiffening in the posture of the corpsman standing next to him. Without looking he knew the Skipper had come into Sickbay. Lee spent a few minutes walking around the room visiting with the injured crewmen. Asking what'd happened, explaining what they were doing to right the damage to Seaview. After a couple of minutes he stopped next to Jamieson and asked if he could speak to him in his office for a moment.
Jamieson finished propping the sprained ankle up on a pair of pillows and nodded to Lee. Once they were in the office Lee closed the door and asked what the count was on the injured.
"I have seven crewmen staying here with me, the worst is a broken tibia on Anderson, the rest are sprains and simple breaks. There are another twenty bad enough they came to Sickbay and were sent back to their racks or light duty, which we all hope they get to enjoy. I'm sure there're another thirty I haven't seen yet. Are you one of them?"
Jamieson looked at Lee suspiciously. While it was a common occurrence for Lee to check on injured crewmen it was also a common occurrence for him to not report injuries he didn't feel he had the time with which to deal.
"No, that is, nothing from this last little escapade." Lee smiled slightly at Jamie. "I'm giving you some context for this, Jamie, because I know you aren't going to like it. We have to get the bow dive planes free in order to surface the boat and we need to do it quickly. There're only four of us on the boat that can dive at this depth because of the complication of the gases that need to be breathed. I'm one of the four. Chip and Kowalski are going out first. If they make the repairs, all is good, if they can't I'm going out with Pat."
Jamieson's face had gotten darker and angrier at every word Lee spoke. He knew the skipper was trying to respect his judgment or he wouldn't be having this conversation, so he waited him out. He'd let Lee get his whole argument out before he explained to him with words of one syllable or less why he was not diving with his arm in its current condition.
"So there isn't any choice, Jamie, it's either I dive or we all die when the air scrubbers lose out to the chemicals from the winch fire."
"Are you trying to tell me that no one else on this boat can do this dive? Come on, Lee, let Chip or Kowalski go back out for a second dive, I know that'll tax them but it's better than what diving will do to your arm."
"They can't, Jamie, we have to use the four-mix gases, we're at 1200 feet with all our ballast blown. You were in on the preliminary work with this stuff, you know the problem is the body can only absorb a limited amount of helcium. In eight months of testing the best we've been able to do is half an hour with thirty-six hours to break the helcium back down so the body can expel it. One dive each, every thirty-six hours is pushing it. I send Chip and Ski back out and they'll be breathing pure floridine, they'll suffocate before they get out of the hatch."
Lee stopped talking and looked almost apologetic but Jamieson suspected that was only because Lee knew he had this argument won and didn't like to make anyone on his crew unhappy if he could avoid it. That's so long as he got his way, Jamieson thought sourly.
"You know this stuff when you aren't angry with me." Lee finished looking every inch the captain, no sign of the supplicant asking to dive. This was the captain informing the CMO of what was about to happen. No negotiation in this discussion.
"You're going to dive, no matter what I say and no matter what damage it does to your arm? So in that case why are you here, just to warn me to be waiting at the airlock door with a stretcher?" Jamieson was sorry as soon as he spoke. He wasn't as angry as he sounded, just very worried and unhappy and, of course, feeling the same stress as the rest of the crew, trapped 1200 feet underwater with no way to surface.
"I need you to wrap the arm so I can use it while I'm diving, and yes, I want you to meet each diving party at the airlock with a stretcher." Lee was very serious now, none of the easy camaraderie the two men usually enjoyed with each other.
"This four-mix is very experimental, we'd planned on months of testing ahead of trying anything like this. I know you haven't been in on the last few months of development but I've sent you all the files we have on it. My primary concern is floridine poisoning, if a diver overstays his thirty minutes or his body doesn't properly absorb the helcium then the floridine…. Well, I want you at the airlock, Jamie."
Jamieson nodded his head, "Aye, sir."
"Can you wrap up my arm so I can use it?"
"Yes, sir, it's not going to be comfortable," or, Jamieson thought sourly, prevent you from doing God only knows what harm to it.
Lee nodded. "Chip and Ski will be going out in the next ten minutes, I need you in the Missile Room in half an hour."
"Aye, sir, I'll finish up here and review the material that I pulled together on floridine when you and the admiral started this experiment last year."
Lee nodded and then followed Jamieson out of his office and into Sickbay. "Shirt off, Lee, and on the table."
"I need to be able to use it, Jamie."
"I know," Jamieson examined the still open second-degree burns he could see, trying not to think about the internal ones caused by the damn Tetratricine that he couldn't see. He made no comment about the new trauma, assuming it was a result of Lee being thrown around by the recent turbulence. He wondered again at Lee's ability to focus and work so effectively when he had to be in so much pain.
"I'll spray some Lidocaine on it, help with some of this surface pain, I'm reluctant to inject it, you're going to be exposed to so many chemicals in the dive."
"Inject it, Jamie, I need the arm."
Jamieson got the bottle of Lidocaine and stood holding it hesitantly for a moment, thinking about the floridine. Diving with floridine was still so new. It'd been used for years in some anesthetic combinations but they still knew so little about what happened when it was used in the four-mix combination. Still he could recall no contraindications with morphine derivatives. He gave Lee four fairly shallow injections along the seam of the wound in his arm.
Chip was as good as his word and he and Kowalski were spitting out their regulators thirty minutes after their first breath of the four-mix. Lee, Jamieson, Stark and Nelson were standing at the airlock door like expectant parents when the hatch opened to their smiling faces.
In spite of the dire condition of the Seaview there was a certain subdued sense of excitement. They'd just completed the deepest dives ever made breathing self-contained gases. There was a little subdued hubbub of excitement among the crew waiting to help them with their gear and some backslapping and congratulations exchanged. Chip and Ski were surrounded by ratings helping them out of the airlock and helping them to divest themselves of their dry suits. Both men were cold from exposure, in spite of their dry suits and insulated inner suits, but jubilant.
"It worked perfectly," Chip dropped his four tanks in the airlock and climbed into the Missile Room. "The hardest part was getting the tanks out of the airlock, the rig is really ungainly but we knew that. The cold just makes it worse. Coming back in was really hard because we were cold and trying to hurry."
"What about the repairs? We could see on the monitor that the wire is still there; can we finish in half an hour?" Lee moved as he spoke to avoid the two men removing Chip's dry suit.
"Yes, I'm sure of it. We cut through two sections in the time we were out there and we were slow because we had to get the cutter out there and in position and spent time trying to unwind it. There's two sections left and the gear is all ready to go." Chip was smiling, high from both the successful dive and from relief at knowing they would succeed in freeing the Seaview from the cable.
"It's really cold, Lee, really cold, I think half an
hour is all we could have done anyway
"Do we need to send both of us out or can we stagger the dives?"
"Needs two, one to cut and one to hold the shield to protect the dive plane. I tried doing it alone but there's too much movement in the cable, it takes two divers."
"Anything else we need to know?"
"It's really cold," Chip smiled grimly, "really cold."
"Okay, go take a hot shower and check on the DC parties." Lee gave Chip a pat on the back of his insulated inner suit. "Very good work, Chip."
Lee called Pat over and they joined the admiral to plan out their dive.
"Pat I want you to do the cutting, my arm still isn't a hundred percent, I'll hold the heat shield for you. Twenty-five minutes and you start back to the boat."
Patterson nodded his understanding, "Shall I get dressed, Skipper?"
"Yes, I'm right behind you." Lee paused when the admiral put his hand on his forearm. Neither man had wanted to don the heavily insulated inner dive suit until the last minute to prevent over-heating before the dive.
"Admiral?" Lee glanced at Stark and then looked at Nelson, whose hand was still on Lee's forearm.
"How bad is your arm?"
"Its fine, sir, just not a hundred percent." Lee kept his eyes on Jamieson as he spoke. "It's also not important."
Nelson nodded not looking happy but, like Lee, recognizing that there was nothing either man could do about it at this point. "Thirty minutes, Lee." Nelson reminded him, and he hoped not being overheard by Jamieson and Stark who were standing nearby.
"As long as it takes, Admiral, but believe me I'm shooting for thirty minutes."
"You have maybe thirty-five, forty minutes before the effects get so bad you can't get back. Forty-five minutes and you'll be in serious trouble." Nelson feared he knew his captain and that he would not return to the Seaview until the dive plane was free of the cable.
"I need you on the radio, sir, in the Conn. I need to know as soon as we get that cable off if the dive plane is functional, if it isn't then what I need to do to get it there." Lee looked at the admiral a moment longer, not sure what else he could say, needed to say.
"If I don't get it done, send out Sharkey and Riley, they're our two strongest remaining divers. They have the best chance of handling the four-mix without training." Lee knew if it came to Riley and Sharkey trying to dive at 1200 with the unfamiliar gases there was almost no chance of success but they'd need to keep trying until the bow planes were freed.
Then he gave Nelson a small smile. "I need to speak to Pat, we'll be back in no time, a simple in and out." Referring to the famous ONI missions -that seldom were just 'in and out' and were almost never simple- in an effort to lighten the suddenly very heavy mood.
"You come back, Lee, you send Sharkey and Riley out if you can't finish in thirty minutes." Nelson ordered. But he knew when Lee smiled at him it was no use trying to argue with Lee about this. No use at all.
Lee joined Patterson at the diving bench and quickly stripped off his uniform and began donning the insulated inner dry suit with the help of two crewmen. No one made any comment about the tightly wrapped bandage around his upper right arm. None was necessary. These were all experienced divers. They knew what diving at that pressure with the wound represented and they, like Lee, knew there was no choice. It'd taken the four of them months of experimentation to learn to keep the complicated four-mix properly adjusted while they dove. There was no way a diver, inexperienced with the gases, could manage the dive and the work.
Once the two men were in the airlock and the hatch was cycled closed and before the water began filling the space Lee spoke to Pat. "Twenty-five minutes you come back, I'm staying until the repairs are complete."
"I'll stay, Skipper."
Lee paused, considering; if they couldn't free the planes Patterson would be just as dead on Seaview as he'd be from floridine poisoning on the dive. "If we're still cutting you stay, if I'm just working on the dive plane, you return. That'll be a one-man job, so you come back here and clear the lock ASAP."
Patterson got a mulish look on his face, "I should stay, Skipper, you might need some help."
"Pat, I can't help you if something happens, my arm isn't strong enough. I need you to get back here and clear the airlock. I've got way more time on this unit than you do, I'm better at mixing my gases and have a better feel for how long I can go. You need to do your twenty five minutes and get back."
He could see Patterson weighing what he'd said. He didn't want Pat disagreeing with him once the dive started. They wouldn't have time for that once they started on their thirty minutes. He thought this was the problem with commanding men as able as Patterson and Kowalski. They didn't always do as they were told. Then he remembered the admiral’s face and thought that maybe the admiral felt the same way about him. But he'd never commanded robots. Patterson would do what he told him to do because he knew it was the right thing to do and because he trusted his skipper when he wasn't sure.
He'd sent Ski with Chip because he thought he could get Pat to obey this order. He hadn't been sure Ski would. He was afraid that his long time dive buddy just wouldn't be able to leave him out there alone. He didn't want either man dead from this adventure if it could be avoided. He'd have to keep Pat if he needed him in order to clear the cable. He'd take the chance on killing Pat to clear the cable. But if it were just the one-man job of freeing the dive plane he'd send Pat back and finish alone.
Nelson watched Lee walk across the room to the dive bench. He wanted to do something, say something. He couldn't just tell Lee good luck and let him go out that airlock knowing the man intended to kill himself if necessary to save the rest of them. Even as he frantically berated himself for being so devoid of brilliant ideas for saving the Seaview he knew he had to let Lee go. This was what happened when you had friends like Lee. You had to let them go; let them do their duty.
"Come back, Lee." But he knew he'd waited until the other man was too far across the Missile Room to hear him before he spoke.
Only Jiggs heard him. He felt his old friend's hand on his shoulder and turned around to see a look of sympathy on the other man's face. Jiggs might not approve of his friendship with Lee but he respected it.
"I won't tell you he'll be all right, Harry, we both know him too well for that. But he'll do his best to get us to the surface and come back, we need to make sure we do everything we can to help him."
Nelson made no reply, looking across the Missile Room at Dressler's silent winch sitting in its pool of fire retardant and discarded pieces of metal, torn off the winch to facilitate access to its burning innards. Lee, the ever cautious Lee, had known they were courting danger but he, the brilliant scientist, had overruled him. Told him off like someone's nagging grandmother, assured him that the world famous Nelson and the, oh so educated, Dressler, the scientists, knew what they were doing. Damn, damn, damn. Now who was picking up the pieces? The ever cautious Lee Crane diving in 1200 feet of water with an experimental gas mixture, a wounded arm and the intention of poisoning himself if that's what it took to save them all.
"Where's Dressler gone?"
"He burned his hand in the fire, I think he went to Sickbay to get it treated," Stark spoke in a placating tone, knowing exactly what Harry was thinking, who he was blaming.
"I sent him to his cabin," Jamieson stepped into the conversation from where he'd been standing, giving Nelson and Lee their privacy. "It's not serious, some first and second degree burns to his arm."
"He can join us in the Conn and watch us try and repair the damage his experiment has caused," Nelson held his famous temper with an effort. "Jiggs, you coming?" Nelson turned away from the crew moving the four-mix tanks into the airlock. The tanks were much too heavy and bulky for Lee and Patterson to carry until the flooded airlock gave them buoyancy.
Nelson didn't want to watch Lee disappear into that airlock that suddenly looked liked a tomb. He'd watch the dive from the Conn on the probe camera ready to give any assistance he could.
Dressler was in the Conn when Nelson and Stark arrived five minutes later. As soon as he saw him Nelson wondered if it might not have been better to leave him in his cabin. The man looked ill and uncomfortable.
"How's the arm?" Nelson made an effort to remember that he'd liked this man until an hour ago.
"Sore, sir, Dr. Jamieson said it'd be all-right in a few days, gave me some pills that have taken the edge off the pain." Dressler smiled a bit dryly, “Lying down will be nice, once we're on the surface."
"Yes," Nelson wondered again about Lee's arm. He suspected, from the grim look on Will's face every time he looked at Lee, that his captain was once again more damaged than he was confessing.
"There they are, Harry," Jiggs called out and Nelson turned his attention to the overhead monitor. He could just see the two divers coming into sight. They wasted no time. As soon as they arrived at the bow plane Patterson re-ignited the underwater torch and Lee lifted up on a loose section of the cable, which was still wrapped around the bow plane and pushed the metal shield between the cable and plane. The Control Room was silent as they listened for any conversation between the two divers.
After ten minutes they saw the cable part and Lee reach for the next piece of cable, pull it out taut for Patterson and move his protective shield into place again.
"Up a little higher," Lee instructed and the cutting resumed.
"You're twenty minutes into your dive," came over the radio from Sharkey who was monitoring the dive times from his place in the Missile Room.
At twenty-one minutes the cable parted and the two men quickly cleared the remaining pieces from the bow plane.
"You're twenty-two minutes into your dive," came from Sharkey now calling the dive down in one-minute increments.
"Test the planes," Lee ordered once their hands and bodies were clear.
"Five degree up bubble on the planes," Chip ordered from his place behind Nelson and Stark.
"Five degree up bubble," came the response from the Inner Planesman.
"No response on the bow planes," came the report from the diving officer, Mr. Lewis for this all important maneuver.
"Lee, no response on the planes," Nelson reported to Lee over the radio. "I suggest trying to force it manually." Nelson knew how nearly impossible this would be, given the difficulty of getting any force in the buoyancy of the water, but it was the next logical step and had to be tried.
"Twenty-four minutes on the dive," came from Sharkey as the two men used the ten-pound rubber mallets they'd brought out with them to try and free the plane.
"Clear the planes," Nelson ordered Lee just as Sharkey called out twenty-five minutes on the dive.
"Mr. Lewis, any movement on the planes?" Nelson never took his eyes off the monitor. He could see Lee taking the torch from Patterson and the other man start to swim away and then start to return.
"That's an order, Pat," came over the radio from Lee in his most captain voice.
"Negative movement on the planes, sir." Lewis reported.
"I'm going to try the torch, see if I can heat the connection and free it that way, keep five degrees up bubble on them."
Nelson watched Lee moving the underwater torch around the connection between the dive plane and the boat, taking his time, heating all of the metal evenly. Cautious, careful Lee Crane now breathing poisonous floridine.
"Thirty one minutes on the dive," Sharkey reported.
"I have movement on the planes," Lewis reported jubilantly.
"It's working, Lee," Nelson radioed, in case Lee had missed the small movement of the plane.
"Thirty two minutes on the dive."
"Patterson is clear, the airlock is flooded," Sharkey informed Lee who made no reply, still carefully moving the torch over the bow plane.
"Lee, I'm going to return the bow plane to ten degrees negative and try to move it again." Nelson radioed.
"Mr. Lewis, ten degrees down on the plane and then five percent up bubble."
"Aye, sir." Lewis paused a moment, "Ten degree down bubble, sir. Make five degree up angle bow planes."
The Seaview herself seemed to hold her breath as Tyler Lindsey moved the yoke toward his stomach and watched his dial, Lt. Lewis leaning over his shoulder, all eyes in the Control Room turned in their direction.
"Five degree up bubble, sir," Lewis called out excitedly.
Nelson looked back at the monitor and saw Lee already swimming away from the bow planes headed aft toward the airlock.
"Thirty-eight minutes on the dive."
"He's headed for the airlock, Sharkey," Chip reported over the intercom. "Inform me as soon as the outer door closes."
Chip stood rooted in the Control Room, his first responsibility to the Seaview his eyes on Nelson. "I'll go, Chip," Nelson told him and, grabbing Stark's arm, the two men left the Conn headed aft for the Missile Room.
"Forty-three minutes on the dive."
"Kowalski and Sharkey, get in there as soon as the hatch opens and get his mask off and hang on to him. He may be unconscious. If he isn't, he's going to be coughing and out of air so he may fight you," Nelson warned the two crewmen. "Hang on to him while Sharkey gets the oxygen mask on him, the first priority is to get him air."
"Once you have the oxygen mask on him then we can get him out of the airlock."
"Aye, sir." Sharkey answered for both men, their eyes never leaving the indicator over the airlock.
They stood poised waiting for Lee to reach the air lock, praying that he would make it.
"Outer door just cycled open, sir." Kowalski reported.
Time passed. "He should have cleared the hatch by now, it's those tanks, they're so clumsy." Sharkey banged his fist gently against the hatchway as if he could close the outer hatch himself. There was nothing they could do for Lee. He had to close the outer door on his own. Jamieson had spent enough time in the Missile Room waiting for returning divers to know how long it took to close and dog the outer airlock door, perhaps twenty seconds, not the two minutes that'd already passed.
"Green board, sir, he got it." Kowalski shouted pushing the button to pump the water from the airlock.
Sharkey stood with his hand on the hatch handle, his eye on the indicator light. "Come on, come on," he muttered softly.
"How long on the dive, Sharkey?" Jamieson asked.
"Forty-nine minutes, sir." Sharkey with no expression in his voice, "but he's okay,he’s got the airlock closed."
The green indicator light finally came on over the airlock and Sharkey spun the handle, opening the bulkhead hatch.
Jamieson caught a glance of Lee, half sprawled on the deck, supported only by the four bulky tanks that seemed to imprison him before the airlock was filled with crewmen. The two experienced divers had him out of the tanks and facemask in a moment. While Kowalski pulled off his fins and dragged the tanks out of the way Sharkey pulled off the dry suit headpiece and fit the oxygen mask over Lee's face.
"Okay, okay, take it easy, Ski," Sharkey in an unusually quiet voice. "We got you, Skipper, just pick your foot up there... Ski, get his feet." A minute later and they were all out of the airlock. Lee, supported by Kowalski, was coughing, shallowly gasping for breaths behind the oxygen mask held in place by Sharkey against Lee's feeble attempts to remove it.
Jamieson stepped up, "Leave the mask, Lee, you need the oxygen, leave the mask."
Finally, hearing him, Lee stopped trying to reach up to the mask and let his hand fall to his side, still gasping for breath. "Steady breaths, you need to get some oxygen into your system, replace the floridine. Keep breathing, it’ll get better in a second." Jamieson tried to talk him through the visceral panic of not having any air in his lungs, thankful he was such an experienced diver and not panicking at his inability to catch his breath.
"Get him on the bench, Sharkey, careful."
"Try and take deeper breaths, Lee." Jamieson put his hand on Lee's shoulder, trying to get his attention through the other man's understandable preoccupation with his near suffocation. "Take a deep breath and hold it for a second." He could see Lee trying to comply but between the dizziness and the coughing he was having a hard time managing his breathing.
"Another deep breath and hold it a second." Kowalski and Sharkey stood on either side of Lee, supporting him as he fought to get his breathing under control.
"One more, Lee, deep breath and hold it a second." Jamieson held Lee's eyes, willing him to breathe.
The drama was interrupted by the intercom, "This is the Conn, prepare to surface."
A cheer went up in the Missile Room, with the ratings slapping each other on the back. Jamieson kept all his attention on Lee who was sitting on the diving bench, his head back against the bulkhead, coughing and gasping for air.
Sharkey, with a big smile on his face, began pulling Lee's gloves off and unzipping the bulky dry suit. "Hey, Doc." Sharkey said as he pulled off the right hand glove and the blood began running down Lee's hand. "The glove is full of blood." The edge of panic in Sharkey's voice was almost lost in the hubbub of voices in the Missile Room.
"You want us to take the rest of his suit off here?" Kowalski stood over Lee, one arm supporting his shoulders the other holding the oxygen mask steady against Lee's coughing.
Jamieson looked at Lee where he sat, semi-conscious, supported by the two crewmen, shivering with cold, still gasping for air. Lee looked up at him through half open eyes and gave him a small smile behind the oxygen mask. "I'm fine… Jamie." Jamieson wasn't sure he'd heard him correctly. Lee kept his left hand on Kowalski's shoulder, holding himself upright against the other man.
"Yeah, Skipper, I know." Jamieson smiled back at him grimly, looking at the blood dripping on the floor around Lee's feet. "You look really fine."
"Leave the suit, get him on the stretcher and down to Sickbay, careful of the arm," Jamieson stood to one side of Frank as they lowered Lee to the stretcher.
"I can walk, I need…" Lee was almost indecipherable between the coughing and oxygen mask.
"Just lie down on the stretcher and let Will do his job," Nelson leaned toward Lee between Kowalski and Frank, touching him gently on the shoulder. "You've done enough for today, Lee, let us take care of the rest."
Lee looked at Nelson for a moment; Jamieson could see how unfocused his eyes were and wondered how much of what was happening Lee was actually taking in. "Frank," Jamieson called out just as Lee's eyes closed and he went limp.
"Well that takes care of 'I can walk'. Get him on the stretcher and down to Sickbay, we'll get the suit off him there."
"Will, is he going to be okay?" Nelson stood beside Jamieson as the two corpsmen disappeared out of the Missile Room with the stretcher.
"You get his boat to the surface; that'll help him, maybe he'll relax and let me treat him properly once his boat is safe."
"What about the Floridine?"
"Floridine poisoning isn't something we know much about, we're exploring some new ground here, but he's breathing. It's going to take a while for his system to flush the poison out, his lungs are going to be very compromised for a while. He won't be running any marathons for a few weeks."
"And his arm?"
Jamieson looked at him, his most mulish expression on his face. "I have to go." Jamieson was unwilling to talk about his complicity in Lee's exacerbating his injury doing what Lee felt was necessary.
Jamieson gave no indication he'd heard the admiraland continued out of the Missile Room after the stretcher.
When Nelson got to Sickbay two hours later he was unsurprised to find Chip already there, standing beside Lee who was lying on a partially raised gurney. Chip, with both his hands on the gurney, holding his upper body bent over Lee. As Nelson walked up, he could hear Chip giving Lee a rundown on the current status of the boat.
"…diving parties out now. It wasn't all that bad, a piece of cable jammed the forward two vents and we already have that out. There's a twelve foot gash along the aft section of the ballast tanks but we have the boat trimmed over enough they can weld a patch. We'll be good to dive in another three or four hours." Nelson stood behind him not wanting to stop his report.
"What about the flooding?" Lee had the coughing under better control, Nelson noted with satisfaction, but his voice was still very soft and rough. His face had a bluish cast to it that Nelson had never seen before which he assumed was a result of Lee's inability to get enough oxygen.
"We've got all the water pumped out and we're repairing the bulkhead now. You were right, it was the ballast tank that got holed into the compartment. I think we just took too much of a buffeting and a seam let go."
"Yeah." Lee's eyes closed for a moment and his head rolled uneasily on the pillow as he clenched the blanket with his left hand.
"What about casualties?"
"The worse was a broken leg on Anderson, could have been much worse though. Anderson was trapped in one of the flooded compartments. Ensign Wilson dove in and pulled him out, quite the hero, our young ensign." Lee and Chip exchanged smiles.
"Lee, how are you doing?"
"I'm good, Admiral." Lee wore a heavy flannel shirt instead of the normal hospital scrubs and was covered with multiple blankets and had another clutched about his shoulders.
"Was kind of cold." He smiled crookedly at Nelson's raised eyebrow and began coughing, fiddling with the oxygen cannula as if it were at fault for his difficulty breathing.
"Yeah, kind of hypothermic, you mean," Chip grabbed Lee's wrist to keep his hand away from the oxygen tubes. "Losing all that blood would make you a tad sensitive to the cold."
Nelson gave Chip what he hoped was a quelling look as Lee got his coughing under control. Much as he enjoyed listening to the two officers spar he wasn't sure how much of that activity Lee was up to at the moment.
Chip used the bed control to raise the back of the gurney to a more upright position. "I don't want this oxygen," Lee tried to pull his hand away from Chip and reach the cannula feeding him the supplemental oxygen. "It makes me cough."
Nelson would have laughed at that had he not been so worried. When had Lee ever wanted anything in Sickbay? "I'll get Jamie."
"Admiral." Lee called out and coughed again. "I'm okay, there isn't anything Jamie can do, my lungs are just a little irritated is all."
"There is quite a bit your doctor can do." Jamieson walked up. "And much of it, as you well know, centers around you lying down and resting while said irritated lungs rest and become less irritated. And there is nothing wrong with that oxygen cannula, just leave it alone."
"Should we go?"
"Wait, Admiral," Lee put out his left hand and grabbed the sleeve of Nelson's shirt before quickly letting go. "Sorry, sir, please wait just a second."
Jamieson handed Lee a glass of something reddish in color and Lee took a small drink from it. Whatever it was it seemed to ease his coughing after a moment. "What's that?" Nelson picked up the glass when Jamieson put it back down, holding it up to the light to examine the contents. "It seems to help, is it treating the irritation or the actual floridine poisoning?"
Jamieson laughed dryly, "It's Hawaiian Punch and I doubt it's doing anyone any good but our young captain likes it."
Lee smiled shyly, actually blushing a little, Nelson noted, amused. "It makes my throat feel better."
"So, Lee, what's so important you needed to see me and can't rest?" Nelson asked, after the three men had a short laugh at Lee's expense. Nelson was going to so miss this easy friendship; the camaraderie the four of them had developed.
"I think we can raise the DSB before we go."
Nelson looked at Lee speculatively. "It's 8000 feet below us, the navy will have to send a diving bell out and hope they can get a hook on it. Hope it's still there when they get here and not buried under another quake." Nelson talking and thinking at the same time, considering what Lee was suggesting even as he outlined the logical, traditional manner of retrieving something lost 8,000 feet down in the ocean.
"We can use the seismic probe we outfitted with the Raytheon Guidance system. Use it the same way we did to look at the outside of Seaview only we attach it to the Seaview's winch cable. With the cameras on the DSB and the probe giving us visuals we can use the electric engine on the probe to get it close enough to the DSB for Dressler to catch the hook with the DSB's arm. Then he can use the arm to attach the hook to the submersible." Lee was slow getting all of this out, pausing to cough and drink his punch, looking at Nelson apologetically each time he had to stop speaking.
Nelson stood lost in thought, looking at the opposite Sickbay bulkhead, picturing the operation in his head. "It'd take some very deft boat handling to get the probe close enough to the DSB for the camera to see it and guide you in. Can you do that, Chip?"
"I don't know, sir." Chip studied the same bulkhead. "Well, maybe if I get very lucky, I'm not sure, but I think Lee could or he wouldn't have suggested it."
Chip turned his gaze to his friend. "You do think you can do it, right?"
"Yeah, I do." Lee smiled at Chip--the twinkle in his eye that Chip hadn't seen the whole voyage. "After all I'm the captain of the Seaview."
Chip and Lee laughed, joined by Jamieson and Nelson. When Lee's laughter turned to coughing Jamieson offered Lee the Hawaiian Punch as the other man doubled over gasping for air. The three men waited until Lee had his breathing under control again and then returned his smile as he saluted them with his glass of punch and took another swallow.
Lee didn't have the scientific training Dressler had but Nelson doubted anyone but Lee would have considered trying to use the giant sub and the tiny probe to catch the DSB. Lee had a grasp of the capabilities of the submarine and an understanding of how to capitalize on her abilities that Nelson felt rivaled, and in this case exceeded, his own.
"Let me get Dressler down here and see if he thinks he can attach the hook if you get it to the DSB. Be nice to save the Navy the $160,000,000 they spent on the thing." Nelson smiled at Lee, glad to see him breathing and still in command of his boat. This had been much too close to a disastrous outcome.
Turning away from the bed Nelson touched Jamieson's arm to take the other man away with him.
"How is he?"
"I don't know, this is the first case of floridine poisoning at pressure anyone has ever seen. He's breathing, mostly on his own. He's very nauseous though he won't tell me that, also from the floridine. He's in a lot of pain from the wound on his arm, I can't sew that back together until I can administer an anesthetic and I can't do that until more of the poison is out of his system."
Nelson stood next to Jamieson as both men looked at Chip and Lee talking quietly across the cabin.
"He's not nearly as well as he'd have us believe, but he is alive." Jamieson smiled at Nelson; this so neatly summed up Lee's normal condition that he knew even in his current state of anxiety Nelson would appreciate the humor. He wasn't mistaken as Nelson shook his head in affectionate exasperation.
"Any idea how long it's going to take that stuff to clear his system?"
"A week, maybe? No one's ever inhaled this much of it before, if it keeps dissipating at the current rate, a week. If he keeps at the current pace I'm going to try a sedative in twelve hours and see how he reacts. If it looks good I'll try for something stronger tomorrow and do the surgery on his arm."
"And his arm?"
"I don't know, all I did was get the bleeding under control and pull it closed and wrap it. I won't know how much damage there was until I operate. I don't want to mess about with it now while I can't give him anything for the pain. Even our super hero has some limits."
Nelson rubbed the back of his neck looking at the two young men, their heads bent together, Chip doing most of the talking, his hand resting on Lee's arm. He thought maybe Lee had just saved all of their lives and all he seemed to want in return was a glass of Hawaiian Punch.
"Drop a Probe on top of the DSB? It's almost two miles down there. You'd need to have that probe within thirty or forty feet of the DSB for my camera to even see it at that depth." Captain Dressler made no effort to keep the annoyance out of his voice. "There's no way you could drop that probe two miles down to the DSB and get it anywhere near close enough for me to see it, let alone hold it steady enough for me to catch it."
"I believe we can do it, sir." Lee took a page from Dressler's book, ignored the captain and spoke to Nelson instead.
"Come on, Crane, you're talking about threading a needle two miles from your spool of thread, it's not possible on a good day and you're hardly at the top of your game right now."
Glancing at the basin he'd been trying to vomit into for past six hours, Lee had to admit that Stark wasn't too far off the mark with that observation. He smiled up at Stark.
All those late nights in Stark's cabin hadn't convinced him he wanted to rejoin the regular Navy but they'd gone a long way toward making him more comfortable around Nelson's old friend. He'd actually begun to enjoy Stark's sarcastic sense of humor now that it wasn't exclusively focused upon his perception of Lee's shortcomings. "I agree, sir, in my current condition I'd have a hard time threading a needle I was holding in my hand. But I don’t have to do that. I just have to hold Seaview steady in relation to the DSB, I can do that." Lee paused to swallow convulsively as he was struck with a sudden return of nausea. Certainly vomiting all over the two admirals wouldn't do his case any good.
Nelson put his hand on Lee's shoulder and leaned toward him speaking softly. "You want Will?"
"Still just a little unsteady, sir, it's passing, a few more hours and I should be fine." He hoped this last wasn't wishful thinking. Jamie had said that the worst of the symptoms should pass in a few days. That'd been almost three hours ago. Surely he'd feel better soon.
"So you think you and Seaview can thread a needle two miles below you? You've a pretty high opinion of your ship handling skills, mister." The last didn't have that sound of sarcasm Stark so often directed his way and when Lee looked over at him he saw the admiral was smiling at him.
"I say it costs us nothing to try and I for one would like to see if Crane can do it." Stark smacked the top of the table with his open hand. "It'd be a dandy bit of boat handling if he pulls it off, worth the price of admission."
"As he says, costs us nothing but some time to try it. Adam, can you attach the cable if Lee can get it to the DSB?" Nelson turned toward Dressler.
"Yes, sir, I've run a complete diagnostic on the DSB. It's tilted 30 degrees so only one arm will be functional but that arm appears to be fully functional and I have three cameras I can control, as well as lights. If Crane can get the cable in a position where I can snag it, I can attach it," Dressler sounded momentarily cheered at the prospect of rescuing his DSB. Before shaking his head. "I just don't see how you can get the cable there, Captain, it'll take some fantastic luck."
If Dressler wanted to call the marvelous things Seaview could do luck, let him. Lee exchanged a small smile with Chip, who was staring intently at him from his position on his left ready to catch him, Lee knew, if he started to pass out. Chip nodded slightly to him and gave him a small smile in return. Chip thought they could do it. Lee figured with Seaview, Nelson and Chip on his side he could do about anything.
"We'll give it a try then. I'd like to set up both the DSB control computer and our probe computer in the Conn so I have all of the camera feeds and controls coming into a central location."
"Makes sense," Dressler said and Chip nodded.
Lee looked over at Chip who answered the unasked question.
"We'll have completed our repairs topside in another hour, hour and a half. I wouldn't want to take her very deep with the hull patched, ninety feet should keep us stable though."
"Let's get that done and we'll have a go at threading the needle," Lee smiled at Dressler for what felt like the first time since the cruise had begun. He might never sail in the Seaview again but he'd show them just what she could do before he left.
Lee put Chip on the probe computer, trusting to his deft touch with the controls, since he'd placed most of the probes on their last cruise. He assigned Sharkey to the winch controls in the Missile Room. Once the DSB managed to snag the winch hook it was going to be important to keep enough slack in the line that they didn't accidentally yank the hook away with a sudden movement of the Seaview.
The two admirals stood together in the Conn against the periscope housing watching Lee maneuver the boat. Chip and Dressler hunched over their computers waiting for the appearance of the probe in the DSB cameras. The homing devices on the DSB and the probe were being projected on a monitor above the sonar station.
The tension in the Control Room was palpable with the men all holding themselves nearly motionless at their stations as Lee carefully maneuvered the giant submarine so as to keep the descending probe lined up on the DSB's homing beacon. Given the amount of current moving both the Seaview and the descending probe the need to adjust the boat was constant. The men knew that Crane was anticipating drift and current on both the Seaview and the probe in an effort to keep the latter descending directly over the DSB. The probe had to be lowered close enough to the DSB for the cameras to see it. If he missed the DSB and the probe ended up on the sea floor it could too easily become entangled and damaged.
"All stop, five degree down bubble," Lee ordered, watching the two homing devices as they lined up again on the screen. Just as they lined up he called, "All slow back, ease the bubble." After a moment's silence Lee again commanded his helmsman, "Five degree down bubble, all stop."
Sitting quietly in his chair at the plot table, his attention never leaving the monitor screen above the sonar station, Lee held his boat in place. Two hundred feet aft Sharkey unspooled almost two miles of cable, at the end of which dangled the probe only three feet long weighing a hundred and fifty pounds.
Except for Lee's quiet voice and the low voiced replies to his orders the Control Room was completely silent.
"Chip," softly from Lee who'd suddenly gone white and lowered his head away from the overhead screen.
Chip took over command of the boat as Lee fought with a bout of vertigo. Nelson stepped over and put a hand on Lee's shoulder to keep him balanced on the stool next to the chart table. Lee sat with his shoulders bowed, his left hand holding his head, his right arm invisible under his plaid shirt, again strapped across his body in the hated blue sling. Nelson bent down toward him. "You okay, Lee?"
"Lee, I'm losing it." Chip called out in a slightly raised tone after a minute.
Lee looked up at the monitor, swallowing convulsively against the rising nausea brought on by the vertigo and the sudden pain spike in his arm. "Slow back, zero bubble, fifteen degree right rudder." And a moment later, "All stop, five degree down bubble, rudder amidships."
"I can't do that, I can't control our movement with the diving planes that way," Chip said softly, his eyes again focused on his computer monitor.
"Zero bubble, dead slow port," Lee replied giving Chip a quick smile. "All stop, five degree up bubble…zero bubble. Sharkey, how much cable out?"
"8500 feet, sir." Came over the intercom.
"Five degree down bubble, all back slow…all stop, zero bubble, thirty degree left rudder."
"I see it," Dressler cried out. "Hold it there, Crane, I don't friggin’ believe it, I have a visual. You got it, Morton?"
"Got it," Chip bent over his computer, intently manipulating the engine controls on the probe.
"Five degree down bubble, all ahead slow, rudder amidships….All stop." Lee continued to move the Seaview to hold her steady as Sharkey unspooled cable and Chip moved the probe toward the waiting DSB.
"Another foot, Morton." Dressler called out as Lee again slowed Seaview's drift and brought her forward a few feet.
"I have the hook," Dressler called.
"I have released the probe," Chip replied.
Lee half listened to the two men, his attention focused on the monitor in front of him as he kept the Seaview in position. His stomach was roiling with nausea, the two blinking lights on the monitor seemed to be pinging in his head causing flashes on the sides of his vision. It was taking all of his remaining concentration to stay upright on the stool. He could feel Nelson behind him, bracing him in the chair, keeping him from falling right over. The worst though was the growing pain in his right arm. The Lidocaine was a distant memory and the pain was now radiating out from his arm to encompass his entire side. With every passing moment the pain seemed to build until it was now taking too much of his attention.
"We've got it, Lee, Sharkey has taken up the slack on the winch and the DSB is off the sea floor," Chip said softly, his hand on his shoulder. The Control Room broke into applause and shouts of, "Well, done." And, "Way to go, Skipper."
Stark clapped him on the back nearly knocking him off his stool, "Wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself."
Lee put his hand on the chart table and pushed himself shakily to his feet, conscious of Nelson's hand under his elbow. He looked over at Nelson. He wasn't sure if he was about to pass out or throw up but he was afraid that in a moment he was going to do one or the other in the middle of his Control Room to his lasting humiliation.
"Will," Nelson nodding toward the CMO standing just inside the Conn Room hatch, "I think Lee is ready for you now."
"I just need to lie down for a minute, I think."
"Come on, Skipper, a couple hours in Sickbay and you'll be a new man."
"Promise?" Lee gave Jamieson a small smile. "I might hold you to that."
"Well, maybe a couple of days."
"You'll never find out if that's the case," Chip predicted a big smile on his face. "Nice job, Captain."
"Not so shabby yourself, Commander Morton," Lee returned his smile. He didn't know how he could bear to give this up.
Leaning on Jamie more than he wanted to, he let him help him out of the Control Room, nodding to the men as they spoke softly to him in passing. An hour in a bunk sounded like a wonderful plan.
"Now that Seaview is squared away and homeward bound, I think it's time for you to ply me with some of that rye you've been pushing on my captain every evening."
Nelson led the way up the ladder toward Jigg's guest cabin followed closely by his old friend. Once the two men were seated with their drinks, Jigg's looked at Nelson questioningly.
"Well, it's certainly evident that Dressler and I shouldn't even be on a cruise together, let alone allowed to control Seaview unsupervised. We're too much alike. Too concerned about the specifics of our research and not aware enough of the repercussions of our actions."
Jiggs made no comment, just gave the snort that seemed to be the first thing that admirals learned upon achieving flag rank.
"You know it's true, the man's clever and good company but not the man for Seaview. I have the captain I want on my boat right now."
"What about Johnson? What about Crane's career?" Jiggs leaned toward Nelson, using his greater size in an unconscious, useless effort to intimidate.
"I'll certainly talk to Lee about his career, I'll find out what he wants for his life. But I know what I want and what my boat needs. You made a persuasive argument for the needs of the Navy, Jiggs and I agree, Lee would be an asset to the Navy." Nelson stopped talking and drank some of the rye, although he didn't really care for it. He'd always been a scotch man, but he knew how unhappy this talk was going to make Jiggs and he'd felt the least he could do was let the man drink his preferred liquor while he shot all of his plans to hell.
"I think what we do here on the Seaview is every bit as important as what you do in the Navy. That's why I do this, I lost track of that in your career counseling session last month. I may also have let your ambition for Lee get in the way of Lee's own ambitions. I need to talk to him."
"Johnson's still going to want to recall him for ONI." Stark warned.
"Lee's hardly fit, he couldn't pass a Navy physical right now. I'm sure between that and the support of the chief of COMSUBPAC there won't be any difficulty in keeping Lee in the reserves if that's what he wants." Now it was Nelson's turn to warn Stark. "If he wants to stay I expect you to do everything in your power to facilitate that, Jiggs. You can find some other worthy young officer to promote to head the joint chiefs, it doesn't need to be Lee."
Jiggs smiled and raised his glass in a mock toast to Nelson. "I owe the man my life, his call."
The next morning found a pensive Nelson walking towards Sickbay. The admiral had spent a restive night pondering what approach to take with this conversation – he was determined to tread carefully. He wanted to ensure that he didn’t influence Lee’s decision in any way, but he needed to let him know he wanted him on Seaview. What with Jiggs and Dressler on board, each with their own agenda, and then a cruise that had found him distracted to say the least, there hadn’t been time for the kind of conversation he and Lee should have already had. Should have had the day Jiggs came to Santa Barbara. Now had to be that time.
Jamieson was in his office, head bent over his computer and his hands up shielding his eyes from the glare of the overhead light. Nelson paused in the doorway, watching Jamieson read for a second, before knocking softly on the jam. The doctor looked up and smiled.
"Morning, Will, I've come to see our favorite sub captain."
"Sent him to his quarters an hour ago with orders to eat and rest." Jamieson stood up and walked over to Nelson. "Wouldn't do any harm if someone with more authority than his doctor reinforced those instructions."
"How long until he's fit enough to go back on duty?"
Jamieson walked over to his coffee machine and poured a cup. He raised the cup to Nelson, asking with the gesture if he wanted some. Nelson shook his head and waited while Jamieson went through the coffee ritual. Gave the other man time to get his thoughts in order.
"Fit to command the boat, another two weeks. He won't have much use of the arm but he'll be breathing fine and most of the floridine will be out of his system and he'll be able to stay awake for six hours at a stretch." Jamieson leaned against the edge of his desk looking into his cup of coffee. "If he's willing to baby the arm and listen to his doctor he can go back on light duty in two weeks."
"I don't know, Harry. There was a lot of damage to that arm before the dive, exacerbated considerably by both the dive and the floridine. I did some preliminary work on it yesterday but he's going to need more surgery, some reconstructive work and physical therapy. But if I understand my last conversation with our XO, Seaview is going to need the same when we get home?"
Nelson nodded his head, rubbing his hand absentmindedly on the back of his neck. Seaview would be in dry dock when they got home for two months at least. The navy would foot the bill for the repairs and he could use the dry dock time to do their bi-annual refit. Give his boat and her skipper time to get healed and back to normal.
"He's in his cabin?"
"He'd better be. Do me a favor, take him some breakfast." Jamieson smiled.
Nelson nodded, studying the lighting in Jamieson's office. "We should change that lighting out when we do the refit, get you something that doesn't glare on the computer that way."
Now Jamieson laughed outright, returning to the desk chair and his computer.
"You get the captain to eat and stay in his cabin for a couple of days, that'll be enough for me."
His soft knock on the door was answered by a quiet “come”. Nelson was surprised to see Lee sitting at his desk in jeans and a sweatshirt, unshaven, his hair tousled. When Lee started to rise, Nelson shook his head and stepped around him to place the tray on a desktop curiously devoid of its normal pile of folders and papers. Nelson shoved a blue folder to the back of the desk and moved Lee's laptop over to his bunk to make room for the dishes.
"Your doctor said to eat." He took the plate of scrambled eggs and plopped it down in front of Lee, adding the orange juice and toast before grabbing the carafe of coffee and placing the tray on the floor.
"You'd think Jamie was a chef instead of a doctor the way he goes on about food." Lee sighed deeply and held his fork poised over the plate, staring at the food distastefully. Nelson thought he looked like a man about to wrestle an oversized squid and he couldn’t help a grin forming.
“It’s actually quite good when it's hot.”
Lee grimaced sourly but started to eat. Nelson picked up two mugs from the top of the file cabinet, pulled the other chair over to the desk and sat down, smiling at Lee's scowl. He poured them both cups of coffee and sat watching Lee eat half a piece of toast and play with his eggs.
Lee looked exhausted, if he’d had any sleep at all it didn’t seem to have done him much good. The area below his eyes had a bruised look. The right sleeve of his sweatshirt was empty, his arm apparently still strapped to his body. Nelson watched the younger man's lean fingers moving the fork around on his plate and wished he'd spoken to Lee at the beginning of this nightmare cruise instead of leaving it for the end.
Catching Nelson's scrutiny Lee put down his fork and leaned back in his chair. “I was planning on coming to find you this morning, sir, I wanted to talk to you about a few things.”
“Then I’ve saved you a walk.” Nelson smiled, knowing that looking for him would've been all the excuse Lee needed to walk all about the boat in disregard of Jamieson's orders.
Lee smiled. “True. But at least I would have been cleaned up and dressed when I found you."
“Will was pretty clear to me that your release from Sickbay was to your cabin. I imagine he was envisioning a day of nice quiet paperwork as the best thing for you…and I think we should humor him just this once. Go shower and shave, I'll wait."
With an exaggerated sigh at having his plans for a walk through the boat thwarted, Lee smiled at the admiral before draining his coffee cup, grabbing a change of clothes and disappearing into the head.
Nelson rose as well and wandered around the cabin, stopping to look at the photos on the wall. For the first few months Lee had been in command, the cabin had been bare of personal items but now there were several framed photos – Lee and various crewmembers including one of Nelson, Lee and Chip all in dress uniforms at some NIMR function. Chip and Lee looking so young in their dress blues. Nelson wondered when everyone under forty had started to look young to him?
He picked up the tray, and loaded the dishes on it and put it on the floor beside the door. He placed the laptop back on the desk, grabbed the blue folder and started to return it to its former place. He stood holding the folder with University of California, Santa Barbara, embossed on its front. He'd received enough diplomas, earned and honorary, over the years to recognize a diploma when he saw one. He flipped the cover open and read the inside. Lee Crane, Marine Geology, Suma Cum Laude. He closed the folder, put it back on the desk and poured another cup of coffee before sitting down again.
Marine Geology, Suma Cum Laude. Lee had earned a degree in Marine Geology. He felt a sudden burst of pride and smiled broadly. Suma Cum Laude, UCSB in his spare time, while captaining Seaview and working for ONI, and being tortured by terrorists, Suma Cum Laude. He flipped the diploma open again and re-read it.
But why hadn’t Lee told him? All this talk from Jiggs that Dressler was better suited because of his science knowledge – which didn’t matter to Nelson anyway – and yet here was Lee with a Masters degree he hadn’t even mentioned. He must have been working on it ever since he came to Santa Barbara.
Nelson was surprised at how hurt he was to find that Lee hadn’t told him about this. He thought they’d built up a rapport over the past year. Perhaps he’d misread things. Why wouldn't Lee tell him this? Why let him dance around with Dressler when Lee was working to increase his scientific credentials? Had Lee viewed this year in Santa Barbara the same way he saw his tour at the Naval War College? A chance to earn a degree, increase his qualifications for the navy. Was he on the same sort of short tour Ensign Wilson was on?
Suddenly Nelson didn't want the coffee. He wanted a cigarette. He took out his lighter and played with it absentmindedly while he wandered around the cabin again, looking at photos. Lee with the crew, Lee with him and Chip, Lee with the office staff, Chip and Nelson at the summer picnic, a picture of a big sailing boat, her crew all lined up along the rail. He looked at it closely and thought he spotted a very young Lee. Pictures of boats Lee had served on. No family photos. Then he looked at the NIMR pictures again, the photos of him and Chip.
Lee emerged from the head, partially dressed…it was obvious that the shirt buttons were giving him trouble and he leaned against the bulkhead as he concentrated on doing up the buttons one-handed. “Sorry, sir. Everything’s taking longer than usual today.” Lee gave one of his crooked half smiles at Nelson who felt suddenly old and tired now that he realized Lee’s leaving was inevitable.
“What you did, Lee…staying out there, freeing the bow plane," Nelson shook his head. He didn't have the words for this kind of discussion. "It’s the kind of thing I’ve come to expect of you – it was…”Nelson looked down at the cigarette lighter in his hand. He didn't know how to talk about the fear and pride that'd gone with that dive.
"What you did later, handling Seaview like she’s a skiff… So we could save that damn DSB," Nelson shook his head in wonder, “I don’t think anyone else could have done that. I just wanted to say…what a pleasure it's been sailing with you.” Nelson realized he had to leave before he said something he’d regret. He’d no right to ask Lee to stay. Jiggs was right. Lee would stay if he asked; and where he’d come to think staying was what Lee wanted, he no longer felt sure.
If he stayed he'd say too much. He was on the verge of asking Lee to stay, on the edge of using that influence Jiggs had warned him of to coerce Lee into staying because he couldn’t stand to let him go. Abruptly he stood, “I’ve um, got work to do in the lab, maybe I’ll see you at lunch.” He stood for a moment with his hand on Lee's shoulder in a kind of benediction before turning toward the door.
Lee was surprised by the admiral’s sudden change in mood – he thought Nelson had come in to have a serious conversation about his future on Seaview and now it seemed he was in a hurry to leave. Lee couldn't let that happen. He couldn't let all of this go without making at least one attempt to hold it. He needed to know, later, when he was sitting on the bottom of the Pacific for six months in some boomer that he'd done everything he could to hold on to his dream.
The admiral turned to look at him, surprised at Lee’s tone of voice.
“Admiral, I’m sorry, sir. I…I just…I wanted to speak with you. Please, sir, please let me have my say and I promise I'll let you go.”
After a tense moment Nelson nodded, the least he could do was let Lee deliver the news on his own terms. The man deserved that. God only knew he deserved anything Nelson could give him.
“You’re right.” Nelson indicated Lee’s chair and once again took the guest chair.
Lee moved across the cabin and sank gratefully into his chair. It’s wasn’t even 0900 and he was exhausted.
When Lee remained silent, his body bent forward, his left hand cradling the invisible right arm through his shirt, Nelson tried to fill the quiet he suddenly found so uncomfortable. “I guess Jiggs has a date from Admiral Johnson for when he’d like you to take on your new command.”
“Yes, sir, I think Admiral Stark did mention a date but at the time I didn’t pay much attention. And, of course, it doesn't matter now." He made a gesture toward his shoulder with his left hand and grimaced.
"I hoped it wouldn't matter, Admiral Stark's plans, Admiral Johnson's plans. I thought I was going to be able to convince you to let me keep this job. I thought I could convince you that I'm the best captain for the Seaview.” Lee took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair, his voice softer as he continued.
“I thought you and I were a really good team, me managing the boat and the crew, you doing the discovering. I thought my practical side was a good balance to your genius.” Lee crooked a half smile – just thinking about the admiral’s thirst for knowledge brought back fond memories. “Your drive for new discoveries. I thought I could convince you that I was the best man for this.” Lee was forced to pause as a bout of coughing shook his body.
"Sorry, sir." Lee took the refilled coffee cup Nelson offered him and swallowed some of the cooling coffee.
“No Hawaiian Punch so this'll have to do." Nelson tried to lighten the atmosphere but couldn't maintain his own smile and got nothing from Lee but coughing. He waited until Lee had his breathing under control again before continuing. "I thought you wanted to leave. Jiggs can help you get the promotions you deserve. You’ll be an admiral in less then ten years, as a flag officer you'd have a real impact on the Navy, achieve the things your ability deserves."
Lee had stopped coughing now but some of the roughness caused by the floridine had returned to his voice and he kept clearing his throat as he spoke. “But at what cost? Admiral, I don’t want to work full time for ONI, I'm a sub captain. I certainly don’t want to do two years on a boomer and then move to some shore billet for the rest of my career. I don't want to move paper from one pile to another for the next twenty years. The work we do on Seaview is just as important to our country and to the world as anything I could do for the Navy.” Lee bowed his head for a moment and looked up at Nelson through half opened eyes. The look that always made him appear like he was a boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
"If you think Dressler is a better match with his science background then I’ll leave, but I don’t think he’s the best man for the job.” Lee smiled wanly, “If you chose him then I sure hope I'm wrong. I'd want him to be successful. Most f the people I care about in the world are on this sub.”
Nelson looked around the room at the photos again and then smiled at Lee. “I came to your cabin to try to convince you to stay with Seaview. You’re right, the work we do is very important and you’re also right, you're the best skipper this boat is ever likely to have.” Nelson's smile widened at the surprised look on Lee’s face. “As for Dressler, he’s certainly smart and is interesting to talk with but that doesn’t mean he’d work well with me despite what Jiggs might think. I’m just as sure as you are that he and I aren't the right team for Seaview, especially after what I’ve seen these last couple of days.”
There were a few moments of silence while Lee digested Nelson’s words. Nelson hesitated; neither he nor Lee ever really talked about their personal relationship. “I was putting the stuff back on your desk." He leaned forward and picked up the diploma. "I was surprised you’d never told me about this. It made me think I could have misread everything else as well.”
Now it was Lee’s turn to smile. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t
tell you at first because I wanted to see how it went - I just wasn’t sure I’d
have time to do the work or the research
when I knew things were going well, I just didn’t have the right opportunity.
We were both so busy and then that ONI mission came along. I got the letter
just before we sailed and I was sure I’d have time to talk to you but then,
well, you know how this cruise has gone and Dressler with his PhDs, well…”
"What did you do your thesis on?"
Lee smiled that big, broad, joyful smile Nelson had been afraid he would never see again. "The formation of new geological materials around black smokers."
Nelson laughed, returning Lee's joy. "From the cruise placing the sensors on the Rim of Fire?"
"Yes, sir, Chip and I gathered extra material and water samples on the dives we did for you. I didn't want to say anything then, I was sure I had enough material and, well…" Lee looked down at his ring and Nelson knew that, had he not been trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey, he'd have been turning the ring on his finger and smiled at the younger man.
"I wanted to do it on my own. Show you…show you that I could do it." Nelson watched Lee's thumb awkwardly turning the ring on his finger and wished he could reach over and spin the ring around for him a few times. He looked at Lee's gaunt face and shadowed eyes. He wished he could take some of the pain from the wounded arm for him. He wished he could give this young man something in return for the great gift he'd just been given. He looked away a moment, so filled with joy and pride it was all he could do not to stand up and begin dancing.
"So." Nelson cleared his throat and started again. "So, you're willing to stay on then?"
Lee again unleashed that joyful smile. "Yes, sir."
"You'll need to get fit, listen to your doctor, do what he tells you and get fit. After all you're the captain of the Seaview."
Dressler walked into the Missile Room and stood watching O'Malley, the COB and two ratings working on the damaged winch. They'd mostly finished disassembling the engine and Dressler could see they were still cleaning parts before beginning the reassembly. He made no comment when the sailors remained ignorant of his presence and didn't snap to attention. They were busy and he no longer felt any need to try and instill a sense of discipline into the crew of the Seaview. He'd accepted that this cruise had been a visit to another world, not the beginning of a new career.
He wandered out of the Missile Room and walked aft, slowly moving through the boat that might have been his. He admired the beautiful design that married function to form in ways that no one had previously envisioned in a submarine. She was an example of marine engineering moved to art and he wanted her. He hadn't been sure when he first came aboard. He'd been intrigued, of course, and flattered. She was the greatest submarine in the world. To command her would be the crowning achievement of his career, recognition of his eminence in his field.
But he hadn't been sure he'd wanted to spend more years commanding a submarine, dealing with the endless frustration of training crewmen, the boredom of long cruises, the constant drilling, the monotony of life on a submarine. He'd not been long in realizing Seaview was no navy boomer. This was a boat in a class of her own with cruises of importance and scientific interest. He reached out and touched the bulkhead beside him. He wanted this opportunity that he'd been so tantalizingly close to a few days ago.
He'd thought he was the commander that Seaview needed. He'd come aboard offended by the youth of Crane and Morton. Offended at the lax discipline and easy familiarity between the ratings and officers. He'd been so sure he could have this boat if he wanted her and that if he had her he could so improve her performance. Take the perfect tool Nelson had created and shape her crew to realize her true potential. A potential he'd been so sure a youngster like Crane could never bring to fruition.
He'd seen Crane though in the Conn maneuvering the boat to attach that hook to the DSB. The man so ill he couldn't sit up without someone holding him in place. He'd seen the perfect coordination between crew and captain and boat that had resulted in a piece of seamanship he knew he could never have achieved. It was a hard thing to admit. He'd always been the best at whatever he'd put his mind to. Top of his class at Annapolis, top of his class at Command School, admired as a captain of his submarine. He knew he was very good at what he did. He knew that Crane was better.
He realized now that the laxness and familiarity he'd abhorred between ratings and officers was not a lack of discipline but an expression of respect earned on both sides through ability, knowledge and self-discipline. He shook his head as he resumed his walk. He was glad he'd had an opportunity to sail on this boat, to see this other way of using submarines and of commanding men. He would accept the fellowship at Woods
Hole. He didn't think he could stand to have the Seaview now even if it were offered. He wouldn't want to do a job he knew could be done so much better by another.
He finished his perambulations in the boat's nose looking out Nelson's windows at the sea. He could hear the quiet voices of the Conn crew behind going about the work of managing the giant submarine and smiled. He was glad he'd had this cruise. A man should know the limits of his abilities, be realistic about his strengths. Yes, he'd go to Woods Hole and be a marine biologist.
"I'm a lot better, I managed to take a shower without needing to rest and catch my breath." Lee moved the scrambled eggs randomly around his plate, making no effort to eat them, not meeting Chip's eye.
"So, what's wrong? You're out of Sickbay, you're back on half duty, Stark and Dressler are off the boat, you're in the reserves and we're a day out of Santa Barbara. What more could you want?"
"Jamie says I can't go diving."
"You can't go diving? You nearly suffocate on poisonous gases, you have second and third degree burns all over your arm, you nearly die, you nearly lose your job, you nearly end up working for Stark and you're all bummed out because you can't go diving?" Chip's incredulity had raised his voice so that a few of the other officers eating breakfast glanced over at their table, before quickly looking away, knowing this for a private conversation.
"Enrique, our week in Baja diving, I've ruined it yet again." Lee looked so sad Chip couldn't control himself and began laughing so hard he almost choked.
"It's not funny, I really wanted to go diving." Lee had that pouting look on his face that always made him look about fifteen. It only made Chip laugh harder until Lee slammed him on the back a couple of times with the flat of his hand.
"Stop that or I'm going to do the Heimlich Maneuver on you."
"I'm not choking." Chip got his laughter half under control.
"You will be if you don't stop laughing at me."
"Oh God, Lee," Chip wiped at his tearing eyes. "I can't believe you, we're alive and you're worried about a trip to Mexico."
"Well, I guess when you put it that way." Now it was Lee's turn to laugh. The two men were laughing over their scrambled eggs and toast so hard that they had fallen against each other when Nelson and Jamieson stepped into the Wardroom.
"He probably wouldn't have made much of an admiral anyway. He needs to grow up some more," Nelson sotto voce to Jamieson, "clearlynot serious enough for an admiral." Nelson stood in the doorway looking at the two younger men laughing at some joke. His boat, his crew, his boys.
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