(For the story challenge “Contemplative”)
By K. Corris
What the h…? I was walking down to the galley now I’m flat on my back seeing stars!
“Sir! Captain Crane! Are you all right, Sir? Let me help you up, Skipper. Uh, Sir, there’s blood all over the back of your head and collar. I better get you down to Sickbay…”
“No, ‘Ski, I’m all right, just help me up, what the devil happened…” Suddenly, everything spun around and went black.
“Skipper! I got you Sir, I got you, stay there, Sir.
“What in blazes is going on here---Lee! Kowalski, what happened here? All this blood! What happened to the Captain?” The Admiral had turned down the corridor and come upon the same scene ‘Ski had.
“Admiral, I just came around the corner and found him laying here. He tried to get up but he passed out. There’s a stretcher detail on the way. He’s bleeding badly from the back of his head. Looks like someone hit him pretty hard.”
“Did you see anyone ‘Ski?” The Admiral quickly reached for the mic. “Security to the galley! STAT!”
“No, Sir, just him laying here. I don’t even know how long he was here before I found him.”
Admiral Nelson clicked the mic again. “Control Room, how long has it been since Captain Crane left there?”
“Control Room, Sir. “He left about ten minutes ago. Said he was going for coffee, the pot here is empty. I’m sure you’ll find him in the galley. I heard you page Security, is everything all right, Sir?”
“I did find him Chip, laying flat on his back outside the galley, he’s out cold and his head is a bloody mess. He’s been attacked. I’m trying to figure out how long he has been laying here. The stretcher detail is here, I’ll be down in Sickbay with him. Nelson out.”
“Well Harry, I can tell you right now he’s got a concussion, and a good one. He won’t be out of here for a couple of days at least. I’m just hoping the x-ray doesn’t show a skull fracture as well. He’s taken quite a blow. And since it’s obvious someone attacked him, I want some Security down here.”
“Understood, Will. I have all of the Security team investigating this so I’ll have ‘Ski report here for now, until someone is free. In the mean time, I’m going to the Control Room to talk to Chip, see if he can shed any light on who could possibly be behind this.” After another look at Lee, Nelson turned, nodded at the Doctor, and walked out of Sickbay.
After another check on Lee and finding him with no signs of regaining consciousness yet, Doctor Will Jamieson went into his office to pull and update Lee’s medical chart. He hadn’t sat down for more than 30 seconds when he heard a slight noise near where Lee was laying. It was too soon for ’Ski to be down there, and he would have checked in with the doctor as soon as he came in, as would any crewman who came in for medical attention. Will quietly slid open his right bottom desk drawer. He only kept three things in the back of it. He reached behind his bottle R.L. Seale’s Finest Barbados Rum, (given to him personally by the owner, Sir David Seale, and only kept for medicinal purposes of course), then reached under his worn Bible, and carefully wrapped his hand around his service revolver. Withdrawing it slowly as he stood up, he creeped silently towards his open office door. A crewman in a red jumpsuit was just standing there, staring down at Lee, with his back turned towards the doctor.
Will didn’t recognize him from the back, but he didn’t make any aggressive moves towards the Captain.
Will just stood there quietly, ready to fire if he had to. But the man just hung his head down, turned and quietly walked back out of Sickbay. Will had no way of knowing if he meant Lee any harm but then changed his mind, or if he was simply checking to see how the Captain was doing. Whenever Lee was in Sickbay for any reason, crewmen came down to visit him. But this “visit”, if it was that, was so soon after Lee was brought down here that Will doubted word had gotten around yet. Maybe he should have confronted the crewman, asked him, at the very least, if he was down there because he needed medical attention. After all, he was the doctor and this was Sickbay. And Will was armed, prepared for anything. He hated guns, but thanks to his military training he knew how to use one. And he wouldn’t think twice about it if he had to defend himself or protect someone else, especially one of his patients. And as a doctor, he certainly knew where to aim to hurt but not kill. Ah well, too late now. But he would report it. For now, he walked over and closed the door to Sickbay. He didn’t want anymore surprises before ‘Ski got there. Until then, he had a patient to prepare for x-rays.
Chip Morton, Executive Officer of the Seaview but now her Acting Captain, turned control of the great submarine over to Mister O’Brien. Then he, Chief Sharkey, the Admiral, and Sergeant Mike Austin sat down in the nose. The former Marine was Seaview’s head of Security when they were at sea, and part of the Institute’s Security team when they were in port. The last update from Security stated they had not found anything or anyone yet that had heard or seen a thing. Cookie hadn’t seen or served anyone before or right after the Captain was attacked. They were studying Dr. Jamieson’s report from Sickbay about the ‘visiting’ crewman, but had no idea who it could be. The description fit too many crewmen. Chip and Sharkey went over all the duty rosters, trying to figure out who would have reason to be near the galley at the time Lee was attacked, but the truth was any off duty crewman could be there; it was so near the crew’s quarters. And even though it was in between meals, there were always snacks and drinks available. Any on duty crewman taking their break could have stopped in there, that’s what Lee was doing. Aside from the officers, all of the crew wore red jumpsuits. Except for Cookie, who insisted he couldn’t cook or prepare food properly in a jumpsuit. He wore a white apron over a white tee shirt, over his tan Dockers.
The Doctor had informed Admiral Nelson that the x-rays showed a hairline fracture, and the Captain still showed no signs of regaining consciousness. The doctor was worried about hemorrhaging in the brain. Aside from keeping a close watch on him, there was nothing more to be done but wait. He had already decided to evacuate the Captain if he didn’t come to within a few hours. The Admiral ordered the flying sub to be readied and kept on standby, and had already given Chip orders to turn Seaview around and head for home. This mission was a private one for the Institute itself, there was no problem postponing it. Even if Lee, as hardheaded as he was, woke up with no lingering medical problems other than a big lump and bad headache, there was still a crewman or stowaway on board responsible for this. The Admiral wasn’t taking any chances. The way he felt about it, the sooner Lee was off the boat, the sooner he was both out of danger from another attack and hospitalized for a neurosurgeon’s evaluation. Jamieson believed that a blow to the head that hard was probably meant to kill. It was a good bet that since the attacker didn’t finish the job the first time, he would probably try again. And, to be honest, Nelson was worried about his boat as well. Any plans an impostor or saboteur had would hopefully be thwarted by the quick return to port.
Not for the first time, Nelson considered installing security cameras on the boat. The problem with that was then they would need a crewman to do nothing but watch monitors. And with the way the inside of any submarine was designed and constructed, there were too many places cameras couldn’t monitor. You would need one at every turn, ladder, corridor, hatch, compartment, deck, etc. It just wasn’t feasible. Even if he just put them in the most critical places, there would be so many other places left unprotected that anyone could simply plan an attack in an unmonitored area. And officers like the Captain had reason to be in any and every part of the boat. Well, that was something to discuss at a later time, there were more important things to worry about now.
“That’s all for now. Sergeant, I want guards posted at all critical stations. You know the drill, missile room, the reactor, control room. Oh, and please have someone relieve Kowalski in Sickbay ASAP. Dismissed.” With that, the Admiral stood up and walked aft to Sickbay to again check on Lee.
All was quiet as he entered Sickbay. He quietly informed Kowalski that a Security guard would be relieving him soon. He looked over to where Lee lay still unconscious, then turned and entered the doctor’s office, sitting down heavily in the chair across from where the doctor worked.
“He’s still isn’t showing any signs of coming out of it yet, Harry. It might be a good idea to keep the flying sub on standby. We’ll wait a little bit longer though. I put him on an IV to keep him hydrated. Nothing much more I can tell you. Look, could you please sit with him for a while? I just need to run to the galley and grab a sandwich to bring back here. My corpsman is checking on a crewman I put stitches in yesterday. I just wanted to be sure no infection is starting and I didn’t want to leave Lee. I’ll be back in ten minutes.”
“No problem, Will, take as long as you need. I was only going to go sit over there by him anyway.” The Admiral took a deep breath, let out a long sigh and stood up slowly, as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. Who could have done this to Lee? All of the crew respected and liked their Captain. There had to be a stowaway on board.
The Admiral sat down in the chair next to Lee’s bunk, and started going over everything in his mind. He couldn’t understand it. There was absolutely nothing classified about this mission, and there were no strangers or civilians on board. Well, at least none that they knew of. The Institute wasn’t working on anything even remotely interesting at the moment, and their next cruise was a simple routine supply run to one of the Institute’s undersea labs. The Admiral didn’t even intend to be on board for it. No reason to want the Captain out of the way. Lee hadn’t been on an ONI mission in months, and there were no whisperings about him going back on active duty for one, or at least nothing that Nelson had been informed of. Admiral Nelson hoped he had finally gotten it through to Admiral Johnson, Director of ONI, that Nelson be given as much advance notice as possible when they were going to “borrow” Lee, supposedly so he could make arrangements for proper coverage in the Captain’s absence. This was pretty much nonsense, as Chip was always ready, willing and able to take over for Lee, at least temporarily. But this “reason” served Nelson’s need to know as much as possible about his Captain’s extracurricular activities and whereabouts. After all, he was not only Captain Crane’s immediate Commanding Officer, but his employer as well. Nothing was more infuriating to him, a four-star Admiral with the highest security clearance, than to be left out of the loop regarding his Captain’s ONI assignments, being given only the brief brush-off that it was on a need-to-know-basis only. Need to know my six. That excuse was only good until they needed him and Seaview to pull their operative out of a dangerous situation when their contingency plans fell through. How many times had their own emergency actions saved not only Lee, but the mission as well? How long would it be before ONI got it through their thick heads that if Seaview was briefed before one of Crane’s assignments, they could stand by ready to assist, instead of having to disrupt a mission for the inevitable, “We lost track of Crane”, or “Our extractions plans fell through, can you get him out?” Most of the time, extraction was the most important part of the mission. Not just to save the life of a valuable operative, but anything Lee went through to obtain information was all for naught if the information retrieved couldn’t be turned over to ONI. Any operative needed to be debriefed ASAP after extraction, regardless of whether the mission was a success or not. Maybe he should touch base with Admiral Johnson. See if this assault, with apparent intent to kill the Captain, could in any way be related to any of Lee’s previous ONI missions. Even if he didn’t get any information out of Johnson, it would serve as a warning and get the head of ONI thinking.
There was another possibility. It wouldn’t be the first time someone had stowed away on board, despite all of their Security measures, just to find out more about Seaview herself. There were many parts of Seaview, such as the Herculite windows in the nose that were patent protected. While she was world renowned as the largest scientific research vessel, and only privately owned submarine, her missiles and defense capabilities were kept classified. Classified to the general public, anyway. Certainly the Navy and other world powers were aware of it to some degree. Well, he had the ship’s vital areas guarded, but how guarded could they be from one of their own? Every crewman knew his way through the ventilation ducts and all the secure areas. They all received duty rotations to every area of the boat for cross training, cleaning, and maintenance purposes.
He looked over at Lee. A little paler than usual, but other than that, he appeared to be sleeping peacefully. Would he be able to give them any answers when he woke up? If he woke up?
The good doctor returned the same time as the Security guard
reported. The Admiral dismissed Kowalski and left to send a radio message to
Admiral Johnson in
Nelson checked with Security. All stations were secure, nothing new to report. He headed for the Control Room.
“Mr. Morton, turn the con over to Mr. O’Brien, I want to talk to you in the nose.”
“Aye, Sir. Mr. O’Brien? You have the con.”
The Admiral closed the crash doors, and then sat down across from Chip. “Chip, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why this happened. I’m going to contact Admiral Johnson at ONI, see if he’s aware of any threats against Lee. But before I do, do you have any thoughts, ideas, suggestions, or observations? Has Lee mentioned anything to you about any problems with any crewman who may be looking for revenge?”
“No, Sir, there’s nothing. Believe me Admiral, I have been going over and over this whole thing in my head since it started. It’s been a quiet cruise until this, no problems with anything or any crewman. Lee would have let me know if there was. And there haven’t been any communications or radio messages either. Is he conscious yet?”
“No, no change, I was just down there and he’s still out cold. I don’t think he could tell us anything if he was conscious. He was attacked from behind; probably never saw who hit him. Who are the newest crewmen on board this cruise?”
“Admiral, there isn’t anyone with us this cruise who hasn’t been with us for well over a year. And there is no one Lee has ever had a problem with on board. Most of the crew, the ones I have been able to talk to so far, are really upset about this. You know how loyal they are to Lee. I truly believe if any of them had even the slightest inkling as to anyone who could possibly be responsible for hurting the Captain, they would be sure to report it. The whole boat has been scoured, both by Security and the men themselves. There’s nowhere else to look.”
“Did you check inside the flying sub?” Nelson knew it was a stupid question as soon as he asked it.
“Yes, and the ventilation ducts, even the bilge tanks and inside the minisub. Nothing, Sir, absolutely nothing.” Chip sounded so frustrated, and down. “There’s no place else to look for a stowaway. I hate to say it, but it has to be one of the crew.” Chip let out a long sigh, looking downward at the table.
Nelson knew Chip was just as worried about Lee as he was, and was just as aggravated that they couldn’t find his attacker. Having to suspect one of the crew the Exec had personally hired, trained, dealt with everyday, and put his complete trust in was certainly getting to the XO. What would he tell Lee when he woke up? Even with Lee being unconscious, Chip had to feel the Captain was depending on him to solve this, to find out who tried to apparently kill him.
There was a knock on the crash doors. Acting Captain Morton opened them enough to let Kowalski in.
“I hope you have something to report, Kowalski. Have you found anything?” The Admiral tried to sound hopeful.
“Yes, Sirs, I have, and you’re not going to like it. I’m afraid we may never find out who attacked the Captain or why. I just checked the diving gear. One suit and all the gear for one person is missing. Since no one can get into the missile room to use the diving hatch without the guard seeing them, I checked the moon pool. I found a pair of men’s shoes there, standard crew issue. It had to be someone who knew Seaview well enough to know about the moon pool. All I can think of is that they must have gotten the diving gear and hid it there first, before they attacked the Captain. I’m afraid whoever did this is long gone. Mr. Morton, do you know if any of the crew are missing, Sir?”
“Not that I know of right now, but we are about to find out.” With that, Chip walked over and picked up the mic. “Chief Sharkey, please report to the nose.”
Suddenly, the Admiral jumped up, threw his arms up in the air, his face getting redder by the second, and started pacing and yelling at the top of his lungs. “Whoever it was had to have someone waiting for them! We’re in the middle of the Pacific for God’s sake! Was there any contact reported? Sonar, hydrophones, someone must have picked up something! How could he even get to the moon pool without being spotted, or worse, recognized? This is a breach of Security!”
Unfortunately, Chief Sharkey picked this exact moment to walk in. Chip started to order him to visually identify and count every member of the crew, but the Admiral again blew up before he could finish. He started ranting and raving about lax security, the importance of the Captain’s safety, traitorous crewmen, etc. Then he either got everything out of his system, or realized he was having a tantrum. Whichever, he shut up and stomped out of the observation nose. The three of them just stood there silently shocked for a moment. Taking a deep breath, Chip finished giving Sharkey his orders, thanked and dismissed Kowalski, and returned to the Control Room. He checked with all the crewmen on duty. There had been no unusual contacts received by sonar, hydrophones, or radio. But Chip already knew that. If there had been anything, it would have been reported to him immediately.
“Mr. O’Brien, I’m going down to Sickbay to check on the Captain. You still have the con, carry on.”
All the way down to Sickbay, Chip was fuming. He didn’t know what was worse; suspecting one of the loyal crew he had known, believed in and worked with for so long, or the Admiral’s accusation about the poor security on board. And he was worried about Lee on top of it. At least the mission was cancelled and they were headed back home.
“He’s still out, Chip.
Nothing’s changed, and yes, I’m concerned. I’ll have to make an evacuation decision soon. If he is hemorrhaging in his brain, it’s got
to be stopped and it can’t be done here. I’m not a neurosurgeon. I know you turned the boat around, what’s our
“We won’t make port until tomorrow, late morning at the earliest. Maybe the best thing for you to do is just take him now. There’s really no reason not to. Wouldn’t it be better to get him to a hospital ASAP? Not take any chances? You said yourself that even if he came to, the concussion was so bad he would be down here for a couple of days anyway. We’ll be back in port by then. What does it matter if he’s in Sickbay or a hospital? He still can’t be on duty.”
“I suppose you’re right Chip, and to tell you the truth, I would be more comfortable with that. Is the flying sub still on standby? It will only take me a few minutes to get him ready for transport.”
“I’ll give the order, but yes, she’s still on standby. Look, Doc, could I possible get you to agree to a little, uh, conspiracy? The Admiral just had a nasty, overly emotional tirade in the nose about this. He’s only going to get worse if he isn’t around Lee. Point blank, I want him off the boat. We’re on our way back anyway, there’s nothing for him to do here now. Can you come up with a good reason, medical or otherwise, to have him be the one to pilot the flying sub? Maybe something like you want Lee to see a friendly face when he wakes up? Or maybe that you want someone else there with him in case he needs surgery? Or maybe to question him about what happened when he comes to?”
“Oh, in other words, Lee doesn’t find my face friendly? Well, someone has to pilot the flying sub. It may as well be the Admiral. I certainly can’t fly it. Besides, I have a patient to tend to on the way back. I’ll come up with something. For all you know, he may insist on it himself when he hears I’m taking Lee back. You need to be here to cover for Lee, and without me here I would just as soon ‘Ski stayed here to help my corpsmen out, since he is the only other one on board with medical training. And if the Admiral is having temper tantrums, I want to keep an eye on his blood pressure. I’ve been having a hard time regulating the dosage of the medication I have him on for it.”
“I didn’t know the Admiral was having a problem with his blood pressure. Does Lee know?”
“Probably not, and you don’t know either. I shouldn’t have said anything to you. Doctor-patient confidentiality, you know. But with a medical condition like this, it doesn’t hurt to have the people who are around him the most helping me to keep an eye on him. It’s probably what caused the outburst you just mentioned. Between his blood pressure, drinking and smoking, he’s headed for an early grave. God, I wish he would quit, at least the cigarettes.”
“I don’t know if you know this or not Doc, but Lee actually put his foot down about our meetings in the Admiral’s cabin. He told the Admiral that as long as we are in there, he can’t smoke. Lee said it goes along with the Institute’s smoke-free policy, that we can’t be forced to breathe in his second hand smoke. Since Seaview is owned by the Institute, it’s covered by the same policies.”
“You’re kidding me? Really? Lee actually said that to him? Well, good for Lee, and he’s absolutely right. How did the Admiral react?”
“Let’s just say it was a very short meeting. Tell you the truth, I’m glad Lee finally said something. Every time I leave the Admiral’s cabin, my eyes are burning and my throat is sore. I actually joked with Lee that I was going to file a complaint with Human Resources about it. I was only kidding, but as my CO, Lee took me seriously. Lee has a theory that the Admiral smokes without even thinking about it, and if he has to make a conscious effort not to smoke when we are in there, maybe it will make him more aware of it the rest of the time. Or at least make him aware of what he is doing to the people around him, even if he doesn’t care about his own health. We’ll see what happens.”
“Wow. Well, Lee may be on to something. Tell me, when did this happen? I wonder if this has anything to do with his sudden blood pressure problem. I know one of the reasons he smokes is that he says it calms him down.”
“It was towards the end of our last mission, about two months ago. There weren’t any meetings in his cabin this mission, nothing of urgency to discuss or plan for. I really can’t tell you whether he has been smoking less or not. But I bet Lee would know. They drove together to that Homeland Security meeting a couple of weeks ago. I think they were in the Admiral’s car, so the Admiral would have felt free to smoke if he wanted to. God knows Lee would never let him smoke in his precious little car.”
“I’m beginning to see a pattern here, Chip. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. When I asked the Admiral if there was anything he could think of that was causing his blood pressure to shoot up, he said he couldn’t think of anything. This is probably the cause of it. I have to help him find some other way to calm down that volatile Irish temper of his, so he won’t feel the need to smoke so much. Hopefully something other than a couple of shots of his favorite whiskey. You know, if I keep Lee on oxygen, the Admiral won’t be able to smoke in the flying sub on the way back.”
“Sounds like a good idea all the way around, Jamie. I’ll call the control room about the flying sub, and then go to Lee’s cabin and pack his things for you to take back with you. Hearing the message over the intercom will give the Admiral a chance to offer himself as pilot. We’ll go from there if he doesn’t.”
“Sounds like a plan Chip. Uh, is conspiring against your commanding officer a court martial offense?”
“Only if he finds out about it, and besides it’s for his own good. As his doctor, aren’t you just doing your duty by looking out for him? Relax, if he volunteers, we may not have to do a thing.” Chip smiled and winked at the doctor as he walked to the mic.
“Control Room, this is the Exec. Ready the flying sub for immediate departure.” He didn’t even have time to hang up the mic before he heard the intercom click back on.
“This is Nelson. Commander Morton, report.” That didn’t take long.
“Morton here, Admiral. Dr. Jamieson has decided it would be best for Lee to get him hospitalized ASAP. There’s no change in his condition. I’ve ordered the flying sub to be readied, I just need a pilot. With Lee gone I have to stay here and I need Sharkey and Kowalski…”
“I’ll pilot her. And I want the doctor along. Find out from him what arrangements he needs the Institute to have ready when we get there. Radio the Institute with the doctor’s needs and also tell Institute Security what is going on. I want a full Security sweep of the boat as soon as you dock. No one is to leave the boat until they are finished. Seaview is on lockdown, but keep that confidential until then. I don’t want to spook anyone. Nelson out.” Did the Admiral think there was a chance the culprit was still on board?
Chip hung up the mic as he looked at the doctor. They both smiled and let out a sigh of relief. “See, that wasn’t so bad after all, Doc.”
After making a fast stop at Lee’s cabin to pack his things, Chip headed down to the control room and then over to the radio shack.
While he waited for
“She’s all ready to go, Sir. Who’s taking her out?”
“The Admiral will pilot her Chief, Doc and the Captain will be on board also. Stow the Captain’s bag down there, will you.” He handed Lee’s bag over, wondering for a brief second if he would ever see it on board again.
Chip waited there as he spotted the Admiral entering the control room and walking forward to the flying sub hatch.
“Sir, were you able to find out anything from Admiral Johnson?”
“No Chip, I’ll have to wait until I’m back at the Institute to contact him. Everything here happened too fast. I really just want to get Lee off the boat. I don’t have a good feeling about this.” And with that, the Admiral turned and descended into the flying sub.
A minute later, the commotion in the control room caused Chip to turn and he watched as the corpsmen brought the stretcher with the Captain strapped securely to it through, followed by the doctor. He looked down at his friend. If anything, Lee seemed even whiter and more still than before. If it wasn’t for the small, slow rise and fall of his chest, Chip would have thought the worst.
Dr. Jamieson saw the worried look on Chip’s face. “I know he doesn’t look good Chip, but believe it or not his vital signs are steady. Let’s hope the tests tell us what’s going on and how we can fix it. Hopefully, they can just drill a small hole in his head and evacuate the blood. Here are the instructions for the Medbay,” he handed Chip a handwritten list.
“You’ll radio us as soon as you find something?” Though talking to the Doctor, he was watching as the corpsmen expertly maneuvered the now upright stretcher down the hatch and into the flying sub.
“Chip, by the time we get there, get him to the hospital, and get the tests done and their results in, and do the surgery, you will probably be back. Just get yourself up to Mercy General, that’s where I’m taking him. It’s not the nearest hospital but it has the best neuroscience center in the state, and I know the head neurosurgeon there. If anything happens before then, I will certainly have the Institute contact you. Can you please hand these down to me?”
The doctor climbed down, Chip then handed him his bag and another bag full of medical paraphernalia.
He was about to close the hatch, when he suddenly climbed down the ladder to see Lee one more time.
Chip watched as they got him settled and strapped into the bunk. He wished he was going, too.
“Chip, don’t worry. This is the best thing for him, and I will be sure to keep in contact with you. Just get Seaview back safely, hopefully without further incident, and keep your eyes and ears open. Radio me if you find or think of anything.” The Admiral put his hand on Chip’s shoulder and gave it a small but comforting squeeze. Chip already knew Lee was in good hands, and that this was the best thing for him. But drilling holes in his head? How could he be the same guy after that? He climbed up the ladder and secured the hatch, then stood there looking down on it, wondering if he would ever see his best friend alive again. Shaking his head, he walked back to the Control Room.
“Mr. Morton, I have the Institute on hold for you, Sir.”
Chip relayed Jamie’s instructions to MedBay and the Admiral’s instructions to Institute Security. Then he again turned the con over to O’Brien. He walked down to the galley, knowing he wasn’t hungry but that he had to eat something anyway. But besides that, he just wanted to sit there at the “scene of the crime”, and think. He missed Lee already.
As he ate his sandwich, not even tasting it, he looked at everything around him. There was only one galley, one line for food, only one door in from only one corridor. Only the dining area was partitioned off between an area to the left for the regular crew, the mess, and a more private wardroom to the right for the officers. Someone had to be awfully brave, desperate, or just plain stupid to pull a stunt like this at one of the most frequented parts of the boat. And how did the attacker know the Captain would be there? If Chip hadn’t had that extra cup of coffee this morning, the pot in the nose wouldn’t have been empty and Lee would still have stayed in the Control Room. But no one else knew that. What was he missing?
The young sailor lay down on his bunk, pulling his blanket up over him, even up over his head. It had been a long day; he didn’t think his duty shift would ever end. He hoped he had done everything right. But he was still worried about the Captain; he never meant to hit him that hard. He really liked Captain Crane, felt proud to serve under him. But he had just never done anything like that before. The Captain had looked so pale and still lying on the bunk in Sickbay. What had he done? What if he had accidentally killed his Captain?
He turned over, adjusted his blanket, and decided reading a few pages would relax him. He reached under his bottom bunk and pulled his gym bag out and reached into it for his book. His hand found it easily with all the room in there now after his spare pair of shoes were gone. He’d left his old ones alongside the moon pool after he had shoved all the diving gear and tanks out of it. He had already wiped down and returned the wrench he had used to the tool box he’d taken it from. But he just couldn’t understand the part as to why he had to wait two hours after the attack before dumping the decoy diving gear out. Hell, there was a lot about this he didn’t understand, and probably never would.
Yeah, the more he thought about it, the more he was sure he had done everything exactly the way he had been instructed to do.
On the bunk right above his, another crewman struggled with sleep, and with his conscious. When he heard the hubbub about the Captain being injured and being taken down to Sickbay, he knew it was his que to act. They had said the Captain would be distracted somehow, but hadn’t said when or how it would happen. This had to be it. But it was surely convenient that it happened just as he was about to take an early lunch. He slipped into the guest cabin near the Captain’s quarters, then into the ventilation shaft that entered the Captain’s cabin. He quickly attached the device they had sent him to the Captain’s computer and then got out of there quick, the same way. It would take a while to copy the hard drive, so he would have to sneak back in here again in a little while to retrieve it. He hoped the Captain would be down in Sickbay long enough that he could get it back out before the Captain was released. The Doctor would probably order him directly to his cabin to rest. He grabbed a quick lunch while he was waiting.
Everything had gone smoothly. Well, except for Captain Crane apparently being hurt more seriously than was necessary. He didn’t know who the other party involved was, and he didn’t want to know. But whoever it was had gotten a bit over zealous. He hoped the Captain would be all right, he liked the man. But he just couldn’t understand why he had to hide the retrieved device inside a waterproof pouch attached to the weight belt of a diving suit hidden near the moon pool, and just leave it there. Was the other person going to take the next step? Use the diving suit to personally deliver the device? If the other person was a regular member of the crew like he was, the man would certainly be missed. Oh, well, it was done. He’d followed his instructions. It was time to get some sleep. He had an early shift tomorrow and he liked to be well rested when he was on duty.
Little did he know that the device had not only copied over classified information, but its main purpose had been to embed a program that would transmit any data being sent to or from the Captain’s computer to a monitoring third party. And now the device sat on the bottom of the sea, waiting to be recovered as soon as the timer inside activated its homing device.
It took a while because of the duty shifts, but Sharkey was finally able to report all of the crew accounted for. He had discreetly seen or talked to each one on duty or in the mess directly before checking their names off, and he was sure there was not an impostor amongst them. Finding reason to check on every one of the Officers was a little bit tricky, but he got it done and without suspicion. Everyone had asked about the Captain. Then the Chief went into the crew’s quarters and visually inspected every sleeping crewman, and one who wasn’t asleep yet, but who was reading a book. How could he sleep, Chief Sharkey wondered, when the crewman in the bunk above his was snoring like a car’s bad muffler?
Chip was somewhat relieved after listening to the Chief’s
report. He had truly hoped and prayed
none of the crew were responsible for this.
But with everyone accounted for, that also meant that somehow they had
allowed a stowaway on board, despite all of their security measures. A stowaway that had been able to dress and
act like one of the regular crew, right down to the shoes, and not been noticed
by anyone. That sure didn’t make him look good, especially since the lapse in
security had resulted in the Captain being injured, or maybe worse. And now the stowaway was long gone. What could he have possibly been after? This whole thing just got weirder and
stranger. They hadn’t made port
anywhere, just left
The cruise back was uneventful. Seaview docked the next day, late morning, and Institute Security immediately boarded. He waited until they were actually coming down the ladder to the Control Room to announce over the intercom that the boat was on lockdown until further notice. No one, not even an officer, was to leave. He had one of the Security guards from the Institute out on the dock guarding the cargo bay hatch, just in case someone tried to sneak out, and there was another security guard posted topside and one at the moon pool as well. Okay, lockdown complete. They even shut down Seaview’s radio. No messages in or out. Now they just had to sit here and wait. Since they had to cut the cruise short and were back early, there weren’t even any family members waiting on the dock. It was deserted and quiet. The whole thing was eerie. Certainly not the typical welcome home Seaview and her crew usually enjoyed and looked forward to after a mission. And this time there was no Lee to go have a few beers with afterward.
Chip wanted desperately to leave and get to the hospital, but he not only had to stay until Security was done with their search and their questioning, he also had to wait until most of the crewmen were gone and Seaview secured. After that, he had to walk over to where the Flying Sub was docked and then return her to Seaview. Kowalski was staying behind to manually open the berthing doors from inside. He did ask one of the Security guards, as they were leaving, to bring his car around dockside so he could leave for Mercy General as soon as the flying sub was berthed. That would save a few minutes.
Security finished their investigation and the lockdown was lifted. Chip didn’t know how he felt about their not being able to find anything or anyone, not even after a four and a half hour search and security lockdown. He had nothing to report to the Admiral and Lee. That was good news as far as the integrity of the crew was concerned, but it also left a great big gaping mystery. No way was this an accident. Someone knew something, there had to be a reason for assaulting the Captain. And how the hell did a stowaway get on board anyway? He kept going over all their stringent security procedures, and for the life of him, he couldn’t figure it out. And if this did turn out to be a breach in Security, there was no one to blame it on but him. Boat security was his top responsibility, and he took it very seriously. If anything happened to Lee, it was his fault.
Chip finally made it up to the hospital around dinner time. For once, food was the last thing on his mind. Between worry over Lee and disgust with himself, he had no appetite, only a huge headache. He knew a good part of it was from not sleeping much last night. He was exhausted, mentally and physically. What the hell was he going to tell Lee? Sorry sure wasn’t going to cut it. He prayed it would be possible for him to say anything to Lee. Lord, please let him be all right.
“I’m sorry sir, there’s no one admitted here under that name. Are you sure you have the right hospital?”
“OF COURSE I’M SURE! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for it to come out that way. Ah, perhaps you could check and see if he is in emergency and just hasn’t been admitted yet?”
“Certainly, Sir. Hold on. Ok, no sir, I’m sorry, there’s no one in Emergency either by that name. Are you sure you have the right name?
“OF COURSE I HAVE THE RIGHT NAME! Oh, forget it. I’m sorry.” Chip knew he shouldn’t be yelling at the elderly volunteer. He turned and walked back to his car, his head and heart pounding.
Well, he had brought the Flying Sub back to Seaview himself, so he knew they had gotten back safely, they didn’t crash or anything. Then a thought hit him. There would be no reason to take Lee all the way to this hospital if he didn’t survive the trip. They probably were waiting until we got back to break the bad news in person.
Chip put his head down on his chest, sobbing but trying hard to hold back the tears. It didn’t work. He let loose for a while, and when he finally got himself under control, he decided to head back to the Institute. MedBay would know what happened. That’s where Doc would be. Maybe he shouldn’t be thinking the worse yet, not until he knew for sure. He shook his head slowly. What was the saying? Hope lives eternal in the human heart? Something like that.
The drive to the Institute seemed to take forever. He finally parked right outside MedBay. The minute he walked in, he could feel the heaviness and tenseness in there. He slumped in one of the chairs in the waiting room. No one had to tell him anything.
He needed answers, but in a minute after he pulled himself together enough to be able to handle them. He put his head in his hands, elbows on his knees, and tried to get hold of himself. Lee’s face and memories of him were suddenly all he could think about. He’d not only lost his Captain and commanding officer, he’d lost his best friend, the man who had been like a brother to him for over twenty years.
He felt a hand on his shoulder. It was either the Admiral, or Jamie, about to break the bad news to him. He took a deep breath and sat back, pulling himself erect.
The last thing he expected to see when he opened his eyes was Lee sitting next to him in a wheelchair.
He went so numb so fast Lee actually had to grab hold of him to keep him from falling out of the chair.
“Chip, are you all right? What’s wrong? Let me get Jamie. Just sit there. Stay there. Hang on, pal.”
With that Lee jumped up out of the wheelchair and went running for Jamie. As he ran down the hallway, Chip saw the huge bandage on the back of his head. Hearing the doctor’s loud voice yelling at Lee for getting out of the wheelchair told Chip that Lee had found him.
“Jamie, something’s wrong with Chip! Hurry!”
Jamie came running out to the waiting room, followed closely by a very worried Lee.
“You, sit back down in that wheelchair. And you,” he turned to Chip, “what’s your problem?”
“I…, I thought…, I thought Lee was dead, when he wasn’t at the hospital…I thought he didn’t make it…and then I felt a hand on my shoulder and when I looked up it was him. I… I guess he isn’t dead?”
“Good medical assumption, Commander. I’ll make a doctor out of you yet, or at least a medical corpsmen. Sit back and take a deep breath. You look white as a ghost. Give me your hand out so I can take your pulse.”
“But, when he wasn’t at Mercy, I thought he died, and then when I got here I, gee it just really feels like there is something wrong here. Guess I just got myself too worked up assuming the worst.” All of a sudden it truly dawned on him that his friend was really alive and well, and sitting next to him. Pulling his hand away from the doctor, he reached out and hugged Lee. He couldn’t keep one sob from escaping, but didn’t mind at all.
“Lee actually started coming to on the flying sub, when we were almost home. So instead of Mercy I brought him here for some routine tests to be sure he was all right.”
“Then why didn’t you or the Admiral let me know? For god’s sake, you have no idea what I’ve been through worrying!”
“I tried, but by the time I knew something for sure, Seaview’s radio was shut down.”
“Couldn’t the Admiral have called one of the security guards while they were on board to let me know?”
“Well Chip, I’m sorry to inform you that your instincts are right about something having happened here. Admiral Nelson has had a heart attack. Fortunately we were already here when it happened so we were able to take care of him right away. It was a mild one, more of a wake up call; his blood pressure was sky high when he collapsed. It still has everyone pretty shook up and worried. I didn’t want Lee out of bed yet, but I couldn’t control him when he found out. So I let him sit by the Admiral in a wheelchair until we were sure he was stable. I’m transporting him to the ICCU at Mercy General in a few minutes.”
Dr. Jamieson turned to Lee. “Do I have to admit you there also to be able to keep an eye on you, too? You do have a concussion and a fractured skull, even if it is only a hairline fracture. You could have a dizzy spell and collapse at any time. Or will you be a good boy and stay here in bed? I can’t be worrying about and taking care of both of you, Lee, not when you are in two different medical facilities. Sure there are other doctors here, but you are too hard to control, you don’t listen to them. For once, I need you to just obey my orders without me being around to threaten you. This time there’s no Admiral Nelson to back me up.”
“I’ll stay with him and make sure he stays in bed, Doc. I promise I will take good care of him.”
“You Chip? You look like death warmed over yourself! When is the last time you had anything to eat or any sleep?”
“I’ll take care of him Jamie. I’ll make sure he gets something to eat and gets some sleep. He can sleep in the bed next to mine.”
“Well, if this isn’t the blind leading the blind! I can’t trust either one of you to even take care of yourselves let alone each other! But I guess this time I don’t have much of a choice. The Admiral has to be my primary concern right now. Okay Chip, go change into one of the gowns and get in bed and I will have the nurse order a meal. Two meals in fact. Maybe with you eating, Lee will eat something, too.”
Jamie slowly shook his head back and forth while he rolled is eyes heavenward, when they both exclaimed at the same time “I’ll make sure he eats something!”
“Can I see the Admiral, Doc? Please? Just for a minute? I won’t wake him up.” Chip had to see for himself that the Admiral was okay, too.
“Well Chip, I have to get him ready for transport anyway. You can go in for a minute.”
As Chip started to walk across the waiting room, Jamie suddenly changed his mind.
“Chip! Wait! No. If he sees you he is going to have a thousand questions about what happened on the boat after we left. I can’t have you upsetting him.”
“I have nothing to tell him that would upset him. Nothing else happened and Institute Security couldn’t find a thing.”
“Wait a minute! What’s going on? What was Institute Security looking for? What happened on my boat?” Lee looked at Chip, surprised and expectantly, and sounding very upset. The last thing Jamie wanted.
“Chip, Lee doesn’t know anything yet except what has happened here. He was groggy when he woke up, then being tested, and then the Admiral collapsed. It all happened too fast. All he knows is the obvious, that he has a head injury. You two fellows can have a nice long talk about everything once you are in your beds. Now, I have to get back to my other patient.”
Jamie started to walk away, but suddenly turned back to them. “You know, you three are really something. The Admiral has a heart attack, in part because he was so worried about Lee. Lee gets so worried about him he jumps up out of his sickbed to be by him. You come here so worried about Lee you nearly pass out. And Lee has to catch you and jumps up out of his wheelchair to get me because he is so worried about you. You’re still white as a ghost Chip, yet all you want to do is see the Admiral because you’re so worried about him.
Unbelievable. You know, I’m not a young man anymore. I’m going to be the next one having a heart attack and there is no doubt in my mind it will be because of the three of you. Do you have any idea when the last time was I ate or slept? Do you even care?” Jamie turned away and stalked down the corridor.
Lee and Chip just sat there stunned, looking at each other. It was true. They never thought about Jamie’s own health and well being. And after all he had done for them, all they put him though when he was only trying to do his job, trying to take care of them and keeping them alive and healthy. He was always worrying about them. Lee knew for a fact he wouldn’t be alive now if it wasn’t for all the times Jamie had worked miracles putting him back together yet again, especially after another ONI mission gone awry. His dedication and selflessness were above and beyond the call of duty, even for a doctor. The three of them constantly made it so obvious how worried they were when one of them was hurt, and how much they were depending on the doctor to pull another miracle out of his hat. And he always did. Yet Lee couldn’t remember one time when any of them had bothered to so much as thank him. Of course it would appear to Jamie they didn’t care about him. He may be a seasoned and well paid officer, but he was human being and had his limits, too. You don’t treat a valued colleague that way, and sure as hell didn’t treat a good friend that way.
A few minutes later, Jamie poked his head back into the waiting room. “If you both want to see him for a minute before we go, it has to be now.”
Chip pushed Lee in his wheelchair towards the Admiral’s room. Nelson didn’t look too bad, despite all the tubes and monitors. His eyes were closed so they just quietly stood and watched as he was rolled down the corridor to MedBay’s back entrance and the waiting ambulance. Dr. Jamieson followed, closing the glass doors behind him. Not another word was said.
They both sat up in their beds, eating their dinners from the bedside tables. Chip was bringing Lee up to date on everything. Every sentence Chip spoke prompted a dozen questions from Lee.
“Chip, no way am I going to let you blame yourself for any of this. There are absolutely no foolproof security measures. There will always be someone to find some way around every guard, device, alarm, monitor, procedure, etc. What’s more important here is to try and figure out why, not how. What did he want? Did he get it or did he have to leave empty-handed because he had a contact to meet at a preset time? We can look later for lessons to learn from this, or practices to change. It’s just a relief to know it wasn’t one of our own.”
On the other side of
And a few blocks away, a son lovingly greeted his mother. He was home in time to accompany her for the transplant surgery that would save her life, now that a donor heart had suddenly and inexplicably been found.
Every man has his price. Or at the very least, his weak spot.