This story fits in somewhere after “Snowlight and features Serena and Wendy. Thanks to Rita who graciously offered to beta this thing for me and was supportive enough to call 911 when the suggestions came back.
Chain of Events
Three and a half hours. That's how long it took Jamie to
patch him up this time.
CMO William Jamieson rested a hand on Lee’s shoulder and let out a slow deep breath. He knew the first thing his determined skipper would do when he woke up would be to ask for a status report. Jamie was equally determined that this time Lee would stay under long enough to start the healing process.
Reflecting on the last few hours, Will honestly didn’t think anyone had counted on the bomb actually going off. Lee was caught in the blast and the concussion threw him into the bulkhead. The impact cracked three ribs and he had numerous deep lacerations.
It was a scene Jamie was all too familiar with. How many
times had Lee been brought into Sickbay, one hand on death's door, the other
holding onto life with a white-knuckle grip?
Each time someone stood by his side to anchor him to the world of the
living. Sometimes it was the admiral who gave Lee that anchor and sometimes it
was Chip. Will wondered about the link Chip and Lee seemed to share. They were
so tightly connected, it bordered on the supernatural. They always seemed to
know what the other needed.
Jamie regretfully acknowledged that the admiral wasn’t aboard for this leg of the cruise. He was still in Washington, having flown some researchers back from Triton Sealab. Chip was overseeing repairs to Seaview's damaged hull. The blast from the bomb had done serious damage that was going to take some time to repair. Jamie marveled that it was nothing short of a miracle no one else was hurt.
The doctor pulled up a chair, the same chair that Admiral Nelson and Chip occupied when keeping watch over their friend and skipper. He leaned back and watched the slow rise and fall of Lee's chest. Lee’s long, dark lashes were still as he slept. Will could make out the veins in his neck, pulsing with life despite the blood loss. Lee’s dark hair, now reverting back to its naturally curly state, was tasseled and mussed, still damp after the blood had been washed out. Idly Will reached out and brushed a stray lock away from Lee’s forehead. He still thought Lee looked too young to be the commanding officer of the finest boat on or under the water. Lee didn't respond to his touch. A part of Will was glad but another part ached for the skipper to reach out and bat his hand away, to snarl at him for hovering.
Will knew that as long as he could keep Lee under, it would be all that much faster he would heal. That was the battle, keeping Lee down so his battered and bruised body could recover. He had a way of fighting past sedatives that would knock out a bull elephant. Will was hoping that with the blood loss, the trauma and the stiff sedative in the I.V. drip, Lee would remain blissfully asleep. Jamieson knew Lee would yell about it later, but at least he would be alive to yell. It was a compromise Will could live with.
Will took another deep breath, looking ahead to the day when he might not be able to piece Lee Crane back together. Jamieson had treated patients like that, patients so badly chewed up and burned, the best he could do was sedate them to take the edge off the pain until they took that last step in their own dance. Could he do that with Lee? Sit back and watch him slowly die? Will admitted to himself that this was one of his greatest fears. Not being able to stop someone like Lee Crane from leaving this world when he was so desperately needed.
Sitting by Lee’s side watching him sleep, Will realized there just weren’t enough people like Lee in the world. There weren’t enough people like Nelson or Chip, men who would gladly sacrifice themselves for friend and country and consider the loss worth it. “We need more people like you, Skipper. We need your guidance and your leadership and wisdom, when the evil and the darkness threaten to overshadow everything we believe in. We need the courage you inspire. We need the hope you bring us. We need to know that there is something worth fighting for.” Jamie said softly, resting his hand on Lee’s arm, hoping some of his words registered with the sleeping man.
Jamie knew he would always fight for Lee. This man, who gave up so much of himself, deserved nothing less. He wouldn't stand idly by and let his skipper slip away from everything he loved and believed in. Jamieson swore he would bargain with Heaven and Hell to keep Lee alive. He couldn’t give up on a man who would take a bullet for a crewman, who would give his last pint of blood for a friend.
Jamie settled back to wait. He knew eventually Chip would be by but until then he decided that he could be Lee's anchor and give him something to home in on. Jamieson promised to be there when Lee took that next step in his own dance of life.
Frank Henderson stepped quietly into Sickbay, pausing long enough to let his eyes adjust to the dim lighting. Two things got his attention: the still figure resting in the bottom bunk and the figure of the doctor setting in the chair close by. Will Jamieson was keeping watch over the skipper.
Frank didn't say anything; he just leaned against the doorframe and watched his commanding officers: two men, strong and defiant in the face of challenges. They fought hard battles, would not admit defeat and never let the odds distract them from their chosen duty. They fought the same battles, just on two fronts. Hidden in the shadows of the half-light of Sickbay, Frank stopped to think about the personalities of the two men.
The skipper was a man who looked a challenge dead in the eye, never flinching, never wavering. His convictions and his sense of right and wrong would lead him true when others might be tempted to stray for the sake of personal gain. Captain Crane wasn't interested in fortune and glory. He never thought of himself, he always put his crew ahead of him. He was always willing to risk himself for the sake of another. There was an overwhelming desire to defend and protect that more often than not landed the skipper in Sickbay. That was why he was here now, after trying to defuse a bomb planted onboard Seaview. Faced with the chance the bomb would go off before they could get it deactivated, the skipper had ordered the corridor cleared while he alone set to work on the device. Now he was here, held together like a patchwork quilt and sedated so his body can heal. So he can live to face the odds once again.
Will Jamieson had an arsenal of medical knowledge to pull from, years of experience battling the specter of Death. Some battles he lost, others he walked away the victor. Jamieson never backed down from a fight. No matter what shape his patient was in, Jamieson never let that faze him. He fought for the lives of his patients with tooth and claw, dragging them back from the precipice of death with skills honed sharp and fine from countless won battles. His weapons were knowledge and skills, razor sharp and ready at a moment's notice. He was a warrior, the same as the skipper. When lives were at stake, the world needed men like the skipper and Dr. Jamieson, men who cared and would fight for what they believed in: two men who dared to cross the battle lines.
Frank moved forward and laid a hand on the doctor's shoulder. The lanky older man jerked awake and peered around with bleary eyes.
“Frank, what's wrong? Is it Lee?” the doctor leaned forward, concern for his patient echoed in his posture.
“Easy sir, the skipper's just fine. Mister Morton is still working with the damage control crews. It might be a few hours more before he can check on things himself. Why don't you grab a bite to eat and maybe some rack time? I can keep an eye on the skipper.”
Frank waited. The doctor watched his own commanding officer for a long stretch, taking in the deep slow breathing, the steady beep of the monitors. Finally he stood and stretched his tall frame, easing the kinks in his back and neck.
“I'm worried about infection. Keep an eye on his respiration. Maybe I should hang around a little longer,” he said and nearly sat back down. Frank took a deep breath.
“With all do respect sir; you've been in here for over twelve hours, before and after the skipper's surgery. You need some rest and you're not getting it sitting in that chair. Mister Morton will want to sit with him for a while. The skipper won't be alone.”
Jamieson looked up at Frank and then slowly smiled. “Alright. You win. I don't think he'll be coming around anytime soon, but this is the skipper we're talking about,” Jamieson said.
Frank returned the smile. “Yes, sir, it certainly is. I promise to keep a close eye on him. I've got this, sir. You really need to get something in your stomach before your blood sugar hits rock bottom. How am I gonna explain to the skipper if you end up sharing space with him in Sickbay?” Frank replied and eased down into the chair, effectively giving Jamieson little choice but to find somewhere else to go.
Will threw up his hands in mock-surrender. “I'm going, I'm going. No need to get nasty. Remember; keep an eye on his respiration.”
“Yes sir,” Frank listened as Jamieson's footprints grew fainter and he shook his head in slight amusement. When it came to dealing with the command staff, Doctor Jamieson included, it paid to know where the battle lines were and how far you could go.
Frank settled in to watch over the skipper. Another line crossed. Another battle won.
Kowalski hammered the new support strut into the frame, shoring up the weakened bulkhead. Seaview was sitting dead on the bottom, wounded from a bomb planted by a person or persons as of yet unknown. Ski stepped back to assess his work and prayed that it would hold long enough to get them home or at least till they could make it to port to make better repairs.
“How's that coming, Kowalski?” Mister Morton's voice echoed down the corridor, followed by the man himself. The dark haired crewmen waited for the officer to get closer before reporting.
“I hope it holds. That bomb did a bang up job, if you'll pardon the expression, sir,” Ski said. The blond officer just grinned at Kowalski's humor, humor being precious short as of late. He reached out and carefully tested a few of the struts Kowalski had so diligently been working on for the past few hours. The look of satisfaction on Morton’s face was testimony enough that Ski had done his job.
“Have faith, Ski. We'll get through this. We've been in tougher spots before. When you finish up here, find the chief and see what else needs attention. We're short on the damage control parties until we get the breach on the outer hull fixed.”
“Yes sir, I'm just about done here. How's the skipper? Any word?”
Kowalski watched as the exec struggled with keeping his emotions under control. The crew was well aware of the deep friendship between the exec and the skipper. The only thing stronger was perhaps the bond between the admiral and the skipper. Ski knew it was costing the exec a lot to focus on the repairs when he really wanted to be in Sickbay, waiting for the captain to come around.
“Not yet. I'm hoping to catch him in person on my way up to the Control Room.”
There was no mistaking the concern and worry in the exec's voice. But Ski knew that Mister Morton would settle for nothing less than every crack and rip sealed and repaired before he finally settled in by the skipper's bunk to wait. Judging from the damage done by the bomb, that would be a while.
“I'm sure he's fine, sir. The skipper's a fighter. He'll pull through,” Ski said with conviction.
“He is at that. Get finished up here, we still have a lot of work to do before we can even think about making for the surface,” Morton said. This time Ski heard more than just concern and worry and he took a closer look at the exec.
Mister Morton looked and sounded tired. Doing the math in his head, Ski realized with a shock that it had been more than twelve hours or more since the bomb had exploded. The exec had been on duty when it happened. How long had the man been on his feet, overseeing repairs and in some cases, diving in himself? While Ski admired and looked up to the skipper more than anyone save his own father, he had to admit that he had a fair amount of admiration for the sturdy, dependable first officer.
Mister Morton had been part of the team who went in to destroy Gamal's magnus beam and rescue the skipper.1 His leadership and dependability made that mission come off like a snap. When a contaminant was found in the air revitalization units, it had been Mister Morton who volunteered to check it out, knowing he might have to be sealed in.2 He could have ordered a crewmen do it but rather than let someone else take a risk, Morton had taken on the job himself. There was the time they needed to distract Omir. Mister Morton had led a small demolitions team into the caves below Omir's installation.3 When they were trapped, it had been his idea to concentrate their firepower to knock out the force field.
Watching the officer, Ski realized he was watching a man hovering on the edge of exhaustion. If Mister Morton didn't get some rest soon he'd be doing himself more harm than good. But until Seaview was repaired and on her way home the man wouldn't even consider standing down. The best Ski could do was keep a close eye on him and hope the exec didn't over-exert himself. He had to have faith the man would know his limits and not push them further than he had to.
“Aye, sir,” Ski acknowledge the officer's order.
“Very well, carry on.” Morton made his way forward, heading for the Control Room and probably Sickbay. Ski watched him go, noticing the weary step and the way he reached for the bulkhead to steady himself. Ski knew better than to comment. The exec was touchy about such things and hated worse than the skipper to be mothered by the crew even if they were doing it for the officer's own good.
He saw Morton stop and look down. Then Ski felt it. There was a loud 'click', followed by a low rumble under his feet, followed by a muffled 'boom'. The rumble grew and a vibration set up through the sub. With a panicked look at the frame he had so painstakingly built up, Ski prayed it would hold.
On this day the gods of the sea were not listening.
The concussion of a second blast ripped up the corridor. Morton's body was picked up and tossed like a rag doll, smashing him into the support struts. Weakened by the new blast and the force of Morton's body slamming into it, the frame shuddered and water began pouring into the corridor.
“Mister Morton!” Ski's frantic cry rang out as he sloshed through the rising water to where the officer's body slowly slid to the deck. Ski scrambled and grabbed at the other man's body, pulling him out of the freezing seawater. Already the swirling flood was tinged pink as Ski hauled him up, getting Morton balanced against his own body and half dragging the man up the corridor against the push of the rushing water.
At the hatch Ski had no choice but to drop Morton's dripping, unconscious form to the deck. Ski needed both hands to dog the hatch. Already the corridor was ankle deep in seawater. Ski turned from the now closed hatch and grabbed at Morton, dragging him up the corridor and out of the water.
Dropping to the deck, Ski cradled the exec in his arms, cataloging the injuries he could see and speculating on the ones he couldn't. The usually pristine uniform was stained with blood, a deep laceration on the right side of Morton's head streaming crimson down the side of his face. More blood dripped steadily from one side of his nose and from the corner of his mouth. All of Ski's field medic training kicked into high gear and he knew the other man was in a bad way. He pulled off Morton's tie, already loose, and pressed it against the bleeding cut on the side of Morton's head. With trembling fingers Ski felt for a pulse under the exec's jawline, breathing a sigh when he felt the thready, unsteady beat pulsing there.
“Mister Morton sir, can you hear me? Please sir, give me a sign. The skipper's not gonna like this,” Ski pleaded. The blood was soaking into the black material and Ski knew he had to make a choice. Stay with Morton or leave him and get help. Sickbay was on the other side of the breach. He'd have to go around the inspection hatches and see if he could get through that way. Without the intercom, there was no way he could call for help.
A new set of voices echoed down the corridor. With his heart hammering, Ski recognized Sharkey's accent.
“Chief!! I need some help down here!” Ski bellowed and a few seconds later Sharkey and Riley appeared.
“Ski, what happened?” Sharkey asked, dropping down by the rating, feeling for a pulse on the unconscious officer and mirroring Ski's sense of relief when he found it.
“I think it was a second bomb. I heard a click and there was an explosion. It was just like what happened with the skipper. The blast threw Mister Morton into the support frame and it just couldn't handle the strain. The bulkhead just couldn’t take the strain. I barely had time to get him out. The whole section flooded out so fast. Chief, we need to get him to Sickbay in a hurry,” Ski gushed out.
“We will, kid. Just don't you worry about it. Riley, lend a hand here.”
Together, Sharkey, Riley and Ski got Morton off the deck. Relief flooded through Ski's being, knowing the exec would get the help he needed. Doc would have him fixed up in no time. He fixed the skipper up, and he could do the same for Mister Morton. Everything would be all right. Ski had to have faith.
Lieutenant Franklin Robert O'Brien leaned against the bulkhead, feeling the last few hours beginning to finally catch up to him. He dropped the wrench to the floor and raked a tired hand through his short dark hair. He had been down here for hours, helping to restore ballast control so they could surface. They had been in worse shape before and the Chief Engineering officer was optimistic that any minute now the exec was going to come through that hatch with some good news.
“Mister O'Brien, sir,”
That wasn't the exec. Bob jerked his head up to see Sharkey standing in the hatchway, damp and bloodstained. Bob felt all the color drain from his face as a very bad feeling washed over him. The optimism he'd been feeling trickled out of his soul, leaving him feeling empty inside.
“Chief, what happened?” Bob managed to croak out past a suddenly dry throat.
“Ah, sir, the exec, ah. There was a second bomb, sir and Mister Morton—he, ah, he got caught in the blast.” Sharkey held out the walkie Morton had been carrying. With a slightly shaky hand, O’Brien accepted it, his fingers closing around the still damp casing.
Oh, God, no. No, no, no. Bob closed his eyes, forcing himself to concentrate. He didn't have time for this now. He could fall apart later, when Seaview was on the surface and heading for port. With both the skipper and Mister Morton down, command of Seaview was now his. He was going to have to take control.
“How bad?” he asked, switching gears and pulling himself together while clipping the walkie to his belt. He watched Sharkey take another long, shaky breath.
“Bad enough, sir. Doc's been called back in. They had Mister Morton on the table when Ski and I left. I wanted to come down and tell you personally. I figured you'd need to know.”
Bob's mind was in overdrive. A second bomb. Was there a chance there be could more? How many more and where? And where did the blasted things come from?
“Thanks Chief. Listen, we have to make sure there aren't any more of those things onboard. Get with the repair teams, pick out a few men who have maxed out their dive time for the next twenty-four hours and search this boat from top to bottom, starting with the reactor room. I don't want a third bomb going off and catching us off guard.”
A haunted look came over the chief's face. “Sir, you don't think somebody put a bomb in the reactor room? No way could somebody have gotten in there,” he insisted.
Bob felt something come over him and he straighten with the need to take control of a rapidly deteriorating situation.
“It should have been impossible to get one bomb, much less two, much less how many more might be hiding, on board. I want them found and I want them found now, do I make myself clear?” he barked.
Sharkey perked up and nodded to the lieutenant. “Yes sir. Perfectly clear, sir. If there's another bomb on this boat, we'll find it, sir. You can count on it. You going up to the Control Room, sir?”
Bob heaved himself to his feet and made for the hatchway. “On my way.”
Bob stopped and gripped the side of the hatchway. “Yes Chief?”
“You think we've got a chance of making it out if this?”
Bob O'Brien felt his breath catch in his throat. Sharkey looked up to the officers for leadership, for stability, and for reassurance. Bob knew he needed to present a strong front. He needed to show Sharkey, as well as the crew, that he could indeed be the officer they needed to bring Seaview out of this. Gathering courage he didn't feel and faking a confidence he hoped Sharkey wouldn't question, Lieutenant Robert O'Brien slowly turned to face the COB.
“We can do this, Chief. We've been in rougher spots before. Once we get ballast control restored, we can surface and make better repairs. It's just a matter of us taking control of a bad situation and making it work for us. The skipper wouldn't want us to give up because he and Mister Morton are out of the picture.”
Bob watched as the Chief straightened and Bob saw some of the fear drain from the other man's dark green eyes.
“Aye aye, sir. We'll have ballast control back before you can say 'anchors away'.”
“That's what I needed to hear, Chief. Carry on.”
With that final order, Sharkey whirled and vanished down the corridor. O'Brien made his way forward and at the last minute turned and headed for Sickbay. He wondered how the repairs on the radio were coming along. He paused in the corridor, trying to make up his mind which direction to take.
“Hey Bobby, I was just coming to find you,” James Sparks appeared at the end of the corridor, tie gone and looking beyond disheveled.
“Jimmy, please tell me you got the radio up and working,” O'Brien pleaded, letting some of the weariness he felt sink though. He couldn't show that to Sharkey but Sparks would understand. The two men were close enough in age and rank that they became close friends right after the two came aboard Seaview.
Sparks grinned and wiggled an eyebrow at his buddy. “I got the radio working. Intercom is still down though. Patterson is on it. He thinks he's found the short and is working to get it repaired.”
The cloud lifted a bit. “That's one bit of good news. I suppose you heard about Mister Morton?”
“Mister Morton and the skipper both. Man, the admiral's gonna be steamed when he finds out, on top of two bombs planted right under our noses. Makes me glad I'm just the radio man.”
Bob snorted. “Thanks pal. Leave me to deal with the admiral when he comes onboard. I get to be the one to tell him the lovely news.”
Sparks' tone dropped to a more serious level. “Mister Morton's gonna be alright?” he asked.
Bob shook his head. “Don't know. I was on my way to Sickbay when I ran into you. I wanted to talk to Doc in person. No sense in letting everybody who can hear worry. Doc's usually got everything under control. You know the exec; he's as stubborn and tough as the skipper. They'll both be back up in no time.”
Jimmy frown. “But not before the admiral gets back.”
“No. 'Fraid not.”
The two men began walking up the corridor, Sparks slowing his long stride to match the shorter ranking officer. By unspoken agreement the two were headed for Sickbay, hoping to get a report on the condition of their senior officers.
Bob felt comfortable enough around Sparks to open up about something that was beginning to bother him.
“Jimmy, I don't know if I can do this,” he began.
“Nonsense, Bobby. You've taken command dozens of times.”
“Yeah. In port on night watch, or when everything was routine. Never during anything like this. With them both down, I don't know if I can get the crew behind me, to trust in my abilities. I'm not the skipper.”
“Good thing too, if you ask Doc. The last thing he needs is two Lee Cranes. He's buying gauze in bulk now as it is.”
“Jimmy!” Bob gasped in shocked, only to have Sparks slap him on the shoulder.
“Relax; you know I respect the skipper. I respect you too. The crew respects you. They respect you because they know you're going to do your best to get us to the surface. That's all anybody can ask, that you do your best. The admiral will be back soon and he’s not gonna let you flounder. You have to step up and take control. You can do it.”
“Jimmy, I've been thinking,” Bob began. Sparks found the strength to make another chuckle.
“That is what they trained us for,” he quipped. Bob rolled his eyes before continuing.
“I'm serious Jimmy. Where the blue blazes did those two bombs come from? Who planted them and why? And are there any more?
Sparks paled and stopped dead in his tracks. “Damn, I hope not. We're already dead in the water with a big ol' hole in our gut. You and I both know that the only people who have been aboard were those scientists we ferried out to Triton Sealab. You're not saying a scientist sabotaged us?”
Bob shrugged. “I'm not saying anything. Just take a second to think about it. Those bombs could have been planted near the reactor room, or some other vital area of the boat. Instead they were planted in areas that would cripple us and send us to the bottom in one piece. Somebody wasn't out to sink us, they wanted to disable us.”
“Bobby, you're starting to sound like the skipper or even Mister Morton. Besides, all those scientists were friends with the admiral. If somebody was planning to take Seaview, they've got to know they've got a fight on their hands. A hundred twenty-five armed men aren't gonna stand around and let something happen to Seaview. Never gonna happen.”
“So why plant just two bombs? If you were an enemy power and you had to take out a hundred or more men, what would you do?
This time Bob watched as all the color completely drained out of Jimmy's face. “Kill the radio, distract the crew, and knock out the air supply. I'd want the reactor in one piece.”
In concert, the two men spun and ran down the corridor to the air revitalization room. O'Brien spun the wheel hard and slammed his shoulder into the hatch. Both men practically tumbled into the room, both glancing around the maze of pipes and conduits, looking for where another bomb might be hiding. The two split up: one going left, the other going right. Sparks was the one who made the discovery.
“Bobby, we've got trouble.”
The contraption was a small black box, with a tiny digital readout on the front and a conglomeration of wires leading from the readout to the box itself. O’Brien whistled low.
“Damn. I hate being right.” O’Brien grabbed at the walkie on his hip, and thumbed the talk-button. But the walkie didn’t respond. It sat dead in the palm of his hands. The unit could have lost its charge. He rested a hand on Sparks’ shoulder.
“Go find Sharkey and get a demolitions team up here,” the ranking officer said. Sparks frown and shook his head.
“No, you go.”
Bobby stared at his friend. “Jimmy, I gave you a direct order. We don't have time to argue about this.”
“This is the same thing that happened to the skipper. If this thing goes off and takes you with it, who's gonna command Seaview? You're the only one who's seen enough combat to tackle somebody IF this is a plot to take the sub. You're too important to lose right now. I'll stay, you go.”
Sparks was right. With the skipper and the first officer out of the picture, he was the only one who had seen enough action to be remotely effective in a fight. Reluctance oozing from every pour, Bobby stood and backed up, heading for the doorway. Bob had to take control of the situation, just like he told Sharkey. With that thought, he spun around, heading out of the hatchway to find the chief.
Jimmy watched the seconds tick down on the tiny digital counter. He could hardly make out the numbers, they were so small. He inched closer to the device, trying to read the glowing red numbers. 1652-1653-1654-1655 . . . as numbers clicked by, the sequence began to look familiar to the lanky communication's officer. What was the detonation time? Out of reflex, Jimmy checked his watch. Almost 1700. A chill settled over the young officer. He scrambled to his feet and tripped, falling over his own two feet that would not move fast enough. Nearly crawling, Sparks made for the open hatchway, trying to outrun the growing sense of dread that had dropped over him like a black shroud of doom.
There was a click. Sparks spared a glance over his shoulder as the blast picked him up and tossed him through the hatchway. He landed with a crunch against the bulkhead. Jimmy clawed at the bulkhead, but his right arm wouldn't work, his shoulder was on fire and he was aware of something warm and wet dripping down the side of his face. The corridor telescoped, and Sparks felt the deck drop out from under him as the sub rocked under the blast of the third hidden bomb. A white-hot lance of pain shot through his body, his chest was in agony and every breath was like breathing fire.
Barely ten feet away, Bob heard the blast and turned just in time to see the body of his best friend slam into the bulkhead and collapse to the deck.
“JIMMY!” Bob screamed, the panic and desperation making his voice crack as he ran down the corridor. He grabbed Sparks under the arms and pulled him away from the smoke billowing out of the air revitalization room. He dropped down to his knees, feeling for a pulse.
“Told . . .you so. This . . . could have . . . you. Better this way,” Sparks forced out. Bob choked back his emotions. He'd seen Mister Morton lock down his emotions to focus on the task at hand. Bob wasn't sure he could do that, not when he was facing his best friend laying hurt and possibly close to death. O'Brien reached out for Sparks' hand, the other man wrapping vermilion-stained fingers around O'Brien's wrist. Those bright blue orbs finally rolled back into his head and his body went limp.
“No! Jimmy! Stay with me Jimmy. That’s an order!” O'Brien pleaded, trying to get control, trying to prove he could take control.
''Mister O'Brien?” Sharkey's voice broke through Bob's haze and he looked up.
“A third bomb, in air revitalization. Get a team and get that fire put out. I need to get Sparks to Sickbay.” Somehow the words came out calmer than Bobby felt.
“Yes sir, right away,” Sharkey jerked up to the team of crewmen behind him, snapping out orders. “You two, give us a hand here. The rest of you knuckleheads get busy with the air units. Let's move it!”
Crewmen scattered, unwilling to be caught dawdling when the COB was in a temper. Two came down and helped pick the unconscious officer off the deck. Bob O'Brien stood up, trying to pull himself together. He watched his best friend being carried away and locked down the need to follow. He was in command, this was his watch and he had to take control. He locked eyes with the chief. Both men took a deep breath.
"I need to get to the Control Room,”
"Sir, you need to get to the Control Room.” Both men had spoken in concert and exchanged very weak smiles.
"Somebody needs to be there when the admiral comes back. Give me your walkie. Mine seems to have died.”
The chief handed the officer a two-way radio and he hit the push-to-talk. “Sickbay, this is O'Brien, do you read?”
The radio squawked as Jamieson picked up on his end. “Sickbay.”
"Doctor, I'm sending you another patient.”
"Mister O'Brien, I've already been cursed with the two worse patients in the universe. And now you're sending me another?” The exhaustion in Doc's voice was hard to miss.
"Sorry Doc. It's not like we planned it this way. Take care of Sparks for me. I need my wingman in one piece when we next hit port.”
There was a long pause and a cut-off, muffled curse as Doc's next patient made his appearance. “Sir, if you don't mind, please find the rest of these bloody things so nobody else gets hurt,” Doc pleaded as he alternatively barked out orders to his corpsmen.
"Doc, I promise to do my best.” O'Brien shot the chief a look. Sharkey nodded and made a hasty exit. “How are the skipper and Mister Morton?”
"Sedated. I have enough to do with out those two arguing with me. I've got everything under control down here.”
"Good. Let me know if there are any changes. O'Brien out.”
The Chief Engineer stood in the corridor for a long second, the bloodstained hand clutching the now quiet walkie. He swallowed hard and gathered his nerves. He would need every ounce of courage and strength to take control and get Seaview off the bottom.
He would need every once of that courage and control to face the admiral when he returned.
Harriman Nelson frowned and not for the first time. For the third time in the last fifteen minutes he had tried to raise Seaview and his only answer was an eerie silence. Could they have run into a problem? They were supposed to be on their way home after dropping off a fresh group of researchers to Triton Sealab. What could they have run into?
Thinking back, Nelson realized what an idiotic question that was. Again, with more than a hint of frustration, Nelson tried contacting Seaview.
"Seaview, come in, Seaview. FS1 calling Seaview. Sparks, do you read me?
Again, there was only that endless silence. Nelson checked and rechecked all the instruments. Was there a glitch on this side, a short somewhere in the radio? Did he have the right frequency? Was Lee running silent and had all systems on stand-by?
Puzzled by the odd chain of events, Nelson switched frequencies and changed tactics. He knew the Woods Hole research ship, Deepsong, was in the area. Maybe they had heard something from Seaview.
"R/V Deepsong, this is Admiral Nelson, calling R/V Deepsong.”
There was a pause and a new voice came over the air.
"Admiral Nelson, this is Captain Dean Macintosh. Admiral, kind of odd to catch you off Seaview, isn't it?” Dean's soft Chicago accent twanged through the receiver and Harriman grinned. Dean and Chip had been good friends in Morton's high school days. Nelson had a great deal of respect for the man and was more than happy to hear his voice.
“I do occasionally step foot onto dry land,” Nelson replied dryly. “You haven't by chance heard from Seaview?”
“Sorry Admiral. We had sonar contact with her earlier, about fourteen hours ago, but we haven't seen her since. I suspect she's out of range at this point. Problem, Admiral?”
“I'm not able to raise them on the radio. There's been no seismic activity, no unusual current or waves?”
“No, sorry, Admiral. We've had no indications of any such thing. You want her last known location?”
Harry gave a word of thanks to the guardians of lost submarines. “That would a great help in tracking her down.”
A few seconds later with the coordinates keyed in, Nelson swung the little yellow craft around and set a new course. It was odd; Lee never indicated this was the track he was planning to take, but with Lee you never could tell. Maybe he was running a set of drills and that had set Seaview off her earlier course. According to Macintosh’s reading, the sub was more than fifty miles off from their last known position. In the cold North Atlantic, fifty miles might as well be five hundred if you didn’t have a solid starting point.
"Dean, you said you never made radio contact with Seaview?” Nelson asked.
“No, like I said, we had a sonar contact earlier, but that was all. We're on a tight timetable. The weather in this area gets bad fast this time of year and I've got a certain marine archaeologist chewing my rear to make her site before the ice starts to close in.”
Nelson grinned. “Serena's with you?”
“All in a tizzy about getting in and getting out before the ice moves in. Hard-headed daughter you've got here, Admiral.”
Nelson could not argue more. “You don't know the half of it, Captain. Listen, thank you for the information. How much longer will you be in the area?”
Harry heard the mutterings of several voices before Macintosh came back on the line. “Few more hours. We're running some tests and gathering samples before we head north. If there is anything you need, just give us a yell. Be more than happy to lend a hand.”
“I'll keep that in mind, Nelson out.”
Dean Macintosh glared at the mike in his hand, holding back the growl growing in the back of his throat. What the hell was Nelson doing on his way back to Seaview? Roger Keith had promised him he had set the bombs before Seaview dropped him off at Triton Sealab. Had he lied? The Flying Sub was supposed to be incapacitated before it left Washington. Nelson shouldn't be anywhere in the area. Maybe there was a malfunction. He needed Nelson alive for this to work. If Nelson were killed, years of planning would go down the drain.
Well, there was nothing he could do about it now. He blackmailed one weakling scientist, if this plan didn't work, he could do it again. He had enough dirt on Roger Keith to get the man to do anything he wanted if he wanted to keep his accreditation with Woods Hole. With that final thought, Dean hung the mike back up and headed off to check on the progress of Deepsong's current cast of scientists, including one marine archaeologist, Serena Harrison. Dean scowled as he made his careful way out of the pilothouse.
If he could just get Harrison to look at him like she did some of these wreck sites she went after, or better yet, like she looked at Morton, Dean Macintosh might feel a little more charitable toward the plight of Seaview.
Let her rot on the bottom of the Atlantic. Nelson would see he had made the wrong choices when he picked his officers and staffed that wonderful institute of his. Right now it was just a matter of waiting.
Bob O'Brien dropped the pencil to the plot table with a disgusted snort. He braced both hands against the solid weight of the table, and dropped his head to his chest. He took a couple of deep breathes, counted to ten, forward and backwards, then turned his attention back to the problem at hand. He grabbed at the walkie on his hip. “Chief, how's it coming?” he asked, hoping he didn't sound as tired as he felt.
“Sir, we've been over every crack and crevice on this tub. Nobody and I mean nobody has found so much as a matchbook,” Sharkey's voice crackled over the radio.
Suddenly there was an earsplitting squeal from overhead and Patterson's Kansas accent drawled over the speaker. “Control Room, this is Patterson. I would like to report that the intercom is now working.”
A small cheer went up around the Control Room. Bob also couldn't control his enthusiasm and grinned from ear to ear. He gave the tired watch a few minutes to let off some pent up steam before raising his voice. “Alright, calm down, everybody. We've won one battle, but we still have to get off the bottom.” O'Brien grabbed the mike. “Chief Sharkey.”
“Mister O'Brien, sir?”
“How's the repair in the air units?”
“Damage control reports that they've got the system up to two-thirds capacity. We still don't have the ability to blow ballasts through. We've got a problem with one of the master cylinders in the main pump. Machinists are on it and we hope to have a report for you any minute now.”
Bob was nodding. “Let me know the second you have something for me, Chief. Don't make me tell the admiral that not only does his baby have a hole in her side, she doesn’t float any more.”
“We'll do our best, sir,”
“Oh, Chief, send Riley up here. With Sparks down, I need somebody on the radio.”
“I'll send him right up.”
“Very well, carry on.” With that, O'Brien set the mike down. Things might be looking up. Radio was restored, intercom was finally working, the air was working somewhat, and the repairs were coming along. If they could just make it to the surface, they'd be golden. Right now it was just a matter of waiting.
Harry killed the connection to the Deepsong and cycled back to Seaview's frequency. The second he stopped, a voice filtered through the speakers. He immediately recognized the voice as Stu Riley.
"Seaview calling FS1, do you read? Seaview calling Admiral Nelson. Admiral, do you respond?” Seaview's youngest crewmember sounded tired and worn out.
Nelson wondered why Riley was at the radio instead of Sparks. Adjusting the throat mike, Nelson responded. “Read you Seaview. I'm vectoring in on your coordinates, please confirm your position.”
Riley reported back Seaview's current position and Nelson stared hard at the Navigation panel. The reading Riley had given him and the reading from Macintosh were not even close.
“Riley, are you sure about these numbers?”
“Yes, sir. Everything else might out of commission, but the Nav computers are working just fine.”
“Out of commission? Riley, what the devil are you talking about?”
Riley's voice turned a touch timid as he answered. “Sir, maybe you'd like to talk to Mister O'Brien.”
“As a matter of fact I would,”
Seconds later O'Brien's slightly harried voice came on. “Admiral Nelson sir, it’s good to hear your voice,”
Nelson raised an eyebrow. This time of day, Crane should have command or at least Chip.
“Mister O'Brien, would you mind telling me where Captain Crane is?”
Nelson heard the sharp intake of a deep breath. “About that sir, I'd really rather explain what's happened once you get back aboard. It sort of requires a visual.”
''Bob, I'm not going to spend the next twenty minutes wondering what the devil is going on. How about if you give me the condensed version now?”
Clearly that was the last thing O'Brien wanted to do, judging from the silence that stretched over the speaker. Finally the young officer cleared his throat and hesitantly launched into an explanation. “Someone planted three explosive devices on Seaview. Captain Crane was injured when the first went off. The force of the explosion blew out a section of our outer hull, knocked out communications, radio and internal, and we've somehow lost the ballast control. We can't surface. A second bomb compounded the damage of the first explosion. Mister Morton was injured in that blast. A third explosion disabled the air system and that’s when Sparks was injured.”
“I trust you've searched for more of these devices?” Nelson's voice was as cold as the North Sea. Not that he doubted Bob's abilities, he would never have recruited him for Seaview otherwise, but he didn't understand where the devices could have come from or how they got onboard his submarine.
“Yes, sir. Chief Sharkey has checked and rechecked every conceivable hiding place. As far as we can tell, there are no more devices and we're working to get everything repaired.”
“Hold that thought until I get aboard. I want a complete damage report and a complete casualty list.”
“Yes sir, I'll have everything for when you get here,”
“Good, Nelson out.” Harry signed off and urged a little more speed from the submersible. Three bombs, on his boat? How the hell did this happen? The only other people who had access to Seaview within the recent few weeks had been the four scientists they had taken to Triton Sealab. He knew each and every one of those men, there was no possible way one of them could have sabotaged Seaview. Nelson swore under his breath, a pile of questions on his mind. Right now he could only handle one question at a time. There would be time for answers soon enough.
Nelson was relieved when Seaview finally materialized out of the darkness of the ocean. She rested on a ledge and there was enough of her nose hanging over to dock the Flying Sub. Small blessings. He wouldn’t have to suit up just to get back aboard. “Seaview, this is Nelson. I’m coming in, open the bay doors and activate the docking gear.”
Confirmation of his order was swift. Nelson let the magnetic gear pull the craft into her berth. When she finally settled in and the water siphoned out, Nelson began shutting the craft down.
Things were never truly silent in FS1. The sound of the submarine around her, the creaking of the pressures of the ocean as she glided though the water, there were any number of sounds that took some getting used to. However there was a distant ticking sound that Nelson did not recognize.
Climbing out of the pilot’s seat, Nelson cocked his head to the side, listening, following the sound. He tracked the odd noise to the small locker under the bunk. A black duffel bag sat forgotten. He recognized the bag as belonging to Roger Keith, a microbiologist and one of the four scientists they had taken to the sealab.
With nervous fingers, Nelson opened the black bag and peered inside. A small black box, nestled in a cocoon of wires, ticked merrily away as tiny, almost microscopic numbers flashed by on a small screen.
There was no place he could go. The Flying Sub was already docked, her berth was already depressurizing. There was only one choice for Nelson and that was to scramble.
Harry slammed the locker doors shut and threw himself at the ladder, pulling himself upwards, not knowing how much time he had left. Nelson heard the ‘click’ through the closed metal door and he felt the ladder under him shudder. Then everything went dark.
O’Brien stood by the Flying Sub hatch, waiting for the hold to depressurize. When confirmation that the submersible was safely berthed, Bob gave the wheel a few turns and cracked the hatch.
They had no warning when the ship rocked hard, the force of something causing the bow section of Seaview to literally heave upwards, throwing Bob—and everyone else standing—to the deck. Bob felt the concussion wave roll through the ship, shaking her like a blanket in the wind.
The young officer clawed at the railing around the Flying Sub hatch, trying to get to his feet. With a started gasp, Bob was the first to see the thick black smoke pouring from FS1’s hatchway.
Without stopping, O’Brien dove for the hatch, his only thoughts being for the admiral. Just as O’Brien was about to descend into the well, a smoky and slightly charred figure crawled out, hooking his elbows over the rim and coughing up smoke and soot. Bob grabbed both his arms and with all his strength, he hauled Admiral Nelson to the deck.
For a second both men just sat in a weary heap on the Control Room floor as everyone else looked on in stunned silence. Finally, Nelson managed to get his coughing under control and locked eyes with the younger officer.
“Mr. O’Brien, I’ll take those answers now, if you don’t mind.”
Harriman Nelson sat on the exam table in the heart of Sickbay, letting Jamieson fuss over him. But his attention wasn’t on Jamieson’s words. His sapphire eyes were glued to the three figures lying too still in the bunks on the far wall: Lee, Chip and Sparks, three good men brought down by the evil of another.
If it hadn’t been for the fact the main force of the blast had been contained in the shockproof locker under the Flying Sub’s bunk, Nelson would most assuredly be sharing space with them—or worse. He shook his head to clear the cobwebs and focused his attention on Jamieson.
William was waiting patiently for Nelson. “Admiral?” he asked quietly out as Harriman’s gaze slowly refocused on him.
“I must have wandered off there for a minute,” Nelson said trying to cover his daydreaming. He knew Will would never buy it.
He was right. The doctor had gotten proficient when it came to reading Nelson’s worry for his boys. He saw the unasked questions in the flag officer’s sapphire blue eyes.
“I won’t lie to you, Admiral. Their condition is severe. Bruising, internal injuries, blood loss, that’s the positive side. Chip and Lee have the same blood type, so we’re going through stores of O-positive blood faster than normal. I’m low on preservative-free heparin for Chip. I do not want to risk giving him something with a preservative. In his condition, if he has an allergic reaction, it could kill him. If you can pull a magic rabbit out of your hat and get us off the bottom, well, that’s one trick I’d like to see.”
Nelson lifted an eyebrow in question. “You’re letting me out of here? You mean I pass inspection?”
Will dropped himself into a chair and Harry realized just how weary the man looked. No telling how long he’d been on his feet. With three patients, it would be some time before he actually got some rest.
"You don’t have a concussion and nothing is broken. A few of those bruises are deep and you’re going to be sore as hell later, but there is nothing really wrong with you that would keep you in Sickbay. Besides, you’re needed to get this bucket off the bottom. I know that.”
"Then I suppose I’d better get busy. Will, try to get some rest. You look like death warmed over. How long have you been on your feet?”
Jamieson sighed. “Too long. Don’t worry, I’ll turn everything over to Frank in a bit and I’ll try to get some rest.”
Harry got to his own feet and walked to Lee’s bunk. The young commander seemed unnaturally still, with just the rise and fall of his chest to betray life. It just wasn’t normal. In the past, Harry had called on Lee a number of times to check on him after some injury had sidelined him. Nelson knew for a fact that Lee never slept in anything less than a long-legged sprawl.
Chip didn’t look any better. His fair completion looked almost like porcelain in the harsh lighting of Sickbay, making the bruises, cuts, and scrapes stand out in sharp relief. Like Lee, he looked closer to dead than alive.
Nelson tried to remember a time when Sparks had spent any measurable time in Sickbay. He drew a blank, unable to think of some point that required rack time under Jamie’s watchful eye. Seeing the radioman lying in this deathly still repose, it was like a chunk was missing out of reality.
Finally Nelson turned to face Jamieson. “Can they be moved?”
"Beg your pardon?”
"Can they be moved? If I have to evacuate them, are they stable enough to be moved?”
Jamieson folded his arms over his chest and shifted his gaze from Chip to Sparks, then back to Lee. His gaze lingered on Crane for a long stretch of seconds as he tried to determine which of the three had the worst injuries. As much as he hated to admit it, Jamieson wasn’t sure that moving either Lee or Chip was a good idea. Something otherworldly tied them to this vessel and moving them away from her when they needed her most didn’t seem like a very wise decision. Still, moving them might be the better option, especially since Chip was going to need more meds soon. Nelson was still watching him with an expectant look.
“As much as I hate to, if you can get them off this boat and somewhere where they can be properly cared for, then yes. I can see to it they are stable enough to be moved.”
“It might not come down to that, but I want to know my options. I want to know the minute there is a change in their condition. I'll be in the Control Room.”
With that, Nelson strode out of Sickbay, leaving behind a befuddled doctor. Harry wasn’t in the mood to explain that he wanted those three as far from danger as he could put them. He would suspend judgment until he knew exactly what kind of shape his boat was in. For that, he needed O’Brien.
Nelson found a weary-looking acting-captain at the plot table, pouring over a daunting pile of reports and charts.
“Mr. O’Brien, what’s our status?” he barked out. O’Brien almost jumped over the table at the sound of the admiral’s voice.
“Doc’s not keeping you in Sickbay?” Bob asked, so surprised at seeing the admiral that he forgot protocol.
“Amazing, isn’t it? I’m fine, Bob, just a little singed. Now, just what’s wrong with my boat?’
With a deep breath the younger man launched into a long litany of the damages Seaview had incurred over the last few hours. Finally as the list ran down, O’Brien gestured to the Flying Sub hatch. “Damage control reports the Flying Sub is completely inoperable. The damage the bomb inflicted on her was substantial. She’s gonna have to go in dry dock for any kind of repairs. The only thing separating us from the North Atlantic is the bay doors.”
This time a smile crept slowly across Nelson’s lips. “You realize you just referred to the Flying Sub as a ‘she’? You’re starting to sound like Captain Crane,” Nelson said with a smirk, and O’Brien shifted his eyes downward, caught off guard and obviously embarrassed.
Bob cleared his throat and tried to cover his borrowed mannerisms. “To make matters worse, the machinists report that they don’t have the necessary parts to repair the master cylinder. The only option we have, thanks to Sparks, is that the radio is still operational and we can call for help—if there is anybody topside to hear us.”
“Lieutenant, there just so happens to be a surface vessel within range. She might have to deviate from her present mission, but I think we can get the help we need.”
Nelson didn’t stop to further elaborate. He had no idea how far the Deepsong was. With any luck she was still in the area and could be raised. He threaded his way to the Radio Shack with O’Brien curiously following. Riley saw the pair of them and his blue eyes widened.
“Riley, there’s a ship topside, I’m not for certain about her range, she’s the R/V Deepsong, out of Woods Hole. Raise her in the clear and ask for Captain Macintosh. Let him know this is urgent.”
The young man was nodded enthusiastically as he worked to carry out his new orders. Nelson turned to O’Brien.
“Cross your fingers and pray the man’s still in range.”
Bob took a deep breath and tried not to get his hopes up too far. “I’ll cross fingers, toes, and my eyes if it will help, sir.”
Riley worked to raise the surface ship. If the admiral said she was up there, then she was there. The young man had yet to see the day when the admiral was wrong. “Seaview calling R/V Deepsong, Admiral Nelson asks to speak with Captain Macintosh, this is urgent, Deepsong, do you read?”
Riley repeated his mantra a few more time, feeling his gut twisting with worry each second he didn’t get an answer. He tried to ignore the electric-blue gaze of the admiral as he leaned against the bulkhead, waiting to see if Riley was going to make contact. The admiral always unnerved Riley. He was always watching and listening, even when you thought he was preoccupied with something. It was worse than being watched by Mister Morton! Finally after what seemed like days, his hail was answered.
"Seaview, this is Macintosh. Go head Seaview, report you condition.”
Riley nodded to the admiral who was already reaching for the mike. Nelson shot a grin at the young man. “Looks like the tide might be turning in our favor,” he said to Riley. He clicked the mike to send. “Dean, looks like I’m going to have to call in the favor we talked about earlier.”
"Admiral, my ship is at your command. What can I do for you?”
"I need parts. I have a master cylinder that needs a rebuild and I have three injured I need lifted out. Can you arrange for an air lift to get them back to the States?”
“Give me your coordinates and I’ll be on my way. The injured are your crewmen?”
Nelson was shaking his head. “Three of my officers. My captain, my exec and my radioman. Can you handle them?”
Topside on board the Deepsong, Dean Macintosh was grinning like a Cheshire cat. This was just simply too good to be true.
"Of course, Admiral. I’ll take extra good care of Captain Crane and Chip for you. Your officers couldn’t be in better hands. Stand by to transmit your coordinates to me and I’ll be in touch as soon as I’m over you.”
Nelson’s voice crackled back. “Thanks, Dean. This means a lot to me. I owe you one. Nelson out.”
The connection went dead and with a steady grip, Dean replaced the mike in the clip. For a few minutes, he just stood there in the empty radio room, wondering if his luck was going to get any better.
Just when he thought his carefully laid plans were about to be shot to pieces, Nelson hands him the answer on a silver platter. He could be rid of the glory-hound Crane and that suck-up Morton all at the same time. Chip forgot all about him once he got into the Academy. They had planned it for months: the two of them were going in together, just like high school. Only somehow Chip was accepted, and Dean didn’t make the cut. To make matters worse, Chip goes on and makes a new best friend, this clown, Lee Crane. Dean had been forced to go elsewhere. The Massachusetts Maritime Academy had been happy to accept him, but Dean always felt cheated. Chip had his appointment, Crane had the position Dean felt should have been his, and Chip had the woman that Dean wanted for himself.
Sure, let Nelson send up his golden boys. If they were as bad off as Nelson indicated, it wouldn’t take much for them to meet an untimely demise.
Neither of them would see dry land once they came aboard. The tide was turning in his favor. Finally.
He knew something was wrong. He couldn’t put his finger on it but somehow Lee knew that something wasn’t right with his boat. He felt like he was floating, somehow drifting, as though he were almost weightless or somehow in the water. He recognized the sensation from a number of times. Jamie’s sedation was wearing off and Lee was fighting tooth and nail to rise from the land of the comatose back to the land of the living. There was always that detached feeling of not quite being connected to his body as he came back to his full senses.
He felt a shiver roll though his body and recognized he was cold. Only one place on the boat could be this cold. Sickbay. But how did he end up in Sickbay? Lee searched his memory for a reason and remembered the bomb. It must have gone off. It would explain the pounding in his head, the itching that was tale enough to indicate he’d been stitched up. But how bad?
Putting everything he had into it, Lee pushed himself up, sweating and exhausted from the effort by the time he was done. He glanced down at his torso, not surprised at the tightly wrapped bandage around his midsection. There were several places on his arms and chest decorated with tiny black stitching. Bruises in various stages of purple, bleeding into yellowish green, dotted here and there, with a massive bruise on his upper left side, partly covered by the bandage. No wonder he felt so sore. Another shiver crawled up his spine and Lee grabbed the blanket and wrapped it around his shoulders. Why did it always feel cold enough to store meat in here?
Well, one thing was certain, he wasn’t staying. Not when he couldn’t feel the thrum of Seaview’s engines, not when she no longer sang to him that she was all right. He had to find out what was going on.
The door to the corridor looked too far away. His legs felt like jelly and he wasn’t even sure how he was going to make it to his cabin for clothes, much less the Control Room for a status report. And where was Jamie? It wasn’t like Doc to wander off if one of the command staff was confined to Sickbay.
Gathering his strength once more, Lee heaved himself to his feet, now fully understanding how a beached whale must feel. He tottered weakly for a second, then launched himself at the door, determined to make it to his cabin. It was his grip on the I.V. pole that kept him from hitting the floor.
A very low moan pulled Lee’s attention from his escape attempt. Snapping his head around, Crane hadn’t noticed he was sharing space with two other inmates.
The dark headed figure in the bunk at the foot of Lee’s rack puzzled him for a second until his brain cells supplied him with the appropriate name: Sparks. Sparks was in Sickbay? Sparks never got sick and his duty station was such that he was seldom in actual harm’s way. How on earth did he end up here? Lee staggered the few steps to Sparks’ bunk side, staring with undisguised confusion.
" Sparks, what did you do to end up in here?” Lee asked quietly. The officer’s blue eyes opened, blinked twice and a slow smile came over him.
"Skipper? Doc’s not gonna like seeing you out of bed,” Sparks said weakly. Lee favored the younger man with a smile and rested a hand on Sparks’ shoulder.
"I can handle the doctor. You just concentrate on you.”
Before Sparks could answer, the same low moan reached Lee once more and this time he recognized the pitch and tone. With his heart hammering in his chest, Lee glanced past the head of his bunk to the still, blond figure in repose there.
No. Nonononono… It couldn’t be Chip…Lee pulled himself along using the bunk supports to balance himself. Lee realized he was holding his breath and let it out in a long, slow exhale. With a trembling hand, he reached out and touched Chip’s bare arm, resting on top the blanket. There was a line of stitches over his left eye and bruising wherever Lee looked.
" Chip? Chip, can you hear me?” Lee asked in a voice barely above a whisper. Chip never responded, the blue orbs that would have been full of disapproval at Lee being out of his bunk never fluttered.
All the more reason to pull yourself together and find out what’s going on. Lee swiveled drunkenly back to the door.
Standing guard at the door like Cerberus guarding the gates of Hades, Will Jamieson glared at Lee, his own blue eyes flashing in disbelief.
"Skipper, you shouldn’t even be conscious, much less wandering around. Do you have a death wish? I spent over three hours on my feet sewing you back together. Are you trying to undo all my hours of stitchery? For once, can’t you understand that you’re not getting out of my clutches and just accept your fate?”
Lee shrugged, even as he leaned against the bunk supports. “I need to find out what’s going on. My boat’s in trouble, I can feel it. She needs me.”
"She has her father to look after her. The admiral is on top of things, Lee. I need you to get back in your bunk. You have internal injuries and you don’t need to be up.”
" Jamie…” Lee began, only to have the doctor advance on him, clearly not happy.
"Captain Crane, do I have to draw you a picture or would you like to see the x-rays yourself? You are unfit for duty. You can’t stand up straight, you can’t walk in a straight line, and you can’t even keep your eyes from crossing. How do you think you’re going to function?”
Lee sagged back into his bunk. Jamie was right, but he’d rather eat glass than admit it. He couldn’t sit back and not know what was going on. He needed to have some idea of what had happened.
"I just want an update. Tell me what’s going on and I’ll rest.”
Jamie tilted his head slightly, reminding Lee of a bird eying a tasty worm. “What if I don’t think it’s in your best interests? What if I just pump you full of a nice, relaxing sedative and say ‘nighty-night Skipper’?”
Lee sighed and frowned. “You could, but you won’t.”
"Won’t I? If I get you an update, you’ll want to go check this out or go see to that, and in your condition, it’s just not advisable. That’s not fruit juice in a slow drip there,” Jamie said indicating the I.V. pole Lee was clutching in one hand.
"Please? I can’t sit here, feeling her so dead and not wonder what’s going on. I know there was a bomb. How did Chip get here? Is he okay? What about Sparks? Is the radio out? Jamie, you can’t leave me in the dark like this.”
Jamie continued to glare at him, but the hardness in his eyes seemed to soften a bit. Lee held his breath and tried to look as innocent as possible. Jamie had to go along with this. He had to.
"If and I do mean if I do go along with this, you get your tail back in the bunk and you rest. You do not leave Sickbay. You do not pass go, you do not collect two hundred dollars. Have I made myself clear? I have enough to worry about with Chip than to wonder what corridor you’ve passed out in. I’m only thankful that Sparks is stable for the moment.”
Lee tried not to show the relief he felt. He never was good at hiding his emotions and he saw the corner of the doctor’s mouth twitch as he suppressed a smile. “Jamie, I swear, if you let me have a status report, I’ll do what ever you say. Just don’t shot me full of your magic sleep juice, will you? What if the admiral needs me?”
"One step at a time, skipper. First, you get back in that bunk. Show me you’re willing to play along.”
Lee very slowly did as he was asked, pulling the blanket off his shoulders and replacing it over his legs. A massive shudder ran through his body again and Jamie raised an eyebrow.
"It’s always cold in here. Cookie could hang a side of beef in your office and it would keep.”
"That’s because nine times out of ten, if you’re spending any measurable time here, you’ve had some degree of blood loss and that affects your body temperature. Ergo, the reason I fuss and want you to rest.” Jamie kept one eye on Lee as he snagged the mike from the wall. “Admiral, this is Sickbay.”
The admiral’s response was immediate. “Nelson here. Will, is something wrong?” The anxiety in his voice was clear. Obviously he thought the worst had happened.
"Actually Admiral, someone would like a word with you about his boat.”
"His boat? That must have been one devil of a knock on the head. I’ll be right down.”
Dean snarled under his breath and tried not to give into the litany of curse words running through his head. It wasn’t supposed to be like this! He was planning on piloting the Starfish himself. He wanted to see up close what kind of shape Crane and Morton were in, and how much trouble he’d have to go through to arrange an unpleasant end for them. What he had not counted on was the very person he was trying to impress. Serena Harrison.
"Dean, you know that part of your anatomy you sit on? Well, you can kiss mine if you think I’m staying topside,” the stubborn redhead snapped. She’d been defensive ever since she found out Seaview was on the bottom and refused to listen to reason when he tried to explain that it was just too dangerous to let her go.
"Serena, be reasonable,” he tried again, desperate to make her understand. “The Starfish is a tiny little thing. They’re gonna have to make two trips to get everybody up here. Nelson would kill me if I let you go.”
Serena did not seem impressed with Dean’s logic. “Guess you’d better make sure your will is up to date then. Would you like a burial at sea? Because I’m going.” Harrison stalked off, mumbling to herself in tones that didn’t seem particularly cheerful.
Dean groaned. There had to be a way to reason with her! Wait. Her assistant or what ever she was. Surely she could talk some sense into her! Dean turned on one heel and headed to the lab, hoping to find the blonde. He was lucky. Wendy Morton was seated on a stool, her fingers typing steadily on a small laptop. She never looked up as his shadow fell across the room.
"I suppose you want me to talk to her,” the blonde woman said.
"She’s stubborn and she won’t listen to me. It’s too dangerous for her to go down; besides, I don’t think there will be room. The pilot’s going to have to make two trips to bring the injured back up. Serena really should stay topside. You’re her best friend, can’t you make her listen?” Dean pleaded.
Wendy raised her head and locked blue eyes on him. “Dean, let me break this down for you. Her father is trapped on the ocean bottom. The man she loves is injured and she has no idea how badly. The man she’s come to think of as an older brother is also hurt, similarly with no idea of how bad. Have I mentioned that one of those in question happens to also be my own flesh and blood, while the second is the man I am currently keeping company with, and the third just happens to be my boss? You’re damn lucky we haven’t taken over,” the blonde snapped.
Dean swallowed. In his planning, he’d forgotten Crane was dating the Morton sister. This might complicate things. It might be hard to arrange something if the pair of women hovered over the injured. Dean knew the minute Morton made it to safety Serena would never leave his side, job or no job. Same with the Morton sister. She wouldn’t let Crane out of her sight.
"You’re awfully calm, considering the circumstances,” Dean noted.
"It's a front. Trust me; the only thing keeping me from going is the simple fact that the admiral would kill me. Serena will risk the wrath of her father. She’s braver than me. There is also the simple fact that I can’t pilot the Starfish.”
"What if I piloted the Starfish? I go down personally, bring them up and turn them over to Dr. Lowe?”
Wendy cocked her head to the side. “You’d do that? Dean, don’t play games with me. I’m not blind. Serena doesn’t see it because she’s wrapped up in the job. She doesn’t see past that unless Chip or her father is involved. I know you have feelings for her. You have to know she’ll never feel anything for you other than maybe a passing friendship. She loves Chip Morton and nobody is going to come between them. You have to understand that.”
Dean held his tongue. If Morton isn’t alive, she can’t love him. She’ll need the support of someone when he doesn’t make it to the surface.
"I just want her to be happy. I want her safe and I know the admiral wants the same for her. Just talk to her, would you?”
Wendy sighed and got to her feet. “Don’t hold your breath. But I’ll see what I can do.” With that, Wendy walked out, leaving Dean to rethink his plans.
"And that’s where we stand now. The Deepsong is on her way and I’m evacuating Sparks, Chip and you.”
Lee swallowed hard. Evacuate? He couldn’t leave, not when she was dead on the bottom, wounded and needing him…
"Admiral, I…” Lee started but Nelson held up a hand, calling for silence.
"Don’t argue with me, Lee. Doc and I agree that it’s best to get you off before Seaview has another tantrum. Chip, in particular, needs medication that Will is rapidly running out of. Sparks deserves a fighting chance he might not get here. I want you off Seaview as soon as Dean gets here.”
"I can’t leave,” Lee whispered, not willing to believe he was going to be separated from his beloved gray lady, not willing to believe that it was Nelson who was ordering it. He felt like he was trying to ride out heavy seas with no break in sight. He turned his gaze up to Nelson, hoping that somehow he could get the admiral to understand that he just couldn’t go.
"Lee, I understand, really I do, but you can’t stay here, not in your condition,” Nelson said and was about to say more when a shudder ran through the boat. Lee gripped the railing of his bunk as Nelson clutched at the bulkhead to keep from being thrown to the floor. The sub had taken a decidedly forward tilt, as if she were sliding…
Nelson grabbed at the mike as Jamie descended on Lee. Whatever transpired between skipper and doctor was lost to Nelson as he demanded a damage report from O’Brien. He got no answer. The mike was dead. Once more it looked like they had lost internal communication.
"Will, make sure everybody stays in one spot. Sedate him if you have to,” snapped Nelson to the doctor. Without waiting for a confirmation, Nelson threw himself out of Sickbay, heading forward.
He found the Control Room a chaotic mess of sparking wires, smoke and O’Brien barking orders as crewmen scrambled. Bobby glanced up as Nelson plowed through the Control Room.
"What the devil’s going on?” Nelson snarled as he braced himself against the plot table. No doubt about it, there was a definite list forward.
"It’s the bow, sir. The Flying Sub berth is taking on water. We’re nose heavy with the weight of the Flying Sub and the added seawater.”
"Just how much of our nose is hanging over?” Nelson asked, his eyes straying to the Flying Sub hatch.
"We think from this point,” O’Brien was pointing to the schematic of the sub, indicating a point where he estimated the edge of the ledge stopped. “Mister Morton brought us down when the first device went off.” There was a lot of overhang.
Nelson ran a hand through his hair then rubbed the back of one ear. He hadn’t counted on this. The explosion in the Flying Sub must have damaged the doors, comprising their waterproof integrity. How much water had they taken on? Then Nelson had a chilling thought: their angle of list. It was like the nightmare in the minefield was replaying itself.4 If their angle of list were too steep, the submersible from Deepsong wouldn’t be able to couple.
Nelson grabbed the mike. “Riley, get me the Deepsong, ASAP.”
It took a few minutes but Nelson finally got confirmation that Deepsong had answered and McIntosh came on the line.
"Admiral, we’re on our way. Another half an hour and we should be right on top of you. We’re fighting some heavy seas up here so we might be a little slow reaching you.”
" Dean, listen. We’ve encountered a small problem. We’ve taken on water under our nose and we’ve listed a bit forward. I don’t see a problem with you connecting to us just yet. I just wanted you to be aware of the problem.”
"Thanks admiral. I’ll keep that in mind. We’re prepping the Starfish now and with any luck everything will go smoothly. I’ve run into a small snag, I was hoping you could help out a bit.”
Nelson was silent as he pondered what on earth Dean could have a problem with. Then it dawned on him.
"Captain McIntosh, you tell that stubborn, hard-headed daughter of mine that under no circumstance is she to come down here. None what so ever! So help me, if I even think she’s trying to finagle her way down here, I’ll turn her over my knee the minute I’m back in port.” He should have known she’d try to figure out some way to worm her way onboard. Well, Chip was going topside, she’d have her hands full when he was safe onboard the Deepsong. She wasn’t coming down here if he had anything to do with it.
"Admiral, I’ll pass that along. I’m sure that will make an impression since my arguments haven’t been very persuasive.”
"Good. I’ll let you get back to your ship. Let me know when you launch so we’ll know to expect you.”
"Will do Admiral. Deepsong out.”
Nelson hung up the mike and took a deep breath. He had to convince himself that Deepsong would arrive, the Starfish would connect, and they could evacuate Lee and the others and get the parts to fix the ballast pumps. This was one bout of heavy seas he hadn’t been expecting to navigate and Nelson prayed that there were no further complications. He refused to think that something else could possible go wrong.
Will Jamieson pointed a long finger at Lee Crane. “Sit. Stay. Do I make myself clear? We’re understaffed and stretched to the limit. I don’t even want to think that your shadow drifted outside that door. Am I clear?” Will accentuated his remark by first pointing to Lee then to the door he didn't want Lee anywhere near.
Lee sighed, even though it hurt his chest. He leaned back in the bunk and tried to take the pressure off his sore back. His side was beginning to ache but he’d never admit it. As much as he did admire Jamie and the work he did, the doctor was a rather large fan of the sedate-them-if-they-don’t-listen theory. Lee didn’t want to test that theory. Instead he tried a different tactic.
"If it makes you feel better, I promise not to leave Sickbay. Go on, I’ll be fine.”
Jamieson eyed Lee like he was an interesting specimen on a slide. Lee was beginning to get unnerved by the scrutiny and suppressed the urge to squirm. Finally Jamieson stepped back from Lee’s bunk.
"I’ll be back when I can. Promise me, Lee. Stay in Sickbay. No wondering the sub, no calling for damage reports. Just stay here.”
Lee nodded—anything to get Jamie to go. “I swear. Just go.”
With a backward glance, Jamieson vanished out the door. Lee counted to ten, mentally envisioning the steps around the corner. He might have promised he’d stay in Sickbay but he never promised to stay in the bunk. When he thought Jamie was far enough down the corridor, Lee heaved himself out of his rack once more.
The second time wasn’t any better than the first. Things were starting to more than just ache— the first hint of real pain was beginning to set in. Lee closed his eyes, mentally shuffling the discomfort aside. When he was able to get his ragged breathing under control again, he slowly got to his feet, hands wrapped around the I.V. pole for support.
"You just don’t follow orders very well, do you?” came a hoarse voice. Lee grinned as he saw Chip sitting up, gripping the rail of the bunk above him, the other also wrapped around the I.V. stand.
"You look like getting out of bed. What happened to you anyway? You look like you kissed a bulkhead—with your whole face.”
On the right side of the blond’s temple was a collection of tightly packed stitches and a hideous black and blue bruise that spread around his right eye. As Chip lifted himself up out of the bunk, the blanket slipped off his bare torso, revealing a mish-mash of heavy bruises. The whole top of his upper chest was a mass of blacks and blues that extended over one shoulder and probably down his back. It was enough to make Lee wince in sympathy. The expression was not lost on the exec.
With a glance down at his collection of contusions and then back to Lee, Chip raised an eyebrow.
“Jealous?” he asked, wincing a little as he tried shifting into a more comfortable position. He pulled the blanket back up over him and suppressed a shudder.
" Horribly.” Lee watched as Chip closed his eyes and sucked in a deep, ragged breath. Probably a wave of pain spiking through Chip’s body. Typical of either of them, Morton just rode out the wave without comment. “You okay?” Lee asked, even though he knew the answer.
"Fine. I just want out of here,” Chip said through clenched teeth. He glanced around and was surprised to see that Jamie was nowhere in sight. “Just where is the warden?”
"He got called out. Seaview had a spasm and there were a couple of injuries.”
Chip jerked his head sharply, regretting the sudden motion as he was hit with a wave of dizziness. Closing his eyes against the vertigo, Chip leaned back and tried not to think about his pounding head or the ache in his chest. “Spasm? What kind of spasm?”
Lee fumbled for the nearest chair and dropped his lanky frame into the seat. “I don’t know. It felt like we shifted or something.”
"You haven’t barked for a damage control report yet? You’re losing it,” came Chip’s weak reply.
"Jamie will sedate me if I so much as look at a mike. He did let the admiral brief me on what’s happened so far. You want the whole story or the condensed version?”
"Just give me the highlights.”
"Yours was the second bomb that went off. A third was in the air revitalization. That’s when Sparks was injured.”
"Sparks! Lee, you’re kidding?” Chip jerked upwards, the sudden demand on his bruised muscles forced him to stop as he choked back a gasp of pain. He leaned back once more, glancing around and finally noticing the third body he had failed to see before. Not Sparks, that just wasn’t right. “This is just dandy. Anything else I don’t know about?” the exec snapped.
For a second Lee toyed with idea of not telling Chip but that wouldn’t be fair. “The admiral wants to evacuate us. You, Sparks, and me. He thinks we’ll be safer. I don’t want to leave…” Lee’s words trailed off and he closed his eyes as if trying to block the very idea from his mind.
"No, Lee, he can’t. I mean...no. Lee, we have to talk him out of it!” Pounding head aside, Chip scrambled as best he could out of the bunk, tottering on shaky legs that were too weak to hold him up. He wobbled and Lee grabbed him around his waist to keep him from falling. The problem was that Lee’s own balance wasn’t all that steady.
"Chip, back in the bunk, buddy. You’re gonna overbalance both of us. I can’t hold you,” Lee snapped. Chip nearly fell backwards onto the mattress and both men gasped as each of their injuries announced their displeasure.
"Yeah, we look like going somewhere. I can’t even make it out of bed,” Chip said sourly, swallowing down a curse as the ache in his chest intensified. Lee snapped his head up and stared at Chip. A slow grin morphed into a smile.
"What?” Chip asked.
"That’s it. That’s how we keep the admiral from evacuating us. We’ve got to convince Jamie we can’t be moved.”
Chip blinked, his brain slow to process what his friend had just said. “Lee, I think that’s against my religion. You want to convince Jamie you WANT to stay in Sickbay? We’re supposed to trick Jamie into letting us out, not let us stay. Where’d you get hit anyhow?”
But Lee was shaking his head. “No, listen to me. Jamie thinks we’re stable enough to move and the admiral wants us off the boat in case there are any more problems. We have to make Jamie think we’re in worse shape than he anticipated. Chip, we’re going to have to fake it.”
"We’re not going to make very good actors if he catches you out of your bunk,” said Chip. Lee grinned. Still using the I.V. pole for support, he made his slow way to back to his bunk before Jamie reappeared.
"If this is going to work, we’re going to have to lay it on thick,” Lee said as he settled himself in. He eyed the upper bunk and snatched the blanket off the top rack. Maybe he’d finally warm up. Jamie must think he could freeze the germs into submission.
Lee wasn’t quite fast enough as Jamieson came back into Sickbay. He caught Lee red-handed as he wrapped the pilfered blanket around him.
"I was cold. You don’t want me to catch pneumonia, do you?” Suddenly Lee had it, the perfect way to keep the admiral from moving them. Lee couldn’t help himself and indulged in a few hacking coughs. The act was perfect as the expression on Jamie’s face changed from accusation to concern. In seconds he was by Lee’s side, helping the man settle down.
"Lee, how long have you had that cough?” Jamieson asked, pausing to listen to Lee’s lungs, moving the stethoscope around to various points on Lee’s chest.
"Jeez, where do you keep that thing, in the freezer? It’s cold enough in here without you rubbing a piece of ice on my chest. Have a little mercy,” Lee said, neatly evading a direct answer to the doctor’s question. Crane gave in to a few more coughs for effect. Jamie stood up and frowned. Lee batted innocent eyes up at the doctor and tried to think pathetic and sick.
"Just settle down Lee. It’s best not to get you agitated,” Jamieson said as he pressed a hand against Lee’s shoulder, gently pushing Crane to lie down.
Lee didn’t immediately give in. He didn’t want to appear to be completely out of character else Jamie would get suspicious. He resisted, earning a cold blue glare from the doctor.
"Lee, if you fight me on this, you’re gonna take a nice long nap. Now settle down.”
Lee gave in finally and relaxed into the additional warmth of his purloined blanket. It was actually nice to lie in the quiet and warm, just concentrate on not feeling like he’d been run over by a semi-truck. Close by, he could hear Jamie asking questions to Chip in tones just low enough that Lee couldn’t make out what was being said. He heard Chip’s deeper voice answering, but there was an odd quiver in the other man’s voice that set off alarms in Lee’s head. What if there was something wrong with Chip? What if he wasn’t pretending? Maybe Chip should be evacuated…
Lee’s thoughts were interrupted by a fit of coughing from Chip. Lee pulled himself up to peer around the edge of the bunk supports to see Morton curled into a fetal position as he hacked and coughed. Jamie hovered over Chip with a hand on his shoulder to steady him. Finally Chip seemed to get everything under control and appeared too weak to move. He simply lay on his side, obviously exhausted. Lee watched as Jamie repeated the exam with the stethoscope, listening to Chip’s heart and lungs. As Jamie rose up, he caught Lee watching.
"Jamie, what’s wrong with him?” Lee asked, not pretending this time.
"Let me worry about the exec, Skipper. You both just need to rest and stay still.”
Lee lay back down, still keeping an eye on Jamieson. The doctor walked straight to the nearest wall mike and thumbed the toggle. “Admiral Nelson, this is Sickbay.”
Seconds later the admiral picked up. “Nelson here. Go ahead Will.”
"Admiral, when you get a few minutes I’d like to see you.”
"I’ll be down as soon as I can. Nelson out.”
Jamieson replaced the mike and turned, fixing his gaze on the two conscious officers. Lee was watching him with a curious, yet tired expression, while poor Chip just looked exhausted. Neither man had any congestion yet, but the possibility did exist. With narrowed eyes, Jamieson considered that there was a second possibility. The doctor was about to say something to the skipper when Sparks suddenly sat up and then he too started to cough. Alarmed, Jamieson rushed forward and helped support the youngest officer as it sounded like he was going to hack up a lung.
Finally Sparks was able to catch his breath and Jamieson resettled the young man in his bunk. Listening to the radio operator’s lungs, Jamieson couldn’t find any signs of the tale-tell rattle indicating congestion. Had it yet to develop or was something else going on here?
"Sparks, when did this start?” Will asked quietly, resting a hand on the young man’s forehead, trying to determine if he was running a fever.
"Just now, doc. It feels like something in my chest. Is it an infection?”
"Just relax, Jimmy. You’re going to be fine. Have I ever lied to you?” Jamieson said softly, trying to reassure the dark fear in Sparks deep blue eyes. With a reassuring pat on the young man’s shoulder, Jamie walked toward his office to make notes.
"Will, what’s wrong?” Harriman Nelson demanded as he flew through the door, his eyes sweeping across Sickbay. He saw Lee watching him and noticed that Chip was curled up on his side, pale and weak looking. Sparks was also awake, but like Chip, he looked pale and too still.
"Admiral, I think we need to consider a reversal of plans.”
Nelson turned sharply to Chip, lying so still. Will had been concerned about him. Had his conditioned worsened? He pulled his gaze away and focused his attention back on the doctor. "I’m listening.”
"Since we talked, all three have started developing symptoms of possible respiratory distress. They all three have an elevated temperature, not unexpected considering their condition, but it’s enough to worry me. They’ve all developed a cough and while I can’t find any signs of congestion yet, this could be just the first stage.” Will paused and rubbed at his temple with long fingers, the dull throb of a headache now morphing into something more painful. The lack of sleep was beginning to catch up to him.
"I thought you were running out of medication to treat Chip.”
Will nodded. “I am, but I’m not completely out. Admiral, those three need to stay still, quiet and above all, warm. Lee’s already complaining about being cold. That could just be Lee, it could be his immune system, or it could be a number of other things. I don’t want to take the chance that it’s one of those 'other things.' Putting those three in a cool, damp submersible, and then shuffling them out across the cold, damp deck of a ship, well, it’s a recipe for pneumonia.”
Harry sat down in the nearest chair, running a hand through already tousled hair. “You want to keep them here.”
"Yes. Moving them could cause more harm than good.”
Nelson took a deep breath and looked back toward Lee. His eyes were closed and it looked to Harry like he was sleeping. He wanted so badly to get them away, before something else happened. But if it was too dangerous to move them…Nelson shook his head to clear it. He couldn’t risk their lives.
"Okay Will. You win. They stay. Of course, that just leaves me with the problem of telling Serena that Chip’s too sick to be moved.”
Jamieson raised a eyebrow and a puzzled expression settled on his face “How does Serena play into this?”
"She’s aboard the Deepsong and Dean’s already told me she’s trying to finagle her way down here. Naturally, I’ve forbidden her any such thing.”
The look on Jamieson’s face was a mixture of amusement and something else that Nelson couldn’t put his finger on it. “And just what is so funny?”
"Admiral, she might not carry the Nelson name, but she carries the Nelson gene and I have never seen you accept being forbidden anything.”
"Will, you are not helping things.” Harry rose to his feet, aware that Frank was standing quietly in the doorway, his arms crossed over his chest and aiming a glare at the doctor. “I think your keeper has arrived.”
"I was wondering if he’d gotten lost. Where’s your shadow?” Will asked, referring to the other half of the corpsmen duo, John.
Frank grinned. “Arranging for a hot meal to be sent to you cabin. You do remember your cabin, don’t you, sir? We were thinking maybe you had forgotten where it was, seeing as how you haven’t been to it in some time.”
The hint was clear. Normally it was Jamieson giving orders to his corpsmen but the circumstances demanded a slight reversal of roles as the corpsmen stepped up to look after their workaholic CMO. Will heaved a sigh and held up both hands in surrender.
"Alright. I’m out numbered and I know it. I’ve made notes; keep an eye on their respiration.” Jamieson said as he moved toward the door. He paused at the door and turned back to Frank. “I wouldn’t leave those three alone for very long. You know how some of them like to scheme and plot.” Jamieson punctuated the comment with a cold glare at the two ranking officers. Chip was still playing possum but Lee had made the mistake of getting caught watching them. Will smiled at Lee and he had the satisfaction of watching his skipper pale as Lee realized he’d been busted.
Thinking that Jamieson meant that Lee would try to scheme his way out of Sickbay, Nelson got to his feet and walked to Lee’s bunk. While he noticed the glare the CMO had thrown, he missed the reaction from Lee. Harry dropped a reassuring hand on Lee’s shoulder.
"Sir?” Lee asked, keeping his voice low and hoarse. “How long till we leave?” Still in the character of a man on the edge of pneumonia, Lee pretended he hadn’t overheard their conversation and prayed Nelson hadn’t also caught on. It was one thing to try and fool Jamie, but Lee hated lying to the admiral.
Nelson couldn’t stop the smirk. “You’re not. We’ve decided that it’s too dangerous to move any of you at the moment. Just relax and get better, Lee. Don’t give Frank a hard time. This is the best place for you at the moment. In the meantime, I have to contact Macintosh and tell him to change his plans.”
Harry watched as Lee took a slow deep breath and closed his eyes. “Didn’t wanna leave anyhow…” Lee mumbled and he seemed to drift off to sleep. With a deep breath of his own, Nelson prayed he was making the right choice and turned to leave.
Lee wanted to jump up and shout but he knew they weren’t out of the woods yet. Nelson could still order them off if he figured out what they had done. He kept his eyes closed and listened as Nelson’s footsteps faded away. He knew Frank was still close by.
"Sir, I’ve got to run down to stores, but I’ll be right back. Shouldn’t be gone more than ten minutes. John will be back soon in case you need something,” Frank said, as he paused over Lee’s bunk. The skipper appeared to be asleep. Surely they couldn’t instigate a break out in that short a time. Then he paused. No, that wasn’t what the doctor was trying to say. With a grin, Frank caught onto the little game. “Clever Skipper. Very clever. Should have known, if anybody could figure out how to stay aboard, you would. Don’t worry. We’re on your side.”
Lee continued to lie still and listen to the corpsman's fading footsteps. Carefully he cracked one eye open. Sickbay was empty save for the three inmates. Lee pulled himself up into a sitting position.
"And the Oscar for best performance by a commander in Sickbay goes to…” Chip intoned in a weak, theatrical voice and Lee grinned. Chip was fine. He’d just been acting. Lee should have known. He immediately glanced toward Sparks.
The tall young man was sitting up, grinning at his skipper. He was still pale but his blue eyes sparkled with his role in things.
"Chip, I think we’ve corrupted our radio operator. Seems he’s as big a faker as us,” Lee said
The exec snorted. “Sparks, I’ve never even seen you cheat at checkers, much less lie. This makes you an accomplice, you know.”
"I heard you and Mister Morton talking, sir. I don’t want to leave Seaview either. I never thought I’d see the day when you wanted to stay in Sickbay. Just thought you could use a little help, that’s all.”
Lee relaxed back into his bunk and closed his eyes. He hadn’t expected Sparks to fall into their plan. But it worked and Lee wasn’t arguing. “You all heard Frank. Let’s not get carried away. Just keep it simple and don’t give the admiral any reason to think we planned this.”
"Lee?” Chip’s deep voice called out from his bunk.
"Yeah?” Lee answered.
"I heard the admiral. Serena’s gonna try and come down here, if she can. I don’t want her here. It’s too dangerous and I don’t want her to see me like this. She worries enough.”
Lee sighed. He’d been hoping that Chip hadn’t heard that part but he should have known better. “The admiral knows how she is. He’ll make sure she stays topside.” Lee tried for reassuring but he was pretty sure he failed miserably.
"Lee, if there’s something she wants, she figures out how to get it. And you know that where Serena goes, Wendy isn’t too far behind. Do you seriously want her down here?”
Lee scowled. “No.” The very last thing he needed was Wendy down here. She didn't need to see him stuck in Sickbay like this. “One thing at a time, Chip. Let’s just hope the admiral can make Serena see reason and stay topside.”
There was a very soft snort as Chip answered. “Serena? See reason? Now that would be a reversal of roles.”
Bob O’Brien winced as the roar of a furious four-star admiral echoed in his ears. On the other side of the chart table, Admiral Nelson looked mad enough to chew nails and spit thumbtacks while his blue eyes seemed to glow in the light of the Control Room. Bob turned his attention back to the damage control reports, looking for anything that would keep him busy and not attract the attention of the temperamental admiral.
Dean Macintosh’s voice was just a touch apprehensive as he answered, “I tried to talk her out of it. Our window for launching was running out and I had to make a decision. You needed these parts and medication and I couldn’t wait any longer. Once they found out the casualties weren’t being lifted out, it was like talking to a brick wall. ”
"And this is why cabin doors have locks.” Nelson took a deep breath. Had she been this stubborn as a child or had she only gotten worse in the last year? Exhaling deeply, Nelson drummed the fingers of his left hand against the chart table. “Let me talk to Doctor Harrison.”
Bob winced again. The admiral tended to use titles when he was really ticked at someone. If he was calling his own daughter by her professional name, he must really be steamed!
"Is something wrong, Admiral?” Hesitant and a little unsure, Serena’s voice shook a little as she answered. Obviously willing to defy her father’s orders, it was a little different when she had to deal with the man himself.
"This isn’t an amusement park ride down here. I told Dean that I didn’t want you anywhere near Seaview.”
"Well, I never did like to listen to second-hand gossip.”
The drumming grew louder and harder as Nelson fought to not completely unload on his stubborn offspring. Somehow he managed to find his control and not explode. Instead his low voice rumbled disapproval as he replied, “You and I are going to have a long talk about this. Later.”
Well, at least she had the grace to know she was in trouble. “I hope you are aware you’re not staying.”
Her tone was definitely submissive as she answered, “Yes sir. I am aware of that. As soon as we pass on your parts and the medication Doctor Jamieson requested, we’ll be on our way back up and we’ll head for the North Sea.”
"As soon as you see Chip,” Nelson supplied with a smirk. He was no fool. He knew perfectly well the reason she was coming down.
The smile in Serena’s voice was evident as she echoed, “As soon as I see Chip,” she echoed. “See you in a few hours. Sir.”
The line went quiet indicating Serena had cut the connection. Nelson hung the mike back on the catch and fixed his gaze on O’Brien. The younger man swallowed hard, not sure if Nelson was about to explode.
"Mr. O’Brien, have I developed any gray hairs in the last fifteen minutes?”
"No sir, it’s the same color it’s always been.”
"I should think I would be gray by now. A bit of advice, Bob; if you have children, don’t hire them to work for you.” With that bit of sage advice, Nelson spun around and headed up the stairwell.
One thing about Seaview, there was never a dull moment.
Wendy Morton glanced over to Serena and threw her friend a half-wattage grin. “That went well.”
Serena adjusted the headset and squirmed a little in the chair. “Defying one’s father is always easier long distance. The more stars he has, the more distance you need. Average a mile per star. The fun part comes when we’re face to face.”
Wendy just snorted and turned her attention to the gauges, monitoring depth, temperature and rate of descent. She watched the fluctuating readings of the oxygen gauge and frowned. She tapped at the glass with a long finger. “Serena, I think we have a problem,”
It was Harrison’s turn to snort. “Beyond the obvious Seaview-is-dead-on-the-bottom and Chip-has-who-knows-what-kind-of-injuries?”
Wendy ignored Serena’s sarcasm, still watching the oxygen gauge. She didn’t like the readings she was getting at all. She touched her own headset and called out to Dean.
The Starfish was two separate compartments: pilot compartment and then the secondary compartment for two accompanying scientists. The pilot compartment sat atop the main body of the submersible. Safely ensconced in the pilot’s compartment, Dean Macintosh sat back and examined the open panel in front of him, mentally tracing wires and conduits. At Wendy’s call, he answered quickly and calmly.
"Problem down there?” he asked.
"Yes, the oxygen gauge is acting funky. Can you run a check and make sure everything’s working?”
Dean let the feral smile take over since there was no one around to see him. Of course their oxygen gauge was acting weird, he’d just cut off their supply. He’d had to think fast since Nelson changed plans on him. Since he wouldn’t have the chance to get rid of Crane and Morton on their way to the surface, he’d have to engineer some way to get close to them while they were still in Seaview’s Sickbay. Being asked to deliver the spare parts and extra medication was the perfect excuse. He stifled the wild giggle that threatened and carefully closed the panel back up, tightening the screws with a tiny screwdriver.
With a sneer, Dean answered. “I don’t see any problems up here. It could be just a malfunction. Let me know if you think something’s wrong. Everything checked out fine during the pre-launch.” Dean snickered at his own cleverness. It was child’s play to short circuit the air unit from his station. With one eye on the gauges as they descended, Dean dropped the small screwdriver into the pocket of his shirt under the blue sweater and fished out a syringe. He manipulated the protective cap off the instrument and from his pants pocket he pulled a small, unmarked vial. Jabbing the top of the rubber seal with the syringe, he pulled most of the fluid up into the barrel.
"Oh, you’ll here from us, all right,” came the blonde woman’s tart reply.
He had to be careful. First he needed to get rid of Morton, so Serena would turn to him for support. Then he needed to get rid of Crane. Serena would obviously see him as a natural replacement and push her admiral-father to pick him to captain Seaview. He had to be careful not to kill her or her friend. He’d need them later. He needed Serena to lean on him when Chip was dead, not be incapacitated if Wendy died. On second thought, if Wendy didn’t make it, Serena would need him all that much more. Dean pondered the though as he worked.
A small box sat on the consol at Dean’s left hand side. Six small vials were nestled in the divided box. Manipulating each vial, Dean injected a small amount of the fluid from the syringe into each one of the new vials. When he was done he recapped the syringe and it and the early empty first vial went back into his pocket. Dean sat back and waited. By the time they reached Seaview, he’d be the only one conscious. Chip would get the medication that the doctor has requested—with a little extra additive. Serena and Wendy would have a one-way ticket to Sickbay and Dean would have an excuse to linger a bit longer. And he’d have Nelson’s undying gratitude for saving his daughter’s life.
Nelson found Sickbay quiet as he entered. John was at the desk, hard at work at a thick stack of papers. “No rest for the wicked, John?” Nelson asked with a smile.
"Put like that sir, I’ll be here till New Years.” The young man cast a glace over his shoulder. "They’ve been quiet. I think Mister Morton’s asleep. Sparks has been a bit restless. The skipper’s been asking about you.”
"Well, let’s not keep the skipper waiting.” Nelson walked softly to Lee’s bunk. Crane cracked a hazel eye and glanced up at his friend.
"Visiting hours already?” Lee asked.
"Just dropping in to check on you three delinquents.”
"I have a little trouble seeing Sparks as a delinquent, Admiral.”
"Give him time. You two could corrupt a saint.”
"We try. Sir.”
Nelson pulled up a chair and sat down next to Lee. “How are the stitches?”
"Itchy. I hate stitches.”
"They keep your insides where they belong, not strung across the deck for some unsuspecting crewmen to trip over. Be thankful Will was able to sew you back together. Again,” Nelson said.
"How’s the boat? What’s our condition? Are we going to be able to make repairs? And what was the shudder we felt earlier?”
Nelson snorted softly. Leave it to Crane to change the subject when it came to his own health. He should have known Lee would turn the conversation around to Seaview. Nelson learned long ago that everyone came before Lee himself. He’d wear himself into the ground for his crew or those few he called friends. Harry felt honored to be a member of that last category but more than once, he wished Lee used a little more caution. With a tolerant sigh, Nelson decided to answer honestly. “That shudder was due to the fact that the bay doors have lost their watertight integrity and the Flying Sub berth is slowly taking on water. Part of the shelf we’re resting on gave out.”
Lee struggled to rise up, but Nelson forced him to stay still with a hand on his shoulder. Lee—very reluctantly—lay back down, but the concern and worry for his boat was still evident.
"Lee, calm down. You’ll get yourself worked up and do yourself further damage. I’d hate for all that scheming to go to waste.”
Lee had the good grace to look embarrassed and flicked a quick glance at Nelson through lowered eyelashes. Harry wasn’t impressed.
"Save the sad eyes for your other lady. Dean is coming down with the parts we need and the medication Will had requested. He’s also bringing visitors.”
"Serena and Wendy? Admiral, you can’t be serious. This is the last place they need to be. You can’t mean you’re agreeing to let them come down here!” Lee struggled to rise off the mattress once more, only to have Nelson gently push him back down again.
"They’re on their way, despite my explicit orders they stay topside. I have already voiced my displeasure and made it clear we’re going to have a nice long chat about this, once we get back to port.”
There was a quick burst of static as the intercom came to life. Patterson was running himself ragged trying to make repairs on the malfunctioning system. Riley’s voice was tight with tension. “Admiral, its Captain Macintosh. He’s requesting permission to board and he’s asking for a medical assistance. He’s reporting an oxygen malfunction in the submersible’s secondary compartment and two casualties.”
With a knot in his throat, Nelson lunged for the door, knocking over the chair in the process. As he passed John, Harry shouted, “Stay with the captain!”
Nelson broke into a run, passing Jamieson’s cabin as he ran. The doctor’s door flew open and Will darted into the corridor, clutching a stethoscope and still in uniform, but without the belt. His khaki shirt was untucked and unbuttoned, flashing the white undershirt as he ran.
The two men shot down the corridor and down the spiral staircase just in time to see a figure with long blonde hair being brought down from the hatch above the Control Room. Jamieson snapped into action, barking orders at O’Brien to call for Frank as he leaned over Wendy, checking vitals. Already prone on the deck was the smaller figure of Serena, pale and unresponsive. Hovering nearby, Dean Macintosh looked on, a stricken look on his face.
"Will?” Nelson asked, the single word carrying all the worry a father could possibly experience.
"Let me work, Admiral,” came Will’s distracted reply. He jerked his head up and snapped out orders to Frank as he appeared with two others. “She’s in respiratory arrest! I need oxygen, STAT!”
Frank scrambled to comply as Jamie started doing compressions. Nelson ran a hand though his hair, dropping to his knees opposite Will as he worked. Nelson took one of her limp hands in his, silently praying that she breathe. Frank passed off an oxygen mask to Jamieson and he set to work. With the mask firmly in place over Serena’s mouth and nose, Will nodded to Frank and he turned up the outflow valve. For a long second nothing happened. Then the woman took a long, shaky breath followed by a second.
Nelson let go of the breath he’d been holding. Will organized the corpsmen and the two women were quickly bundled off to Sickbay. Will hung back just long enough to give Nelson a prognosis.
"Let me do a work up before I say anything further. I think Wendy will be fine, she was at least still breathing. Serena, with her respiratory history, will bear watching. Admiral, I think I’ve done enough business for one day. The inn is full, if you know what I mean.”
"Understood, Will. Take care of them. All of them.” Nelson locked eyes with the doctor and Will nodded. As Will turned to follow his corpsmen, Nelson spun and unleashed his wrath on Dean Macintosh.
"And this is exactly why I wanted them to stay topside! As if having my captain and exec on the casualty list wasn’t enough, as if finding my radioman was down wasn’t a shock, YOU come down here, willy-nilly, and now my daughter and a hand-picked member of my staff are injured! As much as I thank you for your help, you could have used a little more caution in this little visit. Now, not only do I have to make repairs on my boat, we have to find out what caused this malfunction aboard the Starfish. I can’t very well send you to the surface until it’s repaired. My men are over-worked and stretched thin enough, Dean. I can’t believe you were fool enough to go along with this after I expressly forbid it!” Nelson thundered out, glaring at Dean.
Dean held up two placating hands. “Admiral, I’m sorry, you can’t know how sorry I am, seriously. The pre-launch check didn’t show anything, I swear. If I had known there was a problem, believe me, I would never have agreed to let them tag along. The weather was turning bad, and we were losing our launch window. I knew how badly you needed those parts and the medicine. When I realized there was a problem, I dropped us as fast as I could. I swear.”
Nelson wasn’t ready to forgive him yet. What he wanted to do was grab the man by his shirt and shake him till his eyeballs fell out. But that wouldn’t help anyone right now. Still glaring daggers at Dean, Nelson snapped, “The parts and the medication. Are they still in the Starfish?”
Dean nodded. Nelson didn’t glance around but simply barked out “Sharkey!”
"Admiral?” Sharkey appeared at Nelson’s side as if conjured by magic. Nelson never batted an eye. “Our parts are stowed aboard the Starfish. Get them down to the machinists, pronto. Have the medication taken directly to Sickbay. Also get a damage control party assigned to the Starfish. If they need the schematics, let me know, I have them in my cabin.”
Sharkey snapped into action. “Yes sir, right on it.” The chief pointed to a couple of lingering crewmen to follow him and they vanished up into the hatch well, where the Starfish had coupled to the outer hull. Harry noticed Dean was giving him a very odd look.
"Well?” Nelson growled none too kindly.
Nelson shook his head, once more running a hand though his tousled hair. A distracted corner of his mind said he was getting as bad as Lee with his mannerisms. But he addressed Dean’s question. “Yes, I keep all the schematics to my designs. Makes it easier if I get the sudden urge to plan upgrades. You didn’t remember I designed the Starfish?”
Dean swallowed. The Starfish was Nelson’s design, he would know that the oxygen system had been sabotaged ….No! He’d been too clever, there was no way they would connect a short back to him…could they?
For the first time Dean felt a glitch in his plans. If Nelson found out he’d sabotaged the air system, keelhauling would be the kindest thing that could happen to him. Pushing back his fear, Dean put on his blandest face.
"It must have slipped my mind. I’d be happy to help, if I can.”
"Dean, just…just let me handle this,” Nelson ground out, trying to not further explode. Dean meant well but at the moment Nelson still wanted to slap some sense into the man. “What I need is for you to report to Sickbay and have the doctor take a look at you and make sure you don’t have problems related to the malfunction. Jenkins, take Captain Macintosh here to Sickbay.”
Nelson was only half way aware of the crewman rising out of his chair at sonar and guiding Dean out of the Control Room. There was something tickling the back of Nelson’s mind and he couldn’t seem to put his finger on it. With a backward glance to the open hatchway that led up to the Starfish, Nelson made his way back to the Radio Shack. Riley was still on duty.
"Riley, we might just be in range of the Triton Sealab. I want you to see if you can make contact. I want to talk to Doctor Roger Keith. Let me know the minute you reach them.”
"Yes sir. I’ll do my best, sir.”
Harriman found himself leaning wearily against the periscope island. It seemed like the fates had conspired against him to inflict the maximum amount of damage on him, targeting the ones closest to him. But why? And who? If they had been targeted by a foreign power wouldn’t someone have shown up by now to claim their prize? Nelson closed his eyes, trying to think past the worry for Seaview, for Lee and Chip, now Serena and Wendy. If those last two had just listened to him, this would never have happened!
The duffel bag in the Flying Sub. Roger Keith’s bag. Had Roger sabotage the boat? While they had barely been aboard forty-eight hours, it would have been plenty of time to plant the bombs throughout Seaview to disable her. That still left the question of why. Roger was a respected scientist. It made no sense.
Shaking his head, Nelson headed for the stairwell. Instinct was pulling him toward Sickbay. Any further questions would have to wait till he had an update on the newest casualties and they had contact with Triton Sealab. He had some questions for Roger Keith.
He heard the commotion long before he saw them. Chip felt his breath hitch and his heart skip as the corpsmen settled the stretcher down on the exam table, the mass of tangled red hair a dead giveaway of the identity of the stretcher’s occupant: It was Serena and she looked so pale, almost blue…
“Jamie?” Chip called out as a second convoy of carriers brought the blonde Morton sister, setting up a secondary exam table and settling her in. Jamieson was already at work on Serena, not even looking up at the sound Chip’s voice.
“Stay! I can’t work on her with you staggering around my Sickbay! Blink and I’ll restrain you, do I make myself clear?” Jamieson’s voice cracked out and for once, Chip froze, halfway out of his bunk. He stopped then slowly eased back down. His eyes never moved from the two groups working over his lady and his sister. He did shift a quick glance to Lee, who was also watching with an unwavering gaze.
After what seemed an eternity, Frank finally pronounced Wendy stable. She was settled into a bunk, still pale and frail looking. Lee swallowed back his questions, knowing everyone had their hands full stabilizing Serena. He’d get his answers soon enough. In the mean time, he pulled himself up, bracing his full weight against the IV pole.
“Lee, the same goes for you. Not another inch. I’m warning you.” Jamieson snapped, not even looking up, yet somehow knowing that Lee was on the move.
Lee shot Chip an anxious look that asked--should I?
There was the barest shake of Chip’s head. He needn’t have bothered. Lee knew the look in Chip’s eyes. Wait it out. Bide your time. You’ll get your chance--the look said. Lee backed down, settling into his bunk once more.
Finally the doctor let out a long exhale. “I can’t do any more. Let’s get her settled into a bunk. I want to monitor her closely and see what happens,” he said in a very tired voice. Frank only nodded and set to work making the necessary arrangements.
Jamieson glanced up to find two pairs of anxious eyes boring holes into him. The effect was a bit disconcerting as he just realized both men had actually obeyed his orders and weren’t trying to argue with him. “All right. I owe you something,” the doctor grumbled. “There was some kind of malfunction in the Starfish.”
“WHAT?” Chip shot up in the bunk, the only thing keeping him from completely clearing the rail was the deathly cold glare Jamieson leveled at him. Chip stopped but didn’t lie back down.
“As I was saying, there was a malfunction in the Starfish. I don’t know all the details. You’ll have to pester somebody else for those. But I think both girls will be fine as long as they are kept still and quiet and NOBODY bothers them. I need you two delinquents to do as you're told for once. Skipper, you're going to pop my fancy stitching if you don't stop squirming around. Chip--you have a concussion for crying out loud. Lie down and be still.”
Lee and Chip exchanged looks. One too many complications. Lee saw it in Chip’s eyes. They’d get their chance.
Jamieson cast one final glare at the two officers, then walked over to Serena's bunk and muttered something quietly to Frank, who nodded as he settled the blankets over the unconscious woman.
Unfamiliar footsteps made Jamieson turn. Dean Macintosh was standing in the door, his eyes panning the entire room and Jamieson swore he saw a flash of something—irritation, maybe—in Dean’s eyes as his gaze lingered on Lee and Chip for the briefest of seconds. Without further emotion he turned his gaze on Jamieson and the two women in the bunk behind him.
“Doc? The admiral said I should come down and get a quick check up, just to be on the safe side.”
“Won’t you sit down, then? I hope you’re not looking for a place to bed down. I’m a little short on room,” Jamieson said with a sideways glance toward his commanding officers.
Dean sat down on the now empty exam table and sent his own half grin to his old friend. “Just like high school, you were always scraping yourself up. Hey, I just had a thought. Remember back in the day, you used to be allergic to everything that school nurse had in stock. Used to drive the old bat crazy!”
Chip paused before he answered. Any other time he’d have happily traded shots with Dean, but Morton wasn’t in the mood for witty banter. “What happened with the Starfish, Dean?” he asked with deadly calm.
Dean raised an eyebrow. “I have no idea. Just a freak malfunction. Everything checked out topside. You can't blame me. I told those two not to come down here. You've got a stubborn girl and she wouldn't listen. For what it's worth I'm sorry I dragged her into this. You know I'd never do anything to intentionally hurt anybody,” he apologized.
“Next time I let you watch my girl, try not to get her hurt. The admiral might take offense,” Chip tried to keep his tone light, but with Lee injured, Seaview disabled and Serena and his sister both out cold, his attitude toward his one time best friend had taken a decidedly chilly turn.
“I think I’ll do more than just take offense. I only have one captain, one exec, and one daughter, all three of which are irreplaceable. My employees are handpicked for a reason. Plus I'm fairly certain Will is up to his armpits with stubborn officer-types cluttering his pristine Sickbay,” Nelson said from the doorway. From the mixture of amusement and concern on the admiral's face, he had heard most of the exchange between Dean and Chip. Lee perked up at the admiral's last comment.
“There’s an easy fix to that. Jamie can let me and Chip go to our cabins. Then he wouldn’t have to listen to us complain.”
“Oh no you don’t, Skipper,” Jamieson broke in, “You and your partner in crime over there are staying right where I can keep an eye on you. Don’t even think about it. I still remember them bringing the two of you in here. I don’t want to have to make repairs on either of you again.”
Nelson said nothing further, but grinned crookedly. Slowly the grin faded as he wandered to Serena's bunk. What possessed her to come down here? Even as the question ran through his mind, he knew perfectly well what she came down here for. She was every bit as protective of him as Lee was. Only she didn't have the boundaries of rank to constrain that concern. Add Chip Morton to that equation and there was no power on earth that could have kept her away. He glanced up to see Will finishing his brief exam of their temporary guest.
“Right as rain. I can’t find anything wrong with him.” Will glanced back to Dean. “You’re a very lucky man.”
“I don’t feel very lucky,” Dean said sourly with a backward glance at the two sleeping women, lingering on the redhead. “Admiral, I’d like to help with the repairs if I may. Seems only right that I try to do something.”
“That’s big of you, Dean.” Nelson snagged the nearest wall mike. “Nelson to Chief Sharkey. I have a volunteer for the repair crews.”
Sharkey's voice squawked back. “Captain Macintosh, sir?”
“Yes sir, I'll send somebody right up. We can use the help.”
Conversation slacked off while Nelson waited for Sharkey's chosen escort to arrive. He wasn't too surprised when Kowalski appeared, dotted with hydraulic oil and other evidence of the ongoing repair work.
“Kowalski, Dean here would like to give you hand. Think you can find something for him to do?”
Ski grinned. “Yes sir. We can always use another pair of hands.”
Dean grinned. “Lead on, sailor. Let's get this lady off the bottom,” he said and as Nelson gave Ski a dismissive nod, the rating led their guest out the door.
Nelson let out a sigh. Somehow he felt better knowing Dean was under the watchful eye of Kowalski and Sharkey. With that detail cleared up, he turned back to Will.
“About the girls...”
“They're stable for the time being,” he said reassuringly. “I'll have the test results and a full report for you in about an hour.”
Nelson acknowledged the comment as he made his way to Chip’s bunk. There was something on his mind and he knew Morton was the only one who could give him any kind of satisfactory answer. Too many questions were lying around unanswered. “Chip, just how well do you know Dean?” he asked.
Chip blinked in puzzlement. “We were friends in high school, but that's been a while. I've run into him from time to time, but we aren't as close as we used to be. He was pretty mad for a while when he missed an appointment.”
Nelson expression turned curious. “How so?”
“He didn't make the deadline to get his application in. He had good recommendations but he was a bit of a goof-off and more of a party-animal his senior year. He got passed up and there just wasn't anything anyone could go. He pestered his dad to pull some strings for him, since he worked at the Pentagon, but he refused. Next I heard he'd been accepted into Massachusetts Maritime Academy.”
“And he majored in Marine Engineering? I remember his name came up at the first round of picks when I began staffing the Institute.”
Chip nodded. “If I can ask, why didn't you pick him?”
“He just didn't seem like a good fit at the time. I already had in mind just who my core officers would be and I couldn’t see Dean as part of that group. It's nothing personal, I already had in mind who I wanted for my exec,” Nelson saw the ghost of a smile tug at the corner of the blond's lips, “it just took a lot longer to get the right skipper,” he finished with a glance backwards to Lee. “Do you trust Dean?”
Chip's blue eyes were filled with the touch of confusion. “Well, maybe not as much as you or Lee, but for the most part, yeah. Why?”
Nelson waved a hand but his own blue eyes were cold. “No reason, just curious, that's all. Just get some rest and we’ll be off the bottom soon.”
He wandered over to Lee’s bunk. “Still here? You haven’t schemed your way out of here yet?” Nelson asked with a smirk.
Lee had the good graces to look slightly embarrassed. “I thought I would hang around a little longer, keep Chip and Sparks out of trouble.”
“A likely story. You and Chip are corrupting the juniors, that’s how I see it. Try to keep your corruption to yourself. My daughter already knows how to find trouble without any direction from the likes of you.”
Lee let loose one of those mischievous smiles. “Maybe she gets it from her father.”
“Keep that up, Captain and I’ll draft you for the next round of budget meetings. Angie might like a nice vacation and I’ll need someone to take notes.”
Lee toned down the smile. “Understood sir. How are the repairs coming?”
“Serves you right if I don’t brief you,” Nelson replied and was troubled by the flash of hurt that sizzled through Lee’s eyes. No matter what, Nelson couldn’t find it in his heart to NOT give Lee an update. Experience had taught him that keeping Lee in the dark would only make matters worse. If Lee had an idea of how things were coming, he’d be more inclined to sit back and listen to doctor's orders.
Instead of addressing Lee directly, Nelson took a few steps backwards, leaning against the exam table. He glanced over to Chip—now sitting up—and settled his gaze back to Lee. “Repairs are coming along well. A few more hours and we should have the ballasts back on line. Internal communications have been restored, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now. Patterson is working on the Starfish to try and determine the cause of the malfunction.”
Lee frowned. “You designed the Starfish, what do you think happened?”
“I don't know. I won't know till Patterson tracks down the problem. It could be a wiring issue, could be a mechanical problem, there are a number of things that could account for it. Quite frankly, Macintosh has me so mad I just want the man out of my sight.” Nelson snapped but then gathered his composure.
Lee indulged in a disgusted snort. “Well, Sharkey will keep him busy. He won't have time to get in your way, if I know the chief.”
“Admiral, it's bedtime. These two hooligans have been up way too long.” Will said, coming up behind Lee and making a small adjustment to the I.V.
Crane scowled at Jamieson. Nelson took a step back, always amused at the give and take between these two.
“Haven't I slept enough?”
“No. Not near enough. Say goodnight to the admiral,” the doctor directed.
Lee held up three fingers high enough for Chip to see them and then folded each finger down one at a time. When the third finger curled against his palm, he and Chip both intoned together, “Good night Admiral.”
Nelson couldn't help the laughter that bubbled up. “I'm going to Engineering. You two get some rest. With any luck, by the time Doc lets you two wake, we'll be on the surface.”
As Harriman made his way out of Sickbay, he could only hope he could deliver on the prediction. Surely they were owed a little good luck.
Scott Patterson—called Pat for longer that he could remember—frowned in puzzlement as he stared at the brightly colored mass of wires pinched between his forefinger and thumb. With his free hand he dove back into the cavity under the console, feeling for the junction were the wires should have been soldered into the board. His sensitive touch found what he was looking for and his frown deepened. This didn’t make sense. These wires couldn’t have just come loose like Captain Macintosh said. It felt to Pat like the wires had been yanked loose. But who would want to yank out the override control for the oxygen system to the bottom section of the Starfish? It meant that somebody purposely had wanted to hurt the ladies. This was weirder than snake's feet. Well, the admiral wanted an update on anything he found and this definitely required reporting.
Pat reached for the mike and called out to Riley. “Stu? I found something the admiral needs to see.”
“Sure thing, Pat. Give me a few minutes to raise him,” Riley replied.
It seemed to Pat that it took more than a few minutes. There was no telling where the admiral had been but finally his voice floated up from the lower section of the Starfish.
“Patterson, something catch your attention?”
Patterson nodded even though he knew Nelson couldn’t see him. “It’s the control lines to the oxygen system. This isn’t a short sir. No way. These lines were pulled. Not cut, but pulled.”
“Let me have a look,” Nelson said. The upper half was only big enough for one person. It was one of the Starfish’s few design flaws. It had to be small enough for maneuverability but that meant only one person could occupy the upper section at a time. Nelson had designed the craft for research in spaces that were too narrow for the diving bell. Seconds later, Patterson slid out of the upper chamber and Nelson climbed up.
Finding the object of the rating's scrutiny wasn’t hard. Patterson was right: the handful of wires could only have been pulled loose from the board. Nelson frowned, trying to understand how this could have happened. Why would someone want to sabotage the Starfish? And why only the system feeding the lower half? If someone didn't want the submersible to make the full decent, why not prevent the dive to start with? Some very ugly conclusions were forming in Nelson's head, but there were still too many questions that he didn't have the answers to. Now more than ever he wanted to talk to Roger Keith.
Harry slid out of the upper section, finding Patterson patiently waiting.
“Sir, do you want me to go ahead and start repairs? I can have it fixed in no time,” Patterson said.
Nelson rubbed his chin with one hand, deep in thought. Slowly he shook his head. “Hold off for the moment. Don't let anyone know what you found, just keep this between you and me for the time being. If someone happens to ask about the malfunction, just say that you couldn't find a reason for the oxygen failure. Leave the rest to me.” Nelson could clearly see the puzzlement in Patterson's eyes, but the young man wasn't about to question the order of a four-star admiral.
“Aye sir. I'd better get with the chief and see what else needs attention.”
“Not a good idea to keep the chief waiting. I'll deal with the submersible, you go on.”
Patterson acknowledged the order and dropped though the hatch, leaving Nelson alone in the lower section. Glancing around, he ran a finger along the consoles, his sharp eyes looking for some clue that Serena or Wendy had any idea of what was going on.
With a weary sigh that came from his very core, Harriman Nelson dropped into the nearest chair, thankful for the moment of alone time so that no one could see him having a mini-crisis of faith. A headache of mythic proportions was building behind his eyes. Nothing would make him happier right now than to head for his cabin, lock the door, turn off the lights, and bury himself in his bunk for the next forty-eight hours. Only that wasn't an option right now. Nelson glanced at his watch. Will had promised him an update on the newest additions to Sickbay but the intercom had been quiet. With another sigh, Nelson admitted to himself that he couldn't wait much longer. Still puzzling over the so-called malfunction of the Starfish, Nelson pulled himself together and shook his head to clear the cobwebs. Dropping down the ladder, the admiral glanced around the Control Room. Satisfied that everything seemed in order, he made his way to the heart of the sub, toward Sickbay.
Will Jamieson sank wearily down into the chair behind his desk and let out a long, slow, deep breath. When was the last time he’d been this busy, with this many people cluttering his Sickbay? Will was simply too tired to remember what he ate for breakfast, much less any point in time past the last sixteen hours.
Will noticed the lights dim just a bit. A quick peep around the corner proved that Frank Henderson was leaning against the door, one hand on the light switch.
“Good thinking. Maybe like chickens, they’ll all sleep if it gets dark.” Will said quietly.
“I don’t think the skipper would appreciate being called a chicken,” chuckled the young corpsman.
“If he were asleep like he was supposed to be, it wouldn’t be an issue.” The doctor said with a quick glance toward the man in question. Lee's eyes were closed and Will could only hope he actually was resting and not planning a breakout. Just to be on the safe side and to ensure that he and Chip didn't orchestrate some kind of fieldtrip in the night, Will had slipped them both a little something extra in the IV. Nothing extreme, just something to make sure they got the rest they needed. Not that it would matter. Jamieson had seen Lee fight through drugs that could drop ten men. Something about his constitution, the doctor assumed. Will stopped questioning it years ago. As long as Seaview was quiet, Lee and Chip would be quiet.
“You should get some rest, doc. With any luck, things will stay quiet,” Frank said echoing Will’s own hopeful thoughts.
Jamieson rolled his tired blue eyes up at the young corpsmen. “The last time anyone said that, we acquired two new patients. Have you checked on them?”
Frank nodded and settled in, leaning against the bulkhead between the 'office' and the outer Sickbay. He gently set the clipboard he was holding in one hand on the desk. With long fingers, Will drew the charts closer to him, scanning the numbers as Frank gave him a verbal update. ”Just about to check their vitals. I do know Doctor Harrison hasn't come around yet.”
Jamieson ran a hand over his eyes. “Good. I don't need her up right now. One Nelson is enough at the moment.”
“I heard that,” a deeper bass grumbled from the door.
“Good, I won't have to repeat myself. Don't you have a boat to patch up?” Jamison said with a fake growl. Frank quietly excused himself to check on the officers, leaving the admiral and Jamieson alone.
“We're working on that. Speaking of patching up...” Nelson prompted with a jerk of his head toward the outer Sickbay.
''Quiet. Let's leave it that way. Your boys and girls are going to be fine. Lee's healing up nicely. Serena hasn't come around yet but her lungs sound clear. Sparks and Wendy are both stable.”
Nelson narrowed blue eyes and dropped down into an empty chair. “Unless I'm hard of hearing, you left someone out of that update.”
“I can treat him, Macintosh brought plenty of meds for Chip, but I'm always leery when changing his meds. This isn't the same manufacturer our supplier uses. So I'm cautious. He'll probably be fine, but this is Chip Morton. I'm leery of giving the man aspirin. ”
Frank appeared once more around the corner, a small vial in one hand. “Doc, you want to go ahead with this?” he asked.
“Start him out with a quarter of the normal dose. Monitor him and make sure he's not having a reaction before we up the dosage,” Will said, handing the chart back to the corpsman. “And when you've made sure all the roosters and hens are roosting, head for your own roost. Hand everything off to John. No arguments.”
Frank ducked his head and did his best to hide the half smile. “Yes, sir,” was all he said as he went off to do a final check on the current patients. He left Jamieson and the admiral in low conversation as he worked his way to the farthest bunk.
Sparks was asleep, his breathing deep and easy. It still seemed odd to see him in a Sickbay bunk. Frank reached out for a wrist but Sparks continued to sleep. The corpsman knew it was for the best. His head injury, the damage to his ribs and other contusions would only heal with time.
Satisfied that Sparks was doing well, Frank paused over Ms. Morton's bunk, cautiously reaching for her wrist. She stirred a little in her sleep, taking a deep breath. Slowly she opened her eyes and blue orbs focused on Frank.
“How is he?” she asked. Frank smiled as she assumed he would know who she was asking about.
“The skipper's fine, ma'am. You should just go back to sleep,” Frank advised. But Wendy frowned.
“How's Serena? And Chip?” she asked, this time grabbing onto Frank's wrist with a surprisingly firm grip.
“Asleep right now. She's on oxygen, and she's doing well. Mister Morton is asleep as well, but he's doing fine. I'll let you know if something goes wrong. Please, just settle down and rest. It's the best thing for you now,” he urged and had the satisfaction of feeling her grip loosen. Slowly she closed her eyes, snuggling further down into the blankets. She took another deep breath and slowly let it out. As Frank watched, her breathing evened out and she settled back into an easy slumber.
Pulling away from her bunk, Frank stopped at Serena's side. She was indeed deeply asleep, having never regained consciousness after she was pulled out of the Starfish. Her vital signs were positive and as Frank listened, her lungs still sounded clear. No doubt she'd waken when she was good and ready.
Now came the fun part. Frank moved closer to the skipper, noticing that he actually seemed to be asleep, even if his slumber was less than restful.
Caught in the grip of some dream, Crane tossed his head restlessly, muttering something in his sleep. Frank was reluctant to wake him, but he knew the dream was hardly restful for the recovering man. Gently, Frank rested a hand on the captain's shoulder.
“Easy sir. It's just a dream. Everything's all right. Just relax,”
Crane muttered something unintelligible but refused to calm down. A hand on Frank's own shoulder made him jump and spin.
“You check on the exec. I’ll stay with the captain for a minute.” Admiral Nelson was already resting a hand on the skipper's shoulder, his attention focused on the dark-haired young man.
“Yes sir,” Frank said quietly, moving away and leaving the two. If anybody could get the skipper to settle down it would be the admiral.
Nelson tightened his fingers in a reassuring grip on the younger man’s shoulder, just to let him know he wasn't alone. Lee slowly calmed down and his breathing began to even out. His eyes didn’t open but he did settle in. Will had said he had slipped both Lee and Chip something to make them sleep a little easier. Lee’s overtaxed body needed the rest even if the stubborn young man denied it. His dark hair was tangled; the locks that were usually tame now a riotous nest of curls. The intensity he wore as a mask when in command was now gone as he slept, taking years off his face. Now, he looked more like the young man Nelson had first seen at the academy, even then accompanied by the tall, blond Chip Morton. Nelson always thought it was more than fate that brought the two brightest students of that year together.
“Lee, you need to settle down. Everybody's going to be fine and we'll be off the bottom in a few hours. If you expect to stand in the Control Room and guide her home, you need to calm down and listen to Will for once,” Nelson said quietly, knowing Lee wouldn’t answer but somehow he felt better talking to Lee, even like this. Lee settled, as if hearing Nelson's words and doing his best to obey orders, even unconsciously. Nelson stood there watching Lee, mentally trying to envision life without him. He couldn't do it. Lee was as much a part of his life as his heart and soul. He couldn't see trying to do the work he loved without Lee beside him to curb his sometimes over-enthusiastic ideas. Nelson glanced up to see Frank efficiently taking Chip's vitals. Frank injected something into the IV line and then pulled the blanket up over the exec's chest.
With a last reassuring squeeze his captain's shoulder, Nelson wandered to the lower bunk where his wayward daughter slept.
“You just don't take orders very well do you? Me neither. I was always better at giving them then taking them.” he said the sleeping figure quietly. No answer, although he wasn't expecting one.
Leaning against the bunk support, Nelson crossed his arms over his chest, feeling tired. Like puzzle pieces, those closest to him had all come together in this one place. Lee, then Chip, then Sparks, and if not for an incredible stroke of luck, he'd also be here. Then Serena followed by Wendy. But there wasn't a common thread to bring them together. His officers were here as a direct result of sabotage. Serena and Wendy were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nelson ran a thumb over his chin, deep in thought, trying to pull everything together, trying to find all the threads that would lead back to the one responsible for this. He was missing something. He could feel it.
“Radio Shack to Admiral Nelson,” Riley's tired voice sang out from the speaker and Nelson lunged for the wall, snatching at the mike.
“Nelson here. What is it Riley?”
“Sir, I have Triton Sealab for you. Doctor Keith is on hold for you, just like you asked.”
“Excellent Riley. Pipe him though to my cabin, I'll be there shortly.” With that, Nelson bolted for the door and barreled down the corridor, eager to find some answers to his questions at last.
Jamieson watched Nelson vanish out the door. With a shake of his head, he gave Lee's chart one last look and scribbled his initials at the bottom, indicating he had read and approved. An enormous yawn threatened to split his head wide open and when he was finally able to see straight, John was standing in the door, an amused look on his face.
“Maybe it's time you crashed,” the corpsman commented.
“You think you can keep an eye on everybody? We have a full house,” Will reminded him. John shrugged.
“You've got the skipper and the exec on a light sedation for the night, Sparks is easy to deal with and the ladies shouldn't be a problem. You should go. You and Frank both are about ready to drop.”
“It's been a long day. I don't think it's going to be an easy trip back. I need a shower and food. Get with Frank, see if there is anything the two of you need to share.”
“Yes sir. I've got this. You go on,”
Jamieson got to his feet and took one last look around. The sub was quit and Sickbay echoed that. There really wasn't anything else to say. John and Frank knew their jobs. Frank was already in conversation with John and Will honestly could not imagine what might go wrong. Running a hand through his thinning hair, Will left Sickbay and headed for his cabin.
“He swore no one would get hurt. He just wanted to disable Seaview. That’s all. No one was supposed to get hurt…” Roger’s stricken voice seemed hallow with regret, but Nelson wasn’t in the mood for pity right now. He was seated behind his desk. The video screen was dark but Roger Keith's voice filtered out though the speaker.
It hadn't taken Nelson very long to explain to Roger that the duffel bag he had left behind onboard the flying sub had contained a bomb that had gone off and disabled the submersible. Roger didn't happen to know anything about that, did he? But Roger wasn't completely giving up. Nelson let loose his last bag of tricks. Keith had to tell him who was behind this.
'”Roger, my captain is in Sickbay, stitched up after the first bomb went off. My exec got caught up in the second blast and my radioman was injured in the third. The flying sub is completely disabled and my daughter and a member of my staff are unconscious. Does that sound like someone who just wanted to play a prank? I need a name,” Nelson snarled with all the force of his barely controlled anger.
For an eternity Roger held his tongue then haltingly he began to speak. “I was in debt. I made a few bad decisions and I couldn’t pay off the loans. I was stealing equipment from the center, just a piece or two here and there, to keep the loan sharks off my back. He found out and offered to pay off the whole thing if I just did him this one favor…” Roger trailed off and Nelson had to urge him to continue.
“Go on, Roger, I’m listening.”
“He had me plant those bombs, told me exactly where to place them. He said he didn’t want to hurt his boat too badly. He promised that no one was going to get hurt,”
“Who, Roger? Who put you up to this? I’ll see they get what’s coming to them but I can’t help you if you don’t tell me who did this.”
A deep breath could be heard before Roger answer in a voice so low, Nelson could hardly hear him. “Macintosh. It was Macintosh. You weren’t supposed to make it back to Seaview. I left the last bomb in the Flying Sub to disable it before you could leave Washington. Something must have gone wrong. You weren’t supposed to make it back.”
Nelson felt the room telescope as reality took a nosedive. Dean was behind this. Dean tired to send Seaview to the bottom. He was responsible for three of his officers being in Sickbay, not to mention he could have killed two innocent women. But why? Why go through all this trouble? What did Dean want so badly he would risk the lives of over a hundred men? Nelson felt all the blood drain from his face as the horrible reality sank in.
Dean Macintosh was loose aboard Seaview.
“What the devil do you mean, you can’t find him? Where the hell could he have gone?” Nelson’s outraged voice normally would have carried to the Wardroom and back again but this time the words came out in a low, deadly growl. Across from him on the other side of the desk Francis Sharkey stood at attention, his green eyes trying not to show the utter disgrace he was feeling.
Of all the cockamamie, dumb things to do, Francis…But instead of giving voice to his thought, Sharkey simply nodded.
“I left him under a circuitry panel, checking the lines. When I went back to check on him, he was gone. Nobody’s seen him. It’s like the guy just up and vanished.”
Nelson folded both hands together, almost as if in prayer and then rested his forehead against them. “Find him Sharkey. I don’t care what you have to do but find him.”
“Aye, sir. I’ll round up a couple of guys and we’ll find that joker.”
“See that you do. Carry on.”
Effectively dismissed, Sharkey turned on his heel and left Nelson’s cabin. Meanwhile, the admiral had leaned back in the chair, trying to puzzle out what Dean’s game was. He slowly began to build a chain out of the few links he had to work with. Carefully Nelson began to build a theory.
The first link was Roger Keith. He was stealing equipment from Woods Hole to pay off his loan sharks after racking up thousands in gambling debt. Dean finds out and threatens to turn him over to Woods Hole unless Roger does a little favor for him.
So when Seaview ferries the next group of researchers out to Triton Sealab, Roger sneaks around and plants various explosives throughout the boat. The explosions were to be just enough to disable the boat. The explosive in the Flying Sub was to keep him from rendezvousing with the Seaview. But why? What reason did Dean have for wanting to keep him away from Seaview?
Roger’s voice continued to echo in Nelson’s head. He said he didn’t want to hurt his boat too badly. Seaview wasn’t Dean’s boat. Ask any crewmen and despite the design being Nelson’s, Seaview was Lee’s boat.
Dean was after Lee or was he after command of Seaview? With Crane out of the way, command would automatically fall to Morton unless Chip turned the offer down. Or Chip wasn’t around to take command.
Nelson felt a growing ball of ice in his gut, growing bigger with each passing breath. Everything Nelson saw indicated that Dean Macintosh wanted command of the Seaview and for whatever twisted reason, he thought that with Lee and Chip out of the way, Nelson would hand command over to him.
The malfunction onboard the Starfish. Dean must have known that if something happened to the Starfish, it would have to be repaired before anybody could return to the Deepsong. Giving Dean an excuse to hang around. Nelson frowned. Serena. How would she have reacted if something had happened to Chip? Or to Lee?
She’d be deviated. Lee was her big brother, and Chip…Dean wanted them both out of the way. Serena would be a vulnerable target if something happened to Chip. Dean must know that. Nelson bolted out of his chair, years of instinct screaming at him that his boys, that Lee and Chip, were in danger.
John glanced up from the medicine cabinet, glancing over his shoulder at the bunks behind him. Things were still and quiet for the time being. Kind of like the night before Christmas—not a creature was stirring.
A sudden ragged cough from Morton tugged John’s attention away from the drug cabinet. His stride carried him to Morton’s bunk in a few seconds and he was surprised to find the XO feverish. “Mister Morton, sir, can you hear me?” John said, reaching for Chip’s wrist to take his pulse.
Something heavy slammed down into the back of his neck and John hit the deck in a crumpled, boneless heap.
Dean Macintosh smiled, stepping over the body. He cast one last glance behind him at the door, which he had closed and locked. He couldn’t believe his luck, finding the corpsman opportunely with his back to the door. It was a chance he couldn’t pass up.
Dean stared at the body of his once friend. Time to even the score.
Sickbay was hot. Entirely too hot.
Chip pushed at the blanket covering him from the chest down, trying to find some relief from the rising heat. Lee complained that Sickbay was too cold. How could he think it was too cold? Skinny rat, always complaining about the cold in Sickbay. If he had some meat on his bones, maybe he wouldn’t be cold.
Chip pushed mindlessly at the blanket, feeling a cool breath of air kiss his bare skin as he managed to dislodge it, pushing it down to his waist. His movement must have attracted someone’s attention because within minutes he felt a presence hovering over him. He tried to focus on the figure that blurred in but the face remained hazy and indistinct.
“Lee?” he muttered weakly.
‘No, I’m not your pal Lee. Remember me, Chip old buddy? It’s Dean.”
Chip blinked, trying to bring the face hovering over his into focus. Everything continued to blur in and out. It was hard to catch his breath. It felt like something was on his chest, pushing on him. He couldn’t seem to draw in enough air. His fingers clawed at the blanket and he arched his back, trying to relieve the pressure on his chest, desperate to pull air into his starved lungs. Where was Jamie?
“Dean…get Jamie…” Chip managed. Only then did he register that Dean was laughing.
“You don’t get it do you, Chip? Time for you to retire,” Dean said quietly, looking down at the man he’d once called a friend. “Backstabbing, two-faced bastard. You stole my appointment. You stole my position. You stole Serena from me. I’ll have this sub and I’ll have Serena yet.”
Chip tried to make sense of the spoken words when something was pressed against his face, pressing into his nose, filling his mouth. It was a pillow, cutting off his air, forcing him to claw and struggle for his life. Already suffering from lack of oxygen, he couldn’t find the strength to put up much of a fight. Blood pounded in his ears, drowning out all other sounds. Chip felt himself growing weaker and more distant as his body started to shut down.
“Macintosh!” started an outraged voice. Startled, Dean jerked his head around to see Lee Crane out of his bunk, his face a mask of rage and fury. His eyes drifted from Dean to the unconscious corpsman on the floor.
Dean abandoned Morton and lunged for Crane. Lee, already weak from his previous injuries, was unable to stand up to the momentum of Dean’s body slamming him and he toppled backward into the bunk with Dean’s hands wrapped around his throat. Lee thrashed, trying to dislodge Dean but Macintosh’s hands were crushing his windpipe, cutting off all air. Lee’s vision began to gray out and a voice echoed hollowly in his head.
“Nighty night, Captain Crane. I’ve waited a long time for this.”
Trying to wake up was like swimming through cold molasses. Wendy pried one eye open then the other. She took stock of where she was, remembering she was in Seaview’s Sickbay. She remembered the failure of the oxygen system in the Starfish and the terror she felt when Serena finally passed out from lack of air. Lee. She suddenly remembered Lee was injured and she bolted upright to look around for him. What she saw sent panic spiraling through her gut.
Dean Macintosh was standing over Lee’s bunk, both hands wrapped around Lee’s throat. Lee was struggling against Macintosh, but even as Wendy stared his struggles were getting weaker.
Wendy threw herself out of the bunk, pushing past the weakness and launching herself at Dean with every ounce of strength she had. “What the hell are you doing? Get away from him!” she snarled as she smashed into Dean. Their momentum carried them to the foot of Sparks’ bunk. The two hit the deck, knocking the wind out of both of them. Both scrambled to get to their feet before the other. Wendy didn’t launch after Dean a second time, instead she lurched toward the nearest mike. She needed to call for help.
Dean saw what direction she was heading in and tackled her, throwing her to the deck and straddling her waist so she couldn’t get back up.
Another burst of panic shot through Wendy as she struggled to get out from under Dean. “Get your damn hands off of me!” she yelled at the top of her lungs, praying someone in the corridor would hear her.
“Shut up, bitch!” screamed Dean in response and backhanded her across the face. The impact stunned the woman and Dean reversed his swing to deliver a final punch. Wendy collapsed under him, unconscious. Dean climbed to his feet.
“Dean, what’s gotten into you?” Chip heaved breathlessly, tottering on his feet, blood splattering the bandages on his side. Some of the stitches had popped lose and the I.V. had come free from the port on the back of his hand, staining the white wrapping bright red. His voice was raw and rough from near suffocation and filled with confusion. He tottered unsteadily then shuffled across the floor to Lee’s bunk. Lee was slowly pulling himself up, not resisting as Chip sank down beside him to help him sit up. Chip saw his sister in an unconscious heap on the floor. Brotherly instincts were kicking in and he cast a quick glance at Lee. Crane nodded, motioning for him to go. Chip pulled himself to his feet and staggered to Wendy’s side, pulling her up to rest against him.
Dean was rooted to one spot, throwing hateful glares at both Crane and Morton. “Pretty boy Crane, had everything handed to him. Gets command of the Seaview. He gets MY best friend! Morton there, he gets MY academy appointment, he replaces me with some skinny runt!” Dean rambled on, his eyes growing wilder by the moment. Lee swallowed, desperately trying to think of something that the unstable man might understand and listen to. He gripped the I.V. pole tighter as a wave of dizziness washed over him. Jamie was bound to have something to say when this was all over.
“You were nothing but a goof off your last year of high school. It’s your own fault you didn’t make an appointment,” Chip said, pulling Dean’s attention away from Lee.
Lee reacted to Chip’s ploy. He grabbed the I.V. pole in both hands and charged Dean, swinging hard. He caught Dean across the side and back and the man spun with the momentum. Macintosh recovered fast and he grabbed the pole with one hand and pulled.
Lee, fighting dizziness, lost his grip on the pole and it was jerked clean from his hands. He grabbed onto the struts supporting the bunks, trying to stay on his feet. Dean was totally out of control and he came at Lee with the aluminum pole in both hands.
Lee didn’t have the strength to fight Dean off. He raised an arm to fend off the vicious blows. Dean threw his weight into the motion of slamming the metal into Crane’s body, blow after blow. One blow opened a gash on Lee’s head, just over his right eye. Blood poured from the wound, running into Lee’s eye and blinding that side of his vision. Still trying to protect himself, Lee felt something in his arm snap with another downward stroke of the pole and the sour taste of yet more pain licked up Crane’s arm. He gasped from the sudden shock and his knees buckled from the strain. Slowly he slid to the deck.
Dean leered down at the stricken man. Crane was down on his knees, pathetically trying to protect himself. Macintosh raised the pole one more time, aiming for a killing blow to bash Crane’s head in and be done with it.
Without warning a second metal pole appeared, slamming onto the edge of the top bunk and halting Dean’s downward stroke. The metallic crash of metal colliding into metal was like two swords meeting.
Dean stared at the tall, unassuming young man he’d paid little attention to earlier. Blue eyes glared back at him and the young man shook with the effort of holding onto the I.V. pole with one hand.
“Leave the skipper alone,” Sparks growled, defending his commanding officer. Captain Crane had nearly given his life for his crew on far too many occasions. When the sounds of a confrontation woke him up, Sparks had been shocked to see Dean trying to beat the captain to death. Sparks knew he had to do something and grabbed the only weapon he had—his own metal I.V. pole.
“What the bloody hell?”
Dean spun around to see Serena. She was out of her bunk and moving toward Chip and his sister. She sank to her knees by Chip’s side, silently holding her arms out to take the blonde woman from his grasp. He surrendered his younger sister to her and Chip pulled himself to his feet. Glaring at Dean, he navigated his way back to Lee and helped his friend into the bunk, ignoring the blood. Crane was shaking, holding his left arm close to his body. He leaned against Chip, unable to stand on his own.
Sparks backed down, using the I.V. pole as a crutch. He stepped back to give the skipper and exec some breathing space but he didn’t go back to his bunk.
Meanwhile Dean was focused on Serena. “I was cheated. This should be my boat, not his. Everything here should be mine. Seaview should have been mine. You should have been mine. Don’t you see?” Dean whispered. His eyes darted around Sickbay but there was no way out. His plans were falling apart.
Serena held her best friend close to her, but Wendy showed no signs of coming around. Only her steady breathing reassured Serena that the other woman was even alive. “No Dean, I don’t see,” she said softly.
“It’s all Morton’s fault. He got my academy appointment, and he got the job that should have been mine. I knew you long before he did, before you ever hooked up with Nelson’s outfit. What do you see in him? Just because he’s got rank doesn’t make him better than me.” Dean was almost pleading with her. For a minute Serena nearly felt sorry for him, until she remembered the sight of him trying to beat Lee to death. She had no words for him.
Lee focused his unsteady gaze on Macintosh. “Did you think that by killing me, you’d somehow get a shot at command of the Seaview?” he asked. “Did you think by killing Chip, Serena would somehow see you in a different light?”
Something snapped inside of Dean Macintosh. He lost whatever grip he had on sanity and with the I.V. pole raised in both hand, he charged the two officers.
Neither of them could move to get out of Dean’s range and Chip’s own protective instinct roared to the surface. He rolled over top Lee, doing his best to protect his commanding officer as Dean’s insane howl echoed through Sickbay.
A splintering crash set up a counterpoint to the animalistic cry and Nelson charged into Sickbay, gun in hand, just in time to see Dean Macintosh rush a helpless Lee and Chip with a metal pole raised like a club. He was just in time to see Sparks take two steps forward, bracing his own I.V. pole between his good arm and body like it was a spear.
Dean ran right into the pole, the shaft sliding into his gut then exploding out his back with a wet pop. Dean’s own momentum carried him along until he was less than six inches away from Sparks’ face. For a second the visiting captain just stared at the radio operator, just coming to realize what had happened to him. He blinked once and then his body collapsed. The weight of his falling corpse pulled the pole from Sparks’ hand. Sparks took a few steps backward, all the color draining from his face. He went from pale to green as the blood began to pool under Dean’s body.
Lee Crane was dozing, ignoring the fading ache in his right arm and the throb over his right eye. He tried to get comfortable, but the cast on his arm made it hard to lie on his side. Instead he lay on his back, the arm in question lying over his stomach. A yawn crept over him and he couldn’t stop himself.
“Stop fighting it, Lee. You need the rest. That cast isn’t to collect signatures,” Jamie ordered.
Lee still wasn’t happy. “It’s not fair. John gets to go to his cabin. Why are we still stuck here?” he grumbled.
“John got to go to his cabin because he doesn’t have a broken arm or other injuries I could mention. The pair of you have more stitches than one of my grandmother’s quilt,” Jamieson replied dryly, going over the charts and making notations. He picked up Lee’s chart and with a wicked gleam in is eye he intoned, “Patient is awake and bellyaching,” while pretending to write.
“I’m tired of laying around,” Lee continued to complain.
Jamie just rolled his eyes as he paused by Sparks’ bunk. The younger man was asleep this time. After having several popped stitches replaced, once the excitement was over, he’d settled down quickly enough that Jamieson didn’t have to bother with any sedation. “And I’m tired of hearing you whine. You two are worse than a pair of five years olds. I’m surprised that one of you isn’t singing ‘are we there yet’ the minute we leave port.”
Chip piped up tiredly from his bunk. “The admiral would catch on and threaten to turn the sub around if we didn’t behave, just like Dad use to do when we were on summer vacation.”
“That was you who used to pull that stunt, so there,” came an equally tired female voice from a third bunk. Wendy pulled the blanket up over her head in a vain attempt to shut out the blabber of male voices who were continuing to interrupt her sleep. He head was pounding and all she wanted was some piece and quiet. If Lee didn’t stop yammering soon, he was certainly going to regret it the second she had him alone!
“Who’s whining this time?” asked the admiral from the doorway.
Jamieson snorted and indicated the entire Sickbay. “Take your pick. I’m about to sedate the whole bunch of them till we get home if they don’t pipe down and behave.”
Serena tossed in her two cents worth. “Hey, I’ve been quiet.”
Chip couldn’t resist. It must have been the painkillers making him loopy enough to mouth things he might normally have left unsaid. “Teachers pet,” he muttered.
“I heard that,” Serena shot back with a smile. “Just remember, I know where you live,” she threatened, trying to sound menacing but the ensuing yawn dispelled the attempt.
“Jamie, she’s threatening me,” Chip moaned.
Jamieson threw a long-suffering glance at his employer. “Case in point. He’s doped up to the eyeballs for the pain and so far he’s just loopy. Thinks everything is funny and his smart mouth keeps getting out of hand”
“I was hoping to have a few words with them before you start passing out sleep juice samples,” Nelson hinted with humor in his voice as he shook his head.
Jamieson relented. “Just don’t get them riled up. I think I saw a reminder that physicals were coming up,” he said nonchalantly as he sauntered back to his office.
“That man plays dirty,” Nelson commented, watching the doctor retreat.
Chip snorted. “We’ve been trying to tell you that. You never believe us,” he informed his employer. It occurred to Chip that maybe he shouldn’t be quite that bold with his comments but for some reason he just didn’t care. He was awfully comfortable and he could hardly feel the pull of the stitches in his side or the ache of his hundred and one bruises. A nap would really feel good right now but he wanted to hear what the admiral had to say.
Lee had enough of his wits about him to form a more coherent comment. “Sir, the boat? And Dean?”
Nelson leaned against the exam table, feeling tired and ready to crash. As soon as he made a check on everybody in Sickbay, he was turning the Conn over to Lieutenant McBride and heading for his own cabin to hide in his bunk for a few hours. He’d already run O’Brien to his cabin. That was one tired young man and it had taken some serious convincing to get him to let go of command. Nelson almost made it an order but the young officer finally admitted that, with the repairs made, it should be a simple cruise back home and the late watch should be able to handle things. Nelson focused his attention back on Lee, who was studying him with an unsteady hazel gaze.
“We’ve completed enough repairs to get us home. The Starfish was also repaired and returned to the Deepsong. We’ve decided to report Dean’s death as accidental. It’s a little late for justice to be done.”
“What got into him?” Lee asked quietly.
Nelson took a deep breath. Honestly he wasn’t sure what had possessed the other man to act as he had. Obviously this was something he had been planning for some time. The older man shrugged. “As best as I can figure, he wanted Seaview. He had to get you and Chip out of the way before that could happen. We might never know his true motives.”
“So he was responsible for the damage to the boat? And the Starfish?” asked Chip.
“I know he was your friend, but yes. He was blackmailing one of the researchers we took to the Sealab. I can only assume he wanted a reason to hang around and wait for a chance at you two. I don’t think he intended to really hurt the girls.” Nelson decided not to go into further details. He and Woods Hole would deal with Roger Keith at a more appropriate time. Right now he was more focused on his crew and staff, not to mention getting home in one piece.
“I never knew he’d carried a grudge like that for so long. I just…it just never occurred to me.” Chip’s voice saddened, thinking about the man who’d once been his friend. It was hard to believe he’d turned into someone so deceitful that he’d risk the lives of over a hundred men. He could have killed Wendy and Serena. Maybe if he’d kept in touch with Dean over the years none of this would have happened. If he hadn’t been stuck in Sickbay, maybe Serena and Wen wouldn’t have gotten caught up in this mess. Maybe if… a shadow fell over his bunk, pulling him away from his downward spiral of self-blame. Chip glanced up to find Nelson hovering over him.
“Let go of it, lad. It’s over with now. Some things you just aren’t very good at hiding any more,” Nelson said. Chip couldn’t think of anything to say as his employer moved away to stand by Serena’s bunk.
“There’s still the matter of a little talk you and I need to have as soon as we get back to port,” Nelson warned.
Serena rose up on her elbows. “What do you mean when WE get back to port? I can’t stay here. I’ve got a job to. We’re contracted, I can’t just back out cause of a little accident!” she exclaimed.
Lee perked up. “If she goes back to the Deepsong, there’s no reason I can’t be released to light duty at least,” he snapped.
Jamieson barreled out of his office at the sudden uproar. “Nobody is going anywhere, so pipe down the lot of you!”
Immediately the doctor was beset with a barrage of ‘that’s not fair,’ and ‘I can’t lay around here all day’. Jamieson threw an accusing look at the admiral who was tactfully backing toward the door. Never turn your back on a predator and the CMO had a decidedly predacious look in his eye.
“Admiral,” he growled but Nelson wasn’t hanging around.
“I should really be going. You’re always haranguing me about not getting enough rest.” A brave man who had not gotten as far as he had by taking unnecessary risks, Nelson beat a hasty exit. Just as he cleared the door, the deeper but very woozy voice of Chip Morton rose in song as he tossed in his two cents worth. “Daylight come and me wan’ go home…5”