By Carol Foss
*note: this story takes place just after episode #1 Eleven Days to Zero
"Well, I'm sure gonna miss the old girl," Lt. Cdr. Jackson leaned against his friend's bright red Cobra convertible. "You sure about this Lee?…I don't suppose you'd care to leave the car here…how else am I going to impress the girls?"
Both men chuckled.
"You'll think of something…and I'm as sure as I can be, " Lee Crane looked out over the cliffside view, "you ought to see her Joe, she's a real beaut…more than anything I could have ever imagined."
"That's what you said about your last boat."
"Ahh, but that was just sailor talk…this…well, it's the real thing….she's really quite…" he tried to find the word, "remarkable… and to serve with Captain…I mean Admiral Nelson again, well…would you be able to turn him down?"
"Hell yes! Lee, I know you respect the man. You always have…even when we had to listen to all those boring exposés about him by our CO's and the Navy Goat Times , but honest, Lee, Seaview's…well…she's different. Gets all kinds of weird assignments, government assignments they say, and she's supposed to be a civilian craft! I got that much from my new ball and chain! "
"I don't think your new commander of Comsubpac knows the half of it," Crane grinned, mentally recalling Seaview's top secret race against time. It had worked. Global destruction was avoided. All due to Seaview and Admiral Nelson. Lee turned to face his long time friend, "Joe…this submarine is..well…really special … and Nelson… well, its not exactly taking a step down to..."
"Yeah yeah, sure,"Joe interrupted, "Lee, do you really want this high-priced oddball big shot celebrity admiral aboard? He'll be more than just your boss, tucked away in some office ashore someplace, he'll give you orders on your own command on your own boat, and then he can belay your decisions. It'll be just like being an XO again! You've already had four commands! Your boat could even be at risk having to bow down to the mad genius. And then…"
"He's no amateur Joe, and he is a genius. We worked together quite well during the emergency…oh, perhaps I suppose he could belay my orders, but…I'll take my chances with Nelson…"
Kowalski was putting the last coating of paint on the bulkhead of the captain's cabin. It was bare, desolate now. Sure , Commander Crane had accomplished the job, but Ski found he still had some reservations about him. And a sore jaw to remind him that this new captain the boss had hired to replaced their murdered skipper was a bit unorthodox. Too much bravado maybe. Yeah, that was it…Like most jet fighter-jock pilots, sub captains could be pretty arrogant. Especially the young pups like this new guy. Most officers were kinda egocentric anyway…even Morton was a bit too inflated at times with his own importance when things didn't go his way, though he wasn't that bad…actually he had always been pretty good at his job, and had a keen mind at keeping things in order so the brass could get on with things…I wonder why Morton wasn't considered, Ski couldn't help thinking.
"Kowalski, quit daydreamin' and get back to work. The captain'll be here in a couple of days and that paint had better be dry!" Chief Curley Jones bellowed.
"Okay okay, keep your shirt on!"
Lt. Commander Chip Morton was putting the final details in order. While Crane had offered to help, Chip had almost demanded the job of clearing away John Philip's effects. Crane had been courteous enough to hold a memorial service after they accomplished their mission, and had even paid his respects to his widow. But Chip knew that going through John's things would be too burdensome for the admiral, too indifferent for Crane and Morton felt it his duty out of loyalty and friendship, well, almost friendship.
The new captain had agreed and would be busy getting his own affairs in order anyway, to move to Santa Barbara from his last duty station at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
New captain…the words stung. John deserved better. Oh, Chip had never been very close to him…but he had been a good captain, and a good man…this wonder boy Lee Crane was somewhat irritating.
The nerve of the guy, sneaking aboard and decking a crewman, all in an attempt to check out Seaview's security, and all on his own initiative! Bah! So what if he'd had kept them and the world from getting fried and had gone out to rescue the shore team on the ice during the emergency mission…probably just showing off to impress Nelson…well, no, he hadn't been showing off, …but still….
Nelson paced about his office at his institute puffing his cigarette with unnecessary haste, while his sister's parrot scratched about, fluttered her wings and added a few comments here and there…
"Will you shut up? I'm trying to think here!" Nelson bellowed at the hapless bird. He'd been talked into baby-sitting the bird last week by Edith, and he was scolding himself for having been a damn fool by letting her talk him into it…the bird was a blasted pest! Thank goodness Angie had offered keep checking on it, especially as it had smashed Edith's crystal cookie jar with one of it's shrieks.
"Excuse me sir, but Commander Crane is here," Angie announced as she opened the door wider. He was dressed in black jeans, a dark green comfy knit top with a hole in it, and sockless faded sneakers. She couldn't help noticing he looked rather scruffy, quite irreistable really, right down to his tousled hair.
"Crane! Good." Nelson sat," I trust you have all your affairs in order? You're a bit late. Angie, some more seltzer and the manifest and maintenance schedule…"
"I'm sorry about the delay," Crane said, " I'm afraid there was more to my termination than I'd figured on. There were a few raised eyebrows when it got out that I'm no longer in the active Navy…but I think I managed to keep a low profile. There were also some bills to sort out and some moving details …what's this?" he walked over to the bird. "Hmm. Cocketel?"
Nelson raised an eyebrow in a questioning glance.
"Oh, I've met a few…a long time ago…they saved my life,"Lee laughed, "it's a long story…so, sir," Lee sat on the edge of Nelson's vast Italian carved wood and marble desk, " when do we get underway? What kinds of threats to mankind are we off to stop now?"
"Seaweed, actually," Nelson grinned, wondering whether to scold Crane's insolence in taking the liberty of placing the backside of his person on such a highly valued antique or to indulge his youthful enthusiasm.
"Yes, sir, seaweed.." Lee said, " I understand this is an…oceanographic mission?"
"Yes and no..."
"I see sir…" Lee grinned. "Seaview certainly leads an interesting life."
"That, my boy is an understatement if ever there was one, now, Angie will show you your office… I'm afraid it's rather small. Actually it's an old storeroom…" Nelson was embarrassed.
"No need to apologize sir, I've seen some pentagon offices assigned to some of the high brass…deep in the lowest basement with pipes running through..ideal bomb shelter actually, at least I think so, I was never actually assigned there."
"I'm afraid I have to go to Washington. Damn idiots, trying to make me give back Crane, they approved his termination didn't they, Nelson thought with bitterness. He'd been a perfect captain for Seaview and now they wanted to renege! Bureaucrats!
"Morton's still on leave," Nelson continued, " I'd like you to stick around and supervise things…I'm afraid you'll find that you have authorization over NIMR matters as well as Seaview's, Angie will help. She's a great executive assistant but she…doesn't have the acumen or security clearance in certain top level military matters that might crop up…I hope you'll be happy with us."
"Already am, sir, already am," Lee flashed his boss a huge smile as he departed for his office.
"What?" Kowalski gulped.
"I said," Chief Jones reiterated, " the admiral said the captain ain't gonna' have the time to go to the Diego docks to get his car from that freighter, so you just volunteered. One of the guest cars will take ya. It'll take about five hours just to get there, so get a move on. "
"Oh great, now I'm King Crane's go-fer!"
"C'mon Ski, it's not that bad," Patterson piped up, " Crane's a pretty decent guy. You're just imagining things."
"Oh yeah? He's just throwing his weight around, that's all."
"I don't know..." Jones lit a cigar, " he don't have much of that! Ya know, he sure is kinda scrawny. I saw Doc lookin' him over in sickbay after that squid squished him, muttering about the captain needin' fattening up," he chuckled.
"I've asked," Nelson squashed his cigarette into the foyer's ash bin, " for a volunteer to go to San Diego to retrieve your car and drive it back here." Nelson pulled on his raincoat,"I know you'd rather do this yourself Lee, but it's just too time consuming and I need you here. You've seen all the preliminary work that has to be done. We don't have that much time before our next departure. Frankly, I'd rather have you here as insurance, so to speak, just in case of any emergency."
"No problem sir, but surely the car can wait and…"
"No, I'm afraid you'll find yourself quite busy for the next week or so, its my pleasure to pick up your vehicle."
"Thank you sir, it's odd though. I bought it two years ago…and I've only driven it twice," he laughed, " a friend of mine kept it…running smoothly." Lee remembered just what Joe's 'running smoothly' entailed. "I was at sea for most of the time."
"Ah yes," Nelson mused, he'd only read a short brief about Crane's last assignment, " I understand Nebula had a difficult time of it."
"She'll be in dry-dock for a major overhaul that's for sure…"
"You were very fortunate to get out alive, I'm told…what happened?"
"Uh," Lee bit his lip, not knowing if he was allowed to actually confide in Nelson about the matter," actually it's classified…but…"
"Say no more, Lee, I'm already getting backdraft from the Navy for stealing you away, I'd better not risk ONI's. I do have the clearance, but its really not my place, this Navy secret."
Crane decided to explain anyway when the men were interupted.
"Excuse me sir," Kowalski said without emotion," I was told to report. "
You must be my volunteer," Crane replied cheerfully.
"Yes sir." Kowalski said without emotion.
Crane pulled out the keys and removed them from a small keychain. "It's a red Cobra, similar to a Corvette."
"I am familiar with the latest in Italian automobile design…sir."
"The freighter Eden is supposed to dock by midnight," Crane ignored the wisecrack, " The dockmaster has the manifest, here's the id. There's supposed to be a ramp from the ship, so it won't have to be dropped from a crane…wait a moment and I'll go check to see which pier…"
"I can get my way around the docks sir, with your permission I'd like to get going. It's a long trip."
Nelson was about to rebuke the crewman for his insubordination but a look from Crane said no.
"Very well," Crane replied, " thank you Kowalski. I'll make sure you get extra shore leave assigned for your trouble."
"Thank you sir, " Ski opened the door with unessesary haste, and exited.
"Lee…I'm sorry about that…"
"Let me guess. Curley drafted him?" Lee chuckled…"well, I just hope he doesn't scratch the paint!"
"Nor you the Seaview's! Good bye Lee, you know how to get a hold of me in an emergency," Nelson departed the building with Crane.
"Aye sir," Crane smiled as he opened the limo's door for the man and flashed him a grin.
"So this here new captain ," the NIMR shuttle driver turned to Kowalski, " he's up to the job?"
"I guess so," Ski replied, sullen, despite the luxury of riding in the well appointed car, one of a small fleet of 'guest vehicles'.
"I heard he was one of the youngest sub skippers in the Navy."
"Yeah, I heard that too, what difference does that make?"
"Just shows he's up to the job."
"He's still a pain in the ass, even if..well, never mind."
"I take it you're not very impressed with him?"
"No I'm not…I was for a while, when he pulled off the mission, but…"
"Well, just make sure you don't put a dent in his fancy shmanchy car! It's supposed to be awfully expensive, I mean, its not a good idea to bash up your captain's car."
"Very funny," Ski said sourly.
Crane stretched his legs, as he finished checking a new technical manual and signing one the last of the necessary forms that were part of his new life as a Reservist attached to Seaview.
For a civilian outfit, NIMR had even more red tape than ONI or the Navy. He hadn't had much sleep either lately, shuttling from California to Hawaii and back. Nelson had put him up in the guest quarters on the grounds, so getting an apartment was the last thing on his agenda before Seaview's next assignment. There was a slight shower outside with the threat of a thunderstorm to come and Crane decided to take a breather.
Venus was showing off her white light as the last of the twilight had faded into night, the moonlight highlighting the stormclouds in the near distance. The air was warm so the slight sprinkles felt rather refreshing as he walked toward Seaview. He soon found himself alongside the vessel. She was berthed here instead of the underground cavern sue to a gas leak.
Security was on the ball this time, he noted, as he was waylaid before being passed through and he signed the chart before he strode up the gangplank.Basically ignored by the maintenance team, he descended into Seaview's depths.
Ski decided to have a few drinks at The Lucky Hound as he was going to be stuck in San Diego for the damn freighter to show. It was hours overdue. Actually he was a little nervous, if he was honest with himself. What if he did scratch the paint? Or have a wreck…..
While Nelson was really the boss, it wouldn't do to damage the captain's property…captain's thought they were a law unto themselves, and actually had some power, influence, that was it. Hadn't Phillips recommended old Gaynor to retire after that little incident with the generator? Hell, that couldn't be true. Old Gaynor was past retirement…but still….
"Hey sailor, buy me a drink?" the voice oozed lovingly.
Ski looked at the woman in red sequins. His eyes popped. He was known as the best girl watcher aboard for nothing. Maybe having to wait for the skipper's car wasn't going to be so bad after all.
Crane finished his tour through the boat, nodding his head in satisfaction. To anyone else she looked a mess, wires dangling and plates open to reveal inner workings. To Crane she was simply having a beauty rest.
The work shift had departed and only he was aboard, except for the mandatory security watch.
Lee had always enjoyed being be aboard when any of his boats were 'in maintenance', in an attempt to inspect them up close and personal, and to make sure all was going well.
While he'd frequently given 'well done's and 'good job's to maintenance teams and crew on all his commands, he also knew his very presence had made some of the men edgy. Like having a schoolteacher hovering over your shoulder.
As long as he didn't make a habit of it, he knew that there was nothing like a little bit of supervisory sauntering to put the fear of the captain's wrath on malingerers. Not that he expected any to be aboard here. But a healthy respect for Seaview's officers would insure compliance with the excellence he expected in his new crew and in the admiral's staff. He made a note to himself to do a bit of sauntering when finally underway.
Pausing by the periscope he slid a finger over the well polished housing, meeting with his approval.
Finally stopping at the observation nose, he leaned against the massive window took in the night view, the institute lights glowing through the rain which had now developed into a downpour. Lightening flashed off and on as the thunder seemed to echo off the bulkheads in the vast vessel. He decided to enjoy the view, kicking off his sneakers and enjoying the feel of the cool metal deck beneath them as he stretched his toes in contentment.
It was well past midnight and Ski knew he was in trouble. Conned into one drink after another, the lady in red had managed to deplete much of his monetary resources as well as his sobriety. He knew he was probably drunk. He shouldn't really drive at all. He could always tell the captain that he got stuck in traffic or something.
But he had to make sure the skipper's car was offloaded from the freighter when or if it arrived.
It was just a small grating noise. But it had startled Crane awake. The storm had increased in intensity, and Seaview bucked about in protest. It was almost dawn. He must have fallen asleep. Whatever it was that had made the sound, had ceased.
"Security," he voiced into a mike. " Did you hear that?"
"Uh, what sir?"
"That noise, just now, " Crane said, irritated.
"What kind of noise?"
"I'm not sure…I want you to give the boat a thorough check right away. Have a team from maintenance in on it. I'll make a quick search myself. I'm starting from the nose heading aft."
Crane didn't like mysteries. Even if the sound had only been in his imagination or the storm or part of a dream, now forgotten.
Pulling on his sneakers, he began his own exploration. After prowling the boat to no avail he decided he may have been acting paranoid, and he stopped in the wardroom and poured himself a cup of tepid coffee from the ever present coffee percolator. But it didn't help. He had a feeling about this. Something wasn't right.
Ski looked up as the Eden tossed about dockside against the swelling waves. "No! NO!" he yelled, as he saw the grappling lines secured around the compact, shining in the rain and docklights. The little car was swinging back and forth overhead. Ski was not amused. "You're supposed to drive it off the ramp!"
"Look," the crewman yelled over the storm, "you want it or not? "
"You're supposed to have a ramp!"
"Well we ain't got one!"
"Well, be careful!"
"We ain't dropped nothin' yet, bud! Relax! Anybody'd think it’s the first car you ever owned!"
"It's not mine. Like I told your guard, it's my skipper's…c'mon, guys, be careful…hey! Watch it…. Hey!"
"I'm telling you, I heard something," Crane insisted to Sam Watson, the exasperated executive in charge of Maintenance, " and we're going to search this boat until we find it! Do I make myself clear?"
"If you insist…but…"
"That's 'Aye sir', for future reference," Crane said firmly, " and I'd appreciate it if you and your men would refrain from looking at me as though I were demented. Seaview is my responsibility and I'll be the one to walk the plank if it's nothing more than my imagination. Now, while security is checking for intruders, you will follow a sweep pattern to see if it's a mechanical problem…."
Kowalski breathed a sigh of sheer relief. He could have sworn the crane was going to bash the captain's car smack into the hull of the Eden. But only one cable had snapped and it had only landed sideways.
Eden's crew was quick to level the vehicle, and against all odds, apparently no damage had been done.
The worst of his inebriation had vanished, he hoped, leaving Ski with a headache and a case of nerves. He was grateful for the black coffee the dockmaster offered him while he signed the receipt for Kowalski. Now to get the accursed car back to Santa Barbara.
"I'm telling you Nelson," the ONI admiral insisted, " the Navy was not actually authorized to terminate Crane. And you, sir, went behind proper channels to get the boy."
"I went through standard navy operational procedures and these," Nelson slapped down some paperwork on the desk," prove it."
"Procedures be damned! This is Crane we're talking about. Connors had no business authorizing it…and no, don't interrupt me. You knew damn well any operative of Crane's security status has to go through me…"
" You were all to anxious to give him to me in the first place when no other sub captain would do!"
"Now, Harriman, I know you seem to have been running around in circles, it's just that, well, now that the emergency is over, you can have your pick of any sub jockey in the fleet…"
"I want Crane, and I'll go to the president if I have to!" Nelson stormed off toward the door.
"We'll just see about that, and Harriman, you may wish to remember that that toy submarine of yours can just as easily be removed from Reserve Status."
"Is that a threat?"
"If it has to be."
"And you seem to forget that the government keeps calling on Seaview because no other boat can do what she can!"
Crane slammed his fist onto his cabin desk. Damn! They all think I'm nuts! Great way to start my new command! he thought sourly. He could always say it was only a drill, they'd accept that without a problem, but still…
"Sir?" Chief Jones peered from behind the partially open door.
"Chief? What are you doing here?"
"I uh, I heard you was havin' a bit of difficulty trackin down a bogey…maybe I can help."
"I don't want to take you from your shore leave, Chief…"
"Ahh, it ain't nothin', now this here noise, what did it sound like?"
"That's part of the problem, Curley, I'm not sure…I was half asleep when it woke me…sort of a grating, with an echo. It's familiar somehow, but I just can't place it."
"Well, you was kinda tired an all…but…" Curley was at least trying to believe him.
"I know I heard something Chief," Crane spoke quietly, earnestly," I'm sure of it, and ," he looked directly at Jones, "I know it doesn't belong here."
"Then we'll just have to find it and get rid of it skipper."
"Hey luscious!," Morton swept into Nelson's outer office and leaned over Angie, busy at some paperwork, "I'm waiting."
KAW! The bird interrupted, making them wince.
"I'll be glad when Edith Nelson retrieves that blasted pest!" Angie said under her breath.
"Tsk tsk tsk, you're picking up some bad habits hanging around us wild sailors, such language," Chip taunted. "So, what are you doing here on Saturday anyway? I thought the admiral kept a large staff for such occurrences."
"I would have met you at the club Chip but, there seems to be a problem with Seaview."
"Problem? Why wasn't I informed?"
"I have no idea, I only just found out myself…it seems as though Captain Crane heard something and has had almost the entire security and maintenance staff searching the sub for it, since last night…Chip…the men are muttering and complaining…they can't find anything wrong, and the captain insists that there is."
"I'd better get down there."
"Where's the captain?" Morton asked before he even reached the final rung of the ladder into the control room. He had already spoken to security. Crane was overdoing things and he wanted to know why.
"Aft, sir… I swear there ain't nothin on the boat that doesn't belong here…no stowaway, no malfunction, but the skipper…"
"I don't know …maybe its a drill."
"Captain?" Chip asked, entering corridor B-7.
"Down here," Lee replied, emerging from a deck hatch. "Clear that compartment," he ordered to Malone who marked a clipboard.
"May I speak to you for a moment?" Morton asked, noting Crane's grimy state and face stubble.
"If you're going to ask me what I heard, I can't tell you," Crane said wearily, "…but it was there, Chip, and it was wrong…thanks Malone, take a break. I'll call you," Lee took the clipboard.
"Look," Morton replied before Malone had departed," I've only got grapevine info here, but don't you think you're taking your wild goose chase a bit far?" Chip asked.
Lee ran a hand through his messy hair. "Chip, it's not like I'm unfamiliar with Seaview anymore, there's something familiar about this sound, and trust me, something- is- wrong," he emphasized, brooking no argument.
"Very well, supposing you're right, what are you going to do, rip her apart?"
"Very nearly, Chip, " the boat lurched yet again against the storm, "back me up on this, even if you don't agree."
"I don't have any choice do I? You're the captain," Morton said, surprised at his bitterness.
"Well, " Crane looked at Morton, stung by the implied insult, " you don't have to say the word like it's a disease.. you only have to support my search in front of the crew. I may be acting the fool, in your eyes and theirs, but we're still getting back to work, is that understood Mister? "
"Aye," Morton answered formally, brazenly omitting the 'sir' which protocol called for. Crane ignored it and carefully ascended the ladder while the sub tossed about, to another deck level.
He hadn't meant to be so curt with Chip. Nobody believed him, so why should the first officer? He was grateful for the privacy of his cabin where he could get away from all the disapproving stares and splash some cold water on his face.
"Will the Maintenance and Security Chiefs please report to my cabin." He spoke into the mike wearily for the umpteenth time to go over the reports.
Kowalski found he was actually enjoying the drive, even if could barely see through the heavy rain. The little car had a bit of zip and had a firm feel to the road, and was it for real that the pretty girls at the gas station/rest stop had looked at him with so much admiration? They'd a few cold sodas as they chatted and Ski had found himself claiming the car as his with only a modicum of guilt. Yeah, no wonder the skipper liked the car. This was fun, he thought as the drive continued. Then it happened. A tire blew.
It was really no fun, fixing a flat while being drenched with hail and rain and wind and mud from passing cars. Man, that extra shore leave had better be for more than a week!
Just as Ski settled back behind the wheel and merged back into lane, the truck just ahead of him skidded, swerved out of control and right into Ski's path.
"There that should do it," the officer pushed Ski into the patrol car, as the Cobra was towed off. "Next time you get drunk, make sure nobody swipes your wallet and your driver's license, if you even have one. You realize it will take time to check this out…in the meantime, the car will be impounded at the station. You tell this," he read the note," this Lee Crane, that he'd better do better next time in loaning out his car!"
It all had to be a terrible mistake, Ski sat in the back of the patrol car, bitter. He could only hope the truck driver would clear him. Busted! For driving under the influence, for driving without a license, hell it wasn't fair, his license was in his wallet. And it was the trucker's fault, not his! And the car! The skipper was sure gonna be pissed!
"I don't care how you feel," Morton commanded, as he struggled against the raging storm and walked back toward the institute office, "you will continue the search. Just as I told the men."
"But…it's… crazy! Nobody else has heard anything! I was aboard when this so called sound happened, but I didn't hear anything, and the captain even admits he was sleeping!" Watson complained.
"You know that. I know that. But the captain has spoken and has the authority on institute matters till the admiral gets back, and total responsibility for Seaview, at sea or dockside…so do your job if only to cover your own ass."
"But you're the XO! Surely you can get him to stop this. On diminished mentality or something…"
" A mutiny while Seaview is dockside? Wouldn't the admiral just love that? Look, Sam. I think the captain's going a bit far but the admiral has placed Crane in charge. We do what he says. Okay?"
"Okay. Okay. He's nuts, but okay."
The storm was really raging now. A disgruntled Crane held the mike as the boat was bounced about. It was difficult to hear anything against the hail, thunder, and lightening cracks. "Attention all hands. Due to the storm we'll be postponing the search until further notice. I'd like to thank you all for your efforts and attention to detail in this matter. Dismissed."
Sighs of relief followed as the men began to depart. Chief Jones descended the spiral steps and found the skipper holding onto one of the support beams by the window, as the sub was tossed about like a toy boat in a kid's bathtub. He was glad the massive dockside bumpers were holding their own as Seaview smashed into them alongside the pier again and again…at least the sub wouldn't have to be taken out to sea or submerged.
Clearing his throat he spoke, " Skipper? Security wants to know how many hands you want aboard for the watch."
"Standard relief watch, Chief, thanks, you can go now."
"Skipper, if it means anything to you, I…well…even if we can't find nothin' don't mean it doesn't exist."
"Thanks Chief, go on, go on home, get some hot soup or something,"Crane tried to smile, grateful for at least one man's support.
Angie took the phone call, just as Morton discarded his slicker. He couldn't quite place the look on her face. Finally she said, "I think you 'd better take this call, Chip."
Morton listened, increasingly horrified at what Kowalski revealed. It was a condensed version he was sure, but Crane was really going to hit the roof over this additional problem.
"I'll get the necessary paperwork in motion, Ski, don't worry, we'll be getting you out soon…you are all right though? No injuries? Good. I see. Towed away. Well, uh huh. Okay. Yes…you sure you don't want me to inform him? Very well. We'll get you out of jail and you can report to the captain in person when you get here…very good Ski. Yes. Goodbye…"
After a moment of mutual dread, Chip turned to Angie and said, " scratch one crewman."
Seaview was not designed to be a surface craft and Lee had to half walk, half lean his way toward his cabin as the storm increased in intensity. He was tempted to pull an emergency call up to take the boat out to wait out the storm in the relative safety of the depths, but he'd seen worse and there was really no danger..it was just uncomfortable. He was about to open his cabin door when he heard it again…coming through the ventilation duct. Scrambling up he removed the grating and peered in, hoping to hear it again to get a direction. Another grating, scraping sound….
It was with some difficulty that he crawled through the duct. Bashed back and forth against the cramped ducting, he wondered how many more bruises he could stand. Finally he came to the end of the trail in this shaft and emerged in the ballast control compartment. There was nothing out of order.
NIMR had worked fast. Within an hour Ski had been released. A grin of relief flashed across his face as he saw the familiar NIMR car waiting for him and the same driver behind the wheel, called from his home to go to the now short distance to bring Ski home.
"That's it. I'm loosing my mind," Lee said out loud, answered by the grating noise It was coming from below…Below?
Turning the ballast hatch wheel to pop the round lid up, which wasn't easy as the boat lurched and bounced, Lee paused as looked into the bowels of the ballast tank. He could easily wade through the remaining unexpelled water. Grabbing a flashlight from the outer chamber, he slid through the narrow round hole and into the tank. The foul water splashed against his knees and arms as he crawled in the tight space, shining the flashlight all around to see clearly, sustaining bruises as he was tossed about, making his inspection.
He was about to give up, having found nothing out of the ordinary when finally, he saw it, attached to the tank wall. And time was running out.
"Captain?" Sam Watson's voice rang down into the tank.
"Watson, did you hear it? I'm glad you're here! Get a bomb squad! Quick!"
"I can't do that Captain," he aimed a gun at Crane and fired twice.
Morton paced about the nearly deserted institute offices, his date with Angie rather forgotten. He did have a kind of satisfaction that everyone else thought the captain was as nutty as he thought Crane was.. Crane could actually be discharged for this little show of rank…even if Nelson was trying to get Washington to let him keep Crane. Morton had kept quiet about the Washington trip as Nelson had not wanted Crane to know about this matter. But even Nelson didn't like his officers to display power tactics needlessly.
He found himself staring at the framed photo of Seaview on the wall. Seaview. Chip found himself feeling a bit guilty. Just what kind of XO was Chip anyway? Crane was convinced about his little noise. So what if he alone had heard the bogey. So what if it was only a drill. Morton didn't have to respect a superior to trust his judgment…at least he hoped Crane's judgment was sound.
Crane lurched hard against the tank's curved edge as the boat shifted again and again, fiercely. . blood mingled with stagnant water made a ghoulish sight as Crane resigned himself that Watson had effectively sealed his fate. No amount of feeble prying to turn the hatch wheel against whatever lock Watson had used against it. While he might die here, Crane was determined to keep the bomb from destroying anyone else. There was no time to crawl to the anterior access hatch. The faint glow from the flashlight indicated only 10 minutes were left on the timer…
Kowalski had arrived at NIMR , been cleared through all security checks, and clambered aboard to face the supposed firing squad. He called out for the captain, to no avail, first with his voice, then with the mike. Nothing.
That was odd. Security said the captain was aboard and had not departed. Walking through the boat, he was about to ask security to check again when he heard a faint clang, followed by almost inaudible cursing. Hurrying to the direction of the sound, he heard it again, followed by what he thought sounded like 'damit!'
Finally locating the sound from the outer access chamber to the ballast tanks, he saw the hatch wheel jammed with a two crowbars.
"Hey! Anyone down there?" he yelled as he pulled the crowbars out and turned the hatch.
"Ski!" Crane's voice came up hoarsely as the hatch opened but he did not emerge. "Ski, there's a bomb aboard. A big one…evacuate everyone within a hundred miles! I don't know if I can deactivate it in time…I don't really know how, I'm guessing here…contact the governor, the president and Nelson…we have less than 10 minutes…then get yourself and everyone the hell out of here!"
There was no time to wonder if this was for real. Ski reacted immediately and before a minute had elapsed, a conference line to the state and national capital had been established, a bomb squad was on the way and Seaview's klaxton and grounds sirens were blaring.
"Lee? Lee?" Chip called down into the dark pit.
"Chip? Did you get the admiral? The president? It could be one of those Destructo Terrorist bombs again. I thought I told everyone to scram." Crane's voice seemed to echo.
"Ski has getting a communications tie in.But it’s a bad connection- we can't read them yet."
"It's an napalm bomb," Lee gasped, in pain, " a homemade one …I hoped I could detach it, but….it's got to be deactivated here, it's got an old fashioned timer but also something that looks like a computer ribbon and a small pad of raised dots…I'm no expert Chip, I need the admiral. It looks like its set to go off in…8 minutes..will somebody shut off the damn klaxton, my ears are ringing down here."
Morton clambered down into the tank ."You're hurt!" he exclaimed even before he saw the battered and bleeding Crane, leaning forward, braced against the side of the tank with the bomb's casing in his lap as he examined the inner bomb workings soldered to the tank.
"No kidding…Chip…look at this," he spoke, trying to catch his breath, "…what do you make of it?"
"I looks like a microchip of some sort…those are bullet wounds!"
"Part of the timer? Or part of the fuse?" Crane ignored the comment.
"I honestly don't know…C'mon, we still have time to get out of here.'
"I don't think we could get far away enough…did you get the national guard?"
"No," Chip shook his head, " the governor said so little time would cause a panic and more causalities…the institute will take most of the force of it, if it's what you think it is…"
"Here, look at this, it's connected to…blast…what the hell is it?"
"An audio chip!"
"Sound waves?," Lee winced, It was hurting to breath and he was getting dizzy,"sound…sound…Chip! Singers use sound waves to smash wine glasses! Even Edith's bird smashed something when it sqwaked! It must be sound waves that ignite the thing! Even those we can't hear! Can you decipher what they're supposed to be? Or how to cancel them out?"
"I don't know, I don't know..,"Chip was searching his mind for a solution…" but I think I know what can!" Chip emerged from the pit and raced to the control room, calling back to Crane."Don’t' move!"
"Like I really want to, " Lee bantered, resting his head back against the framework as another bounce made the bullet wounds to his shoulder and leg seem to deepen, and the gash on his forehead renew droplets of blood to trail down his face.
The tie in line with Seaview was staticy due to the storm. Nelson had been quickly summoned while meeting with the president, and asked ONI to to be called in as well. But trying to be heard on Seaview was to no avail. They could only barely hear what was being said in the ballast control tank.
"Lee, "Chip returned into the hole, clicking open a cell phone, "I've got the computer on a tie in to my mobile phone. According to the AMARAC, when the thing ignites, the computer can send the complete opposite sound wave pattern into the cell and abort it, but if it's the wrong one…"
"Well, they don't call you MircoChip for nothing do they…" he tried to make light of the situation.
Chip said gently, "You're sure about this sound wave stuff, aren't you?"
"As sure as I … as sure as we can be, Chip. Here we go.… 19 seconds and counting," Lee's voice came across the air waves with determination.
The president waited with baited breath. The governor of California waited anxiously at the video phone monitoring the situation from the White House. Nelson stayed huddled over the communication set up, hoping against hope that his men were right. It was a good theory, but…
"2," Lee continued the count, "1.
The shrill sound reverberated loudly, like a million cats clawing metal in a hollow echo chamber. Finally silence…silence…and more silence.
Chip?" Lee asked. "If it was going to go boom, would it have done it by now?"
"I don't know…are we still alive?"
The silence was deafening…finally the grating noise happened again and part of the bomb housing popped out of the unit…the men held their breaths. Nothing.
"Skipper?" Ski whispered into the pit.
"You can call the bomb squad and cancel their call up if this broken fuse means anything… Well done on that computer, Chip."
"Me? Hey, I just follow orders…skipper."
Nelson sighed in sheer relief. He could hear his few men aboard Seaview in various states of exultation as they helped to pull the captain and XO out from the pit.
Chip supported Lee, " you look a mess skipper. And you're soaked. And you're bleeding all over your highly polished deck and who knows what creepy crawly thingys attached themselves to your clothes while you played in that puddle." Morton smiled.
The boat lurched hard again. Several hands helped to steady him.
"Lee? Chip?" Nelson's voice finally came across the air, if only in bits and pieces of static.
"Admiral?" Crane spoke into the thin air of the pa system.
"Well done, both of you, now, Lee, go to the medical center and get checked over. Chip? How bad does he really look?"
"Well, sir, he's got a couple of bullet wounds, a mean bruise on his left cheek, he's soaked through with ballast water and slime, looks like he may have some bruises on his side from the way he's favoring it, and he's glaring at me to quit telling you all the gory little details."
"Make sure he gets an escort."
"Aye sir!"Any volunteers men?" chip asked
Of the men assembled all stepped forward to help.
"Hmm. Looks unanimous. Well, skipper, you heard the admiral, it's doctor time."
"I don't… need a medical… exam…I'm fine!" Lee fought for breath.
"Somehow, Lee, I find myself not quite believing you…of course, I could be mistaken. It's happened before now, and…" Chip was suddenly quiet.
"What is it Chip?" Crane asked weakly.
"Lee…I was ready to send you to the loony bin, all that 'strange noise' business…and I…I thought you were just preening…I should have trusted you. I'm sorry I didn’t."
"Would it help… if I told you I was beginning to… doubt… it myself? C'mon, the sooner… we get out of the medical… center the sooner we can… get Seaview ready for her next assignment."
Nelson turned off the tie in. He had not wanted everyone to listen in to the private conversation of his friends.
"Nelson, " the president said, " I was against Crane's assignment to you…but perhaps I was mistaken…I'm sure ONI agrees, don't you Bill."
ONI's chief nodded in consent, and raised a small cup of coffee in tribute, " to Captain Crane, permanent master of the Seaview!"
Crane looked up at Angie in exasperation. He had just finished pulling on clean trousers and socks, and was now being helped backwards onto his bed in the Med.center. Hadn't the staff told him he would be discharged soon?
The bullets had not nicked anything important like arteries but one had torn some muscle in his shoulder and the other had sheered off some tissue as it had creased his leg…He'd only needed a few stitches from the gash in his forehead and the bruises would heal without any complications, at least not too many, according to the doctors…why was she making such a fuss…it was just a little shot of tetanus antitoxin…
"Well, Ski?" Crane asked from his office a day later.
"Uh, I ..well…uh…skipper, there's' something I have to tell you."
"Relax Ski, it wasn't your fault that your wallet was stolen."
"There's more sir."
"I uh, I was arrested for driving under the influence. Honest I thought I was okay…and …uh… maybe you better come outside… the Exec had your car retrieved ."
"Well, it will sure be nice to have wheels again!"
Within minutes , Crane stood before the little car and shook his head, " know a good car wash around here?"
"Skipper, uh, well, there was sort of a wreck.."
"With a truck…it skidded….over here "
Ski held his breath as Crane walked to the passenger side of the his car.
"Well?' Lee asked.
"The scratch sir, right there, don't you see it? All along the side…gotta be at least a couple of hundred dollars to fix it."
"This scratch? " Lee fingered it.
"Yes sir." Red with embarrassment, Ski nodded woefully, "I'm sorry skipper…I shouldn't have been driving at all…I swear I didn't think I was drunk, and it was the truck's fault for skidding and…"
Crane leaned against the Cobra, and tried not to laugh, " I'm sorry…Ski, I should have mentioned it before you left. I did this..I just hadn't had time to repair it… It must have been a real worry for you…it won't happen again. If I ever need a 'go fer' again, be sure I'll fill you in on all necessary details."
After a moment of stunned silence, Ski grinned.
"Aye sir, anytime you like."
"Well Chip, I'm glad there was no real damage to Lee's car, " Nelson hung his cap on the hook, " Expensive toy he has there."
"Yes sir, but…I still think he's bluffing," Chip whispered, " to make Ski feel better".
"Chip you're going to have to stop this skepticism about Crane's word…"
"Welcome back admiral," Lee entered the office, clean, combed, shaved, and in uniform. " I'm supposed to give you this .. for the record."
"Hmmm." Nelson sat it down and continued to look over the report he already held in his hand." It says here, that in addition to attempted murder, Watson's awaiting trial for treason, if we can find him…. It seems he's working for one of our enemy powers, he may even have planted the bomb, above suspicion…now, let me look at this," Nelson took Crane's medical report, " you had one cracked rib, bruises, contusions, two bullet wounds and a few infected lacerations requiring a tetanus antitoxin shot and …Lee, what are you laughing at?"
"Oh, just minor damage sir, just minor damage."