Diane Farnsworth Kachmar
*orig. pub. Fathom #1
Chip Morton held the scuba regulator tightly in his hand, wishing for another option. If only there had been warning of the shock wave. Chip ran a distracted hair through his hair. He still felt slightly dizzy from hitting the periscope island. The sudden starboard list and inrush of water left no time to do anything but find the damage.
Lee had to free the valve in the next five minutes, or they'd have too much water aft. There wasn't time to organize damage control, or rig an air line to reach beyond the damaged bulkhead. Crane had grabbed tools, thrown open the hatch, and was in the ballast tank before Chip could protest.
Morton looked down into the murky waters of the ballast tank. Bubbles from Crane's underwater torch rose slowly from behind the warped bulkhead to break on the surface. Chip looked at his watch. Still had time.
The bubbling stopped, and Crane came around the bulkhead, rising up through the water. His hand came up out of the water, grabbing for the hatch rim. Lee pulled himself up out of the water, gasping.
Chip quickly shoved the regulator into Lee's mouth again. Crane dragged on it, taking several deep breaths. Chip shifted, sliding his hand under Crane's arm, holding him above the surface.
A little color returned to Crane's features as he continued to breathe in the oxygen. Lee pushed his face mask up and removed the mouthpiece. "She's loose," he reported, a little breathless. "A few turns-- with the 3/16s-- should free it."
Chip looked at his watch again. They might make it yet.
The Admiral and Sharkey were checking the port side valves -- "You okay?"
Crane nodded, pushing his dark hair back. Lee lifted the torch from his belt, and Chip took it, laying it on the deck. Crane picked up the wrench, resettling his face mask into place. "I'll be back before you know it."
"Sixty seconds," Chip warned. "Or I'm coming after you."
"Make it seventy-five."
"After four dives, sixty is all you get."
"Aye, sir." Lee took three long drags from the scuba tank, then released the mouthpiece, sinking once more into the murky depths of the tank. A few moments later, Chip heard metal clang on metal, then a gurgling sound, as the valve cleared.
Chip dropped the mouthpiece, scrambling to his feet. He went to the circuits, pushing them in. They clicked this time, then died. He reset, and pushed them in again. A hum started beneath his feet, moving in series as the pumps kicked in all down the line. At last. He checked his watch. Forty seconds.
Morton turned back, expecting to find Crane at the hatch. He wasn't there. Chip ran back. The dark water remained undisturbed. No shadows, bubbles, nothing. Chip glanced at his watch. Eighty seconds.
Morton stepped over the rim, and dropped into the murky water. Sinking down, he looked around for Lee's work light. The glow came from in front of him. He pushed off the tank wall, coming around the warped bulkhead.
Lee wasn't there, either. Chip dove down, scooping up the light, and flashed it around the cramped tank. Something dark hovered above him.
Chip dropped the light, kicking upward. His outstretched hand hit limp flesh. He grabbed Crane's arm roughly, pulling him around the bulkhead after him. Chip headed for the open hatch, suddenly conscious of his straining lungs. He lunged for the ladder with his free hand, feeling lightheaded.
He grabbed a rung, and pulled himself up above the water. He wrapped his left leg around the ladder, drawing Crane to him. Bracing, he grabbed Lee's belt, boosting Crane up out of the tank and onto the deck. He then lifted Crane's trailing legs and pushed Lee the rest of the way over the hatch.
Another wave of dizziness washed over Chip. Morton gritted his teeth, fighting it down. He swung himself over the rim, flopping down next to Lee.
The scuba mouthpiece caught his eye, and Chip grabbed it. He bit down on it, taking a deep draw to clear his head. Then he placed his hand under Lee's neck, tilting Crane's head back.
Lee's chest rose slightly, and Chip pulled his jaw forward. Crane gasped, his mouth twitching, as he took in air. Lee began coughing, curling up into himself.
Chip continued to take deep, steadying breaths from the scuba tank. He shifted position, using his free hand to hold Crane's head back. Finally, Morton's lightheadedness went away.
Lee moaned, rolling onto his side, as his coughing subsided. Chip removed the scuba mouthpiece and gently placed it between Lee's teeth. Crane latched on to it, drawing in the oxygen.
Chip sidled closer, bracing Crane's head with his leg. After a few moments, Lee's eyes fluttered open. His hand came up, feeling for the scuba mouthpiece. His forehead furrowed.
"Easy." Chip laid his hand over Lee's to keep the mouthpiece in. "Keep breathing."
Lee looked up at him, confusion in his amber eyes, then he finally nodded. Crane's gaze traveled over him, taking in Chip's soaked uniform. Lee frowned again.
Morton shrugged. "I didn't have a choice, Lee. It was past time, and you hadn't come up."
Crane's eyes widened.
"Listen," Chip urged. "You cleared the valve."
Lee raised his other hand, taking hold of Chip's arm. Chip leaned slightly away, bracing, as Lee dragged himself up into a seated position. Chip let go off the scuba mouthpiece as Crane's head fell forward. Morton watched his friend take a few more deep breaths.
Crane removed the mouthpiece, and tried to say something, but coughed instead.
"Steady." Chip caught Lee's shoulders, holding him up.
"I'm all right." Crane let the mouthpiece fall to the deck, his voice hoarse. "I don't understand, I still had 30 seconds."
"You apparently blacked out."
Lee raised his head. "Then I'm lucky you decided to come with me."
Chip smiled. "That's my job."
Crane met his gaze, and smiled back.
"Skipper?" Kowalski's voice came from the doorway. "Do you need any help ...." He trailed off, his gaze taking in the open hatch and their bedraggled state. "The Admiral said to find you."
"It's okay, Ski," Chip replied. "Get on the intercom and report to damage control. We cleared the jammed valve. Stay here and make sure it keeps working until the DCP gets here."
A sudden clatter of feet in the corridor marked the arrival of damage control, with Bronowski in the lead.
"All pumps are working, sir," the Petty Officer reported.
"Good. Keep on it, chief," Chip replied.
"Are you all right, Skipper?" Kowalski asked suddenly.
"Yes, Ski." Lee sat up further, straightening his shoulders. Chip eased his grip slightly, but didn't let go.
"Let's get back to the control room, Chip."
"Okay. We'll flip later to see who makes the call."
Lee smiled. "No need. I'll go as soon as the ship is out of danger."
Chip grinned. "Deal."
Crane kept hold of his arm as Chip rose, using him as a lever to get his feet under him. Once up, he was steadier than Chip would have thought. Of course, the crew was watching. That always made a difference.
It was two hours before they had enough water pumped out to restore buoyancy. Dry uniforms, brought by Boots Malone, made Chip feel almost human again. Lee had some color back, but still looked slightly rocky. It was time.
"C'mon, Lee. Bobby can handle it from here."
Crane looked up, his eyes going to the status board. Apparently satisfied with the number of green lights, he put down his clipboard. "B-deck?"
Chip nodded. "Shouldn't take long."
Jamieson had several other patients when they arrived, most with ice packs, and a few with casts. Chip had seen worse damage from shock waves.
Jamieson looked up from the arm he was splinting. "I haven't had time to put together a report yet, Skipper."
Crane nodded. "Don't worry about it." Lee stopped next to the seaman stretched out on the rack. "Feeling better, Jenkins?"
"Yes, sir. Doc fixed me up good."
Crane continued to walk around the room, talking to his crew.
Jamieson finished wrapping the gauze. "Frank, who's next?"
"He's the last one, Doc."
"Not quite," Chip gestured at Crane.
Jamieson's eyes narrowed, giving Morton a once over. "What did you two do this time?"
"Nothing, I hope. But you'd better check him to make sure."
"Lee." Jamieson's voice was half summons, half request.
Crane gave the crewman he was talking to a pat on the shoulder, then walked over to an empty exam table. He boosted himself up on it, and unbuttoned his top two shirt buttons.
"And when you're done with me, you can check him."
Jamieson walked over to the exam table, stethoscope in hand. "Okay, start from the beginning, and don't leave anything out."
Chip settled onto the exam table across from Lee. They were going to be here a while.