The Big Day
(author's note: The Big Day orig. appeared in Anchors Away #4 * out of print*, and was my very first attempt at writing a Voyage story~ )
Everything was ready for the big day. Pennsylvania Avenue was beribboned and bedecked in red, white, and blue bunting. Streamers of silver and gold wafted in the gentle breeze. The vast crowds were all smiles; the great media cameras jostled for the best views; and Admiral Harriman Nelson, in formal uniform, pondered.
So much, so much had happened. And today, a new president would be sworn in. Not elected, but in effect drafted to the position. At high noon, in keeping with tradition, the new president would be sworn in.
Nelson adjusted his sleeve and grinned. Just a pace or two away was Commander Lee Crane, who hated formal uniforms as much as he. He seemed damned uncomfortable as he tugged at his collar. The sunlight shone brightly off his highly polished shoes. Lee would rather be barefoot, Nelson thought, though suddenly ashamed of his disregard for all the events leading up to this moment.
As Nelson watched Lee, he couldn’t help but to remember how he’d termed their relationship long ago. That he was Lee’s ‘ friend, enemy, partner, rival, big brother, blood brother, and that he sometimes wanted to bash Lee’s head in’, pretty much summed it all up.
Where on earth was the Marine Band? Oh, yes, there it was, on the program, just before the big moment. Just how long was this whole operation going to take? Even Seaview’s crew was noticeably impatient. But, Nelson noticed, when they saw Lee’s proud recognition of them, they seemed to visibly relax.
How on earth was Nelson going to record this day in his private journal? How was he going to keep his tears from staining the pages? Getting emotional, Harry, he chided himself. Why the hell not? Why not after all that’s happened? Oh, what a boring song the soprano squawked. But at least she was singing. Thanks to Lee. It was all thanks to Lee. And not so very long ago….
It was a cold evening as the transparent nosed submarine Seaview approached the coordinates. The lookouts stomped their feet in an effort to stay warm, and Crane, captain of the craft, was ‘shooting the stars’ with the sextant from the conning tower.
"Nothing like a little old fashioned navigation to remind me that Seaview is still a boat," he commented cheerfully to executive officer Chip Morton, who was rubbing his hands with impatience.
"Well, Lee, pretty soon the Neutralizer will be winking at us, just like all those stars."
" I’m not so sure I like it Chip," Lee signed the log, " It’s just…too fallible"
"Fallible? It’s safer than Fail-Safe! Why, even the president’s made sure of that, and Baker too. And the admiral himself! The thing will make war obsolete!"
"I’m not so sure Chip, I’m not so sure. Okay, let’s get back to our nice warm control room before the lookouts toss us overboard".
Both laughed heartily as they descended into the belly of the boat with the lookouts following and sealing off the hatches.
"Well?" Nelson asked, handing Crane and Morton steaming mugs.
"Right where we’re supposed to be…cocoa? We’re getting soft!" he grinned, "thanks, makes braving the icebergs worth it."
"Well, it’s about time you consumed more than coffee and potato chips," Dr. Thomas Baker added indulgently. It was hard not to take a liking to this boy.
"Chip, as soon as you’re warmed up, take us to Undersea Weapons Lab Three, and you Lee, are long overdue for a little sack time. Beat it," Nelson ordered cheerfully.
Crane knew argument was futile. There was a core of steel under Nelson’s outward grin. Oh, Lee had won many a disagreement before, even though the retired admiral happened to own the boat, but Crane had to admit that he was tired and sleep was alluring. With a grin of reluctant obedience, Lee exited the busy nerve center and left his precious submarine in the hands of others.
"Well, Harry, I think I’ll hit the hay myself. All this prep work is tiring. Will we be ready for the scheduled launch?"
"With you behind it Tom? We’ll be ready. After all, we wouldn’t want you to give the contract to NASA now, would we?"
As Lee prepared for bed, he was uneasy. Sleep had been somewhat elusive for the past few days and he wondered if tonight would be the same. Tidbits of rest did not help his alertness. As well as preliminary preparations for the launch had gone; he was still plagued with a gut feeling that all was not as it should be. But there was no need to be on edge. Not at all. Not really.
Everybody knew the Neutralizer was a great invention. The safely protocols were flawless. Nelson had seen to that. There was just no reason to be afraid. But Lee was.
Turning out the light, Crane resigned himself to another restless night. He’d mentioned his fears to Nelson. Harry had listened sympathetically, but dismissed Lee’s misgivings of doom and gloom to overwork and lack of shore leave.
The unintentional insult didn’t help matters. Perhaps Lee was jealous. This Dr. Baker was turning Seaview into a party boat. Baker was in great demand for the ongoing poker games and his many card tricks were turning the crew’s mess into a center of amusement. Was Lee so tired that he was jealous of Baker’s effect on the men? Baker was friendly, but there was something about the man. Something unnerving. Something familiar. This is ridiculous! Lee thought, and suddenly very weary, he closed his eyes. "Nite’ old girl," he said fondly to Seaview, and that was the last he was to know of sanity, reason, and truth, for his nightmare was just beginning.
"Skipper? Skipper?! Doc, down here! The skipper’s been hurt!" Kowalski called out.
"Ohh..uh..wh..where am I?" Lee asked, lying amid the bashed bulkhead and ankle deep water. "What happened?"
"Easy Skipper. Doc’s coming."
"Ski, what’s happened?" Crane demanded, trying to rise, not quite taking in the steep tilt of the deck.
"Shhh…quiet, captain," ‘Doc’ Jamison ordered as he stooped to examine Crane and gave him a brief ‘once over’. "You’ll live."
Giving the Masters at Arms a nod, Jamison watched as they helped Crane to stand, locking his arms behind his back with handcuffs.
"What’s going on?!" Crane shouted, indignant.
"As if you didn’t know," Chip replied coldly, now upon the scene.
"Doc, Kowalski, help the MAA’s escort Mister Crane to the brig."
"Now, wait a minute!" erupted Lee, " The last thing I remember was going to bed, and now I’m here, dressed, drenched, Seaview’s damaged…what the hell’s going on?!"
"Very good Lee, very good." Baker intruded, " insanity as a defense. Take him away."
Of all people! Of all people! Nelson brooded. "Are you sure, Chip? Are you absolutely sure?"
Morton closed the cabin door and crossed to Nelson’s desk, sitting on its edge.
"Four of Dr. Baker’s assistants saw Lee talk into his ring. Two seconds later, the lab blew up, NATO systems crashed, we were attacked by our own defense net, and Dr. Baker himself saw Lee leave the special systems room just before our systems failure. Sparks has double checked all the transmissions incoming and outgoing, found a few squeals, and managed to decode them. Sort of. All he was able to decipher was," Chip gulped sorrowfully, "mission accomplished…and…and."
"Go on Chip."
" And 'Crane, out'…the transmissions were to…the People’s Republic."
Neither man even noticed the emergency lights flickering off as full power was restored, nor the evening keel. Each was trapped by his own war of duty versus doubt.
"Ski? Ski? Please tell me. Please tell me what happened?" Lee asked as Kowalski double checked the lock on the brig’s cage.
"Look, Skipper, I just follow orders…you really don’t remember?"
"That’s enough, Kowalski,"boomed Dr. Baker, "Very good act, Captain. Keep it up and you might end up in a psycho ward instead of prison. Kowalski, pass the word. No visitors. MAA’s , I want a twenty four hour guard."
"What’s going on?" Lee practically screamed, totally bewildered. "What do I have to do to get an answer?!"
But it was no good. The men were almost wooden. This is ridiculous! Lee thought. This is a nightmare! But what if it wasn’t? The thought that he might be insane only lingered for a moment. But it was a very disturbing moment. A very disturbing moment indeed.
It was decided to televise the court martial of Crane. The court martial was allowed only due to the glitch that Crane and Seaview were under Naval Reserve status. And so the stage was set. The world watched, as Lee Crane was formally accused of sabotage and in effect, treason.
Nelson had a hard time of it, waiting for this day. He’d tried to listen to Crane’s insistence of ignorance. He’d arranged for extensive medical tests to try to glean information from the recesses of Lee’s mind. If only the theoretical Memory 4 Device was more than theory. It would be able to ‘see and hear’ everything that had happened from Crane’s point of view. But the theory was years away from fact. Nelson had no choice but to accept the overwhelming evidence against Lee.
Crane would sense the hatred that permeated the room. No matter how hard he tried, he simply could not remember doing any of the things sworn to by others. Had he been brainwashed? That had happened before, so it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. And the lack of memory, the lapse of time, had he been drugged?
There were new self-inflicted techniques of neurological blackouts, after all, the prosecution insisted. Even truth serums had uncovered nothing but the emptiness of Lee’s mind. Surely, it was easy for all to see that Crane must be an enemy agent.
The testimonies dragged on. Endless repetitions of questions and answers were trying for the increasingly irritated and fatigued Lee. And the ring itself. It was his. But he never knew it had a microchip transmitter. At least he couldn’t remember one. And Crane’s position of authority on Seaview. He was above suspicion. The ideal agent. Was it just possible? Lee thought.
And the Neutralizer, the prosecution continued. Known enemies were against it. Crane was hesitant about it himself. So why not align himself with the Peoples’ Republic?
"Please! You have to believe me! I couldn’t have! I just couldn’t have!" he pleaded, in an effort more to clear his own creeping doubts. The advocate assigned to him had decided long ago in his guilt. The evidence was bearing down hard. Wasn’t it just possible? Everyone believed it. Even Nelson. His look of crushed betrayal pierced Lee’s soul.
Finally, the verdict was given.
Oh, why why why couldn’t he remember! Lee agonized. Everyone believed he was guilty. Could it be true?
"Commander Lee Crane, please rise," the judge commanded. " You are nearby stripped of all rights, rank and privileges as a Naval Reservist. You are to be taken to a place of incarceration to await sentencing. I must tell you, that as a traitor, you will either be taken to a maximum security prison for a life of hard labor, or you may get the easy way out, by execution."
The taunting laughter, applause and backslapping was still going on as Crane tried to speak. It was hopeless. The Navy’s Chief of Staff approached and ripped the full-commander shoulder boards off of Lee’s dress white uniform. A marine guard placed Lee’s hands into the now familiar handcuffs.
As he was led to the chamber doors, Lee stopped as he saw Nelson, standing with Seaview’s entire compliment. Lee looked desperately into Nelson’s eyes and tried to speak, but found he could say nothing, because there was nothing to say. Nelson stretched out a hand and quickly tore away the gold Seaview insignia from Lee’s collar, and flung it to the floor. Hate in his eyes, Nelson turned his back on Lee, the rest of the crew following suit. Soon, everyone in the chamber did as well.
This action by Nelson and his crew hurt far more deeply than being found guilty of treason. They were his shipmates, his friends, and in effect, his family. With an ache in his heart, Lee looked at the flag above the door lintel, took a deep breath, and went forward through the doors and into the awaiting crowd of jeering, spitting, and tomato throwing patriots.
Nelson sat down in the big green leather chair in the Oval Office, weary, like a man beyond his years.
"Well, I’m glad it’s all over with Admiral. How about a drink?" the president asked quietly.
"Oh, uh, no. Wait. Yes. Make it a double."
"A double what?" the president asked gently.
"Anything. Maybe even a triple…I just can’t get his not remembering out of my mind," Nelson lied, actually remembering instead Lee’s shattered eyes when his Seaview insignia was torn from him.
"But admiral. Amnesia is an old ploy. There’s no doubt at all."
"But why treason? Why?"
"You know the answer to that. You just don’t want to face it. They probably also offered him a lot of money to damage the submarine as well as delay the Neutralizer."
"What’s money got to do with it?"
"Nelson, you may be a wealthy old cuss, but your employees certainly don’t see any of it filtering downwards toward them. Don’t you see? Why choose gold when you can have diamonds?"
"I still don’t see…"
"Oh, you’d be surprised at what a person will do when tempted with a better offer. It’s not your fault he was a friend. He deceived you. Not the other way around. Now we have to forget it all and get on with our lives…will you keep Morton in command?"
"I haven’t had time to think…yes, he’ll do nicely. He’s had command frequently, but his instincts just aren’t as sharp as Le…" Nelson caught himself and continued, " I’ll inform Morton of his ‘assignment’ of command."
"Good. I’ll arrange all the new security codes and clearances. The new security system we’ve set up will be so tight even Congress will complain! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment. Goodbye Admiral. We’ll set up the new Neutralizer launch soon, though it may be a few months. I hope we may depend on Seaview?"
"We’re at your disposal."
"Thank you Admiral. Baker will fill you in on all the details."
The federal penitentiary was worse than Lee had imagined. It was overcrowded, extremely noisy, and brutal. It was a place of hate, anger, and occasional violence. True penitents found themselves easy targets. And innocents were completely disbelieved and suffered even more the taunts and sudden violent outbursts of their peers. If he was to survive here, Lee thought, he would do far better to clam up and say nothing, than risk beatings or even rape.
But he was innocent. Wasn’t he? In his heart, Lee was increasingly unsure about it. And it tore at him with unrelieved pain.
"Cliffs today, Crane," one of the guards said cheerfully as he unlocked the cell, locked the wrist and leg manacles to his prisoner, glad to have Crane on the list instead of the tougher inmates. Crane was a traitor all right, but he was a good prisoner. No trouble. Broody, but that was understandable. What wasn’t normal, was Crane’s lack of complaint, even of the hours engaged in back breaking labor in the mines, on the roads, or at the proverbial rock pile, actually a quarry for heavy stone. He didn’t proclaim his innocence so much any more. Was he up to something? Better keep an eye on him. Just because Crane was nice didn’t mean he wasn’t crafty, or even evil.
"Well, Chip?" Nelson asked gently.
"I…I don’t know. I have every confidence in my ability as exec, but I don’t have…the necessary…instincts."
"Nonsense. All you need is time. And the so-called instincts are just plain luck. So shall I list you officially on the boat’s roster? You’re already on the president’s."
"Okay sir, if you think so."
"Blast it Chip! I want you be be the captain of Seaview. Now, do you want it or not?"
"Good. Now, Dr. Baker and entourage will be joining us in a few months for the Neutralizer launch. He’ll fill you in on all the details. Make sure we’re ready. In the meantime, we’ll be conducting volcanic research in the Angela Reef. Seaview needs to be ready in two days."
"She will be," Morton replied, little realizing how very much he sounded like Crane, and how much Nelson knew it.
The president was pacing. Any time now, the deal of the century would be completed. Finally! As the green light on the new tamper proof system glowed on and off, he clapped his hands in delight. An aide entered the room and placed a single sheet of paper on the desk. The president glanced at it absently, then asked, "Has the press been notified?"
"You bet!" the aide grinned. This prisoner exchange was controversial to say the least. There was a lot of talk about injustice. Ha! "What will the People’s Republic do to Crane?"
"Probably give him party! But he’ll never be an agent again!"
Both men laughed.
Nelson had seen the headlines and watched the news broadcasts but had made no comment, to anyone. And yet, he felt a strange pang of pity. He shouldn’t feel this way. He should still be outraged at Lee’s treason and want him to pay for it. With his life even. Not the sanctuary of his true allegiance. Leave it, Nelson commanded himself. Get a hold of yourself, old man. Let’s get on with our lives.
"This is ridiculous!" the marine shouted over the struggling Crane, "don’t you understand? You’re going home!"
"No! No! Don’t send me there!" he fought against the tranquilizer, deemed necessary for the flight.
"Help me with the straight jacket. It’s going to be a long ride," the attending medic asked the marine. "What a great act!"
Well, Kowalski thought, the skipper’s where he wants to be. Still…kind of hard to think of him as one of them. Glad we got back our poor airman.
"Hey, Ski, Get your mind out of the clouds and back into your work!" bellowed Chief Sharkey.
"Sorry Chief. I just heard they finished the prisoner exchange."
"Yeah, so what’s it to us? Get back to work!" Sharkey replied, hiding his own disappointment of his former captain.
It was cold when Lee awoke. He ached all over. So where was he now? He’d rather die than help the People’s Republic. With anything. His eyes tried to adjust to the tarry blackness but to no avail. Oww. He felt the cold metal handcuffs against his naked backside. The floor was stone. The manacles on his ankles cut deep.
"Welcome home Commander,"the strangely familiar voice taunted.
"Who are you? What is this place?" Lee demanded, as the lights slowly came on to reveal his captor.
"I am Major Davis of the fifth unit of the Special Services Branch of the People’s Republic. Again. Welcome home."
"When hell freezes over!"
"Now, now, Commander, that’s hardly the way for one of our conquering hero’s to act, now is it?
"What do you want?" Lee asked with aerie quiet.
"Ahh. You are quick witted… I simply want…revenge."
"Of course…how thoughtless of me," he tried to suppress a giggle as he peeled the latex mask off his face, and grinned in triumph. Crane stared in horror at the General Lu of his past.
"You know Commander," Lu continued, "you caused me to loose face in the sight of my countrymen. You escaped me and rescued my other prisoners. You denied me my pleasure. So, now our positions are reversed, are they not? You have lost face with your country. You are my prisoner. My property. To do with as I please. Indeed." He grinned as he appraised Lee. "You will be most entertaining."
"As what? Your pet?" Lee shouted.
"You know what I mean."
"Quite sane, I assure you. Be warned. Try to defy me, try to escape, and you will find the torments of your past quite soft indeed."
As the days and weeks progressed Nelson found to his dismay that, although he could try to blot Lee Crane from his mind, he could not prevent the memories as he slept. They were good memories too. Blast it! He’d wake up just having had another damn dream! His own memories and Edith’s of Ensign Lee Crane, fresh from Annapolis….
Edith Nelson was at a table in the dimly lit Golden Slipper Club, surrounded by a mixed assortment of hot-blooded men vying for her attentions. Some were in casual garb but most were in the uniforms of the Armed Forces, reminded by their ribbons to act like gentlemen. It was difficult to remember faced with this luscious 'dish' before them. She was a charming girl whose coquettish laughter put Scarlett O'Hara to shame.
It was still fairly early for the Club's usual customers, and it wasn't quite as rowdy as usual. But as the drinks flowed and the music blared, it was certain that the attention given the 'cute chick' at the table would increase.
Flushed with the excitement, Edith found herself faced with a few men who had become a bit more attentive. Too attentive. Blunt even, as to their desires. Still, while reveling in the previously unknown power of her gender, she tried to reject them.
As two burly marines still tried to pry her away from the table, they suddenly found themselves sprawled on the floor.
"Hey, what's the big idea?" one called out, holding his bloody nose.
"The lady said no,' the boy in the Navy white's replied.
"Yeah, sure. That's what they all say…selling ice cream, sonny boy?"
"No, he's out to earn a merit badge!" the other interrupted.
"Oh, look! It's an ensign!" a voice from the bar mocked, " better be careful guys. He doesn't look old enough to pee by himself!"
Ignoring the insults and the guffaws and backslapping about him, Lee Crane asked the girl if she was okay.
"Oh, she's just fine, aren't you dearie," intruded 'Burly', " in fact, sonny boy, she's agreed to a little, shall we say, fa-de-ral?" he winked.
"Why you…" Crane let his fist continue his thoughts and soon everyone who was anyone joined in the brawl just for the macho-ness of it.
Crane had already knocked out eight men with blows, punches, and Karate chops when the sirens and red flashing lights arrived on the scene.
"C'mon!" Crane grabbed the girl and dragged her out the back door into a side exit.
"Let me go!"
"You enjoy jail?" he rebuked her.
"Where are you taking me?" she asked nervously.
"Away from here, that's for sure," he replied, looking around, " and away from those thugs."
"They were friends, and you spoiled everything!"
"Friends! They weren't friends! Now, c'mon!" he wrenched her wrist as he led her down to a small alleyway.
Making sure they hadn't been noticed or followed, he turned to her and asked, "Now, where do you live?"
"I'll never tell."
"Look, I'm just trying to help you. Now, where do you live? Hey, just how old are you anyway?"
"I'm fifteen," she replied with as much maturity as she could muster.
"Fifteen!?" Figures, he thought. Crazy kid, doesn't she know what could have happened? "Look, it's home or the police, now, which is it?" he demanded, though a bit gentler in his tone.
"I'm staying with my big brother if you must know. You just wait. My big brother will take care of you!" she mocked him, pouting.
"Doesn't seem to have done such a good job with you so far! Now, where?"
"Bachelor Officer's Quarter's Number three, at the sub base." You're in for it now ensign, spoiling all my fun.
Within minutes, Crane was at the checkpoint gate. The guard summed up the situation without a word and said, "Pier 14…sir," in spite of Crane's cut lip, torn and blood splattered uniform, and tousled hair. The boy's not exactly the Navy's ideal of a recruiting poster, he smirked.
The pier was busy despite the hour, and Crane approached one of the men loading supplies onto a sub docked there.
"What's your brother's name?" Lee asked of the girl.
"Nelson," she replied quietly.
"I'm looking for Nelson," Lee called out to one of the sailors.
"On board," the sailor replied, surprised at the question.
Even in the dark, the sub was noticeably old, but in fairly good shape. Lee couldn't help but to be impressed. She seemed to sparkle in the moonlight and dock lights. 571 ! he exclaimed to himself. Why, that was the…. Crane stopped his musings and got back to business.
"Officer of the Deck?" he called out.
"Yo?" answered a Lt. Commander from the conning tower.
"I'm looking for…just a minute," he turned to the girl, "what's his first name?"
"Harry," she replied, victorious.
"I'm looking for a Harry Nelson, there was some trouble with his little sister," Lee called out, well aware of the girl's wince at his reference to her youth.
After a moment or two of silence and a few knowing glances from some the boat's crew, the OOD called out, "The captain says to come aboard."
Crane didn't have to assist the girl, for she strode past him and up the gangplank as if she owned the place. As they descended into the boat, Crane felt all eyes on him and was suddenly reminded of how he must look. Damn white uniforms. I really do look like an ice cream truck driver.
"What seems to be the problem," the Khaki clad commander asked.
"Oh, Harry!" the girl raced into his arms.
Captain? Oh, great, Lee thought sourly.
"Well?" Nelson asked of both.
"There was a little problem at the Golden Slipper, sir. I thought I'd better get her out of it."
"He tried to save me from some amorous advances," she mocked.
"Amorous?!, Why, if I hadn't belted those guys they would have…" Lee stopped himself.
"Would have what, ensign?" she asked cogquettishly.
"Never mind!" Crane replied, frustrated, "How did you even manage to get into a place like that, and why would you even want to?!"
"It's a very popular place of entertainment."
"Those guys were positively drooling!" Lee exploded.
"What's it to you, Sir Lancelot?"
"When a girl has to fight off a guy, I tend to think she wants a little help!"
"When I want your help, I'll ask for it!" she shouted.
"That's enough!" Nelson intervened, "both of you. Edith, go to my cabin and wash all that make up off your face, all of it."
Positively glaring at Crane, Edith exited, sticking her tongue out at both men.
"I don't believe I caught your name, ensign?" Nelson asked wearily.
"Crane, sir, Lee Crane," he replied with a polished salute, realizing how ridiculous it must look with his wreck of a uniform.
"Nelson, Harriman," he extended his hand in greeting. "Currently of the Nautilus, please, join me in the wardroom. There should be some coffee left. Unless you have other plans."
"Actually sir," Lee pulled out a manila envelope from inside his uniform jacket and handed it to Nelson," I do."
"Well," Nelson grinned as he scanned the official orders, "welcome aboard ensign! You know, lad, Edith really is a good girl, but without a mother…"
"You don't have to explain sir, I was a teenager once too," Lee grinned.
Commander Nelson laughed and began to give Lee a grand tour of the boat. Embarrassed by her age and condition, Nelson knew that Crane must know Nautilus was due for the scrap heap. Even so, Nelson noticed how Lee's eyes sparkled as he inspected the craft and how Crane seemed to pat her bulkhead every now and then.
"She's a fine lady, sir, I've always dreamed of being assigned to her."
"You sure you don't have a concussion?" Nelson chuckled, as they entered the engine room.
"Oh, I know all about her," Lee spoke quietly, "I don't care if we have to use oars. She was a fine lady. And still is."
"Oh, Lee, this is Chief Hills."
"Sir!" Hills responded, giving the young officer a snappy salute of recognition, trying not to notice Crane's appearance of a battered little boy. He'd heard what Lee had just said, and by now, just about everyone aboard knew about his adventure with the old man's sister.
As the tour continued, Crane was introduced to the hands present, and Nelson noticed how the men reacted. For a brand new ensign, Crane seemed to have already achieved a rare balance of authority and congeniality, really quite remarkable for someone still wet behind the ears.
Edith was already in the wardroom as the two men entered, and deliberately turned her back on them.
"Ignore her Lee. She's very good at pouting."
"Probably the caffeine," Lee answered jokingly and deliberately sat down across from the brooding girl.
"You know, sir, a girl as pretty as Miss Nelson should really have a full-time chaperone," Lee said dangerously with a glow in his eyes.
"Why you!" Edith exploded, red-faced with fury.
"To Miss Edith Nelson," Lee raised his coffee cup in a toast, " femme fatale extrordinaire!"
Quick as a flash, Edith began hitting Lee. His ease of fending her off made her only madder, and grabbing a sofa pillow, she began to whack him with it.
"General quarters! General quarters!" Lee laughed, and rising to the occasion, grabbed his own pillow and began to whack her back.
His laughter and her fury made the battle even more fierce and by now most of the crewmen had gathered to watch. They hadn't had so much fun in days. Even the skipper was enjoying the sight and only once or twice had to retrieve bits of pillow fill out of his coffee. The stuffing was really flying now, and finally, collapsing with unbridled laugher, Lee, and surprisingly, Edith, collapsed to the deck and began to pluck filler flakes from each other's faces. Nelson was surprised to see how softly Edith removed the fibers from Lee's eyebrows and how Crane took his time removing the flakes from Edith's.
Clearing his throat, Nelson nodded to a crewman, who started to police up the place.
"Edith, I think we should allow Ensign Crane to retrieve his gear to bring aboard."
"Hu, oh, you're assigned to the Nautie?" Edith asked Lee.
"At your service, madmosiselle,"Lee kissed her hand.
Why, she's actually blushing!, Nelson thought. Better have a talk with her, the boy too. " By the way,Edith, Lt. Nancy Edwards will be bunking in with you at my quarters."
"Oh, Harry, I don't need that old goat to baby-sit!"
"Of course not," he replied soothingly, " but since you're staying with me for the holidays, and I don't know when we ship out, well, I just don't like the idea of leaving you alone. So you'll just have to humor me."
Edith sighed in resignation.
"Excuse me sir, but, with your permission, perhaps Miss Nelson would care to join me for dinner, and maybe a movie…to make up for…well…she really can take care of herself."
"I'm the one who should apologize, Ensign. And I do." Edith said with lowered eyes.
"Call me Lee…see you in about an hour?"
As Crane prepared to disembark, Nelson took him aside and was about to speak but Lee interrupted, "Relax sir, I prefer older women, but I would like her friendship, with your permission skipper."
"Oh, go on, get out of here," Nelson replied indulgently.
That comment brought Nelson back to the darkness of his bedroom, and he wondered how Edith had reacted to all of the recent circumstances of Lee's disgrace.
Chip was surprised at his skill. Perhaps Lee's instincts were just luck, after all. Twice now, they'd run into difficult situations. They'd encountered an unusual volcanic vortex and participated in a very difficult 'cat and mouse' war game. Chip had done very well, both in strategies and skill. His authority was unquestioned by most of the crew, and with only a few unspoken reservations by the admiral. But it was nothing personal.
Morton and Nelson went back a long way. Why, the boss had known him since his academy days. And Chip was the only person, other than Nelson, who had been with Seaview since her commission. True, both men had been good friends, but it wasn't the same as it had been with Lee. Crane had been very close to Nelson, more of a brother or even a son, whereas Chip…This is stupid, Chip, get on with your life, Morton commanded himself.
Lee had lost track of the days. The hunger and thirst he'd been forced to endure was almost as bad as the other torments inflicted by Lu and his colleagues. For their 'entertainment'.
They taunted him as he was beaten and bruised again and again by ancient instruments of torture, among other acts of disgust. Would he have any skin left? It was impossible to scream. It was impossible to fight. And now, a new voice joined in the frivolity. A voice Lee knew. It can't be! But it was. There on a view monitor, the voice joined the image. As if it was too much to bear, Lee collapsed into unconsciousness.
Chip was still having a difficult time. It was so hard not to compare himself to Crane. Lee's abilities were unequalled. His record was impeccable. Except of course for the wild oats he'd sown. Like the time Lee snuck an exotic dancer aboard the Nautilus for the chief's birthday bash. How long did the old man chew him out? One hour? Four? Lee had actually talked back to Nelson, claiming it was Nelson's fault for making Crane morale officer, and that Nelson was over-reacting to possibilities that didn't exist. How did Nelson keep from tossing Crane overboard for gross insubordination? Especially afterwards, when Lee had assured Nelson that it wouldn't happen again, but winking and saying how it sure was fun while it lasted!
Chip couldn't help chuckling at the vision, handed down through the navy grapevine of the escapade. He knew he would never had attempted the feat nor the verbal bantering with any captain.
Aware, suddenly, of the sonar beeps and flickering lights of the control room, Chip forced himself to put away the past, and concentrate on the present.
"Well, Morton, I trust everything's on schedule?" Dr. Baker asked.
"Everything's up and running according to plan."
"People around the world are as excited as we are about the Neutralizer. War will be a thing of the past."
"Amen to that," Nelson interrupted, "you know, I feel like a million."
"You ought to, you'll have that much after taxes for all your help. To the end of war!" Baker slapped Nelson on the back.
"To the end of war," Nelson replied, calmly, and with deep satisfaction.
Lee awoke to the now familiar steel tipped boot kicking him as he lay on the sandpapered floor. He tried to move, but his body would not obey him. He was so tired and so cold. He barely felt the pull of the manacles as he was dragged upright. What now? Another night at the bordello?
"You have served your purpose well Commander. It only remains to decide the method of your disposal," Lu spoke, snake like.
"Care to tell me just what I did?" Lee asked bitterly in a cracked voice, which hardly sounded like his own.
"Why, Commander, that should be obvious."
"Revenge is sweet, but it grows stale quickly. It only remains for you to die. But first I will tell you a secret. A secret, I hope, which will torment you far more than drawing blood. When my old friend, Dr. Baker informed me of his invention, I promised him all the gold reserves in the new world order, should he place the Neutralizer under my control. You see, my brave gallant captain, the devise will indeed neutralize the world's missiles, but launch mine. Call it a microchip virus. And while a demonstration will be necessary and several nations will have to be destroyed, your president has dibs on his share of the profits, I'm so willing to share with interested partners. He's so anxious to save his silly skin. What does he care, as long as he can live out his life in luxury and power."
"You can't be serious!"
"Ahh, but I am. I even gave your president a bonus of a Swiss Bank Account if he could deliver you to me. And so you are here. Ah, it was so much fun, watching the world hate you, and watching you doubt yourself. I must say, Baker and his assistants did a splendid job framing you."
"It won't last, Lu. Your victory won't last."
"Ah, perhaps not, but it begins just the same. On the Thirteenth, at 0800 as you call it, just offshore our territorial waters, the Neutralizer will be launched. The world will be mine. How ironic for you. Pity you won't be alive to enjoy my victory march, dragging all the great leaders of the world behind me with chains. Including your Nelson…Guards! Throw Crane in the pit of no return. But make sure there's no fight left in him. Goodbye, Commander."
"Is he dead?" the loyal guard asked.
"Almost, but he will be soon," his companion replied, with a mock laugh.
The guards dragged the freshly beaten Crane by his hair out of the chamber and toward the pit. Lee was conscious enough to feel the grit of the floor and the dirt of the ground. Suddenly, he found himself in the air, then downward, ever downward, he fell. His skin, or what was left of it, was torn further by the sharp edges of outcropping stones of the abyss. And so he was flung to his fate. So what else is new, Lee tried to keep a semblance of humanity, of life, and suddenly, it was gone.
Kowalski found he had no appetite lately. He kept thinking about the skipper. It was all just so impossible. Memories flooded his mind. So many times Crane had been a hero. Ski couldn't count how many times the skipper had saved his hide, and those of the world. Crane, a dirty rotten traitor?
There was a bad storm in Santa Barbara, and it was late. Nelson was having a difficult time trying to sleep. But blast it, why? Chip had proven himself, things were going impeccably well, so why was Nelson so damned nervous?
Thunder reverberated and lightening flashed splaying the ceiling. It was almost hypnotic. Nelson began to think about the sea. His submarine was well under any crashing waves. Crashing waves. Soon he was thinking of an uneasy past….
Nelson was dead. All the papers said so. Crane had been the man chosen to identify the body. All the necessary arrangements had been made. It was noted in the press that Crane was taking the old man's death rather badly for an employee. There were a few ugly rumors and insinuations about Nelson and Crane, but people who knew the men, also knew those ideas to be utterly ridiculous.
The coffin's lid was open, and mourners filed by. Crane stood by the body the longest and was gently eased away by Morton as the funeral began. As the funeral dragged on, Crane became increasingly uneasy. He seemed torn between knowledge and disbelief. The sound of the coffin's lid being closed shut snapped Lee out of his reverie.
"No," Lee whispered, "No!" he cried out as he took hold of Edith's shoulders. This was not the Lee Crane they knew. "Don't you see?" he exclaimed, " That's not Nelson! It's not! Edith, Chip, listen to me, Harry Nelson is alive, somewhere, he's not dead. He's been kidnapped!"
Chip took charge and Lee was ushered away by Kowalski and Chief Sharkey, as the funeral continued. It was hard to restrain Crane and he was locked in a small office. But no lock was on the window. Breaking it, he managed to escape.
Lee decided to check on Dr. Jacobs. This scientist had been very angry with Nelson after Harry refused to reveal his formula for a new power source. There certainly was cause for kidnapping him here. Stealing the flying sub, Lee docked with Jacobs's undersea dwelling. Though armed with a few weapons, Jacobs's assistants quickly overpowered him.
"Well, captain, I didn't expect a bonus!" Jacobs said, leading the restrained Crane to a lab. Crane could be valuable. Nelson had not responded to truth serums, and probably had an implant to prevent it. Crane could be the key to unlocking Nelson's mind.
Lee's eyes focused in the lab's red light, and saw Nelson; upright, bound with manacles to a wall plastered with electronic circuits.
Before he could answer, Crane was thrown to the ground. Jacobs watched Nelson's look of deep concern with satisfaction. Crane would get the information for him. "Tape Nelson's eyes open."
"Now, Admiral, you will tell me the formula…or Crane will die."
"When pigs fly!" Crane replied.
"Beat him," Jacobs ordered.
The beatings left Crane bruised and bloody, and soon he was restrained so tautly that he couldn't even turn his head.
"Tell me." Jacobs ordered Nelson again.
"Now now, Nelson, you will tell me, or I assure you, your number one son, as some call him will come to hate you…I have methods…give Nelson a demonstration."
Lee was stripped naked so his bruises would be more visible as he was beaten and subjected to torments, the least of which was the proverbial splinters under the fingernails.
"Now, Nelson, tell me."
"Never," Lee whispered, knowing the formula would be used for the devastating weaponry Jacobs had theorized.
"Nelson. Tell me, and the lad goes free."
"No." Nelson croaked, tormented by his own demons of duty versus friendship, and soon passed out from the horror of it all.
When Nelson awoke, he was safe and warm in a Naval hospital beleaguered by the press. The hospital staff had placed him in a protected ward, just to keep them away.
"So," Chip relayed, "during the storm, a fishing boat managed to pull you out, but…"
"No sign of Lee?"
"They tried Admiral, but he just…disappeared into the waves. If it was Lee. No one knows. Do you…remember anything?"
"I remember…watching them hurt him, and feeling faint. Then I woke here…Chip, how did he know…"
"Easy sir, you'd better rest… it's been four days…you know we searched everywhere. And Jacobs undersea lab is totally clean, deserted, and the flying sub was there, plundered and totally inoperable…the Navy called off the search two days ago, and the Coast Guard called it off yesterday…I'm sorry sir."
That afternoon, the Coast Guard picked up a desperate message from a rented powerboat. " Oh, the poor boy, the poor boy!" the distressed grandmother was heard to cry as her family rendered what aide they could to the dehydrated and badly beaten soul. He'd managed to gasp out one word. And that word, was 'Nelson'.
Nelson was allowed to help in Crane's treatment. It was very hard getting Lee to talk. He simply wanted to forget everything and get back to his life aboard Seaview. But through a conspiracy of truth serum spiked soup, and persistent urging of Nelson and Doc Jamison, it was revealed that Lee had managed to fake his death. After he'd been dumped unceremoniously into the garbage bin to await incineration, he picked the still locked manacles, and escaped. As Jacobs and his cronies slept, Lee managed to free the drugged Nelson from his restraints. Struggling with Nelson in a fireman's carry, he got as far as the hatch. Grabbing some emergency breathing devises, Lee managed to spirit Nelson up and away into the depths.
Nelson did not regain consciousness, so it fell to Crane to hold him up in the rough seas, and wearily signal the small craft a day later.
It was not known if the two dolphins and one seal that Crane later desperately clung to were real or only the hallucinations of a doomed man.
"How did you know the corpse wasn't me?" Nelson asked shortly after Crane had awakened in the hospital.
"I, I don't know. Maybe..maybe it just didn't look grumpy enough," Lee grinned.
Nelson wanted to reward Lee with a medal for valor, or increased pay, but Crane objected to anyone who would listen that it was Nelson who was the ultimate hero, by casting aside any feelings of loyalty to Crane in his defiance of Jacobs. And so there was no medal or any tangible proof of Crane's heroism. Proof? I was alive and safe, Nelson thought. And now Lee was his enemy. "Oh, Lee, why, Lee, Why? " Nelson cried out, alone and unseen, from the depths of his soul.
"All set, Chip?" Dr. Baker asked, as all systems were 'go' for the biggest mission of the age.
"Well, here we go to change history," Nelson said with pride.
Lee awoke in the dark and cold abyss, but at least there was a bit of light from the top of the deep cavern. He was overwhelmed with joy, just to see the sky, and then collapsed into oblivion once more.
It was night when we reawoke and as he tried to get his bearings and scale the pit wall, he wondered what other living creatures might be incarcerated here. After five failures, he sat still, weary from pain and exhaustion. He felt as though he was on fire. Suddenly, he noticed something moving. Gross. But edible. Even South American natives in the Amazon ate worms. But some worms were poisonous, so he gave up the idea. A mud hole glimmered and seemed to cast a shadow against the jagged walls. What on earth? Was that a tunnel?
It could be a tunnel, but was very small. Perhaps a way out? Underground caverns had lots of branches; perhaps one could help him get out of here.
It was more difficult to scramble through than he envisioned. And he spent a terrifying five minutes or so stuck, unable to move forward or back. Visions of archeologists recovering his ancient remains gave him an extra mental push to aid his body, pushing through the cramped black place. Suddenly, dirt rained down on him, and he was free. Sort of. He scrambled through toward the light. It was filtering down from somewhere. Finally, he emerged in a huge cavern and gasped as he saw the occupants.
Rats scampered through the scattered skeletons. So, where's the Pied Piper when you need him? But if a rat can survive here, why not me, until I can get out of here. I have to get out of here. To warn Seaview. To warn Harry.
This cavern's walls were far too slick and smooth to climb, it looked hopeless. Weariness washed over him as he was on the edge of giving up. He had an overwhelming urge to sleep. He had to fight it, or he may never wake up. What was that? A glimmer? A watch! Ripping it off the bony hand, he laughed as he saw it still working. Must be a Timex. "Sorry, pal, but it might come in handy."
Shivering from cold and infection and who knew what else, he tried to think. The 'bone connected to the bone ' song played in his mind as all he saw the futility of escape. It was impossible. He barely jumped at all as a huge cockroach crawled over him. Bracing himself against the yuckiness of it, he forced himself to eat it, remembering the old adage drummed into him, you do what you have to, to survive. But how could he survive? Another rat scampered by. Torn between grabbing it for food or following it for a possible passage out, in spite of the odds, he decided to follow.
The rat meandered along, on the ground, on the cavern's walls, through the skeletons, everywhere but out. Lee sat down, and watched as dawn cast giant shadows through the bones. Taking a few bones from various skeletons, he tried to make a ladder, using the frayed remnants of their rags to tie the pieces together. But it didn't work. Even after five tries. Frustrated, Lee flung the contraption against the earthen wall. Suddenly it collapsed against him. Fearing he'd been buried alive, Lee dug desperately against the heavy earth, but upon emerging, found an old mine, long since abandoned and apparently forgotten. But, barring a cave in, could it be a way out?
Seaview was nearing the launch coordinates. In a few hours it would all be over. So why was Chip so edgy? The stress of command was nothing new to him, but the loneliness was. As much as he wanted to speak to Nelson of his inner feelings, he had to stand on his own. He had to handle his fears himself. He would too.
Lee had finally managed to emerge from the old mineshaft and into daylight. He was free. Just a short distance away was a village, and a small banana grove. He ran toward it.
Nelson was edgy, in spite of Baker's special precautions. He really wanted to talk to Chip about his haunting misgivings, but felt he should keep his own stupid feelings to himself. He could tell Lee anything, but Chip would probably consider him a senile old man. Chip was a good captain, worthy of command, but it was just not the same. There had been something about Lee that was special, and Nelson knew he would never see it again, in anyone.
It was hard for Lee to stay hidden. He dared not risk being seen. His mission to warn Seaview and stop the Neutralizer in time was just too important. Swiping a dreadful almost sack like garment from a nearby hut, he dabbed mud on his body in the hopes of hiding his hideous flesh wounds, and his Caucasian coloring. He might pass as a beggar. The trick was going to be stealing a boat, or it was going to be a very long swim. He barely noticed the crud infested maggots squirming about his deeper wounds, but the lice were driving him crazy. At least they'd keep him awake. Since it was early dawn, there wasn't much life in the village. Carefully, ever so carefully, Lee followed the river, on the chance it was actually the canal he'd remembered from Lu's assistants referring to near the coast line.
The fishing boats had already departed, but a few small rowboats and powered boats bobbed up and down at a small dock. Trying to blend in amid the few souls about, he snuck over to the dock, and stepped into one of the powered boats. It revved up immediately. It had been easy! All that remained was to guide her toward the sea and somehow contact Seaview.
The canal emptied into the sea and no one gave him a glance. The little boat was hardly more than a rowboat with an outboard motor, and was starting to sputter. Out of gas! Oh swell. Even if Seaview used a long-range periscope, he doubted any recognition of a common beggar from an enemy country. How could he signal? Ripping off part of his sack, he dabbed a huge SOS with his finger, having opened a large blister covering one of his wounds and used his own blood. Waving the sack back and forth and back and forth, he hoped Chip had someone on lookout cameras or that sonar would notice him on the surface. Desperation gave him strength. The watch told him time was running out. Suddenly, a huge surge of great bubbles rose from the depths, and Seaview emerged, launching a small rubber craft to help the rowboat's occupant to Seaview.
"It's just a stinking beggar," a crewman whispered, " what's the big idea, Ski?"
"Hell, I don't know, I just follow orders…Oh, my God! It's the skipper!"
Crane fell down into the control room, rather than climb down, and Nelson gave an almost inaudible gasp of recognition as Lee, in an act of desperation, lunged toward Nelson and fell on his knees, clinging to him, pleading with all of his heart, "Abort it Admiral! Abort it! It's a trap! It'll kill our missiles but launch theirs!"
Nelson stared hard into Lee's face.
"You have to believe me! Abort it! For everything you believe in, abort it!"cried Lee, tears streaming down his face.
"You can't take the word of a traitor!" Baker boomed.
"Yes. I can. Chip. Abort the launch."
"Belay that!" the president yelled from a monitor.
"He's one of them!" exploded Lee, "So's Baker! General Lu planned the whole thing. Trust me Harry! For God's sake, trust me!"
"This is outrageous! The man's insane," Baker tried to stop Kowalski from pulling him away from a console.
"It won't abort!" Chip cried out.
Nelson raced to the console and did this and that, but could not stop the countdown. The frenzied activities of the men were suddenly stilled Baker's laughter. Utterly defeated, Lee collapsed to the deck.
"Move away from him, all of you," Baker commanded. Suddenly, his disguised armed agents stood with Baker and waved their weapons for all to see. Kicking Lee in the stomach, Baker dragged Crane by the hair toward the plotting table and out of the way. Lee's remaining garments ripped into shreds as his horrendous wounds left trails of blood on the deck, along with the stench of rotting flesh.
"He told you the truth, you know Harry," Baker continued, "Crane's no traitor. We just wanted you to think he was…why, even Crane believed it for a while. As for our other little project, well, no one can abort the launch…A new world order is on the way Harry. The president and I will have a pretty big chunk of it. As for your number one boy, well, General Lu will be most disappointed that he escaped death yet again. But I'll remedy that right now. We'll let the sharks have him."
"Wait!" the president ordered from the monitor, " That can wait. Launch control is at the two minute mark." He looked furtive, as he heard his locked office being pounded by alerted security.
Nelson and his men lunged forward with Kowalski in an attempt to take Baker's men, but were defeated by a sharp crack.
"Next time, they'll shoot to kill, Nelson," Baker gloated as the wounded Kowalski was helped back to his chair.
The countdown continued.
Lee just lay there, by the plotting table, temporarily forgotten, as the autovoice clock reverberated in the control room. How on earth could the damn thing be stopped? Then Lee saw the small magnetic pointer stowed in its usual place on its side. Gingerly, ever so slowly to avoid notice, Crane edged his hand toward it, and mustering his very last ounce of strength, grabbed it, and lunged with it toward the launch control board, shorting the circuits.
Sparks flew everywhere and the boat lurched. Nelson flew toward Baker, subduing him as quickly as his Seaview's crew subdued Baker's marksmen. Without their weapons, they gave in quickly.
"Cut the power!" Nelson yelled as he raced to Lee's side. "Lee! Lee?" he shouted, as he cradled Lee's head. The lice and maggots that hadn't been charbroiled when Crane was electrocuted crawled over Nelson's hand. It was then, that Nelson saw, that all hands truly saw, his naked, emaciated and torn body, alive with the insects of the dead.
"No," Nelson whispered, as he held Crane, " you can't die…Lee!" he shouted, " Don't you dare die!" as Doc Jamison made his examination.
"Admiral…" Jamison said softly; there was no need for other words.
"No…no, he's not dead…he's not. Don't listen to him Lee!" Nelson shoved Jamison away. "Don't listen to him!"
Nelson began to breathe into Lee's mouth and pound his chest as they'd all been taught in first aide class. "Breathe, damn it. Breathe!" he commanded with increasing futility as Jamison gave Chip a negative glance, knowing it was a lost cause.
"Harry." Chip said gently, firmly, laying a hand on Nelson's shoulder. "He's gone."
Chip felt the ache in his own heart just as badly, perhaps even a little more, as only Lee had ever called Nelson Harry, and then only out of utter necessity. Morton felt like he'd betrayed Crane again by using Lee's prerogative of speaking to Nelson like that.
Nelson finally realized the truth of the matter. For a moment, he couldn't move. As he laid Crane's head gently down on the deck, he knew he wouldn't be able to hold back the tears. But he had to. He was the admiral.
The silence was shattered by a sudden gasp from Crane, as blood flowed out of the corners of his mouth. Jamison was at his side immediately, as Lee gagged. His breaths were shallow, ghost like. Nelson could hardly believe it. Lee was alive. But his look of joy was stilled as Jamison gave him a look that filled Nelson with dread.
"Well?" Nelson asked.
"It, it would have been better to have let him be…" Jamison stopped himself. This was not the time nor place for rebuking Nelson for trying to save Lee's life. "His body may still have a spark of life, but…Admiral, his mind, everything he was…I have equipment in sickbay to verify brain death."
Seaview herself seemed to groan at the revelation. Numbed by the whole thing, no one tried to dissuade the admiral from lifting the skipper up like a child and carrying to sickbay himself.
Chip took care of all the necessary details, as was his job, in putting Seaview back into order, contacting the authorities to take Baker and his men in tow, and making a full report to Congress. It was with some difficulty that the prisoners weren't taken and keel hauled before the flying sub whisked them away. While Congress went through the rigmarole of setting up committees and investigations, it's own members were suspect now, so the People's Republic had won a small victory after all.
The tomb-like silence, which permeated Seaview, was not helped by the refusal of Crane's blood to lift from the deck.
The news from sickbay was not good. The brain scans, repeated again and again by Jamison, to satisfy the anxious crew, were affirmative. Lee was brain dead. His body could live for a while, but he would never again regain awareness, of anything.
Ski, on the sick list, but anxious to do something, had been drafted to help the doctor and even Nelson was put to work to put Crane's body into order.
Ski tried very hard not to be sick. The skipper looked so different in here, all laid out on the gurney. Pale, skinny, bruised, and torn, he looked gross. It took time to clean him of all the maggots, lice, and ooze. There were tubes stuck in him all over the place and doc even had to cut him up a bit to all sorts of stuff to him. It was gruesome.
It was hours before Ski emerged, ghastly pale and shaky. He was immediately beleaguered with questions by his shipmates before he even had a chance to sit down in the crew's mess. Finally, they gave him a moment to compose himself.
"They're still working on him…even though…even though." Kowalski swallowed the lump in his throat. " I wasn't much help. I got sick and passed out."
"And?" Sharkey asked, already knowing the answer.
Ski nodded in the affirmative.
"Damn." Sharkey said.
"You can say that again, Chief," Ski said quietly.
Nelson had not left Lee's side when Sparks put a call through to sick bay. Jamison had to shake the admiral back to reality from his deep revierie. Nelson had been adamant in remaining with Crane. Jamison knew Nelson's own healing would not even begin if he was dragged away before he'd had a chance to 'let go'.
"It's Washington, sir. On the monitor."
"Uh, oh, okay Jamie. I'll take it," he turned to face the monitor as Jamison turned it on.
"What do you want?" Nelson asked the vice president, without emotion.
"Sir, I just wanted you to know that Congress is thinking about granting Crane the Congressional Medal of Honor."
"Why? To ease it's conscious?" Nelson said bitterly.
"It's not enough, damn it! Look at him! Beaten, bloody, torn into shreds and we did it to him! All of us!"
"Sir…please…" the VP tried to console Nelson, but saw it was hopeless. Nelson was carrying as much guilt as the rest of the country, perhaps even more. Even the young man could see that Nelson was a tormented, emotional wreck.
With the help of Morton, Jamison asserted his prerogative and ordered Nelson to his cabin for much needed sleep, assured by a tranquilizer placed in his bedtime usual of rum laced milk. But when Nelson emerged, some twelve hours later, he looked worse. His eyes were still haunted as he strolled the boat's corridor toward sickbay.
"'Bout time Harry," boomed Admiral Stark.
"Jiggs?" Nelson turned to see his long time friend emerge from the wardroom.
"I had Morton's permission to come aboard. You okay?"
"I'll never be okay again for as long as I live," Nelson replied sourly. "Any change in sickbay?"
"Still hanging in there…I'll go with you."
The men entered the sterile atmosphere of sickbay. Monitors clicked away.
"Sharkey…" Jiggs acknowledged. "The chief here's been helping out. Doc's about wiped out. Everything okay chief?"
"Yes sir, but…I'm not sure, sir, but the skipper's eyes are twitching some more."
"What are you talking about?" Nelson asked.
"Well, you remember sir, doc said it was normal…but now, well, it seems a bit different, that’s all, sort of like rolling about."
"Say that again." Nelson demanded suddenly excited, moving to Lee's bedside.
"What is it Harry?" Jiggs asked, afraid Nelson was about to make a fool of himself.
"I…wait a minute…yes…yes…Yes! It's not twitching! It's REM! Don't just stand there, get the doc!"
"Jiggs, don't you see? It's rapid eye movement. Which occurs during sleep."
"Sleep! He's not brain dead! He's dreaming! Chief, get me that brain scanner! Jamie, he's dreaming!"
"Sir, wait…yes it looks like REM…but admiral, just because he may have REM doesn't mean he doesn't have brain damage. What are you doing?"
"Read my brain scan!" Nelson demanded as he placed the electrodes on his scalp.
"I don't see how…it can't be…"
"The damn thing's broken! According to this, I'm brain dead too!"
"Chief, get Sparks to call the institute and send us a new device in the flying sub!"
Within minutes, the Seaview grapevine had assured all hands that perhaps, just perhaps, the doc had been wrong all along, and the skipper was really alive in his head. It was the waiting for the new device to come that was hell.
Succumbing to the pleas of his crew, Morton allowed access to all monitors of Seaview's sickbay, though really desiring it himself. He wanted to be there in a manner of speaking when Lee woke up, if he woke up.
A scream pierced the boat. There, on the monitor, was Crane, suddenly tossing and turning, and crying out with pain, eyes closed.
"Seems to be a nightmare," Doc said, at Crane's side.
"Skipper? Skipper?" Kowalski asked anxiously as he leaned over Crane.
"No!" Lee screamed, as he woke, incoherent, "No! Leave me alone! You bastard! Stop! You can't! You can't destroy the world! You…No! Get away from me! No!"
"Captain, you're safe. On Seaview. Snap out of it." Jamison ordered.
Nelson raced into sickbay to to Lee's side.
"He's incoherent…or still dreaming, " Jamison said.
"Lee! Lee! Wake up!" Nelson demanded.
"Get away! No!"
"Lee!" Nelson slapped Crane's face.
"No!uh? Admiral? Harry? Harry?"
"It's all right Lee, I'm here."
Crane tried to pull Nelson toward him, "Abort…abort!"
"Lee, you did it! You aborted it. You did it! The neutralizer was never launched. It's over." Nelson tried to assure him, finally nodding his head in affirmation, as he held the trembling man.
Finally convinced, Crane let go of his weak grip and collapsed into a release of tears against Nelson's chest.
No-one spoke as Lee's pent up emotions overflowed. Nelson's were about ready to leak through as well as everybody else's aboard.
"Blub..blubbering like a kid…" Lee sputtered.
"I'd be far more worried about you if you didn't," Nelson replied softly, trying to find the words to express how he felt. "Lee, I…I don't know what to say. How to make it all up to you…I just don't know how!"
After a moment to compose himself, Lee grinned, "How about a raise?"
Nelson didn't like the idea of putting Lee through the many needed debriefings while he was still in the hospital to recuperate, but it was necessary. New brain scans indicated he had been one of the lucky ones. Of the many persons electrocuted through wires or lightening, he came through it without a scrape, just like several others. There were no explanations.
The horrors of his experience were sickening. And now he would be forced to recall every little detail until he could speak about them with detachment. It was going to be awful for him. But there was no choice.
To help ease things, Nelson agreed to let Edith visit Lee without restrictions. Already Lee had been beleaguered by his entire crew, each man wanting to 'baby-sit', afraid to let their skipper be alone for one minute. Nelson tried to explain to the men how they could be wearing him out, but it was Crane who managed to convince them that he'd be happier if they took a well-deserved shore leave.
"Sure hope he's doing well today, sir," Chip said, as he, Stark, and Nelson had just returned from a visit to Washington, and were anxious to check in on Crane.
As the trio almost sauntered into his room, they stopped, as quiet as mice, as they saw Lee, partially obscured by Edith, hovering over him.
"Oh, c'mon, just a little?" Lee asked.
"I said no."
"Nobody will know. You know how much I need it."
"Please?" Lee pleaded.
"Okay, all right," she replied and bent over even closer to Lee and seemed to be doing something to her blouse.
The trio were just about to flee when Crane cried out a victorious "Ah ha!" holding up a candy bar.
"One bite and I'll give you another enema!" bellowed Captain Nancy Harris, RN, emerging from the opposite alcove.
With a dejected sigh, cane handed it over and Nelson immediately noticed his sunken eyes were now fleshed out, just like they should be. He was about to greet Lee when Harris spoke.
"Really Crane! And you, of all people, Miss Nelson. You both know how sick he got when he tried it before. He's not ready for solid food!"
"Food?" Lee replied dangerously, " Harris, Any more Jell-O and I'll scream."
"Oh, poor baby. And that's Captain to you."
"I'm not in the Navy," he replied with a twinkle in his eye.
"You are a Naval Reserve officer, are you not? In a Naval facility? With Naval physicians?"
"Actually," Lee sighed, " I don't recall ever being reinstated as either an officer or a citizen…I'm sorry, that was uncalled for. I don't know what got into me."
"Oh, Lee," Edith began to cry.
"Hey, that's not my femme fatale," he brushed away her tears and pulled her to him and kissed her in a passionate embrace.
"Crane! Stop that! Miss Nelson, I've told you before not to get him excited!"
"Will you get out of here!" Lee exploded.
"Who knows what could happened."
"Oh, for Pete's sake, nothing's going to happen!" Crane bellowed.
"Oh yes it will!" Harris bellowed back.
Pushing himself up on one elbow, Lee glared at his tormenter. "Just because my hormones are normal, doesn't mean I cave into them!"
"Miss Nelson, I must insist you leave. You're too much of a disturbing influence on the patient."
"You're absolutely right Harris," Crane spoke quietly and unexpectedly, ignoring Harris. "Ediee, I…haven't had the guts before…I love you more than life itself…will you marry me?"
"Oh Lee!" She embraced him with a passionate kiss.
Harris raised her arms in defeat and nodding to Nelson's party, still hidden from Crane's view, to exit, left Lee and Edith to their privacy.
"Well, Chipper, " Jiggs spoke up, " I'd say he's doing just fine!"
Nelson couldn't help but to join in the merriment as the three strode down the corridor to the gift shop.
"You know, Ediee," Lee interrupted a luscious kiss," there's just one problem…I haven't quite figured it out, but how will Harry be able to walk you down the aisle, be my best man, and perform the ceremony all at the same time?"
As the two fell into laughter and another passionate embrace, an entering orderly decided to let the food tray wait.
The wedding of the century, the press was calling it. But the press was not invited. Seaview was stationary undersea in near a coral reef of spectacular beauty. The ship's bell sounded and Admiral Harriman Nelson in formal uniform escorted the bride forward through the control room into the observation nose.
Edith was radiant, and though her gown of lace of tulle was awkward for a submarine, she looked lovely. Crane couldn't take his eyes off her. Nelson placed her hand in Lee's and with the special permission of the courts, joined the two in matrimony.
When it was all over, and the bride head descended into the flying sub, Nelson handed Lee its new security device, inscribed with Lee's name.
"I don't know what to say." A flying sub of his very own? How could he ever thank Nelson? But seeing the look on his face was thanks enough for Harry.
"Just don't let Edith fly it when she's mad," Nelson said with a huge smile.
The flyby of the Navy's jets brought Nelson back to the present and the big day. Pretty soon now. The vice president stood up and a guard of honor escorted him forward. As the crowd hushed in anticipation, Nelson noticed how pretty Edith looked, sitting with the vice president's wide on the stand just a little distance away.
Harry alone had been informed of her impending motherhood. Triplets, the scans had determined. In about eight months, he'd be an uncle. Better learn kid-talk.
At noon, the vice-president was sworn in as president. It was time.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the president began," Not very long ago, our nation, and those of the free world were faced with a crisis. A crisis, in which one man, alone and betrayed by his own country, and at great risk to himself, determined to come to our defense.
It is with deep humility and great pride, that, on behalf of a grateful nation, I bestow upon Commander Lee Crane, the Congressional Medal of Honor, for valor above and beyond the call of duty. Commander?"
Lee rose slowly and Nelson knew what he was thinking. Lee had already turned down the same honor four times before and Harry wondered if this would be another. Nelson himself had had a little talk with Lee to convince him to put away any of his crazy thoughts of simply being in the right place at the right time and to just accept the thing.
Taking the medal from a marine guard, the president raised it with his arms over Lee's head. It glittered in the sunlight. Nelson held his breath. Lee bent his head slightly as the ribbon from, which the medal dangled, was draped over him. Obviously embarrassed, amid all the cheering, he shook the president's hand and smiled. It was a good smile, Nelson noticed, and a strong one. Lee was really home.
Seaview was under orders to wait before disembarking but everyone was bright and cheerful and nobody cared. Not even Nelson. Chip was the most cheerful. For, to him was given a new command. Nelson's new boat, the Ariel. Equal in status to Seaview but of a different design. This would be Chip's last cruise on Seaview, and as thus had been given the honor of remaining in command.
"Permission to come aboard?" Lee called out as he jumped onto the deck from the coning tower hatch.
"Lee! Welcome aboard!" Chip exclaimed.
"Hello Chip. She positively sparkles, like she's off on her first date!"
"Lee, what brings you here?" Nelson asked.
"Got some mail for you and your official sailing orders," Lee answered, guiding the men to the observation nose. "I wish I were going with you," he said wistfully.
"Now, now, Lee, we can't have you canceling an interview with Barbara Walters, now, can we?" Chip asked mischievously.
"Oh, by the way, Lee. I believe this is yours." Nelson handed Lee a small metal disk. The very insignia he'd torn from Lee that day long ago. Crane gave him a huge smile.
Crane turned and looked out the great window, his hand lightly on upon it. "Take care of them for me old girl, bring them all home safe," he almost whispered.
"You really do pat her bulkhead and talk to her!" Nelson grinned, as if he hadn't known all along.
Walking back slowly to the control room, Lee turned to Chip and Nelson, and pinned his insignia on. "Captain,"Lee saluted Morton. "Admiral," he saluted Nelson, and departed.
"Goodbye Lee," replied Chip, in the deep satisfaction of Crane's confidence in him. "Prepare to get underway," he ordered, and Seaview began a new adventure and a new tomorrow of her own.