Author’s Note~ ‘Depths’ is the second installment in my ‘Monsters’ series.
Genius built ‘Seaview’, lovingly designed to carry out the dreams of its creator, to take him to deep caverns and discoveries of the massive expanse of the oceans. He faced criticism and doubt without fear, held up with the assurity of his intelligence. He was the brain, the man who could think up a way out of every situation.
Harriman Nelson stood on the corner, reading quickly through a scientific journal as he waited for the bus. He could go to college, but still could not drive until he was sixteen and that was still two years away. That was ridiculous. After all, his hand-eye coordination was excellent and he was smarter than the people who would give him the test. Why shouldn’t he be able to drive? Because those were the rules, a frustratingly logical voice whispered in his ear. His own answer was a few choice epithets muttered beneath his breath.
Harri Nelson had little use for other people’s rules, but arguments always proved fruitless. So for now, he would follow the rules, at least until he was old enough to create his own.
Admiral Harriman Nelson stepped off the stairs into the observation nose and frowned at the hunched over back of his Captain. Lee Crane was doing paperwork, which was not abnormal, but he was doing it at 2345 hours. He had a tendency to stay up late then get up early, working nearly non-stop the rest of the time. Crane was a bigger workaholic than Nelson, which was an accomplishment.
“Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” Nelson asked, standing over Crane.
The Captain barely took notice. “Just about done, sir.”
“Lee, I applaud your dedication to your job, but part of that dedication should include taking care of yourself.”
“This from the man still wandering around at midnight,” said Lee looking up at him with a smile.
“Do as I say,” said Nelson settling into the seat next to Crane. “Not as I do.”
“Well, if I remember correctly, you have guests arriving tomorrow who will need entertaining. Perhaps this time you should be the one getting some sleep.”
“You aren’t going to help with the guests?” Nelson asked, knowing Lee’s opinions of civilians on his boat.
“Ah, they have no interest in a lowly sub Captain, only in the genius that built the sub,” Lee added with a wink. “Fortunately, I am the lowly sub Captain.”
Nelson grunted, leaning back. “Truthfully, I wish I hadn’t agreed to this. I got the distinct impression they weren’t coming to learn, but to criticize.”
“Don’t you think Seaview can stand up to it?”
“Oh, I’m sure she can. However, when you look expecting to find something wrong, most likely you will. I just hope any negative comments will not affect Seaview’s Reserve status or the Institute’s funding.”
Lee frowned. “Are they that important?”
“I don’t know. Senator Keely asked me to take them on. He’s not one of my biggest fans.”
“But surely Seaview has more than proved her worth.”
“Oh, you’re right,” Nelson sighed. “I’m probably just worrying about nothing.”
“Maybe you’re tired.”
Lee had gone back to his paperwork but Nelson could see him grinning.
Nelson stood up. “Maybe, Captain. Oh, by the way, I think I’ll stop by Doc’s on the way to my quarters, and ask his opinion on the reliability of Captain’s who don’t sleep.”
He caught the wide-eyed look on Lee’s face before he ascended the stairs and heard the shuffling of papers and mutterings before he closed the hatch. Chuckling, he knew Captain Crane would soon be on his way to bed; anything to avoid another lecture by Seaview’s Chief Medical Officer on the importance of getting a good night’s sleep.
Harri waited for the bus again, thinking about how easy his classes were, wondering if he should add more or change some. College was turning out to be less of a challenge than he would have preferred. He was staring into nothing when someone reached out and shoved him forward into the street.
He tried to catch himself, but his heavy book bag slid off his shoulder pulling him farther into the street. Managing not to fall on his face, he straightened up and found himself staring into the oncoming bus. It honked, brakes squealing and the fourteen-year-old froze.
A hand caught a fistful of his jacket and yanked him back. Harri found himself tumbling into the sidewalk next to a dark skinned woman. She looked at him with wide brown eyes.
“Are you okay?”
Harri nodded numbly, his own eyes turning back to the street. The bus had stopped directly over the place he stood only moments ago. The girl rose, then bent down to help him back up.
“Are you sure you’re not hurt?” She grabbed his chin to look at him closer and repeated her question.
“Yeah,” he finally answered. “Thanks.”
She smiled straightening her own blouse and jacket.
“You’re that boy genius I’ve seen around campus, aren’t you.”
He felt himself blush. “Yeah.”
“I’m Sheila,” she said offering her hand.
“Oh, um, I’m Harri,” he shook her hand feeling his mouth go unexpectedly dry. She was very pretty.
“Is that your bus?”
“You mean the one that almost hit me?” He glanced over; a concerned looking bus driver stared back. “Yeah, it is. I gotta go.”
“See you later, Harri.”
He only smiled before climbing onto the bus. He did not see Sheila turn to the black woman beside her smack her and slap the back of the woman’s head.
“What the hell were you thinking?”
“It was just a joke.”
“A joke? Connie, you could have killed him.”
“Sorry,” Connie only sounded annoyed.
“I swear, you ever do something like that again and–“
“And what?” The woman challenged.
“I’ll turn your butt in on attempted murder charges.”
“I wasn’t trying to kill him.”
“Well, buses running people over tend to do that.”
“I didn’t see the bus.”
“That’s no excuse.”
“Just some dumb kid,” she mumbled.
“Girl, that kid’s got more brains than you and I put together.”
“I mean it, Connie. Never again.”
“Okay,” she answered, hardly humbled. All that fuss for some dumb brat. What difference would it make to Sheila, or the world for that matter, if some geeky kid got his brains splattered. Sheila could be such a bitch.
Nelson fidgeted as he watched his guests arrive. Andrew Roberts and Dr. Edward Farnsworth were strangers, but hardly unknown. Roberts was an engineer with an excellent background and an inventive streak that rivaled Nelson’s and Dr. Farnsworth was a highly respected scientist with doctorates in Marine Biology and Physics. He actually looked forward to conversing with them.
It was the third person that made him nervous. He had not even realized that Connie Tobias was the same one he knew from so long ago; a different last name, but definitely the same woman. A few years older than him, she was as beautiful as ever, and the resemblance to Sheila was painful to see. Connie was slim, tall, dressed professionally. Her gray streaked hair pulled tightly back into a roll. He had never actually liked Connie. She always treated him with contempt and pure maliciousness, but he was no longer the fourteen-year-old boy. She was a financial advisor; she would decide on whether the Seaview was worth the appropriations it received. He was sure that the ship and crew had more than once proved that, fortunately, she was hardly the only factor in this inspection.
He greeted the inspectors cordially, addressing each by name and welcoming them aboard. The two men returned his graciousness, Tobias, however, was more reserved.
“Connie,” he said with a forced smile. “It has been a long time. How are you?”
“Yes, it has been a long time, Sheila’s funeral, I believe.”
“Yes.” His smile faded. He remembered the accusations that day, her cold eyes, and her angry words.
Sheila had been a scientist on the Edison, a small research vessel directed by the NIMR, when the hurricane they were studying turned to the boat, sinking it with all hands. The institute recovered the ship and almost all of the bodies, Sheila’s included. Nelson had experienced her loss deeply as both a friend and fellow scientist. Connie blamed him then, and did so still. Would it influence the inspection?
“Well, our depart time is fifteen minutes away, if you’ll follow Chief Sharkey he’ll get you all squared away,” said Nelson, indicating the Chief. “Whenever you’d like, I can give you a tour.”
“Thank you, Admiral,” said Roberts smiling broadly. “To tell the truth, I’ve been wanting to get a peek at your submarine for years. That Flying Sub, too.”
“As I understand it, you all have varying levels of security clearance, so access will be dependent on that, but you’ll get to see most everything.”
The Chief led the three down the hatch and towards their quarters. Crane stepped forward looking at the Admiral with concern.
“You know Ms. Tobias.”
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
“Is that good or bad?”
“I think it may end up being bad.”
“Any specific reason?”
“Well, aside from never liking me, her sister was on the Edison when it sank.”
“Oh,” said Crane softly.
“Right,” said Nelson shaking off the morose mood that was threatening him. “Let’s get this cruise started, Lee.”
“Well, if it isn’t Boy Genius,” said a voice from above.
Harri looked up from his spot against the tree and smiled. Sheila stood there flashing him a brilliant smile.
“And if it isn’t Wonder Woman, my hero,” he sighed melodramatically.
She laughed lightly. “Mind if I join you?”
“No, plenty of grass to go around.”
Settling down, Sheila pulled a couple of green apples out of her bag, offering him one. He accepted, thanking her.
“So how long have you been going here?” She took a bite of her apple.
“This is my third semester,” Harri answered quietly. People usually started treating him weirdly when they realized he had started college at thirteen.
“Really? I would have thought someone that smart would go Ivy League.”
He smiled, embarrassed. “I’ll be attending Harvard next fall, I wanted to grow a little before I went to a big school. It’s hard being the youngest in class full of adults.”
“I’ll bet. So what’s your major?”
now, engineering and Marine Biology, but I expect to get degrees in a couple
more sciences before I enter Officer’s
“The Navy, eh? Got everything planned out, do you?”
He shrugged. “It could change, but I have to have things to do and learn. I get bored easy.”
“Must be nice to at least have some idea of what you want. I took a year off after high school hoping I could figure out what I wanted.”
“What’s your major?”
She looked away, somewhat embarrassed. “Right now, Liberal Arts. I haven’t really decided what I want to do yet.”
“What do you like?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I chose my majors because of my interests, things I like to learn, not because I’m smart. They may or may not be useful later, but I like doing them.” He took a swallow of his cola. “What interests you?”
“Well, I always thought that the Earth Sciences were interesting. Things like Ecology and Meteorology.”
“Then start there.”
“I don’t know-“
“Hey, if it turns out you don’t like it you can always try something else.”
“You make it sound so simple, like there’s all of the time in the world.”
“Female life expectancy is between 80 and 100 years, barring accidents or human interference. So, you spend a little more of that time in school. At least you’ll like what you’re learning.”
“This from a guy in college at fourteen.”
“I’ve got another four years before I’m allowed to do anything but go to school. I learn fast, so I’ve got to find lots to learn, at least until I can use it.”
“You don’t seem happy about it,” she said, studying him. “Don’t you like being a genius?”
He sat for a minute, staring at the browning flesh of his apple as he considered the question. “I’m too old in my head to fit in with the kids my age, and I have tried, and too young to fit in with the people at school. I feel as old as you are, but I am treated like I’m a kid. I make people nervous because they’re afraid they’ll feel stupid around me. I’m held up for praise, but- but I really don’t have many friends.”
“Sometimes,” he frowned. “Usually.”
“Everyone feels that way, Harri, even people my age, even people older. But not always, and you won’t always either.” She smiled at him. “I bet you’re gonna be someone important one day.”
“Me? Nah. Just another science nerd.”
“Nope, I see you doing great things. Harri, don’t shortchange yourself.”
“Maybe you should listen to your own advice sometime.”
She took another bite out of her apple, blushing. It never occurred to her before that she could do great things. Connie always said that people like them, black people, were never allowed to change the world, that they’d always be held back. ‘We have to take what we can get,’ she always said. However, that was not true, not always. Black people did contribute, did change the world. Why couldn’t she?
“Maybe I will,” she said finally, smiling at the red haired kid in front of her. “Maybe I will.”
As annoying as civilians could be on a boat, Captain Crane did everything he could to be gracious, as long as they behaved. The two men caused little trouble so far, mostly asking the Admiral questions and examining the workings of the Seaview. They were like kids in a candy store, eager and excited.
The one Crane had problems with was the woman, Connie Tobias. She parked herself in the observation nose to go through supply and usage reports. At least that was what she was supposed to be doing. The hairs on his neck kept raising and when he checked, she would be staring at him. Or parts of him. Leering is what it felt like, and it was getting on his nerves. He was not the only one who noticed. As he stood at the navigational computer waiting for a report, Chip joined him.
“Seems you have an admirer,” he said grinning.
“I’ve noticed,” answered Crane scowling.
“Awe, come on Lee. She’s just enjoying the view.”
Lee narrowed his eyes at his exec. “I don’t think it’s funny, Commander.”
“Sorry, sir,” Chip said, trying to sober his face, but it was just so damn funny.
Lee sighed, tearing the report from the printer. This was going to be a very long cruise.
It was never planned, but Harri and Sheila began eating lunch together. He liked her a lot, but he did not delude himself into thinking her feelings were the same. Nineteen-year-olds did not fall for fourteen-year-olds unless they were sick and perverted. So, he just enjoyed her company. She was a lot smarter than even she knew. He could tell. Even when he slipped into some long technical monologue about some fascinating thing he learned, she did not get confused or annoyed and her eyes didn’t glaze over. She seemed to follow everything he said, even offering her own ideas and thoughts. Best yet, she did not treat him like a kid.
This day she sank gracefully down on the grass in front of him holding out a piece of paper.
“Guess what this is.”
Harri cocked his head at the waving paper. “Looks like a schedule.”
“It is,” she smiled broadly. “My class schedule for next semester.”
She handed it to him. He read it, his own smile widening. “Intro to Meteorological Sciences, Intro to Marine Biology, Intro to Earth Sciences. Hey, this is great. A lot of intros though.”
“I’m taking your advice. I’ll try all of these next semester and focus on whichever I like the best next fall.”
“A waste of time if you ask me,”said a voice from above.
They both looked up at the woman standing in front of them, hands on her hips. Harri had only briefly met Sheila’s sister, Connie, a few times in the past couple of weeks, but he did not really like her. She struck him as a bit if a bitch and awful afraid her sister might do something good with her life. Probably afraid she would be left behind.
“It’s not a waste of time,” he said. “To be doing something that makes you happy.”
Connie snorted, rolling her eyes.
“What do you think Sheila should be doing then?”Harri asked.
“I think she should get a job and stop being a drain on other people’s money.”
“What are you doing here, Connie?” Sheila asked, embarrassed by her sister’s behavior.
“I got off work at the bank early. I thought you might like to go to lunch with me.”
“You know I can’t leave campus this time of day. I’ve got a class,” she glanced at her watch. “In twenty minutes.”
“Whatever.” Connie twisted her mouth into an annoyed frown. “See you at home tonight then.”
They watched the other woman leave. An awkward silence followed.
“I’m sorry,” said Sheila finally. “My sister always acts so badly when you meet her.”
“She doesn’t like me.”
“She’s had a couple rough experiences and she carries a lot of anger around. She usually bottles it up- but since I started going to school she acts up a lot.” Sheila sighed, folding her schedule neatly and slipping it into her purse. “We were born less than a year apart. We’ve always done everything together. This, going to college, is the first time I’ve ever done anything without her or her approval. She doesn’t like it.”
Harri did not answer. He did not know what to say. He adored his baby sister Edith, but he could not imagine doing anything to interfere with her life, no matter what she did with it.
“Listen,” Sheila said suddenly, picking herself off the ground. “I’ve got to run to the library. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay.”
He nodded and watched her take off. He just hoped she did not changer her schedule because of Connie, Sheila had a lot to offer, once she figured out what she wanted to do.
Lee sighed heavily as he approached his quarters. Only two nights into this eight-day cruise and he was exhausted. Having dinner with the three guests was more trying than a 24-hour shift. Dr. Farnsworth and Mr. Roberts asked endless questions and Ms. Tobias, sitting across from him, kept sliding her foot between his legs. Biting back any comments, he slipped his chair back a few inches and answered as many questions as he could. Relief came when Tobias excused herself. He was able to relax a little and talked more with the two men before excusing himself. As tired as he was, there were still reports to fill out.
Turning the corner to his corridor he stopped. Tobias was leaning against the wall to his door. Taking a deep breath, he continued farther, resisting the temptation to turn back.
Hearing his approach, she turned dark eyes on him and smiling, pulled herself from the wall. Her blouse was unbuttoned an extra button down and her hair hung in sculpted waves to her shoulders.
“Hello, Captain,” she said, striking a sultry pose in front of his door.
“Are you lost, Ms. Tobias?”
“Not at all. I thought now that you had escaped that dreary dinner, you and I might-talk a little.”
Captain Crane stepped in front of her, trying to think of some way to send her away without jeopardizing the inspection.
“Ms. Tobias, I have work to do still-“
Any further comment was stopped as she stepped forward, planting a kiss on his lips. Stepping back, he found himself bumping into the bulkhead next to his door. He pulled her away, resisting the impulse to shove her hard. While her lips were easily disengaged, her hands slipped behind him, taking a firm grasp of his rear.
His eyes widened, grabbing her hands, he pushed them away with more force.
“Ms. Tobias, I would appreciate it if you kept your hands to yourself.”
“Come on, Captain,” she reached out again, this time for his chest. “Surely, you don’t prefer paperwork to this.”
He caught her wrists. “I meant what I said. Let’s not make this any more embarrassing than it already is.”
She yanked her arms away. “What’s the matter, Crane? Don’t you like girls? Or maybe you’re the Admiral’s butt boy. I guess all those stories people tell about seamen confined together are true.”
Crane’s face tightened and eyes narrowed. “That will be enough. I have put up with all of your less than subtle attentions, but I have had it. You will keep your hands and your perversions to yourself for the remainder of this cruise, or inspection or not, I will have you confined to quarters. Do I make myself clear, Ms. Tobias?”
Tobias stared at him a moment as though assessing whether or not he would follow through with his threat.
“Is there a problem, Captain?” Chip Morton stood uneasily at the corridor junction. He had seen and heard enough to know what had just happened. He also knew Crane was angry and needed the situation diffused.
“No problem at all, Chip. Ms. Tobias was about to return to her quarters.”
Chip felt the searing heat of her gaze before she returned it to Crane. The she stalked off down the opposite corridor. He opened his mouth to speak to the Captain.
“Not now, Chip.” Crane opened his door, entered his quarters then shut it hard, just short of slamming.
Chip shivered. Suddenly Lee’s problem with the woman was no longer funny, having taken on a new somewhat twisted turn.
He turned, finding the Admiral behind him. How much had he heard?
“What’s going on?”
The Exec doubted Lee wanted the Admiral to know about this, but he could hardly refuse. This cruise was becoming increasingly unpleasant.
The woman was repulsive. Lee Crane sat at his desk, fists clenched, eyes closed, forcing himself to take slow deep breaths. He was shocked at himself for wanting to strike her. He did not care what she said about him, but to drag the Admiral into it merely because Crane had resisted her. How much had Chip seen? He should not have lost his temper.
Someone knocked. Lee opened his eyes forcing himself to relax. He doubted she would be back already, so it must be Chip.
The Admiral walked in looking concerned. Lee felt a smile slowly spread across his face. “You’ve been talking to Chip.”
“He told me what he saw and heard.” Nelson sat down in the extra chair. “Were her words that upsetting?”
“If her words were all I had to worry about, I wouldn’t be bothered. It’s the bruises I’ll have on my ass tomorrow and her wandering hands that seem to be the most dangerous.”
Nelson snorted. “Will you be all right?”
“It was hardly a traumatizing experience, just frustrating.” Lee sighed leaning back and rubbing his face. “Especially with six more days left with her on the Seaview.”
“That woman hasn’t changed at all.”
“You knew she was like this?”
“Her sister Sheila and I met when I was fourteen. Sheila saved me from being run over by a bus. We got along well. She treated me like a person and I treated her like she was smart, which she was. Novelties for both of us. She was a good friend.”
“You liked her.”
“I was a teenage boy: hormonal enough to have it bad, but smart enough to know better. Therefore, I never mentioned it, but I suppose she knew.”
“Connie, on the other hand, had low expectations for her life and expected Sheila to be the same, I suppose so she wouldn’t be miserable all by herself. She did not like me or my influence on Sheila. You see, I encouraged Sheila to pursue her interests in the sciences. I encouraged her to look to the future.
“Sheila took me to lunch one Saturday before a lecture we both wanted to attend, Connie insisted on coming. Everything was fine at first. At the end of the meal, I excused myself to use the facilities. I was about to return when Connie walked into the men’s room.”
Nelson paused trying to decide the best words to describe the situation. “I was a short, gawky teenager, not very athletic; a science nerd. Connie was tall and very strong, much as she is now. She had me backed up against the wall, her hand ‘wandering’, as you put it. She was enjoying my horror, laughing. I’m not sure how far she would have gone if Sheila hadn’t walked in. She looked about ready to throttle Connie, yelling at her about violating minors and keeping her hands to herself. Connie accused her of wanting me for herself. Sheila practically disowned her, right there in the men’s room.
didn’t see Connie after that, though Sheila and I continued our
friendship.” Nelson sighed. “When I saw her name on the list of
applicants to work on the
“Admiral,” Lee said gently. “No one goes into a job expecting to die, but she must have known the dangers.”
“Yes. Yes, she did. In fact, she left a letter for me thanking me for my friendship and asking me not to feel guilty if she died while on the job. It was what she wanted to do, work that made her happy.” He smiled faintly. “The kind of work I’d encouraged her to do when we first met.”
“Don’t let Ms. Tobias’ behavior cloud your memories of your friend. When they are all you have left of someone, they need to be protected.”
“I know.” Nelson stood to leave. “Feel better now?”
“As long as I remain unmolested, I suppose I’ll be fine.” Lee answered with a smile.
Striding down the corridor, Crane checked over power supply reports. The nuclear pile was fine; the problems in flow had to be coming from engineering. He would have to have Patterson check.
He found it strange that he was grateful for the problem. Any reason to avoid Tobias. Although she hadn't been in the Control Room this morning when he arrived after breakfast. Maybe she had gotten the hint and was giving up her attentions towards Crane.
Up ahead, the engineering hatch was open. He quickened his pace, frowning.
“Why is this hatch open?” He asked loudly.
Patterson’s head appeared. “Sorry, sir. I just arrived and Thomas was leaving. He was giving me his report. I should have entered completely and closed it.”
The two men stood nearly at attention, their expressions sheepish. If he was in a worse mood, he might have pressed the issue, but they were good men and wouldn’t have left it open if they weren’t standing in front of it.
“Did you need something, sir?” Patterson asked.
“There are some power fluctuations. The reactor room can’t find a problem on their end. I want you to check everything out in here-“
didn’t get any farther. There was a
flash, a roaring boom, and an out rush of air, throwing the two seamen out of
engineering and into Crane knocking them all to the deck.
Patterson was on his knees next to Thomas, who was pushing himself up. The two men appeared unharmed. Crane bent down to help them to their feet as he heard the sound of the approaching team, ushering them out of the way.
“What happened?” Patterson rubbed his right wrist.
“I don’t know. Are you all right?” Crane indicated the wrist.
“Yes, sir, just landed on it.”
The detail ran into engineering, but the fire and sparks were already gone. Crane returned to the mike. “Control Room.”
“Control Room here, sir,” answered Chip. “What happened?”
“Explosion in Engineering. Take us up and scrub the air.”
“Aye. Is everyone all right?”
Crane glanced at Patterson and Thomas. Both men were on their feet. “No one was hurt. I’ll be in the control room in a few minutes.”
Returning to the open hatch Crane watched the detail as they made sure there was no more danger. The air reeked of acrid smoke that made his eyes water and lungs ache. The boat shifted and Crane felt it began to rise through the water. The smoke would be gone soon. Zeller, head of the detail, approached Crane.
“Fire’s out, Skipper. All clear.”
Crane nodded, turning to Patterson. “Pat, go over the panel and find out what happened. I want a report ASAP.”
“A bomb?” said Chip, incredulously an hour later.
“That’s what Patterson says,” answered Crane wearily. “He reports that the explosive device was placed within the power control panel, set with a timer. If he or Thomas had been at the station when it went off, they probably would have been killed. He’s working on repairs right now, with the amount of damage done; he doesn’t expect to be done until morning. We’ll have to remain here until repairs are finished.”
“Could he tell when it was set?”
“The panel was inspected thoroughly before we left dock.”
They looked at each other knowingly. Someone on board had to have set the bomb, and short of a stowaway, the possibilities were unsettling.
“So tell me, Ko-Kol-“
“Yes, of course, Kowalski,” she said his name slowly. “I’m betting on a ship as confined as the Seaview, rumors just fly at full speed.”
“Yes, ma’am, I suppose they do.” Ski hid his sudden concern behind a congenial smile.
“Any about me?”
“Oh, I don’t know, ma’am.”
“Come on, Kowalski, you can tell me. I know my behavior has been less than exemplary.”
What was she after, he wondered. Aloud he answered, “The musing of bored sailors are best left unsaid to civilians.”
“Oh? And I was hoping you could verify something I heard mentioned.”
“Oh, just a little rumor I heard about Captain Crane and Admiral Nelson.”
“What rumor? Ski frowned. Something in the way she said it made his skin crawl.
“It’s just the sort of thing you hear every once in a while about sailors. You know, long assignments, confined together without female companionship-“
Ski cut her off. “I don’t know who you’ve been talking to Ms. Tobias, but they were feeding you a line. Sure, sometimes things happen on occasion between sailors, but that’s rare and usually only between men who would do so on shore as well. Captain Crane and Admiral Nelson are not inclined to do so and I have never had reason to believe otherwise. So, I would suggest, ma’am, you be careful who you are listening to. Spreading those kinds of rumors can ruin a guy’s career.”
“I meant no offense. Really, I was just curious.”
She was silent the rest of the way to her quarters, caught up in her thoughts. Kowalski, for his part, was on guard. Stories had gone around about Tobias knowing the Admiral and about her encounter with the Skipper. He had the distinct impression Connie Tobias was up to something,
Kowalski was not sure he should mention it at all. It was like passing the rumor around, but that Tobias lady was supposed to be making an evaluation of the Seaview and if she decided to believe that the Admiral and the Captain were lovers, she might give the boat an unfavorable report. She may not be that petty, but you could never tell with bureaucratic types. She seemed disappointed it wasn’t true.
He glanced at the Skipper who was examining the repairs on one of the control panels damaged earlier in the explosion. All of their hard work could be for nothing if that woman had any say. The Skipper should know, Ski decided. He should be ready, or at least warned.
Patterson and Thomson were on the far end of engineering working on the minor repairs that had been put off until the main systems were back on line. Kowalksi approached the Captain as the other man straightened.
“Sir, I need to talk to you about Ms. Tobias.”
The muscles in Crane’s jaw tightened, but his face remained neutral. “What about her?”
“How important is she to the inspection, sir? I mean, how much influence does she have?”
Crane’s eyes narrowed, looking at the seaman. “Probably as much as the other inspectors, though they are all just advisors. Senator Keely, with the Appropriations Committee, will make the final decision. Why?”
Ski hesitated a moment, glancing over at Patterson and Thomson. Both men were absorbed in their work. Ski continued quietly. “Well, sir, I thought you might want to know that she was asking questions about you and the Admiral yesterday evening. Questions about-“
Crane cut him off. “I already can guess what questions, Ski.”
“I gave her a negative, but I don’t think that was the answer she was looking for.”
Crane’s fists clenched the sides of the panel in front of him. “Has she posed any of these questions to anyone else that you know of?”
“I don’t think so, sir. No one would believe them though, not any of the crew at least. I was just worried that if she started passing those rumors around on land- Well, someone might believe it. I thought maybe, if you knew ahead of time…”
“Damage Control, Ski?”
“Yes, sir. I guess so.”
“I’m not sure what could be done if she did. Don’t worry about it. I’ll speak to the Admiral and see if he has any ideas.”
Ski turned to resume his own work when he noticed the hatch wheel slowly turning. The hatch opened. It was the black steel barrel of a gun that spurned him to action as it pointed towards Captain Crane.
“Skipper, look out!” Ski launched himself against Crane, then his world exploded.
Crane was shoved aside, then the crack of a gunshot, and Ski fell against the panel. Crane spun around in time to see a shadow leave the open hatch. He ran out and around the nearest corner, but as the corridor split in two directions, he didn’t see anyone.
“Sickbay to Engineering.” Thompson’s voice rang through the boat.
Ski! He remembered the crewman falling. Crane returned to engineering. Patterson was leaning over Kowalski who was sprawled on the deck. Blood flowed heavily from his head wound.
“How bad?” asked Crane joining Patterson at Ski’s side.
“I don’t know, sir. I think the bullet only grazed his head, but there’s so much blood. I just don’t know.” Pat’s frantic eyes met Crane’s. “Sir, they were aiming for you.”
“Did you see who it was?”
“No, sir. I saw the gun, just as Ski called out, but it disappeared as soon as they fired.”
Footsteps sounded outside the open hatch as the corpsmen arrived. Crane stood. That makes two, he realized. A bomb and a gun, one that was definitely aimed for him. Who was trying to kill him? He couldn’t believe it was a member of his crew, not that it was impossible. There were precedents, but he was more inclined to believe it was one of their guests. One in particular, but without proof he could hardly make accusations.
He watched as Ski was lifted onto the litter and carried off to sickbay. Crane knew he had better find out who was doing this soon, before someone was killed.
“How’s Kowalski?” asked Morton quietly as Crane joined him at the console table in the control room.
“Is it that bad?” He had spoken to Patterson, but still Morton hoped it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. Kowalski was a good man, it would be a shame if he died or suffered permanent damage from the attack. He knew it would be devastating for Crane as well, who took the death of any crewmember as a fault on his part. However, Kowalski would be a particularly bad loss to the Captain who trusted the seaman implicitly, often choosing him for missions where he needed to be able to rely without doubt, upon whomever joined him.
“Doc’s hopeful, but won’t know anything for sure until Ski wakes up. If he does.”
“Patterson says they were gunning for you.”
“Who do you think it is?”
“We only have three guests on board.”
“You think one of them might have tried to kill you?”
“I know what you’re thinking, but our only other option is a member of the crew. I can’t see that, can you?”
Morton’s answer was cut off by the Admiral’s voice over the intercom.
“Captain Crane, Come to my quarters.”
Crane picked up the mike, clicking. “Aye sir, on my way.”
Setting the mike into place, he looked at Commander Morton. “Chip, find out where our guests were when Ski was shot. We’ve got to put an end to this before someone dies.”
The he turned and left the control room.
Crane strode quickly to the Admiral’s quarters. He needed to discuss this with the Admiral. Something inside told him he already knew who was doing this, but he wanted the other man’s opinion and advice. He knocked sharply on the door. Caught in thought, he barely heard the affirmative to enter. Swinging the door open, he was surprised by the lack of light, and then something hit him.
Stunned, he fell forward to his knees. Before he could regain his senses, a sharp pain struck him in the right shoulder. A needle. The realization cleared his head and he jerked away, the syringe pulled out at his movement. It clattered to the floor.
The door slammed shut, shrouding him in darkness. Crane rose to his feet, listening. He needed to make for the door or the light, he had no idea who his attacker was or how they were armed. More importantly, he didn’t know what was in that syringe.
“Who’s there?” He demanded.
No answer, but he heard his attacker’s foot scrape on the floor.
This was ridiculous. He was wasting time playing this game. If there had been anything in that syringe, it wasn’t going to be for his good health. He needed to get out. Deciding to act on his instincts, he took a chance.
“Why are you trying to kill me, Ms. Tobias?”
A low chuckle erupted from the darkness. Then light flooded the room. Blinking against the sudden brightness, he saw Connie Tobias standing near the door a small Walther .380 in her hand.
“You’re not as stupid as I thought.”
“What have you done with the Admiral?”
“Nothing.” She slipped a digital recorder out of her pocket and laughed. “I knew this might come in handy when I realized I’d accidentally recorded Nelson calling you. Military men follow orders so easily.”
Preparing to attack, Lee stopped as he realized his right arm wouldn’t move. Movement interrupted his balance and he stumbled slightly. Eyes wide he looked at Tobias’ smug face.
“What did you give me?”
Tobias didn’t answer, her smile widened and she leaned against the door, watching him.
“What was in that syringe?”
Tobias laughed, the sound sending chills through him.
His eyes fell on the mike and he started to it, but his movements were unstable. Tobias leaped forward, grabbing the mike up and yanking the cord loose.
“I’m not ready to invite anyone to the party yet, Crane.”
Lee tried to step away from her, but he lost his balance. Tobias grabbed his arm, maneuvering him around into the Admiral’s chair. He fell into the seat, his body becoming heavier with each passing second. The contents of the syringe were working quickly.
Tobias slipped the gun into her pocket, smiling. “This is going to be fun.”
Nelson leaned back in the chair in Doc’s office. He could have left sickbay when Lee did, but there was too much on his mind. The explosion indicated that somebody on board had malevolent intentions, but that seemed a general hostility, unless Patterson had been the target. This time Lee was almost shot, at least that was how Pat described it.
Fingers playing absently with his coffee cup, Nelson’s mind roared through possibilities and kept stopping at one: Connie Tobias. But that was ridiculous, wasn’t it? She was a respectable woman. And why try to kill Lee? Surely not over his rejection.
This was getting him nowhere. He stood abruptly, the chair scraping across the floor. He left the office, pausing momentarily in sickbay to look at Kowalski, still unconscious, his head wrapped in a white bandage. Doc sat beside the seaman adjusting the IV, he glanced at Nelson.
“Did you need something, Admiral?
“No, I’m heading up to the control room. Any change?”
“He hasn’t shown any signs of regaining consciousness. I’ll let you know when he does.”
Nelson left sickbay wondering if he should have Tobias and the other inspectors investigated. He couldn’t believe it was one of the crewmen.
Lee could no longer move, his body useless, but he could still feel. And what he felt made his skin crawl. She straddled his lap, running her hands down his chest, his stomach, then down between his legs.
“Don’t,” he said. He struggled to force his arms to move, but they hung by his sides, useless.
“Why not,” she whispered, drawing her face closer to his. She brushed his lips with her own. “A little bit of pleasure before you die. That’s what’s going to happen, you know. More and more of you will be paralyzed, until no muscles work at all. It’s a toss up on what will stop first, your heart or lungs.”
She gave him a squeeze and he grunted.
“Don’t touch me. Don’t- Please.”
With one hand, she undid the button on his pants.
“Come on,” she whispered in his ear. “It won’t be so bad.”
Kissing his ear, then his neck, she slowly pulled his zipper down, savoring his discomfort and fear.
Sharkey watched confused as the Admiral entered the control room and asked Mr. Morton where Captain Crane was.
“I thought he was with you,” said Morton with confusion.
“Why would you think that?”
“You called him to your quarters, sir.”
“No, I didn’t. I was in sickbay.
Morton looked at Sharkey who nodded. “We heard your voice over the intercom, sir.”
“Captain Crane acknowledged and went to your quarters.”
Nelson frowned. He had not made any such request, nor had he heard it. Doc, however, was known to turn off the main intercom when he had a critical patient in recovery.
“I guess I’ll go see if I can find out what’s going on.”
Nelson started up the stairs; quickening his pace the closer he came to his quarters. The shot that took down Kowalski had been meant for Lee. A call from Nelson that did not come from Nelson had to be a set up. He hoped Lee was all right.
Upon reaching his door, he swung it open gasping at what he saw. Connie straddling Lee in an intimate embrace. He was half embarrassed, half appalled, until he saw Lee’s hands hanging limply, twitching slightly. Something was wrong.
“What’s going on here?”
Connie’s head snapped around.
“Oh, you’re here already. I thought there would be time for more fun.” She swung one leg off him. Nelson could see Crane’s zipper was down, though he was not fully exposed. He also saw Lee’s eyes, fearful and desperate, his head only upright because Connie’s hand held his hair.
She slipped behind Crane, pulling a .380 out of her pocket as she did so. One hand wrapped around his neck while the other slid the gun down his chest.
“What have you done to him?”
“Poisoned him,” she said casually. “He’s helpless. I was going to have a little fun before he died, but as usual, you’ve spoiled that, too.”
Her voice took on a hard edge. She shoved Lee one way and the chair another. Lee fell face first, to the floor. Nelson looked at his helpless friend in horror, taking a step to help him.
“No,” said Connie firmly, turning her gun on the Admiral.
“Why are you doing this to him?”
“To punish you. To make you suffer. To give you what you deserve.”
“You killed Sheila. You deserve this and so much more.”
“I didn’t kill her. It was an accident.”
“Connie-“ her cold stare stopped him. He watched the somewhat labored breathing of his friend. Lee is dying, his mind screamed. Do something!
Chip Morton glanced one more time at the spiral staircase. His mind was on the Admiral’s confusion and the call to report. If it was not the Admiral-
“Lay up to the Admiral’s quarters and find out what’s going on,”
Sharkey raced up the stairs. Morton watched him leave with an unexplained sense of dread. Twice Lee Crane had almost been hurt. Would there be a third?
“At first I was just going to kill you. I thought there was no more appropriate punishment than to take away your life.” Connie spoke with venom in her voice and her finger on the trigger, keeping the Admiral away from Crane who was very quiet, his breathing nominal. “Then I had a better idea. You caused the death of someone I loved; I’d cause the death of someone you loved.
“I had hoped to find out that you had a little action with one the boys on the side, but that panned out. So, I settled on second best. I would take away the person on this tin can that meant the most to you. Your precious Captain Crane.”
“You’d murder someone to get back at me?”
“I would destroy the world if it made you suffer,” her face twisted in rage. “Sheila was all I had. She meant everything to me, but you had to put silly notions into her about making the world a better place.”
“Your sister was a brilliant woman. She should have been looking to the future with higher expectations of herself. She contributed quite a bit before she died. She was highly respected.”
“I don’t care. If she hadn’t been traipsing around on that silly ship of yours, she wouldn’t have died. You killed her and I will make you pay. You’ll suffer just as I did.” She pointed the pistol at Crane’s prone form. “He’s going to die slowly as his entire system is paralyzed by the poison I’ve given him. Soon, he won’t be able to breathe, he’ll die, and you’re going to watch it. You’re going to know what I felt like when my sister died and I was helpless to save her.”
Nelson’s mind worked furiously to find an out, and quickly, before Lee succumbed to the poison. She had to have an antidote, he could not believe she would carry around such a dangerous poison without insuring she could be saved in an accident. At least he hoped she was not that far gone. The syringe was on the floor near Lee. The beginnings of an idea formed, but he still needed a distraction.
“You’ve tried to kill Lee several times already, haven’t you?”
“The first time I was only trying to damage the ship, but the gunshot was meant for him. It’s too bad it struck Kowalski, he’s nice, but he shouldn’t have gotten in the way like that.”
God, the cold hearted gall of the woman. “You can’t believe you’re going to get away with this. Kowalski probably saw you-“
“I don’t care,” she shouted. “All I care about is punishing you-“
The door swung open and Sharkey burst in. “Admiral, Mr. Morton just-“
His words interrupted as he saw the gun point towards him and he ducked back out as it went off.
Nelson launched himself at her, knocking her back to the floor near Lee. The gun skittered across the floor out of reach. As they struggled, he rolled them closer to his Captain and the hypodermic. Suddenly she yelped, jumping away.
“What was that?” She demanded, rubbing the back of her arm.
Nelson held out the syringe. “It was this. I wonder just how much of this poison it takes to kill someone.”
Her eyes were wild. “No, there can’t be enough left.”
“Are you sure? Lee must have fought you before the paralysis took effect. Are you sure you injected the entire amount?”
She opened, then closed her mouth. Her hands twitched, then reached into her shirt pulling out a small vial. She began fumbling for the second syringe she was carrying. When she had it, Nelson grabbed both from her. Shrieking she tried to get them back, but the Admiral backhanded her and she crumpled to the floor. Ignoring her, he kneeled beside Lee. The man’s breathing was faint and labored.
“Sir,” Sharkey joined him. “Is that the antidote?”
“It had better be Francis, or we’ve lost him this time.”
Sharkey lifted Crane from the floor, rolling him over. Lee’s eyes were open, but blank. Nelson prepped the syringe and quickly injected the contents into his friend. Then he carefully took Lee from the chief, cradling the man shoulders against him. Lee’s eyes slowly focused, a faint smile flickered across his lips.
“Thought- you didn’t like- to hit- women,” gasped Lee, his words slurred and barely audible.
“I thought the situation called for directness,” he answered. He could hear Sharkey at the intercom, calling for help. He looked over at him, as Lee’s eyes closed. “Chief, get the emergency oxygen out of the bottom drawer of my desk.
Sharkey nodded and did so. Nelson held the mask over Lee’s face and waited for the doctor and any hint that the antidote was working.
Lee’s condition seemed suspended in limbo. He did not get worse, but neither did he improve. For four hours, Nelson sat beside the bed still waiting. The alternating emotions of anger and guilt that threatened to overwhelm him were held in check only by the desire to be near when his friend awakened.
It was late now, day watch was over, night watch was well under way, and as his fifth hour of vigil began, Doc came over and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Go get some sleep. I’ll wake you if there’s any change.”
“No, thank you, Doc. I don’t think I could sleep right now, if I wanted to.”
“It must have been the antidote that you gave him, there’s been no decline in his condition.”
“There’s been no improvement either. Did I get it to him too late?”
“Give him time, Harri. The antidote may just take a while to take effect. The fact he hasn’t gotten any worse is a good sign that he is getting better, it’s just too early for us to see that yet.” Jameson sighed. “Listen, if you won’t go to your quarters to sleep then use that empty bunk. You’re exhausted, even if you don’t want to show it. I promise I’ll let you know the moment there is a change.”
Nelson wanted to resist at first, but changed his mind. He was tired, he knew it, and he knew he should sleep. At least here in sickbay, he would be near by when Lee woke up.
“Alright, Doc.” He stood up slowly, eyes on Lee, looking for any sign of improvement, But Crane remained still, breathing slowly but evenly beneath the mask that saturated every weak breath with as much oxygen as possible. Finally, Nelson let Doc lead him away to the bunk. He could see Kowalski sleeping nearby, his head still obscured by the white bandage. How coolly she had spoke about shooting the wrong man, as though nothing else mattered but her revenge.
She was in the brig now, and unharmed. His insignia pin, not the syringe had stuck her. During their struggle, Nelson had managed to pull it off to make her think she was poisoned, picking up the syringe as she leapt away. She was alive and well and from Chip’s reports an hour ago, ranting and raving about how the Admiral needed to be punished. No one paid her any attention. Their only concern was when the Skipper would wake up- if he ever did.
Nelson leaned back and was suddenly aware of the heaviness of his entire body. Sleep came quickly and while needed, it was hardly welcome.
“Admiral, wake up,” demanded a voice as hands shook him.
Nelson woke with a grunt. It took him a moment to realize where he was, and he did so with relief. In his nightmare, Lee was dying in his arms, gasping short breaths until he no longer could, eyes open and staring. Now, Nelson looked up at Doc, who was smiling.
“Is he awake?”
Doc nodded. “He’s weak though. Better hurry before he falls back to sleep.”
Nelson practically leapt from the bunk and to his friend’s side. A pale, heavy lidded Crane smiled sleepily up at him.
“It- was the antidote.”
“Yes Lee, it was.”
“She touched me. Was going to-“ he shivered faintly at the memory. “Can still feel her hands.”
“She’s locked up. Don’t think about her anymore.”
Lee’s eyes closed and they thought he was falling back to sleep, but he opened them again. “Kowalski?”
Doc stepped closer. “He woke a few hours ago, Captain. I think he’ll recover just fine now.”
“Good.” His voice faded and Lee Crane did go to sleep.
Nelson straightened, releasing a shaky breath.
“Kowalski woke up?”
“Yes. Remembered who he was, where he was, and tried to warn me that Connie Tobias was trying to kill the Captain,” Doc smiled wearily. “I didn’t mention she had tried again already. It’s a good sign that his memory is so complete. He’ll be down for a couple of weeks though.”
“Once his strength returns he should be able to return to duty. I do want to monitor him for awhile though, make sure there are no side effects from either drug.” Doc turned his attention to the Admiral. “Now, get out of my sickbay and go get something to eat.”
Crane sat quietly watching the activity on the pier. He managed to convince the doctor to let him spend the last few hours of the trip in the Observation Nose, enjoying the sight of the ocean and the activity of the control room behind him. He was still weak, but had made the journey from sickbay to the nose with only a little help from the Admiral, who had made sure he immediately went to sit down. As much as Lee would have liked to take command, his body’s weariness was a reminder of the Doc’s orders, so he made no argument. Just sitting there was better than being in sickbay.
Seaview surfaced and docked twenty minutes earlier. There were several police officers on the pier waiting to take hold of their charge. The Master-at-arms would be bringing her up soon. He felt an involuntary shiver slide down his body and he gripped the logbook beneath his hands tightly. He still could not rid himself of the feeling of her hands on him, and his helplessness to stop her. Maybe once she was off his boat, and out of his life, he could get rid of those ghost hands.
“You all right, Lee?” The Admiral asked sliding into the chair next to him.
Lee smiled wearily. The Admiral had been at his side often over the past few days. Sometimes it felt like hovering, as though Doc’s constant attention wasn’t enough.
“I’m fine, Admiral. My mind just keeps wandering to unpleasant places.”
Nelson knew what those places were. More than anything during the entire mess, it was her attempt to sexually assault him while he was paralyzed that bothered Lee the most. The few nightmares that plagued him were about that.
“Why don’t we head up to your quarters? I’ll help you get ready for shore leave.”
Lee knew it was an attempt to get him out of the control room before Tobias was brought up.
“It’s all right, Admiral. I want to see her taken off Seaview.” He indicated the knot of officers on the pier. “I want to see them take her away.”
He paused a moment to look the Admiral in the eye. “I need to see she’s gone.”
“If that’s what you want, but stay here when they bring her up. Doc will have my hide if I let you overtax yourself.”
“Don’t worry, I don’t need to prove anything. I just want to see her gone.”
He was lucky the only aftereffects of the poison and its antidote were muscle weakness, and even that was finally going away. The first time he had tried, he only managed to lift a few fingers. Making the walk to the nose was a major accomplishment. No, he did not want to go near her, not even stand, just see her leave.
“What did Senator Keely have to say?” asked Crane. He knew that Nelson had just finished speaking to senator.
“He apologizes profusely. Connie was the one who suggested the inspection based upon ‘inconsistencies’ she claimed to have found in our budget reports. He promises that our funding is secure and we won’t be bothered,” Nelson scowled. “At least until he finds another excuse to inspect us again.”
“Well, at least Roberts and Farnsworth had a good time,” said Lee.
The hatch at the far end of the control room opened. The two men turned their heads to it as four guards escorted Connie Tobias to the ladder. Her icy gaze locked onto Nelson as they led her forward. Two guards climbed the ladder before her. Just before she began her climb she caught sight of Crane. Smiling, she blew him a kiss.
Lee cringed, but resisted the impulse to pull back and avoid ‘catching the kiss’. Then she was urged up and out of sight. The men faced the windows waiting until she was led across the pier to the waiting guards and car. Then she was gone. Away from him and away from Seaview. Even the boat seemed to sigh with relief, bobbing slightly in the water.
Nelson was watching him. “You okay, Lee?”
He leaned back in the chair and smiled. “Yeah. You?”
“Yes, I think I am.”
“So,” began Lee, his grin widening mischievously. “When do we leave port again? I’m ready for another mission.”
Nelson frowned at him. “You, Captain, are going home to rest for at least a week, doctor’s orders. You are not going anywhere else.”
“But I could prepare-“
“Nope. I am not telling you anything about our next mission, including the depart date, until Doc clears it. And since this boat is not going anywhere until its Captain is well, I suggest you follow Doc’s orders to a T so that you don’t interfere with our schedule.”
“Come on, Admiral. If I knew how long I had to get my strength back, I could-“
“Forget it, Captain,” said a voice from the stairs. Lee smiled sheepishly at Doc who stood there, arms folded across his chest, looking highly displeased with his patient.
“I was just joking, Doc,” said Lee, raising his hands in surrender. “I swear.”
“Sure you were. At least the Admiral seems to be able to follow my orders today.” He came to stand close to the table. “I have Chief Sharkey packing your things for shore leave. Is there anything, non-work related, you want to make sure he packs?”
“Nope. I’ve already got what I need.” He tapped the book on the table in front of him.
“Your logbook. Where did you get that?” He looked accusingly at the Admiral.
“I sent Patterson up to get it after we docked,” said Lee, ready for Doc’s complaints.
Doc held out his hand expectantly, but Crane slid it off the table into his lap.
“It is my personal log, and I am going to catch its entries up whether you like it or not. Now, I can sit here and do it or you can let me take it with me to finish at home, but I am going to do it.”
The two men locked eyes for a minute, but Doc finally nodded.
“As long as that is all. No reports or paperwork.”
“Chip’s already taken care of those. This is it.”
That settled Lee rose shakily, but on his own, to his feet.
“Nelson to Chief Sharkey.”
“Sharkey here, sir.”
“The Captain is ready to depart. Doc and I are escorting him off Seaview. Are you nearly finished packing his things?”
“Aye, sir. Is there anything extra the Skipper wants packed.”
The three men smiled.
“No, Chief. Just bring his bag to the car as soon as you are done.”
Lee looked up at the hatch at the top of the ladder.”
“Can you make it, Lee?”
“Yes, sir. Just be ready to catch me if I miss a rung.” Lee smiled as he spoke, but part of him was serious.
The climb was slow, but he made it to the top without falling.
Each step up seemed a relief to Nelson who finally let go of all the worry and distress of the trip. Lee was okay and Connie would not be able to harm anyone else for a very long time. For a moment, he was glad Sheila had died before she had a chance to see the true depths of her sister’s perversions.
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