The Mission

by J. Lynn

"It is impossible to go through life without trust: that is to be imprisoned in the worst cell of all, oneself."

Graham Greene (190491), British novelist. The Ministry of Fear, bk. 1, ch. 3, sct. 2 (1943).

It was a dark and stormy night. Admiral Harriman Nelson of the SSRN Seaview was feeling cold and wet and desperate. The storms had begun rolling through right after the sun went down and although they were brief, they were so violent that he and Kowalski were forced to stop their search efforts and seek shelter every time one hit. There were only a few hours left until daybreak, and if they didn't complete their search by then, the launch that was waiting for them would be forced to leave, stranding them on the island until the next night. But it wasn't just the possibility of spending another day on the island that had Nelson feeling so desperate, it was his deepening concern for Lee Crane, Seaview's Captain, and the object of their search. It was supposed to have been an easy mission. "In and out in less than a day," had been the Captain's words, but Lee had missed the rendezvous and now the Admiral was determined to find his Captain and bring him home.

***

Lee Crane, Captain of the Seaview, entered the Wardroom and looked at the clock on the wall. '0600 hours,' he noted with satisfaction, 'plenty of time to take care of last-minute details before the chopper arrives.' He looked around the room and saw Chip Morton, his Exec, sitting at a table, enjoying a hearty breakfast after his turn on the night watch. Lee had intended to get some breakfast himself, but as he looked at the food on the serving table, he felt a wave of nausea overtake him, and he decided not to try anything other than a cup of coffee. The nausea surprised him. It was true that the tension just before the start of an ONI mission often caused him to lose his appetite, but he didn't usually feel sick. 'I must be more on edge than I thought,' he concluded as he crossed the room to join Chip.

Chip Morton looked up as Lee pulled out a chair and sat down rather carefully.

"What's wrong, Lee?" Chip asked with concern in his voice.

"Nothing, I'm just still feeling those bruises from the other day when we got thrown around the Control Room."

"I know what you mean. I've got a few tender spots myself. That turbulence came out of nowhere." Morton put down his fork and wiped his mouth with his napkin. "What time is the chopper due?"

"0700." Lee replied, sipping his coffee.

"Well, then," Chip said, "That gives you plenty of time to eat a proper breakfast before you leave."

"The Admiral is supposed to meet me here so we can discuss the details of the mission over breakfast. I'll wait until he gets here."

"You won't have long to wait." Chip gestured to the door. "He just came in. I'll leave you two to talk while I go get some sleep." He stood up and regarded his friend seriously. "Good luck, Lee, and take care."

"Thanks, Chip," Crane said warmly.

Chip nodded to the Admiral who was approaching the table as the Exec was leaving. Nelson's plate was piled high with eggs, bacon, potatoes, and toast. Lee felt another wave of nausea coming on at the sight and smell of the food. He swallowed convulsively and waited for the sensation to pass.

Nelson greeted him heartily, "Good morning, Lee. Aren't you having any breakfast?"

"I had something with Chip," Lee replied. It wasn't exactly a lie, he comforted himself--he did have a cup of coffee with Chip--he just hadn't eaten anything. He couldn't admit that to the Admiral without revealing he had a bad case of nerves and that was just too embarrassing, especially when this was such a simple mission. All he had to do was go in, get the information, and get out. He shouldn't be gone more than twenty-four hours.

"Is everything all set, Lee?" queried Nelson.

"Yes, Sir. The chopper is supposed to arrive at 0700. Because of the time difference, it will still be dark when I parachute onto the island. The night patrols will be headed back to the barracks and the watchtowers along the beach won't yet be manned so it should be a cinch to drop in undetected. I already know how to find Marcos' jewelry shop, and I'm to go straight there pretending to be a customer. After I get the information and leave his shop, I'm to go to a house in the village where a family sympathetic to the resistance will let me stay in their boarding house until just before dark. I'll be briefed on the location of this house during the chopper flight. I'll time leaving the house to be just ahead of the night patrols and arrive at the beach just after the soldiers leave the watchtowers. A launch will be waiting to take me to the Navy carrier just outside territorial waters. The launch crew will broadcast a Mayday call as a cover for the rendezvous with the carrier. I give the information to the ONI agent on the carrier and then it's another chopper ride back here." Lee smiled at the Admiral. "In and out in less a day. It's been a long time since I've had such a simple mission."

"It may seem simple, Lee," Nelson said seriously, "but it's vitally important. The Security Council is set to vote on the censure motion within the next 48 hours. The information Marcos will give you will contain locations and pictures of the illegal nuclear weapons facilities. A vote for censure and economic sanctions is certain to succeed if they have that information, but without it, the Security Council will be hesitant to vote for censure and the weapons buildup by the current government will continue, and probably even accelerate."

"Don't worry, Admiral. I should get that information to the ONI brass on the carrier with time to spare." Lee looked wistful. "It will be good to see Marcos again even if it is only for a few minutes. We went on more than a few missions together. This has to have been hard on him, being undercover for such a long time."

Nelson agreed, "I think the strain is showing and that is why he insisted on you being the ONI contact. When an agent has been undercover as long as he has, it becomes difficult to tell your friends from your enemies. You appear to be the only one he feels sure he can trust." The Admiral took a last gulp of coffee and then stood up to leave. Crane rose also but caught his breath at a sudden pain and put his hand to his side.

Nelson was instantly concerned and reached out to grasp his Captain's arm. "Lee, what's wrong?"

Crane recovered quickly and reassured the older man. "It's nothing, Sir. I must have pulled something during the turbulence the other day, that's all. I'm fine." he said in a firm tone.

Looking up at the clock, Nelson said, "You still have some time before the chopper gets here. I want you to go to Sickbay and tell Jamison about that pain. Have him take a look at you." Before Lee could open his mouth to protest, the Admiral added, "That's an order, Lee."

Lee knew it was useless to argue, so he gave in graciously. "All right, Admiral, I'll go, but I'm sure Jamie will find nothing more than some strained muscles and a few bruises."

"That may be so, but I want to hear that from him. On your way, Captain."

"Aye, Sir."

****

Dr. Will Jamison was restocking his medicine cabinet when Crane entered Sickbay. The last few days had been pretty quiet with the exception of that brief episode of turbulence when the Doctor had been called upon to treat more than a few bruises and scrapes. Jamison was taking advantage of the break to get Sickbay properly stocked for the next emergency. The Doctor was surprised to see the Captain, since he seldom came to Sickbay of his own volition, but he was careful to keep the surprise out of his voice as he greeted Crane. "Skipper, is there something I can do for you?"

"The Admiral sent me," Crane replied, confirming Jamison's hunch that this visit was not voluntary. "He saw me flinch because of a pain in my side and ordered me to come here and tell you about it."

"Let's have a look at you then." Jamison directed Lee to the examination table and he checked his pulse, respiration, and blood pressure. Next he had Lee loosen his clothing and lie down.

"When did you first notice the pain, Skipper?" asked Jamison.

"This particular pain started this morning." replied Crane. "I've been sore the last few days after hitting the chart table during the turbulence we had a couple of days ago."

"I can see the bruises," commented Jamison.

Crane reacted to the reproach in that brief comment. "It's just a few bruises, Jamie. I can't come running in here for every little bump or scrape. Anyway, I'm sure this is just a muscle strain that I didn't notice before because of the bruises."

While the Skipper was talking, Jamison gently palpated his stomach and abdomen. Lee suddenly sucked in his breath as the doctor's hand found the tender spot. "Sorry, Skipper." said Jamison. The Doctor continued his examination for a few more moments and then told Crane he could sit up.

"You're probably right that the pain is related to the injuries you suffered when you hit the chart table, but it is a bit strange that it only showed up this morning. To be on the safe side, I'm going to draw some blood and run a few tests to make sure there's nothing else going on."

Jamison crossed over to the medicine cabinet and began to get out the instruments he'd need when an urgent call came over the intercom. "Missile Room to Sickbay, emergency!"

The doctor immediately reached for the mike and responded, "This is Jamison, what's the emergency?"

"A rack of air tanks overturned and landed on Winters." said a voice Jamison and Crane recognized as Sharkey's. "It's his leg, Doc. I think it's broken. It looks bad!"

"I'm on my way," responded Jamison. "Don't move him until I get there." Putting the mike down, he reached for his bag, and then turned to his corpsman who had hurried in after hearing the call. "Frank, I want you to draw some blood from the Captain and then come to the Missile Room with a stretcher. Skipper, as soon as Frank is finished, you can go. If the pain gets worse, I want you to come back. Okay?"

"Sure, Jamie," said Lee. "Now go take care of Winters."

Jamison nodded in acknowledgment of the order as he rushed out of Sickbay.

****

Pain--searing, burning pain wiped every other thought from Lee Crane's mind as he lay on the beach, his parachute spread out on the ground around him. He wrapped his arms around his mid-section and waited until the pain eased just enough for him to take a breath. Finally, he could sit up and look around. He knew he had to get up, collect his parachute, and get off the beach before he was discovered. The darkness provided some cover, but a patrol could still come by at any time. He got shakily to his feet and began stuffing the parachute into his pack. The pain was still intense, but it was bearable now and he was relieved. He'd been fine in the chopper and during the jump, but the jolt when his feet hit the ground triggered a sudden explosion of pain in his side and throughout his stomach and abdomen. He straightened up carefully and headed for the wooded area. It was about a five mile walk to the village and judging from the pain that he felt with each step, it was going to be a very long and painful five miles.

****

In Sickbay Jamison had just finished making the final notations on Winters' chart. With that done and his patient resting comfortably, the Doctor got started on the tests on the blood sample from Captain Crane. He noted the results on Crane's chart and frowned in concern. Jamison reached for the mike and spoke into it, "Sickbay to Captain Crane." When he didn't get an answer, he repeated the call.

Nelson's voice was the next to be heard over the intercom. "Nelson to Jamison."

"Jamison, here."

"Doctor, Captain Crane is not aboard. He left on a Navy chopper several hours ago. If it's the report about Winters, you can either give it to me or wait until Mr. Morton is on duty again."

There was a brief pause before Jamison responded and Nelson thought he heard him curse under his breath. He wondered if Lee had lied about the results of his visit to Sickbay. Before he left on the chopper, Lee had assured him that Jamison had said the pain in his side was nothing serious and had not wanted him to stay in Sickbay. Lee often tried to avoid staying in Sickbay, but he didn't tell outright lies about Jamison's orders. He simply insisted they were unnecessary.

"Admiral," said Jamison, "Winters is doing fine, but I do need to speak to you and Mr. Morton about another matter. It's urgent, Sir."

There was no mistaking the seriousness in Jamison's tone. Nelson's answer was an immediate, "Very well. I'll wake Mr. Morton. Come to my cabin in 15 minutes."

"Aye, Sir."

****

Jamison knocked on the door of the Admiral's cabin exactly 15 minutes later. Upon hearing the Admiral's impatient, "Come in," he entered the cabin and took the empty chair by the Admiral's desk. Chip Morton was already there, seated in the other chair, wide-awake with a look of concern on his face. It was obvious that both men had guessed that the urgent matter he needed to discuss with them concerned Seaview's Captain.

"Jamie," said Nelson, "Since you asked to speak to both of us, I assume it's about Lee."

"Yes, Sir." replied Jamie, "It is. He came to see me this morning on your orders about a pain in his side. My examination revealed nothing to contradict his belief that it was just a muscle strain sustained during the turbulence a few days ago. Just to make sure I hadn't missed anything, however, I started to draw some blood to run a few tests. Then the call came in about Winters and I had Frank draw the blood while I went to the Missile Room. I told the Skipper he could go but to come back if the pain got worse--I completely forgot he was leaving on an ONI mission. Winters' leg was badly broken so it was a few hours before I had a chance to do the tests on the Skipper's blood and review the results." He paused to take a breath.

Nelson had been patient during this lengthy explanation, but he had just about reached his limit. He prodded the Doctor, "The tests must have revealed something seriously wrong or you wouldn't be here. What is it?"

"His white blood count is elevated. That, coupled with the pain, makes me reasonably sure he has appendicitis." Jamison leaned forward and his voice took on an even more urgent tone. "Admiral, if I'm right and his appendix bursts, he could become very seriously ill. You've got to call him back."

Nelson noisily let out the breath he had been holding back. He ran his left hand impatiently through his hair and abruptly stood up. "Jamie," he exclaimed, "I don't know if there's any way to do that. Are you sure?"

Before the Doctor could answer, Morton jumped in with a question. "Are there any other symptoms--something we might have noticed--that might help to confirm your diagnosis?"

Jamie nodded, "Yes, most patients lose their appetite and become increasingly nauseous. Do you either of you know if Lee ate any breakfast?"

Nelson and Morton looked at one another and responded in unison, "He said he ate with you."

"Well," said Jamison dryly, "We know he didn't eat, and he didn't want anyone to know he didn't eat." The doctor sighed. "That's not unusual for him, however, so while it's consistent with the diagnosis, it doesn't help to confirm it. Admiral, we can't wait. If his appendix bursts, and treatment is delayed, he could die!"

Nelson sat down heavily in his chair, obviously distressed by this dire prognosis. Without saying another word to the two men seated in front of him, he reached out and pushed the intercom button on his desk. "Sparks, get me Admiral Jones from ONI on a secure channel. Tell him it's an emergency."

"Aye, Sir."

The three men waited in silence until Sparks' voice was again heard on the intercom, "Admiral, I have Admiral Jones for you."

"Good work, Sparks, put him through."

"Aye, Sir. Go ahead, Sir." Nelson put the call on the speaker so Morton and Jamison could follow the conversation.

"Jones, this is Nelson. Thanks for taking my call."

"You said it was an emergency, Harry. What's the problem?"

"Darren, Captain Crane left Seaview a few hours ago on a Navy chopper. Is there any way you could call the chopper and bring him back?"

"Crane made the jump from the chopper over an hour ago. There's no way to reach him until he makes contact at the end of the mission. That will be in about twelve to fifteen hours--what's so urgent that it can't wait until then?"

Nelson explained, "My ship's doctor ran some tests on Captain Crane this morning and only got the results a short time ago. Based on these tests, he believes that the Captain has appendicitis and could become seriously ill and possibly die without immediate treatment."

"Damn!" was the response over the speaker. "This could jeopardize the mission."

Nelson was about to respond angrily to the Admiral's lack of concern for Crane when Jones continued. "I'm sorry, Harry. I know you're close to Crane and you're concerned about him. I am, too, but I also have to think about the mission. Harry, there's absolutely no way to reach him without destroying his cover. That would surely get him killed. Does your doctor have any idea how quickly his condition could become critical?"

Jamison spoke up, "There's no way to tell, Admiral. The danger is that the inflamed appendix will burst and spread the infection. If that happens, his condition will deteriorate rapidly. It's possible that he could complete the mission before it bursts, but it's also just as possible that it has already burst and he's gravely ill."

Admiral Jones's sigh was heard over the intercom and there was a pause of a few minutes while he weighed the alternatives. Finally, he spoke again. "All right, I think we'll have to take the chance that he'll be able to complete the mission. Attempting to contact him is just too dangerous."

Nelson and the two officers realized that there was no other alternative, but the Admiral still wanted to do everything he could for his Captain. "Darren, I don't like it, but I think you're right. We'll just have to wait for Crane to make contact. I'd like to speed up his return to Seaview, however, since Seaview has better medical facilities than the carrier. I want to have Seaview head for the carrier's position. If you notify us as soon as Crane makes contact, we can send the Flying Sub for him--it's faster than a Navy chopper--and we can rush him back here."

"Okay, Harry. I'll have the captain of the carrier get in touch with you and give you their rendezvous coordinates. As soon as Crane makes contact, you'll get a call."

"Thanks, Darren. I know you're bending the rules and I appreciate it."

"Crane's a good man, Harry. He's worth bending a few rules. Jones out."

Nelson had barely closed the connection when Jamison erupted. "So," Jamie said angrily. "All we do is wait, wait for the Skipper's condition to deteriorate. I never expected you to give up so easily, Admiral, not when the Captain's life is at stake."

Nelson knew the Doctor spoke as he did because was worried about Crane and because he felt responsible for the current situation. The Admiral bit back his first angry response and instead said quietly, "Doctor, you are dangerously close to insubordination. To answer your question, we are not just going to wait--we are going to plan a rescue mission. I want to have a team assembled and ready to go immediately if we get word that Lee has missed the rendezvous. I'll lead the team and I'll need one other person with me."

"I'll go." volunteered Jamison and Morton in unison.

"No," replied the Admiral. He spoke first to the Exec. "Chip, I need you in command of Seaview. We need to get her as close as possible to the carrier's position so we can get Lee here in the least amount of time. With the exception of the Captain, no one else, not even me, can get that kind of performance out of Seaview."

Nelson then turned to the Doctor. "Jamie, I know you want to go because you feel responsible, but you're not thinking clearly. You need to be here in Sickbay, ready to operate. If something were to happen to you, then there would be no one to take care of the Captain. We have to put his welfare first."

Jamison knew the Admiral was right, but he wasn't quite ready to admit it. "If his appendix has burst, he'll need immediate medical attention--antibiotics and IV fluids."

"A corpsman or someone with some medical training can do that." countered Nelson. "How about Kowalski?" He's had some training and the Captain is comfortable with him."

"I could work with him, tell him what to look for and what to do." conceded Jamison.

"Good." said Nelson. "Jamie, you talk to Kowalski and prepare a kit of medical supplies and a portable stretcher. Chip, if we have to go in and get Lee ourselves, I want Sharkey to pilot the Flying Sub. You talk to him and have him get FS1 ready. After that, I want everyone involved in the rescue mission to try and get some rest and I'll do the same. It could be a long night of waiting. If there's been no word by 0600, all five of us will meet here."

Jamison and Morton both rose from their chairs. "Aye, Sir." they said crisply and left to carry out their orders.

***

The shopkeeper looked up from his work at the counter when he heard a customer come through the door. He immediately recognized the dark-haired man who entered, but his face bore only an expression of bland politeness suitable for greeting a customer. Marcos noticed that the man didn't look well and he swayed slightly as he approached the counter. "May I help you?" inquired the jeweler.

"I hope so," said the dark-haired man. "I've come from another village just to see you." He laid his hand on the counter. "This ring has been in my family for generations. The stone is loose. My cousin said I should come see you. He said you're a good jeweler and can be trusted with valuable items."

"Let me see the ring." said Marcos.

Lee removed the ring and stood silently as Marcos examined it. "Yes, I can fix it. If you want to wait, I can go in the back and make the repairs now."

"I'd rather come back with you."

The storekeeper chuckled, "Not all that trusting, are you, eh? Very well, you can come back and watch." He started toward the workroom in the back of the shop and as Lee followed Marcos, he noticed that the jeweler was limping heavily.

As they entered the workroom, Marcos gestured toward a chair beside his workbench. "You can sit there. There's coffee and some rolls on the table in the corner if you're hungry."

The mention of food caused the Captain's nausea to return and he could barely reply. "No, thanks."

Marcos eyed him carefully. "You don't look well."

"I don't feel well." Lee admitted with a weak smile. "I'd blame it on the water, but I didn't drink any."

"Well, you can at least sit while I work. Maybe that will help."

Lee obediently sat in the chair and watched as Marcos got to work. They could be a bit more relaxed in here where there was less chance of being observed, but they still had to be careful in case someone would come into the shop and overhear their conversation. "I noticed your limp." said Lee. "Does it give you much pain?"

Marcos shrugged, "Not much. I was betrayed by someone I trusted. The pain of betrayal is worse than the pain in my leg. I learned not to trust so easily."

"I'm sorry," Lee said softly. "Maybe you need to start over in a new place. You could come back with me."

"I still have too much work to do here." argued Marcos as he carefully placed a microdot on the underside of the ring's stone and then secured it with some clear plastic.

"Others could do the work." Lee suggested.

Marcos gave the ring a final check and handed it to the Captain. "There is no one here that I trust to do it. No one!" he said firmly.

Lee put the ring back on and then stood up slowly. Marcos could not help but see the pain in his face. He reached out to take the Captain's arm, but Lee shook his head as he carefully straightened up. "I'll be all right. I'm more worried about you. You've been alone here too long. You can't continue if feel there's no one you can trust. It'll destroy you. There's a quote I always remember when I'm alone in a strange place. 'It is impossible to go through life without trust: that is to be imprisoned in the worst cell of all, oneself.' I think you're in that prison now and you need help to get out. Come back with me. I'll stop by when I'm ready to leave and we can go together."

"No," replied Marcos. "I will finish the work I started. I'll be fine. But you," he gazed steadily into the dark-haired man's eyes, "you take care and have a safe journey home."

Lee clasped his friend's arms and returned the steady gaze. "Good-bye, Marcos. I hope we meet again soon." With an obvious effort, he turned and walked slowly out of the shop. Marcos, with a worried look on his face, watched him go and then went back to his work at the counter.

***

Lee Crane paused for a moment to wipe the sweat from his face. He only had to walk up three steps to the door of the house in front of him, but he wasn't at all sure he could do it. As he'd walked the short distance from the jeweler's to this street, the pain in his stomach had grown worse with every step. Also, he was pretty sure he had a fever. One minute he was overheated and sweating and the next he was shivering with cold. He gathered up the last of his strength to climb the steps, being careful to walk straight and steady. It wouldn't do to stagger up to the door like a drunk. That would certainly invite unwelcome attention from the neighbors and endanger the occupants of the house. He made it to the door and raised his hand to knock.

***

Jamison had packed and unpacked the medical kit three times, each time checking to make sure he hadn't overlooked anything that Kowalski might need to treat the Captain. The Skipper was out there, probably desperately ill, because he had overlooked the possibility of appendicitis as a cause of the Skipper's pain. A small voice in his mind reminded him that he'd followed accepted medical procedures, ordering blood work as a backup to the inconclusive physical examination. He faulted himself, however, for failing to remember that the Skipper was leaving on an ONI mission. He should have remembered and he should have insisted that the Skipper had to remain on board until he had the test results. It was a serious mistake and Jamison didn't want to make another so he grimly unpacked the kit for the fourth time.

***

The young girl stood in the doorway, observing the dark-haired man lying on the bed. He was sleeping, but not quietly. He tossed his head from side to side and talked continuously in his sleep. Most of it she didn't understand, but she did catch a few words that she thought were names. 'Probably friends.' she decided. She heard him say "Admiral," "Chip," and "Sharkey," and then mumble phrases that made no sense to her. Once she heard the word "ski" and guessed that he was dreaming about going skiing.

The man had looked very sick when he came to their door and she didn't think her mother would let him come in. After all, he was a stranger and he sure looked sick. When he explained why he had come, that his friend, Christian, knew them and had asked him to give them his regards, her mother surprised the girl by urging the stranger to enter quickly. It really was odd, because they didn't know anyone named Christian and when she'd pointed that out to her mother, she'd been quickly shushed. She hadn't said anything more because she didn't want to anger her mother and because she was glad her mother had let the stranger come in. He sure was handsome even if he was sick!

Her mother had wanted to call a doctor, but the stranger had quietly refused, saying it could put them in danger. Her mother had reluctantly agreed. The girl wondered about that--why would having a doctor come to their house be dangerous? Her thoughts jumped to other times when her mother had seemed nervous about something that seemed very ordinary. She remembered the package that a neighbor had asked her mother to mail. She'd put it in a bigger box, refused to let her daughter come with her when she sent it, and sternly ordered the young girl to say nothing about the package to anyone.

The girl's thoughts returned to the man on the bed as she heard him moan and saw him twist uncomfortably on the bed. She went to the bathroom and wet a washcloth with cold water. She returned and placed the cool cloth on his forehead. He murmured something, but the only word she understood was, "Jamie." She turned to leave and met her mother in the doorway. "I just wanted to help him," she said quickly, fearing a reprimand. "He seems so sick."

"That was very kind." replied her mother. "He is very sick and I wish we could do more to help him, but we can't. I was just coming to wake him. It's almost dark and time for him to get started." She hesitated and then said, "He has to meet some friends."

"Couldn't his friends come here?" asked the girl.

"They don't know where he is," explained the mother patiently, "and there is no way for us to contact them. Now, please go to the kitchen and put some soup in a cup--maybe he'll drink some of that before he leaves."

"Yes, Mother," said the girl as she turned to carry out her mother's request.

***

Lee Crane clung to the tree trunk clamping his mouth shut to suppress a cry of anguish. The pain in his stomach and abdomen had been increasing, but it had been bearable until he'd tripped over the tree root and stepped down hard. The pain felt like fire coursing through him and it took all his will and determination not to cry out. Any sound could prove fatal if a patrol should happen to be close enough to hear him. The bark of the tree felt cool against his face. He was sure he had a fever and that it was climbing higher because he'd been finding it harder and harder to concentrate. His thoughts kept wandering and sometimes he thought he was walking down a corridor on Seaview. That was why he had tripped over the tree root--there were no tree roots in Seaview's corridors, at least not usually. His thoughts wandered to the time there had been a jungle growing on Seaview, but he forced himself to think about the present. He sure wished he was on Seaview. He remembered Jamie telling him to come back to Sickbay if the pain got worse. 'Well, Jamie,' he thought, 'If I make it back to Seaview, Sickbay is definitely the first place I'll go. I can't wait to see the surprised look on your face when I show up without being dragged in.'

The pain had subsided enough that he thought he could go on. It had taken him much too long to get this far and there was very little time left if he was going to make it to the beach before daylight. He had chosen the longer path because it was easier terrain. Ordinarily he would have taken the shorter, rougher route but, with the pain and fever getting worse by the minute, he'd felt he'd never make it over the rough terrain. Now it looked like he might not be able to make it even on the easier path. The pain was making walking difficult and he had been forced to dodge several patrols. He just hoped that the launch was still waiting for him on the beach. He knew he was several hours overdue. The launch couldn't risk being discovered so the pilot would definitely leave well before the first rays of light hit the beach.

As he started out again, he heard sounds of footsteps coming his way. 'Damn!' he cursed under his breath. 'Another patrol!' Looking around desperately for some cover, he spotted a small cave. He quickly and quietly slipped into the cave, holding his breath until the sound of the footsteps faded away. He let his breath out slowly and was just about to leave the shelter of the cave when he realized that it was starting to become light outside. He pulled back from the opening. There was no point in going on now since the launch would surely be gone. He'd just stay here until it was dark again and hope that the launch would return.

He sat down and leaned against the wall. He could feel the cool dampness through his clothing. At first it felt good because he was so hot, but soon it made him shiver. He was too tired, and he hurt too much, to try to move, so he stayed put and tried to control the shivering. 'An easy mission,' he thought ruefully. 'In and out in less than a day.' The Admiral would certainly remind him of those words and probably deliver a stern lecture about going on a mission when he was sick. Chip and Jamie would probably get their licks in, too. 'Well,' he decided, 'I don't care. If I make it back to Seaview, I'll be more than happy to listen to any number of lectures.' He knew he should try to stay awake since there was still a chance that a patrol would come by, but it soon proved impossible and he sank into the blackness of oblivion.

***

At 0530 hours Nelson became aware of voices in the corridor outside his cabin. He got up from his bunk where he had been lying, fully clothed, trying to futilely to sleep. Opening the door he addressed the men in the corridor, "Gentlemen, you might as well come in. I don't think any of us are going to be able to sleep until we hear about the Captain."

Morton, Jamison, Sharkey, and Kowalski entered the Admiral's cabin. The Doctor and the Exec took the chairs by the Admiral's desk, while Sharkey and Kowalski sat on the bunk. Nelson sat in the chair behind the desk. His question, "Have you all made the necessary preparations?" was answered by a chorus of "Yes, Sir."

"Then there's nothing more we can do but wait."

An anxious silence fell over the men as they waited. Nelson tapped his pencil against the desk while Chip sat stiffly in his chair, contemplating the floor. Jamie, too, was still, sitting with his shoulders slumped as though his guilt was weighing on him. Kowalski and Sharkey, sitting on the bunk, fidgeted and changed positions frequently. In the silence, the ticking of the Admiral's clock could be clearly heard and it seemed to every man in the room, that the ticking got slower and slower as their impatience grew. Finally, just before 0600, there came a voice over the intercom. "Admiral, there's a call for you from Admiral Jones of ONI."

Nelson all but pounced on the intercom button. "Thanks, Sparks, put him through." Nelson put the call on the speaker and then said, "This is Nelson. Darren, I hope you've got good news for us."

The hopes of all the men in the room were dashed at Admiral Jones's first words. "I'm afraid not, Harry. It looks like your Doctor might have been right. Crane missed the rendezvous. The pilot on the launch waited as long as he could, but he couldn't risk being seen so he finally had to leave."

"Darren," declared Nelson, "I want to send a team of men from Seaview to rescue Crane." He expected Admiral Jones to object and had prepared a set of arguments. He was about to launch into the first of these arguments when Jones cut him off.

"I'm glad you volunteered because, to be honest, I don't have anyone I can send."

"You didn't have any backup for this mission?" demanded Nelson incredulously.

"We're stretched pretty thin these days, Harry. We do the best we can. If men like your Captain would work for us full time, then we could do more, but as it is we--"

Nelson interrupted impatiently, "We can talk about ONI's problems later. Right now all I'm concerned about is getting to Captain Crane. I've got men ready to go. We just need specific details of Lee's mission."

"I'll send a Navy chopper just like we did for Crane. You can be briefed on the mission on the way to the island. The chopper has been on standby for the last few hours so it can take off immediately. It will be there in about an hour."

"We'll be ready." was the curt response. "Nelson out."

The Admiral looked at the men in the room. "We've got an hour to finish getting ready. Kowalski, you and I will need to change into civilian clothes. Meet me in the Control Room as soon as you've changed. Chief, get the Flying Sub ready for launch. As soon as the chopper picks us up, I want you to head for the carrier. Jamie, bring the medkit to the Control Room. Chip, I want you in the Control Room when we rendezvous with the chopper."

Once again there was a chorus of "Aye, Sir," as everyone but the Exec left Nelson's cabin. "Admiral," said Morton, "I'll have Cookie bring breakfast to the Observation Nose for you and Kowalski . I know you think you're too worried to eat, but you have no idea how long it will take you to find Lee, and you'll need to be at your best."

Nelson favored the young officer with a look of appreciation. "You're right, Chip. Thanks for thinking of it."

"I'm used to reminding Lee to eat, Sir." said Morton and then he, too, turned to leave.

***

Marcos looked up from the counter as the two men entered his shop. As always he composed his features into the familiar expression of bland politeness, but this time his eyes were narrowed ever so slightly in suspicion because he didn't recognize the men. "Can I help you?" he asked as they approached the counter.

The older man spoke, "We're looking for a friend of ours. He was supposed to come here yesterday with a ring that needed to be repaired. We expected him back last night but he never arrived and we're worried that something happened to him. Do you remember him?"

Marcos realized that they were talking about Lee Crane, but he wasn't about to give them any information until he knew who they were. "A lot of people come into my shop, I don't remember them all."

The older man persisted, "Perhaps if you checked the records from your work yesterday, you would remember him. The stone was loose on his ring and he was concerned about losing it."

"Perhaps." replied Marcos. "My records are in the back. It will take me a minute to check them. You can come back with me if you like." He turned and walked to the back with the two men following him.

Once they were in the back room, the older man addressed Marcos, speaking urgently in a low voice. "I'm Admiral Nelson and this is Seaman Kowalski. I'm sure you guessed that we're looking for Lee Crane. He missed the rendezvous and we're afraid he was taken ill. Our doctor believes he might have appendicitis and could be gravely ill."

"If you knew he was ill," Marcos challenged, "Why did you let him come here?"

"We didn't know he was ill." replied Nelson. "He was favoring his side so I sent him to Sickbay. Lee was sure it was just pain from some bruises he got a few days ago and the Doctor didn't find anything to indicate otherwise. As a precaution the Doctor did some blood tests but the results didn't come in until after Lee had left. We tried to get him recalled, but it was too late. Now, did he come here?"

"Yes, he was here," the jeweler admitted, "and he did seem ill. He was obviously in pain and looked feverish. He made a joke that it could have been the drinking water except that he hadn't had any water."

"So he left here under his own power. Do you know where he was headed?"

"No, I don't. It's safer if no one knows too much. Much less chance of being betrayed. There's been too many good people killed because they trusted someone who didn't deserve it." Marcos's tone was bitter.

"That's true," replied the Admiral, "but if you don't trust anybody then you don't have anyone to depend on if you need help."

"I don't need help. I depend on myself." declared Marcos.

"Well, right now Lee needs help and we're going to see that he gets it." Nelson had no time to deal with Marcos's problems, finding Crane was his first concern. "Let's go, Kowalski. There's nothing more Marcos can or will do for us or for Captain Crane." Nelson led the way out of the shop and Kowalski hurried to catch up. Marcos watched them go and just before they were out of sight, he put the CLOSED sign on the front door and slipped out the back.

***

The young girl stood behind the door, concealed from the sight of the two men who were at the door talking to her mother. She had wanted to be the one to answer the knock at the door, hoping that the handsome stranger had returned. Her mother had stopped her and had opened the door herself.

Even though she could not be seen, she could still hear the conversation between her mother and the two men. One man did all the talking and he claimed they were friends of the handsome stranger. He said that their friend hadn't made it back home last night and they were afraid he had been taken ill. The young girl started to rush forward to say that the stranger had seemed very sick, but once again her mother restrained her.

"I'm afraid, Sir, that you've come to the wrong house. I can't tell you anything about your friend."

The young girl heard a second man's voice respond angrily. "We're wasting time. No one here will help us. We'll find him without their help."

"Easy, Ski," urged the first voice.

'Ski!' The girl's mind seized on the name in sudden recognition. The handsome stranger had said that name in his sleep! She'd thought he was dreaming about going skiing, but he was really calling for his friend! She stepped forward, paying no heed to her mother's restraining hand.

"Who is called Ski?" she demanded.

"I am, Miss." replied the surprised Kowalski. "It's a nickname."

"Mother," said the girl. "I heard him say that name. He said it like it was the name of a friend." She turned to look directly at Nelson. "What does he call you?"

The Admiral answered her carefully, anxious to win the trust of the girl and her mother. "I'm his friend, too, but because I'm older, he never calls me by my name. He uses my title."

The mother interrupted with a quick decision. "I think we had better talk inside. Please come in."

"Thank you, Ma'am." said Nelson as he and Kowalski entered the small house. The woman closed the door and then led them to the kitchen where they all sat around the kitchen table. The daughter spoke first, directing a question at Nelson.

"You said he calls you by your title. What is it?"

"He calls me 'Admiral.'" replied Nelson.

The girl nodded in approval and spoke to her mother. "I heard him say that, too. They must be his friends."

"Yes, Dear." agreed the mother. "You've been a good help. Now let me talk with them." The woman addressed Nelson. "Admiral--may I call you that?"

Nelson nodded his approval and she continued. "I'm sorry to have been so evasive at first, but I had to be sure I could trust you. Trust doesn't come easily here."

"We've learned that." sighed the Admiral. "It makes it very difficult."

"You're right." agreed the woman. "I hope we will regain our ability to trust one another when all this is over and my country is free. But enough of our problems, you need to know about your friend. He was here and he did seem ill. I wanted to get a doctor, but he refused. He said it could endanger us. For myself I would have been willing to take the risk, but for my daughter..." She looked at the young girl, reaching out to grasp her hand, and then looked at the Admiral, her expressive eyes begging him to understand and not judge her harshly.

Nelson's words were gentle as he replied. "Your daughter is a great treasure that you must protect. She is your country's future. Our friend came here to help your country--he wouldn't have wanted to bring harm to your daughter." His tone changed and became authoritative. "Tell me more about his condition."

The woman looked at him with gratitude in her eyes. "He was obviously in great pain--his stomach and abdomen, I think--and he seemed feverish. I couldn't get him to eat anything other than a little soup, but he did sleep a bit, although, as my daughter said, he was very restless."

"He left on time?" asked Nelson.

"Yes," replied the woman. "He left just at dusk, but he didn't look at all well. I don't think he would have been able to go very far."

"Do you know where he was headed?" was the Admiral's next question.

The woman shook her head. "No. I knew only that he was to be concealed here during the day. I don't know where he came from before he arrived here and I don't know where he was going when he left. It's safer that way."

"I know." interrupted Nelson. "There's less chance of being betrayed."

"I'm sorry, Admiral. I wish I could do more to help you find him."

"Maybe you can." suggested Nelson. "If I show you where he was to go, can you tell me the most likely route he would take?"

"I'll try." said the woman, eager to help.

Kowalski pulled out the map they had been given during the ONI briefing and spread it out on the table. Nelson pointed to the spot on the beach which had been designated as the rendezvous point. The woman leaned over the map and considered carefully before she spoke.

"This would be the shortest route," she said, tracing a path with her finger. "But the terrain is rough and as sick as he was, I don't think he would be able to handle it." She traced another path with her finger and continued, "This way is longer, but much easier. I think he'd take this route."

"Then that's the route we'll take." declared Nelson, rising from his chair. Kowalski rolled up the map and stood also. The Admiral addressed the woman. "Thank you for your help and thank you for taking care of our friend." He turned to the daughter. "Thank you for listening to our friend."

"I hope you find him, Admiral," said the girl earnestly. "I'll pray for him, and for you, and.." She paused, turning to Kowalski. "I'll pray for you, too, Ski."

"Thank you, Miss," replied Kowalski, smiling. "I'm sure that will help."

As the two men from Seaview opened the door and stepped outside, they noticed that the sky was dark gray and the gentle breeze now had some bite to it. Apparently storms were moving in and they both hoped they would find the Captain before the storms hit. So intent were they on their mission, they didn't notice a man watching them from across the street.

***

A loud clap of thunder pulled Lee Crane to a dazed awareness of his surroundings. Despite his best efforts to stay awake and alert, he had been drifting in and out of consciousness all day. He realized that it was dark outside, but he didn't know if it was the darkness of night or just a temporary darkness caused by the storm that woke him. He needed to know if he could safely leave the cave and head for the beach so he pulled himself slowly and painfully to his feet. The pain in his stomach felt like fire and he clung to the wall until he felt strong enough to walk to the entrance of the cave. When he reached the entrance, the force of the wind knocked him off his feet. He knew immediately that he had no chance of making it to the beach, at least not until the storm ended. He crawled back into the cave, despair washing over him. There had been no backup for this mission, and, even if someone did come looking for him, they wouldn't know he was here. Lee was realistic enough to know that his chances of surviving long enough to be rescued were not good. Whatever was wrong with him was rapidly getting worse. So many thoughts were going through his mind, regret at never seeing his friends again, and sorrow at the thought of leaving Seaview. Over all these thoughts, Jamie's last words, urging him to come back, kept ringing in his head. 'I tried, Jamie,' he thought sadly as he slipped into unconsciousness. 'I really tried.'

***

"Admiral," Kowalski shouted over the sounds of the approaching storm, "the wind is beginning to pick up again. I think we had better start looking for shelter before the next storm hits."

"Damn!" Nelson swore. "These blasted storms! We'll never find the Captain before daylight!"

Kowalski tried to reason with the angry Admiral, "At least the storms are forcing the patrols to take cover. If it weren't storming, we'd be dodging them. Besides, the Skipper will be looking to get out of the rain, so looking for shelter will be the best way to look for him."

"If he's still able to get out of the storm," snapped Nelson.

"Yes, Sir." said Kowalski.

The Admiral sighed, "You're right, Kowalski. We won't be any help to the Captain if we get hurt because we were too stupid to get out of the weather. I'm just so damned worried about him!"

"Yes, Sir." Kowalski said again. He looked around and spotted a cave entrance across the clearing. "Admiral, that cave looks like our best bet."

Nelson nodded in agreement and the two struggled across the clearing as the gusts of wind grew stronger. They collapsed just inside the entrance and for several minutes they both lay there, breathing heavily. Kowalski was the first to recover. He got to his feet and began shining his light around the cave. Suddenly, he froze. "Admiral," he hissed. "It's the Skipper!"

Nelson was on his feet instantly. "Lee!" he exclaimed as he saw the figure slumped against the rock wall of the cave. He started to rush to his Captain's side when he heard a shout behind him.

"Stop! If you touch him, I'll shoot you."

Both Nelson and Kowalski felt sick with despair--they must have been seen by a patrol. Not only were they exposed, but the Captain, too. The two men slowly turned around and as he turned, Nelson recognized the man with the gun and let out the breath he had been holding. "Marcos!" he exclaimed. "I thought we'd been caught by a patrol. We've found Lee, but he's very ill. We've only got a little time to get him out of here and down to the beach. Help us get him on the stretcher!"

Once again the Admiral started toward his Captain and once again Marcos stopped him, "I said don't touch him. I'll shoot if you go any closer."

Nelson angrily turned back to face Marcos. "What is the matter with you? He'll die if we don't help him!" Suddenly Nelson realized that Marcos shouldn't have been there at all. He had said he didn't know how Lee was to get off the island. His eyes narrowed as he said, "I thought you didn't know where to find Lee."

"I didn't know," Marcos spat out the words. "but I figured you would lead me to him. I followed you because I don't trust you. I don't think you want to help him--you just want the information I gave him. Probably sell it to the highest bidder."

Nelson snorted in exasperation. He remembered his conversation with Lee about Marcos having been undercover too long and no longer knowing whom to trust. He didn't have time to deal with a confused undercover agent; he had to get Crane to Seaview's Sickbay before it was too late. "I don't give a damn about your information. I'm trying to save my Captain's life." snapped the Admiral. Nelson's mind worked furiously and then he spoke, "Look, Lee doesn't have the information in his head, he has it on a microdot that you put in his ring. You take his ring and let us take him back to Seaview. You can find another courier to get it out while we can get Lee the medical care he needs."

"No," said Marcos. "I can't trust your words. It is a trick. You'll kill me before I can leave here with the ring, and then you'll kill him. I won't let you do it." He began to pull back on the trigger.

Before the Admiral could reply, they all heard a weak voice call out. It was Lee, struggling to make himself heard, "Marcos," he called, "Marcos, the Admiral, he....." The effort was too much and the Captain passed out before he could finish his sentence. Instinctively, Nelson started toward Crane, but Marcos fired a warning shot at his feet. The Admiral stopped and then, putting his hand on his gun, looked directly at Kowalski and spoke in a calm, deliberate tone. "Ski, I'm going to help Captain Crane. If Marcos shoots me, your orders are to kill him and then get the Captain back to Seaview. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Sir." said Kowalski, putting his hand on his gun.

Nelson turned his steely gaze to Marcos. "You can shoot me, Marcos, or you can shoot Kowalski, but you can't get both of us. One of us will help Captain Crane."

"You are willing to die for him? Why?"

"Because many times I've trusted him to save my life. Now, when he's the one who's helpless, he's trusting me to save his. I won't betray that trust even if it costs me my own life."

Marcos points the gun at Kowalski. "What about you? Are you willing to die for him, too?"

Kowalski said simply, "I'd never let the Skipper down."

Marcos slowly lowered the gun and looked down at the unconscious Captain. "We talked about trust when he was in my shop. He told me if I couldn't trust anyone, then I was in a prison worse than any jail an enemy could put me in."

Nelson said softly, "It is impossible to go through life without trust: that is to be imprisoned in the worst cell of all, oneself."

"Those were his exact words. You know that quote?"

The Admiral nodded, "It's a favorite of his. He says he reminds himself of it before every ONI mission."

Marcos looked at the Admiral and Kowalski. "He will never be in such a prison. He trusts wisely."

The Admiral returned Marcos's solemn look. "Yes, he does."

Kowalski was already kneeling beside the Captain. He felt Crane's forehead and ran his hands over his stomach and abdomen. Even though he was unconscious, the Captain moaned with pain. "Admiral," said Kowalski. "Doc said if he was feverish and his stomach sore all over, then his appendix had probably burst and I should give him a shot of the antibiotics right away. He's burning up with fever, Sir, and the slightest touch on his stomach seems to hurt him something terrible!"

Nelson knelt down at Crane's other side and gently laid his hand along the side of Lee's face. "What about the IV's?" queried the Admiral. "Should you get those started before we move him?"

Kowalski injected the Captain with the antibiotics before he answered. "Doc said to wait on the IV's until we had him on the Flying Sub. He said we'd be jostling him around too much until then."

"Very well," said Nelson. "Get the stretcher ready and let's get him out of here."

"Aye, Sir." said Kowalski.

Marcos watched the Admiral as he looked down at his Captain, the older man's hand still resting on Crane's cheek as he murmured softly, "Just hang on a little longer, Lee. We'll have you home soon. Just hang on." Observing Nelson, Marcos wondered how he could have doubted the Admiral's concern for Crane. Why could he see it in Nelson's face now when he couldn't see it earlier? He looked over at Kowalski who was busy assembling the portable stretcher. His devotion to his Skipper was also plainly evident, but Marcos had been blind to that, too. Lee was right, he had been in prison.

Kowalski laid the stretcher beside the Captain. "Admiral, if you and Marcos roll the Skipper toward you, I can slide the stretcher under him, and then you can roll him back onto it. I think that will cause him the least pain."

The Captain was carefully rolled onto the stretcher and strapped down. When they were done, Kowalski stood up and said, "I'll check outside and see if the storm's let up enough for us to go." He was gone only for a minute and when he returned, he looked grim. "The storm's let up, but I hear a patrol. We'll have to wait until they move on."

Marcos stood up. "No, you won't." he declared. "I'll go out and make enough noise to lead them away from here. I can keep them busy while you head for the beach."

"No," the Admiral protested. "It's too risky. With your limp you won't be able to move fast enough to stay ahead of them. They'll catch you."

"Admiral, are you afraid I'll betray you? Maybe now it is you who cannot trust." challenged Marcos, his eyes flashing with anger.

"I trust you, Marcos, because Lee trusts you." insisted Nelson. "But Lee wouldn't want to exchange his life for yours."

Marcos's expression softened. "You're right, he wouldn't. But he also wouldn't have wanted you to die for him, and yet, a few minutes ago, you were willing to let me shoot you in order to save his life. I can do no less for him, and," he paused briefly and then continued, "for his trusted friends. I'll lead the patrol away. Please don't worry about me. Just take care of him and see that the information gets to the UN."

"We will, Marcos," promised the Admiral. "Godspeed."

Marcos nodded and then hurried out of the cave. Nelson and Kowalski waited a few minutes before picking up the Captain's stretcher and heading out to the beach.

***

Nelson leaned his head back to rest against the wall behind his chair. He was tired, no, exhausted would be a better word. He'd had very little sleep in the last 48 hours, but he couldn't sleep now, not until the operation was over and he knew if Lee had survived the surgery. Jamison had looked grim when they'd brought Crane to Sickbay and curtly told the Admiral he could wait in his office. So here Nelson sat, waiting for word and thinking back over their frantic trip back to Seaview.

After Marcos had left the cave, they'd waited a few minutes and then went directly to the beach. The launch was waiting and they headed out. Fortunately, the storms had ended, but the sea was still rough and the small craft was tossed about. Even though he was never fully conscious, Lee reacted to every pitch and roll of the boat, moaning with pain each time he was jostled. The trip to the carrier seemed endless, although they actually made good time.

The officers and crew on the carrier had been both efficient and compassionate. The carrier's Captain, the ship's doctor, and the officer from ONI greeted the men from the Seaview when they were brought on board. The ONI officer, a long-time friend of Lee's, had gently slipped the ring from Crane's finger and had the microdot removed immediately so the ring could be returned before they left. Lee had been quickly moved to the waiting Flying Sub where the carrier's doctor had worked with Kowalski to stabilize Crane's condition with IV fluids and medication. The Admiral had stayed at his Captain's side during the flight to Seaview, letting Sharkey handle the piloting duties, and on Seaview had followed Lee's stretcher to Sickbay.

Nelson was just about to get up from his chair and start pacing when Jamison entered through the door from Sickbay. His expression was still grim, and Nelson could not control his impatience. "Well," he demanded, "How is he? Did he make it?"

Jamison sighed, "He made it through the surgery, but the infection in his abdomen is massive. I did all I could, but now we'll have to wait for the antibiotics to do their work and pray he's strong enough to hang on until they do."

Jamison continued in a tortured tone, "Admiral, this wouldn't have happened if he'd been treated promptly. If I had diagnosed him correctly when he came to see me and stopped him from going on that damned mission, it would have been very routine surgery. But the delay in treatment may prove fatal. The only reason he has any chance at all is because you and Kowalski went after him and started the antibiotics in the field." The doctor gave a harsh, humorless, laugh. "I'm always yelling at him for not coming to see me until it's an emergency and then the one time he does, I tell him it's not serious and send him off! He'll never be able to trust me again!"

Nelson understood the doctor's anguish. Jamison was a very caring doctor and took his responsibilities seriously. He cared about all the men of Seaview, but had a special concern for the Captain. Not just because of his rank and position, but because he respected the man himself. Jamison knew the heavy responsibility Lee bore, and the Doctor knew the toll it took on the Captain. The Skipper took care of everyone but himself, so Jamie had resolved to be the one who would take care of the Captain. Now, he felt he had failed and caused the Captain unnecessary suffering. The Admiral understood because he, too, on another mission, had been responsible for causing the Captain to suffer. After Krueger had forced him to shoot his Captain, he thought Lee would never trust him again. But Lee had understood then, and Lee would understand now. Jamison had done his best. That was all anyone could ask of him and all the Doctor should ask of himself.

"Jamie," said the Admiral. "It was a difficult diagnosis. I'm sure other doctors wouldn't even have bothered to do the blood work. Lee has a chance because you did follow up. If you hadn't, no one would have known he was ill, and we wouldn't have been ready to go in after him. He's strong, Jamie, and he's a fighter. He won't give up and neither should you."

The doctor seemed to draw some strength from the Admiral's words, but Nelson knew he wasn't ready to let go of his guilt entirely. The Doctor changed the subject. "You can see him now, Admiral, if you'd like, but he's unconscious and probably won't respond." Jamison gave the Admiral an appraising look. "You look exhausted. You can see him for a few minutes, then you're to go and get some sleep."

The Admiral shook his head stubbornly. "I won't leave Sickbay, Jamie. I'll sleep on one of the bunks, but I won't leave until Lee's out of danger."

Jamison knew he couldn't argue with the Admiral since he was planning to do the very same thing. "All right, Admiral. You can stay, but I am going to insist that you sleep. I don't need another patient."

"Agreed, Doctor." said the Admiral as he headed into Sickbay with Jamison close behind.

***

The next 72 hours seemed like an eternity to the officers and crew of the Seaview. The Captain's fever refused to come down and both the Admiral and Doctor remained with him in Sickbay, taking turns sitting with him and using cold compresses to make him more comfortable. When the anesthesia wore off, Lee became restless and rambled deliriously. Much of what he said was unintelligible, but the Admiral heard Marcos's name, and his own, and Kowalski's. Hearing his name brought a small measure of comfort to the Admiral. Even if Lee didn't know he was safe on board Seaview, at least he seemed to know that the Admiral and Kowalski had come for him. Nelson spoke constantly to the Captain, telling him he was safe and urging him to hang on. As the hours and days wore on, Crane became weaker, and the delirious ramblings ceased.

Chip Morton, Seaview's Exec, came to Sickbay when he could, but he needed to keep everything running smoothly on Seaview so he couldn't be there as much as he wished. He was the one who brought the message on the results of the UN censure vote to the Admiral and the later messages that described the collapse of the totalitarian government. After reading the latest message, Nelson looked up at Morton, "Lee will be pleased that the mission was successful. I just hope we get the chance to tell him."

Morton said softly, "I hope so, too, Sir."

"There's been no word on Marcos?" queried the Admiral.

"None, Sir." replied Morton.

The Admiral looked keenly at the younger man. "Chip, I haven't told you how much I appreciate your taking care of everything. I know my being here instead of standing some of Lee's watches has put an extra burden on you, and I want you to know I'm grateful."

"Admiral," replied Morton, "I can't do any more for Lee here than you and Jamie are doing, but what I can do is take care of Seaview for him. She'll be in A-1 condition when Lee resumes command, Sir."

Nelson smiled, "Thanks, Chip. I appreciate it and Lee will, too." The Admiral turned back to the Captain and replaced the compress on his forehead. Morton leaned over and spoke to his friend, "Lee, I've got to go to the Control Room. I'll be back to see you later." The Exec straightened up and, nodding to the Admiral, left Sickbay to fulfill his promise to take care of Seaview.

***

Dr. Jamison looked down at the pale, still form of his Captain lying on the bed. From far away he heard a voice and recognized it as his own. He couldn't believe the voice sounded so calm as it pronounced the dreaded words, "Time of death, 0600 hours."

The Captain had fought hard as he had so many times, but this time there had been no chance he could survive. Treatment for his inflamed appendix had been delayed too long and a massive infection had ravaged the Captain's body. Dr. Jamison knew he was to blame. 'If I had diagnosed the appendicitis correctly when the Skipper came to Sickbay--. If I had stopped him from leaving on that dammed mission--. If I had been a better doctor--,' he berated himself, 'then Seaview would still have her Captain.' He felt a hand shaking his arm--his corpsman was trying to get his attention. "Doctor....Doctor Jamison....SIR!"

Jamison opened his eyes. He wasn't standing by the Captain's bed, he was lying on a bunk in Sickbay and his corpsman was shaking his arm. "Dr. Jamison, wake up, Sir."

The doctor bolted upright as relief washed over him. 'It had been a dream!' Just as suddenly, his spirits sank again as he saw the concerned look on the corpsman's face. Maybe his nightmare wasn't just a dream, but a premonition. "What is it?" he demanded, scrambling to his feet. "Is the Captain worse?"

"Oh no, Sir." said the corpsman. "In fact, he's much better. His temperature has been dropping for the last few hours and now it's under 100. He's also showing signs of regaining consciousness, and I thought you'd want to be with him when he woke up. That's why I was calling you. You were pretty hard to wake up, Sir, and I was getting worried."

Jamison brushed aside the corpsman's concern as he hurried over to Crane's bedside. "I'm fine. I was just dreaming, that's all." He did a quick exam. The Captain really was much better, and he stirred slightly as the Doctor poked and prodded. The Doctor turned to the corpsman and, gesturing in the direction of the bunk where the Admiral was sleeping, said, "Please wake the Admiral."

The Doctor turned back to his patient. "Skipper," he said gently. "Skipper, can you hear me? I know you're tired, but I want you to try to wake up for a bit. Try to open your eyes. Just for a minute, Skipper, then you can go back to sleep."

Lee's eyelids fluttered and his eyes opened briefly. "Hey, Jamie," he said in a soft, sleepy voice. "I tried....to come back....like you said....when it hurt..., but it was so far....couldn't get....back." His eyes opened and closed as he drifted in and out between phrases.

"It's all right, Skipper." soothed Jamison. "I know you tried." The Admiral came to stand beside the Doctor and he listened as Jamison continued, "The pain in your side was appendicitis, Skipper. Your appendix burst and--" Jamison paused as Lee interrupted, still sounding groggy and weak, "When I jumped... hurt.... when I landed.... like fire."

Jamison looked ill and he swallowed before answering, "Yes, that might have caused it. When it burst, the infection spread and made you very sick, but you're going to be all right. You've had surgery to remove your appendix and we're giving you antibiotics to fight the infection. You just need to rest now."

Lee continued to drift in and out and his slurred speech was rambling. "The Admiral...and Ski.....they were there."

The Admiral leaned close and laid his hand on his Captain's arm. "Yes, Lee, we came to get you, to bring you home."

"You...an' Ski.....you're all right?"

"We're fine," Nelson assured him.

"The mission....ONI....needed..."

"The information got to the UN in plenty of time." said the Admiral. "The censure motion passed the day before yesterday and reports are coming in that the government there is collapsing."

"Day...before?" murmured Lee.

"You've been pretty sick, Lee." Nelson admitted. He looked at Jamison and saw deep regret and guilt on his face. Lee didn't know that his innocent statements were increasing the doctor's feelings of guilt. "Jamie wants you to sleep now and I want you to listen to him."

"Aye, Sir," said Lee as his eyes closed. Nelson started to turn away, but stopped as the Captain spoke again, "Marcos....I remember....Marcos....with you... with a gun."

"Marcos just needed to be sure we came to help you. We convinced him to trust us and he helped us get you out."

"Did he...come back?...I told him....he could come."

The Admiral hesitated and then said gently, "No, he didn't come back with us. When we started out of the cave where we found you, we heard a patrol nearby. Marcos offered to lead them away so we could get you to the beach. We don't know if they caught him. I've been trying to find out. I'll keep trying while you sleep."

Lee nodded slightly, "Wake me...when....there's....news."

"I will," the Admiral promised. "As soon as I hear. Now sleep."

This time the Captain's eyes stayed closed and he was quiet as he drifted off to sleep.

Nelson stepped back as Jamie checked his patient. When Jamison was done, he joined the Admiral. "I think we're through the worst now. Of course, I'll keep a close eye on him, but I don't expect any further complications. Unless he refuses to listen to his doctor's orders, that is." Jamie gave a wan smile which was quickly replaced by a frown. "I couldn't blame him if he did refuse to listen to me."

"Doctor," said Nelson sternly, "We've been over this and I don't intend to go over it again. You did your best. That's all anyone can ever do. Seaview needs her Captain, Doctor, and the Captain needs you to help him get back on his feet. Focus on that, not on what's past."

The Admiral's words sounded harsh, but they had the effect he intended. Jamison straightened his shoulders and spoke firmly, "Aye, Sir. Thank you, Sir."

Nelson smiled, "Now, I'm going to the Control Room. I've got some good news to deliver."

Jamison returned the smile, "Yes, Sir. Some very good news, Sir."

***

Admiral Nelson sat at the table in the Observation Nose, trying to complete some paper work but finding it difficult to concentrate. He was worried about his Captain. When he'd stopped by Sickbay earlier, Jamison had informed him that while Crane was improving physically, he was unusually quiet and subdued, and the Doctor was concerned about him.

Lost in his thoughts, Nelson didn't see Morton approaching him until the Exec noisily cleared his throat.

"I'm sorry, Chip." said Nelson. "I was thinking about Lee."

"I thought as much. He's been on my mind a lot, too." admitted Morton.

"Jamie says he's been too quiet. You've noticed it?"

The Exec nodded, "Each time I've been in to see him, he's asked me about ship's status reports. When I tell him I can't show them to him until Jamie gives the okay, he just drops it. That's not like him at all, and I have to admit it has me worried."

The two men were silent a moment and then Chip remembered the reason he'd come to see the Admiral. He held out a piece of paper. "Maybe this will help. It's a message for Lee from Marcos. It just came in and I thought maybe you'd like to deliver it. It's rather cryptic, but I guess Lee will understand it."

Nelson took the paper and quickly scanned the few lines it contained. A smile broke out on his face and he rose to his feet. "Yes, Lee will understand it," he said. "It might be just what the doctor ordered. If you need me, I'll be in Sickbay."

"Aye, Sir."

***

As Nelson approached Sickbay, he listened for sounds of conversation loud enough to be heard in the corridor but heard none. The Admiral sighed, disappointed at the silence. Usually after a few days in Sickbay, Lee became very vocal about his desire to return to duty. The arguments between the Captain and the Doctor were often loud enough to be overheard and were a source of amusement among the crew.

The Admiral entered Sickbay and Jamison greeted him with unusual enthusiasm. "Hello, Admiral. I'm glad you're here. The Skipper could use some company other than mine and I could use some fresh coffee. I'll be in the Wardroom if you need me."

"Thanks, Jamie," said Nelson. "Take your time."

The Admiral pulled a chair over to Crane's bunk where the Captain was lying back, propped up on pillows. "You're very quiet, Lee," observed Nelson. "Are you feeling all right?"

"I'm fine, Sir," responded Lee without much conviction.

"Well, I have some good news for you." said the Admiral smiling. "I have a message for you from Marcos."

The Captain perked up immediately and reached for the paper Nelson was offering to him.

"The people here are finally free," Crane read, "and so am I. Thanks to you and your friends for giving me the key to my cell. Marcos."

He looked up at the Admiral. "I'm glad he's safe. Kowalski told me what happened in the cave. You took quite a chance."

"Not really," Nelson said easily. "Marcos wanted to trust us. Your words in his shop had quite an impact, especially that quote of yours. That's obvious from his message." Anxious to lighten the moment, Nelson grinned as he continued, "Actually, it was my gift of total recall that finally convinced him. When I recited that quote word for word, he was so impressed that he put down the gun. Once again brains carried the day."

Lee returned the grin. "I'll try to remember that, Sir."

Nelson was pleased to see the smile on Lee's face, but was dismayed when it faded quickly and Lee looked away.

"What is it, Lee?" inquired the Admiral. "Are you feeling ill? Should I call Jamie?"

"No, Sir." said Lee hastily. "I'm fine."

"Then what's wrong? Everyone's noticed you've been unusually quiet. If there's something troubling you, maybe we could help."

Lee hesitated a moment before answering, "It's just that I've been expecting a lecture, if not from Jamie, then from either you or Chip. But no one's said anything, and Jamie, well, he's been downright solicitous. I figure that either you're all so mad at me that you're waiting until I'm out of here to drop the bomb on me, or I'm a lot sicker than I think I am and everyone feels too sorry to yell at me."

The Admiral almost laughed out loud in relief. "Lee, he chuckled, "No one's lectured you because it wasn't your fault. Appendicitis is very difficult to diagnose in the early stages because the symptoms seem like ordinary, minor complaints. You couldn't have known how seriously ill you were. Plus, you did go to Sickbay and report your symptoms as ordered. That's what's bothering Jamie. He's been blaming himself because he didn't keep you in Sickbay until the results of the blood tests came in."

"But if appendicitis is so difficult to diagnose, he had no real reason to suspect it, did he?"

"No, and most doctors probably wouldn't even have bothered with the blood work," agreed Nelson. "Especially since you had those bruises from the turbulence. Your suggestion of a pulled muscle would probably have been accepted without question. Fortunately, Jamie's more thorough than most doctors. If he hadn't run those tests, no one would have had any idea something was wrong until you missed the rendezvous. Because he alerted us to the real possibility that you were ill, we were able to have a rescue mission planned and ready to go as soon as you were overdue. Without that head start, we might not have gotten to you in time."

"Doesn't he understand that his thoroughness saved my life?" Lee asked softly.

"We've been telling him, but, like a certain Captain I know, he still feels responsible. That's why he's been so solicitous--he feels he let you down and he's trying to make it up to you."

The Captain was silent a moment as he considered the Admiral's words. "Admiral," he said, "When Jamie gets back, could you leave us alone? I think we need to have a talk."

"A talk about what, Skipper?" said Jamison as he came through the door.

"About my getting out of here." grinned Lee.

"I think that's my cue to leave," said the Admiral as he got up and headed for the door, "before I get asked to take sides. He's your patient, Jamie, you reason with him." As he went through the door, Nelson heard the Doctor attempting to placate the Captain. "Now, Skipper," Jamison began, and the Admiral closed the door with a broad smile on his face.

***

Admiral Nelson was in the radio shack having just given an outgoing message to Sparks when he sensed a change in the atmosphere in the Control Room. No one said anything, but everyone suddenly seemed to be working with increased energy and enthusiasm. Nelson was puzzled and started toward Morton to ask if he had noticed the change when he caught sight of the Captain coming down the steps into the Observation Nose. Apparently the crew in the Control Room had also spotted him and their pleasure in seeing him up and around was reflected in their work.

Nelson hurried to join Crane to make sure that he wouldn't try something foolish like resuming his duties. The Captain made no attempt to enter the Control Room, however, choosing instead to sit down in one of the chairs in the Nose.

"Well, Lee," said the Admiral, "I guess you won the argument with Jamie."

"It wasn't an argument, Admiral." protested Lee. "Jamie and I talked. I don't know if I was entirely successful in convincing him that he didn't let me down, but he did agree that I didn't need to stay in Sickbay. Of course, he probably would have been happier if I had gone to my quarters, but he really should known better than to expect that."

Nelson grinned, "I expect he'll be along in a little while to check on you."

Lee returned the grin. "Of course I could bring him here on the run. All I'd have to do is get on the intercom and start issuing orders. That would do it, but it would also get me dragged back to Sickbay."

The Captain's expression became more serious. "I hope he can let go of his feelings of guilt. He shouldn't blame himself. When we talked I told him that the mission was so important that even if he had diagnosed the appendicitis when I was first in Sickbay, ONI would probably have taken the chance and sent me out anyway."

Nelson was equally serious as he replied. "I think you're right. The UN needed the information and you were the only one Marcos would trust with it. They probably would have wanted you to risk going even if you were ill, but they should have had better backup. They sent you out on a vitally important mission with absolutely no contingency plans. That was outright negligence on their part. I just sent a message to Admiral Jones and the National Security Council telling them my feelings on the matter."

"Hmmmm, that might just be the end of my career with ONI." reflected Crane.

"Would that bother you?"

"Not really," Lee admitted. "I'd much rather be on Seaview than on a mission for ONI, but if they feel they need me...."

"You wouldn't let your country down." Nelson said quietly.

Crane nodded and then turned his gaze to the sea outside the Seaview's magnificent windows. The Admiral looked at him with pride in his eyes. "Well, in any case, you need time to recuperate so you don't have to worry about ONI at least for a little while. In fact, you don't have to worry about anything for the rest of this cruise. So sit back, and enjoy the ride, Captain.

Lee grinned, "Aye, Sir. With pleasure, Sir."

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