"STRIKE YER COLOURS"
By Pat Cave & Lillian H.
"... So,as we often find, loyal listeners, there are grains of fact hidden in every exaggerated rumour and on your behalf, I will continue to investigate the mounting evidence behind the latest strange occurrence aboard Seaview, the privately owned submarine of Admiral Harriman Nelson.
You have just heard the statement from a terrified, former member of the crew, giving a full and fascinating account of the whole incident. The appearance of 'Blackbeard's Ghost' and the subsequent possession of a majority of the crew put the world at nuclear risk and subsequently due to this dangerous revelation; I can inform you that steps have also been taken to prevent me obtaining any further information. I have been warned that it would be detrimental to my career and possibly my health, if I were to pursue my enquiries. I have also had all my reports and taped interviews impounded for investigation, which no doubt will mysteriously go missing but fear not, dear friends, I will not be thwarted in my search for the truth. You may take my oath that this supernatural incident will not be buried beneath mountains of red tape in the name of security. For too long we have been denied access to the evidence that is available and should be ours by right.
Unfortunately, Electrician's Mate, Peter Fulmer, has been taken into protective custody and my access to him denied. We are all aware of the power Admiral Nelson wields in Washington and I suspect this is yet another example of his influence. Repeated requests for an interview with the Admiral have been so far refused, however I will persist. The members of Seaview's crew are also reticent to meet with me and discuss the events of this mission. The Admiral's volatile temper is legendary and no doubt they fear his reprimands. However, for the sake of his crew and the safety of the world at large, I must expose the tissue of lies and dis-information that our government continues to feeds us!
This is Sophie Warrander for Psychic Revelations, saying good night until the next time we share the airwaves."
"Switch the radio off Lee... I've heard more than enough!" Harriman Nelson grumbled angrily.
He was sitting in his office in the NIMR building that bore his name. With him were Captain Lee Crane and his executive officer, Chip Morton. All three had sat listening to the late night host of the locally well known station on a subject that had recently become too high profile to be comfortable.
"Well, you heard her... she won't be silenced," he looked expectantly at the two men in front of him, "any suggestions."
"Why don't we just ignore her, Admiral? She's an annoyance at best. She will eventually tire of getting nowhere. If we keep silent and keep her off the base, what's the worst she can do?" Lee Crane questioned reasonably.
"Or better still, slap a cease and desist, national security order on her and take her off the air!" Chip Morton suggested hotly.
"No, no...you're both missing the point!" Nelson answered irritably. "That's already been tried! You heard the result. She's managed to turn herself into a 'crusader for the truth'. Instead of stopping her, those ham-fisted fools in Washington have only given her added incentive."
"But surely that was the point, Admiral. To try and stop her!" Lee answered robustly.
"To stop her yes, but not to prove her conjecture of a cover up! We have to find a way to make her the one who decides there's no story."
"How do you propose we do that, sir? We know she's not about to let this go and judging by the report on her, she's looking for more than notoriety," Lee argued.
Harriman Nelson got up and paced to the large window that overlooked the neat rolling lawns of the Institute grounds. He stood gazing out as he considered the problem. Slowly he turned and looked at his two officers who were waiting patiently for him to speak.
"Sophie Warrender is definitely a woman looking for answers, all right. She is highly motivated to pursue this 'rumour' for two reasons. She needs the publicity to promote her stalled career but she is also deeply involved in any number of fringe psychic phenomena groups," Nelson strolled over to stand near the two, seated men. "Her mother, Rita Warrender dabbled in spiritualism and had a dubious reputation as a spiritual medium before her death two years ago. Since then, Miss Warrender has become immersed in proving the truth of what her mother professed. She needs to confirm this and if we put obstacles in her way she will shout all the louder."
"So how do we stop her?" Chip asked frustratedly.
"We don't," Nelson murmured thoughtfully.
Chip and Lee looked at each other in confusion.
"We don't?" Lee questioned. "But...."
"I can see no other course of action than we allow Miss Warrender full access to the crew and for her to conduct all the interviews she wishes. We give her our complete co-operation, gentlemen and tell her the true story of our encounter with Blackbeard and stop all her inflammatory innuendos and speculation!"
"But, Admiral...." Both Lee and Chip started to protest.
"I think it will be the only way for us to convince her otherwise!" Nelson concluded pensively.
"Miss Warrender, please come in, so good to meet you at last." Harriman Nelson held out his hand as he greeted his tall, slim visitor. He noted the way she viewed him apprehensively and hid his own amusement behind a neutral expression of welcome...maybe his ultra controlled exec was rubbing off on him after all. "Can I offer you coffee?"
"Eh...no thank you, Admiral Nelson, not for me." She sat gracefully on the seat he indicated and watched as he poured himself coffee and joined her on the couch in his well-appointed office.
He was a compact man and much more attractive than she had previously thought, his publicity photos didn't do him justice at all. Then she wondered if it was mainly due to the twinkle of his much-vaunted intellect that shone from his soft blue eyes or the restrained energy he exuded so effortlessly that people could only experience when in his company. He was certainly much friendlier that she had expected.
"I must apologise for the delay in our meeting but I'm afraid paperwork swamps even retired admirals on occasions," he continued smoothly.
"Oh come, Admiral. Are you seriously going to suggest that you have not been avoiding me?" Sophie scoffed scornfully.
Looking coy, he grinned. "Maybe not completely. I needed some time to make some enquiries about you and your suitability."
"Suitability?" Sophie demanded suspiciously.
"Of course your suitability. I'm not about to offer just anyone access to Seaview and it's crew, without first assessing that person thoroughly."
Sophie was now astonished. "You're going to allow me to interview your crew?"
"Why?" Doubt clearly registered in her soft enquiry.
"Well, the ultimatum you issued on your recent broadcast left me very little alternative. You have a very clever way of expanding gossip, innuendo and speculation into a major conspiracy theory, Miss Warrender," Harry replied subtly.
"Do you call my interview with Seaman Fulmer gossip, Admiral? He was terrified by his experiences as a pirate and this was not the first time he had witnessed supernatural phenomena was it?" Sophie attacked effectively.
"I'm afraid Seaman Fulmer was a rare mistake in our choice for the crew, Miss Warrender. He lacked the mental fortitude for a submariner's life. Long hours spent submerged without natural...."
"So that's it! That's how you and Washington intend to refute his testimony. I should have expected that! You intend to attack the man's mental...."
"Miss Warrender, you misunderstand me. I am merely stating a fact, one that our own doctor and his present physician can verify quite easily," Harry interrupted patiently.
Sophie looked contemptuous. "I'm sure they can, now that they have been told to."
Nelson was mildly annoyed now. "If you are not prepared to believe the facts when they are presented to you, I fail to understand how you will possibly be able to judge the accuracy of the interviews you wish to conduct. Maybe I have made another mistaken choice. Perhaps we should end our interview...." he moved to stand.
"NO, Admiral Nelson, wait," Sophie interrupted urgently as she reached out and placed a restraining hand on his arm. "I'm sorry... I'm afraid your sudden acquiescence has taken me by surprise. Maybe I have been a little hasty in my assumptions about you. I assure you I am quite able to be objective and more than capable of discerning the truth." She gazed at him with the full force of her considerable feminine appeal. "I truly am sorry to have insulted your integrity. Please, won't you allow me another chance?" Her voice echoed a little distressed throb.
Nelson observed her carefully. Oh yes, Miss Sophie Warrender knew all the tricks of her trade and used them to her advantage well. Her slim figure and pretty appearance, enhanced by the full concentration of her beautiful amber eyes, with tears artfully supplied on demand, must be quite an advantage over susceptible members of the male population.
"I'm sorry, my dear, I didn't mean to upset you." Nelson supplied a clean handkerchief to her and watched as she dabbed her eyes. "I would have thought a seasoned reporter as yourself would have been immune to such reactions."
"Thank you Admiral, you're being very understanding." Sophie looked at him shyly as she used his handkerchief. "I'm not usually this emotional, I assure you but I have been under quite a strain recently. Your friends in Washington can be very intimidating and a lone woman, however strong and determined even in the gritty world of journalism, can still feel vulnerable occasionally." She watched him carefully. Had she struck just the right note of resilience and female frailty?
"Yes, of course, I understand it must have been distressing for you. I'm sorry about Washington's reaction, I'm afraid they are prone to the heavy handed approach in most things."
Sophie relaxed... men were so easy. Even the smart ones!
"Can I ask why you have taken against their advice Admiral? After all you have been actively supporting their obsessive need for secrecy for years."
Harry stood up and walked slowly to the window and gazed out with his arms folded across his chest. Sophie turned to watch him and waited. She recognised his body language had become defensive and smiled to herself. She could read most people better than they ever supposed. She had watched her mother use natural intuition to read her 'clients' but Sophie had taken a course in psychological and subconscious human responses and understood far more than she ever did. No one was going to sell her a bill of goods and make her look the fool!
Still concentrating on the view, Harry spoke honestly. "Quite often I think that certain 'classified' information is completely unnecessary but I have to work within a system that promotes secrecy for other information that is vital to out National Security." Nelson turned and putting his hands casually in his pockets, he crossed the room to her. "Your relentless pursuit of the truth has unfortunately promoted Seaview's profile to one of intense speculation and caused mild shockwaves in the corridors of power. Therefore I have decided that we need to include you into the select company of a very few people who are kept confidentially informed on the sensitivity of our missions. Consider yourself in an extremely privileged position, Miss Warrender," Harry finished resolutely.
Greatly flattered, Sophie Warrender, sat up a little straighter as she glowed with the blatantly smug smile of someone who had outwitted the enemy.
Harry observed her carefully...he was no slouch at reading body language himself. Didn't he have an inscrutable XO to keep him on his toes?
Sophie Warrender stood and gushed. "Admiral Nelson, I really do appreciate the honour you do me. I'm sure we can come to some mutually satisfactory agreement about publication... but won't you be even more exposed when I report my findings to the world?"
"I'm hoping by then Miss Warrender, you will be fully conversant with the need for secrecy on this matter and that we can convince you there are some things that should not be open to public scrutiny. I'm sure common sense and your own intelligence will dissuade you from any further course of action."
Sophie Warrender listened to his statement and swallowed the excitement that was building in her. If Nelson thought for one moment she was about to pass up a chance like this, he didn't deserve to be in his position. There was far too much at stake for her to relinquish this unique opportunity.
"Admiral Nelson, I am quite prepared to weigh the evidence and let my conscience act for me. After all, the loyalty of my listeners is something I hold very preciously and I will always act in their best interests, even to remaining silent if that proves the most honourable action." That sounded suitably non-committal she thought.
Nelson appeared satisfied. "In that case, Miss Warrender, let us continue." Harry went to the intercom on his desk and flicked a switch. "Angie, would you ask Captain Crane and Commander Morton to join us."
Sophie controlled her mounting excitement. Nelson had no idea what she was about and was going to play right into her hands!
"Relax Seaman Kowalski... or can I call you Ski? That is how you're known on board isn't it? Ski?" Sophie Warrender questioned softly.
Clearing his throat and shifting a touch nervously on the chair, Kowalski looked at the pretty reporter and admired her big beautiful eyes and warm smile she presented to him. She was a looker okay... he sure hoped the admiral knew what he was doing.
"Yes Ma'am that's what everybody calls me," he smiled back. "You can call me Ski, if you like."
They were sitting in the officer's wardroom and two mugs of hot coffees sat on the table between them. Admiral Nelson had designated this a suitable environment for her to conduct her interviews, so Sophie had her notebook open in front of her and a pencil to hand. What Ski couldn't see was the small tape recorder switched on and beside her on the bench... she rarely mentioned the recorder unless someone asked specifically about it.
"It's okay, Ski, I won't ask anything too difficult. I just want you to tell me what happened in your own words."
Ski looked uncomfortable again and shifted his gaze to the open doorway.
Sophie watched him. He was obviously nervous... but what exactly bothered him? The unfamiliar surroundings of the officer's mess... or his memories?
He looked down at his hands as he linked his fingers together, twisting them restlessly.
"I'm not sure about this Ma'am... we don't usually talk about our missions and especially not to reporters... beggin' your pardon Ma'am...." Ski's voice trailed off as he looked at her with embarrassment.
Sophie nodded gently. "That's okay, I understand Ski, but the Admiral has given you permission hasn't he and please... just call me Sophie," she smiled encouragingly, "Why don't you just talk and I'll ask any question that occurs to me... that okay?"
"I suppose so Ma... Sophie," Kowalski smiled. "Well, I guess it all started when we found that old pirate ship hidden in a mound at the bottom of the sea."
Ski shook his head as he remembered. "If only we knew what we'd really found... I reckon the admiral would have high tailed it, right out of there at flank speed...."
"You were guarding the President and the Shah weren't you?" Sophie interrupted softly.
Kowalski hesitated. The admiral had said they could tell her all about Blackbeard. He hadn't said anything about relaying the mission details.
"I wouldn't know about that ma'am. I just knew we were on a secret mission when we discovered that old sailing sloop hidden in a mound, deep at the bottom of the ocean." Ski shook his head disbelievingly. "And from then on strange things started to happen..." his voice trailed away as he remembered all the events of several months earlier.
"What sort of things?" Sophie Warrender questioned keenly.
"Well, the Admiral and Skipper thought that maybe we'd found a hidden missile silo and Captain Crane ordered a torpedo launched. Only that went haywire and turned on us! It was only the Skipper's skill with the laser that saved us."
"Was that all that happened?"
"Oh no, Ma'am, that was just the beginning. There was the Jolly Roger symbol that appeared on the deck and the admiral and Chief Sharkey said they'd seen a bearded stowaway aboard, dressed as a pirate. The Skipper didn't believe it at first but when the film of the x-ray came back on the supposed missile silo, he saw the name on the wreck hidden in there 'The Queen Anne's Revenge'... he mounted search parties to find the intruder right away after that."
Sophie stayed silent and nodded for Ski to continue.
"That's how I came to find him, the intruder that is. I was searching the lower decks when I came across this stranger in the missile room...." Ski stopped and looked at Sophie intensely, "He was dressed like one of those pirates you see in the old movies... complete with cutlass and everything! I don't know exactly what happened next, except I emptied a whole clip into this guy and he didn't even flinch... then one minute I'm me...the next I'm a ... pirate!"
"Oh, common Ski, you can't expect me to believe that. What did this stowaway do to you?" her eyes shone with anticipation.
"I swear to you Ma'am, I was... transformed. Just like that... and the really strange part was I didn't mind... I liked being a pirate<," Ski laughed embarrassedly.
"So if I'm to believe what you say... a stranger...."
"Not stranger Ma'am, Blackbeard!" Ski interrupted emphatically.
Sophie Warrender watched him intensely. "Blackbeard? You're seriously suggesting the two hundred year old ghost of a pirate suddenly appeared on this submarine and possessed you?" She shook her head slightly. "Tell me honestly Ski, who put you up to this? The Admiral? Captain Crane...?"
"Oh no, Ma'am. The Skipper is dead set against these interviews and so's Mr. Morton but the admiral... well, he said we should talk freely and tell you everything. No matter how fantastic it was!"
Sophie watched the good-looking seaman and felt certain that he was being totally honest with her. His expression was open and natural, his body more relaxed now. She hid her growing excitement. If only half of what she had heard so far was true, she was onto a major scoop! She could see it now. No more late night, obscure slots. She'd be able to command the primetime airwaves...maybe even take it to television and possibly a book! Yes, a book written by her! She could hit the big time with this. Then they'd all have to take her assertions seriously!! Maybe her mother would be vindicated after all...she couldn't wait!
"Go on Ski, tell me all about it, don't leave anything out!" She encouraged as she made careful notes of all his comments.
Chip Morton eyed the young woman opposite him with great suspicion. He sat upright with his arms folded across his chest and the infamous XO glare on his handsome face that put fear into the most seasoned crewman. He made it obvious he didn't want to be here, let alone co-operate willingly.
"Why, Mr. Morton, if you continue to glare at me like that, I could get the impression you don't like me," Sophie smiled cynically.
Chip chose not to respond with anything more than a sarcastically raised eyebrow.
"Okay, Mr. Morton, you want to tell me what you think happened?" Sophie intoned softly as she carefully smiled encouragingly at him. This guy was so attractive!
What did Nelson do? Have women on his recruitment panel? Most of the men on this boat were drop dead gorgeous! Crane, certainly. Kowalski, several of the other sailors and some of the JO's, even Nelson himself, in a mature sort of way...but she had always had a weakness for the strong, silent type...and Lt. Commander Chip Morton, pressed all her buttons! Wonder if he'd be interested in doing a private interview...somewhere intimate...like her bedroom perhaps!
Clearing his throat and watching her expressions, Chip thought he had a vague idea what she was thinking. Well, if she thought she could use her feminine wiles on him, she was sadly mistaken. She may be attractive but being a reporter of any kind made any interest he may have had wane rapidly. He didn't think much of the admiral's plan but short of clapping her in irons, an idea he could warm too, he had agreed that it was worth trying. Now he just wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible and her, off this boat!
"There's nothing much to tell... I spent most of the time stranded at the bottom of the sea when the Flying Sub experienced difficulties and became marooned on a reef."
"But not before you had a taste of Blackbeard's influence... right?"
Chip narrowed his gaze and if possible became even more remote. "If you say so."
"Oh come, Commander, don't play hard to get. YOU experienced what it was like to think like a pirate, be a pirate... didn't you?" Sophie persisted.
Chip shrugged. "Maybe something happened... but only for a minute... it was nothing, just a fleeting aberration."
She smiled enviously, "What was it like? "
Now, Chip looked confused. "Like?" he questioned.
"Yes. Did you feel like a murderous cutthroat... were you ready to follow Blackbeard and sail the seven seas, robbing and plundering?" She leant forward eagerly.
Chip watched her enthusiasm and was slightly amused. All this was really stimulating this woman. "I think you may be letting your excitable imagination run away with you, Miss. Warrender," he mocked.
Sophie saw the way he patronized her and became instantly irritated. She'd lost her professional detachment for a minute there ...he was laughing at her!
"Oh, really? Didn't he take over the whole control room crew and you as well... only releasing you as a bargaining ploy to get the admiral's co-operation?" Sophie smiled triumphantly.
"You have gathered a lot of information I see...." Chip answered frostily.
"You better believe it Mr. Morton. I don't intend to miss any detail, so why don't you
tell me what you thought when you saw the x-ray of 'The Queen Anne's Revenge' and how it felt when he made you one of his men, however briefly."
Chip bristled at the faint derision in her voice and glared at her with impatience.
Sophie smiled sweetly when she saw his exasperation. Maybe he wouldn't be up for that private interview after all... pity. She reckoned if he ever unwound a little, he could be a lot of fun.
"You met Blackbeard, Chief? What was your impression of him?"
"Oh, Ma'am, you should've seen that guy, I mean, he was at least 7 feet tall and dressed like something out of a costume shop. I don't know what sort of a gag he was trying to pull, but he didn't fool me."
"You don't think it was a ghost then?" Sophie questioned, trying to hide her amusement.
"No, definitely not, no way." Sharkey made a negative shake of his head.
"I'll tell you for why. Have you ever seen a ghost blasted by an ultra-sonic gizmo?"
"I believe you helped Admiral Nelson design that weapon."
"Er, no, not exactly. I'm a very practical man. The Admiral tells me what to put together and I do it, but when it comes to design, that's the Admiral's baby." Sharkey produced a packet of cigarettes and offered Sophie one.
"No, thanks, I don't. When did you first notice something was wrong?"
"We were having trouble with one of the fish," he paused at the puzzled look on Sophie's face, "fish, that's Navy slang for torpedo. I sent someone to the electrical stores for a spare part and he completely disappeared. After that the crew starting disappearing and reappearing dressed like ... like ... pirates and behaving like they were crazy. Kowalski, he was way out of line, as well as out of uniform! He not only knocked me about but he tried to kill the Skipper!"
"Yet despite all that, I've noticed that everyone seems very calm about the whole thing."
Sharkey smiled, "This crew have been around a long time, they don't scare so easy, Miss."
"And you, Chief?"
This was becoming personal and Sharkey brushed the question aside.
"Fear stops you thinking straight and I have to do a lot of thinking in my job. If you can think straight then you haven't got room left in your head for fear." Sharkey shrugged, "Simple, really."
"So you didn't mind taking on a 'ghost'? Sophie persisted.
"Ghost, intruder, they're all the same to me. They still have no business being aboard Seaview without permission."
"Me and the Skipper went into the missile room to look for any crew who had not been taken over. It was weird, most of the crew were dressed as pirates and not behaving normally at all<," Patterson continued his detailed explanation of his part in all this.
Sophie said nothing and waited, it would be possible she realised to mistake Patterson's slow, considered way of speaking as belonging to someone not quite as bright as the others but she also realised that such an assumption would be a huge mistake, so she let him continue without pushing him too hard.
"But we got caught. Blackbeard ordered Ski to force the Skipper into scuba gear while I was tied up to the missile racks. Kowalski said it was the pirate's new version of walking the plank. Ski bled off most of the air out of the Skipper's tanks and only left him one minute of oxygen. I couldn't help him so I shouted to Ski, telling him that he would be committing murder but," Patterson shrugged, "he either didn't hear me or just didn't care."
"You and Ski are friends, yes?"
"Yes Ma'am, we're good friends. I couldn't understand what he was thinking, Ski wouldn't hurt a fly... not to mention the Skipper."
"The Captain found another way back aboard...." Sophie prompted. She had heard other reports on this and she was intrigued to find out how he had done it.
Pat smiled. "Yes ma'am, he sure did. As the chief would say, there's more than one way to skin a cat."
Sophie smiled, "I see." Obviously, she wasn't going to be told, the crew of Seaview certainly guarded their secrets. "Then what happened?"
"They tried to fire another torpedo to sink the yacht the President was on but then the Skipper came in and threw a compression grenade into the control panel. Blackbeard attacked him and managed to knock him down. He was about to kill him I think when the Admiral and Chief Sharkey came in carrying a weapon the Admiral had fixed up... some sort of ultra-sonic gun or something and he blasted Blackbeard with it. The next thing everyone was back to normal and there was a skull and crossbones on the deck with smoke coming from it."
"How did you feel, confronted by a ghost?"
"Well, I don't know, I didn't think of him as a ghost at the time. He was very ... real, I suppose. He was real enough to fight the Skipper."
"How do you remember it now?"
"Like a bad dream, one minute it was all happening, then ... nothing. Sorry, I can't be more helpful Ma'am, but I wasn't as involved as some of the others."
She took a moment to mentally 'size-up' Lee Crane as he entered and sat down. Handsome in a different way from Morton, he had a more open, friendly aura than the Commander, but instantly she had the impression that her charm would be wasted on him, his charm however seemed perfectly natural.
"Lee," he corrected her gently.
"Lee, it is. I've gathered a lot of facts from your crew; they've been most helpful. But I'm very anxious to get your view point as you did confront the 'ghost' more than once."
Lee smiled, "The Admiral wants us to be as helpful as possible. I'm glad that you found the crew co-operated with you. What do you want to know from me?"
"We could start with the moment you first noticed something out of the ordinary going on."
"When we found a strange mound on the sea bed that didn't seem to fit in with the surroundings."
"Ah, yes, according to," she checked through her notebook, "Commander Morton, that turned out to be the wreck of 'The Queen Anne's Revenge'."
"Blackbeard's ship, yes. Then I started to get reports of sightings of the skull and crossbones on decks and the Admiral told us that he had been talking to Blackbeard."
"And you believed him?" Sophie questioned sceptically. She wasn't quite sure how to 'play' this man; she had the distinct feeling that whatever she did, she would only get the 'official' version, just as she had from Morton.
"Well ... eh ... at first, no. He had received a blow to the head but when Chief Sharkey and Kowalski made their reports, I had to reassess my opinion. At least... I believed what we had was a stowaway who had managed to evade security, nothing more or less sinister than that."
"You tried to find a logical explanation?" her tone of sarcasm was obvious and Lee patiently tried to explain.
"The Seaview was built for scientific research so I prefer to deal with the known before the unknown. It was really when the crew started to disappear that I began to believe something supernatural was happening. I took a sidearm and went looking for them. I was in corridor C when I thought I heard laughter, far too loud to be ordinary laughter."
"Did you find where it was coming from?"
"Not exactly, I thought it came from the electrical stores but I didn't see anyone in there. More coffee?"
Lee took her cup and crossed the room to give himself a moment to think. He didn't want to admit that he had been shooting at shadows and had fallen under boxes, when there was no one there to push them on top of him.
"Were you scared?" she asked abruptly.
Lee placed her cup on the table in front of her. "That's a very personal question."
"I have all the facts, Captain, it's thoughts and feelings I'm after."
"I agreed to be interviewed, Miss Warrender, not interrogated," Lee answered as pleasantly as he could.
She flashed him a smile, hastily backtracking. "Forgive me, Lee but I find all this fascinating ... and please do call me Sophie."
"Apology accepted," Lee smiled pleasantly. "As to what I felt... well, I was worried about the safety of the boat and crew, naturally, as well as a little angry, I guess, too angry to be afraid." Okay, maybe that wasn't completely true, everyone got a little scared sometimes, but that wasn't to be admitted to outsiders, either. "Sometimes, you see, there isn't time to be scared."
"I'm told that you actually fought with Blackbeard's ghost?"
"Yes, in the Missile Room, he was all too solid for my liking. He even tried his own 20th. Century version of making me walk the plank, but he didn't know Seaview as well as I do. Fortunately the Admiral completed his ultrasonic weapon just a few moments after I got back on board and he sent Blackbeard back to wherever it was he came from."
"You were lucky not to be possessed by him."
Lee shivered, as her seemingly innocuous words re-awaked another, more terrifying memory for him. Adopting a bright smile he replied nonchalantly. "I could have been if the Admiral hadn't known how to get rid of him; it was quite a close call."
After Crane left, Sophie sat for a few minutes contemplating all the interviews she had conducted, then pulled herself together as she began to pack away her notebook and tape recorder. Nearly every man aboard had confirmed her initial speculations. She had enough material here for two broadcasts. Maybe she could make it a two-parter and keep her listeners and the world in suspense. Her anticipation was growing. Although no one had actually been able to confirm categorically that what they had seen was a ghostly manifestation, it was undeniable that something very bizarre had happened. Kowalski and some of the other 'pirate' crewmen's testimony established that. Each one had been driven to attempt murder, very much against their basic character instincts. Even Morton's guarded answer to her question about being 'taken over' by Blackbeard, was informative. His reticence and prevarication said more than an outright denial...the unspoken truth was often more revealing, she could make capital out of that.
In her imagination, she was writing her expose as sensationally as she could. Pity Nelson had forbade photographs but that was okay, they was plenty of archive material and what she didn't have she could probably have someone get for her.
She'd negotiate with the station for a prime-time slot... they'd agree willingly when they heard her taped interviews. Choosing her publisher would need to be done carefully. She couldn't afford to foul up something this lucrative.
While it was the recognition she wanted... she could be the first reporter able to prove indisputably that ghostly phenomena did exist, just as her mother had insisted!
Some small part of her mind admired the courage of these men, they way they handled fear by apparently controlling it. Still, she had her job to do and could not let her admiration deflect her from her objective. Nothing would save them from a full and frank exposure of their experience.
A polite tap on the door interrupted her thoughts as Chief Sharkey entered.
"If you're all finished, Ma'am, the Admiral's asked me to make sure you were escorted safely off the boat before he meets you<," Sharkey informed their visitor respectfully.
Sophie picked up her coat and bag, "Thanks, Chief. Please tell the crew, 'thank you' for me."
"It's been our pleasure Miss Warrender. The guy's wanted to know when the programme will be broadcast, we don't want to miss a minute of it." Sharkey indicated for her to precede him from the Wardroom. "Please follow me, ma'am<," he invited as he stepped past her to lead the way.
"Don't worry about the broadcast, Chief, I'll make sure the Admiral is notified of the date and time. I don't want him to miss a moment of it either." She glanced round the empty Control Room as she followed Sharkey through to the Observation Nose to the spiral staircase up to the exit hatch. As they ascended she murmured, "You know any one of my colleagues would be really interested in doing an in depth article about this amazing boat."
"I don't think the Admiral would allow that, Ma'am," Sharkey hastily assured her, "well, it's classified, you know, the sort of thing."
As they stepped out into the fresh air, the deck intercom suddenly burst into life and Commander Morton's voice could be clearly heard.
"Attention, all hands. Miss Sophie Warrender has left the boat. Operation 'Snow Job' is complete. Thank you all for your 'spirited' performances. We hope nobody has been left with that haunted feeling."
There was a pause, then laughter started somewhere in the boat and became louder as other voices joined in.
Sharkey glanced automatically at the speaker then managing to hide his own grin, turned to Sophie. "I'm ... eh ... sorry about that, Ma'am ... the guys aren't used to being interviewed ... and well, we don't get much chance for light relief and fun around here... that is... umm...."
"That's okay, Chief. I quite understand, my job sometimes has that effect on people," she assured him sweetly.
Oh yes, she understood all right! This had all been one huge joke for them! Crossing the gangplank she tore up her notes in fury and flung the pieces into the dock, after all, two could play at bluff and double bluff. With humiliation burning fiercely within her, she glanced back to the submarine after she stepped onto the dockside. She saw Crane, Morton and Nelson on top of the conning tower. As one man they offered her a casual salute and smiled as they watched her walk indignantly away.
Anger overwhelmed her. She'd let them think they'd won for now but she still had her tape recording and she was going to make excellent capitol of that! By the time she'd finished, they'd all look like the biggest of fools!
"Well, Admiral," Chip asked softly, "looks like your idea worked."
"Hopefully that's the last time we'll be troubled with the likes of Miss Sophie Warrender," Nelson agreed.
Lee leaned on the edge of the tower, his thoughtful expression hiding the twinkle in his mischievous eyes, "Maybe not. You know I could probably get her on a date, no problem..." he didn't bother to turn and see the identical aghast expressions worn by his two friends but merely smiled with satisfaction.
She reached her car just as the sun started to set behind the Institute building. Quickly she climbed inside and locked the car door, pulling her tape recorder from her bag. She'd show Nelson! Two could play the game of one-upmanship. Despite the heat of the day it was suddenly chill inside the vehicle and she shivered, although she barely noticed as she rewound the tape and pressed the play button.
For a moment she heard nothing, except the electronic hiss of a blank tape. Puzzled she stared at the hissing machine then hit rewind, waited, then pressed play again. She increased the volume and a deep, wild, male laughter filled the car as a menacing voice whispered, "Strike yer colours, me beauty, 'tis Blackbeard's orders ye'll be following now. Together we'll be doin' a fine dance, that we will!" Then silence once more.
Momentarily shocked, she gaped at the still playing machine! Shakily she stopped it and hesitantly rewound it yet again and then pressed play one more time. Nothing...now the tape was completely blank... shaken to her core, she desperately felt the need for a drink and some time to think logically.
As she passed through the last security gate and pulled out onto the highway, darkness fell and just for a moment she had the eerie feeling that she was not alone in her car but a quick look around dispelled her uneasiness somewhat as she headed for the nearest bar and people....
The end...or possibly, another beginning?