~I'll be home for Christmas~
"Well for somebody who's going to be recieving a full 30 day's leave for the holidays, you sure don't seem too thrilled about it," Chip Morton asked as Captain Lee Crane finished packing his duffle bag.
"It's not that," Lee pulled on his flight jacket."It's just that I know I'm going to be bored out of my wits after a couple of days."
"Don't you like your mother?" Morton teased.
"Of course I do, and it'll be good to finally have a chance to be home for Christmas. But..."
"After the presents, the homemade goodies from the kitchen, you'll be meandering around the house missing all the trouble you can get yourself into aboard Seaview?"
"Excuse me Skipper, " Chief Sharkey appeared by the open door, "The Admiral radioed if you could chart some ozone layers over the North Pole before you take the flying sub to Washington for him. And maybe take some video and readings of any Northern Lights you see."
"Consider it done."
"Flying Sub's transponder's already tuned and transmitting. You sure you don't want a co-pilot sir? I gotta say, I don't care what kind of techno-mumbo jumbo they got installed in everything now, those Northern Lights can still cause all sorts of systems problems."
"Relax Chief, "Morton said, "It's been decades since anyone's had any problems."
"Yeah, well, I remember..."
"Thanks for the offer, "Crane interupted, "but I could use a bit of solo time."
"Chief,"Crane gave him a pat on the shoulder,"I'll be fine...take care of my best girl."
"Aye sir," he laughed.
"Have a good flight Lee, and a good Christmas,"Morton escorted the captain down the corridor towards the nose. They were greeted by several crewmen and it was a good ten minutes before the captain could finally depart.
"Right, prepare to launch." Crane descended into the flying sub hatch and soon the flying sub was aloft in the dark arctic night.
Frankly Nelson was bored at the White House party. Oh, he'd appreciated the scenery. He hadn't seen so much cleavage in a long time. But as he quitted yet another small talk session with some notable of some importance he couldn't remember, he wondered how Seaview was doing out in the North Atlantic, under the sea, under the stars....and wished he could be with her.
"Penny for your thought's Admiral?" The first Lady asked. "You seem so preoccupied."
"Oh, sorry, just daydreaming."
"I hate these gigs too," she whispered, " protocol, and boredom, if you ask me I'd rather be shopping."
Nelson laughed and soon wondered why he'd been so broody. As the party winded down and he excused himself, he was escorted to his quest room, and was waylaid by the President.
"I know your sister is a collector, so when my wife saw this," he handed Nelson the small object, " we just had to get it for you. As far as we know it's the only one left in the world. It's from the 1700's."
"I don't know what to say..."he held the small snow globe. It was ugly, containing a polar bear and a grinning Santa Claus. The 'snow' was grey and the metal base was flaking.
"It's worth a great deal of money, perhaps you could pawn it for some new equipment for Seaview," the President jested.
"Thank you, I'm sure Edie will be thrilled."
Suddenly and without warning, the flying sub's port bulkhead split open as something struck it or vise versa. The viewports cracked and shards of the high tensile strength polymer exploded. Crane wasn't sure if some of the pain he felt was from the shrapnel or from the eruptions of the master control panel of fire and sparks. The gyros and de-magnetizer were non-existent, and the helm controls were limited. The radio was dead and the red emergency lights flickered.
All he could do was pray and hope to land the thing somehow, or jump, but into what? He was in the Arctic Circle and really not well equipped for foul weather, especially hundreds of miles from any known civilization. And the circuit which controlled the vehicle's transponder had been ripped out with the bulkhead. No doubt Seaview would know something was wrong, but not the why, wherefore, or most important, how far away she was now from her last beep.
Lee Crane had faced death more times than he could count, but this time, well, as his wind-numbed body began to merge with his mind, he began to wonder who would look after Seaview when he was gone. He had a love for his submarine that was an embarrassment to some of his colleagues. He knew he'd never see them again, nor his mother whom he'd promised to visit this Christmas without fail this time. He'd been getting used to breaking promises like that. It happened in his job, a lot. But this time.... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to die! he almost yelled out loud before everything went black. Apparently the decision about how to die had been made for him.
"Admiral Nelson,"the White House aide knocked on his door, "call for you sir, your submarine. You can take it in the oval office."
"Yes sir, the President's waiting for you."
Grabbing a robe, he raced to the room. The president was on a phone and Morton was waiting on the monitor.
"Admiral?" Chip asked, "We've lost contact with the flying sub. Her signal just vanished. We can't raise her at all. It could be a glitch, but the president's already notifying search and rescue. Either Lee's gone down or..."
"Proceed to Alpha base Delta. Load a snow cat so you can search the pack ice."
The transmission ended. Neither man said anything for a while.
Nelson was one of the prime targets of certain countries seeking power, but he was too visible, too well known. One of his underlings,however....while Crane might have an only slightly higher security clearance than most military men, he was still the Captain of the Seaview and privy to highly classified materials. He was also Nelson's closest friend. Not that the admiral would ever cave into any kind of blackmail pressure.
The President was already ordering a complete change of codings throughout the entire military system, and knew the nightmare was just beginning. If Crane was alive that was.
"And so,"the TV reporter continued,"in a tragic setback for the Nelson Institute, even if the flying submarine is found, there is little hope that Commander Lee Crane could still be alive if it crashed, and if he ejected, that he could survive in the Arctic Circle for long....in other news..."
"Turn it off Chief," Ski said from the crew's mess. "I'm sick of all this 'no hope' crap. The skipper's made of sterner stuff than what they give him."
"Look, Ski, we all want to hope,"Patterson said," but..."
"All I know is we shouldn't give up on him just 'cause the press says so. He can't be dead. He just can't be! And I'm not gonna believe it till I see him laid out cold and blue in sickbay's morgue! "
"Ski!" Sharkey interrupted, as he'd been listening outside the open doorway, "Stow it. Now look all of you. Nobody's given up on the skipper. You heard the Admiral. The skipper's missing, that's all. ONI's workin' on it. He coulda' been captured or something. Now, finish your grub and get back to your duty stations. Guys, Look I know how you feel, we're all upset about this. But the admiral's working with important people, and even the CIA spy satellites are looking, we'll find him. Just you wait and see."
They were empty words, he knew. Ski had not been the only one aboard with a vision of an ashen lifeless Crane or...worse.
The warm breath that snorted though two moist nostrils startled a groggy Crane in the red tinted darkness. Two big brown eyes regarded him enquiringly in the moonlit darkness, as the creature came into focus as it nudged him. Crane tried to move, and gasped from the pain in his head and leg. He found he was bound by straps of some kind. For a moment he thought he was being tortured, but as his senses cleared and emergency lights of the flying sub flickered even more dimly, he saw that the straps were that of his seatbelt. So, he'd managed to glide to safety after all. But how? Well, he thought, maybe his guardian angels were working overtime again and he tried to get power turned on to no avail.
The moose clumsily trod through the misshapen mass that had been the flying sub. She'd never fly again. Crane was very very lucky to be alive.The moose sniffed him.
"Hey, knock it off,"he rasped, as the wind blew sideways in front of the open ports, and struggling, he pulled out the heavy weather gear from it's storage bin. He felt warm blood on his leg and quickly examined it, pulling out a razor sharp piece of plastic. At least it wasn't broken. Trails of warm fluid tracked down his face and arms; he felt along his aching head. His skull was intact, but his scalp had a small gash. Using the first aid kit, he doused the area with iodine and pressed a gauze pad over it until the trail was reduced to a trickle, then he pulled on the heavy wear gear.
Suddenly he heard something. He wasn't sure if it was only the wind or a call for help. Searching for the sound, Lee found himself sprawled on the deck groping in pain from his leg and from struggling lungs faced with the ice cold air that surrounded him.With difficulty, he half crawled, half stumbled in the darkness of the flying sub and toward the open and twisted bulkhead. Falling to the ground again and again he only knew he had to search for any survivor of the other plane. The borealis cast an earie glow on the terrain as he finally spotted a man .
Lee tried to examine him in the darkness. "Is anything broken?" Crane asked, "Do you speak English? Are you from the plane that struck me?"
"How about you and that flying contraption of yours?"
"No you're not,"the man stroked his beard, thoughtful,as he rose with the wobbly assistance of the younger man, "you're hurt and you're bleeding. Why are you fibbing?"
"Look, buddy, I'm fine, now, look, are there any more survivors?"
"There was nobody else with me. "
"Come with me, the flying sub's just back there; we'll have some kind of protection from the wind and cold, we can look for your wreck in the morning, even it's still dark up here, it will be lighter than it is now."
Seaview was well on her way now from Alpha base Delta with the snow cat stowed aboard. Search and Rescue flights had already combed the grid area, without success. Intelligence, though their many contacts had quickly determined there'd been no indication of a kidnapping that they could confirm or deny.
Sattleite imaging hadn't brought up anything remotely resembling any wreckage and the heat sensor devises couldn't pick out anything except a few polar bears and whales near the pack ice. Nelson had been quickly transported to a carrier in the area and boarded Seaview from a chopper, and had tried to encourage the crew but he knew he was just probably fooling himself to hope that Lee had survived any impact into the sea, or onto the ice or tundra.
Alone in his cabin, he held the small photo of Crane he'd pulled for the official file. The file in which Morton, as acting captain had been forced to write; 'Missing and presumed dead'.
With an ache in his heart, Nelson had approved Morton for the captain's vacancy should it come to that. The problem was that Chip wasn't going to want it. The man was certainly capable, respected, and more than worthy. Nothing was official yet, but he knew Morton would feel like Nelson had stabbed their friend in the back if he mentioned it now.
Seaview's captains were the best but apparently cursed as well. Smashing his fist against the desk, his small glass of tomato juice spilled onto the photo of Crane, like blood.
The moose had tried to join the men in the shelter of the flying sub, and was shooed away by Crane until he belatedly realized extra body heat would have helped. But apparently he'd hurt the animal's feelings and no amount of encouraging would bring it back to more than a polite distance.
"You're wasting your time young man," his guest said, as he bundled up in a blanket as the battery space heater glowed.
"Probably...now. Who are you and why did you...."Lee began saying and promptly passed out.
She was decorating the tree, Lee saw, and putting out the homemade cookies he'd loved so much as a child. There was Christmas music playing in the background ~
~I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletow
And presents by the tree~
The doorbell rang .Two men stood at the door, officers of some kind. She began to cry as the song continued...
~Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams.
I'll be home for Christmas,
If only in my dreams.~
"No!" Lee yelled. " No! I'm not dead!"
"Laddie, laddie, wake up," the man nudged Crane, " you're having a nightmare, feverish too. It's nearing daylight, what daylight there is up here in the winter."
"Ohh, " Lee groaned, and noticed that he'd been placed in the bunk and bundled up with blankets and had on a second parka. " thanks, It was horrible...it was...he's back,"Crane noticed the moose.
"Yes, he decided to try out your rations, Spam, I believe you call it.Don't worry, I haven't opened anything yet. So, Lee," he eased Crane to sit up, " what brought you out to the middle of nowhere," the man turned off the lantern Crane had rigged earlier. It was still very dark in morning light of the arctic and would remain so. The emergency lights were off.
"I was measuring ozone and....how'd you know my name's Lee?" Crane asked warily, as he opened a new space heater. It would offer some comfort if only to keep them alive. He knew there had been no other free aircraft in the area, unless it had been cloaked with the latest of technology. This man had to be more than just a pilot of an enemy country.
"You must have told me," the man.
"And your name?"
"That depends on your point of view....call me Noel."
Lee rubbed his head, flecks of blood came away, and he gingerly got to his feet, albeit painfully and got back to work, trying to repair the radio, the questioning could wait. Then something caught his attention."Hey, look...its a whole flock of mooses out there."
"Actually lad, it's not a flock, it's a herd and they're not meese, they're reindeer."
"Reindeer.This is their home."
"Even I know Reindeer don't live up this far north."
"Well, tell them to join their pal here, we can use the heat. Now, what are you doing out here, what were you flying and why'd you smash into me?"
"It was you who bumped into me."
"Well, I sure think I would have remembered something like that."
"I'm not accusing you lad. The borealis made you blind."
"I know it caused some malfunctions, but we accommodate them in all our systems."
"Nevertheless it was you who caused the crash."
"Well, when we inspect things more we can determine blame. In the meantime, answer me."
"Just a homebuilt craft, son, I like to take it up once in a while."
"Look, bud. No homebuilt can damage a titanium hull unless it's another titanium hull or it's flying at supersonic speed. What country are you working for?"
"I'm no spy," the man gave a hearty laugh.
Lee sighed. He was getting nowhere. The man was evidently well trained. And the radio repair was hopeless. He'd have to see what he could salvage from the other wreck. And while that was encouraging, he uneasily wondered if the other man's people were searching too.
Making an entry in the captain's log, Chip, as acting captain, had found a sealed letter tucked in it, addressed to him. Showing Nelson, he half hoped the admiral would open it, but Nelson refused and handed it back. Chip had no choice and tore it open.....
Well, I guess this means you're writing up the official captain's log so either I'm incapacitated or dead.
If incapacitated, just stuff it back in the envelope. If' I'm dead I have a few things to say.
First, You've been a great friend and an outstanding XO and I know you'll treat my best girl with the same devotion as me. Okay, you don't have to pat her bulkhead, and talk to her but she does like it. I have no doubt that you'll be assigned as her next captain. So your days of cracking the whip and spreading terror throughout the crew are over. Ha hah. You'll have to assign someone else to threaten the men with keelhauling.
Second, I'd rather not be buried, so just donate whatever's usable for transplant and cremate the rest and feed me to the sea.
Third, remember that even if the admiral gets into one of his moods, and you feel like a first week plebe, he'll still be the best friend you can ever have. He's become a brother to me, and I hope you'll have the same respect and friendship with him that I've had.
See you upstairs.
Ps. Mom may get a little hysterical, just let her know that I 'm sorry I died and that I love her.
Lee awoke to the jangle of bells, and to warm, and stinky breath in his face. He must have passed out again. He felt feverish and sick to his stomach. The amber eyes stared at him, and he found that more than a few of the herd had sought shelter with them. Then he noticed the reigns.
"Hey, Noel, Noel..."
Crane grabbed one of the reigns and pulled the animal out of the snow filled flying sub. It was dark being near the North Pole, but it wasn't as dark as night just now.
"Noel! Noel!Where are you?" he shouted, "These animals belong to somebody! Noel!" he stumbled in pain, and looked around. There was no sign of the man. Only these blasted animals that seemed to be more interested in annoying him than helping...he studied the terrain, hoping for a glimpse of their owner. Of Noel, he could only surmise that the spy had returned to his own craft and that he, Lee, was in big trouble.
One of the reindeer pushed him from behind, and he crashed to the ground.
Gentle laughter followed, but it wasn't his.
"I don't' think that's very funny!" Lee huffed.
"The reindeer do," Noel helped Crane up, and studied Lee, without saying anything.
"What?" Lee asked, irritated.
"You're under a lot of stress aren't you."
Lee just looked at him incredulously.
Shaking his head, the man, grabbed one of the reigns, "Stress, you know, does terrible things...you need to lighten up. But then, my boy, you always have been a bit too serious for your own good at times. Delusions of godhood, I believe some of your friends once quoted from a tv show."
"How do you kno....?" Lee was very uneasy, then the other thing struck him, "Lighten up? Who are you to tell me to lighten up and what's all that serious business and...you've studied me haven't you, well you can tell whoever you're working for that I won't cooperate and that...what is it, why are you laughing...answer me!"
"Here, " the man gently placed a few of the reindeers reins in Crane's hands, "I believe you wanted to salvage my aircraft."
"And what am I supposed to do with these animals?" Lee asked as he put a pair of binoculars around his neck.
"Well, for starters, they're good warm company and your leg hurts. And you could ask them to haul whatever it is want to bring back here...they won't bite you know."
"I know they won't bite!" Lee said. The man was not only a spy, he was an irritating spy.
There were a few choice words Lee was going to add but one of the reindeer pushed him, and Crane decided to just go find the wreck.
Was it laughter that followed him?
Morton, choked up with emotion, stuffed more of Lee's paperwork into a cardboard box. While he refused to give up hope, he owed it to Lee to see that everything was taken care of properly.Then there was the letter from Lee's mother.....
I know you have duties you can't get out of but practically every holiday it's the same excuse. I would think with your position, surely Nelson could let you go home at least once. I'm beginning to wonder if I have a son at all.
I know your job is important, you've told me that enough times, but I'm beginning to wonder if you really try.
It's not the same seeing you the occasional summer or some other time, but Lee, the holidays...its so empty and lonely here.
Please Lee, try.
Why not ask that dear boy Chip to come along with you for Christmas. I'd like to see him again, so sweet and polite.
Your step cousin Tommy wants a new fire engine but I can't find the one he likes here, so maybe you can find one out there. I'm enclosing his letter to Santa. Keep it in your pocket so you won't forget like last time?
Setting the binoculars on maximum, Crane finally spotted a glimpse of wreckage. The reindeer seemed more interested in in being uncooperative and Lee gave up on trying to ride or drag them with him. Even so, and hurting like the dickens, Crane began to appreciate the stark beauty of the place, so isolated, so clean. It was like predawn, the daylight here, and he could still see some of the stars and several aurora borealis'.No sound but the wind, and of course, the occasional snort from one of the reindeer as it decided to snoop as he approached the wreckage.
Whatever type of aircraft it had been, it was no design Lee could figure out. The engines must have fallen or exploded elsewhere. Just a few red pieces of red and green metal, and some gold framing. He tripped over something falling smack into something warm and soft and squishy and smelly.
"Wonderful," he wiped away the reindeer pat, and sat there. He hurt more than he wanted to admit. Rolling up his pant leg from the heavy gear boot, he saw the long gash, welted over with dried blood, and a deep purple. It looked pretty bad, Doc was sure to fuss, if he ever saw Doc again that was. A lot depended if he could salvage anything here. Getting up he searched the wreckage. He couldn't stay out here too long or risk freezing to death, but nothing electrical presented itself at all. Probably burned up on impact. Something glittered, and Lee stooped down to examine it. Turning it this way and that, he was growing confused. A long curved piece of metal, sort of like an outsized skate. Well, it had to belong the reindeer herder, a sled track, broken up,and left here. He hadn't been looking at an aircraft at all. Panning around some more with his binoculars he couldn't see any other wreckage except the glimpse of yellow of the flying sub. He could only hope the reindeer's owner would show up sometime.
"Come on pals, let's go back," he said, then he stopped and saw something.
"You're positive?" Nelson asked of the president on the videophone.
"It's not a clear image, but the earlier satellite picture from the computer's data base does show what could be a midair collision. We can't really see anything identifiable, only the heat sensors.There's no indication of any wreckage anywhere in the expanded area of the tundra. Harriman, we think she exploded and broke up. We'll have to call off the search soon."
"Surely you can spare me a few more search planes and..."
"Admiral, I've already exceeded normal search parameters. I can't prevent your own search but even you have to admit you can't spend all this time in a hopeless search of pack ice or tundra with nothing more than a snow cat and a few chartered planes you've been using in addition to ours."
"I'm sorry, Harriman, two more days, tops."
"So that's it?" Morton asked, "we just give up when they say so?"
"I didn't say that, Chip," Nelson paced his cabin, " but the planes I chartered are refusing to waste their time anymore, despite the pay. There's only one left aside from the official search and rescue, and he just told me that he'll do only one more grid search.. After that..."
"Chip, you know I want Lee to be alive more than anything, but..."
"I know sir...I'll go check with the snow cat team."
"Well?" Lee Crane flung the torn bag at the man's feet, some of the contents spilling out as the smell of cooked Spam wafted over his nostrils, " why didn't you tell me!"
"Would you have believed me?" the man looked up at him, as one of the reindeer nudged him affectionatley.
"I still would have liked to have been informed!"Lee sat down on a box on the crumpled deck by the smoking fire in the empty can, " why the subterfuge?"
"I told you my name."
"All this while I thought you were an agent for the People's republic or something, that I'd spend the rest of my days being tortured or imprisoned or...what?"
"And now that you know?"
"I...I," he rubbed his temples, his head was spinning, "I don't know what to think anymore, no, I don't want any Spam, you have it, share it with the reindeer, I'm hitting the hay, and no, tell your pal here that's not what I meant. I think I'm going crazy."
"You see, you really are a good boy, even if you can't see it. Laddie, it wasn't your fault you couldn't get home for Christmas last year or the ones before. You mustn't keep blaming yourself about it. And it's not easy some times going home and missing what you love best. "
"Your people know where we are?"
Noel looked up at the star that shone in the arctic half-light, "they do."
"Then am I correct in assuming that we'll be rescued?"
"By them, yes, by your people probably not...would you like to come with me tonight?"
"I..I don't know, I guess I don't have much choice."
Kowalski was in the conning tower while Morton and O'Brian shot the stars as the snow cat was loaded from the pack ice. It was one of those nights when the stars almost danced against the velvet blackness. Despite everything, despite the loss of the Crane, it helped Ski to cope.
"Quite a sight isn't it, Ski," Morton said as he dismissed O'brian.
"Yes, sir, I remember what the skipper said about it once, that no matter how dismal things looked, that the stars still shone and the earth was still here. Hey look, over there, a red star, it's moving!"
"Moving?" Morton grabbed his binoculars and called down the hatch, "get a fix on that UFO!"
"Too late sir, "Ski said," it's gone already."
"No trace of it sir, " O'brian's voice came up from beneath.
"Probably just a falling star, only they don't usually fall upwards."
The sound of an engine hummed overhead woke Crane up It was gone before he hobbled out of the flying sub to check it out.
"Noel?" he called, in vain, but there was no sign of the man, nor any of the reindeer he'd begun to take for granted hanging around the place.
Suddenly the sound of the plane hit his ears, as returned on one last sweep. Crane began to wave his arms furiously. The plane dipped it's wings in recognition. All he had to was wait now.
"Whoa, fella, you need help," the pilot of a chopper gave Crane a cursory exam, noticing the sunken eyes and dried blood on his face and vivid bruises along one side of his face.
"I have to find Noel, " Lee insisted as beads of sweat ran down his face.
"Yes, I have to say goodbye to him and the reindeer and..."
"Look, here, "the pilot pulled out a small flask, " drink this, it'll help." He nodded to his companions to rev up the engines.
Crane drank the warm fluid, as the pilot pulled stepped halfway inside the helicopter and flicked on the radio, "Conway to Seaview, yes he's alive, was there somebody else with him?"
"Negative, " Morton said, " why?"
"Never mind, probably just kind of spacy. He's hurt, feverish. Has a head wound, and I think a bad leg. Alpha has the coordinates. They can send in a salvage team for your craft. We'd better get him loaded aboard, he's acting weird, snooping around calling for somebody called Dasher now...out."
"What do you mean, a psychiatric ward?" Nelson asked on the videophone to Newfoundland.
"Just a precaution, but he's definitely delusional. He says he spent his time with Santa Claus, a certain 'Noel'. To quote, he ' met the reindeer and...helped wrap presents and deliver them...'
"What the hell did that pilot give him to drink?"
"Chicken soup, only warm chicken soup. Admiral, he still has a fever and there are signs of a concussion. Probably when that shrapnel from the blown out viewports struck him. Though there's no evidence of any brain swelling, he also suffered mild hypothermia. All alone, isolated, the crash, well, the mind can do weird things unless he actually has a history of pyschosis."
"He must be joking with you."
"He's quite serious, I assure you. For his own protection, we're keeping him incarcerated here, until your people either concur or transfer him to one of your own facilities."
"I'm not insane!" Crane banged against the padded cell. He was dressed only in pristine white pajamas."Let me out of here! I really met Santa Claus! I smashed into his sleigh! I don't know how. I even flew with him after they sent him a new one!"
"Oh, Lee, "Nelson groaned and sank into a chair next to the heavy windowed door in the hallway as the aide turned off the sound monitor from Crane's cell. He was bone tired from the chopper and jet fighter's flights. He was lucky he'd been allowed to tag along. Not normally allowed, due the circumstances the Navy had agreed to a passenger as the 'guy in back'.
"I understand you've sent for his family?" the aide asked.
"Yes, his mother's already on her way from the airport. She only know's he's had some kind of ...hallucination. Nothing like this...."
"Not a very nice way to spend Christmas day. Look, he had a pretty nasty bang on the head. He's lucky not to have been blinded or worse. It was awfully cold out there, maybe he'll just wake up and be normal again. It happens...Do you want to talk to him, if so I have to get permission."
"Yes, yes do that."Nelson rose and looked through the little window. It was one way, so Lee couldn't see out. The admiral winced as he saw the deep bruises on his face and arms. He also noticed bandaged leg, and of some other bruises and scrapes.
The stubble on his face spoke of the time spent waiting for rescue and he had dark circles under his eyes.
The aide returned and nodded, "Come with me, oh, Mrs. Crane is here. She wants to talk to you too."
"Yeah, seems you're not on her Christmas list."
The small room was divided by a wall of steel mesh, like a prison. For both inmates and visitors, there was the comfort of a table and chairs. However, there was no mistaking which side was which, it the half-padded section meant anything.
Nelson sat down and waited.
"So you're the man who's to blame for all this,"a woman's voice said.
"Mrs. Crane I presume?"
"Admiral Nelson...."she hesitated and sat down waiting for Lee. "I was going to lay into you for getting my son into this mess, but now that I'm here... I can't...." she folded her hands together as in prayer.
"Thank you...it was a mishap...we don't even know what happened."
"He smashed into Santa's sleigh and the flying sub crashed along with it, if the gossip mills are true...." she looked at Nelson, " are they?"
"That's what he says, yes."
"Mom! Admiral!" Crane raced over to the mesh from his armed guard. "Now can I get out of here? Nobody will believe me! Admiral, I'm not crazy. I don't' know where the sleigh came out of, but wham, I must have struck it cause' the flying sub broke up and...Mom?"
She turned away, distraught.
"Mom, I know this is the fourth Christmas in a row I haven't been able to get home, but it was an accident. I didn't mean for it to happen and...Admiral, you believe me don't you?"
"Lee, I want you tell me everything. From the very beginning. Sit down...now what happened?"
Aboard Seaview, Morton was gathering some information for Nelson when Ski approached him holding some broken glass and bits of metal in his hand. "Sir?"
"Well, I was cleaning the Admrial's cabin and I bumped into his ...uh, snow globe...and it smashed against the deck."
"Is it important sir?"
"Only if you have a couple of thousand dollars to spend....I'll radio the admiral. "
The medics watched via the cameras as Crane recapped his experience, shaking their heads. Doc Jamison, from Seaview was also networked into the vision of his captain's discourse on Sickbay's monitor.
"He don't look so good," Sharkey said as he watched from the crowded sickbay. They really weren't supposed to be in on a personal visitation, but Jamison hadn't the heart to shoo the crewmen away.
"The bruises look worse than they are, only the leg and the head wound are actually serious," Doc said. "He's still running a temperature, but it's coming down."
"Doc, do you think he's crazy?"
"I'm not in a position to judge. He had a concussion and hypothermia. Either which can cause temporary confusion, and sometimes hallucinations."
It was with a touch of relief, Doc noted, to the men, but he was very concerned indeed.
"But what if there really was this Noel fellow," Sharkey insisted, " if he was a spy like the Skipper first believed, he could have been conditioned or even drugged to think the guy was Santa."
"There's just one problem, chief, where is the man if he exists?"
"Well, the flying sub's been salvaged and is in the warehouse," Nelson said as he welcomed Morton and Seaview to the Newfoundland base. "They did find reindeer poop in it, so that part of his story is factual at least. Probably influenced him, reindeer and Christmas..."
"And the rest?"
"He refuses to think he may have been hallucinating, though he does admit at first he did, and that he'd passed out and had a fever before he found the sleigh wreck and the bag of toys. The salvagers found nothing, absolutely nothing other than the flying sub's wreckage. Not even a sled track."
"What will you do?"
"I don't know chip, I just don't know. He can't be allowed command unless he agrees to believe with the psychiatrists that he was delusional due to the circumstances and physical problems. Lee knows that. But he won't recant."
"Then he's really...psycotic?"
Mrs. Crane sat with Lee in the cafeteria. Robed and slippered he had finally been shaved to her relief, though the bruises and welts still showed his recent ordeal.
"I'd like to thank you Lee for remembering your cousin Tommy."
"The fire engine. When I called his mother this morning she said it was exactly what he wanted. Not one of the local stores had carried that particular model, what is it Lee?"
"I didn't get anyone a fire engine. I completely forgot about it."
"Maybe you just can't remember honey."
"Mom, "he took her hand, " I don't know who got it for him, but it wasn't me and...Wait a minute. It was Noel...Santa! Funny that I don't remember. I was with him all night and ..."
"Oh, my poor baby."
"But mom, his letter. I had it in my pocket. Noel must have found it when I'd passed out and..."
She simply cried, inconsolable.
"You're saying that you only thought you believed this Noel was Santa?" the psychiatrist asked of Crane.
"I was sick, I must have been hallucinating," he said woodenly, "It was simply so real, I must have believed it for a while. But that's stupid. There is no Santa Claus."
"What caused the flying sub to crash?"
"It must have been a structural and wiring problem."
"I'm holding you over for some more tests but I think we'll be releasing you soon to Admiral Nelson's custody."
"I'm not sure I believe you Lee," Nelson told Crane privately in his cabin aboard Seaview as the boat was puling out of port to go home. Lee had been released just a while earlier, to the crew's elation and Mrs. Crane's relief. He was still in pj's and robe and sat on Nelson's bunk.
"I assure you."
"Lee, " Nelson rose from his chair, "you've never been able to lie very well. I know you still believe it. I'm not sure I can allow..."
"What else can I do?" Crane asked earnestly," my mom's more important to me that getting other people to believe in what I saw. I've only seen her cry once before, when my father died. I won't put her through this."
"Admiral, you know Seaview means the world to me, but...I understand if I have to be relieved of command."
"I have to think about this Lee."
"I know... may I go the bridge? I kind of promised my mom I'd show her how we shoot the stars."
"Permission granted. Lee? You know I want you back...I just don't know if I can...let you."
Crane nodded and left the cabin.
"The stars look like diamonds up here," the bundled up Mrs. Crane said as Lee held her close in the conning tower. Morton and O'brian had finished shooting the stars and the group stood in awe of the view as Seaview glided under the northern stars. "I'm beginning to see what you see in this life Lee."
"I love you mom," he gave her a kiss on the cheek. " Come on, we'd better get below so we can dive."
"Look, a red star that's moving...and it's moving up!"
Crane looked uneasy, then said, "Oh, uh, yes, they do that up here, once in a while," and prodded her down the hatch and into the sub.
"Admiral," Sparks called out as Nelson entered the control room," message from the warehouse."
"Oh, hello Admiral, I'm Ensign Simmons, I've been doing the inventory of the flying sub wreckage, " the man came into view on the monitor,"I'm sorry, but Maintanance made a mistake in listing the items. It seems there was an old bag and a couple of presents that were overlooked in the inventory. They had fallen behind the emergency supply cabinet. We need to know what to do with them. They seem to be damaged."
Nelson choked and looked at Crane; a silent message passed.
"Do what you see fit,"Nelson said.
"Thank you. Out."
Nelson was still in deep contemplation as he joined Crane and his mother and Morton in the nose.
"You'd better turn in, I can't have my captain all sleepy in the morning."
"Are you sure sir?" Lee asked, only he understanding the true meaning.
"Well then, 'nite Chip, 'nite mom. Goodnight Admiral."
As Nelson entered his cabin, he noticed a small snow globe on his desk. It had a small reindeer in it and a jolly santa.... And a note.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!
Ps. Call me Noel
Spam: Hormel Foods Corp.
I'll Be Home For Christmas: Kim Gannon, Walter Kent C.1943
'Delusions of Godhood': Star Trek, Paramountfeedback to author