R. L. Keller
Lee rubbed his eyes, then ran his hands through his short black hair, finally realizing how tired he was from too many hours reading reports. 2315 hours – a few last minute odds and ends, and he might get 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Piling the reports in his briefcase and leaving it by the front door, he walked through the house, making sure everything was neat and tidy. Seaview, his boat, was leaving in the morning for a 3-4 week mission, and even though the Institute sent maintenance personnel out once a week to keep things in order, Navy training wouldn’t let him leave anything for them that he could do himself before he left.
He hit the kitchen last, cleaning up his dinner dishes, and checking the fridge for anything needing to be tossed. About the only thing he found were leftovers from the salad he’d made for dinner. He’d learned over the years to plan his shopping trips carefully. Let’s see, he thought, scanning the nearly empty shelves. Any cream cheese left? Yep. A slow smile spread across his face. Into a small container went equal amounts of the cream cheese and mayo, a little chopped green onion and cubed avocado, and the last of the shrimp he’d bought on the way home this evening to top the salad with. The cupboard yielded dried dill weed to add to the mixture. A quick stir and the container was sealed and tossed into a paper bag, along with a small plastic bag of alfalfa sprouts and the last Kaiser roll – he’d been saving that for breakfast. Oh well. There was just enough milk left for cereal. Lee closed the bag and put it back in the fridge, ready to grab in the morning.
The next day started out great. By 0530 he was out the door in his running clothes – 8 miles, shower, and be at the Institute by 0745. Quickly hit the office; be at the boat by 0815 latest. Plenty of time for the planned 1100 departure.
He chose the old coast road this morning, of his several usual runs. There was a slight mist in the air, not enough to bother him. Sort of reminded him of spindrift, the mist that ran along the top of breaking waves. God, he loved the sea! He was always restless when his boat was docked. One reason he’d started jogging. Frequently, time permitting, he’d also run in the evening, releasing frustrations from a day spent behind a desk, and allowing his body to relax enough to sleep. He never had that problem onboard. Not that the frustration and tension levels couldn’t be just as high if not higher. But aboard his lady, the movement of the deck, the sights, sounds, everything, told his body one thing – HOME!!!
So wrapped up in his thoughts and the sounds of his beloved ocean just below him as waves gently touched land, that he didn’t notice the car coming up behind him until it was almost too late. Apparently the driver was having his own daydream because all of a sudden there was a squeal of brakes, and a fender just grazed Lee, sending him sprawling into the scrub brush along side the road. Lee got barely a glimpse of the driver as they glanced back quickly, then floored the car and shot around the next bend. Stupid teenager, he guessed, and picked himself up and checked the damage. Skinned left knee and elbow – he’d been lucky. Knee felt a little stiff, but nothing serious, and he finished his run just a little behind schedule.
The trouble started as he left the house. Grabbing his briefcase, he got the nagging suspicion he was forgetting something. Hand on doorknob, he stopped – sandwich! Can’t forget that. By the time it was found the shrimp would be so bad, he’d probably have to buy a new refrigerator. Glad that he had put everything together the night before, he grabbed the bag and ran for his car. The mist had turned to a soft rain, and the wipers lent a steady beat to his thoughts as he made the 20-minute drive. He was about halfway when he felt, and heard, a tire blow. DAMN, and he had to fight for control of the small red sportscar until he could get it stopped. Ok, so call the Institute and have them send someone to pick me up and come back and fix the tire. Another DAMN escaped, as he realized his cell-phone battery was dead. It was going to be one of THOSE days!!!
By the time Lee had changed the tire he was soaked, had patches of mud here and there on his uniform, and was in a thoroughly rotten mood. It didn’t help at all that the Security guard at the main gate of the Institute, expecting the normally immaculate Captain, couldn’t quite hold back a grin as he passed Lee through. Grudgingly, Lee had to admit it was probably the most fun Charlie’d had in a long time. Lee accepted the occasional jokes at himself in good humor. He knew he was a perfectionist, something that could have a detrimental effect on the personnel around him, driving most of them up the proverbial wall. His out-of-character appearance this morning would make the rounds quickly, and rather than undermine his authority, would make him seem just a little more human, a little more normal, and he would take the ribbing he knew he had coming comfortably.
Attitude adjustment in place, he parked the car, decided to forgo the office and go straight to his boat, praying there were no last-minute details his secretary couldn’t handle. But as late as he was, he still took a second, and a deep breath. His boat! Seaview. Largest submarine in the world, the pride of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, and her designer, Admiral Harriman Nelson. Sometimes Lee couldn’t believe his great good fortune to be her captain. Oh Hell!, glancing at his watch. I won’t be captain much longer if I don’t get my tail on board. The Admiral was world-renowned for a lot of things, but patience wasn’t one of them.
As Lee was entering the upper hatch he heard the familiar bellow "And where the blazes is Captain Crane?" Apparently the question was directed at the XO, because Lee heard Chip reply "Just coming on board, Sir," followed immediately by Lee’s own "Here, Sir." As he landed in the Control Room, dropping his gear at the bottom of the ladder, he quickly took in the setting. His blond XO, Chip Morton, the start of a surprised smile on his face. Nelson walking back from the Observation Nose, ruddy complexion a bit more ruddy than usual with anger, and what looked like the back of an adolescent girl still in the nose. Terrific – Dr. Illyanova must have brought a daughter with her. Lee didn’t like civilians on board at the best of times, and he’d had quite enough of teenagers already for one day. Maybe she was just seeing her mother off.
Lee didn’t have time for any more thoughts as Nelson descended on him. "Where have you been," he blustered. "We’ve been waiting over an hour. Didn’t you get the message we’d changed the departure time? What’s the meaning of this" pointing to the Captain’s disheveled appearance. "Well? Answer me."
As the Admiral finally gave Lee an opening, all the morning’s misadventures ran through his mind, but longtime Navy training reared its head again. "Sorry, Sir. No excuses, Sir." The quiet statement, delivered while at attention, looking directly at Nelson, apparently left the older man with nothing more to say on the subject. He glared at his captain for a few seconds, nodded slightly, and gestured for Lee to follow him forward. As they passed Chip, Lee did a little glaring of his own, and the XO turned his back, not quite fast enough that Lee didn’t see the huge smile start to spread across his face. Lee was NEVER going to hear the end of this. Chip was the best needler on the boat, made worse be the fact that he could do it without ever saying a word. A look, a gesture, Chip was the undisputed champion.
In the nose, the ‘teenager’ turned, and Lee did a quick double take. The body may have been that of a youngster, barely 5 feet and maybe 100 pounds soaking set, but not the face! Lee had seen his fair share of pretty women in his life, but this one was…Lee was at something of a loss. No make-up, long blond hair held at the back of her neck with a small clip, she could have been the stereotypical scientist. But those eyes – Lee had never encountered anything like them as she looked first at Nelson, then him – those incredible blue eyes!
Lee had no more time for speculation as Nelson made introductions, his voice returning to its normal soft gruffness. "Captain, our guest this trip, Dr. Ekaterina Illyanova. Doctor, my slightly worse for wear captain, Lee Crane."
"Doctor, my sincere apologies," Lee started. He wondered if he should offer a hand – one never knew these days. But the doctor, dressed in elegant gray slacks, bright blue blouse that matched her eyes perfectly, and gray pullover, simply nodded, never removing her hands from the large front pocket.
"No apologies necessary, Captain. I’ve had my share of interesting mornings," she said with the hint of a smile, her voice low and soft, in perfect English but with just the hint of a European accent that Lee supposed was Russian, her native language. The bio he’d read the night before said she was originally from Kiev, in the Ukraine, and had defected as a teenager.
Admiral Nelson interrupted Lee’s thoughts. "Lee, prepare to leave port" a bit of the earlier annoyance returning to his voice. "Dr. Illyanova and I will be in the lab."
"Admiral," Dr. Illyanova interrupted as Nelson started to walk away, "is it permitted of me to stay here and watch through these marvelous windows of yours?"
Lee stiffened, but said nothing, looking at the Admiral. Nelson glanced his way, saw no active resistance, and acquiesced. "I don’t see a problem as long as you remain here in the nose. Mr. Morton", he raised his voice slightly.
"Sir," Chip said, coming forward.
"After we’re out of the channel and in open water," Nelson continued to the XO, with another glance at Lee, "please give Dr. Illyanova a tour of the boat and get her acclimated. I’ll join you both in the Wardroom for lunch at 1230 hours."
"Aye, Sir." All three officers knew this would effectively keep Lee in the Control Room during the meal. Punishment given. Lee accepted quietly, but it reminded him of his sandwich, tucked in his pack, still at the bottom of the hatch ladder, and needing to be in the galley, refrigerated. It would be OK for awhile, yet. He’d have to get one of the crew to take it down for him.
Nelson left for his lab, Dr. Illyanova again turned her back, watching out Seaview’s unique windows, and Lee and Chip walked back to the chart table. Lee saw a broad grin again spreading across the XO’s face. "Not a word," Lee started roughly, but he, too, couldn’t hold it for long, and they both started to chuckle softly. Lee glanced around the control room at the rest of the duty crew, and heads snapped back to instruments quickly, but not before he also saw grins. At Chip’s raised eyebrows, Lee explained his morning, and Chip shook his head.
"Tell you what, Lee. The Admiral’s safely in his lab by now, and we won’t be able to get going for at least half an hour anyway. Suppose you go get cleaned up. I can handle things here."
Lee took another quick glance around the Control Room, decided all was in order, and smiled again. "Thanks, Chip. I owe you one," and he took off, grabbed his gear, and headed for Officer’s Country. Behind him, he heard Chip mutter "At least!"
Unfortunately for Lee, the Admiral was one step ahead of both his young officers. As Lee passed Nelson’s cabin on the way to his own, the door opened and Lee found himself toe to toe with the older man. Nelson didn’t say a word, just motioned Lee in, and closed the door after him.
"Well?" That one word left no room for omission, and once again Lee explained his morning, standing quietly, but a good deal more formally than he had done so earlier with Chip. Nelson interrupted only once. As Lee described his encounter with the car while jogging, the Admiral’s eyes narrowed and he challenged, "You weren’t hurt," making it more of a statement than a question.
"No, Sir. It barely brushed me, and I fell into the bushes along side the road." Nelson grunted, and Lee finished the story. From the expression on Nelson’s face, Lee felt certain he’d be ordered to report to Sick Bay to be checked over by Dr. Jamison. But apparently Nelson believed him, for he said nothing more, just opened the door, and motioned Lee out. Following, he continued on toward the lab, as Lee entered his own cabin.
It took Lee barely 15 minutes to clean up, change, and return to the Control Room, making a quick trip to the galley first. Cookie took one look at the paper bag in his hand and started complaining about officers who didn’t appreciate all the hard work some noncoms put in, and Lee had to quickly explain. "Shrimp Kaiser," Cookie translated, smiled, and took the bag from his captain. "No problem." Lee told him he’d be in the Control Room until probably about 1400, and Cookie promised it would be waiting for him whenever.
The next two hours passed quickly. Lee and Chip were so used to each other's methods, leaving port went like clockwork. The crew was experienced, and Lee extended by voice and expression his approval to each. They in turn showed their devotion to their captain with flawless performance of their assorted duties. Dr. Illyanova remained quietly in the nose, although she turned slightly to also watch what was going on behind her. Lee tried to ignore her, until they were safely through the breakwater, but caught himself glancing her way a bit too frequently. Chip, too, he noticed, was snatching sideways glances forward, At one point they caught each other, and both laughed.
"It’s been like that since she came aboard," Chip said softly, so only Lee could hear. "There’s just something about her…"and he let out a sigh.
Lee chuckled. "I know the feeling. We’re well past the breakwater. You’d better get on with the tour – you dog," and he nudged his friend.
Chip nudged back. "Eat your heart out," and walked forward. He spoke quietly to the Doctor for just a bit, and they left, walking back through the Control Room. She acknowledged Lee with a small tilt of her head as she passed, and he in turn smiled back. Lee noticed that a good many heads followed her passage, in particular Kelly, the young hydrophone specialist. As the two exited out the aft hatch, Lee cleared his throat loudly. Although outwardly never taking his eyes off the chart he was plotting, he still noticed that instantly all eyes were back where they belonged. This was going to be an interesting cruise!
In more ways than one, Lee mused. After an initial stop at Pearl to pick up a couple more pieces of equipment Dr. Illyanova wanted, Seaview was to spend time in and around the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, taking readings and evaluating the health of the giant living organism, the Doctor’s special interest. Lee looked forward to the cruise. It should be a quiet one, for a change, and as much as he loved diving anytime, the chance to do so in the sea life rich waters off the Reef was something to be looked forward to.
* * * *
Chip had barely left on tour duty when Lee got a feeling Seaview wasn’t running correctly. It was nothing he could put his finger on, and as he ran through all stations and departments doing status checks, everything appeared normal. The crew never suspected their captain’s concern. He often ran intercom checks, and in-person checks for that matter. They knew he took every precaution to take care of his ‘lady’, and the crew who ran her, and they in turn took great care in making sure everything was at all times shipshape. But the uneasiness continued, and Lee was so intently staring at a clipboard, mentally going over department reports, that he didn’t notice Chip’s return after lunch. Chip put a hand on his shoulder, startling him, and they both jumped. Lee quickly recovered and glanced around the control room, but no one seemed to have noticed. He gave Chip a rueful smile and apologized.
"You were really out in left field," was the XO’s response. "Care to talk about it?"
"Does Seaview seem OK to you? She just feels…oh, I don’t know…sort of ‘off’."
Chip listened quietly, closing his eyes for a second, then looked at the status sheets. "Relax, Lee, you’re just hungry," he laughed. "You missed a great lunch. Maybe Cookie saved you some, but I wouldn’t bet on it."
"No problem, I brought my own. You have the conn," and without explaining, shrugged off the ill feeling and headed aft.
As he entered the galley, Lee noticed Cookie talking to someone, but didn’t realize it was Dr. Illyanova until he was right on top of them. "Oh, excuse me. Didn’t mean to interrupt," he stammered, not knowing just what he’d walked into. Cookie hated anyone in his galley, let along civilians. If the good Doctor was starting to work whatever magic she possessed on this man, the whole boat was in trouble.
"No problem, Skipper," Cookie answered, turning and handing Lee a tray. On it were his sandwich all put together, a bowl of peach slices, potato salad, two peanut butter cookies, and a mug of coffee. "The XO called and said you were on your way down. Hope that’s OK. Dr. Illyanova and I were just exchanging recipes," he added, looking embarrassed.
"I was most intrigued with your sandwich, Shrimp Kaiser I believe Cookie called it," volunteered the Doctor in her soft, sultry voice. "However did you come up with that combination?"
Lee was having problems concentrating. He didn’t know quite what it was, but when she looked directly at him, her eyes seemed to pierce right to his soul. He finally realized he was staring, and with a rye smile, answered. "Sheer desperation. Chip and I were raiding his mother’s fridge for leftovers one night while on leave from Annapolis." He saw the Doctor raise an eyebrow, and chuckled. "Cookie, it’s just fine. Doctor, enjoy the privilege. Cookie doesn’t usually allow anyone into his sanctuary. As long as he’s in an agreeable mood, you might want to have him share the recipe for his chicken pasta salad. It’s one of his specialties. Now, if you both will excuse me, I’ll take this up to my cabin. I’ve still got paperwork to attend to." Lee excused himself and left the two to their recipes. Wonder what the Admiral’s going to say about that, he mused munching on a cookie as he walked.
After the belated lunch, Lee finished a couple reports and returned to the Control Room at 1600. Chip, who had his own reports to finish, released the conn to O’Brien and took off. Everything was going smoothly, as Lee expected, and he had little to do. He noticed Chip had re-checked a few status reports, but again found nothing amiss. Even Lee was beginning to doubt his earlier uneasiness. Chip stopped by a couple times before dinner. The crew was used to the senior staff wandering in and out no matter who had the conn. There were fewer surprises that way. The two friends discussed the cruise, caught up on the latest scuttlebutt at the Institute, Chip’s latest computer problems, and Lee’s catching their visitor in the galley. Lee couldn’t resist rubbing it in about what he’d had for lunch – it was Chip’s favorite. And Chip got in a few jabs of his own over Lee’s current love life, or lack thereof.
"Can I help it if no one can compare to my ‘lady’?" Lee defended himself, and Chip took himself off to dinner, laughing merrily. Lee caught several members of the Control Room crew smiling amongst themselves, and was glad. He knew that the scene between the Admiral and he that morning could have created a problem. Tension among the senior staff was frequently picked up by the rest of the crew. "Chief," he motioned for the COB, and Chief Sharkey quickly presented himself. "All’s well with the crew?" he asked quietly.
"Aye, Sir. No problems."
"We have four new crewmen this tour?"
"Yes, Sir. Tibbens, in the galley; Lauren and Michaels, Engineering; and Camden, Electrician’s Mate."
Lee could tell that the Chief was puzzled by the questions. "I was just wondering if that little set-to between the Admiral and I this morning had upset anyone."
"Oh, that," and Lee saw the Chief visibly relax. "Nah, the Admiral was just ticked ‘cause he didn’t know where you were. Besides, after you left to change, the XO explained everything."
Lee wasn’t sure what his face was showing, but on being dismissed, the Chief made a very hasty retreat. Lee was definitely never going to live this one down.
* * * *
Lee had planned on staying in the Control Room until about 2200 hours, but at 2000 Sparks called "The Admiral wants to see you in his cabin, Skipper." At Lee’s raised eyebrows, Sparks just shrugged his shoulders. Lee nodded to Lt. James, who had the conn, and headed up the spiral staircase toward Officer’s Country. Knocking softly at the Admiral’s door, he waited for Nelson’s "Come in, Lee," and entered, to find Chip there too. He closed the door, grabbed another chair, and brought it alongside Chip’s, next to Nelson’s desk.
"Lee, why are you limping," Nelson accused, glaring.
Lee was a bit taken aback, and replied, "Didn’t know I was." He had noticed, as he climbed the stairs, his injured knee had stiffened a bit more, but he wasn’t about to admit it. The next thing, the OOM would order him to Sick Bay and Doc would be on his case, all over a few scratches. No Way!
The Admiral harumphed, and although still giving Lee a curious glance now and then, got down to business.
"Chip, I wanted to apologize again for getting huffy with you in the lab." To Lee he said, "I’m afraid I was slightly rude earlier, while Chip was escorting Dr. Illyanova around. I’ve already spoken to her about it, but I was in my private lab and didn’t want to be disturbed. I hadn’t realized I’d left the door ajar." Nelson’s private lab could only be accessed though the Marine lab, an obvious stop on Dr. Illyanova’s tour of the boat.
"Not a problem, Sir," Chip replied, surprised. Nelson seldom apologized for anything.
"But you both need to know what’s going on," Nelson continued, and bringing a folder out of his desk, handed it to Lee, who opened it as Chip looked over his shoulder. Nelson remained quiet as his two officers learned of the very unofficial reason for this cruise.
Finally Lee said, "I gather it’s being kept in your private lab?"
"It still needs some tweaking before I turn it over to the Navy for testing. Once leaving Pearl, we’ll set a leisurely course toward the Great Barrier Reef, and quietly rendezvous with the Adams at these coordinates," handing a slip of paper to Lee, "near the Gilbert Islands. They’ll take it from there to the testing range."
"But why all the security over a new torpedo guidance system?" questioned Chip. "We’ve done this before without all the cloak and dagger."
"Because," the Admiral continued, "this is a very special system. If it works like I want it to, we have all the control of a wired torpedo, without the wire." Both younger men showed surprise on their faces. They knew the advantage of a wired torpedo: total control. The torpedo could be guided in any direction, up, down, and sideways practically, and exploded with the touch of a button. Having its own turbine engine and fuel supply, even speed was adjustable. With up to 10 miles of trailing wire, the possibilities were endless. The major disadvantage was the wire. Thin for better maneuverability, it could be easily snapped by an inexperienced firing specialist. Even an experienced one, for that matter, and when that happened, a very expensive piece of firepower was so much junk. If a system could be developed to get that much control, but unencumbered by the wire, it was definitely cause for celebration. However, excitement was replaced by disbelief as Nelson continued. "And, because there’s been a security leak. We don’t know whom, but information has gotten out. The last thing we need, gentlemen, is an unfriendly getting their hands on the prototype. If we’ve been very lucky, everyone thinks Seaview is on a purely scientific survey and the prototype is safely locked up at the Institute. I left a dummy system there, just in case someone should try to make a grab for it."
"What did you tell Dr. Illyanova, if I may ask, Sir," questioned Lee. "You and she will be spending an awful lot of time in the Marine lab. She’s bound to be curious."
"Just that I had some experiments I couldn’t leave unattended, and brought them along. I just happened to mention," and he chuckled lightly, "that one of them had to do with premature aging in some species of porpoises. Figured that would keep her out for sure," and all three men smiled.
"I won’t tell you what I was thinking when I first saw her this morning" Lee offered.
"That’s OK, Lee. I already did," which earned Chip a light backhand from his skipper.
"Enough, both of you" admonished Nelson. "From the looks the good Doctor has been getting from the rest of the crew, I do not need the two of you going off the deep end as well. Do I make myself clear?"
"Aye, Sir," both men answered, but still smiling.
"Now be gone, both of you. And Lee," as Chip left, Lee turned back. "Get some rest."
"I’m not sure what you mean, Sir. I’m just fine."
"Well, you look tired. Goodnight, Lee."
"’Night, Sir," and Lee headed for his cabin. Truth be told, he did have a headache all of a sudden. He had meant to finish a couple more reports, but the headache spoiled his concentration, and he finally gave up and went to bed.
Lee awoke barely an hour later to severe nausea, just making it to the head in time. Even after loosing what little he’d eaten all day, the cramping was so bad all he could do was lay on the deck, in a serious cold sweat. He didn’t realize he’d made that much noise until he heard his name, and Chip, who's cabin was next door, was beside him.
"Oh, my god, Lee. What’s going on?"
Lee tried to make light of it. "No big deal," as he sat up shakily. "I’ll be fine in a bit. Guess something I ate didn’t agree with me," and he gave Chip a weak smile. "Go back to bed." He might have gotten away with it, despite the doubtful expression on Chip’s face, but about that time another round of cramps hit so strong that he didn’t notice Chip had left until he felt a hand on his wrist, checking pulse, and another on his forehead, and he found himself looking up at Dr. Jamison.
"Mr. Morton, consider yourself on report," Lee growled, and again struggled to sit up. Doc helped him.
"The only one going on report, Skipper, is you, for not calling me yourself," he scolded, although with a slight smile. It was well known Lee NEVER admitted to illness or injury if he could possible avoid it, and was acknowledged ship wide to be Doc’s least favorite patient. "What happened?"
Lee reiterated what he’d told Chip, interrupted by more cramping, but with nothing left in his stomach it had turned into dry heaves that didn’t last long. Doc hadn’t said anything, but as Lee sat back and leaned his head against the bulkhead he again reached to check Lee’s pulse, then gently probed his abdomen.
Apparently finding nothing seriously wrong, he sat back on his heels. "Skipper, I’m tempted to believe you."
"That’s got to be a first," Chip commented. Both Doc and Lee glared at him, and he just chuckled.
"Mr. Morton, make yourself useful and help me get the Skipper back to bed. Skipper, it sounds to me like you got hold of bad shrimp."
"No way, Doc." Chip gave him a hand up, but Lee refused help back to his bunk. "Bought it fresh yesterday, and had most of it for dinner. There was just enough left for the sandwich, and I was very careful how I handled it. Have to admit, though, it’s the only thing that makes sense."
"Well, seems like the worst is over, anyway. I won’t even try to get you down to Sick Bay, but I am going to draw a blood sample, and get you some medication that should help get rid of the cramping. I’ll be right back."
"Doc, do you have to mention this to the Admiral?"
Doc stopped and grinned. "Feeling sufficiently stupid, are we?" Lee just cringed. "You won’t fight me on the meds when I get back? OK, this once. I’ll make no notation of light duty tomorrow. But you will" and he pointed at Lee "rest as much as possible. And you, Mr. Morton," he switched the direction of his finger "will make sure he does, or you’ll both regret it," and he turned and left.
"What did I do?" Chip laughed, and Lee just shook his head. Chip reached to swing Lee’s legs up on the bunk. "OK, Skipper, let’s get you all nice and tucked in before Doc gets back."
"Mr. Morton" Lee’s voice was barely a whisper, but with all the power he could muster behind it, and both friends started laughing. "Thanks, Chip."
Chip laid a hand on Lee’s shoulder. "Anytime" and turned to leave as Doc walked back in. He quickly drew a blood sample, then administered an injection, waited a bit to make sure Lee seemed comfortable, turned off the lights, and left.
* * * *
As he showered, shaved and dressed the next morning, Lee felt few effects from the episode during the night. The scratches on his knee seemed better, too. The knee itself was still slightly stiff, but he shrugged that off. His one concession to the last 24 hours was to hit the Wardroom early, so his choice for breakfast of just dry toast and coffee wasn’t noticed. It was 0645 as he entered the Control Room, coffee mug in hand. All appeared quiet, crew going about their jobs efficiently. The only oddity was Lt. O’Brien standing behind Kowalski at the sonar station, microphone to his ear, both men intent on the screen.
"Problems, Mr. O’Brien?"
"Oh…Skipper" O’Brien started. "No Sir. I’d have called you. Kowalski’s been getting an intermittent blip the last hour or so, right on the edge of our range" and he offered Lee the microphone. "We’ve about decided it’s a whale, or maybe several, feeding on krill we’ve stirred up."
Lee closed his eyes and listened for a bit, then looked at the senior rating. "Nothing regular, Ski?"
"No, Sir. It doesn’t always read the same size, either. That’s why I thought there might be several." Lee handed the ‘phones back and nodded to O’Brien. He in turn gave Kowalski a pat on the shoulder.
"Just keep an eye on it, and let me know about any change."
"Aye, Sir." Kowalski turned back to the screen and the two officers headed forward. It was then Lee noticed Dr. Illyanova standing in the corner of the Observation Nose.
"I thought I was up early" he commented lightly.
"She’s been there since 0530, just staring out the window. Doesn’t bother anyone in the Control Room. She apparently told Mr. Morton yesterday it was her first time on board a sub. Between you, me, and the periscope, I think she’s a bit claustrophobic."
"Swell. That’s all this cruise needs." Lee checked the boat’s position on the chart. "You about ready to get out of here, Lieutenant?"
"Ah, well, ah, I mean, Mr. Morton called up early this morning, said he’d be here by 0715 latest, that you’d be delayed. One reason I was so surprised when you came in."
"Oh well. I guess the XO and I got our wires crossed. However, since he volunteered, far be it for me to interfere. Guess I’ll finish my coffee in the nose. Carry on, Lieutenant."
Dr. Illyanova heard him approach and glanced back, smiled, and then went back to watching out the huge herculite windows. Lee was again struck by her beauty. No, it was more than mere beauty. Lee wasn’t quite sure just what it was, but he did know he wanted to pursue the question – and it’s source. The thought surprised him and he chuckled to himself. She heard, and looked at him quizzically.
"Oh, sorry – private joke," Lee covered. "I thought I was up early, Doctor."
"You’ve caught me, I’m afraid, Captain," and Lee again felt those eyes seeming to reach into his soul. "I don’t sleep well. I find great comfort in the tranquillity the view here offers. It is not a problem, I hope?"
"Of course not. And I know what you mean. There’s a peace here, felt, but hard to explain."
"Yes, exactly. Are you, too, always up so early?"
"The Captain never sleeps" interrupted Chip, coming down the spiral stairs from Officer’s Country. "Good morning, Doctor. Lee, don’t you have something else you’re supposed to be doing this morning?"
"Not a thing," Lee countered all innocence. "However, since Mr. O’Brien says you volunteered to take the conn early, perhaps I’ll escort Dr. Illyanova to breakfast. Doctor?"
"Yes, I’d like that," and she smiled warmly at Lee. He in turn gestured her ahead of him toward the aft hatch, winked at Chip behind her back, and followed her out. He hesitated slightly at sonar, but Kowalski shook his head at him, shrugging his shoulders, and Lee continued out.
Lee inwardly groaned as he entered the Wardroom, noticing Admiral Nelson and Dr. Jamison sitting together. Might as well get this over with, and leaving Dr. Illyanova to fix her plate, poured himself another cup of coffee and joined them.
"Too quiet a cruise to be drinking your breakfast, isn’t it?" teased Nelson. Obviously yesterday had been forgiven, and also obviously Doc had kept his word about not mentioning the late night cabin call.
"Already ate, Sir," Lee said, sitting down and studiously not looking at Doc. "Chip just took the conn, and I volunteered to escort Dr. Illyanova to breakfast. Seems she’s fallen in love with the view out the nose windows."
"Can’t blame her there. Good morning, Doctor. How did you sleep?"
"Not well, I’m sorry to say, Admiral, but through no fault of your accommodations. I guess I was just too excited to finally have my project come to fruition. It’s been in the works far too long."
"I was most surprised when you proposed it to the Institute, and mentioned you’d had so little interest expressed by other researchers. I find it quite exciting."
"Well, perhaps I did phrase it poorly. It was more a matter of my finding time to devote to it. There have been…problems, well…personal issues…actually, I’ve had to deal with of late. It’s only been recently I’ve been able to get back to it. I do apologize if I misled you."
"No problem. We’re happy to have you here. Now, about that sequencing test you wanted to run…" and Lee just sat back, smiling. Once the Admiral got into a project, all else was tuned out. He listened politely as Nelson and Dr. Illyanova discussed how they wanted to proceed once they reached the reef, and had decided to head back to the Control Room when Jamie caught his eye.
"Captain, if you have a minute, there’s a matter I need to discuss with you. Could you come to Sick Bay?" He kept it light, and though Nelson did glance up as the two got up to leave, continued talking to Dr. Illyanova.
Lee knew he’d grimaced slightly at Doc’s request, but apparently Nelson hadn’t noticed, and followed the Doctor out. Nothing was said between them until Doc’s office door was closed. Lee stiffened, but before he could say anything, Doc raised his hand.
"I’m not going to fuss at you, you’re obviously feeling better. The lab report did show a slight case of botulism – food poisoning – but nothing too serious. I’m going to give you another shot of antibiotic, and I’d still prefer you take it easy. Did you try to eat anything this morning?"
"Dry toast" Lee confessed, still a bit defensive, but inwardly admitted it was just his general reaction to Sick Bay. Actually, Lee had a great respect for the Doctor. He just preferred believing he, himself, didn’t need the Doctor’s services. "I’m feeling much better. Really" he added, firmly.
"Good. Roll up your sleeve" and Doc turned to prepare the injection. Lee surrendered to the inevitable.
* * * *
The day passed quietly. Lee spent most of it in the Control Room, he and Chip good-naturedly badgering each other. Several times, out of sheer boredom, Lee left to wander around the boat, performing spot inspections. He suspected Chief Sharkey was somehow giving advance notice, because nowhere Lee went did the crew seem surprised to see him. But all this was normal, too. The whole crew knew the Skipper was apt to show up anywhere, anytime, and the more unlikely the time, the more likely he was to appear. Lee did manage to startle one of the new crewmen, Lauren, but stayed to visit a few minutes, asking how the man was settling in, how he liked the boat so far, then continued on.
Lee was hungry at lunch, a fact he took as a good sign, and ate with little worry of reprisals. Jamie just ‘happened’ to be in the Wardroom at the same time, and though nothing was said directly, Lee knew the Doctor was pleased. Just as Lee was leaving, Nelson and Dr. Illyanova came in full of talk about this test and that experiment, both basically ignoring everyone else. Lee was first and foremost a submarine Captain. He acknowledged the scientific aspects of the Seaview’s missions, but his job was to see that his boat and crew performed up to expectations and requirements, rarely getting involved with the projects themselves. He was a good balance for Nelson, who frequently got so involved in a project that he failed to worry about how they were going to accomplish the day-to-day tasks. This total focus on differing aspects of the same mission had caused conflict on occasion, and several times out and out warfare between the two, the Admiral wanting to risk all for the cause of science, and Lee unwilling to risk his boat and crew for the sake of an experiment. Usually the two friends, for they were all of that and then some, could come to a compromise.
1530 found the Captain in the aft stores locker with Chief Sharkey, double-checking on how several pieces of equipment had been secured. Lee had gotten a wild thought that maybe something wasn’t properly tied down, and that’s what had caused his uneasiness the previous morning. But the two could find nothing amiss, and were just about to give it up when Chip’s voice came over the PA.
"XO to Captain. Report to the Control Room." There was no overt urgency in Morton’s voice, but Lee hurried anyway, the Chief right behind. As they entered through the aft hatch, Lee saw Nelson come down the spiral stairs forward, and they met at Sonar, where Chip was standing behind Patterson much as Lee had found O’Brien that morning behind Kowalski.
Chip looked up and handed the microphone to Lee. "Our blip’s back."
"What blip?" questioned Nelson, and Chip explained as Lee tried to make out what he was hearing, then handed the ‘phones to Nelson with a shrug.
"Just like before, Admiral. So far on the edge of the scope there’s no real way to get a fix." Lee could see that Nelson was puzzled, too.
"And this morning it was directly behind us, too? Why wasn’t I notified?"
"And tell you what, Sir? That we had a pod of whales following us?" Lee wasn’t at all defensive, just stating a fact. He was used to Nelson’s voice, gruff sounding at the best of times. But this time Nelson gave him a hard look, handed the microphones back to Patterson with a "keep an eye on it," and motioned both Lee and Chip forward. As they reached the Observation Nose, Nelson turned on Lee.
"And just what if our little extraneous project has been discovered? Did you think about that?" He spoke quietly, so as not to be heard by anyone in the Control Room itself, but Lee knew he was angry, just the same.
"Actually, Admiral," Lee answered, staying calm, "there was nothing then, and nothing now, that caused concern. There’s been no indication in anything we’ve seen on the screen or heard by ‘phone either on sonar or hydrophone that would indicate other than natural causes."
"I have to agree, Admiral" Chip stepped in before Nelson could reply. Lee almost smiled as once again his XO found himself caught between the two strong-willed officers. His calming effect on both had more than once kept the two from open hostilities, not that that was likely to happen in this instance. But Chip was always quick to do everything he could to see that it didn’t. "It’s definitely puzzling, but so far nothing to be alarmed at. We will of course keep you posted of anything further. But you were so busy today, and neither Lee nor I felt it was anything to worry about. Sir," he added, not quite an afterthought. Lee could have slugged him for the slight pause. Chip was never insolent. What was going on?
Apparently the Admiral had something of the same idea, because his face hardened for a brief moment, then relaxed. "You’re both right, of course. It’s just with the security leak, it would be wise to err on the overly-cautious side."
"Aye, Sir" Chip acquiesced.
"Yes, Sir. May I ask," Lee continued, "if Dr. Illyanova is alone in the Marine lab?"
"No. We were just leaving when I heard Chip call you. I believe she went to her cabin. Why?"
"Just thinking, it might not be a good idea to leave her unguarded. If someone does happen to know we have the device aboard, they’d almost certainly know the obvious place for it would be your lab. She’d be pretty defenseless."
"Hum, you could be right. Alert Security. I want nothing to seem out of the ordinary. Just have them keep a closer eye on the lab until we have that thing safely delivered."
"Aye, Sir. I’ll see to it immediately" the XO excused himself, and left the Control Room. He’d handle this in person with the Security Chief.
Lee noticed Nelson looking at him speculatively. "Something else, Admiral?"
"No, no", Nelson seemed to catch himself. "I was just thinking. I’m going to my cabin to catch up on some paperwork. I’ll see you later," and he left.
Lee checked with Patterson, but the blip had disappeared again, so he went back to the chart table. It was unusual for biologicals to follow Seaview, but not totally unheard of. Still, with everything else going on Lee was puzzled. And if there was one thing he hated, it was puzzles. So engrossed was he in the possibilities it took him some time to notice Lt. James’ presence in the Control Room, standing awkwardly nearby, looking slightly nervous. Lee was sure it was a plot cooked up by Doc and Chip to keep Lee on light duty, and as such it irked him somewhat. But that was no excuse to take it out on the young officer.
"Oh, Mr. James. Glad you’re here. I have to talk to the XO. You have the conn."
"Aye, Sir." Lee noticed the relief on the young man’s face and quickly left the Control Room. He was lost in thoughts of retaliation as he came to the top of a staircase, headed aft toward Security, Chip’s last known location. The next thing he knew, his left knee buckled, and he felt himself stumbling and falling forward. Awkwardly hitting the deck at the bottom, the wind momentarily knocked out of him, he was none-the-less starting to pick himself up when his head exploded, and all went black
* * * *
Lee couldn’t figure out where the drum was. He had a vague memory of a story his Mother had told him once, a long time ago, or, maybe it was yesterday, he wasn’t sure, about where thunder came from. Between the beats he heard voices, and felt hands on his body. He tried pushing them away, but the movement increased the drumbeat tremendously. He heard a voice, one he thought for some reason he should be angry with, say "Lee." Lee!" But it wasn’t worth the increased drumming to try to answer, and after a few more beats, all was quiet again.
The voices were back, louder this time. Or maybe it was just that the drumming was less. Whatever the reason, he could recognize the deep resonant voice of the Admiral, and quieter, Dr. Jamison. They were talking about someone being hurt. He wondered whom.
"….concussion, bruised ribs, all consistent with a fall. We just got started. I’ll know more when I examine him more closely."
"But what could have caused the fall. Lee’s more at home on this boat than he is anywhere else. He wouldn’t just loose his balance, for God’s sake."
"I don’t know yet. Perhaps the Skipper can tell us when he wakes up. And before you ask, I don’t know when that will be either."
"Now," volunteered Lee, and opened his eyes. He’d finally realized he was laying on a gurney and tried to sit up. Big Mistake!!!!! Immediately the blackness closed in again, but not completely this time.
"Let that be a lesson, Skipper. Just lie quietly. I realize I should probably be more worried about the condition of the deck than your hard head, but humor me."
"What do you remember about falling, Lee." The Admiral’s voice came from behind him, and Lee wisely refrained from trying to look in that direction. Nor did he see the threatening look Doc sent Nelson’s way, but Doc didn’t interrupt as Lee answered.
"Was headed aft, knee….don’t know what happened, falling…."
"Your knee!" thundered Nelson. "Doc, Lee was involved in an accident before coming aboard yesterday, but he convinced me it was nothing serious. I should have known better than to believe him."
"What?" Doc yelled back. "Frank, come help me a second." As the corpsman walked over, Lee tried to explain it was just a scratch, no big thing. Unfortunately he also tried to raise his head again.
"No!" Doc was still fuming, and punched a finger into Lee’s upper chest. "You, just lay there quietly, and don’t try to help. Frank, help me get the Skipper’s uniform off". Belatedly, Lee realized his shirt was already unbuttoned. As he glared at both Doc and the corpsman to no avail, they unbuckled his belt, and gently rolled him to one side, then the other, stripping off both shirt and slacks. There was a collective gasp as his left knee was revealed.
"Damn!" bellowed Nelson, echoed by Frank before choosing to get out of the line of fire. Doc’s expression was black as he nevertheless gently probed the injured joint. Lee didn’t understand, but as Doc lifted his leg to flex the knee, he saw what had set the others off. Fine that morning, the knee was now swollen almost twice its normal size, and hurt like the devil as Doc flexed it back and forth.
"No," Lee grimaced from the pain.
Doc interrupted. "Why in hell didn’t you tell me about this. Of all the stupid stunts you’ve pulled, Skipper…"
No" Lee said again, this time stronger. "It wasn’t this bad. Not yesterday, not this morning. A little stiff, that’s all." Doc looked at him, disbelievingly. "I swear," and he offered as much of a smile as he could muster.
"And I swear," Nelson was still bellowing, coming around to the side of the gurney, "I’ll confine you to quarters for the duration of this cruise, that’s assuming Doc ever releases you from Sick Bay." Lee could feel the older man’s anger, and couldn’t meet his gaze.
Doc had continued to examine the knee, and now interrupted. "As much as I hate to defend the Skipper, Admiral," and Lee heard the amusement in his voice, saw it in his face as the doctor pulled a sheet up to Lee’s waist, "there’s no way he would have been walking, let alone just limping, with a knee this bad. Best guess is he banged it in the fall. Unusual that it blew up so fast, but I’ve known it to happen, you bang it just the wrong way."
Lee thought he heard the Admiral say something, but suddenly the drums were back. He closed his eyes, and all was quiet.
* * * *
When Lee opened his eyes again he was no longer on the gurney. Still Sick Bay, but in one of the lower bunks, pajama bottoms on, left leg slightly raised, resting on a couple of pillows, knee bent slightly, head and shoulders propped up on a couple more. The blanket and sheet that had apparently been covering him were pushed back and the left leg of the pajamas pushed up to reveal the damaged knee, who knew why. The Sick Bay lights were dimmed, but from Doc’s office he heard voices, just enough of the conversation to know he was being talked about.
"Do you have any idea how rude you’re being, talking about me behind me back" he called out.
"Do you have any idea how much I don’t care" Doc quipped back, but he walked over with a grin on his face, followed by Nelson and Chip. Despite Doc’s attempt at levity, all three faces looked slightly grim. Lee was suddenly worried.
"I can’t be that bad."
"No, no, lad," Nelson forced a smile. You’ll be fine."
"Provided you don’t give Doc too much trouble," added Chip, grinning.
"I was just explaining to the Admiral and XO that I think now I know at least part of what happened to you." Lee tried to pull himself higher on the pillows, and Doc grabbed one off another bunk, helped Lee to lean forward slightly, and slipped it behind him. Chip sat on the edge of the bunk, and the Admiral and Doc snagged chairs and pulled them close.
"How’s your head?"
"Still very much attached, Doc, but the headache’s not nearly as bad."
"Meaning, if I translate ‘Crane-ese’ correctly, it’s gone from 8.5 on the Richter scale, down to a 7.9." Lee glared at him, but couldn’t maintain a straight face, not with all the others snickering at him.
"So, are you going to give me a damage report, or just harass me?"
"Tell me again what you remember about falling."
Lee closed his eyes for a second. "I was standing at the top of the stairway…felt a pain in my knee…don’t really remember getting to the deck below, just trying to get up, and my head exploded. Sorry, I’m not much help".
"Actually, you have been."
"You were alone," Chip asked, serious now. "No one was around?"
"No, and I don’t remember hearing anything before all hell broke loose. But then, I don’t remember much about any of it. What’s going on?"
"Lee," Nelson reached out and put a hand on his arm, "Doc thinks you were struck on the knee – that’s not only what caused the fall, but also why it swelled so badly, so fast. Let me finish" as Lee started to interrupt. "There are also signs of two blows to your head, one pretty obviously from hitting the deck. The other, well, we think that’s the one you describe as your head exploding."
"Someone on my boat attacked me?" Lee was shaking his head slowly, disbelievingly. "Doesn’t make sense."
"Doc practically accused me of it," Nelson grinned, albeit wearily. "Said I was the only one you’d ticked off in weeks. I can’t imagine anyone on the regular crew doing this, either. Chip says we have several first-timers aboard – we’re going to concentrate on them. Obviously nothing appeared on the original applications, or subsequent interviews both you and Chip conducted. But Chief Sharkey’s keeping an eye on them, and I’ve sent inquiries back to the Institute to check further."
"NO. Skipper, don’t even start. While there appears to be no major damage, that knee is going to take time to heal. I was just about to drain fluid off of it when the Admiral and XO came in. And don’t ask me how long. I don’t know. We won’t even discuss the concussion. We’ll be in Pearl day after tomorrow. You don’t behave between now and then, and I’ll have you transferred to the base hospital. I mean it. You hear me, Mister?"
"Geesh," Lee closed his eyes. He felt the Admiral pat his arm again, and he looked at the older man.
"Consider yourself confined to Sick Bay, and that’s an order, Lee." He said it softly, but Lee knew there was no arguing with him. Lee nodded, smiled at Chip, and watched as all three left. Doc was only gone a moment, and came back carrying a small tray with several syringes on it.
"Just relax, Skipper. This won’t take long, and it will relieve some of the throbbing in the knee. This is just a local anesthetic," and he picked up one syringe, already loaded. Lee watched as he gently inserted the needle in several different spots, injecting a small amount of the contents each time. Doc glanced at his watch, wandered off for a bit, then came back and touched the areas he had injected. "Can you feel that? No? Good," and he picked up the second syringe, this one with a larger needle. Lee at first felt nauseous, watching the doctor insert the needle and start to draw off slightly bloody fluid. But as there was no pain, it was like watching it happen to someone else. Weird. Doc finally put down that syringe and picked up the third one, this time reaching for Lee’s arm. Lee started to pull back, realized the hopelessness of the gesture, and relaxed. "Good boy," Doc teased, and injected the contents. "It’s just a mild tranquilizer. With the head injury I can’t give you anything too strong, but I do want you to get some rest, particularly after last night." Doc wrapped the knee in an Ace bandage, with an ice pack under the final wrap, reached for the blankets and tucked them in around Lee, told him "nighty night" and walked off, as Lee tried to let himself relax. It wasn’t going to be easy. He had a lot to think about.
* * * *
Lee always felt frustration when stuck in Sick Bay. He hated not knowing what was happening on his boat, not being a part of the action. This day was no exception, and in some ways, worse than usual. Lee had slept only intermittently, the corpsman on duty keeping a close watch on him. Lee had been concussed before and knew it was necessary to watch for late-appearing symptoms, but it was still a pain! First thing this morning Doc had cheerfully drained the knee again, this time without the third syringe, and rewrapped it. Unfortunately for Lee, he had also declared Sick Bay off limits to crew unless of emergency, and had turned the volume down on the intercom system, explaining he wanted Lee to rest without unnecessary interruptions. But it had the opposite effect, making him feel isolated and angry. For awhile he tried concentrating on what he knew of the four new crewmembers. He’d met them all during the interviews but, except for Lauren, had not as yet welcomed them onboard as he liked to do. Knowing that there was someone on board who meant him harm, here where he was revered, yes, protected, by his crew, as he did his best to protect them, was very unsettling. Being stuck in bed was only adding to the feelings of helplessness and frustration. Cookie had prepared a sumptuous breakfast, but Lee hadn’t done it much justice. Now, as lunch appeared, Lee didn’t even want to look at it. Frank had placed it on a small table next to Lee’s bunk, but Lee rolled over, facing the bulkhead, ignoring it. He knew Doc would be worried about him. Doc was used to him badgering, belligerent, doing everything possible to get out of Sick Bay, up to and including flat-out escaping. To have him now being quiet, brooding, would unsettle the oft put upon CMO. But Lee knew something Doc didn’t right now – Lee was about as angry as he’d ever felt himself get, and didn’t trust himself not to strike out, verbally or physically. Best just to try and get his emotions under control before he did something he’d only have to apologize for later.
At some point sounds filtered through his anger, and he noted that someone was removing his untouched lunch. Deep down he knew he’d pay for that. Probably Doc was already preparing the IV. No, not yet. I’m not through feeling sorry for myself, and shocked himself with that revelation. Get a grip, Crane. Maybe your head’s worse than you think it is. But his anger started to transfer from himself toward whoever on his boat was the cause of his current predicament. Unfortunately, he was still just plain angry when he heard someone speak to him. He didn’t pay attention to the voice. Doc and Frank were the only other people there, and he wasn’t yet ready to deal with either. When he felt a hand on his arm he turned sharply and pushed the hand firmly, meaning to glare whomever it was away.
Unfortunately, the body attached to the hand was knocked off balance by the sudden motion, and Lee watched in horror as Dr. Illyanova’s backside landed on the deck. "Oh, my God. Dr. Illyanova. I’m sorry…." Lee heard a snort and short laugh coming from the direction of Doc’s office, but when he glanced over, there was no one in sight. "Please…" Lee had raised himself into a sitting position too fast, and he had to close his eyes for a second to stop the spinning. When he opened them, Dr. Illyanova was just sitting there, laughter spreading across her face. Lee watched the transformation, from already very pretty to remarkably beautiful woman, and was struck totally speechless, not entirely by embarrassment. He tried again. "I’m so sorry…"
The Doctor raised her hand, still laughing, not moving off the deck, but instead curling up cross-legged on it. "I don’t believe I’ve ever been knocked on my tail by anyone laying in a bed before. This trip is just full of surprises."
"Dr. Illyanova," Lee tried one more time, and still didn’t quite know how to continue.
"Please, Captain, under the circumstances, try Katya. This does not appear to be an occasion for stuffiness." She was still chuckling, and Lee found himself laying back, smiling too.
"What are you doing here, besides getting decked, that is?"
"Getting decked… now I know where that phrase comes from. Actually, I missed you in the Observation Nose this morning, and it wasn’t until I got to the lab later that Admiral Nelson told me you had fallen. When we got done I just thought I’d stop and see how you were feeling."
"Better, now. Oh, sorry, Dr…ah…Katya, not better because…."
"Please, Captain," she raised her hand again, laughing, "believe me, I understand. I had a diving accident once that stuck me in hospital for several weeks. I do not like confinement, of any kind," and Lee saw her give a small shudder. "I’m afraid I was the terror of the nursing staff. They couldn’t wait to get rid of me."
"Jamie usually says the same thing about me. I am not one of his favorite patients."
"Something else we have in common, Captain."
"Lee. May I inquire how badly you’re hurt? You don’t really seem all that bad to me, but the Admiral seemed quick concerned."
"The Admiral worries too much. Banged my head and knee. No big deal."
"And there’s a guard posted outside the door because…? Sorry, just being nosy."
"Jamie ordered Sick Bay off limits to the crew, or they’d all be in here checking up on me. How did you get in?"
"I ran into the Doctor on my way here, and asked if it would be OK to visit you. For some reason I didn’t understand, the question seemed to amuse him."
"It would" Lee grumbled, with another glance at the Doctor’s office door. At Katya’s raised eyebrows, Lee just shrugged. "Never mind. It’s a long story. So, how are you and the Admiral coming along with the project," and the two spent another 20 minutes discussing coral reef habitat management. Not that Lee was all that interested in the subject, just in the person delivering it.
"Well," Katya glanced at her watch, "I’d better get back to work." She got up without using her hands. Still cross-legged on the deck, she rose up onto her feet, using just her leg muscles. Lee had never seen anyone do that before, and Katya must have noticed the surprised expression on his face. "Early gymnastics training, and a lot of strength training getting ready of deep-water dives. I’ll try to stop by again. Only, perhaps" she added with a smile "I’ll announce myself from over by the door."
They both laughed. "Not a bad idea," and Lee was very sorry to see her turn and leave. He lay quietly for a bit, then called softly towards Jamie’s door. "Thanks, Doc."
"You’re welcome," came back the reply. Lee closed his eyes, surprised at how tired he was, but also much more relaxed. Most of the anger had dissipated. He heard steps coming toward him, but not wanting what he suspected might be a confrontation with Doc over the uneaten lunch, remained as if asleep. Someone checked Lee’s pulse, then his knee, then walked away again. Lee never realized when he fell asleep for real.
* * * *
With some recognition of time passed, Lee became aware of another presence. Opening his eyes, he looked across the room to see Chip leaning against a cabinet, arms folded across his chest, wide grin on his face.
"Did you sneak in, or did Doc finally take down the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign?" and Lee motioned toward the chair set close to his bunk."
"Not ‘til I know you’re fully awake, buddy," and he stayed where he was, the grin turning into a soft chuckle.
Lee groaned. "And I suppose that’s all over the boat. SIT – NOW," but his eyes were sparkling at his friend. Chip ambled over, but moved the chair more toward the foot of the bunk before sitting down. "I’m awake," Lee yelled, but by then both men were laughing heartily.
"Whatever were you thinking, Lee?"
"That’s the point, I wasn’t. I was so wrapped up in my own problems…I don’t know, Chip. I was so frustrated, so angry, I… it’s…oh, I don’t know, it’s just not like me to be that way."
"You’re not usually under attack be a member of your own crew."
"No, it was more than that. I don’t know…"
"So, what happened," Chip prodded softly.
"So. I’m stuck in the damn bunk, Doc’s got me totally cut off." Lee could feel himself getting angry all over again, and didn’t care. "I don’t know a damn thing about what’s happening on my boat…" Lee’s fist slammed down on the bunk, his eyes blazing. But then he took a deep breath and tried to relax again. "Anyway, I was pretty much off in left field. When Katya, ah, Dr. Illyanova, touched my arm, I guess I just lost it." He held up his right hand, making a fist again. "Sort of like just now," and he looked at Chip, embarrassed.
"Katya, huh," Chip smirked back. "I see the old Crane charm hasn’t lost its touch, even with you in bed. Ah, maybe, because you’re in bed."
Lee gave Chip his best glare, and said very softly "Would you like to come a little closer and repeat that, Mr. Morton?"
"No, Sir, I don’t believe I would." But both friends cracked up, neither able to keep a straight face. When they stopped laughing, Lee asked if there’d been any news about the four new crewmen.
"Not really," Chip finally got serious. "Institute security is trying to get anything further they can on all four, but you know as well as I do that even getting to the interview level, they’d have had to pass infinite inquiries. It just doesn’t seem feasible that someone with enough hate against you to do this," and he gestured toward Lee’s leg, "could have gotten through."
"I know, Chip. But apparently they have."
"Anyway, Security’s keeping an eye on them, all casual-like. Told all of them it was just part of regulations, since it was their first tour, etc. etc."
"And how are they taking it?"
"Apparently just fine. A couple even said it made them more comfortable not having to worry about messing up until they knew more about how things were normally done."
"And we’re still on schedule?"
"Arrive Pearl 0830 tomorrow. The Admiral’s got a meeting at the base. We have the extra equipment to load. Scheduled to leave 1500."
"Very well. Doc’s got an Orthopedist friend of his coming on board to check my knee, then maybe I can get out of here."
"I heard. How’s the head?"
"Sore!!" and both men laughed again. Chip got up to leave, and laid a hand on his friend’s arm.
"Hang in there."
* * * *
"I’m trying," Lee muttered through clenched teeth. The Orthopedist had just spent the last 5 minutes poking, prodding, bending and flexing Lee’s injured knee, to the point that now nearly every joint in his body was sending out sympathy pains. Lee knew it was necessary, and was grateful the man had come here instead of forcing him to go to the base medical center. Lee had been concerned that once off Seaview, Doc and Nelson would have conspired to leave him there and continue the cruise without him until they found the guilty crewman.
"It looks good, Captain. The fact that you’ve been able to stay totally off it since the injury has helped a lot." Lee shot Jamison a deadly glance, which the doctor chose to ignore. "I was a bit concerned when Will told me he’d had to drain it twice," the visitor continued, "but fluid analysis didn’t show anything unusual. The swelling is staying down nicely now, and the fact that you jog and keep yourself in excellent physical condition overall has lent itself toward the actual damage being minimal. I’d still recommend taking it very easy, keeping it wrapped – I don’t see anything here that would indicate putting it into a brace – and continue with the Ibuprofen. You’ll know very quickly if you’ve abused it, because it will start to swell – rapidly! Will says you’ll be back in Santa Barbara in about 3 weeks? Yes, well, I’d say you should be ready to resume jogging by the time you get back."
Lee couldn’t resist. "Doc, should I tell him how many times around Sherwood Forest constitutes a mile?" referring to the access path around the missile silos.
"Be my guest, Skipper. I’ll have you confined to quarters so fast you’re head will spin." The orthopedist shot worried glances between the two, but relaxed as both were beginning to grin.
"Ignore him, Sandy. He’s hopeless."
"I appreciate you’re coming, Dr. Fleischer." Lee extended his hand. "Now can I get out of here?" he turned to Doc.
"Just keep your tail on, Skipper. Frank’s going to help you into the whirlpool while I give Sandy the ten-cent tour. When I get back we’ll talk about it. You’re still showing signs of problems from the concussion, you know."
Lee glared at him, but laid back. As the two doctors turned to leave, he heard Jamie say, just loud enough so Lee knew he was meant to hear, "Maybe if I’m lucky he’ll drown in the whirlpool before I get back."
* * * *
Two hours later Lee walked out of Sick Bay. Well, hobbled out would be more correct. He was forced into using a cane to keep as much weight off the injury as possible, and still technically on medical leave so restricted from pulling duty at least for a couple more days. He had to report to Sick Bay twice a day for whirlpool treatments. But he was OUT!!! As much as he would have liked to tour the entire boat, talking to crew and making sure for himself that all was well, logic took over and he made his way to the Control Room, headed for the Observation Nose. There were calls of "welcome back, Skipper" and "good to see you, Sir" from crew members he ran into along the way, and even "It’s about time" from Chip, standing at the chart table as Lee made his way forward.
Lee put his free hand on the XO’s shoulder, and said softly "Keep it up, Morton. I now know how and where to hit someone to keep them in Sick Bay for 48 hours." Both friends laughed, and Chip walked with him to the chairs in the nose. Lee sat more heavily than he meant to, and saw concern register on the XO’s face.
"Relax, Chip. This is as far as I’m going."
"Good!" growled Nelson, coming down the stairs. "Doc warned me you were loose. Chip, close the doors and come sit for a minute."
"Mr. James, you have the conn." Chip waited for the "Aye, Sir," and hit the button to divide the nose from the Control Room.
"Lee, I want to know where you are at all times, and I want someone with you. You’re not to be left alone unless you’re in your cabin, and then a guard will be posted outside."
"Admiral, that’s not necessary. I can take care of myself."
"You most obviously cannot," and he pointed to Lee’s leg. As Lee started to reply, Nelson held up his hand. "No, Lee. I want no arguments."
"Admiral," Chip tried to head off the argument he knew was coming, "you learned something more about the leak at your meeting." It was more of a statement than a question, and Lee, feeling himself tense up, sat forward.
"Just confirmation of what we already knew. ONI intercepted a courier. The message he was carrying confirmed the presence of an agent onboard Seaview, but not his identity."
"Sir," Lee was confused, "if we assume the agent is after the device, why the attacks on me?"
"The assumption is that of diversion. We’ll get so focused on protecting you that we’ll let security get lax on the device."
"That won’t happen."
"No, but apparently the agent doesn’t know that."
"Then wouldn’t it be prudent to offload the device here on the base, and have someone else deliver it?"
"That has already been suggested, but unfortunately overruled. It’s obvious this agent is well buried. It’s imperative he be exposed. And before you even start, Lee, I absolutely refuse to risk you any further. If I thought you’d go, I’d offload you." Apparently Lee’s face showed the determination he was feeling about not letting that happen, because Nelson continued with a slight smile on his face, his voice softer. "No, I wouldn’t even try. But you’re too important to Seaview – my orders stand."
Since Lee had no argument for that one, he sat back. "Aye, Sir."
"It won’t be that hard, Lee," Chip smiled. "We all know you’ll spend as much time as possible right here in the nose keeping track of what’s going on, whether you can pull duty or not," and was unaffected by Lee’s glare. "Admiral, he’ll have the whole duty crew keeping an eye on him."
Lee grimaced, but eventually joined the other two in a chuckle.
"Good," Nelson said, standing up. "Chip, is the extra equipment loaded?"
"I believe Dr. Illyanova is supervising securing the last of it right now, Admiral. I still have personnel off-boat, but we should be ready to leave on schedule."
"Then I’ll be in my lab for awhile. Why don’t you have Cookie serve dinner for us and Drs. Illyanova and Jamison here this evening."
"Aye aye, Sir."
* * * *
Chip had reopened the crash doors, and Lee spent the afternoon listening and watching as Seaview left Pearl and headed toward Australia. Watching from the sidelines as it were, Lee was mildly surprised to realize he didn’t mind. In a way, it gave him a whole new perspective on his crew. Not that he wanted to make it a habit, he mused.
"Ah, there you are," and he looked up to see Dr. Illyanova coming down the spiral stairs.
"Doctor," he smiled and started to rise, but she waved him back down. "Your equipment is safely stowed, I assume."
"Stowed, secured by your crew, and double-checked by Commander Morton. You must be very proud of your crew. They are most efficient."
"Actually, I was sitting here thinking much the same thing. There’s coffee on the table, and cookies, if Chip hasn’t eaten them all."
"Wonderful – somehow or another, I missed lunch. Can I get you anything?" and Lee lifted his coffee mug. "I understand we’re eating here tonight. A special treat to celebrate your recovery?"
"Not really. This is the Admiral’s favorite place on the boat. We often refer to it as Nelson’s Front Porch. He likes to take his meals here when things are quiet, and far be it for us to pass up the chance to join him."
"You’re very close, I’ve noticed. I find that most unusual. It doesn’t affect your working relationship?" She pulled up a chair to face Lee, and was watching him intently.
Lee had noticed that same expression on her face before several times. It was almost – what? Intimidating? No, he decided. She was just curious, and didn’t realize how penetrating her expression could be. "Not at all. We all understand our positions clearly. Yes, we’re close. It just makes it easier to understand each other, and I think the boat runs better for it." Apparently his voice held a hint of the slight unease he was feeling, because she suddenly sat back and lowered her gaze.
"Forgive me, I had not meant to criticize."
"You weren’t" Lee responded softly.
During the pause in their conversation, Lee became aware that Chip had walked over to the sonar station. Lee picked up the mike next to his chair, and quietly called to the XO. "Chip, what’s up?" He watched as Chip glanced in his direction and picked up the nearest mike.
"Seems our whale is back."
"Still bringing friends along?"
"So it appears. Intermittent readings, not always the same, following just on the edge of the screen."
"Maybe it’s time to check them out a bit closer." This was getting to be too much of a coincidence, and starting to bother Lee. Apparently Chip was thinking the same thing because he nodded, clicked the mike, and ordered "All stop."
"What’s happening?" Dr. Illyanova interrupted as Lee intently watched the Control Room.
"Nothing to worry about, Doctor," and he continued looking aft. He wanted desperately to go back to sonar himself but resisted, knowing that Chip had everything under control. However, so intent was he that he didn’t notice when the Doctor got up and went back up the stairs. Lee saw Chip and the sonar man, Patterson, intently studying the screen. Chip next checked with Kelly on the hydrophone, then issue the command "All back, one third" and slowly Seaview reversed herself. She hadn’t gone far when Chip again called "All stop," paused to listen, then shake his head, say something to Patterson and Kelly, call "All ahead standard – resume heading," and walk forward to stand beside Lee.
"You didn’t flatten the Doctor again, did you?" Chip snickered, and Lee noticed for the first time she was gone. He was more concerned with what Chip had to say about what had just happened, and ignored the XO’s joke.
"So? What did you find?"
Chip sobered. "Nothing – no whales, no blips either, for that matter. Whatever it was disappeared as soon as we stopped. I’m not sure I like this."
"I know I don’t, Chip, not with everything else going on."
"Notify the Admiral?"
"Definitely – but not by intercom. And we need to keep our best people on sonar and hydrophone. We can’t afford any surprises."
"Agreed. The Admiral’s in his private lab. I’ll fill him in as soon as I can. Are you OK, Lee?" he changed the subject. "You look tired."
"And how should I get tired, sitting on my six not doing a damn thing" Lee answered testily, then smiled up at his friend. "Sorry – I’m fine, Chip."
The XO laid a hand on Lee’s shoulder, and squeezed, not saying anything, but each understanding the friendship shared, then went back to the chart table.
Lee admitted to himself what he wouldn’t to Chip, that he was tired – it had been a long day. But with nothing to do but sit, he’d far rather stay here than go to his quarters. He was sorry Dr. Illyanova – Katya - had left. He enjoyed visiting with her. No, Lee, he corrected again. You enjoy looking at her. Ah well, dinner in an hour. She’d be back before long.
* * * *
They were riding the surface in calm waters, watching the sunset. Dinner had been extremely pleasant; excellent food and relaxed conversation. Lee knew by a nod from Chip that the Admiral had been told about the ‘whales’, but all three kept the conversation light. Nelson was especially careful not to get hot and heavy into things scientific. Jamie had shot Lee a couple glances, especially when he noticed how little Lee actually ate, but said nothing. Lee knew he was exhausted, and was trying to figure out how to leave gracefully when Chip spoke quietly to him.
"Lee, there’s a couple things I still need to discuss with you. Suppose we leave these three to their coffee and take care of it in private." Lee knew it was a ruse, and suspected everyone else did, too. Chip didn’t actually help him up or support him going up the stairs, but immediately at the top, out of sight from the others, put one hand under Lee’s arm and the other in the center of his back. "Easy, buddy," he said quickly, as he felt Lee stiffen. But Lee relaxed, leaned heavily into him, and they made their way to Lee’s cabin.
"Thanks, Chip," and Lee sank to the edge of his bunk.
"Figured that’s what a good XO is for – supporting their Skipper." He said it lightly.
"I don’t believe it was supposed to be taken quite so literally."
"Ulterior motive – the more rest you get, the faster you heal, and the faster I get out of double shifts." Lee said something rude, and they both laughed. "Need any help?"
"No, Chip. I still know how to put myself to bed" Lee responded with as much authority as he could muster. Chip snickered and left, and Lee make good on his statement.
* * * *
He awoke the next morning greatly refreshed, and immediately knew why. His bunk, his cabin, his boat. He’d slept without waking, without the constant tension of the confinement he felt in Sick Bay. His head was clear, and even his knee felt better as he showered and shaved. He was making plans for how to spend the day as he walked out of the head, and stopped dead. Frank Lerner, the head corpsman, was sitting at Lee’s desk.
"Sorry, Skipper. Orders. Doc had a feeling you’d somehow manage to ‘forget’ your therapy this morning, so I was sent to make sure you come down. I really prefer you’d remember to not kill the messenger."
"Don’t worry, Frank. I know exactly who to kill," but he smiled and started dressing, raising a hand as Frank started to say something. "Don’t even go there, Frank. I will not walk to Sick Bay in my robe – period."
"Aye, Sir," and he waited patiently until Lee was finished. "Doc said if you want to stop first for breakfast, it would be OK."
"Not particularly, but I’d kill for a cup of coffee."
"No problem. I’ll get you set up in the whirlpool, and bring some back for you."
"Thanks," and they headed for Sick Bay.
Despite the fact Lee hadn’t wanted it, when Frank brought his coffee, he also brought a poached egg, bacon, a croissant, and glasses of orange juice and milk. Lee was about to say something when a disembodied voice came from Jamie’s office. "Eat It!!!"
"Wondered where you were this morning," Lee called back casually.
"Writing a prescription on your chart. It consists of one word – FOOD."
Lee laughed. "Don’t you ever give up, Jamie?"
Doc walked out to lean on the doorframe. "Of course not, that’s how I get my jollys, picking on obstinate, bull-headed, obnoxious submarine captains who don’t have the brains to take care of themselves." He was smiling, but Lee knew he meant every word. Lee put a pained expression on his face, grabbed the croissant, and took a bite. "Better. And you’re not getting out of the whirlpool until it’s all gone."
Lee nearly threw the rest of the croissant at Doc, thought better of it, and took another bite.
* * * *
Lee had to admit, if only to himself, he had been hungry. After finishing his meal, he’d sunk down further into the whirlpool, leaning his head against the back, and letting the water play across his back and shoulders and well as legs. When Doc rewrapped the knee, even it looked and felt better. He was on his way to the Observation Nose with full intentions of catching up on status reports when he ran into Dr. Illyanova headed in the direction of the lab.
"Good morning, Captain," and her bright smile lit up her face. And, Lee thought to himself, his heart, and smiled back. "You’re looking much better this morning."
"Thank you. I’m feeling much better. Off for another day stuck in the lab?"
"Well, perhaps not all day. There’s not much left to do until we reach the reef and I can start collecting samples. Why don’t you join me. I’d enjoy the company. The Admiral has already told me he’s going to be tied up in his private lab all morning." She smiled again. "I promise not to bore you with too many technicalities."
"I see the Admiral’s already explained my lack of enthusiasm for his projects," Lee grinned. "Not my area of expertise."
"Totally understandable. He also explained what a comfort it is to him to know he need not worry about his ship, allowing him to concentrate on his research."
"Boat," Lee corrected absentmindedly. If the Admiral was in the private lab, Lee wouldn’t mind being right outside. Between having that device onboard, the ‘whale’ sightings, and the attacks on himself, he was getting more and more concerned about the mission. He turned toward the lab, but Dr. Illyanova hesitated.
"Will we be three?" and motioned behind Lee.
Lee had totally forgotten the security guard he’d acquired upon leaving Sick Bay. "It’s OK, Jackson. I’ll be in the Marine lab."
"I’ll just see you as far as the lab, Sir."
At the Doctor’s questioning look, Lee grimaced. "Admiral’s orders. He may trust me with his boat, but not to follow orders about taking care of myself."
"I see. Perhaps I can be of assistance, Jackson was it? We shall just have to see that the captain is made comfortable in the lab. I’d be more than happy to help you keep an eye on him."
"Yes, Ma’am." The look Lee shot the guard to wipe the smirk off his face would have sent a lesser man scurrying for cover, but Nelson – or more likely Chip, Lee thought to himself – knew the crew well, and Jackson wasn’t phased.
* * * *
Lee was enjoying himself immensely. Katya – they were back on a first name basis in the privacy of the lab – had pulled chairs together for him in one corner of the lab by the specimen tanks, one to sit in and one to put his leg on, and had spend a pleasant morning regaling Lee with diving adventures. Diving was Lee’s second love, after Seaview herself, and he and Katya had much to talk about. As she talked, Katya had moved around the lab, checking charts, adjusting equipment, working with one of the specimen tanks. Most were empty so she had her choice. Lee wasn’t at all displeased when she chose one quite close to him to begin prepping for use. She’d filled it with fresh seawater, made sure the filters were working properly, and hung what to Lee looked like a small heater to the side. Lee wasn’t paying much attention, at least not to what she was doing to the tank.
"I still have a couple hours of work, but it’s almost lunchtime" Katya said, closing up a cabinet she’d been looking through. "Shall we head for the Wardroom and continue later?"
"You in cahoots with Jamie, now?" Lee smiled. Katya looked at him questioningly. "He’s constantly after me to eat more."
Katya laughed. "Guilty as charged. Scuttlebutt also has it the Admiral can get so caught up in his projects he forgets to eat. Shall we knock on his door and suggest he come with us?"
"Not unless you want to be fired out a torpedo tube" Lee was not entirely joking, and apparently Katya heard it in his voice, because the smile left her face.
"Surely ‘Do Not Disturb’ doesn’t include you, Lee."
"If there was sufficient reason, say, a major problem with the boat, urgent incoming message for him, something like that, yes, I would survive disturbing him." Lee smiled again. "Lunch doesn’t qualify. Shall we go?" and he pushed himself out of the chair. He saw Katya stop and look as she entered the passageway, and scowled himself as he saw Jackson waiting for him. The next time I see the Admiral, he promised himself, purposely ignored the guard, and walked with Katya toward the Wardroom. She, however, wanted to make a stop in her cabin, so he continued on. He met Chip just outside, coming from the Control Room. When he saw Lee a huge smile appeared.
"Enjoy your morning, Lee?"
Lee ran through half a dozen replies, surrendered, and with a smile said, "Actually, I did." He saw Chip look and give a nod to someone behind Lee, and turned to see Jackson moving off. "I’ve got to talk to the Admiral. This is ridiculous."
"You can try, but I don’t think it will get you anywhere, at least not until we rendezvous with the Adams."
Lee harumphed and entered the Wardroom, Chip following. "Ship status?"
"On course, all quiet. Haven’t missed you at all," he added with a snicker.
"Don’t get used to it," Lee growled, and Chip snickered even louder, starting to fill his plate. They had already started eating when Katya finally came in. "I’d about given you up for lost," Lee said as both he and Chip rose.
She waved them down. "Sorry, I got sidetracked for a moment. What’s good?"
Lee motioned toward Chip’s loaded plate. "According to Mr. Morton, everything," he grinned, and it was Chip’s turn to humph.
The three passed a pleasant 45 minutes before Chip decided he’d better get back. "Are you coming forward, Lee?"
"Actually, he’s coming back to the lab with me for awhile longer," Katya interrupted before Lee could answer, and smiled. "Then perhaps we’ll both come. I find those wonderful windows a good antidote for long hours in the lab."
Chip still looked expectantly at Lee, who just shrugged and smiled. "I suppose I can trust you not to run us into an undersea mound for a little longer."
Chip held his hand out and waggled it back and forth. "That might make for an interesting diversion" he chuckled, and walked out, ducking Lee’s thrown napkin.
How he knew, Lee wasn’t sure, but Jackson was again waiting for him outside the door. Probably Chip’s doing, Lee thought to himself, and did his best to ignore the guard.
As they reentered the lab, Lee made his way back to the chair he’d occupied all morning. In the reflections from the specimen tanks he saw Katya stay close to the door, looking at something she’d picked up off the counter…
Pain…intense pain…red haze…can’t see…screams – have to see who’s screaming…can’t…Katya! – where is she?…hands grabbing – NO!!…fear – from what?…hands wet – my hands? Voice?…hurts!!…know that voice?…have to make the screams stop…red turning black…voice calling…black…can’t………….
* * * *
Lee became aware some of the pain was gone. So was the screaming, replaced now by soft voices he couldn’t quite make out. He still couldn’t see, but at least now it was just dark, not the horrible red he had memories of. He tried to move, and found he couldn’t, but the action did bring the voices closer.
"Lee," the voice he remembered, and now recognized. The Admiral. He tried to find the familiar face, but everything was still dark. He still couldn’t move. All of a sudden he was frightened again, started to struggle, and felt hands again, not ungentle, holding him down. The voice called again "Lee, easy lad," and another voice "It’s all right, Skipper." Doc’s voice. "You’re going to be just fine. Just take it easy." Nothing made sense. Why couldn’t he see? He moved his head from side to side, trying to clear his vision, trying to see around the dark, but nothing worked. He tried talking, but his throat felt sore, dry, and he couldn’t make the words come out. Doc’s voice again, "Skipper, calm down, you’re OK. Try to relax." Lee had to concentrate to understand the words, but he stopped fighting. He felt metal touch his lips, and turned away. "Skipper, take this, it’s just ice chips. It will make your throat fell better." It was getting easier to understand the words, and the hands holding his shoulders were gently kneading. Lee opened his mouth and felt the spoon, felt the ice, felt moisture soothing his throat. He swallowed several times, and when the moisture was gone, tried again to speak. Still hard, still hurt, but words at least came out this time "What happened? Can’t see. Can’t move…"
"Better, Skipper. Can you tell me what’s the last thing you remember? Where you were?"
Lee’s mind was filled again with pain – everything red…. But the hands on his shoulders continued to knead, and he worked to focus his thoughts. "Lab, standing by the specimen tanks." Suddenly he remembered the screams. "Katya!" and he struggled to sit up.
"Lee, take it easy." The Admiral’s voice, behind him. It was the Admiral’s hands on his shoulders. "She’s fine. Now just relax. One of the specimen tanks exploded. Do you remember?"
"Not really." His voice was getting stronger, his thoughts clearer. "Can’t see."
Doc’s voice again, from his side. "You can’t see because I’ve put bandages on you eyes. I said relax" as Lee became agitated and tried to move again. "Calm down. You’re OK. I promise. Better. When the tank blew the glass shattered. There were small pieces in both eyes. I’ve flushed them out, put ointment in them, and covered them for a day or so. Now, are you going to settle down and let me give you the rest of the damage report, or do I sedate you?"
"He’s going to calm down" the Admiral said quietly, still behind Lee, hands still kneading his shoulders gently, and Lee finally did allow himself to relax. He was still somewhat confused, but awake enough to want answers.
"You said Katya, Dr. Illyanova, wasn’t hurt. I heard screaming…"
"She wasn’t hurt, just very badly frightened" answered Doc, keeping his voice soft and quiet, and Lee felt a touch on his arm. "You were a pretty scary sight when we got there. When the tank exploded it sent out tiny glass shards, a good many of which you took to your upper body and face. None penetrated deeply, but there was a lot of blood. That’s why everything seemed red to you. There are multiple lacerations on your face, and blood was running into your eyes. Your chest and arms are also covered. When I first looked at you, I was scared!" and Lee felt Doc squeeze his arm gently. "But nothing went deep, thankfully, and they’re all out. You’re going to be sore for awhile, and taking a shower is going to be rather interesting" Lee heard amusement in Jamie’s voice, "until the lesions heal. Once I decided you weren’t in immediate danger I gave Dr. Illyanova a mild sedative and sent her to her cabin. I’m sure she’ll be by to see you before much longer." Lee heard a chuckle. "On second thought, maybe I’ll leave the restraints on a while longer after what you did to her the last time she visited you here" and there was a chuckle from behind Lee as well.
But Doc had set off little alarm bells in Lee’s head. "Restraints?" Now he knew why he couldn’t move.
"You’ve been very agitated, Skipper. We couldn’t work on you, even with tranquilizers. We don’t know why" and there was an unasked question in his voice.
Lee didn’t know why either. He could remember being very upset, not knowing what had happened, not being able to see. He was sure now that the screams hadn’t helped, and said as much.
"I’m sure that’s it, too, Skipper. Heaven forbid Captain Crane not being able to take care of anything that happens on his boat," and even Lee had a small smile for the gentle jab. "I just want to make sure you’re enough awake not to try anything stupid before I take them off."
"Stupid?" and Lee smiled again.
"Stupid," Doc retorted. "Like trying to get up by yourself, like taking the bandages off your eyes before I say you can. Get the picture?" he finished forcefully.
"Yes Jamie, I get the picture."
"I sincerely hope so, Skipper, because one wrong move on your part, and the restraints go back on – until the end of the cruise if I have anything to say about it."
"You’d never be able to stand me here that long," Lee snickered, and again got a chuckle out of both Doc and Nelson.
"He’s got you there, Doc" Nelson said. "Lee, do you remember anything about the tank that exploded, anything unusual. We don’t know what could have made it do that. As far as I know, it was empty."
"Not sure which one it was, Admiral, but Dr. Illyanova was messing with one of them, filling it with water, putting instruments in it. Sorry, I wasn’t paying much attention. You’ll have to ask her."
"We’ll do that, Lee."
Lee could feel the restraints being loosened, and then pressure on his arm. "OK, Skipper," Doc said. "I’m going to help you sit up…slowly!! That’s better. Now, we’ll swing your legs over this way. Admiral, if you take his other side… that’s good…now very slowly, Skipper, over to the bunk."
Lee let them half carry him to the bunk, probably the same one he’d so recently vacated. But he had very little strength to argue the point. Blankets were tucked in around him, and he heard someone move away. Must be Doc. He could still feel a hand on his shoulder.
"Admiral?" A troubling thought was starting to present itself in Lee’s mind.
"Right here, Lee. Do you need something?"
"The door to your lab. It wasn’t damaged in the blast?"
"No. Actually there was very little damage even to the rest of the Marine lab. Everything’s safe," and he emphasized ‘everything’.
"Then it was me – again."
"So it would seem, Lee." Lee heard pain in Nelson’s voice, reached a hand up, and placed it on top of Nelson’s. Nothing more was said between the two, and Lee soon heard footsteps returning.
"Skipper, I’m going to set up an IV, to help replace fluid loss," and Lee felt the needle slide in gently and be taped in place. What he couldn’t see was the loaded syringe Doc added to the IV bag. He did, however, realize he was getting sleepy.
"Doc," he said as forcefully as he could, and heard Nelson’s deep chuckle again.
"Lee, you need to rest. Doc’s just making sure he gets some, too."
* * * *
Lee had no idea how much time had elapsed. Besides not knowing what was happening, now that he couldn’t see, it just made things that much worse, the frustration level that much higher. Trying to make sense of his surroundings as much as he could, he put his free hand up to his face.
"Don’t even consider it, Mister" he heard Doc’s voice come from what must be his office doorway.
"Wasn’t going to mess with it," Lee muttered, and let his fingers feel what was there. Basically just patches over each eye, and what felt like a single layer of gauze holding them in place. Doc had been right – apparently nothing too serious, and Lee put his arm under his head. Unfortunately that set off pain from several wounds on his arm, but it soon passed. As his head continued to clear there was…something…nagging at the back of his mind. He couldn’t quite get a fix on it. About the explosion, yes…something, but also something about this whole mess. Just can’t get a grip on it he thought to himself.
"What was that, Buddy?" he heard Chip’s soft voice, and realized he must have thought out loud. "That was an awfully confused expression on your face just now."
"Didn’t hear you come in, Chip. Status report."
"Everything OK except you, Skipper," and Lee heard the humor in the XO’s voice.
Yes, that was part of it. "Chip, why me?"
"I’m not sure I follow you, Lee" and the soft voice was serious now. Lee heard the scrape of chair legs come closer.
"Why me? Why have I been targeted?"
"We’re still under the assumption it’s a diversionary tactic to get to the device. The Institute is still trying to run more in-depth background checks on the four new crewmen. I’d stake my life – and yours – it’s not one of the regular crew. Security reports on the four new crewmen are unfortunately," and Lee heard frustration in the XO’s voice, "inconclusive."
"But it has to be tied to the device – it can’t be a coincidence. I don’t have anything to do with it. It’s the Admiral’s baby. He’s the one responsible for it. There’s been no attempt to stop delivery – yet!" he added thoughtfully. "What could possibly be gained by these attacks on me?" Another bell went off. "And how was I targeted in the lab. If I hadn’t been standing directly in front of it, nothing much would have been damaged, from what I understand."
"That one’s a little easier. Anyone who walked by the lab this morning, which, before you ask, includes all four suspects at one time or another, could see where you were sitting. Oh, and Sharkey’s determined the cause of the blast. Pieces of a small explosive device have been recovered, and what looks like some sort of detonator. Sharkey’s having a little trouble there. Some of the pieces just don’t fit the picture."
"They could be pieces of Katya’s, ah, Dr. Illyanova’s equipment. I gather it must have been that tank that exploded. It was the only one anywhere near that had anything in it, to mask something else being added."
"Makes sense. I’ll have the Chief check with her to see what kinds of equipment she had in there."
"Sounds like things are starting to come back to you" Lee heard the Admiral’s voice, and heard him walk closer, felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Getting there, Sir," Lee agreed. "Everything around the explosion itself is still pretty fuzzy."
"Not surprised. All those glass fragments created a lot of momentary pain, blocking out everything else. I doubt you’ll ever totally put the pieces together."
"You didn’t notice anything, Sir? Coming from your lab, you must have been one of the first people there."
"But I wasn’t in my lab. Where did you get that idea? Oh, I remember, I’d told Dr. Illyanova I would be there." Nelson chuckled. "Small change of plans. I got sidetracked in my cabin with project proposals, and never got down to the lab. I heard the call over the intercom. Doc and I got there just about the same time."
"Who called Doc?" Lee wasn’t sure why, but for some reason it was important he know.
"It was Jackson, Lee," Chip answered. "He hadn’t gotten very far away, after escorting you back from lunch. He’s still pretty shook up from finding you looking like a piece of hamburger – his description."
"And what does it look like now?"
"A very bad case of measles," and Lee heard the amusement back in Chip’s voice.
"Gentlemen," Lee heard Doc coming, "might I suggest you continue this in the morning? It’s late, and the Skipper needs his beauty sleep." Lee started a retort as he heard both Nelson and Chip laugh, but Doc cut him off. "Listen, Skipper. I’m going to clean and put ointment on all those cuts again, and it’s going to hurt like hell. I’d much rather have you pretty well under before I start. You’ve been through enough for one day."
"I’m all right," Lee countered automatically, but even he realized his heart wasn’t in it. Chip and Nelson said goodnight, and Lee heard them leave, talking quietly. He figured Chip was filling the Admiral in on what he and Lee had been putting together. Maybe Nelson could make some sense of it all. Lee felt himself getting sleepy, and knew Doc must have put something in the IV again. Unfortunately he wasn’t totally under as Doc started swabbing antibiotic on the cuts.
* * * *
Pain!!! Fiery, intense pain. A scream…was he screaming? Why? A glimpse of something…someone? Where? "No!!!" Lee woke up shaking from the dream and sat up, drenched in sweat.
"Skipper, what’s wrong?" he heard John, the night corpsman, come running into the room. Lee, trying to get his breathing under control, couldn’t immediately answer. "I’ll get Doc."
"No" Lee managed to squeak out, and reaching a hand toward the voice, felt John take hold of his arm. "Not necessary, John," Lee was beginning to get himself under control. "Just a bad dream. Sorry to bother you."
"Not a problem, Skipper. Tell you what. Let me check you out. Just relax. That’s it, nice deep breaths. Don’t have a fever – that’s good. With all those cuts, Doc was worried. How ‘bout I sponge some of that sweat off, find some fresh PJs and get you settled in a clean bunk. You’ve pretty well trashed the bedding in this one. Must have been some dream."
"Guess so, John, can’t remember much of it," Lee confessed.
"The way with most dreams, Sir. OK, you just keep taking nice, easy breaths. I won’t be a minute."
Actually, Lee was pretty sure he was gone a good bit longer than that, but when the corpsman returned, he took Lee’s hand and put a mug of something into it. "Hot cocoa, Skipper," and while Lee sipped the warming drink John got him cleaned up and moved. "Think you can go back to sleep, now?" Lee’s answer was interrupted by a yawn, and both men laughed. "Good, Skipper. Here, I’ll take the mug, you just lay back down," and the corpsman got Lee settled. Lee felt himself relaxing, not recognizing the effects of the sedative Doc had ordered put in the cocoa.
* * * *
Lee was beginning to REALLY hate waking up in Sick Bay. At least this time he wasn’t screaming, but that didn’t make it much better. He could feel the anger beginning to well up in him again, and was trying hard to get it under control. He knew logically that it was non-productive, but…
"I was going to come take the bandages off your eyes, Skipper, but not with your hands in that position," Lee heard Doc’s voice, and realized he’d made two very tight fists.
"Sorry, Doc," he relaxed and tried to smile, although he wasn’t sure with how much success.
"John noted you didn’t have a very restful night."
"John’s got a big mouth."
"John’s got good handwriting – it was on your chart."
"Oh. You said something about taking the bandages off?"
"Are you sure your head’s OK? It took you a full 30 seconds to pick up on that."
"DOC!!!" and Lee heard Doc start to chuckle.
"Ok, Ok" and Lee felt the CMO sit on the edge of the bunk. "Now, I want you to just lie still. I’m going to cut the wrap…Ok, now, put your hand over your eyes to block the light…that’s right…I’m going to take the patches off, but I don’t want you to move your hand. Just very carefully open your eyes and let them get acclimated a second. Good, now you can take your hand away…No, slowly, Skipper. Let then get used to the light. How do they feel?"
Lee was blinking hard, and things started out very blurry, but got better and better until Doc’s face was clear, and he said so.
"Good. Let me check them again, just to be sure. Looks good, Skipper."
"Then can I get out of here – now – please!"
"Not so fast. You still have whirlpool therapy on your knee, which should prove interesting this morning, considering all the lesions."
Lee said something decidedly impolite, but spoiled it by laughing when he looked at Doc’s face. "Jamie, you’re taking far too much delight in this. I WILL get even."
"Trust me, Skipper, you already have. Because of you I haven’t had a decent nights’ sleep since this cruise began!"
Doc as usual was right, although Lee would have been the last person to tell him so. Lee’s injured chest and arms objected strenuously to the whirlpool as he sank down like the morning before. Damn, has it only been 24 hours? Frank again brought him breakfast, and after Lee got out, rewrapped the knee and swabbed antibiotic ointment on the lesions again before letting Lee get dressed. Doc didn’t seem to be around, and Lee took advantage of the fact by escaping as soon as he got dressed in the fresh uniform that had appeared, then made his way forward to the Control Room. Except for the occasional irritation when his uniform rubbed wrong on a lesion he felt remarkably fit. Even his knee felt better, and he’d left the cane in Sick Bay, much to Frank’s displeasure. But apparently something in Lee’s expression made an impression on the corpsman because he didn’t say anything as Lee walked out. Who he didn’t have any effect on was Jackson. The security guard was again waiting quietly outside the door to Sick Bay. Neither moved for a second, or said a word, and finally Lee shook his head with a slight grimace and walked off, aware of soft steps following not too far behind.
The steps disappeared as Lee entered the Control Room, and Lee acknowledged with a nod and smile each duty crewman as he made his way to the chart table where Chip stood watching him. Also watching were the Admiral and Doc, sitting in the nose having coffee. Lee purposely turned his back on them and glanced at his watch – 0810.
"Status, Mr. Morton" Lee said, picking up one of the clipboards. He noticed the XO give a quick glance forward, but automatically began relaying the necessary information, his voice and expression calm. Lee continued to study the sheets on the clipboard as he listened, his face bland, but as Chip finished reporting that they were on course, all systems operational, and everything was as it should be, Lee looked up and gave his XO a quick wink. He put the clipboard down as a small smile appeared on Chip’s face.
"Welcome back, Captain. How long you staying this time" and the smile spread.
Lee shot him a hard glance. "One of these days…"
"Promises, promises" and both men laughed softly.
"ETA rendezvous with the Adams" Lee asked quietly, picking up a second clipboard. The rest of the crew hadn’t been apprised of the minor detour.
"0800, day after tomorrow, approximate. Maintaining radio silence with the Adams until 0600 same day. The Admiral still wants to keep everything as quiet as possible. Still no idea on the mole. The Chief and I think we’ve ruled out Michaels, but that still leaves the other three. Oh, and your guess about the extra electronics in the tank was correct. They belonged to sensing devices of the Doctor’s."
"Speaking of whom…"
"Down, Captain." Lee raised an eyebrow and Chip snickered. "Sharkey reported she had breakfast early and went to the lab."
"How long have they been here?" and by a slight head movement indicated the two in the nose.
"The Admiral since 0700. Doc showed up about 0730. Why, did you escape again?"
"Not as far as I know. Doc disappeared right after taking the bandages off my eyes, and Frank only fussed because I refused to use the cane."
"Wondered about that."
"Don’t start, Mister" but he said it with a smile. "Actually, I feel better than I have since this mess started."
"Good. Your crew, and especially your XO, would greatly appreciate you keeping it that way. To say nothing of the CMO," Chip added with a laugh.
The two continued their friendly banter, and Lee never noticed when Nelson and Jamison left the nose. The morning went quickly and quietly, until just before 1200, when Jackson appeared with a folded note he handed Lee. From the expression on Chip’s face, Lee knew he wasn’t having much luck controlling his own, and it didn’t help at all when he handed the note to Chip and watched the XO smile as he read: L. Your watch is up as of 1200. Report to the Wardroom for lunch, then your cabin until 1800. N. "Don’t fight it, Lee."
Lee knew Chip was trying to deflect the expected outburst and stared at the chart table, trying to get his emotions under control. Finally he realized Jackson was still standing next to him quietly, took a deep breath, smiled at Chip, mouthed a ‘thanks’ and left. Instead of heading aft, however, he went up the stairs toward Officers Country, stopping at his cabin. "Jackson, could you bring me back a lunch tray?" At the guard’s hesitation, he finally smiled. "I promise to be here when you get back," and entered his cabin, shutting the door behind him.
It wasn’t until he sat down behind his desk that he acknowledged he was actually tired, and leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes until he heard a knock on his door. "Come" and he sat up straight, then started to stand as he watched Admiral Nelson come in carrying a food tray.
"As you were" and he set the tray down in front of Lee. Lee sat back down, his eyes never leaving Nelson’s face, and decided somewhat belatedly that his own face must have shown some of the anger that had suddenly welled back up, because the Admiral said nothing more, turned and left, pulling the door softly closed behind him.
What is your problem, Crane, he chided himself. Get a grip. You know Nelson’s just worried about you. Why are you having such a problem? Not knowing the answers, Lee again laid his head back and closed his eyes, lunch ignored.
* * * *
He was once again walking into the Marine lab with Katya, walking back toward the specimen tanks…saw something? What? Not right!! What’s not right? Pain!!! Everything red…Lee…screaming… NO!! Lee…NOT RIGHT!!!!
"LEE" the voice finally penetrated the dream, and Lee woke up to find Nelson standing next to him, shaking him awake. "What’s wrong?" Nelson’s voice was softer this time, as Lee finally realized he’d been having another nightmare.
"Sorry, Sir" Lee tried to relax, running his hand through his hair, and smiling ruefully.
"What’s not right, Lee?"
"What’s…I don’t understand."
"You kept muttering ‘not right’. What were you dreaming about? What wasn’t right?"
Lee took a deep breath and closed his eyes again, trying to remember the dream. "I was walking into the lab, toward the chair to sit down. The tank…something about the tank…" He shook his head and opened his eyes. "I just don’t know."
"Did you see something, something in the tank that didn’t belong?"
Lee thought for a second, and shook his head again. "Sorry, Sir" he apologized again. "If I did see something, it’s gone now."
"That’s all right, lad. If it’s important enough, it will come to you eventually." Lee saw Nelson look at the untouched meal, and switch subjects. "Jamie’s not going to like that."
"Do we have to tell him?" and Lee saw surprise, then a grin, spread across the Admiral’s face. Lee grinned back, the earlier anger forgotten.
"You know I can’t lie for you, Lee. However" he sighed heavily, "over the years I have picked up a thing or two from you about bending the truth." He looked sternly at his young Captain, and Lee had the good grace to look slightly ashamed, but only slightly, and Nelson laughed. "We will see you at dinner" and he walked to the door.
"Aye, Sir" Lee answered although he really didn’t want to, and after Nelson left, got rid of the evidence. He decided to go down to the Marine lab and visit Katya, still puzzling over the dream. He was followed quietly this time by Monroe, another of the security personnel.
Lee was disappointed to find the lab empty, but wondered back to where he had been standing the day before when all hell broke loose. All traces of the explosion had been cleaned up and removed, and only the hole in the bulkhead rack where the tank should have been was left to remind Lee of what had happened. He had no idea how long he’d been standing there when movement in the reflection on one of the other tanks caught his eye. "You Ok, Skipper?" It was Monroe, and Lee started to answer the young guard…
"Skipper? Skipper!! Oh God."
Lee heard the words, but he couldn’t make himself answer. It couldn’t be…NO WAY!. He felt hands push him into a chair, heard someone calling Sick Bay, but it seemed to be very far away, and of no importance. I can’t be right…there has to be another explanation. He kept playing back what his mind had just seen, so totally absorbed in his own thoughts he wasn’t aware for several moments that Jamie was beside him. He did vaguely hear something about ‘delayed shock’ – who were they talking about? "Jamie," and he tried to focus on the face nest to his.
"Come on Skipper. Back to your favorite place on the whole boat," and Lee felt hands lift him.
"No." He focused harder. "Jamie, I’m Ok" and tried to shake off the hands holding him, one from each side.
"Skipper, you’re most definitely not Ok. You’re white as a sheet, your skin cold and clammy. Come on, now. No arguments." Lee went back into his own thoughts and didn’t really remember later being taken back to Sick Bay, his mind totally locked on the image in the reflection…
* * * *
He finally became aware of a familiar picture, recognizing it as the ceiling in Sick Bay, and then hearing two familiar voices.
"Jamie, what happened?" Nelson.
"I don’t know. Monroe called me from the Marine lab. Said the Skipper had seemed Ok walking down there from his cabin. Monroe didn’t follow him in, but when he checked on him a bit later, Lee was just standing there, like he’d seem a ghost, and wouldn’t answer him. That’s how I found him. We got him back here with no trouble, but he’s definitely in shock: non-responsive, pale, skin cold and clammy. His blood pressure is off the scale, which doesn’t make any sense considering the other symptoms. I started an IV and gave him a mild tranquilizer. Not enough to knock him out, just get his blood pressure back under control."
"What could have caused it?"
"At this point, your guess is as good as mine. The only thing I can think of, the realization of what happened yesterday finally caught up with him. Maybe it’s my fault, maybe I should have kept him here longer."
"But he seemed so good this morning. From what I saw in the Control Room, you’d have had a major fight on your hands."
"Wouldn’t have been the first time."
"The fact that he didn’t eat lunch couldn’t have had that much of an effect?"
"Wonderful!" Thanks a lot, Admiral Lee thought to himself. But discretion being the better part of avoiding all-out war with the Doctor, Lee closed his eyes. "Actually" Doc continued, "it probably didn’t. We both know the Skipper doesn’t eat nearly as much as I’d like, and I do know he had a decent breakfast. It’s much more likely something in the lab triggered memories from the blast yesterday, and they just overwhelmed him." Little do you know, Doc. "He had a severe nightmare here last night."
"I woke him out of another one not much more than an hour ago, in his cabin."
"Damn! Well, that has to be it."
"He’ll be Ok?"
"Sure. He just needs to rest. This has been one hell of a cruise for him so far. I think its all just catching up with him."
"Well, keep me posted."
Lee stayed quiet, but apparently whatever Doc had given him was working, because he kept an awareness of the present, even though his thoughts were racing, processing and analyzing the images that hit him in the lab, bringing the nightmares into the light. At first he just wanted the images to go away. He didn’t want to believe they could be true. There HAD to be another explanation! But deep down, in the very core of his soul, he knew what he’d seen.
Jamie interrupted his concentration. Lee felt the doctor checking pulse and respirations, then heard him call Frank. Lee remained passive, his eyes closed, as the two stripped off his uniform and settled him in a bunk. Neither addressed him directly, just talked softly between themselves. But as Lee heard one set of footsteps move away, there was the sound of a chair being brought closer, and a hand was laid gently on his arm. Lee still didn’t open his eyes, but placed his other hand on top of Doc’s. It was an acknowledgment of the trust and friendship between the two that was rarely verbalized.
"Go to sleep, Skipper."
"Doctor?" Katya’s voice, and Lee stiffened so badly that he heard Jamie gasp, and peel his hand out of Lee’s.
"Dr. Illyanova," Jamie’s voice was strained, and Lee heard him quickly walk toward the Sick Bay door. "Please, I don’t think you should be here right now."
"I was told the Captain had collapsed again. I was most concerned and wanted to see him. I know I should have come yesterday… I just couldn’t…"
"I know, Doctor. The Skipper does, too, and understands. Please be assured he’ll be fine. I just let him out of here a bit sooner than I should have. He’s sleeping – should be fine in the morning. Now, why don’t you let me walk you back to your cabin? Can I get you something to help you sleep?"
"No, no. I’m fine now. I was just so terribly frightened when…"
"We all were, but he’s just fine. The cuts were all superficial."
"Perhaps I’ll just sit with him for a bit."
"Not tonight, Doctor. I’m sorry…"
"Doc?" Chip’s voice. "Good evening, Doctor. Didn’t mean to interrupt. Just going off duty and wanted to check on Lee."
"As I was just explaining to Dr. Illyanova, the Skipper’s going to be just fine. He’s sleeping, and I don’t want him disturbed. Now Chip, as you’re heading back to your cabin, perhaps you’d escort Dr. Illyanova back to hers. It’s been a very long day, and we all need to rest."
"My pleasure. Doctor?"
"You’re right, of course. I did not mean to interfere. Thank you Commander. I’d appreciate your company." Lee heard their voices disappear, and footsteps coming back. A hand was placed on his, loosening the fist he hadn’t been aware he’d made.
"She’s fine, Skipper. No need to be upset. I realize you think you’re responsible for everyone on this boat, and yes, she was very frightened. But at least for tonight the only one you have to be responsible for is yourself. Now get some sleep, and that’s an order, Mister." Lee heard the smile in Jamie’s voice, and felt a light pat on his hand. The blankets were pulled higher, and lights dimmed as footsteps retreated in the direction of the CMO’s office.
Sorry, Jamie – not tonight. There are too many plans to make. Lee knew he had all the pieces, or at least enough now to know what was going on, and wasn’t happy. He put his arm across his eyes, willing the images to go away, but of course they wouldn’t. They invaded his soul, reminding him of what Jamie had just said. You’re wrong, Jamie. It is my responsibility. As much as I’d like to crawl in a hole and pull it in after me, I can’t. The crew, the boat, the mission – all depend on me. Haven’t been much help so far. But there has to be a way. Lee also admitted that he was going to have to do this on his own. Nelson already thought he was losing his grip, and what did he really have – just a lot of supposition, and a fuzzy reflection during an extremely painful episode Nelson already told him he’d probably never totally remember. No, one way or another, it sat squarely on his shoulders. He had to come up with a plan to settle matters once and for all. OK Crane, there has to be a way. Lee’s career, and many times his life, had depended on his being in control, not getting caught off guard. He had to slow down, look at all the pieces coldly and logically.
The original idea had to be to get Nelson so wrapped up in Lee’s ‘accidents’ that security would be compromised around the device. When that didn’t work, they tried an attack right outside the lab door, thinking Nelson was inside and would come tearing out. Well, that didn’t work either, so they were going to have to try again, and Lee knew he had to be ready. And he’d damn well better get it right the first time, because in all likelihood he’d not get a second chance. Time was running out - the transfer was 36 hours away.
Ok, so say they did get their hands on the device. What were they going to do with it? Lee thought he had an answer for that, too, and wished he were wrong. And the ‘whale’ sightings now made a bit more sense, sort of. Still didn’t know how it was being done, but at this point it didn’t matter.
* * * *
Lee spent all night putting his plan, such as it was, together. He wished he could confide in someone, but knew he didn’t dare. He had to convince everyone he was out of the picture. That way he’d be free to put his plan into action.
First things first. He opened his eyes and looked across Sick Bay. The clock read 0615. "Jamie?" he called softly, and the doctor hurried over from his office. Lee tried a smile, and though he wasn’t sure how successful he’d been, he saw Jamie relax slightly.
"Welcome back Skipper. How are you feeling?"
"Better. When can I get out of here?" Lee figured his best shot was to play the usual game and try to get Doc to think things were back to normal.
Doc of course was a master of ‘The Game’. He stood back a step and crossed his arms over his chest. "And just where do you think you’re going IF I let you out?"
"To my cabin, Jamie, that’s all," and Lee tried to look as disarming as his frazzled nerves would let him.
"And will you eat something first?"
"Don’t push your luck, Doc." Lee knew his voice was hard, but apparently it had the desired effect towards ‘The Game’, because Jamie chuckled.
"Ok, Skipper. Come over here a second," and he indicated the exam table. "Let me give you a once-over first."
Lee got up carefully, but his head remained clear, and he walked over and sat on the edge of the table with no problem. Doc measured pulse and BP, and shown his small flashlight in Lee’s eyes, at which Lee jerked back.
"Easy, Skipper. Just want to re-check for damage from the fragments," and went on to listen to heart and respirations. At one point Lee noticed Doc studying Lee’s left hand, and realized he had been unconsciously twisting his Annapolis ring round and round.
"That’s Ok, Skipper. What you’ve been through, I’m amazed you haven’t worn the band off yet," and he continued with his examination. When he was done, he pulled the stethoscope away from his ears, and hung it around his neck. "Your cabin – nowhere else."
"No side trips to the Control Room, no wandering around to check on the other departments. Because if I find you anywhere outside your door for the next 24 hours I’ll have you back here so fast you won’t know what hit you. Do I make myself clear, Captain!" Lee glared at him, but he just stood there, unaffected, and Lee let out a sigh.
"Aye aye, Sir." He’d just have to be very sure Jamie didn’t catch him. Doc walked over to the Meds cabinet and came back with a small white pill and a cup of water, extending both toward Lee, but he hesitated.
"Take it!" and Lee knew that tone. "It’s the same thing I gave you yesterday. It hasn’t put you to sleep yet, and it won’t now. All it’s going to do is keep you leveled off and help control your blood pressure," and Lee reluctantly took it. "Good, now get dressed and get out of here. I’ll check on you later."
"That’s not necessary," Lee got defensive. Not only did he know Doc would expect it, but the last thing he needed right now was someone checking up on him every 30 minutes. He might as well stay in Sick Bay, and he grumbled as much.
Doc just raised his eyebrows. "That could be arranged," and Lee figured he’d better switch tactics.
"You’d never survive."
Jamie laughed. "Out Mister, before I change my mind," and Lee did just that, but not without his escort. Lee figured Doc had called while Lee was getting dressed, because Jackson was waiting just outside the Sick Bay door.
"Don’t you ever sleep?" Lee muttered. Jackson just smiled, and followed silently as Lee walked to his cabin.
Lee normally never locked his cabin door, but once inside he reached back and clicked the lock. For a few minutes at least he didn’t want to be disturbed. Collecting his service revolver, he checked the clip and tucked the gun into his waistband at the small of his back. As further camouflage, both to hide the piece and lend credence that he was spending the day relaxing in his cabin, for the benefit of whoever checked up on him, he donned his sweater, then slightly messed the blankets on his bunk. Satisfied with the results, he unlocked the cabin door and sat propped up on the bunk, pretending to study ship status reports. He didn’t have long to wait.
First came Frank, delivering breakfast. Lee was far too wired to eat, and as soon as the corpsman left, got rid of it down the head. He’d barely finished when Chip stopped on his way to the Control Room. He didn’t stay long, thankfully, but had barely left when Nelson knocked, and entered at Lee’s acknowledgment. Glancing at the empty food tray, Nelson smiled. "You’re feeling better. Doc said Frank had just brought it up."
"So you just had to drop in to make sure I ate it," Lee knew it came out bitter, and tried to smile an apology. "Sorry, Sir."
"That’s Ok, lad…" but was interrupted by another knock on the door.
"COME," Lee practically shouted, and Chief Sharkey poked his head in.
"Oh, ah, sorry, Sir. Didn’t realize you had company. Just wanted to see if you needed anything."
"A little peace and quiet," Lee muttered under his breath, but nodded to the Chief. "I’m fine, Chief. Doc’s got me confined to quarters for the day, so I’m catching up on reports."
The Chief grimaced in commiseration, and Nelson smiled. Lee figured the Admiral must have heard the earlier mutter, because he turned to Sharkey. "Chief, suppose you let the crew know the Skipper’s supposed to be resting, and Doc won’t take kindly to having his orders challenged."
"No problem, Sir. I’ll take care of everything," and his head disappeared as the door closed.
"Thanks, Admiral. As much as I appreciate the concern, I just don’t think I can deal with the entire crew checking up on me today."
"Not to mention well-meaning but busy-body superior officers." At Lee’s stricken look, Nelson held up his hand. "It’s Ok, lad. You’ve been through hell this cruise. You have every right to be bitter. Why don’t I also tell Jackson to make sure you’re not disturbed until you say otherwise."
Lee tried not to look too relieved, but that’s exactly what he wanted. "Thank you, Sir. I’d appreciate it."
"Consider it done," and Nelson left.
Lee knew he wasn’t totally off the hook, figuring Doc would check on him, or send Frank. But his plans were dependent on his being able to go undetected, and the Admiral had unwittingly provided the perfect excuse. Now all he had to do was wait…he wasn’t sure for what, but he figured he’d know it when it came. He was right.
* * * *
"Battle Stations," Chip’s calm voice reverberated over the intercom. "I repeat, Battle Stations. This is not a drill."
This was it. As much as Lee wanted to head for the Control Room, he knew that whatever was going on, this was the moment he had to put his plan into action. He was dreading it. If he was right, this would be the diversion the mole was waiting for to make a move, and Lee had to make his. But lifting himself into the ventilator shaft, and the entire trip to the lab area, he prayed he was wrong.
Lee moved as quickly as he could and still stay quiet. He was aided by the background noises of Seaview preparing for battle, but it was a long trip and he dare not be discovered. As he neared the opening to the Marine lab he heard voices – well, one voice, actually, but he could tell that there was a conversation going on. The door to Nelson’s private lab was cracked slightly. Please, let Nelson be in the Control Room, Lee prayed. He silently opened the vent cover and dropped to the floor. As he neared the door to the private lab, the conversation became clearer.
"…and just what the hell am I supposed to do, now. The damn thing is bigger than we thought." Lee recognized the voice as that of Kelly, the hydrophone operator. DAMN. He couldn’t quite hear the response; the other voice was too low and soft and he moved closer.
"What good is that going to do. As soon as Nelson discovers it’s gone they’ll start a search."
"And they won’t find a thing." Lee shuddered as he recognized the second voice. Oh God, why did I have to be right. "They’ll think you and Camden were working together, and since neither of you will be around to answer questions, they’ll never know the truth."
"What do you mean, I won’t be around. That’s not what we planned. We were to wait until the sub moved in and kept their attention, move the device to the secret compartment in the equipment you had loaded, and go back to our jobs. No one would know we’d been involved."
"That was the plan you were told. I have a small contingency plan for the device. There will be a major search, you’re right. But I’ve already dealt with Camden, and his body disposed of. When they can’t find either him or the device they’ll simply assume he killed you and took off with it. I don’t have to explain anything. I’m simply a marine biologist who happened to be along at the wrong time. The device will be quite safe in my extra equipment; no one will ever find it. When the cruise is over Seaview’s crew will help me off-load it, all under the watchful eyes of her command crew. How absolutely delicious. As for you, your body is going to be found right here."
"My body…you can’t mean that. You need my help…NO!…" and Lee heard the desperation building in Kelly’s voice, then the soft ‘phat’ – the sound of a silencer, then something falling. He waited a moment, then slowly moved back behind the private lab door, waiting for it to open further. He didn’t have long to wait.
Katya came out carrying the heavy box Lee knew instinctively to be the guidance system. As he watched silently from his hiding place, she very carefully opened one of her equipment boxes and pulled open what was supposed to look like a large drawer, but was in reality quite shallow. The device slipped neatly into the open space, and with the drawer back in place it looked quite innocent. She’d been right – no one would find it there. No one would think to question the good doctor’s reasons for being on this cruise. No one except Lee.
As she straightened up from re-stowing the case in the cabinet, Lee saw her stiffen slightly, and hesitate. Lee must have made an involuntary sound, because that soft, sultry voice came again.
"So, Captain…it is you, isn’t it? You figured it out." She stood very quietly, facing away from Lee. He didn’t see the weapon, but knew she had to have it. His had been trained on her since she’d come into view, and as hard as it was for him, he kept it there. He knew he was barely breathing, and tried to calm himself. He’d wanted so much to be wrong, but too many images… "It was you, in the car, the first day." He could barely speak, and was even more frustrated hearing the smile in her voice as she answered.
"Just a little scare, nothing more – at that point. Enough to jangle Admiral Nelson’s concentration. It’s well known, your friendship. And that you have a penchant for, shall we say, little accidents. How does Chip phrase it – ‘trouble just seems to follow the Captain’. Actually, it was recommended I get rid of you all together. There were those that felt I couldn’t handle you. That you’d figure everything out and spoil my little plan."
"It would appear they, whoever ‘they’ are, were right."
"Perhaps…" In the background were the ongoing noises of Seaview’s crew doing battle with what Lee assumed to be the sub Kelly had mentioned, but Lee heard little of it.
"So all the ‘accidents’ were you."
"Of course" she sounded quite pleased with herself. "I take great pride in my work. I’m very good, if I do say so myself, at seizing opportunity when it presents itself. And you made it so simple. It was such fun toying with you."
"I…I don’t understand."
"You often have food sent to your cabin instead of eating in the Wardroom. You wander all over your ship – oh, you insist on boat, don’t you. Anyway, it was quite simple to catch you alone. Everything was working so well. You were kept busy. Nelson was more and more disturbed and distracted. I’m curious. When did you become suspicious of me? I thought everything was going so marvelously. Or was it perhaps Dr. Jamison who figured it out? I didn’t understand why he was so insistent I not sit with you last night."
"And if he’d let you?"
"Oh, I don’t know. As I told you, I like to come up with things quite spear of the moment."
"Not everything. You had a hiding place all set up for the guidance unit."
"Two, actually. Some things did need to be arranged."
"Like the cat-and-mouse game with the other sub – that is what’s been happening? The mysterious sonar readings."
"Sort of. While my friends have remained out of range, they’ve been releasing small probes programmed to give off interesting sonar signals. All quite ingenious, don’t you think, Captain?" When he didn’t answer, she continued. "So, was it the good Doctor?"
"No. You messed up – with me."
"Oh really," she seemed genuinely surprised. "And however did I do that?"
"Reflec…I don’t understand."
"In the tanks. When the specimen tank blew, I saw your reflection. It just didn’t register for awhile that what I saw was you pushing the button on…what, a small remote control unit?"
"Oh. Very clever, Captain. I shall have to remember that. It never crossed my mind."
"You sound like there might be a next time."
"One never knows, Captain. One never knows…" Seaview chose that moment to lurch, Lee guessed from a torpedo explosion too near her, and Katya turned quickly, gun in hand, and fired. But Lee had not survived as long as he had, no matter what the distractions, to be caught that far off guard. The two weapons went off as one, Lee’s with a loud boom far overwhelming the soft ‘phat’ of her silenced one. Lee felt a hot, searing pain in his side, knocking him to his knees. As he fell the rest of the way to the floor, he saw Katya, such a surprised look on her face, as if unbelieving Lee’s bullet had hit her. As Lee lay on the deck facing her, his last conscious vision was of the small, neat hole his bullet had made in her forehead…
* * * *
Seaview was still a few hours out of Santa Barbara as Lee made his way slowly down the spiral stairs to the observation nose. He nodded to Chip at the chart table, then turned his back on the Control Room and sat facing the windows. It had been a quiet week, a subdued crew who had completed the rendezvous with the Adams, then turned and headed home. Lee had spent all of it in Sick Bay, being fussed over by Jamie. It had taken Seaview’s crew over an hour to fend off the attack by the rogue sub, and some time after that before anyone had checked the lab. During that time Lee had lost a lot of blood, and his condition had remained serious for several days. Once Lee had regained consciousness, Jamie had allowed as many of the crew to visit as wanted to, which was in fact everyone, and Lee had appreciated the return to semi-normality. But beyond relating to Nelson and Chip the bare details of Dr. Illyanova’s plans, he refused to talk about anything else that had happened. Lee knew there was still a long recovery in front of him, both physically and mentally, but as they neared home, he’d bullied and cajoled Jamie into allowing him out of Sick Bay, at least until they docked.
He hadn’t sat long when he felt a hand on his shoulder, and Nelson walked around to stand next to his chair, also staring out the windows. "Had a message from ONI earlier this morning. Don’t suppose you’d be interested."
"Not really, Admiral."
"All the same, they’re grateful." He paused, and squeezed Lee’s shoulder. "I’m grateful…"
"My responsibility…I’d rather not…" and he let it drop, hoping Nelson would, too.
But the Admiral walked over and closed the crash doors. "You’re right, Lee. It was your responsibility. As Seaview’s captain, you’re responsible for seeing to it that she and her crew complete their missions and get home safely. It’s a heavy burden, but you manage it well, although some of us wish you’d ask for help a bit more often that you do." Lee said nothing, just continued to stare out the window, and Nelson walked over to stand in front of him. Lee focused beyond him, unseeing, unresponsive, and Nelson leaned over, put his hands on the arms of Lee’s chair, and his face directly in front of Lee. "Look at me," he commanded sharply. For a moment Lee didn’t, but finally he looked into the clear blue eyes of the older man as Nelson continued. "It won’t work, you know. I will not allow you to crawl into a shell, just for doing your duty." His voice softened. "I know you’re hurting. I understand. You know I abhor the taking of another’s life, no matter what the reason. But sometimes we simply have no choice. We do what we have to. That’s duty."
"I know." If Nelson hadn’t been standing so close, he never would have heard the response, so soft, yet filled with such pain. Nelson stood up, and together the two watched out the windows for a few minutes, quietly.
"So," Nelson said gently, glancing down at Lee, "your ‘lady’ and her crew would greatly appreciate you taking them safely into port."
Lee didn’t answer immediately. Finally, "Chip will think I don’t trust him to get us home."
"Who do you think had Sharkey bring a stool to the chart table for you?"
A small smile appeared on Lee’s face. "If Jamie hears my voice on the intercom he’ll have my head."
Nelson laughed. "You let me worry about the good Doctor. Shall we go?"
Lee spent another few moments staring out the window, shuddered visibly, then relaxed and stood, albeit slowly. Nelson moved to re-open the crash doors, and the two made their way into the Control Room. There was an almost audible sigh of relief from the duty crew as Lee sat down by the chart table and picked up the mike.