Next Steps

By

C A Berry

Authorís Note: This is my first attempt at writing fiction of any sort so I hope the readers will forgive the mistakes of a novice. Iíve taken a departure from the 60s and moved our characters into the 90s. They are also living in a slightly more realistic world.

I wrote this story to recognize the 300,000 + people each year in the United States who deal with an illness or trauma that dramatically alters their life. I salute their courage and determination

Harriman Nelson paced back and forth in front of his office window. He was a pool of mixed emotions. On the one hand Nelson was excited. Lee Crane, after an 18-month leave of absence, had decided to come back to the Institute. It had taken Leeís mother and doctors in Rhode Island, as well as Chip and himself to convince Lee to consider returning to the Institute. Lee could go anywhere he wanted within reason. But in the end, for whatever reasons, he had decided to return to the Institute. Nelson had missed Crane dearly. Over the last five years, he and Lee had grown very close. In many ways the two men were like brothers. But in some ways they were more like father and son, especially, when Crane had his mind set to go do something foolish. Besides the bond they had built, Crane was a capable and caring officer. Crane was, in Nelsonís opinion, the best submarine captain with whom he had ever served. Every last member of Seaviewís crew was saddened when Crane resigned his position as captain of the Seaview.

But for all his excitement, Nelson was also apprehensive. He wondered how Lee felt both emotionally and physically. Although Nelson had several phone conversations with Lee during the last year or so, he was never really sure if Lee was being completely honest about everything. The phone calls were always upbeat and hurried. Only Chip Morton had actually seen Crane since he had left and even Chip, after 17 years of friendship, couldnít really read Leeís state of mind.

Cathy Connors, who had been engaged to Lee before the ordeal began, had not seen Lee at all. He had written and they had talked but the net of it was a broken engagement. Cathy had handled things well but Nelson could tell that she was very unsettled about Lee coming back. Cathy was actively dating other men and appeared, at least to him, to be trying to force the memory of Lee and their relationship from her mind.

Nelsonís pacing was interrupted by a buzz from his desk intercom. He walked over to the desk and pressed the answer button "Yes, Angie. What is it?"

"Lee is here Admiral. Shall I send him in?"

"Yes, by all means" said Nelson as he took a deep breath and settled into his chair.

The door opened and Lee Crane entered and smiled. "How are you Admiral? I hope youíre not still pacing back and forth by that window when youíre worried about something."

Nelson shot Lee his best intimidating look but broke into a wide smile and walked around the desk to embrace his friend.

At first Lee tensed and Nelson cringed. But after a moment Lee relaxed and returned the warmth and affection of his former commanding officer and friend.

"Sit down Lee. Please Ö make yourself comfortable. Itís so good to see you again. You look great Ö I guess New England and college life agreed with you. Have you seen Chip yet?"

"Thanks Admiral. Going back to college after 13 years was a challenge but I finally adjusted. It seemed strange to be the same age as some of the professors. As for visiting with friends Ö I havenít had much of a chance Ö Iíve been pretty busy moving into my house and getting unpacked."

Nelson looked at his former officer and did a quick assessment. "He looks much better than I expected. He sounds okay. I wonder how he really isÖ" Noticing that Lee was staring at him, Nelson quickly launched into the business at hand. "Weíve updated your files except for your medical records. Have you been to the clinic yet for your physical?"

"No not yet Ö Iím scheduled for a 2pm appointment today. I just hope that Jamie isnít on shore duty today so I can avoid his torture" laughed Lee as he nervously twisted the signet ring on his left hand. Anyone who had known Crane for any length of time knew that gesture was a sign of either uncertainty or anxiety. It did not go unnoticed by Nelson.

Lee locked his eyes to Nelsonís and offered "By the way, I hear Chipís during a wonderful job as Seaviewís captain. I knew he would and Iím glad to see him with his own command. The crew seems really happy under his command."

"Yes, Chip is excellent. Just like someone else used to be Ö "

"Letís not go there, Admiral. That part of my life is over. Iím ready to move on and frankly it was very hard for me to come back here to work. I was tempted to stay at Brown or go to MIT. I got an offer from Annapolis to teach. But I had so many people pleading with me to come back Ö even my mother and doctors thought I would be happier here." Lee looked down at his hands and sighed "I hope it was the right thing to do."

When Lee looked up Nelson noticed a far away look as though some part of Lee was still not quite connected with the reality of all that had happened. Nelson realized that it would take a while to get Lee to open up and share what the last 18 months had been like for him. Lee had never complained Ö and didnít appear to be bitter about the situation. But now, Nelson sensed Lee would finally have to confront feelings that probably had been buried.

Nelson leaned over and pushed a button on the intercom "Angie, Iím going to escort Lee over to the computer research building to show him his new office and introduce him to some of the staff. You can page me over there if you need me. Oh.. and Angie, make sure that Leeís badge is ready for him this afternoon. Heíll have a couple of meetings to attend first thing tomorrow."

Lee smiled at Nelson and the two men headed out for the computer research building on the far side of the Institute campus. Lee hoped it didnít show on his face but he was relieved to be leaving the Administration building. There were too many memories associated with this building. As they were leaving the building, he stole a glance down the hallway at his old office and saw that it now was Bob OíBrienís office.

- 2 -

Dr. "Jamie" Jamieson took in the panoramic view of the ocean from the Instituteís main cafeteria as Harriman Nelson flipped through the medical report on Lee Crane while they ate lunch. Jamieson glanced at Nelson and was relieved to see some of the furrows and worry lines disappear from Nelsonís face.

"Jamie Ö this is the best medical report that Lee has had since he came to the Institute almost six years ago. Iím relieved that both mentally and physically he really seems to be okay. This is much more than I expected. Did you get to talk to him? He seemed a little anxious to me yesterday in my office."

"Harry" spoke Jamie between sips of ice tea, "Leeís been through quite a lot. Iíve spoken to his doctors in Rhode Island and they confirm that he is mildly depressed. However, they think that once he gets his life on track again any lingering depression will go away. You have to know that Lee feels out of place here. He canít ever go back to something he excelled at and although we both know that he will excel in whatever he decides to do, itís still a lot to deal with all at once."

"I hope youíre right Jamie. I just want him to feel that heís home again. Iíve noticed that his gait is normal Ö if you didnít know about the amputation you would never guess. He doesnít appear to be self conscious about it. Did he tell you anything about the last few months at all?

"No, he didnít. Harry Ö stop beating yourself up. You had no way of knowing about the instability of that underwater research facility. Two men died and three men were seriously injured. None of them or their families holds you accountable. It was an accident. Lee doesnít blame you or anyone else. He has accepted that his life as a submariner is over. Heís focused on a new life and I suspect heís more terrified of disappointing you as a civilian than he ever was as a Navy officer. He had a track record with the Navy. He doesnít have a track record as a scientist and, if youíll recall, many of your colleagues regard him as not very creative.

Lee told me that he runs every morning weather permitting. He requested one of the athletic prosthesis so he could be active. He also swims, bikes, and lifts weights. His physical therapist in Providence said he completed his first rock climb about a month before he came out here. Heís physically stronger now than he was while commanding Seaview. I believe he has adjusted quite well. Lee will be okay as long as we just treat him like the Lee we knew. He doesnít want pity or sorrow or special concessions. Ok?"

A faint smile flickered across Nelsonís face as he closed the folder and laid the report on the table.

"Okay, Jamie. Iíll treat him just like the other Ďcrazed hackersí in the computer research group. I guess Iím going to have to work on my guilt and being myself around Lee. "

"Trust me, Harry. Itís the best thing to do. "

 

- 3 -

"Well, are you going to make a move or not?" asked Angie as she devoured her dessert and shot longing glances at Cathyís piece of untouched cheesecake.

"Youíre going to weigh a ton after that baby is born if you keep eating this way. Whereís it going? You donít seem to be gaining any weight." inquired Cathy with a cocked eyebrow.

"You havenít really looked at my butt, have you?" laughed Angie. "But youíre changing the subject. Heís been back two months, heís bought a really gorgeous house, and my sources tell me that heís not seeing anyone. So, when are you going to make a move?"

Cathy looked at her friend and then stared out the window of the restaurant. "Did Ö did I tell you that I broke up with him?"

Angie looked at her friend with shock. "Why, Cathy? I mean Iím sure you had a good reason. I know that you and Lee have had your ups and downs under the best of circumstances. But I thought the two of you were really in love with each other."

"Oh , Angie Ö I feel so petty. I always thought of Lee as invulnerable. He always recovered from everything but I watched him struggling through physical therapy the first day after he was fitted with the temporary prosthesis. He didnít know I was there. "

Cathy lowered her voice and shook her head. "I knew that I couldnít handle it. I was finally getting everything I wanted career-wise and I didnít think I could handle both Leeís emotional and physical needs. Leeís career always came first in our relationship. I understood that but I was tired of always being second in his life. I knew he was grieving over not being able to continue on Seaview. I couldnít see being second fiddle to some kind of disability. What if he had never recovered or regained his independence? I was wracked with worry and guilt so I stopped visiting him at the hospital. I avoided him the week before he left going to Rhode Island. He called me and wrote me a few times after he finished his physical rehab in New England. Later, he asked me to spend a weekend with him during a break between school quarters. I panicked and broke off the engagement. I told him that he really needed to concentrate on his degree and rebuilding his life while he had the chance Ö without any obligations to anyone. I tried to convince him that he needed to rebuild on his own and see what the future would bring. I know I must have really hurt him. Iíve been avoiding him since heís come back. I donít know what to say to him."

"Cathy Ö Iím surprised. You ought to see him and talk and clear the air. Maybe you just overreacted out of panic. We all had so much to deal with right after the accident. At least if you talk to each other you wonít have to keep avoiding him. Face it, sooner or later youíre bound to run into him at work or be in a meeting or some situation that could be really awkward for both of you. Iíd clear the air if I were you Ö"

Cathy took the bill from the waiter and smiled weakly at her friend. "Angie I know youíre right but I canít do itÖ not right now. I just feel so uncomfortable around him. You and Chip have spent time with him Ö how is he? Has he mentioned meÖ at all?"

Angie didnít know how to interpret Cathyís attitude. She looked into her friendís eyes and looked for the soul of the Cathy she thought she knew. But all Angie saw was a person who seemed very uncomfortable just discussing the situation.

Tempering her own anger and confusion, Angie spoke to her friend. "Cathy, Lee is doing great. He seems genuinely happy in his work. Physically, heís recovered from all the injuries and heís accepted his new life. I think heís still adjusting to being a civilian at the Institute but overall I think Lee is doing fantastic." Angie looked into her friendís eyes again hoping that what she had seen earlier was a protective shell but Angie saw no real interest in Lee or dealing with what had happened Ö just someone who wanted to be free from coping.

Angie laid her share of the lunch tab and tip on the table and turned to Cathy. "I have to get going. Chipís mother is due in town this afternoon and I need to get the guest room ready. Sheís helping me pick colors for the nursery this weekend. Good luck with your blind date tonight." Angie forced a smile as she pulled her car keys from her bag.

"Thanks Angie for being so understanding. Iíve been afraid to tell anyone what really happened. I just need to be with someone whoís not as needy. Pray that nothing like that ever happens to Chip. My date tonight, Joe Aberman, is a lot like Lee used to be. Heís very athletic, his career is on the move, and heís quite the romantic. Do you know, he could be the youngest person to win the Lincoln Kobe award in marine biology? Should be a fun evening. Iíll see you Monday at the office and give you the scoop." Angie noticed that Cathy beamed as she described her date.

Cathy leaned forward, gave Angie a peck on the cheek and then headed for the ladies room. Angie watched her friend walk away and wondered if Cathy had ever really loved Lee.

- 4 Ė

Lee Crane scratched his head. He had been working on the same bug for over two hours. It appeared to be a problem with one of the libraries supplied by the compiler vendor. "Oh, well Ö it will be a couple of hours before they call back so I may as well grab lunch." Lee loaded a password protected screen saver on his workstation and headed into the hallway.

As he passed Mia Jamesí office, he collided with a small immovable object. "Excuse me, Mia. I wasnít expecting you to come charging out of your office that way. Are you all right?"

Mia smiled at Lee and answered. "Yeah Ö Iím fine. Iím heading to lunch Ö how about you?"

"Me too," said Lee. "Shall we go together or would you rather be alone?"

"Nonsense, Lee. Iíve been wanting to get know you better but weíre both so busy all the time." Lee saw a light flash in Miaís brown eyes just before she spoke again.

"Letís blow off the cafeteria. I know this great hole in the wall about 10 minutes away. Are you game?"

"Why not?" offered Lee. "I could use some adventure. Tell you what, if you navigate Ö Iíll drive."

"Deal. Come on, letís roll."

Lee smiled after the bundle of energy leading him to the parking lot. Mia was about the same age as Admiral Nelson and the top software person at the Institute. Mia had a Ph.D. in computer science and was considered one of the countryís leading authorities on simulation and modeling. Lee had learned a lot from Mia in his short tenure with the software research team.

A few minutes later Lee was headed out of the Institute gates to pick up the freeway. Mia observed Lee as he drove and thought back on the last few weeks. She, as did all the staff, knew what had happened to Lee. Most of the staff felt that Nelson gave him a job out of friendship, and possibly guilt, not qualification. But Lee was proving them wrong. She had reviewed his application for the position and given him a difficult technical interview. Lee had insisted that he be interviewed and evaluated just like any other candidate. He had graduated with a 4.0 average while earning a master degree in computer science from Brown University. He had whizzed through most of the trick questions during the interview. Mia was impressed that she couldnít intimidate him. She was tired of being surrounded by people who were more worried about a pay raise than doing something right. After the interview, she had immediately set about negotiating a job offer for Lee. Lee was a hard worker, quick to admit his mistakes, and a fast learner. Mia found herself working harder and harder to stay ahead him on their current project. She was supposed to be his mentor but at the rate Lee was learning and achieving , it would be a struggle to stay ahead of him.

Secretly Mia was very proud of Lee and had told Harriman Nelson on more than one occasion that Lee was an excellent choice for the navigation simulator project. The rest of her research staff was slowly warming up to the former captain and beginning to accept him on his own merits.

"There it is!" exclaimed Mia while pointing at the squat dilapidated building on the side of the road.

"Are you sure thatís a legitimate business?" teased Lee. "It looks like the kind of place I tried to avoid when I was a plebe at Annapolis."

"Are you having second thoughts, Crane? The marinated grilled shrimp is to die for and theyíve got the best sourdough bread outside of San Francisco. Come on, Iím already drooling."

"Okay Ö if you insist".

An hour later Lee thought his stomach would burst. "Mia Ö that was fabulous. Howíd you find this place?"

"Believe it or not, I had an interview lunch with Admiral Nelson right here. To this day, I donít know if it was a test or if he really just enjoyed the food and wanted an excuse to come here."

"Youíll never know with him" mused Lee. "The Admiral is a pretty tough nut to crack sometimes. Which reminds me MiaÖ what made you decide to come to the Institute? I read several of your papers in grad school and I know you were recruited all over the country before coming here."

"Nelsonís reputation. I was tired of doing research and having it wind up in the hands of unscrupulous corporate types or being used by the government for weapon development. Harry had a reputation for being genuinely interested in using technology for the advancement and preservation of life. So far, Harry hasnít let me down."

Crane nodded his head and smiled as he listened to his new mentor. He could see that Mia really embraced the spirit of Nelson and the Institute.

Pursuing her own curiosity, Mia decided to probe Crane and see what he was thinking. "Tell me, after almost 2.5 months, how do you like being one of Nelsonís researchers? Are you enjoying yourself or do you still miss your former occupation?"

"Well, thatís pretty direct, isnít it?" said Lee. Looking into Miaís eyes Lee continued with his response. "I wonít lie, I do miss the excitement of Seaview, although I havenít missed the responsibility. I thought I would miss having everyone rely upon me but itís been nice just to worry about Lee for a change. Iím having a blast with the research and developing the simulator. I could never have pictured myself doing this for a living when I was on Seaview. But, to my surprise, itís been a lot of fun and I think the rest of the team is beginning to believe that I know what Iím doing."

"Ouch" grimaced Mia. "So, you knew that there was a lot of anti-Crane sentiment in the group?"

"Mia, I could smell it in the hallways," said Lee as he crinkled his nose in mock disgust.

They both laughed and launched into swapping stories about the project, Nelson, and the Institute. An hour later Mia reminded Lee of the time.

"Weíve been gone 2 hours for lunch. Iím not setting a good example."

"Well, youíre my boss so Iím just obeying management directives" Lee said with a wink. "But, youíre right, we better get back. Weíve got a meeting at 1:30pm with LeBreau Consulting and Iím waiting for the compiler tech rep to call me back. Iím still fighting that stored procedure bug from this morning."

"Let me know if that guy doesnít have a solution, Lee. We may need to switch vendors and time is growing short for getting this project done. Seaview will hit port in 4 weeks and we have to do a demo of the complete simulator system as soon as Nelson returns."

- 5 -

Chip Morton picked up the intercom and paged Admiral Nelson. Kowalski had picked up an unusual object on sonar. The object did not profile as a sub or any kind of marine creature. Whatever it was continued to follow Seaview.

"What is it, Chip?" asked Nelson as he came down the spiral stairs and walked into the control room.

"Sir, Kowalski has picked up something on sonar. We have tried a couple of course changes and it keeps following us. So far, no aggressive moves. It doesnít appear to be a sub or any type of marine life. It hasnít responded to radio contact."

His curiosity peaked, Nelson strode over to Kowalski and looked at the sonar display. "What do you make of it Ski?"

"Sir, Iím not sure. I canít seem to determine a definite size. All I know is that is appeared about 15 minutes ago on the screen and it appears to be matching our moves."

"Very well" said Nelson as he thought about the possibilities. "Chip, have you tried establishing communication with our friend in the last couple of minutes?"

"No, Sir, not since our initial attempts."

Nelson walked over to Sparks and issued the following instructions. "Sparks, bombard the device with messages. All frequencies Ö all recognized languages. Let me know if you get anything."

Nelson then walked back to the chart table to see exactly where Seaview was situated. Seaview was bound for home after assisting the Navy with a NASA recovery mission. It had been a quiet, uneventful voyage home until now. They were cruising at a depth of 150 feet. From keel to ocean bottom was about 300 feet. There were no seamounts or other obstructions in their way. Nothing to run into Ö no where to hide.

"Admiral Nelson!" shouted Sparks. "Sir, something weird just happened."

"Same here Admiral" added Kowalski. "The object just turned and sped off."

"Sparks, when did you get a reaction?" asked Nelson as he, Chip, and Bob OíBrien moved closer to the radio shack.

"Sir, I had just started a sweep of the last frequency range when the object started sending this ping. I recorded it on tape Ö just in case. Then all of a sudden, the pinging just stopped."

Nelson looked at his senior officers and made a decision. "Mr. OíBrien get the sonar and communication tapes for the last 30 minutes ASAP and bring a copy to the lab. Captain Morton, join me in the lab after Mr. OíBrien is finished processing the tapes."

An hour later, Morton and Nelson sat in the electronics lab looking at the analysis of the tapes.

"Chip, it appears to be some kind of probe or robot" said Nelson, continuing to look at the numbers on the printout.

"I agree, Admiral. Next questions Ö terrestrial or extra-terrestrial? What made it shoot off like that?"

"I suspect itís a terrestrial device, Chip. I think somehow, inadvertently, we either gave it a command or interrupted a command it was receiving from a control source. You know the region we are cruising through at the moment used to be a test area for some of the Navyís underwater robot experiments. The experiments were abandoned about 5 years ago when cost overruns killed the program. Since that time, civilian companies have come out with far superior technology. We may have encountered a stray device. I think Iíll contact some buddies in Washington and see if they know anything. Meanwhile, keep an eye out Ö I donít recall any of them being armed or hostile but if itís been out here unattended it may have been modified by a third party or been damaged in some way."

"Sir, do you think itís worthwhile to try to recover the device? We could have the research departments at the Institute and the Navy take a look at it."

"Good idea, Chip. But we would have to immobilize it first and we donít know enough about the device to do that at the moment."

"Resume course for Santa Barbara, Chip. Let me know if our friend returns and have Sparks patch me through to Washington."

- 6 -

Lee Crane sat at one of the outside tables at the Institute cafeteria soaking in the breeze and reading an article in a computer journal. He was completely unaware of someone standing next to him.

"I see youíre still a light eater, Lee. I hope you will be eating more for dinner."

Crane jumped at the voice and looked up into the eyes of Will Jamieson.

"Jamie Ö good to see you." Lee reached over, pulled out a chair and gestured for Jamieson to sit down. "Even if you did come over just to nag me about eating. How come youíre not on Seaview? I didnít think the Admiral would set sail without you."

"Well, I had the flu when they left and decided it would be better to stay home. Dr. Morrison went in my place. Heís a good doctor and needs more mission experience. Besides, he needs to learn to cope with Harry in close quarters. "

Stirring the sugar into his coffee, Jamison continued. "Lee Ö how are you doing? Youíve been back for almost 4 months and none of us ever see you. Are you avoiding us?"

A pained look came to Craneís face as he formed his answer. "Yes, I guess I am avoiding folks. Admiral Nelson still feels that somehow my situation is his fault. Some of the crew are still pretty awkward around me. And you Ö well, I think youíre just trying to figure out a way to sedate me for something or the other."

Jamie laughed at Leeís last remark but quickly turned serious again. "Lee, I canít speak for the others but I can speak for myself. I miss you. Itís so hard to know youíre here but not here. It might be easier to face folks and make them deal with the issues at hand. I suspect youíve got some issues yourself. You know, you have never told anyone about the last year or so. All we know is that you decided to go back east and finish your rehab. Then the next thing we hear, youíve resigned as captain and are planning to go to college to get a master degree in computer science. It was a lot of changes in a very short time."

"Jamie, I had to accept the fact that I could no longer command SeaviewÖ at least not the way that I had in the past. I also knew that Harry would have a hard time removing me as captain so I just made life easier for all of us. As for Rhode Island Ö I wanted and needed someplace safe for a while. Here everyone would be expecting so much and I didnít know if I could cut it. I didnít discuss my plans with anyone because I knew that they would try to talk me out of it. After I finished rehab, I had to get going again. I already had a bachelor degree in engineering and I liked tinkering with computers so I thought computer engineering or programming might be a good fit. There seemed to be a ton of available jobs in the field. After all, I was technically unemployed and I wanted to be able to take care of myself. Harry insisted that I make it a leave of absence and not a complete resignation from the Institute.

I hadnít planned on coming back here but after interviewing several Boston high tech companies, I knew I wanted to do something that mattered. I was offered an executive position with a military contractor for over $100K a year but I knew I would be at odds with my manager from day one if I had taken the job. I narrowed my job search down to 3 choices and the Institute just happened to make me the best offer. I worried that Harry was pushing the offer out of guilt or some sense of obligation but then I got a call from Mia James wondering if I had read her offer and what was taking me so long to make a decision. Not many people know that she extended the offer to me. After talking to my therapists and, of course, my mother and Chip, I decided to come back. Itís the toughest thing Iíve done since dealing with the amputation and the rehabilitation."

Lee flashed Jamie a wry smile and continued, "I donít know what to say to them Jamie. I just want them to know that Iím okay with the way things have worked out. Everyone on Seaview takes so many risks Ö what happened to the five of us that day Ö well, we could have lost the whole dive team and frankly I still wonder how any of us made it out of there that day."

Jamie reached out and squeezed Leeís shoulder. "I know Lee. None of us like to think about that mission. I wish I could have done more for you and the othersÖ maybe we could have saved your leg and their lives. Iím so sorry Lee. I hope that you can forgive me."

Lee saw the sorrow and remorse in Jamieís eyes and smiled at the man who had saved him on more occasions than he cared to remember. "Jamie, Iím alive. Ferguson and Mason canít say that. Besides, I went back into that maintenance tunnel against orders. I was so sure that I could get to Ferguson and Mason before the passage was completely blocked."

Lee paused and took a depth breath before continuing "Whatís the expression? ĎIím not what I was but Iím not all that Iím going to be.í Jamie, you did your best and if you hadnít we wouldnít be having this conversation."

Jamie nodded his head in understanding and resumed eating his lunch. Lee decided he would sit a while with his friend and catch up on some of the things he had missed while he had been gone.

 

- 7 -

Three weeks later Admiral Nelson sat in the observation nose of the Seaview enjoying the scenery as Seaview made her way back to port. They had about 10 hours to go before they would be home. Nelson had a full calendar waiting for him. The new proposals from his research teams were ready for review. That included a full demonstration of the software simulator for Seaview. Nelson was eager to see the demo since the prototype had been underway for 6 months. The simulator, if accurate would save millions of dollars over time on Seaviewís future software upgrades because most of the bugs could be worked out before the software was actually installed on Seaview.

Suddenly Nelsonís attention was directed to the control room as Kowalski sang out "Captain Morton Ö itís back!"

Nelson rushed into the control room to join Chip. Chip flipped on the cameras and panned around the vessel to try to get a video image of the object. Suddenly, a spherical object came into focus. The size of the object appeared to change but it became obvious that the device was creating some kind of field that was affecting their sensors.

"Sparks Ö try the last frequency range that produced the pinging" ordered Nelson.

"Aye, Sir" said Sparks as he adjusted dials and pushed buttons to start communicating with the device.

"Admiral, we have the pinging again," confirmed Sparks.

Nelson and Chip and much of the control room crew directed their gaze to the video monitor. Suddenly the field around the device was disabled. The object slowly began spinning as if it were re-orienting itself. After a minute or so the spinning stopped and the lights on the device went dead. Everyone in the control room kept watching the object but nothing happened.

Nelson scratched his chin and shoved his fists into his pockets. "Chip, I think the device has shut down Ö perhaps inactive or out of power. Letís secure it and take it back to the Institute. We can examine it in one of the robotics labs at the Institute and see if we can figure out what it does."

"Admiral, did you get any information from Washington about this device?" queried Chip after issuing orders to have the device secured.

"Yes, I did Chip. It may be a Navy robot that was lost about 6 years ago. That particular model had problems with the power system and the navigation controls. The unit is basically an unmanned drilling device. It was to be used to clear out areas to build underwater installations. There were also some problems controlling the device when it was in drill mode. After about 5 test runs, one of the robots went out and never returned to the testing area. The Navy assumed it was destroyed or had gone inactive but evidently itís been out and about all this time. Supposedly, it has a recorder that should have kept track of where itís been. The Navy doesnít think it will pose any threat to Seaview. By the way, we did inadvertently send it a command sequence on our first encounter. The pings we got back were acknowledgement of the device accepting a new command."

"Admiral, it will be interesting to see where our little friend has been. I estimate 30 minutes to secure the device and we should be underway to Santa Barbara again."

"Very well, Chip. Iíll be in my lab. Let me know when weíre an hour from port."

- 8 -

 

Lee Craneís stomach was in knots as he carefully reviewed his materials for the simulator demonstration. He and Joel Saunders had set up a laptop computer in the conference room and a network link back to their database server. Although the system had run perfectly each time they tested it, both men were anxious and decided to check the system one more time.

"Stop it!" yelled Mia. "You two are worse than a teenager on his first date. The system works fine. Go get some water and calm down. Everything will go fine. This isnít rocket science Ö itís submarine science." Mia made a face at them and laughed.

Joel and Lee exchanged glances with each other and rolled their eyes upward.

"Come on, Lee" said Joel. "Iíll buy you a cup of coffee Ö I can tell when my concern is not appreciated."

Lee shook his head and followed Joel to the break room. Mia smiled after the men left and did a quick test of the system. "Iím as nervous as they are but I donít want them to know" she thought as she quickly stepped through all of the simulatorís functions. Satisfied that the system was indeed okay, Mia joined her team in the breakroom. A few minutes later, Nelsonís entourage began to arrive for the proposal review.

The group included Seaviewís senior officers, Adm. Jiggs Starke and an engineer from COMSUBPAC, a robotics guru from MIT, and a handful of Naval researchers from Washington, D.C. Hearing their audience gathering in the conference room, Miaís team headed back to the room and took their seats.

The conference room had a U shaped table that was reserved for the attendees. A projection cube dropped from the ceiling in the center of the U shaped table. There was a high resolution display screen on each side of the cube thus giving everyone a perfect view of the demonstration. Miaís team sat at a rectangular table about 3 feet behind the U shaped table. All the computer equipment had been staged on a table at the front of the room. The projector cube had been hooked to the laptop display so that everyone would be able to see the simulator application running.

Mia stood and kicked off the proposal review. After briefly introducing her team and giving an overview of the project, individual members of her team were presented to detail their portion of the simulator project. Nelson and his colleagues drilled the presenters with questions. Finally, the navigation system became the topic at hand. Lee, feeling somewhat like a high schooler doing a book report, took a deep breath, walked to the front of the room and began speaking. He demonstrated the features of the navigation module for the simulator and explained how it linked to the rest of the simulator application. As he did his presentation, Lee scanned the room. He occasionally made eye contact with Chip Morton, Sharkey, Nelson or Starke. Lee could read support from Chip and Sharkey. Nelson and Starke were unreadable so Crane ceased to make eye contact with them as he did his presentation. After what seem like an eternity but was in reality only about fifteen minutes, Crane was finished and opened the floor to questions.

There was dead silence in the room. Lee looked at Chip who returned a "I donít know" look to him. Mia, not knowing how to interpret the silence, immediately took over the meeting.

"Well, thatís the current state of the Seaview simulator. Obviously, we have a lot of challenging work ahead to finish the project. Are there any more questions or issues that anyone would like to raise before we adjourn?"

The MIT professor stopped punching numbers into his calculator and raised his hand. Mia immediately recognized him and he spit out his question. "Dr. James, I would like Mr. Crane to explain where he got the the correction factors on the navigation unit. Iím unable to produce those factors using accepted correction algorithms and techniques."

Nelson had a wry smile on his face as he thought "I know where he got those factors Ö he analyzed the logs and performance charts for Seaview under various loads and ambient conditions. Of courseÖ it makes sense to have as much real world data as possible." Nelson noticed that Lee seemed a little anxious Ö he was twisting his ring. "Calm down Lee Ö youíre doing great" though Nelson as if he could will calmness into his friend.

"Dr. Markham" replied Lee, "Iím took some real data from Seaview Ö over a period of 3 years and analyzed it for trends. Most of the navigational correction data was generated by the onboard computer. Once the trends were established, I modified some of the standard error correction algorithms to produce comparable corrections in the simulator. I believe this will give more accurate test results for Seaview. I also think that we could generalize the algorithm to apply to other classes of vessels over time."

"Hmmph" snorted Starke as he turned to the Navy researchers. "Why didnít your team ever think of doing that! I hope youíre taking notes."

Before the agitated Navy researchers could reply, Nelson spoke up. "Lee youíve added some features that were not in the original requirements for the simulator. These enhancements are not simple. How do you propose to get all of the work done by the deadline?"

"Actually, Admiral, Iíve already implemented most of the enhancements. I didnít demonstrate them today since they are not part of the original requirements. However, these features will be needed to simulate remote navigation of Seaview in emergency situations. The remote navigation software is due for alpha testing the 2nd quarter of next year. We wonít finish with the simulator until the 4th quarter of this year. To try to add the enhancements in the 1st quarter of next year would not leave enough time to thoroughly test the simulator."

"Of course" replied Nelson as he made some notations on the design specification. "Well Ö Dr. James, as usual, your team is on schedule and well prepared for the task at hand. I will approve the next phase of the project after I review the updated schedule and budget. Please have your assistant send the appropriate documents to Angie first thing tomorrow."

"Thanks, Admiral. Wade Todd will contact Angie first thing tomorrow. If there are no more comments or questions, that concludes this proposal review."

Turning to her team, Mia said "Great job! Go out and celebrate tonight Ö we got a lot of hard work ahead of us." Lowering her voice so only Lee could hear, Mia leaned into Crane and said "You done good kid Ö now go home and get some sleep."

Lee looked at Mia and asked "How did you know?"

"Easy, I reviewed the access logs. If you donít stop working half the night, Iím removing your home workstation. Kipish?" With that, Mia gathered her belongings, waved to the group and left.

Lee helped Joel dismantle the demonstration system and return it to the software lab. When Lee went back to the conference room to get his notes he found he was alone with Morton and Nelson.

"Iíll bet that finger is almost raw" challenged Chip as he looked at Leeís hand.

For a moment Crane was puzzled and then caught the meaning of Chipís remark. "No problem. I keep an emergency supply of band-aides and antiseptic in my desk drawer. Donít make me get some for you."

The two friends started laughing and Nelson relaxed as he took in a scene that he had missed for so long at the Institute.

"Lee, itís looks as though you might make it as a computer jock after all. The simulator is just the tool weíve needed for years," said Chip. "The rest of the guys said to tell you they thought you did a great job today. Thereíre still your number one fans."

As Chip headed for the door he turned to Crane. "Iíve got to runÖ Angieís got her Lamaze class tonight. But we want you to come over for dinner this weekend. Give Angie a call tomorrow and confirm. Okay?"

"I will Ö and Chip?"

Chip paused at the door with a look of concern, "What is it, Lee?"

"Thanks for the support in the meeting and for making me laugh. I needed it."

Chip winked and waved and headed out the door leaving Nelson and Crane alone. Nelson continued to busy himself organizing the contents of his briefcase as he thought about what to say to Lee. His discomfort was eased when Lee spoke first.

"Admiral, do you have any dinner plans? I donít feel like going home and cooking tonight and I could use some good company."

"What did you have in mind? I havenít had a relaxing meal since we left port over 6 weeks ago," replied Nelson as he closed his brief case.

"I donít know. There are several new restaurants that I havenít checked out yet. Just let me drop these things in my office and we can head out. "

Thirty minutes later, Harriman Nelson and Lee Crane were engrossed in conversation and shrimp cocktail at one of Nelsonís favorite seafood restaurants.

Nelson reflected that it was as though nothing had changed. He, Chip and Lee had often gone out to dinner after a long day in the office or returning from a tough mission. Chipís marriage a year ago had prevented him from participating in dinner as often as Nelson would have preferred. But tonight all was well and Nelson looked forward to reacquainting himself with his friend.

To that end, Nelson found himself telling Crane about the latest exploits on Seaview, Edithís new boyfriend, and his arguments with Jamie regarding losing weight and smoking. Lee sat listening intently to his friend and marveling at everything he had missed but finding himself able to picture the events in his mind from Nelsonís descriptive narrative. Finally, Nelson tired of talking and turned the conversation to Lee.

"Lee... Iíve talked a blue streak here. Whatís happening with you? We havenít really talked since you came back. Almost no one ever sees you. What do you do with yourself?"

"Admiral, compared to your adventures my life lately has been pretty tame. Iím enjoying my work with the software team. Mia is a wonderful mentor and boss. Working on the simulator has been interesting and challenging. And I think Iíve finally won the approval of my team mates."

Nelson winced at Leeís remark. "I wondered if you were having any problems being accepted. But I can see that as usual youíve handled them. Go on Ö"

"Believe it or not, Iíve actually started dating again. I still miss Cathyís company sometimes but I accept that our relationship is finished. Itís been good for me to get out and have a social life and focus on something other than myself.

Iíve also been doing volunteer work with some of the kids at St. Paulís rehab facility. I volunteer twice a week and Iím helping some kids get back into the water. Thatís how I met Linda Ö the person that Iíve been seeing. Sheís wonderful with those kids. She seems to have a way of just pulling the best out of each of them."

Nelson listened to his friend and asked "Are you happy? "

Leeís hazel eyes locked with Nelsonís blue eyes and he nodded. "There are days that Iím very happy Ö for so many different reasons. Then there are days when I feel a huge sense of loss for all the things to which I no longer belong. But then I look at the plight of most people and I realize that Iím in good health, not bad looking, have a job, a warm place to sleep and a dog that doesnít chew my slippers. Overall, Iíd say not too bad Ö"

Their conversation was interrupted briefly as the waiter served their entrees. After sampling and approving the wine, Nelson waved the waiter off and turned his attention back to Crane.

"Well, Lee I want you to know that Iím glad youíre back. Iíve really missed your company. Everyone has. Jiggs was very impressed with your work on the simulator and heís even more impressed with you as a person. He didnít believe me when I told him you were coming back to the Institute. He said he couldnít fathom how you would deal with being here and not being part of Seaview. But after today, you earned another notch of approval from him."

Crane laughed and replied, "Who would have ever thought that Jiggs Stark would approve of me? Tell him I appreciate the compliment."

A loud crash turned their attention to the center of the room. A little girl had caused a waiter to trip when her radio controlled robot stopped abruptly in front of the unsuspecting man. The childís parents, both shocked and embarrassed that the child even had the toy at the restaurant helped the waiter to his feet. Seeing the robot jarred Nelsonís memory of the device they had encountered wandering in the ocean and a thought popped into his mind.

"Lee, howís your schedule tomorrow?" asked Nelson. Lee could see the wheels turning in Nelsonís head and braced himself for the typical off the wall Nelson request.

"Pretty flexible Ö I have a meeting with Mia around 0900 to review some code changes and then just plans to finish coding and testing the last couple of navigation modules. Why? You have that look Ö"

"We encountered an old experimental Navy drilling robot on our way home. We have it in one of the robotics lab. At the moment, the device appears to be inactive. When itís activated its behavior is erratic, to say the least. My contacts in Naval research say that the device was lost years ago and was known to have defects in navigation and power control systems. Do you think you could swing by sometimes tomorrow and take a look at it? I also have Chip, Kowalski, and one of the guys with Jiggs coming by as well."

"Sounds interesting, Admiral. But donít be surprised if I donít see anything immediately. Itís been years since I saw the specs for any of those devices."

"Itís okay if you donít find anything but I trust your instincts. I believe the device has been modified by someone. Although I have to admit that right now a motive for tampering with the device is just not obvious to me."

"Really? I canít imagine why anyone would have wanted one of those things. Even the best of the bunch was terribly unreliable. Iím curious Ö what time?"

"How about 1030 to come check it out? Iíll be over around 1100 and we can all put our heads together."

- 9 -

 

Nelson cringed when he saw Jiggs Starke had invited himself over to the robotics lab. Nelson had hoped for a candid, "off the record" discussion with his collection of experts. It would be hard to espouse some of his ideas if Jiggs went off on a tangent. About that time Starke saw Nelson approaching and started walking in his direction to speak with him.

"Harry, when did you encounter that robot?" asked Starke anxiously.

"We had two encounters. The first time, about a month ago, it seemed to respond to some high frequency signal from Seaview and sped off in the opposite direction. The second encounter was just a couple of days ago. We sent the same communication signal from Seaview and the device appeared to shut itself down. We decided to bring it back to the Institute to examine it."

"Harry, did you know that all eight of the Navyís experimental robots are missing? We knew some had been lost and presumably destroyed due to malfunctions. But someone stole the other devices from a lab near San Diego. We believe that same party probably recovered the other units and has reprogrammed them all. Why are you smiling like that ?"

"Jiggs, I suspected that the device had been modified but I didnít want to create a crisis where none existed. Frankly, I was worried about you being here. I didnít know how you would react to another one of my wild ideas. What else do you know about the robots?"

"ONI has been tracking the robots for the last 24 months. After the cave-in at Stafford lab, Washington got nervous. It didnít make sense that 3 of our underwater research labs were suddenly structurally unsound after checking out okay for years. When Stafford caved in, ONI was pushed into finding out what was happening. Our international partners were getting nervous about sending staff to the research facilities as well as continuing funding for the projects. We had to show we were on top of the situation."

Nelson was stunned. Anger flashed in his eyes and he drew his mouth into a tight line before addressing Starke again. "Just how long before Stafford did ONI suspect foul play?"

"Now Harry, I know what youíre thinking Ö"

"Damn it , Jiggs Ö how long?"

Jiggs dropped his head and uttered "Four months. At least four months."

"I donít believe this. Our government didnít warn civilians in that facility that someone may have been tampering with the structural stability of their environment? That same government sends Seaview out to transfer civilians and risk crew members doing maintenance and re-supply work. There were suspicions for four months before Seaview went there that the facility was unsafe? My God, manÖ think about it Ö two men dead, Crane, Riley, and Jefferson, all seriously injured. Craneís life completely turned upside down Ö"

Nelson clenched his fists and pounded them against his legs as he paced in a circle around Jiggs Starke. Starke watched his longtime friend and associate and knew not to say anything. It was better to let him vent his frustration than risk a major eruption in front of everyone. Across the room it did not go unnoticed by Morton and Crane that Nelson and Starke appeared to be having a difference of opinion.

The red left Nelsonís face and he stopped pacing. Finally he looked Jiggs in the eyes and pleaded, "Donít let any of my staff, especially Crane or Morton, know about this. Letís go see if they have found anything that ONI doesnít already know."

Starke and Nelson joined the group and began listening to the opinions of the assembled team.

Niles Johnson, one of the Navy researchers with Starke, flipped through some pages on a yellow note pad and shook his head. "Sirs, I have recomputed the checksums for all the ROMs in this unit and none of them match the checksums of the original ROMs shipped in the unit. I had a programmer in Naval robotics send me the checksums for the original design. I suspect that either the ROMs have been changed or have been damaged. Whatever the case, the code in these ROMs doesnít match the original code."

Kowalski, one of the top electronics techs on Seaview nodded in agreement with Johnson. "Thereís evidence of someone soldering on a couple of the plug-in modules. It also appears that some resistors have been removed from the motherboard. Someone cut the resistor leads rather than taking the time to unsolder the resistors. Those resistors were used to select configuration options. The original configuration has been changed. I would need the schematics to be able to tell you what the new configuration is."

"Interesting" commented Nelson as he placed his hands in his pockets and rocked back onto his heels. "Any other comments Ö"

Lee Crane opened one of the side panels on the device and asked the group to look into the device. "This power supply is not original equipment. I remember us securing one of these things about 4 years ago. The power supply was much smaller. This power supply almost completely fills the compartment."

"Furthermore," added Chip "there are two plug-in cards missing from the motherboard. I think someone completely redesigned the controller in this unit and made the design fit and work within the existing mechanical structure."

Jiggs Starke looked at Nelson and said "Harry, youíll have complete code listings and schematics by courier within the next 4 hours for the original design. Iíll get Martin Cranshaw to stay here with Johnson to give your team a hand. We need to know ASAP just exactly what this device is designed to do."

"Chip, " said Nelson "get all the diagnostic equipment set up in this lab and have Dr. Benninger from robotics join the group. Let me know if you need anything else. This is your top priority until we know what this thing does."

"Aye, sir" replied Morton as he headed to the nearest phone to begin coordinating the lab setup.

Kowalski and Johnson began connecting probes to the device and making adjustments to some of the lab instruments to begin data collection.

Lee Crane walked up to Nelson and Starke to excuse himself. "Pardon me Admirals, but I need to head back to my office. Is there anything else I can do?"

"No Lee Ö not at the moment. But thanks for coming over and helping us out. Iíll let you know what we find," said Nelson as he walked part way to the door with Crane.

Lee stood in the door for a moment and noticed the furrows on Starkeís brow." I wonder whatís really up with this? And what are Harry and Jiggs fighting about? Oh well, itís not my concern so Iíll leave to it to Chip and the Admiral."

 

- 10 -

The weekend came none to quickly for Chip and Angie Morton. Angie was three weeks from delivering their first child and was looking forward to going on maternity leave the following Friday. Chip, as is the case for most fathers to be, was a nervous wreck and was attempting to compensate by organizing anything that could be organized.

"Chip!" yelled Angie. "I hope youíre not rearranging the table settings again. Everything is fine. Iím sure Lee and Linda are not coming to check out our ability to set the dining room table. Besides Ö youíre running me crazy."

Walking into the kitchen and turning his wife to face him, Chip said sheepishly "I know Angie. I donít know what to do Ö Iím just feel as though I should be doing something."

"Well, just knowing youíll be in port for the babyís birth is all I really need. Now, hand me that bowl on the top shelf."

As Chip handed Angie the bowl the front doorbell rang. Chip went to the door and ushered Lee and his date into the house.

Lee gave Chip a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine. Apologetically Lee said, "I know you told me not to bring anything, but I couldnít resist the flowers and the wine is non-alcoholic, so Angie should be able to indulge."

Chip carried the flowers into the kitchen and put them in a vase. He returned with Angie and Lee introduced his date to his friends. Linda Carson was a tall slender black woman with a gorgeous smile. Her close cropped hair was a crown of unruly curls and her hazel eyes were almost the same color as Leeís eyes. Although Linda was slender, her arms were sculpted and it was obvious that she was very fit.

Angie and Chip took an immediate liking to Linda, as she seemed to be very down to earth and straight forward. The dinner conversation was lively and before long Angie had returned to the kitchen to fix the desserts.

"More coffee for anyone?" asked Chip as he returned from the kitchen. "Angie will bring out dessert in a moment. So Lee, how long were you going to keep Linda under wraps?"

Chip thought he detected a slight blush as Lee responded "I havenít been keeping her under wraps. Linda is a very busy person and we try to make the most of what little time we have together. Besides, youíre never home Ö arenít you off on a submarine somewhere most of the time?"

"Touché" laughed Chip. "But still Ö I havenít even heard any juicy rumors about you two. What gives?"

Linda flashed a smile and answered. "Lee and I get together maybe two or three times a week. I run a consulting company and lately Iíve been traveling about two weeks of every month. That leaves very little time for us. Also Lee has been known to put in the occasional 60 hour week so that cuts the time even further. Weíre both happy with things this way. We can take our time and get to know one another Ö no pressure to rush into anything."

"What kind of consulting?" asked Angie as she set the dessert tray on the table. Chip got up and served the dessert while Linda responded to Angieís question.

"Iím basically a computer animator. I work with experts in various fields who do investigative work for accidents and natural disasters. Basically, the experts collect data and give me structural information. I scan in the before and after photos or drawings and use that as a seed to complete the animation. Once a baseline animation is obtained, we can play with different factors including eye witness accounts and modify the animation until it fits all of the data. Some of my work is used in lawsuits but most of it is used by companies or government agencies to make work areas safer and avoid accidents in the future. Do you remember the bridge that collapsed in New Mexico last month? My company was part of the team put together by the state of New Mexico to analyze the bridge failure."

Between bites of chocolate cream pie Chip asked, "How long have you been doing this?"

"Oh, almost 6 years now. I worked as an animator for Disney when I first got out of college. Then I decided to get a joint Ph.D. in computer science and math at Cal Tech. After that I started working with my father. He retired last year and I bought the business. Dad comes into the office occasionally when heís bored. By the way, this dessert is wonderful Ö I love chocolate."

"Chipís got a chocolate problem too" said Lee as he winked at Angie. "I bet their kid will only drink chocolate milk."

"Well, Chip" responded Linda between bites, "the best chocolate milk in Santa Barbara can be had at Elimirís Soda Fountain over at Bayside Mall."

That remark launched Chip and Linda into a comparison of all the great chocolate dishes they had ever had and the best places in Santa Barbara for chocolate. Lee and Angie moved into the living room while the chocolate lovers continued their discussion.

"Theyíll be there for a while. I think Chip has sampled every dessert in Santa Barbara. I still donít know how he stays so trim. His workouts are very sporadic. At least when you were captain, he was paranoid about missing a workout." Angie sighed in comfort as Lee moved an ottoman over and helped her put her feet up.

Lee chuckled. "He must burn off the calories organizing everything. Thanks for inviting us over tonight. I know you have a ton of things to do before the baby is born."

"Chipís mother has been a godsend. Weíve got everything done except putting the baby furniture together and hanging the mobiles. We plan to do that tomorrow. I really like Linda. How long have you been seeing her?"

"Linda and I met 2 months ago at St. Paulís. We both do volunteer work with the kids in the physical rehab unit. I participated in a similar program in Rhode Island on the advice of my therapist. Somehow, when you see kids with severe physical limitations playing and so optimistic about life, it gives you a new perspective on your own situation. Lindaís twin brother was injured in a motorcycle accident and lost an arm. He was at St. Paulís for a while but he later committed suicide. He was an artist and he lost his so called good arm. Although he may have been able to eventually paint with his other arm he never got over his depression. Linda wanted to use her grief for him in a positive way. She got involved with the program because she doesnít want any of those kids to believe that a personís physical state is the soul determinant in their life."

"Is she aware that you are also an amputeeÖ"

"Yes, Linda is aware that Iím an amputee. It doesnít bother her. We go biking and running together. Sheís well aware of my condition. I can talk to her openly about it and not worry that sheís going to be repulsed."

"Lee, itís really none of my business Ö but what happened between you and Cathy? Iíve heard her side Ö she said she couldnít handle your physical and emotional needs so she bailed out."

Lee gave Angie a surprised look. "Iím a little shocked that Cathy discussed it with anyone. I can understand her feelings. I was in a pretty rotten mood when I found out that my leg could not be rebuilt. The bone had been crushed in three places during the cave-in. Later, I was advised that my leg was basically dying and that I would have all kinds of complications without an amputation. I was extremely depressed and just withdrew. I pushed Cathy away at first. After the surgery, when I knew I had to deal with the amputation, I was a floodgate of emotions and fears. I think I just overwhelmed her."

"Lee, why didnít you talk to me or Chip? We would have loved to help you."

"I know but you guys had just gotten married. You were so happy and excited Ö I couldnít see being a drag on you at the time. The Admiral tired to help too but I pushed him away as well.

Finally, I decided that I needed to be somewhere where no one would make demands. My mother had asked me to come home and recuperate Ö said it would make her feel better knowing how I was from day to day. One thing led to another and I decided to go home.

With a lot of support from my mother, my therapists and occasional phone calls from Chip and the Admiral, I snapped out of my fog one day and decided to get on with my life. I called Cathy and asked her to come visit me. I figured we would talk things out and get our relationship back on track. Cathy and I had a terrible argument. She refused to come and broke the engagement. I understand now that she felt trapped. But I think at some level, whether either of us wanted to admit it, we knew that we were not right for each other. My injury just forced everything to the forefront."

Angie stifled a yawn and said, "Well, you look happy with Linda and from what I can tell, Cathy is happy with Joe. So I guess itís all working out for the bestÖ"

Noticing how tired Angie was, Lee gave her a kiss on the forehead and decided that he and Linda needed to be going. Lee walked Angie back to the dinning room and collected Linda. The couple made their goodbyes to the Mortons and promised to make it a foursome again.

After Linda and Lee left, the Mortons rehashed the evening as they cleaned up the dinner dishes.

"Lee looks great and he seems happy, doesnít he?" Angie asked Chip as he clicked on the dishwasher.

"Yeah Ö he sure does. I spent some time working with him this week and I think he really is okay. He does miss Seaview and the adventure but I think heís doing something he really enjoys."

A little annoyed that Chip didnít mention the obvious, Angie decided to be more direct. "What about Linda?"

"She must be almost six feet tall Ö"

"Chip, thatís not what I mean! You can be so dense at times!"

Laughing at the petulant look on his wifeís face, Chip decided to keep the peace and answer the question at hand.

"I think Linda is just what Lee needs. Sheís intelligent, witty, independent, and not hard on the eyes. She obviously is aware of his physical condition and it doesnít seem to bother her. She seems very attracted to him. From the way he looked at her tonight, I think itís mutual."

"I just donít want Lee to be hurt. I still canít get over Cathyís reaction to all of this. And now Ö I donít knowÖ"

Chip walked over and embraced his wife. "Angie, Lee is a grown man. We canít protect him from everything or everyone. Believe me, Iíve tried. I suspect he and Cathy would have eventually broken up. They want different things from life. Lee loves kids and is looking forward to having his own someday. I canít recall Cathy ever mentioning kids. Lee hates being in the limelight. Cathy lives for all the shindigs and press conferences held at the Institute. I think it was just a matter of time and Leeís accident just sped up the clock a little. From what I can tell, Cathy and her latest boyfriend seem quite well suited to each other."

Sighing and stroking Chip on the cheek Angie replied in almost a whisper, "Thatís exactly what Lee said. I know youíre right Chip but it just seems as though everything has been turned upside down this last year. I wish I could put it straight again."

"We canít sweetheart so letís go to bed and make sure you get your nine hours of sleep. Weíve got a long day ahead of us finishing off the nursery."

- 11 -

Harriman Nelson threw the report on his desk and cursed under his breath. Chipís team had finally reversed engineered the robot they had found wandering around the Pacific ocean. The device had been retrofitted with a high power laser and a new navigation system. As Crane had observed, the power supply had been beefed up to handle driving the laser.

What little information they were able to extract form the deviceís navigation system seem to indicate that it had been traveling in an oval pattern encompassing two of the undersea research facilities. It was only dumb luck that the device happened to be on a portion of itís preset course that overlapped Seaviewís return route. Otherwise, the device might never have been noticed.

Nelson had only speculation to guide him until ONI sent him the information he had requested. Nelson theorized that the device was randomly attacking key structural locations surrounding the undersea labs. These attacks wouldnítí be noticed unless it was a major stress point for supporting the weight of the lab. Unfortunately, by the time something like that happened, it would in most cases be too late to save the lab or the inhabitants. The question was who was behind the attacks.

Dr. Gamma was still in a high security international prison. Of course, that didnít rule out some of his associates. Gamma used destruction as a bargaining chip and no demands had been made as far as Nelson knew. The Peopleís Republic had a larger agenda in their attempts to shore up their nuclear arsenal Ö this was too tedious to be worth their effort. And, again Ö no demands had been made. The Anarchists, a fanatical multi-national terrorist group, had all but disbanded after their leader was killed during a bombing in Milan. Besides they were religious fanatics of the worse kind and would never be happy doing something that garnered no publicity.

No Ö whoever was behind these attacks had another motive. Perhaps it was revenge. Nelson leaned over and pressed the intercom button. "Angie, get me a roster of all the personnel who have been stationed on any of the undersea labs for the last 2 years. Call Brenda Jones at FIMR if you get any static about the records. Ms. Jones owes me a favor."

Nelson gathered the pages of the report and placed them in the folder. As he closed the folder his phone rang. "Admiral, I have Liam Coffey from ONI on the line. Shall I put him through?"

"Yes, Angie. Iíve been expecting this call all morning. Please make sure there are no interruptions until I finish this call." Nelson listened to the phone line beep as Angie switched the call to the ONI contact.

"Itís been a while Harry. Havenít seen you since that Munich escapade. Hear thereís been some problems with some of the lab locations."

"Yes, Liam. It appears that someone has stolen and modified those old Navy robots. You remember the experimental ones that were over budget and never quite worked?"

Laughing, "Boy do I! I was never so glad not to be involved in a project in my life. How many of the robots are out there?"

"There should be seven more of the devices out there. We recovered one in the Pacific about 150 miles from Santa Barbara. I believe Chip Morton sent you the reverse engineering documents. What did your team make of them?"

"The electronics and firmware are definitely American made or, at least, made with American parts and software tools. Actually, the code profiles like the coding style of one of the original participants in the program. We have some agents tracking that individual. He disappeared after the Navy killed the program. Anyone with knowledge of basic servo control could have done the electronics. We donít have any definite direction to go on the hardware. Maybe our software lead will pan out and spill the beans. We can always hope."

"Hmmph" grunted Nelson. "It all sounds pretty Ďiffyí to me. What are your plans if your key suspect isnít the right person? Iím not waiting for approval LiamÖ Iím taking Seaview out next week to try to find the other devices before anyone else is injured or killed."

"Harry Ö with seven devices out there Ö how do you plan to find them? Thatís like looking for a needle in a haystack."

"Maybe Ö maybe not. But someone has to take some action."

 

-12 -

Seaview arrived at the Wetherford lab ahead of schedule. Nelson had finally deciphered the command sequence for the Navy robot and modified the device to act as a beacon, hopefully, for other units. As soon as they arrived, Captain Morton ordered the device released about 500 yards from the lab. The communications officer was to monitor all transmissions with the device continuously.

John Slocum, the director of the Wetherford lab was actually relieved that Seaview just happened to be passing by on her way to another mission. There had been some strange creaking noises coming from the main power supply area of the lab. Slocum was a cautious man and was proud of the fact that his facility had never had an accident or an injury.

Chip Morton dispatched a team of techs to investigate the problem and also to add some sensors to see if perhaps someone in the lab might be communicating with one of the robots. The techs returned to Seaview about 4 hours later with nothing unusual to report. The power supply housing had some loose bolts which the techs had taken care of and the creaking sound had gone away.

Chip Morton retired to his cabin and began the arduous task of paperwork. "No wonder Lee never had any spare time. Now I can see why he always stayed up half the night." His thoughts were interrupted by an urgent page from the control room.

"Captain Morton, we have contact. Two robots have moved into the area and appear to be communicating with our robot."

Chip met Nelson in the hallway and both men raced from their quarters to the control room.

"Sparks, send the command to have our robot return to Seaview" ordered Morton.

"Aye, sir".

Nelson stood in the observation nose and watched anxiously to see if any of the robots would respond. After a moment, Seaviewís robot rotated and headed back toward the submarine. A few seconds later, the other two robots began trailing the Seaview robot.

"Whew Ö for a moment I didnít think any of them would respond" declared Nelson as he strode over to the radio shack. "Sparks, send a command to deactivate."

Sparks quickly sent the command and confirmed "Deactivation in progress, Sir".

Nelson turned on the video monitor and observed all three robots go through the same sequence and shut down. "Chip, dispatch the dive team to secure the robots."

Nelson returned to the observation nose with Chip and watched the dive team secure the robots. "Well, Chip thatís 3 down and 5 more to go. Now all we need is some clue as to where the other units might be. Letís assume that the remaining units are still somewhere in the Pacific. There are three more research facilities. Which one is the closest to where we are now?"

Morton returned to the chart table and flipped through several maps. "The closest lab is Kobe Ö about 14 hours away. After Kobe are Mariana, 30 hours away and then Gilbert, almost 48 hours away. Iíll lock in a course for these locations. The dive team should be back on board in about 15 minutes."

"Very well, Chip. If anything unusal happens, Iíll be in the missile room inspecting those new units. Come down if you get a chance."

"I told you not to call me here. They could have your line tapped. I donít know for sure. Look Ö Iím hanging up. Itís too risky. Meet me at 6pm at the usual place. Iíll have 2 more ROMs ready by then. Donít be late." Joel Saunders looked at his watch and realized that he would have to leave work a little early if he was going to make his rendezvous. He stepped into the hallway and noticed that no one was working in the main software lab. Joel went to the lab and logged onto the primary prototype system for the Seaview simulator. Checking again to see that no one was around, Joel accessed the primary database and began keying in data.

In the network control room, Mia James, Lee Crane, a couple of NIMR security guards, and Liam Coffey watched a computer monitor. The monitor was displaying the commands being entered into the Seaview simulator prototype system by Joel. Mia had sent the rest of her team to an offsite training class to get them out of the area.

"You see, Lee, I told you that would be his next move." Mia James turned to Lee Crane and folded her arms across her chest as she leaned back on the lab bench. "Itís a good thing that Harry notified us a few days ago that the missing Navy researcher had assumed a new identity and was thought to be one of the members of my team. I always back up everything anyhow Ö too paranoid to leave things to chance. It was a good idea to leave the duplicate prototype in the lab for Joel to sabotage. Weíve got him dead to the rights!"

Lee Crane ran a hand through his dark curly hair and turned to Mia. "But why is he doing this stuff? What does he gain by destroying the undersea research labs or the Seaview simulator? "

Liam Coffey spoke up. "From what weíve discovered, Joel Saunders, alias Duane Hawkins, was severely evaluated after the failure of the Navy robotics effort. It wasnít entirely his fault. There were also serious design flaws in the hardware. Unfortunately, Duane was not well liked by anyone on the team and no one went to bat for him. Consequently, most of the failure of the project was deflected to him. After all, someone always takes the heat when a project like that fails. He resigned from the Navy and disappeared. He swore that the Navy would pay for the way he had been treated. Joel Saunders appeared about 2.5 years ago. His credentials are impeccable and he targeted the Institute for a job."

"Okay," said Lee turning to Liam. "That explains the software changes to the robots. But Joel isnít an electronics guru. Who did the hardware modifications?"

"Thatís still unknown at this time. ONI is hoping that Joel will talk after they pick him up. He has to be working with someone who has access to the electronics expertise and a ship so that the devices can be released into the ocean."

Lee looked at Liam and then Mia. "Why did he attack the simulator prototype? "

Mia sighed and shared what she knew with Crane. "Evidently, from what Harryís investigation showed, there are still some serious flaws in the navigation software on the robots. Your correction algorithm is exactly what Joel needed to fix his devices. I suspect heís corrupting your database to make you think there was a flaw in your design and have you abandon the effort."

Lee nodded his head in understanding. "Meanwhile he uses it for whatever reason and weíre left playing catch up."

"Exactly, Lee. Play along with Joel for the rest of the day. Heíll probably show you a bug that just cropped up in the navigation unit. Security says ONI will pick him up after hours today to avoid a scene at the Institute."

- 14 -

Nelson and Morton kept Seaview near the Kobe lab for two days but there were no sightings of any of the Navy robots so Chip set course for the Mariana lab. The Mariana lab was the largest undersea research facility in the world. It housed approximatley 100 scientists from over 30 countries.

Chip followed the same routine at Mariana as he had at Kobe and Wetherford. His team of techs found nothing unusual at the lab and had successfully attached the sensors to the lab. Now the wait began.

"Captain Morton, incoming coded message for you sir."

Chip walked over to Sparks and picked up the coded message. Chip grimaced as he mentally decoded enough of the message to see that it was from ONI. He went to his cabin and retrieved his code book. Chip quickly deciphered the rest of message and ran to Nelsonís cabin to share the results.

Nelson read the message twice before slamming onto his desk. "This isnít good Chip. We may not be able to communicate with the devices if the ROMs have been upgraded. At least there have been no sightings at any of the labs so far Ö"

Nelsonís commentary was interrupted by the control room paging his captain. "Captain Morton, this is Kowalski. We have 5 devices on sonar. All appear to be positioning themselves around the lab."

Chip pushed the intercom button on Nelsonís desk and replied to the page. "Admiral Nelson and I are on our way."

Nelson and Chip rushed into the control room. Chip headed to the sonar station while Nelson went to the radio shack.

"Sparks, is our device sending out the beacon signal?" demanded Nelson.

"Aye, sir. The other robots seem to be ignoring the signal."

"Send a recall command on the double. Maybe the other devices will follow."

"Any luck with the recall command, Chip?" asked Nelson as he moved toward the center of the control room. Chip and Kowalski watched the devices on the sonar display and saw only three of the units moving.

"Admiral, only our device is headed towards Seaview. The other five units are not responding at all."

"Sparks, try sending a deactivate command."

"Sir, only our robot has confirmed receipt of the command. No response from the other robots."

Nelson walked to the observation nose and looked out. The five remaining devices were holding steady in their position. Nelson noticed that they were too close to the lab to get a clean shot at the devices with Seaviewís laser.

"Chip, Iím taking the flying sub out to see if I can get those other devices to move away from the lab. Maybe then we can destroy them with Seaviewís laser."

"Wait a minute Admiral. Thereís no way to predict what will happen if you go out there in the flying sub. We donít know what the devices are programmed to do now the software has been upgraded. Multiple laser hits from those robots could easliy destroy the flying sub."

Nelson stopped in his tracks and nodded. Clearly he was disgusted with the turn of events. "Chip, if any of those devices move off, dispatch a dive team to recover our unit. Iím going to contact ONI and see if I can get more details about the changes. If you need me Iíll be in my quarters."

 

- 14 -

While Nelson and Morton figured out what to do with the robots surrounding Mariana lab, Joel Saunders was being interrogated by ONI. Liam Coffey noted that Saunders seemed completely indifferent to his situation. He had no family Ö his wife had left him when he resigned from the Navy. He was living in a small ranch house in a modest neighborhood. His only real interests in life appeared to be programming and getting back at the Navy.

"Who are your accomplices?" queried Coffey. "Itíll go easier on you if you help us."

Joel looked at Coffey and laughed. "It appears I finally have the upper hand. Why should I help you? The Navy has done nothing but ruin my life!"

Coffey leaned into Joel and grabbed him by the collar. "Look, due to you and your friends, 12 people have been killed and at least 15 have been seriously injured. You have committed over $81 million dollars worth of damage and tarnished the image of the United States. What more do you need to do to feel that the government has atoned for its sins?"

"Simple. Give me $1 million in cash, safe passage to the country of my choice, and I will disable the devices."

"I donít think so buddy. " said Coffey as he abruptly released his grip on Joel. "We tapped your phone line at the lab and followed you to the rendezvous. Agents are on their way now to pick up your friend. Now, do you want to cooperate or take your chances?"

Joel turned ashen, straightened his tie and took a deep breath. "Why had he been dumb enough to be talked into this? There was no way he was going to take the fall for this Ö not this time." Joel looked at Coffey and asked in a rasp "What do you want to know?"

"For now, the command sequence to disable the devices and prevent any further destruction. Nelson has found the devices near the Mariana lab."

"Itís a four byte command sequence Ö my screen saver on my office workstation looks like a random pattern of ones and zeroes, but itís really a display of the contents of the new control ROM used in the device. Any of Miaís people should be able to translate the data from the GIF file into the ROM code. I figured if I got discovered no one would ever think to check graphics files for hidden data."

Coffey called Mia James and asked her to have someone get the info and send it to Nelson on Seaview ASAP. Coffey returned to Saunders and decided to ask one more question.

"Was it all about revenge?"

"Yes, at first" said Saunders as he looked at his feet. "I felt that my career in the Navy was ruined because of that robotics project. No one on the Navy research team wanted to work with me Ö said I was incompetent. I finally decided to re-invent myself and show everyone what I was capable of doing. Ironically, the Institute was perfect for my plans. Nelson encourages employees to indulge hobbies and use Institute facilities to further their professional development. It was really easy to have my associate do the hardware re-designs and then have the boards made here on site as part of my hobby. No one ever suspected anything. I was getting paid per robot for the upgrades. This last update guaranteed me a life of leisure somewhere in the islands. Once the Mariana lab was destroyed, the money would be wired to my account. I would have just resigned from the Institute and disappeared."

Saunders stood, rubbed the back of his neck and walked over to the window. "It all seemed like a game, too. I never really thought about the human toll until Crane came to work in our group. I put the pieces together and realized that he was one of the people injured in the Stafford cave-in. That was the first one that we did that went off without a hitch. The other two labs had been damaged but not destroyed. Crane seems like a nice guyÖ too bad he was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Coffey shook his head in disgust and walked over to the window to collect Saunders. "Well, youíll have plenty of time to think about what youíve done. Come on, theyíre waiting for us outside."

- 15 -

Nelson took the bit pattern that came in the coded message and broke it into processor commands. He was amazed at how cleverly the code had been optimized by Saunders. It was a pity that such a talented person would spend the rest of his life in prison. When he finished with the complete pattern, Nelson paged Sparks to his cabin. Sharkey manned the radio shack for Sparks.

Nelson explained the code to Sparks and together they figured out the frequency and sequence of commands to send the devices. Sparks rushed back to the radio shack and began sending the data to the devices.

Chip Morton hovered over Kowalskiís shoulder as he observed the devices on the sonar screen. Nelson stood in the observation nose and prayed that they could get the devices to respond. The devices had slowly been edging closer to the lab the entire time Seaview had been there.

"Admiral, the devices are responding!" Sparks said excitedly.

"Confirmed" announced Kowalski. "All the devices are heading toward Seaview."

Bob OíBrien led the dive party sent out to secure the disabled devices. Nelson and Morton went to Nelsonís cabin to complete a video call to ONI.

"Liam, Iím glad you got Saunders to crack. I had been working on breaking the code but with the upgrade Ö there was no way I could have gained controlled of those robots."

"Harry, Iím just glad youíre still as obstinate as you were 20 years ago. If Seaview hadnít been in the area Ö I dread to think what would have happened to all of those people."

Chip Morton injected "Iím curious. Why didnít the robots attack the lab after they surrounded the structure? We kept expecting them to attack at any moment."

"Evidently, the devices had to wait for the power supplies to recharge so that enough energy would be present to drive the lasers. Saunders complained that his associate had been unable to fit an adequate supply in the existing structure so a trade-off was to use their current design and wait 36 to 48 hours for the devices to recharge."

"Hmmph" grunted Nelson. "I guess being a terrorist is not what it used to be. By the way, who was Saundersí accomplice?"

"Marty Henson. Marty was one of the hardware engineers on the Navy project. He got a dishonorable discharge from the Navy about a year after the project was abandoned. However, Henson and Saunders are just spokes in the wheel. It turns out that these attacks are being sponsored by a terrorist group headquartered in Brazil. This group was against Brazil participating in the funding of the research labs. Weíve got agents crawling all over South America following up leads. I donít think this is the last weíve heard from this group."

Liam Coffey wrapped up the call and Nelson turned off the video phone. "Has OíBrien secured all the devices?"

"Probably, Admiral. I ordered him to set a course for Santa Barbara as soon as the detail was completed. " Chip lowered his voice and spoke again " Admiral Ö"

Nelson noticed that Chip seemed uncomfortable and decided to draw him out. "Whatís bothering you Chip?"

"Iíve been adding up the timeline in my mind. Was the Stafford cave-in caused by Saunders and his friends?"

"Iím afraid so. That day in the lab when Jiggs and I were arguing Ö Starke told me that they had suspected for four months before Stafford that the labs were being attacked. Needless to say, I was furious that ONI knew the facility may have been unsafe and said nothing."

"Do you think Lee has figured it out?"

"I donít know Chip. I donít know how much Lee has been told about this whole situation. You have to remember that he is not privy to all the information that we are. I hope for his sake that he doesnít find out. To know that all of this could have been prevented Ö"

Chip sensed that Nelson needed to be alone to wrestle with his feelings and excused himself. "Sir, Mr. OíBrien has the conn. Iím going to get some shut eye. Goodnight sir."

"Goodnight Chip" replied Nelson absently.

- 16 -

Linda Carson and Lee Crane were enjoying a moonlit stroll alone the beach near his house. Linda had just returned from a long business trip. Lee had missed her company and decided to treat her to a home cooked meal. After dinner, Linda had suggested a walk along the beach to enjoy the evening breeze.

"Youíve been quiet tonight," said Linda as she squeezed Leeís hand.

"Iíve got a lot on my mind. Iím still shocked that one of my coworkers was partly responsible for the attacks on those undersea labs. Iíve also realized that the Stafford cave-in was probably related to his actions."

"Are you angry? " she asked looking into his eyes and seeing the same far away look that she remembered seeing in her brotherís eyes.

"Iím trying to make sense of it all. I canít see how someone can be so blinded by revenge that they would kill and injure innocent people. Iím just wrestling with accepting that this was an act of man and not an act of God. However, if this is what my life was meant to be then I guess I had better make the best of it. I canít afford to become consumed with anger over this. The reality is that I always ran a high risk of being killed or seriously injured whenever I went on a mission. I just thought that I was somehow special and that my life would never change." Lee sighed and stopped walking.

"Lee, it doesnít matter to me Ö"

Lee turned towards Linda and embraced her tightly. He looked deeply into her eyes and spoke. "Linda, Iíve realized while you were gone that I love you."

"I love you too, Lee. I was wondering if you felt the same. Iím relieved to know that you do."

Lee tightened the embrace and kissed Linda softly. His affection was returned by Linda.

Lee smiled and took a depth breath. "Where do we go from here? Whatís our next step, Linda?"

Linda returned the smiled and locked her eyes to Leeís. "I donít know Lee. How about we just keep walking and see?"