C. Lyn Barrow, Fidelma C., Liz Martin, Lillian H.
The two officers stood side by side on the bridge of the enormous submarine, their attention directed across the expanse of water toward the small island a half-mile away. It was a tropical paradise, that was certain, but there was something about it that seemed dark and ominous even in the full brightness of a South Pacific morning.
“They should have been back by now,” the taller of the two muttered, frowning into the brightness as he leaned against the bridge rail, his blue eyes locked on the vacant beach.
“How late are they?” the other man asked. He was shorter, older by perhaps twenty years, and the four stars on the lapels of his khaki shirt made him an admiral. Fingers of wind from the sea behind them ran through his rust-colored hair but he seemed oblivious to this minor dishevelment.
The first officer, a tall, blond-haired commander, glanced at his watch. “Forty-seven minutes, sir.”
“If it was just
Kowalski I wouldn’t be surprised but even I’ve heard the nickname the crew has
Chip Morton was silent for several seconds, his thoughts invisible behind a notoriously calm exterior. “And the Skipper, sir. I don’t think he’s been late to anything more’n a handful of times in his life... unless... without....”
When the commander fell silent, Nelson nodded in agreement and grunted a response. He appreciated his captain’s dedication to duty more than most. That was what troubled him so about the shore party’s tardiness. Lee Crane would do virtually anything in order to complete a mission and if he was late.... Nelson raised the binoculars that swung against his chest and held them to his eyes, peering at the distant expanse of beach that formed a white crescent on the face of the island. He could see the zodiac drawn up on the sand but there was no evidence of the three men.
“No response at all, sir. It’s as though his radio wasn’t even turned on and that’s not like Lee.”
“We’ll give them a full hour then we’ll send a party ashore to look for them. They can’t be far. That island’s too small....”
“I have a shore party already standing by, Admiral.”
Nelson lowered the glasses and glanced at the exec, his craggy face softening with a smile. Morton and Crane had been friends a long time and with the Morton’s almost intuitive attention to detail his anticipation of the admiral’s decision was not surprising. “I should have known, Chip.”
“What can have gone wrong, sir?” Chip asked after an extended silence. “It should have been simple enough for them to contact the administrator of the complex and get back to the zodiac in the time Lee estimated.”
“Hmmmpf,” the admiral snorted. “I sometimes think that if there’s any potential trouble within a thousand miles, our captain can find it.”
Now it was Morton’s turn to nod in agreement.
“I never got the lowdown on what this research complex was studying, sir. Anything we should be concerned about?” he asked then.
Nelson shrugged, gesturing eloquently with his hands. “Well, I certainly didn’t think there was or I wouldn’t have put our men ashore, now would I?”
“Uh, no, sir,” Morton replied, certain that the admiral’s sharp reply only betrayed his own concerns.
Nelson heaved a great sigh of resignation. “It’s just a team of scientists....”
“Oh, scientists,” Chip groaned. Their track record with scientists had never been good.
his head to one side and nodded before he continued. “Nothing sinister, Chip, I assure you. They’re here on a grant from Primoris Labs,
one of the largest drug companies in the
Chip nodded and grunted noncommittally once more. “Then why are they late?”
Nelson threw up his hands once more, this time in exasperation, although he knew the question was rhetorical. “If I knew that, Mr. Morton, would I be standing here looking for them to appear?”
“Of course not, sir.”
“Call your shore party, Chip. I’m tired of waiting.”
Morton turned and dropped through the access trunk into the control room of the Seaview. The crew on station there looked up expectantly but he shook his head, striding to the nearest microphone, which he snatched up and double-squawked.
“Shore party, lay up to the deck,” he barked and knew that the men were already in motion somewhere aft of the control room. The men who had gone ashore were well liked by the entire crew, the captain as well as the enlisted men, and everyone aboard felt a proprietary interest in finding out why they had been delayed.
“No sign yet, Mr. Morton?” Sharkey asked as he approached, his tone uncommonly apprehensive.
“There wasn’t as of two minutes ago, Chief. But maybe no news is good news. We’ll find out soon. I’m going back up. Mr. O’Brien, resume the conn.”
The young lieutenant nodded quickly. He had been about to ask the same question as the chief but was relieved it had been the more experienced COB who had broached the subject that concerned them all. A moment later the exec was clambering back up the sail ladder and Chief Sharkey had moved to stand beside O’Brien.
“Mr. Morton’s pretty worried, isn’t he?” the lieutenant commented absently.
“Yeah. It’s not like the skipper to be out of touch like this and everyone’s on edge on account of it. But don’t you worry, Mr. O’Brien, him and Ski and Tommy’ll be back soon all safe and sound. You just wait and see. Just wait and see....” Sharkey continued the litany of optimism long after he ambled away from the lieutenant’s side.
The second shore party was emerging from the foredeck hatch to assemble and await orders when Morton returned to the bridge. He noticed at once the change in Nelson’s posture, his body leaning forward eagerly toward the island. He had the binoculars at his eyes and the exec turned, following the direction of the admiral’s gaze.
“They finally showed up on the beach, Chip, but something’s wrong.”
“What is it, sir?” Chip asked, cursing himself for neglecting to retrieve a pair of binoculars from the control room while he was there.
“I don’t know for sure.” Then, “Get the shore party over there now!”
Morton stretched forward over the bridge wall. “Chief Lynch! Lay over to the beach and lend the captain and his party a hand! On the double!” he called to the security chief.
later the zodiac had been launched and was carrying the armed team of six
toward the beach. Nelson reluctantly
surrendered the binoculars to the exec and Morton focused intently on the first
zodiac pulled up on the sand. He could
see the three men he sought easily enough; one of them, Kowalski, was sprawled
awkwardly in the sand a few yards from the raft, while it appeared that Crane
was supporting a staggering
Without preamble the admiral retrieved the binoculars, his expressive mouth narrowed in anxiety. Morton glanced briefly at him but his attention returned to the men in the beached zodiac. As executive officer he was concerned for every member of the crew but, personally, Captain Lee Crane had been his best friend for nearly half his life and that friend was in obvious trouble.
Morton frowned, the only outward evidence of his uneasiness, although his breathing was a little quicker than usual and his fists were clenched at his sides. He should have sent a corpsman with the security team, he rebuked himself. He was well aware of Lee’s propensity toward trouble and injury. If he had his druthers he’d never let the man off the boat again! No, he amended quickly. Lee was too good at what he did to limit him like that. Whether he was at the CON or on an ONI mission or on what had appeared to be a routine liaison mission to an innocuous facility on a no-name island, Chip Morton knew Lee was the best man for the job. Admiral Nelson had said it frequently; he had wanted nothing less than the best crew, the best exec and the best captain for his dream-come-true, Seaview, and he had gotten his wish, at least insofar as the captain was concerned, Morton thought loyally.
Both men continued to watch in abject silence as the second zodiac neared the shore and the security team bounded out, some into the water, others across the zodiac bow onto the sand. Two of them stood guard, their weapons held ready, while the remaining four examined the motionless men.
Morton flipped open the door and snatched the microphone off its hook. “Morton here.”
“The shore party’s on the horn for you, sir. Go ahead, Mr. Morton.”
“Lynch, what’s their condition?” he asked, astonished at the thinness of his own voice. Nelson took a step nearer.
“They’re alive, sir. No apparent wounds. But they’re unconscious. All three of them.”
Nelson snatched away the microphone. “No explanation for their situation?”
“None that I can tell, Admiral,” Lynch continued. “We’ll get them back aboard but you might want to have the Doc standing by. They’re totally unresponsive, sir.”
“Just get them
aboard. We’ll take care of things here,”
Nelson barked. He double-squawked the
“I’m here, Admiral. I’ve heard the scuttlebutt and I’m on my way.”
Nelson broke the connection and replaced the mic in the radio box. “It never ceases to amaze me how fast information gets around this boat,” he observed quietly but his agitation was evident in the icy edge in his voice.
It seemed only moments later that Dr. Will Jamieson joined them on the bridge and his team of corpsmen was emerging from the deck hatch.
“Looks like we just made it in time,” Jamieson muttered.
The three men climbed down from the bridge to the deck as the two zodiacs touched the nearly stationary bulk of the Seaview. The corpsmen were there instantly, helping to lift the unconscious men to the deck of the submarine, placing each of them on stretchers. Jamieson motioned his two chief assistants, Frank and Ben, to see to the ratings while he knelt beside the silent captain. He quickly took Crane’s vitals and checked the lean body over for any sign of wounds, then conferred in muted tones with the corpsmen.
“Temp is up, heart rate and blood pressure elevated, pupils contracted,” he revealed at last. “It may be a poisoning, Admiral, but I won’t know until I can perform some tests. Any idea which one of them went down first?”
“It looked like
Kowalski was already unconscious when Lee came out of the jungle with
“Get on with it, Doc!” Nelson interrupted. “I want some answers, fast. If I can’t get them from Crane I want them from you. Understood?”
Jamieson looked up at him, nodded grimly and rose to his feet. “Get them below, Frank, and draw some blood. Start with the captain. If he was the last to succumb then he may be the least affected.”
Jamieson turned to face the admiral. “If this is some sort of contagion we could be in very serious trouble, Admiral.”
“They were only out of contact for three hours, Will. Do you honestly believe they could have contracted some illness that incapacitated them like this in so short a time?”
“Not ordinarily. I think it might be advisable for you to send a team in full HAZMAT gear to check out the research facility. If our men are down those scientists could be as well.”
“I’ll see to it, Admiral,” Morton said quickly and started to turn. “Doc, keep me informed of the captain’s condition,” he said, his tone even and controlled, though his hands were once more clenched at his sides.
“Of course, Commander. As soon as we know anything at all.”
With a quick nod Morton hurried back toward the bridge, although he was conscious of stretchers being carefully lowered into the Seaview and out of sight through the forward hatch. He descended the access trunk swiftly but this time when he retrieved the mic from its hook he was oblivious to those around him. The abnormally pale faces of the three men remaining in his mind, Lee’s unresponsiveness more than a little alarming. He began to issue his orders for the HAZMAT team, knowing that command of the Seaview was now his for the foreseeable future and he was not happy about the situation at all.
the doctor and the men bearing the stretchers aft toward the
“A data disk,” he said aloud, surprised.
“What’s that, Admiral?” Chief Lynch asked. “Something we should be concerned about?”
Nelson found himself smiling humorlessly as Lynch echoed Morton’s words almost exactly. “I don’t know, Chief. I’m just surprised that this facility had the capability to make these. It’s pretty new technology.”
“How can we tell what’s on it, sir? Maybe there’s something that would help the Skipper and the guys?” Lynch asked again.
“I have a reader in my quarters. I’ll look into it. I imagine it’s a record of their research. These little disks can hold a lot of information.”
“Don’t think I’m familiar with them, Admiral.”
“They’re new, Chief. In the years to come though, I imagine they’ll be quite common. I suppose it isn’t so surprising for this station to have one, after all. They were richly financed and it would enable them to travel much lighter, bringing lighter recording equipment.” He slipped the disk into his own shirt pocket. “Doc?”
“Not much change yet, Admiral,” Jamieson answered, looking up from his patient. “Their temperatures are soaring, though, and we’ll have to deal with that even if we don’t find anything we can treat in their blood.”
“Ad’mril.” Crane’s weak, strained voice took both men by surprise and they turned back to the captain’s side.
“Captain, don’t try to talk,” Jamieson cautioned but Lee merely shook his head, letting it rock back and forth on the flat pillow.
“It’s all right, son. What is it?” Nelson answered, his voice urgent but somehow retaining a calm he did not feel.
“Station empty,” Crane managed, perspiration beading his forehead with the effort. “All gone...”
“They’re dead?” Jamieson blurted out.
“Gone. Just... gone. Boat’s at dock.” His arm rose, his right hand groping at his chest for the shirt pocket that was not there. “Disk.”
“I have it, Lee. What happened to you?”
“Don’t know.... Sick... On way back....then…”
“Admiral, please,” Jamieson pleaded, his fingers on Crane’s wrist. “This isn’t helping him at all.”
“No, but it may help the rest of us, Will. Still, I think I’ve heard enough. Lee, rest, son. I’ll take it from here.”
“Aye... sir....” the captain managed, then shuddered and his body relaxed once more, his eyes closing.
Nelson hesitated, brushing the inky hair back from the sweaty brow. “Take care of him, Doc. All of them,” the admiral corrected quickly but he was fooling no one. They all knew the close friendship that had grown up between the designer of the Seaview and her captain over the past few years.
“Mr. Morton,” he summoned, and Chip straightened at the charting table and turned, a flash of dread sweeping across the young commander’s face. Chief Sharkey dogged Nelson’s footsteps as he halted in front of Morton. When he spoke again, Nelson pitched his voice a little louder than usual so that he could be heard. “The captain regained consciousness for a minute or two, Chip. He claims that the five men that were housed at the complex have all vanished. No bodies, no evidence of departure, just gone. Make sure that your shore party is fully protected and that they take a full range of samples, air, soil, plant, and water. If there’s something there, either natural or manmade that can bring our men down this way and may be responsible for the disappearance of the scientists there, I want to know about it ASAP.”
“Aye, sir,” Morton replied. The news that Lee had awakened, even for a moment, was good news, very good news indeed.
“I want to talk to the HAZMAT team as soon as they reach the complex, Chip. Make sure they have operable radios.”
“Did Lee say why he hadn’t contacted us when they first started getting sick?” Morton asked softly.
Nelson raised his left hand to his forehead, wiping it absently, perhaps unaware that it was a telltale sign of the level of his distress. “No, he didn’t. He... wasn’t able to say much.”
The admiral brushed past Morton then and headed for the spiral stairway, his steps more hurried than normal, enough so that he stumbled on the third step, righted himself, then continued. Morton watched in concern then motioned Sharkey to his side.
“Chief, lay down to the galley and have Cookie mix up a batch of that tea the admiral likes and take it up to him. And... well....” Morton broke off, licking dry lips before he continued. “Just make sure the OOM’s doing all right, will you?”
“Aye Aye, Mr. Morton. I’ve got it covered.”
Nelson entered his quarters slowly, his brilliant mind spinning faster than his body could keep up. He would like to think that was why he had stumbled on the stairs but he knew otherwise. The three men had looked so bad. How was it, he wondered, that they had become ill so quickly. It had to be some sort of poisoning; but if that was the case why were the scientists missing? He knew they had not been removed from the island. He had spoken with the Vice President of Primoris Labs the day they sailed and he doubted anyone could have reached this little, out of the way island before Seaview. The Primoris team had a twenty-five foot cabin cruiser for emergencies but Lee had indicated that it was still there at the dock on the other side of the island, where the water was too shallow for the Seaview’s draft.
He removed the disk from his shirt pocket and placed it carefully on his desk. Such things were supposed to be relatively durable but it had already taken more than it was designed to withstand. He opened the storage cabinet behind his desk just below the TV monitor and extracted a small carton about the size of a hat box and set it on his chair. He opened the lid and withdrew the disk-reader, placing it in the center of his desk before he shoved the box aside and sat down. He plugged the cord into a receptacle and pressed the button to activate it. He had only used it a time or two, back at the Institute, but it was simple enough; a computer that read these small disks instead of the huge tapes they used aboard or even the large floppy disks of some other computers.
the disk and dropped it into the reader, shoving the tray home, then sat back
to wait. He was impatient but he was
sure this was not going to be a speedy read.
If it was what he expected to find, reports and perhaps even
spreadsheets and diagrams, it would take careful examination before he could
make any sense of it at all. And even
then it might not provide any information that would be helpful to the three
It was Jamieson’s softly spoken voice over the speaker on his desk. He depressed the button. “Yes, Will, what is it?”
“Storekeeper 2nd Class Thomas Carlton... just died, sir.”
Nelson made some sort of response and switched off the speaker. He sat for nearly a full minute just staring at the speaker box on his desk without really seeing it. What had Lee and the others walked into, he wondered frantically, then he turned his full attention back to the disk-reader, determined to discover whatever clues might reside there to help save the lives of the sick men.
Chip Morton was
not a happy man. His azure blue eyes
stared sightlessly out the Herculite windows as he braced his arm on the
bulkhead in the Observation Nose. He
badly wanted to go down to
However that didn’t mean it was easily done. Chip had lost count of the times since Crane had taken over command of Seaview that he’d stood in this very position, concern for his injured friend overwhelming him but duty preventing him from being where he wanted to be... at Lee’s side. Chip grimaced, absently running his left hand through his short-cropped blond hair, remembering the mortally offended expression on Crane’s face when Chip had exasperatedly christened him a trouble magnet. Lee had stoutly refuted it. Then, glancing at his long time pal from under inky black lashes, had grinned sheepishly and admitted it often seemed that way. Lee had insisted that he didn’t look for trouble and defended himself by pointing out that he always managed to get himself out of it, didn’t he? At which Morton had snorted in a most un-officer like fashion, suggesting that it was he, the admiral and Seaview who usually pulled the Skipper out of danger, frequently after he’d been injured!
rubbing a weary hand across his forehead and pinched the bridge of his nose to
relieve the ache behind his eyes. It had
been a long day and, his growling stomach reminded him, he’d missed lunch and
dinner. But, uncharacteristically, he
didn’t feel like eating. How Lee would
rib him if he knew! One of the major bones of contention between the senior
officers was his healthy appetite and Lee’s sparse one. Chip had first met the skinny, almost
seventeen year old, Crane on their first day at
again, oblivious to the fact that his unease was affecting the men on duty. Patterson and Reilly exchanged worried
glances. It was unlike the usually stoic
XO to show his feelings, especially in the control room. Morton was famous for his cool unflappable
exterior even in the face of extreme danger.
It was this calm demeanor and implacable assurance that inspired the
absolute unquestioning trust of the junior officers and ratings on the giant
craft and made Morton one of the best executive officers in or out of the Fleet. If the XO could be fazed enough to show his
concern then it bode ill for the immediate future. The news of
Pulling himself forcefully out of his depressing reverie Morton tuned in to the absolute silence of the control room intercepting a couple of apprehensive glances among the watch. Immediately drawing himself to his full height he strode purposefully towards the plot table knowing instinctively that the rare breach in his impassive facade had been partly responsible for the somber mood. And knew it was up to him to return the duty watch to their usual sharpness. His authoritative blue gaze swept the room, lingering briefly at each manned sector.
“Look to your stations, men,” he ordered with his usual commanding poise. “We wouldn’t want the skipper to find us at less than our best now, would we?”
The rhetorical question was enough to have the men sitting straighter, eyes once again back on their duty stations; the mere mention of disappointing their beloved captain sufficient to sharpen their concentration.
Morton’s attention was drawn to the opposite end of the room and the bustling stocky figure of the COB as Sharkey came forward.
“The HAZMAT team is approaching the aft sail hatch, Mr. Morton.” He reported. “I was told you wanted to be informed when they returned, sir.”
”Thanks, Chief. Make sure they follow all decontamination procedures before boarding and have them check in with Doc as a precaution.” The XO ordered. “We don’t know what we’re facing here yet so I’m not gonna take any chances. Get their samples straight to the admiral’s lab and inform him of the team’s return.”
The chief merely nodded, perceptive enough of his superior’s mood not to engage him in conversation, and moved aft to comply with his instructions. Only a short time with Seaview, the older COB had initially resented taking orders from the impossibly young command crew but in recent months, and following several hazardous missions, had grown to respect both senior officers. His undying loyalty would always be to Nelson but he’d come to like both Crane and Morton as men as well as superiors.
“No need, Chief.” The gruff smoky voice preceded the footsteps on the spiral staircase. Morton straightened to near attention, his eyes sharpening with concern at the drawn look on the admiral’s features, the mussed red hair and the weary slump of the broad shoulders. “Consider me informed. And Chief,” he called urgently after the departing COB, “I want Mr. Morton’s orders followed explicitly. Explicitly, understood?”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Sharkey’s tone was stiff. He openly worshipped the four-star flag officer and resented the implied criticism.
Nelson’s voice softened, knowing the COB’s loyalty to the boat and himself. “Francis, we need to take every precaution until we know what we’ve got here.”
“Yes, sir. Absolutely, sir. You can trust me, sir.” The garrulous chief affirmed before leaving the room to ensure the orders were carried out to the letter.
Nelson cast a wryly amused glance towards his First Officer, his amusement abruptly disappearing as he discerned the anxious look in the blue eyes. The admiral exhaled audibly. He needed to finish reading the notes he’d printed from the data disc and bring the XO up to date on what he’d found but wasn’t looking forward to it. Morton already looked beyond exhaustion. His superior knew the thorough Officer had been up most of the previous night following a wiring problem in the Circuitry Room discovered by the Delta watch. It should have been dealt with by Lt. Madison, who’d had the conn, but the lieutenant was relatively new and had needed the confidence boost provided by Morton. And today had been incredibly busy. It occurred to Nelson that he hadn’t seen the XO in the wardroom for either lunch or dinner and wondered if the man had had any down time at all.
Unfortunately, if what he’d read so far was correct, it was unlikely Chip would get any for the foreseeable future.
He motioned the blond officer to the relative privacy of the observation nose and deposited the folders he carried on the table inviting the younger man to sit. Morton dropped obediently into a chair, concern evident in his taut posture as he leaned forward, propping his elbows on the table, hands clenched together.
“Is it Lee, sir? Kowalski?” he asked, dreading a positive response.
“No, Chip, no
change there. Kowalski still hasn’t recovered
consciousness. Lee appears to be
sleeping although Jamie is still concerned at his high temperature and blood
pressure and the nature of the sleep. Doc
is preparing to autopsy
Nelson tapped the folders he’d placed on the table but, before he could speak, was interrupted by Cookie who came forward to lay a tray bearing sandwiches, cookies and a large coffee pot on the table.
The XO’s eyebrows rose in query. “Mr. Morton, sir, your very busy schedule didn’t allow you to join us for lunch or dinner today. I thought you might be hungry so I took the liberty of preparing something that you could eat on the run, so to speak.” The rotund Cook’s almost defiant stance brooked no argument and Chip graciously acknowledged the gesture, inwardly warmed by the sentiment.
“Thanks, Cookie, I’m not really very hungry right now but the coffee is most welcome.” Chip picked up the large pot, mutely asking the admiral if he wanted to partake. At the other’s nod, Chip quickly poured two cups of the fragrant brew.
The boat’s senior Chef sniffed derisively - one of his best customers not hungry? Things must be serious if Morton couldn’t eat. “If there’s something else you’d like me to prepare for you, sir….”
He tailed off as Morton took a large gulp of the restorative coffee - and barely resisted spitting it straight back out! “What the hell is this?” The XO’s face was a study!
“It’s the caramel flavored specialty coffee you brought aboard for the captain, sir.” The bewildered Cook answered somewhat hesitantly. “I thought, seeing as how you said he liked it so much, that you must too.”
A tide of red shot up the blond’s fair skin as a guffaw broke from the admiral who instantly detected Morton’s retaliatory hand and the brunt of the prank was obviously their beleaguered captain who lived on java, the stronger the better. Morton, Nelson knew, had a surprisingly wicked sense of humor and his retribution knew no bounds. Now it remained to be seen what the Skipper had done to tick his XO off. That had to be a story worth hearing!
The admiral carefully placed his untasted cup on the table. “Cookie, I think Mr. Morton would prefer a pot of your usual diesel oil,” he teased, watching the Cook bristle. “It’s going to be a long night and I don’t think the ‘caramel flavored’ version is going to do the job of keeping us alert.”
The offended Cook swept up the pot and, glaring at the XO accusingly, retreated to his galley to brew a fresh pot of regular coffee, chuckling inwardly at the antics the two senior officers indulged in.
Back in the observation nose the admiral was grateful for the unintentional by-play acknowledging that it had been noted by the duty watch and had considerably lightened the atmosphere.
“I’m sure I’ll hear the story behind this in due course, Mr. Morton!” He was tempted to chortle at the endearing blush that swept across the exec’s cheeks making him look much younger than his thirty-five years.
“Aye, sir!” the harried XO returned and Nelson glimpsed the depth of the anguish reflected in his light blue eyes as the First Officer tried to regain his composure. Feeling infinitely sorry for what he was going to heap on the younger man, Harry came to a quick decision.
“Go visit Lee,
Chip. Go on. I know you need to. You’ve held things together all day here. Go see him.
Then come back, eat a sandwich and drink some ‘real’ coffee. I’ll take over for you here. Check on the HAZMAT team while you’re in
“I can’t…. Aye, sir!” Taking the opportunity afforded
him, Chip hopped up and lay aft to Seaview’s
Jamieson looked up swiftly as the corridor door opened, breath releasing in a huff as the XO entered. He should have known Morton wouldn’t be able to contain himself, wanting... needing... to verify the patients’ condition. The exec stopped first at the gurney holding Kowalski, the senior rating still unconscious but for no good reason that Doc could determine. His body was surrounded with cold packs in an attempt to bring down his temperature; his face was flushed, his breathing labored. Morton patted Kowalski on the shoulder before moving to the second table. Crane appeared to be sleeping but not entirely peacefully, lying on his back instead of on his side as usual, which looked unnatural to his best friend. A soft blanket was pulled up to mid chest and Chip could see the beads of sweat appear on Lee’s brow as the captain moved uneasily in his sleep. Chip looked around and encountered a hand pushing a sterile tray with a cold compress towards him. Chip flashed a rare smile in gratitude at the corpsman and laid the cool cloth across Lee’s forehead then wiped it gently down his cheeks. Crane murmured sleepily in appreciation and Chip soothed him with soft words, watching his friend settle back down on the pillow.
“He knows you’re here. He recognizes your voice.” Jamie joined the worried exec at his Skipper’s bedside. “That’s good even though this is a more natural sleep than Kowalski’s.”
“How can you tell?” Morton was amazed at the doctor’s skill in interpreting what looked to him like unsettled movements.
“Remember I’ve been observing him for several hours now. He hasn’t reacted to anything or anyone the way he has to your voice. He’s been agitated for the last while, not ready to wake up but not in a restful sleep. You being here, talking to him, appears to have reached his subconscious. Look how much easier he sleeps now.” Jamieson watched as Crane burrowed further into the pillow and his previously furrowed brow cleared. “It’s as if he knows that he can afford to let go now you’re here. You two are so attuned that he can sleep easier knowing you’re here. I can’t explain it any other way, Chip. You guys have been friends a long time. It’s a total trust issue, I guess.”
rested on the sleeping captain as he blinked sudden moisture from his eyes. Doc’s words caught him unguarded and he
strove to put in place the mask he habitually wore while on duty. Jamieson wasn’t fooled. He knew the affection that existed between
the command staff, Nelson looking on the captain and the exec as ‘his boys’,
having watched them through the Academy and progressed their individual careers
thereafter, and Crane and Morton having a relationship closer than many
brothers. Jamie too had become sucked
in, having had to treat the three worst patients on the sub on several
momentous occasions. Nelson was bad,
churlish and impatient; Morton was worse, openly defiant and allergic to so
many drugs he was practically impossible to medicate; while Crane, Jamie threw
his eyes to heaven, only comatose could he hope to keep the boat’s captain for
any length in
Right now, Jamie wished his worst patient was capable of giving him hell. He wanted Crane to wake up and begin sassing him about getting out. He hated having no answers for Chip or the admiral. Which reminded him…
“Chip, I’ve cleared the HAZMAT team. They completed the required decontamination routine and I’ve checked them out. There seem to be no adverse affects. However, just in case, I’ve confined them to quarters and Frank will check on them every two hours throughout the night.”
The XO appreciated the clear concise report. Nodding at the doctor’s thoroughness.
“Now I’ve got an autopsy to perform.” He saw the exec’s already pale and strained complexion blanch and rested a comforting hand on the young commander’s arm, knowing Chip was thinking it could have been Lee’s body about to be autopsied. Jamie shook his arm lightly to regain the XO’s attention. “Maybe this will give us the answers we need. Now, you look beat. Why don’t you get some food and rest and try to check back here every couple of hours and talk with Lee. Maybe you could send Pat and Reilly down to try the same with Ski.”
a hand over his tired face. “Sorry,
Jamie, but thinking about what you’re gonna do just cost me my appetite! And
I’ve got to meet with the admiral now...
he’s gonna bring me up to speed on what he found on the disk Lee
retrieved from the
Morton entered the control room and immediately sought out the admiral. Seeing him sequestered in the observation nose going over his files Chip signaled to Sharkey, conveying Doc’s request for Reilly and Patterson to spell each other at Kowalski’s side.
“Aye, sir, I’ll get right on it!” The COB fluffed importantly and Chip bit back a wry grin, maintaining his taut composure with difficulty. The shorter chief headed for the sonar and radar stations as Chip went directly to the nose.
“Close the crash doors and sit down, Chip.”
The admiral didn’t look up from his perusal of the papers in front of him, absently drawing on the cigarette held between his index and middle fingers and Chip noticed the overflowing ashtray and the acrid stench in the air not entirely scrubbed by the air revitalization system. He made a mental note to himself to have the duty crews boost the pre-air cleaner in the admiral’s cabin and lab!
“Have a sandwich and some coffee, Commander. We can’t afford for you to be at less than your peak just now.” Nelson pushed the plate of sandwiches towards his exec and poured him a cup of the regular brew Cookie had brought back.
Chip gratefully sipped the strong dark brew but the very sight of the sandwiches turned his stomach. The pale pink ham sandwiched between the white bread reminded him of the severe leg injury Lee had sustained late last year, the badly torn flesh pink between the white gristle and bone exposed by the wound. The chicken tikka looked blood red and bile rose in his throat. Knowing he would have to appease the admiral by taking at least one of the sandwiches and forcing it down he went for a seemingly innocuous egg salad triangle. Biting into the squishy mess reminded him of things he would rather forget and he reluctantly swallowed the near chewed-to-death mouthful before placing the remainder aside and downing the extra strength coffee Cookie was renowned for.
Nelson saw his exec
pick up the sandwich, play with it and replace it mostly uneaten. He could readily sympathize with Chip. Nelson had come to love Lee Crane like the
son he had never had and, by extension, his son of the heart’s ‘big brother’. Chip was a plank owner of Seaview, unlike Lee. Harry had wanted only the best for his boat
and had approached the very proper Lt. Cdr. Morton, number 2 in his year at
Nelson had watched the young Charles Philip Morton, followed his progress as he had Crane’s, had seen the sheer waste of talent and abhorred it. Upon realizing his dream and building Seaview, he had sought out the desk bound officer and offered him the posting of a lifetime. Unbeknownst to Nelson, Chip had, at the time, been giving serious thought to resigning his commission, finding his current post untenable. Morton wasn’t a political animal and the Pentagon position was torture for a Naval officer who felt the call of the Ocean.
The blond inhaled deeply, beginning to feel the caffeine rush from the coffee stimulate his tired nerve endings. He soon perceived the older man stiffening, the cigarette stilling in his hand as he read the print outs in front of him. Carefully watching the admiral’s body language and the way Nelson was avoiding eye contact with him, Chip guessed that whatever had been on the disc Lee had brought back was damning.
Never one to procrastinate, Morton jumped straight in. It had to be beyond bad for the usually confident admiral to display such aberrant behavior.
“The disc, sir. Did you get anything from it?”
“I managed to retrieve some of the notes the head scientist, Dr. Kenneth Aldemar, had accumulated on the project they were working on.” The admiral’s voice shook as he turned over the final page.
“The vitamin supplements?” Chip prodded; this was like pulling teeth.
Nelson slowly raised his head from his apparent study of the papers on the table and despairing pale blue eyes made contact with confused azure ones. Chip drew in a harsh breath at the expression in those pale orbs. Never had he seen such a beaten look in his superior’s eyes. Nelson appeared to have aged a decade during the past several minutes. Morton had initially been too worried about Crane to recognize that the Old Man’s strained appearance went beyond anguish for their stricken friend. This was closer to sheer terror.
“Vitamin supplements!” The words were bitten out between gritted teeth and Chip jumped in shock and alarm as the admiral slowly clenched his right hand into a first and brought it down suddenly, violently to hit the table resoundingly. “That was their cover. They did just enough work on it to keep Primoris happy and unsuspecting. And out of their hair! No, they were working on something far more deadly and, if it’s the last thing I do in my life, I will see to it that they do not succeed.” The vow was wrung from between bloodless lips as Nelson’s skin paled to a sickly grey.
worried now for the OOM., Chip reached for the mic and double-clicked to clear
the channel. “
Nelson shook his head gravely at the desperate concern on his exec’s... Lee’s exec’s... face. “Belay it, Chip, it’s too late already.”
Fumbling the mic back into its housing, Chip could feel his heart rate increase and the headache return behind his eyes. “Admiral, sir, you’re scaring me now! What is it? What were they working on? And why is it too late?”
“It’s too late
“Perfected WHAT?” the almost-at-his-wits-end XO all but shouted.
“The virus they’ve been working on for the past two years. Airborne but containable, active for a specified period of time then the molecules in the air break down the individual components and it disperses, totally safe.” The admiral’s tone was bleaker than Chip had ever heard and he saw Nelson’s hand shake as he lit yet another cigarette.
“Then the HAZMAT team…?”
“Completely safe. And the air and soil samples they brought will be absolutely useless. No, our only hope now is if Jamie finds anything untoward during the autopsy.”
Chip’s brain was whirling, on information overload, and he dropped his head into his hands to gather his scattered thoughts. “Then Lee… Kowalski….?”
“Will surely die if we can’t find a vaccine or antidote to the virus.”
“How do we do that when we don’t even know what this virus is? What do Aldemar’s notes say about it?”
“Nothing. The disc Lee retrieved doesn’t contain any of his research data. If I had to guess I’d say this disc was left behind by mistake when the science team took their leave.” Gaining his feet, Nelson began to pace, smoking furiously but Morton could see resolve returning to the haggard craggy features. “Chip, at first light I want the Master-at-Arms to take an armed party ashore and comb that Island for a sealed room or underground bunker. Something big enough for five people to hide out for a pre-determined length of time.”
“You think the
scientists are still on the
“I’m convinced of it, Chip!” The words exploded from the admiral and Morton shook his head slowly, his highly intelligent brain shunning the implications.
“But that would mean….”
“That our men
were used as guinea pigs. Lee, Kowalski
Eventually the admiral insisted Chip find time to grab some sleep. Chip had wanted to argue, especially when he found out that Nelson himself was planning on spending his night working in the lab, but Nelson eventually pulled rank and, admitting to himself that a few hours of sleep would do him the world of good, Chip headed for his cabin.
It was about 3.00 a.m. when he was woken by a tapping at his cabin door. Instantly awake he called out, “Come.”
Chip’s heart leapt when he saw his visitor, Steve Fraser, one of Jamie’s corpsmen. “What’s the problem, Steve?”
“I’m sorry to
have to wake you, Mr. Morton, but Doc asked if you could come down to
not to ask why he was needed, he’d find out soon enough. “Tell him I’ll be right there.” Even as he
watched Fraser disappear Chip was moving towards his small head. Three minutes for a quick shower to wake
himself up, three minutes to pull a fresh uniform out and on; Chip was in
“Chip! Get over here.”
Jamieson, still in the gear Chip knew he used for autopsies, was standing beside Lee, trying to stop the captain from rolling off the gurney. That Lee’s sleep was anything but peaceful was immediately obvious to Chip but his relief at seeing Lee alive almost brought a smile to his lips. Chip hurried to Jamieson’s side and gripped Lee’s shoulders. His friend was tossing and turning, sweat beading his face and chest. “What’s happening, Jamie?”
“I’m not really sure. I told you yesterday that his sleep was disturbed, well, it’s just getting worse. Steve called me from the back because they’re both so agitated. We’ve had to use restraints on Ski,” Jamieson nodded towards the bunk where an equally disturbed Kowalski was tossing and turning as much as the restraints would allow. “I thought you might be able to say something to calm him down.”
Chip picked up the damp cloth from a bowl of icy water on the table drawn up to the gurney. “I’ll do what I can, Jamie.”
Jamieson stood back and wiped a bead of moisture from his own brow. It had been hard work keeping Lee on the gurney and he was berating himself for not having moved Lee to a bunk earlier. Chip meanwhile used the cloth to wipe the beads of sweat from Lee’s face and then gripped his captain’s upper arm hard. “Lee, it’s Chip. You’re back on Seaview. Calm down, Lee.” A frown furrowed Chip’s brow, Lee seemed to be muttering something to himself but, even when he leaned in close, Chip couldn’t make out the words. From the corner of his eye Chip saw that Jamieson and Fraser were putting cooling packs alongside Kowalski’s body in an effort to get his temperature down. Then they moved to Lee and did the same for him. Chip continued his ministrations with the cool cloth.
Finished with placing the ice packs, Jamieson approached the gurney with a needle. He saw Chip watching him. “I’m going to take another blood sample, maybe I’ll find something I missed before.”
Chip nodded but as soon as Jamieson grabbed Lee’s arm and tried to straighten it, the captain found the strength to sit up and the mutterings Chip had been unable to decipher turned into yelling. Chip had to grab Lee and wrap his arms around his shoulders to keep him from falling to the floor. “Lee! Lee, calm down. You’re safe, you’re on Seaview. Jamie, he’s shaking, surely he can’t be cold!”
Jamieson had dropped his needle onto the table by the gurney and grabbed a hold of Lee’s legs, more interested in seeing that his patient didn’t fall from the gurney than in getting his blood sample. “Just hold onto him!” Jamieson spoke sharply. Chip was somewhat taken aback by the tone but realized that the doctor was no doubt frustrated by his inability to find if not a cure, at least a way to alleviate his patient’s suffering.
There was a brief silence, broken only by Lee’s breathing. Jamieson noticed though that Lee seemed to be calming down, whether it was because he was tiring out or because the illness was finally running its course. “He’s stopped shaking.”
“Lee?” Chip gave his friend a small shake. “Lee, you’re all right, you’re back on Seaview.”
“Chip?” It was just a whisper but Chip and Jamieson exchanged glances. Could the worst really be over?
“I’m right here, Lee. Are you with us now? How are you feeling?”
Lee looked around him and pulled himself upright, one hand wiped the sweat from his face; Chip and Jamieson noticed a tremor in the movement.
Jamieson moved forward and took Lee’s wrist to check his pulse. “Take your time, Lee. Just take some deep breaths.”
Lee did as suggested and took a couple of long shuddering breaths. “Oh my God, that was awful.” He buried his head in his hands for a few moments then looked up at Chip. “How long have I been here?”
“It’s 0330 right now, about sixteen hours since we picked you up from the island.”
Lee shook his
head. “Sixteen hours of the worst
nightmares I’ve ever had. It was liked
being trapped in…in hell.” Lee shuddered again, still obviously moved by his
experience. Chip patted his shoulder
consolingly. “Where’s the admiral?” Lee
continued, “Where are Ski and
Jamieson spoke before Chip had a chance to answer, “Chip, go and find the admiral for us and let him know what’s going on. And maybe you can arrange for Patterson or Riley to come back down here, maybe they can bring Ski around for us, he’s probably having the same experience.”
Chip nodded. “Back in a few minutes, Lee. Don’t give Jamie any trouble.” And he forced a smile, glad that Jamieson was
going to tell Lee about
Chip sent a
crewman to relay Jamieson’s request to Patterson then headed for the lab to
bring the admiral up to date. Nelson had
news of his own so they headed back for
“Lee, glad to see you looking better.” Nelson settled himself in Jamieson’s guest chair while Chip perched on the desk. “Where’s Will?”
With an effort Lee pushed thoughts of Tommy Carlton and the letter he’d be writing to the young man’s family from his mind. He managed a small smile for Nelson. “He said he was just finishing his…uh…work. He wants us to wait here for him, said he thought he’d found something important.”
“Can you tell us what happened on the island?”
putting the soup mug back on the desk. “Yes,
sir. We made our way to the station
where we expected to find Dr. Aldemar
and the other scientists. But it was
empty. Their boat was still at the dock
but there was no sign of them. We heard a
sound coming from one room of the station but it turned out to be just a radio
left on. We went through all the rooms
once, just giving them a cursory look because of course we expected to find
them. When it appeared they weren’t
around, we split up and, while Ski checked the grounds,
“Keep going, Lee, I want to hear this as well.”
Lee shrugged. “There’s not much more to tell. We tried to radio you but the radio wouldn’t
work. We started to head back to the
beach. It had taken us about an hour to
walk to the station... the island isn’t
exactly mountainous but that’s still quite a hill and although there was a
path, it’s pretty overgrown. Before we’d
even finished searching the buildings I was feeling a bit sick. I wasn’t going to mention it but Ski said he
didn’t feel well and then
Chip, still perched on the desk also reached out a hand and squeezed Lee’s arm. “Just remember, you’re on Seaview now. You’re safe.”
Chip quiet words seemed to help. Lee gathered himself and nodded. “Sorry.”
“No need for apologies, Lee.” Nelson added his support.
Taking a deep
breath, Lee continued. “I don’t know
what the others saw, I guess Ski at least can tell us, but that trip back to
the beach was…horrifying. I don’t know
how we managed to stay on the trail. I
know that through it all I had moments of terror, then moments of clarity when
I’d make sure they were both still following me. Maybe it was the same for them. Somehow we all made it to the beach but by
then I was so dizzy I could barely walk straight. Ski seemed to think something was chasing
him, I saw him dash ahead of us as we neared the beach but when Carlton and I
came out of the trees he was lying by the zodiac.
“Let me catch you up on what I learned from the disk. Primoris Labs, who were financing this outpost, thought Dr. Aldemar and his team were using island plants to make vitamin supplements but, instead, they were working on a virus. An airborne one... and they tested it on you.” Nelson shook his head in disgust. “I just sent you walking right into a trap.”
“You couldn’t have known that, Admiral. Primoris called us for help and we were able to provide it. None of us had reason to suspect something like this. But why did Tommy die? Did it affect him differently?”
“I can answer that, skipper.” Three pairs of eyes turned to the doctor. “Tommy Carlton had a congenital heart defect. It might never have affected him but the terror of what he saw after he was affected by that virus... it scared him to such an extent that it was too much for his weakened heart and it caused a heart attack. He was still alive when we got him back to the boat but, like you and Ski, his blood pressure was very high. Those nightmares seemed to just get worse and, in his case it was too much, his heart couldn’t take it.”
“But surely this defect would have shown up on his physicals?” Chip said.
no. Not unless we’d been specifically
looking for it but nothing made us suspect it.
It’s the kind of thing that usually shows symptoms by the time you’re
40, but poor
“I’ve been studying your blood samples, the samples the HAZMAT team brought back and the information on the disks and what I think Aldemar’s been doing is using island plants to develop this gas. At first I thought it was a virus but I think now that it’s some sort of gas. I’m sure it was somehow released when you entered the station. I don’t suppose you noticed any unusual odors?”
Lee shook his
head. “No, sir. And the three of us entered the station at
the same time.
Nelson nodded, “I’m not surprised, I’m sure it’s odorless and it’s designed to disable the people it’s used on... long enough to allow those who use it to gain whatever ends they desire.”
“Any idea what he was planning to do with it?”
Nelson shrugged, “No, but I can make guesses… sell it to the highest bidder; of course he could already have done that, use it himself for some reason we don’t know about. You can imagine the hysteria if you released a gas that could produce those kind of nightmares in a large population or even on Seaview.”
Lee shivered; he could well imagine a crew gone mad with fear from such an experience.
“It packs a double whammy doesn’t it?” Chip pointed out. “If a hysterical population isn’t bad enough, it’s followed by 16-18 hours of unconsciousness. In the hands of the wrong people....” Chip let his comment trail off; they could all imagine the devastating effects of Dr. Aldemar’s invention.
Lee banged his hand down on the desk. “Damn him, and he’s going to get away with it! Do we have any idea where they went?”
“I think they’re still on the island, Lee.” Nelson said. “They sent that message to Primoris Labs saying they needed urgent help. Of course they were vague about the nature of their problem and when asked for details their radio seemed to mysteriously stop working. That was why we were asked to get here with all speed. I’m sure they had cameras set up somewhere to watch the effect of their gas on whomever Primoris sent to help. My bet is they have either an underground bunker at the station or perhaps a cave.”
“I’d go with the cave idea, sir. There were some rugged cliffs on that side of the island.”
“One thing I don’t think Dr. Aldemar counted on was Seaview. I’m sure he thought Primoris would just send a supply ship. He couldn’t have known that Glenn Godfrey, the Vice President of Primoris, was an old friend of mine and that by coincidence we’d be in the area because of that underwater quake. Chip, make sure your team are well armed.”
“Aye, sir.” Chip looked at his watch, “Guess I should find the chief and start putting together my team, it’s already almost 0700 hours.”
“I’m going with you.” Lee stated.
“What?” “Absolutely not!” “No way, skipper.”
Lee glared at the three men, “I’m the one they tested this stuff on, and I should be the one to find them.”
“I understand how you feel, Lee, but we aren’t going to argue about this. I’m sure Jamie has a whole ship-load of medical reasons why you shouldn’t be going. You look like hell and we don’t even know if all that stuff is out of your system yet. Right now I’d be surprised if you could walk to the control room let alone lead a strike team.” Nelson’s voice softened when he saw the disappointed look in Lee’s eyes. “I’d rather have you in charge here, Lee. All right?” He was relieved to get a small nod of acquiescence.
stepped into the ensuing silence. “Good,
that’s settled. Chip, I’d recommend a
good breakfast before you go round up your team. Admiral, would you mind seeing that the
skipper makes it back to his cabin. He
promised me that if I released him from
Nelson’s blue eyes twinkled. “I think I can take care of that. Come on, Lee. The sooner you get some sleep, the sooner you’ll be back in the control room.”
Lee glared at
Jamieson but allowed Nelson to put an arm under his elbow as he steered his captain
In fact it was
early afternoon by the time Lee made it to the control room. He strode into the room, a mug of fresh
coffee in his hand. He’d just stopped by
“Welcome back, skipper.”
“Not yet, sir, but his last call was right on schedule. They should be reaching the other side of the island any time now.”
Lee nodded and sipped his coffee while running a practiced eye over each station in the control room. Satisfied that things were well in hand he said, “Keep the conn for a few more minutes, Lieutenant. I’ll be with the Admiral in the nose.”
A few more steps took Lee to Seaview’s glass nose where Admiral Nelson sat going over some notes. The admiral looked up as Lee approached and gave him a wide smile. “You’re looking much better. It’s amazing what a few hours sleep can do, isn’t it?”
Lee chuckled, “You’re right, a few hours of dreamless sleep was just what I needed.” More seriously he added, “Do you think Chip will find them in one of the caves or do you think they’ll be back in the station or might they even try to make a run for it on their boat?”
Nelson grunted, “I’ve been tossing around all sorts of ideas but without knowing his plans for the gas it’s hard to predict. I wish I knew if he already had a buyer or if he has his own plans for it. Either way, I think he was getting ready to make his move. Calling for a ship to be sent was just his chance to test it. He’s certainly ready for his next step, whatever it is.”
Any further discussion as to Dr. Aldemar’s intentions was cut off by a call from Lt. Madison. “Skipper, we’ve got something on sonar.”
As the zodiac approached the deserted beach, the five occupants tensed a little. They surveyed the shoreline and cliff face carefully. As soon as they landed and jumped from the boat onto the sand, Morton drew his sidearm, as did the rest of the crew. “Chief, secure the craft and get the gear together.”
“Aye sir.” Chief Sharkey turned to issue orders to the three crewmen that had accompanied them, Patterson, Fraser and Rodriguez. When he was done he turned to watch as Mr. Morton made contact with Seaview, when he saw a fleeting look of concern cross the XO’s face. It worried him.
Sharkey hurried over to the now outwardly calm officer. “Is everything alright ,Mr. Morton, sir?” he asked anxiously as Morton signed off.
Chip Morton tapped the walkie-talkie gently with his finger as his gaze was concentrated out to sea. Realizing that the COB had spoken to him, he turned to look at him. “Sorry, Chief, what did you say?”
“The Seaview, sir? Is everything alright, the Skipper and Kowalski, they’re still okay, aren’t they, sir?”
“Yes, Chief, they’re fine.” He paused as he recalled the recent conversation with his captain. “It seems Seaview has an unexpected visitor, an unmarked Goby-class sub has just taken up position three miles off her port bow.” Morton saw worry openly displayed in the chief’s expression.
“A Goby, sir? They’re little but they pack a real wallop! But they were all decommissioned years ago!” He gulped noisily as the XO nodded meaningfully. “Then who are they? Where’re they from? Are they threatening Seaview, sir?” Sharkey asked rapidly.
“I don’t have any answers, Chief. The sub seems content to just wait out there for the moment.” Chip sighed then focused himself. “The admiral and Captain Crane feel it more imperative than ever that we find Dr. Aldemar and his missing team.” Turning, he called the party together. “Men, we are going to start inspecting the caves at the base of those cliffs. I want thorough searches made, report anything you find. As you know, this is where we believe the missing scientists might be hiding and it’s our job to find them. Any questions?” He waited as the men confidently shook their heads. “Very well, let’s go and stay alert.” Each man picked up a backpack and prepared to follow the exec.
He led the way up the beach towards the caves. There were several natural fissures in the cliff structure that nature had fashioned into an extensive cave network and some of them were very large. They began a diligent search, leaving no part of any cavern unexplored
Chip looked toward Patterson as he heard his call. “Yes, Patterson, what is it?”
“I think I may have found something, sir.”
Followed by the rest of the search party, Morton headed toward the entrance Patterson stood looking into.
“What do you think you found, Pat?” he asked the patient man. Patterson was a quiet but extremely conscientious crewman. If he thought he saw something, it was certainly worth investigating.
“Over here, sir.” Patterson led the way into the cave and, not far from the entrance, pointed at the sand. “See how that bit’s all smooth, in a sort of semi-circle, Mr. Morton? That looks like the pattern of an opening and shutting door, sir.”
Chip went down on one knee and looked carefully at the unnaturally smooth surface. It did indeed look as though a heavy door had recently been used here.
“Well done, I think you’ve found the entrance. Now let’s try to open it.” He stood and directed his attention at the stone wall. Under careful inspection the outline of a doorway could be seen. A very clever piece of engineering had been executed; the door had been well camouflaged to hide its addition to the cave. Looking closer still, they discovered a small locking mechanism. “Look for a trip switch, men. Something to unlock it.”
After several minutes of searching they had found nothing. Standing back, the chief turned to Morton. “Mr. Morton, we’re wasting time. Why not blow it open with some of the explosives we brought, sir?”
Chip Morton hid his exasperation at the chief’s suggestion. He knew Sharkey approached problems with a lack of finesse that was reminiscent to a ‘bull-at-a-gate’ attitude. “Too dangerous, Chief. An explosion could trigger a rock fall; it would also announce our presence and I’d prefer to arrive as quietly as possible.”
“Yes, Rodriguez, what is it?” Chip turned to the small sturdy crewman.
“The door sir, I think, if you give me a few minutes, I could open it.”
“How?” Morton asked, intrigued.
“My Grandfather, sir, was a locksmith. He taught me much when I was young.” Estaban Rodriguez smiled confidently.
Chip studied the young electrician’s mate. He remembered interviewing the young sailor more than a year ago and how impressed he had been by him. His service on Seaview had fulfilled the promise he had shown then. “What do you need?” Morton asked decisively.
Having selected his tools, the crewman set to work. Within ten minutes there was a soft click and a thin shaft of light was defining the open doorway.
Morton touched the young man’s shoulder and said softly, “Well done, I must remember you the next time the captain loses his car keys.” Just as he hoped, his remark had effectively relieved the mounting tension and looking at the smirking faces of the rest of the crew he said firmly but quietly, “Remember men, the admiral wants these men alive, no gun play unless we have to.”
Taking the lead he slowly pulled open the heavy door and stepped inside; followed by Sharkey and the rest of the landing party.
As they edged carefully down the dimly lit tunnel, the sound of voices echoed towards them. Slowly the shore party turned a corner and crouched down with their back to the tunnel walls as they remained in the shadows before the bright light, that lit the wide-open cavern in front of them, threatened to spill over them. What they saw was an obviously fully equipped underground laboratory with all the research equipment that could be found in any other legitimate facility. There was also a bank of television screens that displayed the external and internal views of the surface laboratory, as well as the dock area. Four white-coated scientists were busily packing equipment into boxes and the arrival of the search party had so far gone unnoticed. Morton pointed to Sharkey and Fraser and wordlessly indicated that they should go to the right and circle behind them. The chief nodded and both men slipped silently in, using the shadows and standing equipment to hide their progress. Morton waited and, when he saw they were in position, he stood, as did Patterson and Rodriguez who took up positions either side of him.
When one of the four scientists turned and saw them, his startled alarm caused the other three men to stop and look at the armed intruders.
As they advanced towards the surprised men, the officer announced, “I am Lt. Commander Morton of the submarine Seaview, here to find Dr. Aldemar. Which one of you is Dr. Kenneth Aldemar?”
The men remained silent but were obviously nervous. “Well, Dr. Aldemar, where are you?” Morton demanded again.
“Right here, Commander” A deep voice sounded from behind them. “Please be good enough to drop your weapons.”
Morton and his men spun around to see a tall imposing man, armed with a powerful handgun. He was standing in an alcove by a row of computers; he surveyed them with obvious annoyance.
Morton, unfazed by the request, merely lifted an eyebrow and using his best command voice answered. “I think one armed man against five rather puts the control of the situation in our hands, Dr. Aldemar. I suggest that you drop your weapon, sir.”
Aldemar merely smiled and replied. “But you, Commander, will abide by a strict code of ethics while I have none.”
A loud retort echoed through the chamber and one man dropped to the ground.
“Is he still holding position, Kowalski?” the captain asked the sonar man again.
“Yes, sir, he’s just sitting out there. Right off our port bow.”
been released from
“Seems he’s in no hurry to declare his intentions, Lee.” Nelson said softly as he stood by his captain, while gazing towards the windows in the nose. “Still not answering our hails?”
“No, sir. He’s ignoring all our attempts to contact him,” Crane answered impatiently.
“Three hours is a long time to maintain a silent watch. He is obviously waiting for something…” Nelson mused thoughtfully.
“Maybe he’s waiting for Dr. Aldemar to contact him,” Crane observed.
Nelson and Crane had been immediately alarmed at the arrival of the other submarine. However the Goby had made no attempt to approach Seaview nor had her captain made any attempt to communicate with them. Nelson was prepared to speculate that Kenneth Aldemar had already sold his research and was preparing to complete the transaction, possibly departing with whoever manned the other vessel. Had he really sold out his country to the highest bidder?
“Any word from the search party?” Nelson asked cautiously.
Crane looked him anxiously in the eye and shook his head. “Not since they landed. They are overdue reporting in by forty two minutes.” Lee had been counting each minute restlessly. The fact that his exec and best friend was out there, where he felt he should be, was intensely painful to Lee’s sense of duty. His instinct also told him they were in trouble; Chip Morton’s time keeping was as reliable as the sun rising and setting. He would not have missed a check-in unless something had prevented him. Lee was on edge; he needed to be doing something to find them.
“Permission to take out a new search party, Admiral?” Lee said hurriedly.
Running a hand through his hair in agitation Nelson growled. “Every time we send a search party to that island, they go missing.”
“I could go out alone….”
“That’s out of the question… at this rate we’d have no crew left!” Nelson retorted, not missing the emphasis his captain had put on the request. He knew Lee was concerned for the men and especially for Morton.
“I’m sorry, Lee, but under the circumstances….”
Kowalski suddenly called from sonar. “Skipper, the sub’s moving… they…. TORPEDOS sir, bearing 230!”
“Hard right rudder, full down on the planes!” Crane ordered. “Prepare….”
As the giant submarine turned to starboard and started to dive it was rocked violently by a nearby explosion. Men fell to the deck and lights flickered as the shock wave tossed the boat about in the maelstrom.
“Kowalski, what happened?” Crane demanded loudly as the disturbance ebbed and he gained his feet again.
“There was a premature explosion that took out both fish… my guess is they made a mistake with the timers, sir.... A mistake, or they intentionally set them to detonate prematurely.”
“They’ve stopped, sir. Just like before … off our port bow.”
“Lee, we have
to find out…” Nelson started but was again interrupted, this time by
“Admiral, we’re being hailed, sir… by videophone. Dr Aldemar.”
Crane and Nelson looked at each other in surprise. “Put it through to the main viewing screen.” Nelson ordered as both men headed towards the nose.
Lee Crane switched on the large monitor and as the picture came into focus they saw the face of Dr. Kenneth Aldemar, renowned biochemist, research fellow and now… possible traitor.
“Admiral Nelson, how good to meet you at last. Your reputation has preceded you, of course. I have long admired your work but I had hoped to meet you under different circumstances.” The scientist’s smiling face looked openly sincere.
“Dr. Aldemar, I can’t say I’m flattered. You and your team have been most elusive for the last three days. Do we take it that you now wish to explain your traitorous actions?” Nelson demanded roughly.
“You really are a pompous little man, aren’t you, Nelson?” The scientist’s face contorted with rage. “How dare you to judge me? My brilliance is every bit a match for your own! I have made a discovery that will change the destiny of mankind and I looked forward to discussing it with you. But I can see now I was severely mistaken. It seems I alone have the power within my grasp to end warfare as we know it… I will be the harbinger of peace”
“What are you talking about, man? Your discovery, as you call it, can only bring more suffering to the world?” The disgust in the admiral’s voice was plain to hear.
“Don’t try to belittle my achievement, Admiral! I tell you, no more will we need to arm ourselves with destructive weapons… from now on I will be able to conquer the enemies of peace without the need to resort to armaments and death. I will merely render them helpless before me, with nothing more than a few harmless nightmares. Peace will be achieved in dreams! I can prevent the plague of war at last.”
“Harmless nightmares? Those nightmares killed one of my crew!” shouted Lee angrily.
Aldemar stared at the captain in total surprise as he assessed the information. “No, Captain.” He shook his head decisively. “That’s not possible. You are mistaken! If he died there must have had other physical causes for his death, my gas is not harmful. I have tested it myself several times; the effects are not permanent.” He declared firmly. “You are merely trying to deflect me from my true course. I know that our Government has sent you to prevent me from succeeding but I won’t allow it… do you hear me? I won’t allow it!”
“That’s laughable!” Lee replied sharply. “You sent a mayday… a cry for help. We responded and one of my crew is dead because of you! Your blasted gas literally scared him to death!”
Nelson caught his captain’s arm and ordered quietly. “Not now, Lee.”
Crane looked at him and was about to protest but something in the determined blue eyes made him stand down.
Nelson had listened to the mounting hysteria in Aldemar’s voice and saw the uncompromising gleam in his eyes. He believed what he said; he truly saw himself as the savior of mankind. What the admiral saw concerned him, this man was displaying every sign of teetering on the edge of madness.
Nelson turned back to the image on the screen. “I take it the waiting submarine that just fired on us is here to collect you and your team.”
“Ah, yes, the Morrison. She is a fine little bit of leverage, don’t you think? She has been refitted since the Navy scrapped her. I think you will find she is more than your match in a stand-off, Nelson.”
“So what is it you want ,Dr. Aldemar?” the admiral persisted.
“What I want, Admiral, is for you to withdraw and leave here immediately.” Aldemar retorted angrily.
“You can’t seriously expect us to do that?” Nelson announced softly. Leaning heavily on the table, he confronted the screen with frustration. “You must realize that we cannot permit you to leave here with your research. We will do everything we can to prevent you… even firing upon you if we have to. Think, man. Don’t be deceived by the promises of others. Are you fully aware that this course of action can only lead you to betraying your country and the rest of mankind? You may not have intended your gas to be lethal but the effects can be deadly to the vulnerable. We have the scientific proof, we’re not fools.”
Laughing madly, the scientist replied. “Betraying my country! Is that all your intellect is capable of understanding? I can save the world from destroying itself and you think I’m the one being deceived! I will regret the few inevitable casualties but they will die for the greater good. For your information, the people on that submarine are here to help! They are in full agreement with me and are prepared to protect our work.” He leaned forward, staring intently. “No, Admiral, I don’t take you for fools but only men who lack my vision.” Aldemar glanced off to his right and then back again with a smirk of confidence. “However, I do believe your renowned loyalty to your crew will sway your decision and make you agree to my demands.”
“What are you talking about, Doctor?”
Immediately the picture swung away and refocused on a caged area where the faces of the shore party could be clearly identified. As they looked carefully, Nelson and Lee could see a man down. Chip Morton was flat on the ground with corpsman Steve Fraser applying first aid to what appeared to be a chest wound while other worried crew looked on.
The picture turned back to Dr. Aldemar. “Well, Nelson, do I have your cooperation, or are you going to allow your Executive Officer to die and the rest of your men to share the same fate?” he asked smugly.
Nelson heard the sharp inhalation from the young man at his shoulder but neither officer moved a muscle, nor did they shift their attention from the screen. Crane’s fists were clenched at his sides and he was literally trembling with suppressed fury while Nelson himself was waging his own battle.
“I want to speak to the chief petty officer,” Nelson said, keeping his voice steady by the sheer power of his will and more than twenty years’ self-discipline. “Then I’ll let you know if we’ll be cooperating or not.”
Aldemar frowned, momentarily taken aback by Nelson’s response. His indecision was mirrored on his face as he glanced to his right once more.
“I know your reputation well, Admiral Nelson. I know your supreme reluctance to sacrifice the life of even a single man in your command. I believe I can safely allow you your communication…. Speak. They will hear you.”
“Sharkey!” Nelson called.
The career non-com rose to his feet, turning to look piercingly through the bars of the cage. “Admiral Nelson? That you, sir?”
“I can see you, Sharkey. He has you on the monitor. How’s Mr. Morton?”
“Fraser says it’s a bad wound but if he gets treatment in time it shouldn’t be fatal.”
“Anyone else injured?”
“No, sir, just Mr. Morton.”
“You take good care of them, Francis. Remember the time on the Nautilus--.”
“It will avail you nothing to attempt to convey any sort of concealed message to them.” Aldemar cut in harshly.
Nelson’s face flushed with the fury that threatened to overcome his control. “The only message I intend to give them is to not give up. We will get them back. And that message is for you, as well, Aldemar!”
“An optimist to the end, eh, Nelson. The only way you will see your men alive again is to abide by my directives.”
“We will not abandon our men, but I think we can work out something equitable to us both.” His statement garnered startled glances from the bridge crew.
As if unable to control himself any longer the captain stumbled forward, his hands raised in helpless fists.
“Stand down, Captain Crane!” Nelson ordered sharply. Lee flinched at the tone and looked at his friend as though in stunned disbelief. Below the level of the videophone camera Nelson was gesturing emphatically, motioning the younger man aside, out of Aldemar’s sight.
“You can’t let them go, Admiral!” he cried vehemently. “I know first hand what that gas of his can do! We can take that little pup-sub without a raising a sweat! Just give me the okay and we’ll blow her out of the water!”
“I told you to stand down, Captain!” Nelson countered, his tone cutting, and had Crane not interpreted the continued gestures correctly he would have reacted genuinely, instead of with calculated defiance.
“I refuse. This is a matter of national security!” The control room crew was openly staring now.
“Master at Arms!” Nelson roared, though his face was not as flushed as it would normally have been had he been truly infuriated. “Remove Captain Crane from the control room! Mr. O’Brien, take the conn!”
Lee allowed the stunned Master at Arms to escort him from the control room, all the while keeping up a litany of objections and protests against what he suspected Nelson was planning. Once in the passageway beyond the control room Crane shook off Warrant Officer Gregson’s grip and lunged into an easy jog toward the rear of the Seaview.
“Captain, sir!” Gregson called, hurrying after him.
“Come on, Greg. You can help me get ready!”
“Ready? For what, Skipper? The admiral’s orders….”
“Weren’t orders at all, Billy, and you know that. He just wanted me out of Aldemar’s view. It’s up to us take that sub out of the equation, while the admiral has him distracted. If we can pull this off we still stand a chance of coming out on top in spite of everything!”
“Aye, Captain, but.... It’s not my place to question, sir, but the Admiral....”
“Unless I’m totally out of my tree, the Admiral will be along within five minutes. If I’m not suited up and ready to leave the Seaview when he joins us, he’s going to be hell on wheels. You want to face that, Warrant Officer?”
“Uh... no, Skipper.”
Still somewhat befuddled, Gregson followed at the captain’s heels entering the missile room just behind him. The men on duty there looked up, not expecting their captain to appear in light of the situation, and Lee glanced at each man speculatively.
“Barrett, Torrence, get your gear on. We’re gonna get wet.”
“Aye, aye, Captain,” both men replied nearly in unison and their instant response brought a slight smile to Crane’s mouth.
“Me too, Skipper,” came a voice from the hatch behind Gregson and Lee turned, his smile widening.
“I should have expected you, Ski,” he greeted the sonar expert, knowing that the friendship between Kowalski and Patterson was as real as his own with Chip Morton. “How’d you get out of the control room?”
“Just threw a fit. That’s all. The Admiral said that if I was gonna act like you I could just as well join you....” Kowalski grinned. “He made it sound like you were in the brig, sir.”
“The rest of the watch?”
“They caught on pretty fast. We’ve all been expecting something from you and Admiral Nelson since you were holed up in the observation nose for so long before....”
Crane nodded, pleased with his crew. “It’s going to be a long swim. You sure you’re up to this?”
“Are you, Captain?” Kowalski shot back.
Lee nodded soberly then turned, his gaze including the other two men he had selected. “Let’s get ready. I’ll explain the plan to you as we change.”
“Blow ballast tanks,” Nelson ordered softly. He did not supervise the obedience to his command; Bobby O’Brien could do that. Instead his gaze was locked on the panel that displayed the indicator lights for the hatches throughout the boat. There. He sighed with relief as the panel briefly indicated the opening of the missile room escape hatch, then the light went out, and he knew they were away. Leaving the Seaview while it was in motion, slowly surfacing, was dangerous under the best of conditions but to do so while making every effort to remain undetected by the enemy sub would be difficult in the extreme.
“They’ve cleared the hull, Admiral,” the relief sonar operator announced. “If I didn’t know they were out there our ballast would conceal them entirely.”
Nelson merely nodded. The duty watch was uncommonly silent.
“Periscope depth!” someone called out but Nelson wasn’t paying attention.
The crew was functioning as they always did, skillfully and without strict direction. The Seaview conning tower broke the surface and was announced. The deck crew scrambled up the ladder into the sail, and the light panel displayed the opening of the sail hatch then the deck hatch forward. Within moments the extra zodiac would be inflated and tied up alongside the Seaview. He drew himself up at the sound of leather soles on the decking behind him and turned.
“Will,” he said quietly, identifying the CMO without turning. “You ready?”
“Anytime you are, Admiral. Who else is coming?”
“Aldemar’s allowing us two seamen to row the zodiac. They’re to stay on the beach with the boat then take the doctor and his associates to their sub. The captain of the Morrison has been ordered to keep us under surveillance until they’re safely aboard, with their missiles trained on both the island and the Seaview. I think you can guess what else is included in his orders.”
Jamieson swallowed sharply. “How can we be sure he won’t fire as soon as Aldemar’s aboard?”
The CMO glanced around, surprised not to see the captain in evidence. “Where is the Skipper? I thought he’d be here heading things up....” Jamieson fell silent, awareness dawning. “What’s he doing?”
“We had made a couple of contingency plans. Then Aldemar called and his intentions all came clear. He thinks he has tied our hands... that I’d do anything at all to save the lives of our men.” He hesitated, seeing awareness flicker through Jamieson’s eyes. “Go on, say it. He doesn’t know me very well.”
“Actually I was thinking just the opposite, that he knows you all too well. But surely if he knows you, he must be aware of our captain’s reputation as well....”
“He thinks I had Lee confined to the Brig for defying me.
The CMO whistled airily and grinned. “I would certainly have liked to have seen that exchange.”
“Well, don’t expect us to do a replay for you, Will. Let’s go.”
“What’s he doing? What can he possibly do?”
“A little retribution. Lee was one of the midshipmen included in an orientation cruise aboard a Goby-class submarine. After that tour he’s more familiar with that class of sub than any other man aboard Seaview.”
“Except for you, Admiral. I seem to remember that the Goby was one of the subs you helped design.”
“Yes, one of my early efforts. But you know Lee. He spent every minute of his free time of that cruise talking to the crew, learning the Goby’s good points and bad ones. Just a while ago he was telling me about aspects I had completely forgotten about... and about the Morrison, in particular. She’s one of the few Goby-class to have been fitted with a sump room.”
“And you had forgotten that?” Jamieson asked skeptically.
“Well,” Nelson conceded, smiling distantly, “it had temporarily slipped my mind.”
“And Captain Crane is going to board the enemy sub through the sump room?”
“If anyone can, he’ll manage it.”
“How many men aboard the Morrison?”
“As few as twenty, as many as six times that.”
“You mentioned retribution. What’s the plan?”
“He’s going to give them a taste of their own medicine.”
“What?” Jamieson choked out. “Not Aldemar’s gas!”
“Not quite,” the admiral soothed. “Once we’d gotten the blood samples broken down and identified the components of the drug it was simple enough to alter it just enough to change the effects.”
Jamieson stared at him blankly. “Easy for you.... It was one of the most complex substances I’ve ever encountered. How can you be sure of how it will affect people now? And what about our own dive team?”
“They took pony air bottles with them.”
“Which may or may not protect them. Are they aware of the possible repercussions?”
“Lee knows. He informed the others before they left. They all decided the repercussions of allowing Aldemar to get away were worse than any threat the gas might offer them.”
“I won’t ask for the details. We don’t have time. But... I really thought Lee would insist on going after Chip....”
“If he’d had his druthers I’m sure he would have but Aldemar has us over a barrel as far as the shore party is concerned. It’s all going to come down to Lee’s success or failure....”
“Admiral...? What haven’t you said?”
Nelson raised his hand to his head, rubbing his fingertips across his forehead. “I’m to accompany Aldemar to the Morrison.”
“If Lee succeeds there won’t be a problem. If he doesn’t.... Well, that presents a whole new set of difficulties.”
“I don’t like it.”
“I don’t want to think about the look on his face when he sees me aboard with Aldemar.”
“Lee doesn’t know?”
“No. Aldemar made his demands after I’d sent him from the control room. Lee’s operating under the assumption that we’ll all be safe... that no matter what he feels he and his team have to do... it won’t affect the rest of us.”
The tough bottom of the zodiac scraped against the sand beside the first zodiac from the Seaview and the two seamen stepped out into the water, dragging the raft further onto the beach. Nelson looked up, motioning Jamieson to the shore as the man who had appeared on the videophone, Kenneth Aldemar, led four other men from the jungle. Aldemar himself carried an aluminum briefcase, while his fellows each carried molded resin shipping cubes. Aldemar saw the admiral staring at the crates and he smiled broadly.
“Yes, Admiral, we have an adequate supply to see our work begun.”
Nelson did not reply but watched carefully as the other four scientists loaded the boxes into the second zodiac and strapped them down before climbing in themselves.
“I want my men,” Nelson said at last.
“You may have them. They are of no more use to me. Your presence will be quite enough. I take it this is your medical officer?” Nelson nodded. “Ah, I regret there is no wide path to lead you to the cave where your seamen are incarcerated, doctor, but if you hurry you may still be in time to save the life of Commander Morton.”
With a last quick look at Nelson, Will Jamieson trotted away into the dense jungle following the path as long as it led toward the not far distant cliffs.
“He’d better be alive, Aldemar,” the admiral snarled bitterly. “They’d all better be. It’s the only reason I’m here, you know.”
“Sacrificing so much for the safety of so few men, Admiral Nelson. And what of your captain?”
“He didn’t agree. He’s been removed from the conn of the Seaview.”
Aldemar pretended shock. “Then who stands command of your precious submarine, Admiral?”
“Lt. Bobby O’Brien.... He’s an able officer.”
“And I’m sure he follows orders much better than your Captain Crane. It’s just as well that you have removed him from command. You had him confined to his quarters, I assume?”
“The kind of insubordination you witnessed pulls brig time, Aldemar. But enough of this chatter. Let’s get underway.”
“So eager, Admiral? Should I be pleased or alarmed?”
“Just know that if you’re pulling a double cross... Mr. O’Brien has orders of his own. There will be no way you or your submarine will leave these islands in one piece.”
Aldemar smiled widely and casually stepped aboard the raft, seating himself next to Nelson. “So, all of your teeth have not yet been pulled, Nelson. I’m glad. I’ve discovered that I enjoy this intrigue more than I expected and had you proven less an adversary I would have been sorely disappointed.”
Nelson merely grumbled; his standard noncommittal response to insignificant people then braced himself as the seamen pushed the raft away from the beach and paddled after the other zodiac.
It had taken longer, and more of his barely regained stamina than he had expected, to swim the half-mile from the Seaview to the Morrison, Crane thought as he eased into the narrow confines of the Goby-class sump. By now the admiral would be ashore and Chip would soon be receiving the medical care he desperately needed. But he needed to hurry. He was behind schedule already and so much depended on his accomplishing his mission in a timely manner.
He eased his head warily out of the water and peered around the red-lighted chamber, locating the single guard leaning casually against the bulkhead, his arms crossed over his chest, his head drooping in boredom. With utmost caution the captain pulled his arm up from his side, his hand filled with the bulky but extremely effective tranquilizer gun. He took careful aim and fired then was up and out of the sump before the guard had crumpled to the deck. He turned, reaching into the water to assist Barrett from the sump, who in turn aided Kowalski and Torrence. Crane pulled off his fins and the face mask and spat out the regulator but did not remove the oxygen tank. They would need the oxygen in their main tanks as well as the pony tanks before this was over, he estimated. The others followed suit.
“You know what to do, Torrey?”
“Aye, sir. Barrett and me make our way to the torpedo room.” He pulled a slender canister from its clip on the weight belt. “This’ll take out the duty watch there and we move in and hold the fort against being retaken by the bad guys.”
Crane nodded. “If they have scuba tanks stored in there use them. Just make sure you’re breathing untainted air. Believe me, you don’t want to experience anything like what Ski and I did... even if the admiral has toned it down.” Kowalski nodded emphatically. “And stay at your post until you’re relieved,” he ordered needlessly.
“Aye, Skipper, but please just make sure it’s you doin’ the relievin’, not one of them,” the other torpedoman put in emphatically.
“I’ll do my best, Barrett.”
“I’m sure of that, Captain.”
“On your way, then.” He watched them exit the sump room then turned toward Kowalski. “And you, Ski? You clear on what you’re to do?”
The sonar specialist patted a second canister on his belt. “The circuitry room, sir. We want the Morrison dead in the water, unable to make way and equally unable to fire any of her missiles... even manually.”
“Make sure you keep your oxygen flowing. ”
“You know it, sir! I’ve had more than enough of those nightmares! You too, Skipper. You’ve got to make sure that crumby scientist isn’t allowed to make good on his threats.”
“He won’t, Ski. One way or another....”
The other man nodded his understanding but his eyes glowed with pride, nonetheless. “You want me to meet you in the control room, Captain?”
Crane hesitated on the verge of rejecting Kowalski’s offer but the two of them were survivors of Aldemar’s gas and, as much as he needed to confront the scientist, he realized the sonarman’s need was just as great.
“That might be a good idea, Ski. And on your way... keep an eye out for a compartment they might have the scuba tanks stored in... just in case, you know.”
Kowalski grinned broadly. “Yeah, sir. These pony tanks are great, but they don’t last long. I’ll find their storage locker for sure.”
Crane smiled fondly and nodded. He could always count on Kowalski.
The two men left the sump room together but they parted company in the empty corridor beyond. Lee made his way to the air revitalization room easily, slipping skillfully into hiding when the rare crewman appeared. He reached the room so essential to the survival of any submarine and slipped inside the empty compartment just as he felt the subtle difference in the engines as the submarine surfaced. It hung there for a few minutes only before the ballast tanks were flooded once more and it settled back into the sea, the sound of the engines and a faint shudder telling him that they were underway.
He glanced down at the dive watch on his wrist. He had told the others ten minutes. They would be on oxygen now, whether they had accomplished their goal yet or not. It was time. It had to be now.
He slipped the regulator back into his mouth and drew in the uncontaminated air gratefully as he adjusted dials and slipped his own slim canister into the air purification duct, twisting the top to activate distribution. He shuddered. He could not help it. He knew the gas was odorless and invisible, and the memory of the nightmares was too near, too horrifying to easily dismiss. Carefully breathing only through the regulator he closed the duct and turned, checking the scuba tank air gauge. His main tank air would be dangerously close to exhausted by the time he could get to the control room, he knew without a doubt. He could use the pony bottle without a thought a hundred feet below the surface but now, with the gas pumping through the submarine.... He shuddered. He had managed to hold out longer than Ski or Tommy under the full influence of Aldemar’s drug, he told himself. He could do it again. If he had to.
He could feel the sweat running down his spine beneath the wetsuit as he padded stealthily along the passageway. The boat was silent. No, not silent, definitely not silent, but not normal either. There was a scream, a crash somewhere else, and his hand found its way to the holster belted at his hip. He opened the waterproof pouch and eased the automatic out, holding it ready. There was sweat on his palm as well, he noted. He found himself starting at shadows, wondering when the horrors he had experienced before would manifest themselves again. And yet he moved ahead. This time he knew what to expect. He could fight against it. That’s what the admiral had assured him. That this time, knowing what was happening, he could fight it....
The Morrison shuddered and her lights flickered momentarily before the emergency lighting took over. There were shouts coming from the control room just ahead of him now and he fought to get control of his own unreasonable fears. Fear of being afraid was not going to defeat him, he swore. He hesitated in the hatchway, listening. There was incipient panic building in the control room. He could feel it as intensely as if the temperature was actually rising in the sub. He identified Aldemar’s voice raised with the others and one with a little more command to his tone, perhaps the sub’s captain. They were arguing. Then there was another voice. One he knew well. Nelson!
With a sense of urgency nearly overwhelming him Lee stepped through the rear hatch into the mass confusion of what should have been a well organized area. His dark hazel eyes scanned the compartment swiftly, locating the man he sought with the ease of affection as well as the admiral’s distinctive red hair. There were seven men in the control room besides Nelson and Aldemar, none of them in uniform; two were already unconscious, sprawled on the floor, another pair were huddled together in a corner, sobbing on each other’s shoulders. The radioman was in the midst of smashing the radio console with bloodied fists, shouting... no, screaming that it was afire. The man at the tactical console seemed to be catatonic, merely staring at the screens before him as though frozen in place. The sub captain stood at the periscope, repeatedly squawking the mic, yelling nearly incoherent commands at the men on watch in the torpedo room to launch their weapons at the Seaview.
Lee spit out the regulator from the exhausted air tank and groped at the harness buckle. He shrugged out of the tank gear, letting it clatter to the floor, confident that no one in the control room would hear over the racket already being made inside. He pulled the bright yellow pony bottle free from its bracket next to the main tank and straightened. To his credit there was no hesitation despite the panic that pounded in his own heart. He could feel the affects of the gas, knew them, recognized them for what they were and yet....
“Admiral!” he called, attracting the older man’s attention.
Nelson whirled to face him, his face florid, his eyes wide as he stared into his own world of terror. He stared at Crane for the space of several heartbeats, his expression betraying his doubt, the depth of his need to believe that his captain stood not ten paces from him.
“Lee....” he choked out, stumbling forward in spite of Aldemar’s grip on his arm. “Son!”
There was more he would have said, his emotions naked in the pale blue eyes, but Lee knew he could not wait to hear it, that as much as he wanted to know he could not delay or they would both be lost. Nelson had begun to feel the affects of the gas but he knew the depth of the admiral’s will power and he was confident that it would be enough to see him through this. Crane walked swiftly into the control room, ignoring the hallucinations that were beginning to tease the edges of his vision. He thrust the pony bottle into Nelson’s hands and his voice had never contained a more commanding tone than it did at that moment.
“Use this, Admiral. That’s an order.”
Nelson raised the tank, taking the regulator between his teeth, sucking the clean air into his lungs deeply. There was a flicker of something in his eyes, acknowledgment, gratitude and yet the fear was very real, very intense. “Lee....” he said around the regulator. “The drug....”
“It’s okay, Admiral. We have the boat,” Crane answered. He knew his voice was trembling but he fought it stubbornly, then shifted slightly to face the scientist responsible. “Dr. Aldemar,” he greeted him. “Where is the rest of your team?”
“They took the samples to the lab, Captain Crane. I suppose I should not be so surprised to see you here but I am.”
“And I’m equally surprised that the gas isn’t affecting you more. Have you really a resistance to it? Or is there an immunization that you’ve developed?” A meager smile touched the man’s thin lips. He was afraid but not as afraid as he should have been. “I thought so. Too bad you didn’t provide some of it to the rest of your people. I don’t think they’ll be very happy with you when they come out of this and find themselves in Seaview’s brig.”
“You’ll never get us there, Captain. At this moment I’m the most lucid man aboard the Morrison. All I have to do is wait a few more minutes and I’ll be able to just reach out and take the gun out of your hand without a struggle.”
“I don’t think so, Doctor,” Nelson said then. His voice was still shaky but the oxygen had given him the advantage he needed to beat back the drug’s influence. He spoke then put the regulator back into his mouth. Removing it only to speak. “Your career as a bio-terrorist is over, Aldemar.”
“Admiral, how’s Chip?” Lee asked then, his concern for his friend surfacing with the increasing affects of the gas.
Nelson tapped his ear. “Will beeped me a few minutes ago. He used the signal we arranged that he was alive and they were on their way back to Seaview.”
Lee nodded but the movement seemed to increase the bleariness of his vision. He raised his free hand to swipe at his eyes and his fingers tightened on the pistol in his right hand. It was happening again. The terror, the waking nightmare; and it was all Aldemar’s fault.
He raised the pistol, leveling it steadily at the scientist.
“I should pull the trigger on this gun, Doctor. I should rid the world of a sick, twisted mind like yours.”
“Give me a good reason not to. I’ve experienced what you have planned for the world, remember. You’re a terrorist, plain and simple. I could shoot you and no one would even care....” He moved forward holding the pistol threateningly and wiped once more at his eyes.
“Lee, don’t do this,” Nelson cautioned. “He’s not worth it.”
“He’s worse than any terrorist I’ve ever heard of ,because he doesn’t care who it affects, and he doesn’t care what it does to them before they die! And they can die, Doctor... just like Tommy died! It will affect the old and the sick and the very young... not just those with congenital defects!”
Lee staggered closer. His vision was distorted now. He could see the thousands, even millions of people harmed by Aldemar’s gas. The dead and dying fallen in the streets of every city in the world, the violence the drug would engender in some, the sheer terror in others leading to mayhem and disaster.
He could hear Nelson’s voice calling to him but now all he could see was Aldemar’s face before him, the terror that filled the scientist’s eyes not because of the gas’s influence on himself but its affect on the man who clutched him one-handed by the throat.
The gas! Lee threw himself backwards, allowing Nelson to tear the pistol from his grasp. His anger and his sense of victimization had combined with the gas to nearly turn him into a madman. He knew Nelson had his arm around his shoulders, supporting him, and then it seemed less than a moment later there was a scuba regulator at his lips. He shook his head vehemently.
“No, Harry! You keep it....”
“It’s all right, Skipper. I brought an extra tank. I figured you might want it rather than the pony bottle....”
Lee blinked his bleary eyes, gazing up into Kowalski’s concerned face. He was on the deck, the sonar technician kneeling at his side. He did not remember falling. He allowed the mouthpiece to be inserted between his teeth and he took a deep inhalation, closing his eyes in concentrated effort to clear his mind.
“You okay, Skipper?”
“I will be, Ski.” His vision was still distorted but he ignored the sensations of threat and looked beyond Kowalski to the admiral, standing just behind the rating. “Admiral? We need to scrub the boat... It’s only going to get worse for anyone who isn’t protected... and that pony tank isn’t going to last for long.
Nelson nodded, almost surprised, and Crane realized that the admiral was not functioning at his normal extraordinary level.
Lee put out his hand, allowing Kowalski to help him back to his feet. He pulled on the tank straps for convenience and reached for the portable radio clipped to his belt. “Come in Seaview, this is Crane.”
“Captain! You’re all right!” Bobby O’Brien’s youthful voice sounded from the small box.
“As far as I know, we all are. But we could use some help over here. We’re dead in the water and the current crew is headed for the brig.” He hesitated, swallowing with difficulty, identifying the surge of fear as drug-induced but afraid, nonetheless. “Uh, Bobby... all our instruments are disabled. We are still on the surface, aren’t we?”
“You are, Skipper. And a prize crew will be there inside five minutes.”
“We’ll get the welcome mat laid out. And... Bobby...? Can you give me a status report on Mr. Morton’s condition?”
“He’s in surgery now, Captain, but Doc said he thought his odds were good. Fraser did a really top notch job patching him up.”
Lee sighed wearily. At least one of his concerns was laid to rest. “Thanks, Lieutenant. Crane out.”
Standing two feet away Harriman Nelson watched his captain with nearly the same intensity as he watched his prisoner. He had only experienced a few minutes exposure to the modified gas and he had been expecting its affects. Nelson’s appreciation of what these two men from the Seaview had experienced on the island was stunning. And for Lee to deprive himself of the breathing apparatus for his benefit was further proof of the younger man’s courage and devotion. As he watched, Crane removed the regulator once more.
“Ski, can you scramble up the escape trunk and open that hatch by hand then wait for the prize crew? We’ll be fine here.... These fellows down here aren’t going to be giving anyone any trouble.” His gaze shifted toward Aldemar as he replaced the regulator for several slow breaths. “Except maybe our doctor, here.”
“I’ll get it, sir,” Kowalski answered and hurried away, climbing the ladder with practiced ease.
Nelson’s blue gaze met the captain’s. “You all right, Lee?”
“As well as can be expected, Admiral. You?”
“We’ve done a good thing here. I only got a taste of what you did, but it’s nothing I’d want anyone else to experience.”
“I have to admit I’m a little disappointed,” Crane said softly, his attention returning to Aldemar. “I was really hoping he’d get to experience his creation himself... first hand. He has an antidote, you know.”
“I thought as much. But you’re mistaken, Lee... I think he experienced quite intimately... if not directly....”
“I’m not following you.”
“He was convinced you were going to kill him. In fact, so was I.”
Lee looked into Aldemar’s face. There was a difference there now, he saw; the self-assurance was diminished, the manic obsession nearly erased. “Me too,” he admitted seriously. “But maybe the worst nightmare for him still lies ahead... the rest of his life locked away from everything.... Seems like a nightmare to me.”
The captain made his way aft from the control room of the Seaview wearily. It had been nearly an hour since his return from the Morrison, an hour of arranging for a prize crew to be placed aboard the Goby-class sub, of ensuring that the rogue crew was locked up in the Morrison’s brig and that Aldemar and his team were safely incarcerated in the brig aboard Seaview, under the watchful eyes of a security force. He had stood by while Nelson contacted Pacific Command to notify them of the incidents leading up to the recovery of the Morrison. He had remained, stonily silent, as Nelson called the Primoris Lab’s President. The man had not taken the news well, but had graciously offered to make monetary reparations to those men affected by Aldemar’s gas. Lee had shaken his head in rejection, knowing that Kowalski would feel the same then, thinking better of it, he had silently mouthed Tommy Carlton. The young storekeeper’s family would be well cared for now and it might make the writing of the letter to them a bit easier.
He was tired; beyond tired. His body yearned for little more than a few undisturbed hours in his bunk but he knew his mind would be unable to rest until he had confirmed his friend’s condition for himself.
He pushed open
the door into
“He’s in there, Captain,” the doctor said, rising and gesturing toward the curtained area that Crane was so very familiar with himself. “Since it appeared you weren’t going to need the private room yourself, I figured he might as well enjoy all the amenities we have to offer.”
“Thanks, Jamie. What’s his condition?”
“He’ll do. I may insist on your including a corpsman as a regular member of every shore party from now on... at least the ones you or Mr. Morton are involved in. If it hadn’t been for Steve and his care... it might have turned out differently.”
Crane sighed his exhaustion - and his relief. “Can I see him?”
“Sure, Skipper. Then you’d better let me take a look at you. I’ve seen you look considerably better.”
“I’m heading for my rack as soon as I’ve seen Chip.”
“Unless some other emergency comes up. Yes, I know you, Captain. But with Morton down, and Bobby O’Brien aboard the prize sub we’ve got to keep you well.”
Lee smiled. “I’m not arguing this time, Jamie. Five minutes to make sure Chip’s still among the living and I’m heading to my quarters.”
“I’ll hold you to that, Captain.”
Lee nodded and
pulled aside the curtain to the more private area of the
“Chip, ol’ buddy,” he began, but his voice broke and whether it was exhaustion or emotion he could not have said.
“Lee... that you...? Makin’ all the noise?”
He straightened, his smile returning as Chip Morton’s lids swam upward and the sapphire-blue eyes glittered at him. He moved his hand, lifting his friend’s arm and gripping the other man’s forearm, feeling Morton’s weakened grip on his own wrist.
“You had me scared, Chip. Thought you were better at dodging than that.”
Morton smiled distantly, his eyes closing. “We can argue that later.”
“That we can do. I’m just glad you’re still around to argue with.”
“Umm-hmm,” Morton mumbled and Lee knew he had heard everything from him that he was going to hear for a while.
He started to remove his hand from Chip’s, but the sleeping man’s fingers tightened on his own wrist. He stood without moving for a long while then at last he pulled up the single straight-backed chair next to the bed and sat down, sighing raggedly as his overworked muscles screamed in protest. At last he rested his head against the narrow mattress next to their linked hands. He would go to his cabin in a few minutes. Right now it was good enough just to sit here... knowing Chip was going to be all right, that the crew of the Seaview was safe, and confident that Kenneth Aldemar’s madness was safely ended. His eyes closed at last and his breathing deepened.
Will Jamieson pulled aside the curtain when the captain did not reappear. He had not expected to find him asleep, but he knew it shouldn’t have surprised him. He opted to leave him undisturbed, to get whatever sleep he could. Tomorrow would be another day.