So, you want to be an XO…….


R. L. Keller


SNAP!!! Chip heard the sound from half way across the Control Room. He wasn’t the only one. Every crewman in his line of sight jerked, and Chief Sharkey hesitantly came over from his position by the aft hatch. Chip kept his eyes on the computer printout he was studying, but asked quietly "how many was that, Chief?"

"Three by my count, Sir," the Chief answered, "but I haven’t been here the whole time."

"You missed at least one."

"Can’t you do anything about it, Sir? I mean, the men are really on edge…"

"I know what I’d like to do about it," the normally controlled XO muttered under his breath, but sighed heavily and gave the Chief a small smile. "I’ll work on it."

"Appreciate it, Sir," and the Chief went back to where he had been standing.

Printout in hand, Chip turned and walked forward toward the chart table, watching his Captain and friend, Lee Crane, toss the pencil he’d just broken in half in the trash bin and grab another from the small storage space under the table. Chip kept his expression bland as he laid the printout down. "We may have a problem, Lee."

"Now what? Don’t tell me the computer’s gone haywire." His voice was low but very, very, angry.

"No," and Chip very carefully kept his face and voice calm. "We’re 4 hours into a 5-day cruise. I only stowed one box of pencils. At the rate you’re going through them, we’ll be out by dinner tonight."

Chip watched a large range of emotions cross Lee’s face, from outrage down through anger, frustration, humor, and finally settle on embarrassment. "That bad, huh?"

"Afraid so."

"I swear, if Stark makes one more crack about boat efficiency, I’ll…" and was interrupted as Chip quickly snatched the new pencil out of his rapidly closing fist. Lee had the good graces to look slightly chagrinned, and Chip’s expression softened.

"There’s nothing wrong with the efficiency rating of this boat or her crew. You know it, I know it, the OOM knows it. As for what Stark knows…"

Smiling, Lee gently took back the pencil. "Been there, done that," and both officers chuckled.

"Look, Lee. I know you’ve been wired ever since the Admiral told us last night Stark was coming. Which means, you probably got very little sleep last night. Am I close?"

"Too close. Almost no sleep at all," Lee answered sheepishly. "By the time I made sure all the reports and logs were caught up, and walked the boat one last time…" Lee smiled as Chip closed his eyes and shook his head, sighing softly. "Yah, yah, I know. You don’t have to rub it in."

Chip smiled softly at his friend. "Remember the CD I was listening to the other day in my office? The one with the nature sounds as background for light classical music?"

"You have a point to make?"

"I have a new one in my cabin, called ‘Infinite Oceans’. It’s a lot of soft classical music with natural ocean sounds. Guaranteed to help unfrazzle your nerves. Go grab it and veg out for awhile. It’s about an hour long. Everything’s fine here. And even if it doesn’t help you," Chip glanced around the Control Room "it will definitely help the rest of us."

"And Nelson and Stark wander in and all hell breaks loose ‘cause the Captain’s off listening to music’." Lee’s voice was nasty, not at Chip, just at the implications. Chip quickly snatched the pencil back and smiled.

"Don’t worry. I’ll tell them you’re working on a supply problem."

"That’s your job."

"And I’m working on it the best way I know how. Come on, I’ll walk up with you. Mr. James."

"Aye, Sir."

"You have the conn." As the answering ‘Aye, Sir’ was heard, Chip’s eyes pleaded with those of his captain. He could see Lee fighting it, then finally closed his eyes a moment, and took a deep breath. As he opened them, Chip smiled, and the two made their way up the spiral stairs toward Officer’s Country, Chip behind Lee, hoping desperately that Lee hadn’t heard the audible sigh of relief from the crew as the Skipper left.

Entering his cabin, Chip walked over to his desk and sorted through the small stack of CDs. Not finding what he wanted, he checked the cabinet, noting as he did so that Lee was absentmindedly looking at the ones Chip had just abandoned.

"All of these are like that?" Lee asked, surprised, and read off some of the titles. "Natural Harp, Celtic Nights, Spring Rain."

"Different music styles, different types of natural sounds, but all the same theme. Hum, can’t find the one I was looking for. Maybe I left it in my office. Which one is that?"

Lee had picked up one and was reading the back out loud. "The simple elegance of a solo piano performance is perfectly complemented by the purity of nature’s music," and raised his eyebrows at Chip.

"Oh, Natural Piano II. Hey, you’ll like that one, too. Didn’t you tell me how much you enjoyed your Mom’s piano playing? That one’s really great. There’s a lot of original compositions by the performer, and also ones by Liszt and Debussy. As I recall, the first one starts out with herring gulls’ calls and gentle waves… Here, sit down on the bunk and let me pop it into the player. Here’s the headphones." Chip knew he was practically babbling, but he needed to get Lee’s attention on something besides Stark.

Chip could see Lee resisting, but finally he walked over, sat down and put on the headset. Chip started the player and went back to looking for the missing CD. When he turned around again, still not finding it, a smile spread across his face. Lee had closed his eyes and was leaning back against the bulkhead, the expression on his face already softening. Hallelujah Chip thought to himself, quietly exited, and went back to the Control Room, where the tension level had dropped dramatically. Unfortunately Chip hadn’t been back 10 minutes when it went right back up, as footsteps were heard on the spiral staircase, and Admirals Nelson and Stark descended.

"Oh, Chip," Nelson sounded disappointed as he glanced around the Control Room. "I was looking for Lee."

"He’s helping me with an inventory problem," Chip deadpanned, praying the rest of the duty crew wouldn’t blow it for him.

"Inventory," bellowed Stark. "Isn’t that your duty? Harry, I swear I don’t know how you keep this boat in the water. Now the XO has the Captain chasing down an inventory problem?"

"Jiggs," Nelson’s voice was a warning, as well as the look he gave the other man, "how many times do I have to remind you, this boat runs quite well, thank you. I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical explanation for this, no matter what you think." He turned back to Chip, from his expression expecting an answer.

"You know the Skipper, Admiral," Chip continued, straight-faced. "He just naturally hates problems of any kind." He didn’t quite incline his head toward Stark, but saw Nelson’s mouth twitch none-the-less. "Is there something I can do for you?"

"I just wanted to remind Lee that I was going to stop and check out that unusual rock formation we spotted our last trip."

"Already plotted, Sir. We’ll be there approximately 1830 hours."

"Good. I’ll be taking Jiggs out in the FS1 as Seaview continues on. See that it’s ready. We should catch up in an hour or so."

"Chief," Chip motioned the COB forward, knowing he’d been listening.

"Aye, Sir. FS1 has been checked and double-checked. It’s ready anytime."

"Maybe Morton should be running the boat," muttered Stark, and received a sharp look from Nelson.

"Actually," Chip’s calm exterior was becoming harder and harder to maintain, "the Skipper had the course plotted before we left port, and ordered FS1 checked as soon as we left the channel." Chief Sharkey’s head was energetically nodding agreement.

Nelson gave Stark an ‘I told you so’ look. "Very good. Come on, Jiggs. Let’s get out of here and let the men do their jobs," and there was a definite smirk in Nelson’s voice.

As the two men left through the aft hatch there was a murmur of discontent among the duty crew. Chip heard the Chief speak sharply to Kowalski, "Stow it, sailor," about the same time "who does he think he is" came from behind the XO. Chip turned and glared at the helmsman, Layton. "That’s enough," and everyone including the Chief jumped. Nobody wanted to tick off the XO. They all knew that was worse than the Skipper being ticked.

* * * *

Chip was beginning to get worried. It had been almost 3 hours, and no sign of Lee. From the Chief he knew the two Admirals were holed up in Nelson’s lab, so giving the conn to Lt. James again, he headed for his cabin. Entering, he spotted khaki-clad legs stretched out on the bunk and chuckled to himself as he quickly shut the door, walked over, and looked down on his sleeping friend. He hated to wake Lee, but knew he had little choice. Gently shaking Lee’s shoulder, he laughed as Lee became aware of what had obviously happened.

"Welcome back," Chip snickered.

Lee, still trying to wake up, took off the headphones and glanced at his watch. At his look of total horror, Chip burst out laughing. "Been there, done that. I told you you’d like it." As Lee stuck the CD back in its case and started to return it to the stack Chip stopped him. "Why don’t you keep that one." Lee started to protest, and Chip held up his hand. "At least for the rest of this cruise. I think we’re both going to need all the help we can get." Lee gave him a sharp look and Chip related the incident in the Control Room. "Ski I can understand. Not only is he a hothead, but he’s always been quick to defend Seaview, and you in particular."

"But Layton?" Lee questioned. "I didn’t think anything could ruffle his feathers. That’s part of what makes him such a good helmsman."

"All I can offer in his defense is that the whole duty crew was miffed." He looked down at the CD case in Lee’s hand. "Maybe we could get Sparks to pipe some of this stuff over the PA…" and laughed as Lee just shook his head.

"Are you sure there’s nothing subliminal in these things? They’re not dangerous?"

"No way," and Chip continued to chuckle. "There are disclaimers and assurances all over the place. Mind you, I don’t like to use some of these in the car. I keep a couple Jazz ones in there." At Lee’s raised eyebrows he smiled. "There are all kinds. You pick a style of music, there’s a tape or CD out like these."

"You brought these along specifically because of Stark being on board," Lee challenged.

"Guilty as charged. For my benefit as well as yours."

"I’m still not sure I trust it…"

"Look, Lee. You were exhausted. The music just helped you relax. The player was set on ‘loop’ so it just kept going – my fault, I should have checked that. Actually, I’ve heard there’s several studies being conducted, using tapes like these to relieve stress in hospitalized patients, and also to help them relax during procedures. Say, maybe I’ll give Jamie a few for the next time he has to treat you," and his smile broadened again.

"For me or for him," Lee growled, not unkindly.

"Both," and both men laughed. The CMO’s problems with a confined Captain were legendary. "We’d better put in an appearance at dinner. The OOM will expect it. Oh, and Lee, you might want to change your uniform beforehand. Looks sort of like you slept in yours," and Chip had to duck Lee’s friendly swing.

* * * *

Dinner with the two Admirals went better than Chip had expected, due in large part to Nelson spending most of it regaling everyone with stories of his and Stark’s early exploits. Chip figured the OOM knew the whole crew, and Lee especially, was on edge. Nelson hadn’t explained why Stark was along, and Stark was being even more a pain than usual. But at least for the moment Nelson seemed bound and determined to relieve some of the tension – at Stark’s expense.

"Now admit it, Jiggs. It was entirely your fault. If you hadn’t told that waitress you liked yours medium rare…" and laughed at the other Admiral’s discomfort. Chip was trying not to laugh too hard, and noticed even Lee’s eyes were sparkling.

"Well, we’d better get going, Jiggs. I want to check out that rock formation and get back before it gets too late. I suspect we could all use a good night’s sleep tonight." Chip noticed Lee cringe slightly, and smiled. Leave it to the OOM to know what his Skipper had, or in this case hadn’t, been doing.

The two younger officers saw the older ones off safely, and Lee stayed in the Control Room as Chip excused himself on an errand. He was passing the Crew’s Mess when he heard the Chief’s voice, loud and strong. "Enough! He’s a friend of the OOM’s. It’s only for 5 days. Now let it drop!"

"But Chief," Chip recognized Kowalski’s voice, and was sure he was the instigator of the current uprising.

"No buts, sailor," Sharkey cut him off. "That’s an order. Understand?"

Chip heard grumbled concession, and quickly left. He needed to check with Tucker in the machine shop about a small project, then had a couple other things to attend to before the Admirals got back.

* * * *

"XO to the Control Room." Chip was caught off-guard not quite two hours later by Lee’s call over the intercom. He was almost finished with what he was doing, but there was no denying the urgency in the Skipper’s voice so he took off. Just have to finish this later. As he hit the bottom of the spiral stairs Lee was talking to Michaels in the radio shack, and Chip saw the radioman shake his head.

"Sorry, Sir. They just don’t answer," Chip heard Michaels apologize.

"Well, keep trying," Lee answered, and walked over toward Sonar, where Chip met him.

"What’s up, Lee?" Chip asked the obviously worried Captain.

"The Admiral expected to be back by 2030 hours latest. It’s now almost 2130, and Michaels can’t raise them."

Chip turned to the sonarman, Patterson. "Anything on the scope?"

"No, Sir. A couple biologicals, but nothing in the direction the Admiral went."

"Damn, now what?" Lee muttered and grabbed the nearest mike. "All stop," he ordered, and walked with Chip to the chart table. "We’d better go back and…"

"Skipper, contact," Patterson sang out, interrupting Lee. "Edge of the screen. Reads like…yes, it’s FS1."

"Michaels?" Lee challenged.

"Still nothing, Sir. Maybe something happened to their radio."

Noting Lee’s grim expression Chip said calmly, "Michaels is right. Probably a glitch in the radio."

"Yah, and how long are we going to have to hear about that from Stark," and Chip cringed as another pencil lost its battle with Lee’s fist.

Shaking his head sadly, Chip turned to Patterson. "FS1 coming on a steady course?"

"Aye, Sir. No signs of distress."

"Open the docking bay doors. Prepare to receive the flying sub," called Lee, and reached for a new pencil, sighing softly as he caught the expression of Chip’s face.

The whole Control Room crew watched quietly as FS1 came into view through the forward windows, maneuvered into position, and settled into the bay. As the docking clamps locked into place Chip ordered the bay doors closed and he and Lee stood by as the hatch opened and Nelson appeared.

"Lee, sorry we’re later that expected. Wasn’t watching the time, then when I asked Jiggs to let you know we’d be late, he blew up the radio."

"I did not," yelled Stark, following Nelson up the ladder. "It wouldn’t work when I first tried it."

"I don’t know what to tell you, Admiral," Chip watched Lee answer uncomfortably. "It was working when you left. Radio check was received just fine."

"Don’t worry about it, Lad," Nelson continued. "Just a short or something. We could read Seaview, we just couldn’t send. However, I’m afraid we made it a bit worse. When Jiggs went to fix it, he blew the whole thing."

"If you’d wire things like normal people," Stark tried to defend himself, but Nelson cut him off.

"It was wired to my specifications, and I should have been the one to work on it. But since you can’t pilot FS1, and we were already overdue…"

"No problem, Sir," Lee cut in, resigned. "I’ll see to it."

"Did you find anything interesting, Sir," Chip stepped in.

"Oh, interesting, Chip, but nothing that needs further investigation it turns out. Come on, Jiggs. How about a nightcap," and the two Admirals left up the stairs.

Lee took a deep breath, looked at Chip, and shook his head. "Mr. O’Brien."

"Aye, Sir."

"You have the conn. Resume course, standard. Have someone from electronics report to me in FS1."

"Aye, Sir."

"Sorry to have bothered you, Chip. Looks like everything is under control. You’d better hit the rack. One of us should get some sleep tonight." He sighed again, and Chip could easily see how the constant strain was tiring him out.

"No way, Lee. I’ll help with repairs, then we can both get some rest."

* * * *

The radio ended up not taking all that long to fix, and both officers headed for their cabins by 2430, slightly puzzled. Though it was difficult to say for sure, it looked like someone had crossed a couple wires. In reality nothing too serious had been fried, and it was a simple matter to get everything back in working order.

Chip slept well, after finishing the project Lee’s call had interrupted, and met Lee in the Wardroom at 0630 for breakfast. He noted his friend appeared well rested, and mentioned it out loud. Looking a bit embarrassed Lee said he’d again listened to the CD, although this time without headphones and not looped, and admitted he didn’t remember anything else until waking at 0545. Chip was joshing him about his continued skepticism when Nelson and Stark entered, the latter in full voice.

"I tell you, Harry, it’s gone," Stark groused.

"Relax, Jiggs. You probably forgot to pack it in the first place. Good morning Lee, Chip," as he noticed them. "What’s the verdict on the radio?"

Stark continued before either could answer. "Harry, I did not forget. It was in the bag, I know it. Someone must have taken it."

Chip saw the look of disgust on Nelson’s face. "Jiggs, who in their right mind would steal your toothbrush? I’ll have someone get you a new one. OK?"

"I’ll take care of it," Chip volunteered, trying to keep a straight face. Lee unknowingly helped by answering Nelson’s almost forgotten question.

"The radio wasn’t as badly damaged as you thought, Admiral. We had it fixed in no time."

"We?" challenged Stark, earning another glare from Nelson.

"I helped Tappen, the Electrician’s Mate, work on it." Chip noted Lee was having trouble keeping his expression under control.

"And knowing Chip," Nelson said with a smile to both his young officers, "he kept you both company."

"I can’t believe this," Stark continued to bluster. "Your Captain admits that the two senior officers sat around watching a seaman fix a radio, and you just sit there smiling?" Chip was very glad there wasn’t a pencil in Lee’s hand.

"I’m smiling, Jiggs," Nelson chuckled, "at you. You don’t listen. Lee just said he was helping with the repairs. I may have designed the Flying Sub, but it’s Lee’s baby. He knows more about how it operates than anyone else, me included I think," and Chip saw him give Lee an approving nod. "I’d be worried if he hadn’t helped fix it. Now, go get your breakfast," and Chip and Lee used the break to make their escape.

20 minutes later Chip walked into the Control Room and up to the chart table, a small smirk on his normally bland face. Lee saw it, and sent a questioning glance.

"You look like the cat who caught the canary," Lee said, going back to the chart he was working on. "I assume you found Stark a new toothbrush," and he almost spit out the last.

"Actually, I found his," Chip answered smugly.

"Good. I hope you get the chance to rub it in."



"Do I have to take the pencil away from you again?"

Lee couldn’t keep from laughing. "Been there, done that," both men chuckled at the same time. "Sorry, Chip," Lee continued.

"Hey, no apologies necessary. What is with that guy this trip?"

"Who knows? Have you noticed he’s even getting on the OOM’s nerves?"

An absolutely unholy thought presented itself to Chip, and before the XO could mask his face, Lee noticed.

"What?" asked Lee, giving Chip a quizzical look.

"Nothing. Nothing at all," Chip answered, suddenly trying to look very busy.

The captain carefully laid his pencil down, crossed his arms over his chest, and glared at the younger man. "Give!" he commanded.

"Don’t yell, please. It was just a thought."

Lee’s voice got soft and low. "Chip, I know that look only too well. What are you plotting that we’re both going to regret?"

Chip knew that tone, and knew he was going to have to answer. "I wasn’t plotting. I was just thinking, if one of us could arrange to be standing next to Stark, and the other one sort of, well, say, call for an emergency blow, maybe we could ‘accidentally’ knock Stark into a bulkhead. Not hard, just maybe a couple days in Sick Bay worth."

"Chip!" Lee thundered, and the whole duty crew jumped, not knowing what was happening.

"I asked you not to yell," Chip smiled sheepishly. "It was just a thought."

Lee stared at his XO a moment longer, sadly shook his head, and went back to the chart he was studying. Chip thought he heard him mutter something under his breath and dared ask. "What was that, Lee?"

"I said," and Lee smiled wickedly, "don’t tempt me."

"Lee, what are you yelling about now?"

SNAP! At the sound of Nelson’s voice, both men jumped, and both automatically looked at the pencil in Lee’s hand. At least this time it was just the point that had broken, not the whole pencil. They glanced sheepishly at each other, then at the Admiral, who had come up behind them without being noticed and who was still obviously waiting for an answer.

"My fault, Sir," the two younger men said as one, looked at each other again, then back at the Admiral, who was having a noticeably hard time keeping a straight face.

"I don’t recall asking whos fault it was," Nelson continued with a slight smile. "Actually, I can probably guess. What’s Jiggs done this time?"

"I found his toothbrush laying on the deck next to his shower, Sir," Chip said, wondering how long Nelson had been standing close enough to hear. "I’d brought him a new one, but instead I left his laying on the sink."

"And for this Lee’s yelling at you?"

"Ah, not exactly, Sir," and Chip was beginning to get very uncomfortable. Admitting his little daydream to Lee was one thing. He sure didn’t want to have to tell Nelson.

"It was nothing, Sir," Lee piped in. "I just overreacted to a suggestion."

"Must have been some suggestion," mused Nelson, almost to himself. "Never mind. What’s our ETA at Logan Sealab?"

"Was just working on it," Lee answered. "Approximately 1100 tomorrow. Just a bit behind schedule."

"No thanks to me and last night’s little adventure."

"Not a problem, Sir. With this being just a re-supply trip, we’re not on a strict timetable. At least we weren’t, unless you have changes."

"No, no, Lee. Nothing important. Jiggs all of a sudden is anxious to get back to San Diego."

Chip watched as Lee turned back to the chart, muttering something under his breath, and quickly reached over to retrieve the pencil, noticing as he did so the smile on Nelson’s face.

"I know, Lee," Nelson said, not unkindly. "If he was in such a hurry to get back, why did he come?"

Lee, who had glared at Chip for swiping the pencil, sighed heavily and looked at Nelson. "I was really hoping to spend some extra time at the sealab, Sir. Pete Sinclair promised the next time we were there, to show me some caves he’s been diving," and he sighed again. "But it can wait."

"Not at all, Lee," Nelson said enthusiastically. "Actually, I was hoping to spend some extra time with Dr. Prescott, going over his research. Why don’t we plan on a 24-hour layover?"

"And Admiral Stark?" Chip questioned.

"I guess you’ll just have to entertain him," Lee smiled wickedly at his XO, and Nelson laughed as Chip cringed.

"I have a feeling this is where I came in," Nelson laughed. "Don’t worry, Chip. I’ll take Jiggs to the sealab with me."

"Appreciate it, Sir," Chip said, and feeling that Nelson was in an agreeable mood, chanced adding "He’s been awfully hard on the crew this trip. Any particular reason?" It earned another glare from his captain, but a chuckle from the Admiral. Unfortunately, any answer Nelson may have given was interrupted.

"Harry, there you are," Stark bellowed as he entered the Control Room from the aft hatch. Chip was glad he still had the pencil as he watched a hard expression return to Lee’s face, and he turned to distract his friend with one of the clipboards as Nelson answered.

"Yes, Jiggs. I’m right where I said I’d be," Nelson said with a touch of exasperation in his voice. "We were just going over the schedule. Oh, and Chip found your toothbrush lying on the deck next to your shower. Are you sure you don’t need glasses?" Chip knew the two Admirals had been friends most of their lives, but he’d never heard Nelson bait Stark quite this much before, and thought it might be contributing to Stark’s ill temper. He did, however, hear a soft snort from Lee as the two pretended to work on the duty roster. Stark started to bluster a reply, but Chip, risking a glance, saw Nelson cut him off, still smiling. "We’re going to spend a bit longer at the sealab than originally planned."

"Why?" thundered Stark. "I thought this was just a simple supply run."

"You need to learn, Jiggs, there’s no such thing as a simple supply run where Seaview is involved. I need to talk to Dr. Prescott, and the extra time will allow the two crews a chance to interact more. It can get kind of boring stuck on a sealab for months at a time."

"So now you’re a social director." Chip saw Lee’s hands form tight fists, and moved slightly to block the view from the two Admirals.

"I know these men, Jiggs. Without the occasional diversion, efficiency goes down. Now, if you’re done on my computer, lets go down to the lab," and the two Admirals made their way out the aft hatch.

"Speaking of diversions," Chip said to Lee, noting the still grim expression on his friend’s face, and put on his own the most innocent one he could muster.

Lee let both hands and face relax, smiled slightly, then gave his XO a stern look. "Been there, done that, Chip," and crossed his arms over his chest.

"And it worked, too, you have to admit," Chip was still trying to look innocent.

Lee chuckled. "Yes, Chip, it did. I still don’t understand it, but I have to admit, it worked." He sighed heavily. "However, I have work to do here. Is there some reason you’re trying to get me out of the Control Room?"

"No, no, not at all. In fact, I really need to check with Tucker in the machine shop. He’s working on a small project for me," and Chip made a hasty retreat.

* * * *

Chip looked down at the pencil in his hand, grimaced, and very carefully laid it down, beginning to understand Lee’s affinity for demolishing small defenseless objects. As Captain, Lee was expected to remain totally in control at all times, never loosing his cool at whatever insanities Seaview’s missions threw at him. But Chip knew Lee was also a very sensitive man, taking his responsibilities to Admiral Nelson and his crew very seriously. Having to constantly internalize his emotions wasn’t always easy, and if he chose to use mike housings, pencils (unfortunately) and the occasional fist to the bulkhead as pressure valves, so be it. But Chip was growing quite concerned for his Skipper and friend. Despite Admiral Nelson’s attempts at keeping Stark away from the Control Room as much as possible, Lee was becoming increasingly irritable. Chip knew he wasn’t eating well, even for Lee, and suspected he wasn’t sleeping much either. When Lee had mentioned the recreational dive with Pete Sinclair from the Sealab, Chip had been very glad. Knowing how much Lee loved diving, Chip was really hoping it would go a long way to relieving some of the stress building in the Skipper.

Besides his friend’s health, there was another issue. The crew was jumpy enough, just having Stark aboard. The man had an uncanny knack for jangling nerves. But as tuned in as the crew was to their Captain’s moods, things were getting more and more tense, and Chip was getting more and more nervous, not knowing where the next explosion was going to come from. Unfortunately, the dive didn’t go quite as smoothly as Chip would have liked.

* * * *

Everything started out Ok. Seaview had gotten to the undersea lab just after 1100, and was maintaining trim 200 yards away. FS1 had been kept busy transporting supplies as well as off-duty crew back and forth, both crews responding happily to the extended visit. The two Admirals had been among the first to leave, and the return trip of FS1 brought Lee’s friend Sinclair, along with his diving equipment. As usual, Lee felt it his responsibility to stay in the Control Room until all supplies were transferred, and things calmed down. Chip had been just as adamant about getting rid of him, and had good-naturedly goaded him into taking off. The caves Sinclair was taking Lee to were fairly close, no more than 100 yards to Seaview’s port side, and both were Master divers. However, just as a standard precaution, Chip had ordered Sparks to monitor dive communications. He was glad later that he had.

"Mr. Morton," Sparks shouted worriedly. "Trouble," and Chip ran to the radio shack. "I’ve lost contact with the Skipper."

"Hydrophone just picked up what could have been a rock slide," Kyle sang out, and Chip grabbed a mike.

"Missile Room. Divers in the water – NOW! We’ve lost contact with the Skipper. Sparks, keep trying to reach the Captain. Helm, hard to port, dead slow. Maneuver us as close to that cave as you can." Chip hit the forward outside lights, and went forward to look out the observation windows.

The first sight Chip got of Lee and Sinclair was grim, but Chip quickly realized Lee had it under as much control as possible. There had definitely been a small slide, and apparently something had broken Lee’s regulator, because he’d flipped back his air hose and was buddy breathing with Sinclair, who’s leg was apparently trapped by falling debris. Lee was doing what he could to free the trapped limb, but seemed to be in some distress himself. Just then three Seaview divers arrived, one helping Lee and the other two freeing Sinclair. Chip alerted Sick Bay to the possibility of injured divers, stayed in the Control Room long enough to maneuver Seaview back to her original position, then quickly headed aft.

Chip could hear Doc’s voice, raised in anger, while still several yards from the Missile Room hatch. "I will not argue with you, Skipper. Your lungs are ‘wet’. You did aspirate seawater, no matter how much you claim you didn’t. That’s an automatic 24-hour observation and antibiotic therapy to combat pneumonia. One more move on your part to get up and I will have you put in restraints. Period!" As Chip entered, Lee’s response was cut short by severe coughing, and despite Doc’s harsh words, Chip noted the CMO’s gentleness as he helped Lee turn on his side to cough more productively. "I rest my case," Doc continued, the starch still in his voice. "Mr. Morton," as Chip walked up, "I’ve just placed the Captain on Medical Leave."

Chip knelt down, a small grin on his face. He could see Lee trying to respond, his hazel eyes blazing fiercely, but still catching his breath from the coughing and as yet unable to talk. Probably a good thing he thought as he rested a hand on Lee’s shoulder. "Give it up, Lee. You’re outvoted."

"Pete?" Lee was finally able to get out, trying to see across to where one of the corpsman was working on his friend.

"Frank?" questioned Doc, motioning at the same time to Chip to help him get the wetsuit off Lee.

"Nothing broken, Doc." The corpsman responded. "Lots of cuts and abrasions here and there, nothing that looks too serious."

"I’m fine, Lee," Sinclair called back. "Got hurt worse than this the day you and I decided to climb the cliff behind my brother’s place. Remember?"

"All too well," Lee laughed, followed by more coughing.

"There, Skipper, happy now?" Doc continued, not unkindly. He as much as anyone aboard knew how personally the Captain took injuries to anyone around him, under his command or not, and in this case the man was also a friend. "Sinclair will be just fine. Now relax. This is a wide-spectrum antibiotic," and he injected Lee with the syringe he’d been preparing. Chip saw additional crew enter with stretchers, and felt Lee stiffen under his hand.

"Easy, Lee," Chip tried to head off the outburst he knew was coming, but again Lee’s response was cut short be severe coughing, and in the end allowed Chip and one of the crewmen to lift him gently onto the stretcher, though keeping a sharp watch over to where others were doing the same to Sinclair. As the two were carried out toward Sick Bay, Chip told Doc he’d be there shortly, and headed for the Control Room. He knew Admiral Nelson would want to be advised of the accident, and he also wanted to pick up a couple things from his cabin.

It took Chip longer than he intended. Nelson insisted on all details of the accident that Chip could supply, and it took a bit to placate the OOM that both men seemed to be Ok, that the accident was just that, an accident. The cave had appeared totally safe, and in fact Sinclair and several others from the sealab had dived it frequently. Nelson was advised by lab personnel that their sensors had recorded several very small tremors recently, nothing of any significance, but it was theorized that that could have loosened rocks above the cave entrance. Chip was adamant that Nelson need not cut short his visit. He heard a soft chuckle come from Nelson and wondered if the Admiral was thinking the same as he, that the absolute last thing they needed now was Stark on board. Lee was going to be hard enough to deal with as it was, confined to Sick Bay.

"Ok, Chip," Nelson said finally. "We’ll spend the night here as planned. But be sure and let me know of any change in either man’s condition. We can transfer Sinclair back here in the morning, if Doc’s sure he doesn’t need more extensive treatment. And tell Doc there’s an extra bottle of scotch in my closet, if he feels like he needs a stiff one," and Chip heard him chuckle again.

"Will do, Admiral," and Chip laughed as well. "Although I may just have something that will help keep Lee quiet."

"It’s not a hammer, by any chance?"

"No, Sir," Chip laughed. "Wouldn’t dare. Don’t think I’d like how Lee would retaliate," and they both laughed and broke the connection. Chip checked on a couple things with Mr. O’Brien, stopped by his cabin, then headed for Sick Bay.

Doc was busy with Sinclair, cleaning up the abrasions, when Chip entered. He saw that Lee had already been settled in a bunk and an IV started, and walked over, bringing a chair with him. He also noticed a set of restraints lying on the bunk above Lee, one of the straps hanging over the side. Chip nudged the strap as he sat down, and grinned at Lee. "Smart-mouthed Doc again, did you?"

Lee grinned sheepishly. "You’d think by now I’d know better," and coughed. But Chip was pleased that it was no longer the deep hacking cough of before, and didn’t last long.

"Brought something that night help," and he held out his small portable CD player. "Finally found ‘Infinite Oceans’. It fell on the floor and ended up underneath the desk." As Lee rolled his eyes, and started to protest, Chip continued. "Lee, I know we joked about it, but at least give it a try. I know you hate being here, and I also know there’s absolutely no way Doc’s going to turn you loose before morning, at the very soonest." When Lee closed his eyes and didn’t respond, Chip set up the player, slipped the headphones on his friend, and hit the ‘loop’ button. As he got up to leave, Doc gave him a curious glance, and Chip put one finger to his lips. "Won’t last forever, but should help for awhile," he said quietly. "How’s Pete?" Chip noticed Sinclair was awfully quiet.

"He’ll be fine," Doc also spoke softly, with another glance at Lee. "I gave him a pretty heavy painkiller while I cleaned the scrapes. He’ll sleep for awhile."

"Hopefully, so will Lee. The Admirals are staying overnight on the sealab. You’re supposed to keep Pete here overnight, and unless he needs further treatment, he can be returned to Logan in the morning."

"Don’t foresee any problems. Sinclair’s ankle is going to be sore for awhile, but nothing serious."

"And Lee?"

"Already breathing easier, I’m sure you noticed." He looked at Chip curiously and nodded toward the Captain.

"Music hath charms, etc. etc." and Chip laughed. "Enjoy it while it lasts."

"Oh, I intend to."

Chip delivered Nelson’s message about the scotch, and still chuckling, returned to the Control Room.

* * * *

What with one thing and another, several hours went by. Chip was going over the duty roster with O’Brien when there was a call from Doc.

"Mr. Morton, please report to Sick Bay."

Chip and O’Brien just looked at each other, and it was the junior officer who spoke first. "I’ve got ear plugs in my desk drawer. You’re welcome to borrow them."

"Actually," Chip grimaced, "I was thinking more along the lines of a flame-resistant suit. You have the conn. If you don’t hear from me in half an hour, notify my next of kin," and Chip headed aft.

I don’t hear yelling Chip thought, nearing the Sick Bay door. When Lee and Doc got into it, you could usually hear it halfway down the next corridor. And indeed, when Chip entered, all was peaceful. He noticed Lee appeared to be asleep, as well as Sinclair, now resting in a bunk, too. Doc, standing off to one side, motioned Chip over. Indicating Lee, he said softly, "Whatever that is, I want one!"

Chip grinned broadly. "Has he been sleeping all this time?"

"I’m not entirely sure he’s sleeping now. I notice his eyes open every so often, and he still coughs occasionally, but he settles right back down. What in blazes is that?"

"Just light classical music, interspersed with sounds of the ocean; waves, sea birds, stuff like that. I know I relax when I listen to it. Just figured Lee might, too."

"Well, whatever it is, it’s doing the trick. Nothing short of heavy sedation has ever kept him this relaxed, and that’s something I’d rather not use right now. Thanks."

"No problem, Doc. I’ve got several different ones in my cabin I can bring down, in case he gets bored with that one."

"I’ve read journal articles on this sort of thing. Just never occurred to me they might work on the Skipper."

"I know what you mean, Doc. Just goes to show, you never can tell. How’s he doing, by the way?"

"No sign of fever, and his lungs are clearing nicely. If he’s still asymptomatic in the morning I’ll release him. I’d prefer he rest in his cabin another 24 hours, but I doubt he’ll listen to me."

"Got that right, Doc, especially with Stark on board. Do you know what he’s doing here, by any chance? You’ve been in the Wardroom with them several times."

"Unfortunately! No, haven’t a clue. As I walked in last night I did hear Stark say something about ‘that damn ticket’, but nothing more was said. He’s sure got the whole boat on edge, though. I’ve had more complaints of headache in the last two days than I normally have in a month. And Porter nearly broke his hand, punching a bulkhead after Stark questioned him about something."

"I heard. How’s your aspirin supply? I have a feeling it’s going to be a long two days back.

* * * *

With everything fairly calm at the moment, Chip expected to get a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately it was almost too quiet. Sort of like waiting for the other shoe to drop Chip decided as he lay in his bunk at 0230, wide awake. He seriously considered doing a walk-through of the boat, just to convince himself that all was well, and then laughed at the thought. Now I understand what drives Lee to do that very thing. But the Skipper doing it was normal. If the crew caught the Exec at it, well, the last thing they needed right now was more tension. So, Chip old boy, take your own medicine, and he popped one of his CDs in the player, this one called ‘Ocean Dreams’ by Dean Everson, a combination of flutes, harps and synthesizer with a background of gentle ocean sounds, dolphins and whales. He chuckled to himself as he read the warning on the back of the case. "Attention: This recording causes a heightened state of peacefulness. Do not use while driving." Definitely one I need to get for Doc, and that was pretty much his last thought until waking at 0530.

The boat was still quiet as he made his way to the Control Room. Seaview’s crew had been given short shifts since arriving at the sealab, per Admiral Nelson’s instructions, giving as many as possible as much time as possible to socialize with the sealab’s personnel. Stark’s absence had helped as well. Chip was going over status reports with Mr. James, prior to sending the junior officer off watch, when he heard footsteps on the spiral stairs behind him, and noticed what duty crew were in his site, including Mr. James, straighten up sharply. Please, don’t let the Admirals have come back during the night he chanted to himself, and turned around to see Lee approaching. Dismissing James, Chip crossed his arms and leaned back against the chart table.

"You forget how to tell time, Lee? I could swear Doc said 24 hours," but had trouble keeping a slight smile off his face.

"Must have had water in my ears," Lee said, also with a smile. He reached for the clipboard holding the status reports, and unsuccessfully hid a small cough from his XO. Chip reached for the mike. "Doc knows I’m here," Lee added resignedly, and Chip put the mike back in its housing.

"How’s Pete?"

"Just waking up when I left." Lee was swiftly running down the reports. "Told him I’d meet him in half an hour in the Wardroom for breakfast," and Chip was glad to see Lee’s impish grim back in place, something that had been all too noticeably absent this trip.

"Mr. Morton," Michaels called from Communications. "Admiral Nelson calling." Chip reached for the mike, but Lee beat him to it.

"Good morning, Admiral." Chip was pleased at the light expression in his friend’s voice, but crossed his arms and leaned back again, waiting for the explosion on the other end of the mike. He wasn’t disappointed.

"Lee," thundered Nelson. "What in blazes are you doing in the Control Room?"

"I’m fine, Admiral. Doc released me from Sick Bay."

"Probably to save his eardrums. And I’ll believe he released you back to duty when I hear it from him. I asked to speak to Mr. Morton."

Lee handed the mike to a grinning Chip, both men knowing Nelson wasn’t nearly as angry as he sounded.

"Good morning, Admiral." Chip had a difficult time keeping the humor out of his voice, especially while watching the frustrated expression on Lee’s face.

"What’s Lee doing in the Control Room?"

"Just leaving, Sir." Chip knew if looks could kill, the one he was getting from Lee would be the end of him for sure.

"Good. How’s Sinclair?"

"I haven’t checked yet this morning, Sir, but as of last evening Doc saw no reason for his not returning to the sealab. The crews had until 0900 before reporting back to their respective duties. I’m afraid I let things get pretty relaxed around here."

"Good. It’s done a world of good at this end, I know, and I suspect it’s been good for Seaview’s crew as well. Jiggs and I will be back in an hour or so."

"So much for peace and quiet," Chip heard Lee mutter, and hoped Nelson hadn’t heard it through the open mike. No such luck, as Chip heard the OOM chuckle.

"We should be ready to get underway by 1100 hours, Sir," Chip used his best command voice, trying to get things back under control.

"That sounds fine, Chip. Logan out," and the connection was broken.

Chip hung up the mike and looked at Lee, who had gone back to studying the status reports. He said nothing, just crossed his arms, stood quietly, and waited. Lee continued to ignore him, and Chip wasn’t sure how long the stalemate would have lasted if Doc’s voice hadn’t been heard over the intercom.

"Captain, Mr. Sinclair is waiting for you in the Wardroom."

Chip knew one wrong move on his part would set Lee off, and had to work extra hard to keep a straight face, not moving a muscle as Lee sighed heavily, dropped the clipboard, and headed aft. Not until Lee was well out of sight did Chip allow himself a broad smile, and got back to the business of readying Seaview for the trip home.

* * * *

FS1 had been making trips back and forth, getting the two crews sorted out, when Chip saw Lee walk back into the Control Room, this time followed by a limping Pete Sinclair, leaning heavily on a cane. They stopped to talk a bit, but FS1 was just docking so continued forward while Chip stayed by the chart table, running through departure details. Hearing the docking clamps engage, Chip glanced up and watched as the hatch opened and Kowalski, piloting FS1 these last several trips, popped out, rolled his eyes at Lee, said something quietly, and got out of the way. Chip saw Lee put on his ‘inscrutable’ face, and understood why when Stark’s head was the next to appear, apparently in conversation with Nelson still below. Chip heard something about "how was I supposed to have taken it off the desk" before Stark noticed Lee and Sinclair standing quietly to the side. Chip got the impression Stark was about to say something to Lee, and Lee struggle to keep his expression masked, when all of a sudden Stark let out a yelp, and his head disappeared back down the hatch, accompanied in the following moment by a solid thud. Lee had tried to grab for Stark, but was too far away. Chip and several crewmembers rushed forward, to the sound of very loud curses being uttered by Stark, and words of commiseration by Nelson. Lee had immediately headed down through the hatch, and Chip followed. What he found was chaos, to say the least. Stark was lying in a heap at the bottom of the hatch ladder, clutching his right ankle. Nelson, with Lee’s help, was trying to pull Stark away slightly, into a more natural position. Stark was bellowing something about his foot having been hit and knocked off the ladder rung. Nelson was, almost as loudly, telling Stark nothing hit him, his foot had just slipped. The situation would have been laughable if it wasn’t for the fact of who was involved. Chip rapidly felt a headache coming on.

The mess finally got sorted out, but not without the entire boat hearing Stark’s interpretation of shoddy ladder design, incompetent doctors (Jamie had to immobilize the ankle before they could get Stark out of FS1 – apparently nothing was broken, but Jamie wasn’t taking any chances), clumsy crewmen jostling the litter used to get Stark to Sick Bay, and a myriad of other topics. The louder Stark got, the louder Nelson became, trying to calm him down. When the entourage finally cleared the Control Room, Chip leaned over the chart table, face in hands, eyes closed. In the background he heard Chief Sharkey issuing commands, getting the crew back under control, and Lee telling Kowalski to continue the crew transfers. Hearing footsteps approach and feeling a hand on his shoulder, Chip looked up into the face of his Skipper and friend.

"Been there, done that," Lee said softly. Both men tried to grin, but ended up more with a grimace. "Chip, you look like you could use some of your own medicine," Lee offered. "Go veg to one of your tapes for awhile."

"Right. James was on duty most of the night, O’Brien is still on the sealab, and you’re on Medical Leave. Who would you like the Admiral to find in command? Thank you, but in the interest of public safety I’ll stay right here."

"Public safety?"

"Any more hot air in here, Seaview will blow, unleashing a nuclear explosion that would put Chernobyl to shame," and finally both men were able to laugh. The two ended up working together, going through the departure routines, until Admiral Nelson returned.

"Lee," Nelson said not unkindly, coming up to the chart table, "I thought you were supposed to be in your cabin, resting."

"With all due respect, Admiral," Lee responded carefully, "under the circumstances I don’t think I’ll rest, period, until we get home." Chip was surprised when Nelson chuckled.

"Actually, you can both rest quite easily. Jiggs’ ankle is only badly sprained, but I convinced Jamie a nice stiff sedative might be just what the whole boat needed." He chuckled again. "Chip, is Lee behaving himself?"

Not sure where this was headed, Chip answered cautiously. "Yes, Sir," and out of the corner of his eye could see Lee glaring at him.

"In that case, I’ll trust you to keep him out of trouble. You seem to be the only one who can manage that lately. If you need me, I’ll be in my cabin, working on reports," and still smiling, Nelson headed up the spiral stairs. Neither Lee nor Chip said anything, just watched him leave, but glancing at Lee as the Admiral left their sight, Chip reached over and took the pencil out of Lee’s hand. I hope Tucker’s done with that project he thought as he watched Lee got his emotions under control, then retake possession of the pencil. Chip started to say something, and Lee raised his hand.

"Not a word. I have no idea what’s gotten into the Admiral. I’m fine. End of discussion," and he went back to the chart he was working on.

* * * *

The trip home was remarkably quiet. Stark, once the sedative wore off, was released to his cabin. Advised by Jamie – albeit carefully – to stay off the injured limb as much as possible, he had remained there, kept occupied by Admiral Nelson. The crew had calmed down, and even Lee hadn’t broken any more pencils, Chip noted happily. That hadn’t stopped the XO from having Tucker finish the project he’d requested, and in fact Tucker had added a little surprise of his own. Chip had taken it to the Control Room early this morning. Seaview was scheduled to arrive home about 1430, and Chip felt his Skipper might have need of it before they could get Stark off-loaded. He and Mr. O’Brien had made a small bet as to whether or not it survived their volatile Captain.

Chip was having breakfast in the Wardroom when Lee walked in, followed shortly by Nelson and Jamie. Chip saw Lee cringe slightly at sight of the Doctor, and smiled. Although Jamie had finally released Lee to unrestricted status, Chip knew Lee hadn’t been taking any chances and had stayed out of the CMO’s way. Normally a very light eater, Chip chuckled to himself as Lee added a second egg and a few more hash browns to his plate. Sitting down next to Chip, Lee gave his XO a quizzical glance, and Chip quickly wiped the smile off his face.

"Now what are you plotting," Lee challenged.

"Not a thing, Lee. Just glad we’re almost home."

Lee continued to look skeptical, but anything else he might have said was interrupted as Nelson and Jamie sat down opposite them, the Doctor obviously continuing an ongoing conversation with the Admiral.

"That’s all?" Doc was incredulous. "A stupid lottery ticket?"

"Not stupid to Jiggs," Nelson laughed. "Admiral Harris was really on his case about it," and Nelson turned to Lee and Chip, including them in the conversation. "I wish I could have told you sooner, but I was afraid you’d take Doc’s attitude. It really only would have made things worse if Jiggs had thought you were laughing at him behind his back." Nelson paused for a swallow of coffee, then continued. "Jamie just had another run-in with Jiggs, and now that we’re almost home, I though he needed an explanation. You all do." The smile on the Admiral’s face told Chip he was enjoying the storytelling.

"It all started a couple days before we sailed. Jiggs had a meeting with Toby Harris, and they met in Toby’s office. Apparently before Jiggs came in, Toby’d been scratching off a couple lottery tickets he’d bought, and one of them was a winner. $100 worth. Toby said he laid it on the desk when Jiggs came in, then couldn’t find it after the meeting. Pretty much accused Jiggs of taking it. Actually," and Nelson laughed, "I wouldn’t put it past Jiggs to have done just that, but he claims he never even saw it."

"And Admiral Harris didn’t believe him," Lee’s comment sounded more like a statement than a question.

"No. The louder Jiggs denied it, the louder Toby accused him. Jiggs decided the only way to get a little peace was to leave, and give Toby a chance to calm down."

Chip saw Nelson give Lee a speculative look, and glanced at his friend. Chip was very glad Lee didn’t have a pencil in his hand at the moment, and didn’t hold out much hope for the fork that was.

"I know, Lee," Nelson continued soothingly. "That was no excuse to take his bad mood out on the crew."

"No, Sir. It wasn’t," Lee said stiffly, and Chip jumped slightly as Lee slammed down the fork, stood, and stalked out of the Wardroom, most of his breakfast untouched.

"That went over well," Doc observed dryly.

The three concentrated on their breakfast, and Chip was just finishing the last of his coffee when the intercom came to life. "Mr. Morton," Lee’s voice was tensely under control, and Chip sat up straight. "Your presence is requested in the Control Room. Now!"

Both Nelson and Doc looked at Chip, and he had to work extra hard keeping his face straight. "I think Lee found his new toy."

"He doesn’t appear to appreciate it," Nelson said with a grin. "Whatever ‘IT’ is.

"Still working on that inventory problem, Sir," and quickly explained to both men the pencil problem. "I came up with the idea of a titanium casing, thin but strong, about 5 inches long. The pencil fits snuggly inside, protected from premature destruction in moments of command stress. Seaman Tucker made it, and added the idea of magnetizing it, so now the pencil will stick to the metal edge of the chart table, not roll off."

"Creative, Admiral, you have to admit," Doc said. "Along with the music CDs, I’d say Chip’s doing a remarkably effective job as Lee’s XO, keeping things running as smoothly as possible," and he toasted Chip with his coffee cup.

"Yes, definitely," agreed Nelson, and with a rueful expression, added, "much better than my attempts this trip."

Both Chip and Doc stared at the Admiral, Doc starting to ask what he meant by that but was interrupted by the intercom.

"Mr. Morton!" Lee was definitely not happy, and Chip grabbed the mike.

"Wardroom to Captain. Lee, I’m in conference with the Admiral. Be there as soon as I can," and sat back down opposite his superior officer.

The Admiral looked highly embarrassed, and Chip was sure he was going to clam up. But as one of the few people on board who could get away with it, Doc goaded him into an explanation. "There’s no way you’re going to leave us hanging after that bombshell, Admiral. Besides, you don’t want to get Chip in trouble for lying to the Skipper. Out with it."

"Well," Nelson started hesitantly, "I knew Lee wasn’t handling having Jiggs on board very well."

"What was your first clue," muttered Doc into his coffee cup, earning him a glare, then a slight smile, from the Admiral.

"Anyway, since it was my fault for allowing Jiggs to come, I, well, I…um…just thought if I dropped Jiggs down a notch or two, maybe he wouldn’t seem quite so formidable, and our overly conscientious Captain wouldn’t take him quite so seriously."

As the Admiral hesitated, Chip was the first to make the connection. "FS1’s radio," and was rewarded by another embarrassed smile. "Lee said it looked like it had been sabotaged."

"Just a little bit," admitted Nelson. "Unfortunately, it didn’t have the desired effect. And then Jiggs went off about his damned toothbrush," Nelson growled, and it was Chip’s turn to look embarrassed.

"Chip?" Nelson questioned sternly. "As I recall, you were the one who found it."

"That’s because it wasn’t lost, Sir. I, ah, sort of borrowed it."

"Whatever for?" Doc asked.

"I used it," Chip said, so softly the others almost didn’t hear him.

"I repeat, whatever for?"

"To clean my head," and Doc almost choked on a swallow of coffee.

Shaking his head, Nelson turned to the CMO. "Remind me not the get our inventive XO ticked off," and both men laughed heartily. "However," Nelson continued finally, "that does explain a comment Jiggs made later that day." Then looking slightly ashamed again, Nelson went on. "And speaking of being inventive, we have you to thank, Chip, for the peace and quiet of the last two days."

Chip was totally at a loss. "I have no idea what you mean, Sir." And his face registered his confusion.

Nelson chuckled, almost to himself. "I heard part of what you said to Lee in the Control Room, about staging a little accident," and Chip wanted nothing more at that moment than to find a hole to crawl into.

It was Doc who spoke first. "Admiral, are you trying to tell us Stark’s stumble on the access ladder wasn’t exactly an accident? You can’t mean that. He could have been seriously hurt," and Doc was angry.

"Not a chance, Jamie. I had it all under control," and he smugly finished off his coffee. "Chip, do we dare tell Lee any of this?"

"No way, Sir. He’d go ballistic." Chip still couldn’t quite believe what the Admiral had done.

"I agree. Now, why don’t you go explain his new toy to him? We still have over 6 hours before reaching port."