Alice Aldridge

*Revised from the original in the 'Anchors Away #2' fanzine hosted by Pat Ames.



Commander Lee Crane stood in the greenhouse nose of Seaview, peering out into the sweeping currents of the South Pacific Ridge, straining for a first glimpse of PACLAB.  Chip had the conn and was delivering them to the undersea habitat's coordinates with his usual meticulous attention to navigational detail.  But Lee was eager to catch a glimpse of the newest outpost in the undersea exploration of the deep frontier.

He knew they must be approaching because he caught sight of a small diving party flitting thru the shadowy depths like fireflies in a summer twilight.  The slow graceful glide of a circling manta and darting silvery schools of amberjack resembled strange alien life forms winging through the crystalline sunless waters, while the Seaview herself drifted downward like some great interstellar craft coming in for a midnight landing at a spaceport.

He was so absorbed in the view that he hardly noticed when he was joined by the Admiral and the Scientific Project Head that they were ferrying in to PACLAB along with mail, specially requisitioned luxury items and other comforts of home.

Admiral Nelson pointed to the sprawling cluster of domes and prefab buildings. "There she is, Robert.  PACLAB.  Your home, office, and laboratory for the next six months."

Dr. Robert Carrick, who had mellowed considerably from the bitter, obsessed man Lee remembered from his last encounter with the renowned marine biologist, leaned heavily on his cane.  He still required lightweight braces to support his half‑paralyzed legs but new therapies had repaired some of the nerve damage caused by "the bends" that he had suffered during an underwater rescue effort.

His increased mobility and the success of his whale myoglobin studies, which had furthered man's ability to survive in the undersea depths, was one reason Carrick had been selected when the Project Leader position had come open. Of course, Nelson's recommendation hadn't hurt either.  Especially since the Admiral had been part of the original design team who had made the dream of a permanent deep sea research station a reality, building on the successes of Cousteau's Conshelf and NASA's Project Tektite.   PACLAB was a much more ambitious project, being multinational in scope and development, with the Japanese contributing almost fifty percent of the funding and technology.                                             

Dr. Carrick peered at the maze of buildings eagerly. "I wonder which one is the high pressure lab where Dr. Singh does his distillation experiments.  He reported some promising results that he thought would speed up the synthesis of my myoglobin serum."

"Don't be so quick off the starting blocks, Robert." Nelson clasped his shoulder, gently chiding. "You've got a whole six months to work on your process. You don't have to produce results overnight. Besides, as the Scientific Project Manager, you're probably going to have to arbitrate any number of disagreements and ruffled feathers among your fellow scientists."

Carrick glanced at Nelson in exasperation, a little of the old impatient, driven genius surfacing. "Good grief, Harry. I don't have time to waste pouring oil on troubled waters.  Especially after what we went through harvesting those whales to get the samples to begin with. Then proving its effectiveness with Captain Crane as a human guinea pig in order save the lives of your crewman and that other researcher ‑ what was her name? ‑ you ought to be as impatient to see this serum mass produced as I am." 

"Diane McClellan," Nelson answered softly, his blue eyes pensive.


Nelson elaborated. "Diane McClellan was the whale linguistic researcher whose life your serum saved.  Although she wasn't terribly grateful at the time because you were doing your specimen collection from live whales."

Dr. Carrick paused thoughtfully for a moment, also recalling his prior scientific mission aboard Seaview.  "Yes, I remember now. She was one of Dr. Holden's research assistants, helping with his whale language studies.  Have you heard from either of them lately?"

"Holden's still at the Institute, doing the linguistic breakdown on the tapes that we made.  They turned out to be much more complex than he imagined. I think Miss McClellan is working on her Doctorate."

Carrick grunted an acknowledgment and then turned back to his avid observation of the PACLAB facility.

Even though Chip was handling the docking with his usual cautious precision, Lee palmed the mike from the nose, unable to resist the mischievous impulse. "Bring her in slow and easy, Mr. Morton. We wouldn't want to spoil Dr. Carrick's welcome by knocking a hole in his new office."

There was a wry chuckle from the Exec's end as he retorted, "Steady as she goes, Skipper. We won't even scratch the paint."


       *              *              *


After Morton had finished the tricky job of docking the great sub, he turned the conn back over to Crane.  Lee announced over the shipwide PA system,          

"Starboard watch lay down to the aft storage compartments.  The PACLAB crew is eagerly awaiting those supplies they requisitioned.  All shifts will report to CPO Sharkey by 1800 for a mandatory orientation to the science station and Seaview's mission here during the next ten days.  All diving teams report to the station's dive master after the cargo is offloaded."

In the aft cargo section, Chief Sharkey had more helping hands than he knew what to do with.  Like anyone living in a frontier outpost, the scientists, technicians and divers from PACLAB were always eager to see new faces and hear the latest gossip. They received daily news summaries and electronic mail via the routine data exchange with Pearl Harbor but it was cold and impersonal.  Besides, even the most advanced hydroponics lab or well‑stocked video, periodical, or software library wasn't able to supply all the necessities of life.

"Hey, Chief."  A grizzled, wiry figure with the deep chest of a lifelong diver accosted his Seaview counterpart. "Did'ya get `em?"

Sharkey looked up from the Seaview's cargo manifest into a gleam of white teeth in a weather‑beaten face. He glanced around obliquely, making sure no senior officers were present.

"Are you Ramirez?"

The man held out a calloused hand as he responded, "Carlos Ramirez, divemaster, security chief, and jack‑of‑all‑trades to this bunch of eggheads"

Sharkey wrung the offered hand firmly. Judging by the answering strength of his grip, Ramirez must have been a blacksmith before he took on his present job. His dark black eyes gleamed with merriment and a certain degree of urgency, "You were able to get that special order I sent by way of the Patrick Henry, weren't you?"    

"Did I ever.  The guy that swapped me these assured me they're so hot they melt glass . . .

harvested from the heart of chili pepper country."

"Harrumph," Ramirez grunted skeptically. "Unless they're from my home state of Jalisco, near Guadalajara, they're probably the mild ones we use to wean the muchachos."

"HA!" snorted a short stocky Asian, who paused as he was helping hand truck some of the cartons that were being unloaded.  "You Latinos think you know hot peppers!  You haven't tasted really hot ones until you've tried the Korean ones we use to make kimchi!"

"Kimchi!" Ramirez chortled, punching the younger man affectionately on the shoulder. "Only old women and invalids eat that pap."

He gestured to the Asian to join them, "Chief Sharkey, I want you to meet Dr. Kim Lo Park, our marine biologist and cetacean studies specialist. For an egghead, he's got a pretty good grasp of reality...except for this crazy idea that his Korean red peppers are mucho caliente like my jalapenos!"

Recognizing the sound of an ongoing friendly rivalry, Sharkey grinned and shook the younger man's hand.  But before the discussion could proceed any further into the comparative merits of incendiary agriculture, Patterson and Ski interrupted.

"Chief," Ski gestured toward several crates. "This is electronic gear, all labeled "Fragile" and coded for the Cetacean lab.  Should we call the project head and see if it needs special handling or just take it over there?"

Dr. Kim looked up in surprise, "I'm the project head.  Let me take a look at that manifest and see which of our requisitions the `Iron Chrysanthemum' approved."

Sharkey handed Kim the list and he followed Patterson and Ski to take a closer look at his unexpected bounty.

Noting Kim's hostile tone of voice and his derogatory nickname for the Project administrator, Sharkey raised an inquisitive eyebrow at Ramirez.  The dive master shrugged off‑handedly. "Ms. Shimada keeps a pretty tight rein on the station's equipment budget. That way she always knows what sort of experiments and research are ongoing.  It makes sense from a security standpoint . . . as well as a financial one."

Overhearing that final remark, as he returned the manifest to Sharkey, Kim remarked somewhat sourly, "It's not the most sensitive ultrasonic/subsonic differentiation system available but I guess it will have to do.  From a bottom-line standpoint, my cetacean studies don't have the potential for profit like some of the other research in pelagic agrarian techniques or undersea ore extraction.  And I have a better chance of ice‑skating in hell than of getting any equipment Dr. Shimada classifies as `unnecessary' or `frivolous'."

As the young Korean cetalogist left, helping Ski handcart his electronic supplies, Sharkey inquired further,” Bottom-line?  Potential for profit?' I thought this was strictly a research station?"

"It is," Ramirez gave a particularly eloquent Latin shrug. "But with the Japanese paying half the bills, practical applications tend to take precedence over `pure research'."

Noticing that the storage area was momentarily deserted, Ramirez whispered out of the corner of his mouth, "What about the other hot item I put in my request for?"

Sharkey glanced around furtively before going over to a storage locker and pulling out several glossy magazines.  He flipped one of them open to the gatefold and watched with satisfaction, as Ramirez gave a low appreciative whistle.

"Take a gander at Miss September! And Miss April will blow your socks off!"

Ramirez just shook his head in disbelief, his dark eyes sparkling in amusement as he held out his hands for the coveted magazines. "The last twelve months of Playboy . . . with the centerfolds still intact!  Chief, my hat's off to you.  The scuttlebutt was right . . . you can get anything!"


*          *          *


Spinning the ratchet wheel on the watertight hatch that separated the Cetacean Lab from the rest of the facility, Dr. Kim remarked to Kowalski, "All the labs are sealed off from the living facilities for safety, in case there are any accidents.  But our lab is the only one with airlock capability.  You'll see why in a minute."

Opening the second watertight door, Kim ushered Ski into the main lab.  It was all the young seaman could do to repress an astonished gasp.

He was used to the herculite greenhouse nose in Seaview but the huge picture window sized viewports in the marine lab made them pale in comparison.  Gazing out into undersea depths gently lit by special lighting that revealed its denizens without blinding them, Ski felt almost like he was standing on the ocean bottom.  Undersea inhabitants scuttled, drifted, or swam so close the lab itself they looked like house guests or nosy neighbors. In addition, the lab was filled with numerous electronic monitoring devices and other less familiar lab equipment.

Kim smiled at the sailor's awestruck expression.

"You can't study marine life unless you observe it on a daily, even hourly basis.  As you can see we get a lot of observing done . . . and vice versa."  

He paused in his guided tour, calling out to someone else in the lab. "Diane, hey Diane. Are you decent? We've got company."

A half‑familiar voice drifted from behind a closed door to another portion of the lab, "I'm just finishing a resonance scan on Bubbles. I'll be done in a minute and you can come in."

Moments later as they entered that section, containing still more monitoring devices, some of them appearing medical in nature, the voice revealed itself as belonging to a very familiar face. Diane McClellan, who Ski had met the year before on a scientific expedition aboard Seaview. Ski also saw the reason for Kim's earlier warning.  Under a white lab coat she appeared to have just tossed on, she was wearing a damp and very form‑fitting, one‑piece swim suit.  He noted with wry appreciation that Diane was still as lithely attractive as she had been when he first met her.

"Ski!" Her face lit up and she appeared on the verge of dashing over and throwing her arms around his neck in greeting.  But she looked down at her damp suit and over to Kim as well, then reached out to shake Ski's hand in a much more restrained fashion.

Glancing sidelong at the young Korean scientist, Ski wondered if there was something going on between the two of them.  But before he could give it more than a moment's thought, Diane erupted in enthusiastic questioning, "What are you doing here?  Was that Seaview that just docked?  We stay in the lab so much, we never hear half the scuttlebutt about which ship is due in with our supplies.  Geez, it just seems like less than two weeks since the Patrick Henry left."

"It's been over a month," Kim replied somewhat sourly.

Diane ignored her co‑worker's moodiness, continuing to question Ski, still excited at his presence. "Are you just here long enough to drop off our goodies or will you be staying longer?"

He smiled at her, diffidently, "We're here to drop off Dr. Carrick.  He's the new Project Manager.  And we're supposed to stick around for another two weeks, doing saturation diving studies and helping some of the researchers.  You mean nobody told you there would be extra divers?  Seems like your project would have first priority on them."     

There was a brief silence, half‑embarrassed, half‑resentful before Kim retorted in a somewhat bitter tone.

"I'm not surprised.  If Ms. Shimada is allocating the divers to the various projects, then we'd be the last to hear about it, much less get any extra help."

Ski looked inquiringly at Diane, who was not as angry as her colleague, but perturbed nonetheless. "Yeah, we are kind of low on her priority list.  Mainly because of the nature of our studies.  Our attempts to prove that whales and dolphins are sentient and self‑aware are seen as a definite threat to Japanese fishing interests."

"Plus," Dr. Kim continued bitterly, "Our esteemed Madame Administrator tends to let old cultural biases influence her judgment and the Japanese `Master Race' has always despised us

`Korean `mongrels'!"

Diane took a conciliatory air toward her disgruntled co‑worker. "I really don't think it's intentional, Kim.  She's too good a manager to let race and politics influence her decisions.  It's just that she's a bottom-line pragmatist and our work doesn't seem to have much practical value at the moment."

"Hrrrmph." The Korean folded his arms in exasperation, then his usual good humor returned. "Would you like to meet the other member of our research team?"

Before Ski could answer, Kim had dragged him over to the large tank that Diane had been working over when they entered.  A medium‑sized bottle-nosed dolphin was circling gracefully around it until Kim splashed his hand in the water and the dolphin rubbed eagerly against it like an affectionate cat, squeaking and blowing.

"Hi sweetheart," he smiled mischievously. "Has Diane been working you too hard again?"

There was a loud series of burbling noises and a short snort of air from the dolphin's blowhole that Ski could have sworn sounded like a rude noise.

Kim made the introductions. "This is Bubbles.  She was one of the dolphins I did my dissertation on at the University of Hawaii.  She and I have been partners for a very long time."

Ski nodded, wondering when Diane's interest had switched from researching whale songs to doing dolphin studies.  She gave him a shy smile as she answered his unspoken question, "The whale song tapes I made for Dr. Holden turned out to be even more complex than we even imagined.  While he's still working with the Institute's computers in decoding them, he thought it would help if I did some research into other cetacean languages as well.  When the position came open at the PACLAB facility, I jumped at it.  Of course, the Admiral's recommendation was an enormous help." 

There was a large splash from the dolphin tank that Diane took the brunt of, revealing one reason why she wore a swimsuit when working with Bubbles.  "All right, all right, I'm going to get your herring right now, since you were gracious enough to let me make those scans without having to play tag team water polo.  Just let me say good‑bye to Ski."

Dr. Kim's expression was dubious but Diane did not let that stop her from giving Ski a friendly kiss on the cheek.  "Maybe we can convince Ms. Shimada that we're entitled to a couple of Seaview's divers.  If so, I hope I get a chance to see you sometime this week."

Ski rubbed his cheek thoughtfully as he went through the two hatches heading back toward Seaview.  This trip was definitely developing complications.


*          *          *

After Seaview's cargo had been offloaded, Captain Crane and Admiral Nelson were invited by PACLAB's administrator to accompany Dr. Carrick on a tour of the undersea facility. After the message was delivered, Nelson raised his brows inquiringly at Dr. Carrick.

"Are you sure you want us tagging along, Robert? This may be the Administrator's only chance to give you a totally frank appraisal of any problems that you might face over the next few months. Our presence might prevent him from being totally candid."

Carrick gave an off‑handed shrug, as he answered. "When I was selected for this position, Harry, I was told the Station Administrator handled all the routine day‑to‑day administrative business of running the station. From how much aspirin to order to how much power is allocated to the Rec Room.  My job description was mainly to oversee the scientific aspects of the Project. . . including allocation of resources, approval of equipment and supply requisitions, and arbitrating any research overlap disputes." 

He frowned thoughtfully. "It sounds like there's a good deal more control and oversight of the actual research than I expected.  But with the Japanese sponsorship and technical support, I understand that they prefer their research labs to operate in a somewhat more orderly fashion than I'm used to."  He shrugged. "I guess I can cope.  The opportunity was too good to pass up."

Nelson rubbed his chin thoughtfully, "An excellent opportunity, if the scientific research remains independent of anyone's political agenda."

Carrick glanced obliquely at the Admiral, wondering if Seaview's sudden availability to ferry him to PACLAB and remain on station for several days of diving experiments was as innocent as it appeared.  Nelson was on the oversight committee that reviewed the lab's funding annually and kept a very close eye on the progress and direction of its undersea studies.

If he had been sent here to troubleshoot . . .

He glared suspiciously at his old friend, "Is there something you're not telling me, Harry?"

"No. . . no. . . not at all, Robert. I'm just here as a visiting fireman and hoping to do a little puttering around in their labs with my own work on saturation diving air mixtures."

Moments later, they were ushered into the Administrator's office, a cramped, spartan area with few, if any, personalizing, touches. They were surprised when the PACLAB Administrator introduced herself.  First by her age, which was surprisingly young to head a Project of this size and importance and, second, the fact she was female, since women were rarely chosen by most Japanese business executives for senior management posts.

Her position as Project Administrator certainly indicated she was a woman of extraordinary intelligence and resolve, although somewhat ordinary in appearance; average height, slender, with a round, seemingly placid, face until one looked into her eyes, which were unusually light in color.  They were an arresting golden‑brown, presently smooth as honey but with an inner glow that hinted of her burning resolve, dimmed for the moment.

Dr. Carrick hesitated, somewhat uncertain of his first move, since many Eastern cultures did not offer handshakes, especially between men and women.  She nodded her head to him with a courteous half‑bow. "Dr. Carrick, I'm Nancy Shimada, PACLAB Administrator and the person who hopefully will keep your day‑to‑day drudge work to a minimum so you will be free to carry on your research."  She bobbed slightly less formal bows to Nelson and Crane. "And you must be Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane."

She gestured to three chairs across from her desk. "Would you care to be seated and have coffee or tea while I tell you a little bit about our station? Or would you prefer to tour the facility first?"

"I think I'd like to see the station first," Dr. Carrick replied brusquely. "After all if I'm responsible for keeping scientific portion of the operation running smoothly, I need to find out what research is in progress."

Ms. Shimada gave them all a small tight smile as she stated, "I think you will have very few demands on your own research time, Dr. Carrick.  Most of the department heads are quite capable of handling the minor administrative details of their various sections and I coordinate the overall resource management.  You'll only have to deal with certain overlapping disciplines and the occasional need to eliminate a `dead end' or nonproductive field of study."

"You mean tell people when to stop beating their heads against a stone wall?" he asked.

"You Americans have such vivid colloquialisms." But her bright smile didn't reach her golden eyes.

Guiding them out of her office, Nancy Shimada divided her remarks between Dr. Carrick and Admiral Nelson, leaving Lee out of the conversation for the most part.

He didn't really mind since the explanations were highly technical in nature and it gave him a chance to study the young woman with increasing interest.  Despite her somewhat ordinary features, Lee found himself increasingly intrigued by her.  He wasn't sure whether it was her unusual eyes that held his attention, or the calm, almost casual, sense of competence and control that surrounded her every move.  She was one of the few women he'd ever encountered with a self‑assured air of command that nearly equaled his own.          

She guided them through the botany, chemistry, and geology labs and they had paused for a moment while Nelson and Carrick listened to Dr. Patel and Dr. Ruiz, the Project's seismologist and vulcanologist as they described their newest Moho discontinuity monitoring device.  Since geology had not been one of his favorite courses at the Academy, Lee took advantage of the lull to get better acquainted with Nancy Shimada.  As the conversation among the four scientists continued, she stood over to one side, staring into middle distance, her thoughts very obviously elsewhere.

He cleared his throat softly, so not to surprise her, then remarked, "This must be a very demanding job."

She looked up from her momentary brooding, taking a closer look at the American submarine commander.  He was quite handsome in a reserved, quiet fashion that she found much more attractive than the typical Western flamboyance of shimmering hair, sparkling teeth, and flashing eyes.  There was even an odd sense of kinship as well, since he seemed to take his responsibilities very seriously, unlike some of the other officers and sub captains than she had encountered while she had been the PACLAB administrator.

She gave him a somewhat warmer smile. "It certainly is, Captain Crane.  But the opportunity was just too tempting to resist."

Lee raised his dark brows in inquiry, "In what way?"

"My joint major was in psychology and business administration.  But despite my degree, very few businesses in my country are willing to hire female executive trainees.  But when the position came open with PACLAB, their selection committee was looking for an adventurous and competent person who was not claustrophobic." She glanced around at the cramped quarters of the lab. "Compared to where I lived and worked in Tokyo, PACLAB is spacious. For once my sex and nationality were not a liability. Hopefully, the experience and prestige I gain from the successful and profitable administration of this facility will open doors for me in my native Japan."

"Profit?" he was somewhat dubious. "I didn't think that profit was that important to a research station like PACLAB."

"Perhaps in America, with your wealth and unlimited resources, you can afford to throw money into the ocean and not expect any immediate return.  But in my country, with its growing dependence on other nations for energy sources and metals crucial for manufacturing and industry, we must look to the oceans for resolving our problems with depleted natural resources and declining food supply.  Hopefully, new undersea mining techniques and advances in pelagic farming methods will provide solutions to these problems in the near future."

Lee smiled warmly, "Yes, that's what the Admiral hopes for as well."

She glanced downward, hesitating before she acknowledged his reply. "Yes . . .Admiral Nelson's views are well known to me."

Lee could not be certain but he thought he heard a note of disapproval in her voice. 

The Admiral and Carrick were concluding their discussions with the two geologists. As Lee and Nancy came over, there was a thoughtful look on Dr. Carrick's face as he addressed Dr. Patel.

"Well, keep me apprised of the situation, particularly if there's any increase in frequency or amplitude on those anomalous P waves."

"I will," was Dr. Patel's softly accented answer.

As they continued on the tour, Nelson turned to Carrick curiously. "Why were you so disturbed about those seismograph readings?  Dr. Patel believed that they were just settling tremors due to a minor subsidence earlier this month."

"Maybe," Dr. Carrick rubbed his upper leg absently, as though troubled by old aches and pains, a reminder of earlier trauma. "But they looked like some of the earliest ground wave readings we got in the LEMURIA project . . . before the major shockwave that cracked our dome." There was a haunted faraway look in Carrick's eyes. "I just want to make sure nothing like that happens. . .here."

Overhearing the anxious note in Dr. Carrick's voice, Nancy Shimada shrugged off his misgivings,” You must remember, Doctor, we are at the outermost edge of the ‘Ring of Fire’ and although this area is geologically stable, Dr. Patel's instrumentation is sensitive enough to detect reverberations from that more seismically active area."

"Perhaps," Carrick retorted darkly. "But I'd still like to study the lab's emergency evacuation plan at the first opportunity. You know the old saying, `Once burned, twice shy'."

Shimada's eyes flashed at his implication she was ignoring proper safety procedures. "Certainly, Dr. Carrick. I will have the plans on your desk, first thing in the morning, along with the rest of our procedures for handling other emergencies; including toxic chemical leaks, bacterial contamination, and total power failure. All of which are much more likely than a structural breach, especially since our containment walls were reinforced by a safety factor of twelve to withstand any major undersea disturbance. In Japan, we have been surviving this sort of thing for generations." 

"I can understand your justifiable pride in the construction of PACLAB, Ms. Shimada," Dr. Carrick answered bleakly. "But I've seen the destruction of one undersea lab and the cost of my own pride and self‑deception. . . in lost human lives.  I don't intend to allow something like that happen  again, not if it is within my power to prevent it."

With that intense declaration, Carrick turned awkwardly around, limping angrily down the companionway.  Hurrying after his labored strides, Nancy Shimada quickly drew alongside, responding to his emotional response with a calculated deliberation. "I can assure you, sir, that we are neither negligent nor foolhardy here in PACLAB. We have a sufficient number of evacuation modules, fully supplied, if the structural integrity of PACLAB appears to be compromised in any fashion and all our people have been drilled in the proper procedure."

She paused, not certain how he would react to her next statement. "However, since no provision was made for a rapid data system download or salvage of much of the specialized instrumentation that so many of these projects rely on, I think that many of the scientists here would prefer to take their chances on the survivability of the station during any undersea disturbance, rather than abandon the irreplaceable data they have gathered for months."

Dr. Carrick's gaze was hooded and dark with pain as he retorted sarcastically, "Thank you for your keen insight into the scientific mind, Miss Shimada. I will certainly contemplate it just before one of the domes cracks or we're all swallowed by an undersea fissure."

Nelson interjected mildly, trying to defuse the sudden antagonism, "I'm sure that we won't face anything remotely approaching your `gloom and doom' scenario, Robert.  Besides with Seaview here, we can keep a close eye on the station and help if any problems arise."

Carrick grunted a noncommittal response to the Admiral's reassurance. But Lee was somewhat sympathetic to Nancy's viewpoint.  Any exploration of new frontiers always involved a certain degree of risk and you couldn't run for a safe harbor every time a cloud covered the sun. He felt the precautions she had described were more than adequate for PACLAB's safety.

The orientation continued in a somewhat terse and perfunctory matter after that difference of opinion until they reached the hatch labeled "Cetacean Lab".  The Administrator's expression did not change from the remote, professional facade that she had maintained throughout the tour.  If anything, it grew chillier.

"Here is the Cetacean Lab, presently occupied by Dr. Kim and his research assistant, Ms. McClellan."

Nelson glanced at Dr. Carrick trying to note any reaction to this indication of the presence of the young woman who had at one time opposed his research because of his requirements for live tissue specimens from the whales that she was so protective of.  Although they reached a temporary detente during their time together aboard Seaview that enabled them to work together and accomplish their seemingly incompatible goals, Nelson did not think any enduring friendship had been formed.

Still, after a brief startled reaction, Robert resumed the open and receptive expression he had worn earlier in the orientation.  But a sudden momentary irritation on Ms. Shimada's face and the careful neutrality of her voice showed the faintest hint of her own exasperation, almost hostility, toward this particular project.

"I can show you the lab but the researchers may not be in at the moment.  They spend a great deal of time outside; diving, observing, making video and audio recordings for later analysis.  Of course, we haven't seen much in the way of productive conclusions coming out of their studies, so far."

That statement preceded her as they entered the lab and was apparently overheard by the Project Head, Dr. Kim.  Although he was also of Asian extraction like Ms.Shimada, the two could not have been more different had they been born on opposite sides of the world.  Kim was solid, stocky, square‑jawed, with the deep chest of a long‑time diver compared to her slender pliancy; an oak beside a willow, a sturdy Clydesdale standing alongside a thoroughbred.  His temperament differed as well, as he reacted to her subtle derision with an angry retort.

"Studies of living organisms, especially of such mental and social complexity as the Cetaceans, requires observation throughout their life cycles.  These are not home movies where we can just hit the `high spots' for your edification and entertainment!"  

The Administrator glared at Dr. Kim during that outburst, then visibly subdued her irritation as she made the introductions. "Dr. Kim Lo Park, our cetacean specialist.  This is Admiral Nelson, Captain Crane, and our new Scientific Project Manager, Dr. Robert Carrick."

Kim's hostility evaporated almost as suddenly as it had appeared and an open, friendly smile erupted like sunlight after a thunderstorm. He gripped Crane's hand warmly then turned to Dr. Carrick and Admiral Nelson with a slightly more formal bow. "It is a pleasure to meet all of you. You especially, Admiral.  I've long admired the remarkable vision and foresight that you showed in your design of this undersea research station when other people couldn't see past the financial bottom line that said such a project was impossible."

"Thank you," the Admiral rumbled, gazing out of the lab's impressive viewports, identical to those that he had first developed for Seaview.

Kim's attention turned to Dr. Carrick. "Diane's told me a great deal about your work.  While I don't agree with some of your methods, the results certainly seem to justify the cost."

"Unlike your own," was Nancy Shimada's chilly interjection.

Kim's lips thinned in disgust, "No, I doubt if I will have any `bottom line profitable' results anytime in the near future."

"Or within my lifetime," she continued, soft‑voiced.

Kim ignored her, continuing to address his remarks to Nelson and Carrick, "But my recent dolphin linguistics work, along with Dr. Holden's whale studies, improve our understanding of our underwater cousins more each day.  It's amazing, Admiral."  The young marine biologist's dark eyes glowed with an almost religious fervor. "Dolphins and whales are so in harmony with their environment. Attuned to the undersea depths in ways that we are just beginning to comprehend.  They sense so much more about the ocean than we ever imagined possible ‑‑ not just sound and pressure, but temperature, salinity, the location of food and enemies.  Even the presence of certain metallic elements in the sea water itself.  If we could only communicate more fully with them. Learn what they seem to know instinctively."

There was distinctly unladylike snort from Ms. Shimada. "If you persist in following this totally haphazard and improbable line  of research, Doctor, I doubt that you will be with us much longer.  The committee that funds this project wants results, not wild speculation. Show us how we can use the dolphins to round up fish and herd them into our nets.  Show us how the whales' exotic senses can be incorporated into our undersea salvage and mining equipment.  But don't bother me with your theories about cetacean sentience and interspecies communication because this lab simply does not have the time or money to waste on such utterly useless nonsense!"

With that outburst, the Administrator took a deep breath, trying to smooth over her obvious agitation. "Please forgive my loss of control, but the success of this lab and the ultimate outcome of the various scientific studies rests squarely on my shoulders. The Japanese sponsors of this project have made it clear they do not wish to see their money wasted."

Dr. Carrick tried to soothe the sudden eruption of tension, "I'll gladly assume my share of responsibility and try to make things run as smoothly as possible on the scientific end."

Somewhat perturbed by the trend the conversation had taken, Nelson spoke up brusquely, "The Project's Japanese backers need to be aware that scientific genius doesn't punch a time clock and sometimes the most valuable knowledge we gain from research can't be broken down into dollars and cents."

Apparently ignoring Nelson's admonition, Ms. Shimada turned toward Dr. Carrick, "I look forward to working with you, sir.  This concludes my formal orientation tour, although I will gladly remain to answer any further questions."  Seeing that no one seemed to have any, she continued. "If you'll excuse me, Seaview's delivery of supplies and the scheduled diving studies require my attention."

"I'd like to come with you, if you don't mind. Since I'm in charge of the diving teams maybe I can be of assistance."  Lee offered with his usual casual charm.

With a sudden shy smile, Ms. Shimada accepted the Captain's offer. "Of course, Captain. I welcome your interest."

As they exited the Lab, their voices drifted back.

"My friends call me Lee." Crane began.

Even Ms. Shimada's chill reserve couldn't resist the captain's boyish smile, and she answered with a hesitant smile of her own. "I'm Nancy, Lee.  Although I probably can't call anyone on this station my friend ‑ the price of leadership, I suppose."

The voices were abruptly cut off by the closing of the hatch but Nelson resolved to find out what Crane learned about this intensely driven young woman as soon as the opportunity presented itself. In the wake of their departure, the was a momentary uncomfortable silence as Dr. Kim seemed suddenly abashed by his earlier outburst.

"Forgive my ill manners, sirs, but Ms. Shimada and I have distinct differences of opinion on the nature and value of research."

Nelson interjected his usual calm into the situation, "I'm sure they’ll soon be ironed out with Dr. Carrick's able assistance."

Before he could continue his questioning of the young scientist on his present research, there was a thump and the gurgling sound of an outer airlock emptying.  Dr. Kim looked toward the inner lab in surprise.

"That sounds like Diane. But she's not due in for another  twenty minutes."

Hurrying over to the inner hatch, Kim and Nelson spun the lock open as soon as the door was clear, then helped the diver inside shed her tanks and gear. With water streaming from her wetsuit, Diane pulled up her face mask and removed her regulator, taking note of their visitors.  She smiled briefly, then sighed with relief, flexing and rolling her shoulders as Kim hefted up the heavy air tanks.

"What are you doing back so soon?  I thought you were staying out there for another twenty minutes making films of Bubbles' response to our newest language tape."

"I was," she replied in irritation, "but Bubbles had other plans."  As the three scientists listened intently, Diane elaborated. "Oh, things started off well enough.  She responded to my hand signals and then to the voder's interpretation of my verbal instructions, then all of a sudden, she stopped dead in the water.  Like she had seen or heard something I didn't, then she took off like a scalded cat!"

"Were the engineers out doing any welding or maintenance work?"

"No, I checked the schedule just to be sure."

"What about predators?  Were there any sharks or orcas around?"

"Not a glimmer and Central is very good about alerting anyone who's outside the domes about sightings anywhere in the vicinity."  Diane shook her head, bewildered.

"Is it possible she heard a cry for help from another dolphin?  That might have been on a higher frequency than you would have picked up." Nelson suggested.

"I was taping the whole episode so we could do a comprehensive analysis of her responses to the program.  I suppose we could run it through the computer and see if there was anything in the ultrahigh band on the tape."

"I'll send Kowalski down to help." Nelson offered.

Diane smiled, pulling off her hood and shaking out her dark hair. "Thank you, Admiral," she said warmly. "We certainly can use his expertise." 

She glanced over to Dr. Kim who was obviously perplexed by his dolphin's behavior. "I just don't understand.  Bubbles is usually so conscientious.  It's not like her to run off in the middle of an experiment like that."

Nelson responded with gruff good humor, his shaggy grey brows lifted in amusement. "Who knows? It could be hormones and some smooth‑talking young male luring her off to frolic in the deep." 

Helping Kim stow away their communication equipment, Diane nodded in half‑hearted agreement with Nelson's suggestion, "I hope that's all it is, sir.  But you get to know dolphins, their body language and attitudes, when you work with them as often as we do.  I don't think Bubbles had romance on her mind.  I'd almost swear she was scared half out of her wits!"


*          *          *


Deep inside a rift on an undersea ridge well hidden from PACLAB's sensors, a renegade drilling station prepared to run its latest core samples through the ore extraction process.  Glancing over the controls operating the first of several heavy duty drills, Chief Engineer Matsuka nodded with curt satisfaction.

"Excellent progress, Mr. DeSoto. Judging from the ore that we extracted last week, we should have a substantial profit to report to our backers soon. More than enough to justify the risks of establishing this station."

Although DeSoto acknowledged the approval of his superior, he still had grave misgivings.

"We've hit heavy resistance in the third bore hole and the vibration in the drill is increasing to a marked degree."

"I checked it a half hour ago," Matsuka responded calmly. "It's still well within design tolerances for the equipment."

"I don't like it," DeSoto fidgeted, rubbing his hands together nervously as he studied the gauge readings from the main drill site. "It could register on those scientific instruments at PACLAB.  Not to mention causing bottom shifts and other possible seismic disturbances."

"You worry too much," Matsuka retorted scornfully.  "Any abnormalities on their instruments will only be interpreted as normal seismic activity in the region.  Besides, if it makes them nervous enough to evacuate the base, so much the better.  It means we'll be able to extend our drilling operation that much further.'

"What if they analyze the vibrations and discover they're due to illegal drilling?"

"That bunch of starry‑eyed dreamers? I doubt if they notice anything outside their own labs.  Besides, even if they did realize someone was drilling illegally, what could they do about it?  It would take them weeks, if not months, to find this base, as well concealed as it is. Then even if they did inform their government of our illegal operation, it would be even longer before they took action against us.  By that time we will have extracted sufficient ore to repay our backers ten times over for their investment and provide a tidy profit for ourselves as well."

"I hope you're right," DeSoto shivered, staring around at the utilitarian grey metal walls surrounding them, beaded with condensation from their laboring life‑support system. "If anyone did get wise to us, it would only take a couple of torpedoes to make this place our tomb."

"You worry too much," Matsuka scoffed again. "You should use your time constructively and plan what you're going to do with your share of the profits, instead."


*          *          *


Early the next "morning", a somewhat arbitrary concept in a world where sunrise and sunset were only a memory, Captain Lee Crane prepared to take his diving team out to conduct endurance tests as scheduled. Going though the routine checklist, he mused over the prior evening's increasingly friendly conversation with Nancy Shimada, as they had finalized the diving schedules. Once he gotten past her cool reserve, he found her charming and intriguing, with a delightful sense of humor.

Her icy facade was a long‑cultivated defense against the largely male hierarchy in business and science who tended to not take her seriously in her role as PACLAB Project Administrator.  Their condescending attitudes only made her job that much more difficult and left her angry and bitter.

"They treat me like I'm a simple‑minded child, incapable of understanding plain English.  They don't realize that I've accepted the sole responsibility for this Project and I intend to make certain that it is a success ‑‑ personally, scientifically, and financially.  My honor will not permit me to fail!  No matter what the cost."

"In money or in lives?" he questioned gently.

She glanced down at her tightly clenched fingers and took a deep breath, deliberately trying to relax. "I'm not reckless with human lives, Lee. I just think that most of the people on this station share my feelings in this regard.  They would gladly sacrifice themselves, if necessary, to assure the continuation of their work."

He felt a cold chill go down his spine at her implacable expression when she made that statement.  The one thing that worried him most was that she was probably right.  The Admiral had often risked his own life to further his knowledge and Crane was certain these scientists weren't that different. Something about the logical, scientific mindset went to irrational lengths in its eagerness to explore the unknown. With Seaview remaining here for the next ten days, he felt  responsible for the safety and security of the station and its personnel. And Nancy's attitude would only make his job that much more difficult if problems did arise.

She had smiled lightly at his somber reaction to her fervent declaration. "But there's really no cause for alarm.  The engineers who built this station intended it to withstand a major seaquake, which is highly unlikely in this area."

"Even if they were constantly on site during the actual construction process, a lot can happen between the plans and the completed structure," Lee remarked glumly. "Knowing Murphy's Law as well as I do, I always hate to hear that anything is `impregnable, indestructible, or unsinkable.'  It's asking for trouble."  He touched her cheek gently. "I wouldn't want anything happen to you."

She clasped his fingers and then leaned forward and kissed him with unexpected warmth. "You're sweet to worry about me, Lee.  But I've been taking care of myself. . . and assorted eccentric scientific geniuses for some time now.  I'll manage."

He smiled to himself at that memory and Patterson paused halfway through the safety checklist he was running.


"Sorry, Pat. Just woolgathering. Tank mixture adjusted for depth ‑ check."

"Regulator functioning?"


He continued the rundown with the lanky midwesterner, knowing the Admiral had ordered Kowalski to report to the Cetacean Lab but regretting Ski's absence nonetheless. Although he doubted he would need Ski's technical expertise or calmness under fire during the routine tests that were being run today.

He questioned Pat off‑handedly, "Did the Admiral say how long the Cetacean Lab might need Kowalski?"

"No sir," the blonde crewman shrugged. "Just mentioned that they were trying to isolate the higher and lower frequencies on a recording that had been made earlier."

Lee nodded absently, adjusting the fit of his face mask even more meticulously than usual because of the pressure they would be experiencing.  Finally satisfied, he gave his team their instructions.

"This is a dual purpose mission.  We will be collecting mineral, botanical, and zoological specimens as requested by various PACLAB scientists.  We will also be observing the efficiency of a new breathing mixture that has been developed at this facility. It tested well in the lab but this is its first use in the field so monitor yourselves closely for mental acuity and endurance during the dive.  Also report any discomfort or unusual symptoms ‑‑ dizziness, tightness in your chest, irritation or unusual drying of mucous membranes ‑‑ at once."

He nodded to a diver outfitted in an electric blue wetsuit, rather than Seaview's standard black or neon yellow. "This is Dr. Kim, one of the PACLAB scientists.  He has some audio test equipment that he will be operating, ranging slightly further from the station itself. Ron, you're his diving partner. Make sure you keep a close eye on the time, since the two of you will be working separately and our air tanks won't last long at these depths."

            Acknowledging his warnings, Crane's team followed him awkwardly into the cramped airlock.  Once they were outside the undersea lab, they finned beyond its illuminated perimeter into the twilit depths beyond, on their undersea scavenger hunt. 

Lee had a list of specimens that he was able to locate without too much difficulty but his foremost task was to evaluate his team's response to the new diving mixture at this depth.  He was all too aware of the tragic errors that had taken the lives of pioneers on this undersea frontier and he did not intend to see any of his men fall victim to similar mistakes.

He fastened the net bag containing his specimens securely to his belt and using his high intensity light watched his crew as they carried out the rather mundane assignment.  He watched for any signs of lethargy or decreased motor skills, whether they stayed focused on their jobs or were diverted by passing schools of fish or their own fellow divers. Any one of these behaviors might indicate early oxygen deficit.

He was so intent on observing the reactions of his team that he wasn't really aware of what was happening in the surrounding undersea area, until Patterson tapped him lightly on the shoulder.  Glancing in surprise at the crewman, Crane noted Pat was using a standard hand signal indicating he should look at something. . . closely.  Thinking his diving buddy might have spotted some danger like a shark or moray eel, he gazed around intently.  But none of the larger threatening ocean denizens were in view.  In fact, all the smaller schools of fish that had been swirling and skittering all around them only moments before had suddenly vanished as well.  Suddenly the whole area surrounding the lab was deserted and empty, like all the sea life had been swallowed up. . . or gone into hiding.

Lee activated his throat mike, gazing at Patterson, who seemed equally baffled by this sudden disappearance.

"When did you notice this?" he demanded.

"Only a couple of minutes ago, I was swimming in the middle of a school of blue gills, trying to snag a few of them in my net when suddenly it was like they went into overdrive. Heading for the hills, I'd say, if there were any hills around here to head for."

Lee glanced around again, almost certain that kind of panic‑stricken retreat was due to the presence of a shark or other undersea predator.  But the waters surrounding them remained empty of even that deadly menace.  He quickly summoned his diving party back towards the lab, not certain what the danger was but feeling its presence near in the atavistic prickling of the hairs on the back of his neck.

As the divers were swimming slowly towards the hatchway entrance, he shook his head in bewilderment, still addressing the apprehensive Patterson. "It's strange."

Patterson shuddered in agreement. "Yeah, like on my dad's farm when a storm was due. All the animals hunkered down, dead quiet, before all hell broke loose."

Lee glanced at Patterson sharply, wondering if the fish had fled in fear of a similar undersea disturbance. "Signal the others to step on it. You might have a point there."

But before Patterson could comply with that order, they were hit by an undersea surge of incredible power, sweeping them across the bottom like saplings caught in a flood crest.  Gasping and choking in the cloud of undersea sediment that almost smothered him, Lee felt the bruising collisions as his fellow divers slammed into him and the undersea moorings of the lab itself.  He grabbed blindly at the first solid object he hit, feeling shells, sand, and other underwater debris scraping and tearing against his wetsuit, caught in the force of that undersea surge.

Luckily the destructive riptide lasted only seconds, and Crane and his battered diving team swam shakily toward the airlock they had left a scant fifteen minutes before.


*          *          *


In the Cetacean Lab, after Dr. Kim had left with one of their standard dolphin call transmitters in hopes of coaxing Bubbles to return to the lab, Diane had joined Kowalski where he was working on the tapes she had made earlier.  As she watched the young seaman watching his screen intently, trying to separate out the high and low band frequencies, she gnawed her lip in agitation.  Not only had Bubbles defected, but all the regular visiting dolphins that stopped by on a fairly consistent basis seemed to have vanished as well.

It worried her and not just from a research standpoint.  She was afraid that something might be wrong.  That some of these mischievous, friendly creatures might have been injured or taken ill or experienced some other catastrophe.

Ski glanced up, taking in Diane's obvious distress, and remarked reassuringly. "I've screened out most of the background noise on the recording, like your breathing, transmission buzz, and the routine radio check‑ins.  You got a pretty clean tape of  your voder's mechanical vocalizations and the dolphin's responses just before she took off."

"Do you think the equipment is sensitive enough to pick up anything she might have heard in the extremely high frequency range?"

Ski pulled off the earphones and rubbed his ears ruefully, "That's hard to say at the moment.  There's a ten second interval between the time you ended your transmission and the dolphin gave a sharp sort of squeak‑click and scrammed." He gave her an amused grin. "Your language afterwards wasn't very ladylike."

Diane looked down at her hands, somewhat embarrassed, "I guess I forgot to turn off the recorder.  Dolphins are a heck of a lot harder to work with than whales.  They tend to get playful right in the middle of an experiment and it's almost impossible to get their minds back on work."

Ski gazed at Diane, his dark eyes thoughtful, as he remarked, "Yeah, I know how that goes sometimes."

Clearing her throat nervously, Diane listened to the tape as he replayed it. "She did vocalize just before she left!  And I didn't even mark it on my notes, I must be slipping."

"It's easy to miss. It's a very high‑pitched cry, right at the edge of your normal hearing range.  I only caught it because I was running the upper range analysis on the tape first."

"Run it by me again," Diane requested.

Ski complied and she listened, her face even more baffled by the signal she was trying to identify. "It's a warning signal of some kind.  Not one of the usual ones for sharks or other predators.  Kim might recognize it though.  He's worked with her since she was a calf.  He knows her range of signals much better than I do."

Leaving off his earphones as he adjusted the equipment to analyze the tape in the subsonic range next, he remarked off‑handedly. "You seem to be doing pretty well yourself, identifying dolphin language and signals. Especially considering this time last year you only spoke `whale'."

She grinned at him, remembering the time they had first met.  "Yeah, and I was only interested in the songs of that one specific whale, much to everyone's chagrin, since he was just loaded with that enzyme Dr. Carrick needed."  She glanced around at the undersea lab in bemusement. "Well, you know what they say about life, the only sure thing is change."

"I guess that goes for friendships, too." Ski tried to hide the uncertainty in his voice.  But Diane was too accustomed to listening for nuances of meaning in nonhuman communication to miss the quiet appeal in this human one.

She pulled up a chair beside him as he worked on the equipment and looked intently at his rugged features. "Why would I want to change something as precious as our friendship, Ski?"

There was a long awkward silence and Diane continued somewhat uncertainly, feeling her way.  "Unless I wanted it to become something. . .more."

Their faces were scant inches apart. Her lips soft and parted in invitation. For a long breathless moment, Ski drowned in the sea-green depths of her eyes, until they closed as the young seaman responded to that prompting and pressed his mouth to hers in a kiss that promised much more than the tentative gentle reassurance of their first one months before.  As it deepened and he started to draw her closer, a loud squeal from the console interrupted, leaving them both startled and momentarily flustered.

He hit the MUTE switch before turning back to Diane, whose flushed cheeks indicated the intensity of her response to an embrace that left his head spinning as though he'd come up too fast from a deep dive.  He gulped hard, then reached for her hand as he openly expressed his earlier fears. "Then there's nothing going on between you and Dr. Kim?"

"Hardly. He's got a wife and two children living in Pusan that he talks to as often as topside communication permits.  I think he's used up our E‑mail allotment for the next month sending encouraging notes to his wife and kids, telling them about his dolphins and their antics.  Trying to recruit the next generation to continue his work, I guess."  She smiled wistfully, "Like Dr. Holden, he knows his work won't be completed in his lifetime. And Ms. Shimada's attitude doesn't help much. Of course, he's got a cultural blind spot about her, as well, and their attempts to communicate, even on a professional level, usually turn into shouting matches about `priorities'." She shook her head in exasperation. "They have very different ones."

She glanced over his shoulder to the flashing light on the console. "Hadn't you better see what's on the tape that's so important?"

Ski glanced down at the warning signal that had been triggered in response to something on Diane's tape. He pulled on his earphones hurriedly and hit REPLAY. Seconds later, he glanced over at her as he interpreted the results.

"This is really strange. Dolphins usually transmit on a high frequency band but this tape is showing some very pronounced low frequency readings.  Lower than we even saw with your whale tapes."

He turned back to the console and made some minor adjustments to compensate for temperature and depth, then after listening intently for another few minutes, pulled off the earphones and stood up with a tight, grim expression on his face.  "We gotta notify the Admiral, quick!  These sub-harmonic waves are not from whales or any other sea life.  They're artificial in nature ‑‑ a typical pattern for undersea drilling.  And judging by the secondary resonances they're strong enough to trigger rock slides or bottom quakes."

Before either of them could reach for the intercom to warn Seaview or the rest of PACLAB, there was a rumble that shook the whole station and suddenly they were plunged into darkness!


*          *          *


Inside the airlock, Lee leaned weakly against a wall as water drained swiftly from the chamber.  Without its support, several members of his diving team dropped to their knees, stunned by the underwater force that had pummeled them.  Wincing with the pain of his own bruises, Lee called over his throat mike, hoping someone could hear him.

"Medical emergency at airlock five.  Get a doctor here on the double."

There was a low static‑filled hum in reply, that left him fearful that Seaview or PACLAB had suffered critical damage to its communications.  Then Chip's voice answered, his relief evident despite the crackling static on Crane's headset.

"We hear you, Skipper.  I've notified PACLAB's Sick Bay.  They should have someone there in just a minute."

Lee nodded wearily, then spun the wheel opening the hatch and stumbled over its high sill, leading into the main lab, dim in the red gleam of emergency lighting.  He struggled out of his harness and let his tanks drop heavily to the deck and then, with Pat's help, dragged the semiconscious Dr. Kim, who was bleeding from his nose and ears, out of the airlock.

Moments later Chief Sharkey and Divemaster Ramirez arrived, almost at a dead run, and began helping the divers out of their wet suits, as they checked for injuries or breathing difficulties.  Pat had a rapidly darkening bruise on his jaw where he'd collided with Crane's elbow during that seemingly eternal tumble through dark Pacific waters.  Lee wiped the blood from his mouth, grateful that his lip was only slashed and not bitten clean through, then groaned as he tried to straighten up, feeling like the bottom man in a pileup during the Army‑Navy game. 

Sharkey offered a steadying hand and a dry towel as he tried to get Crane to join the rest of his battered group sprawled on the deck, waiting for the doc's arrival.  "Sit  down, sir.  Those ribs are probably cracked."

Lee stifled a groan as he reached for his dry uniform, "What hit us, Chief?  And what's the damage report."

Holding Crane's shirt so he could ease into it carefully, sparing his battered ribs, Sharkey gave as clear an answer as he could, based on their limited data.  "Dunno exactly what set the whole thing off.  I was with the Admiral in the Geology Lab when all of a sudden the seismograph started jumping like a belly dancer's navel.  Those two scientists kept insisting it wasn't possible, that there was nothing in the vicinity that could cause shockwaves like that. The Admiral got on the horn anyway, trying to warn everybody. But that surge hit before we could get the message relayed to you."

"What about Seaview?" Crane demanded anxiously. "Was she caught in the turbulence?" 

"No sir. Mr. Morton had enough warning to cast loose before the worst of the turbulence hit.  He's about a hundred yards away from the station so he'll have some maneuvering room in case there's another one," the COB reported darkly.

Gingerly tucking his shirt tail in, Lee gritted out in alarm. "You mean we might get hit again?"

Looking up from his first aid ministrations to one of Seaview's divers, Ramirez reported grimly. "Judging by what Dr. Patel and Dr. Ruiz have reported, it's not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’!"

Taking a tentative shallow breath, Lee turned his attention to PACLAB's Divemaster. "What's the damage to the station?"

"No major structural breaches, so far. Just pinhole leaks and seepage in some of the outer labs.  I got men shoring up several of the weaker bulkheads and we're cofferdamming around the main airlocks.  Whether that will hold up to another major shakeup like before. . . ." he gave a particularly eloquent Latin shrug. "This base was built to withstand a certain amount of undersea fault adjustment, but I think we pushed the envelope on that last one."

Lee stared bleakly at the two men, his thoughts in a turmoil.  His boat was safe for the moment, in the hands of the one man he trusted to keep her that way, Chip Morton.  But this station was in imminent danger and it was his responsibility to do whatever he could to prevent its destruction.  Or if that wasn't feasible, to save as many lives and preserve as much of the scientific data and equipment as humanly possible.

His mouth set in a grim line, thinking of Nancy's probable reaction if they had to abandon PACLAB, then shrugged in resignation. No use imagining the worst case scenario before absolutely necessary. He better find out what information the Admiral had, and then he would worry.


*          *          *         


In the Administrator's office, Crane slipped in unnoticed during a violent ongoing argument between Dr. Carrick and Ms. Shimada.  Noting Crane's pale features and stiff posture, Nelson waved him to a chair before turning his attention back to the two antagonists.  Dr. Carrick was waving a printout from the station's seismograph under Nancy's nose and pointing to it as if it were holy writ.

"These shockwaves originated in the Necker Ridge just to the north of us."

"That's not possible," Nancy protested in a low tight voice. "We're over a thousand miles from the nearest fracture zone.  There are no geological faultlines in that area!"

"I don't argue with hard data like these readouts, Ms. Shimada. I think it's time we started thinking about activating the station's emergency evacuation plan."

Nancy's expression went flint hard, her golden eyes glittering like agates. "And I think you are overreacting to the situation, Dr. Carrick. The station is still intact, with minimal structural damage. There is no reason for us to panic over such a minor undersea disturbance."

Carrick gritted his teeth in frustration as he pointed to the readouts from the geology lab's data center.  "That's just it, you little fool!  Even that minor shockwave damaged the structure noticeably . . .and the underground harmonics are not subsiding.  If anything, they're increasing. I've seen this pattern before, just before we were hit by the wave that ruptured the LEMURIAN Project's main dome.  The next undersea disturbance could be strong enough to rip the station loose from its moorings.  Then you won't have to worry about evacuation. . .because everyone will be dead!" 

There was a frantic note to Dr. Carrick's argument and Admiral Nelson moved quickly to his side, placing a gentle calming hand on his shoulder. "Take it easy, Robert. We're on your side."

Then he turned to Nancy, his face a mixture of regret and resolve. "I'm afraid he's right about the growing instability, Ms. Shimada.  Unless we can find some way to halt it, PACLAB is doomed."

Nancy's disbelieving expression shifted between Carrick and Nelson,  pleading for some hope that the station could survive.  But their bleak, closed faces denied any possibility.

Reluctantly she unlocked her desk and pulled out a red‑jacketed file labeled EMERGENCY PROCEDURES. She pushed a series of diagrams across the desk towards the three men, her expression remote and withdrawn as she sketched out the plans in a colorless voice. "Each section has sufficient modules for the number of personnel assigned to it.  They are little more than pressurized bells with an ascent system and a locator signal."

With a deep weary resignation, she continued. "As you can see, no provision was made for preserving our computer records or salvaging anything more than the smallest portion of data that has been collected over the months that this station has been in operation."

Nelson's craggy features went pensive, "Seaview's computer is sophisticated enough to handle a high‑speed data dump. . . if she wasn't damaged in the initial undersea quake?"  He turned a questioning glance toward Lee.

"Chip was able to move away from the station far enough to prevent any major damage. I haven't checked to see if there were any problems with the generators or reactor."  Lee started up to find out his boat's current status.

Nelson waved Crane back in his chair momentarily. "I'll need to get back aboard to make the actual link between the two systems.  I'm sure some adjustment will be required but the problems are not insurmountable."

Nancy's lips thinned in dismay, "That will mean stopping all our ongoing research and purging each section's files."

Nelson's expression was gentle, "It's essential, if we hope to salvage the information before the station is hit again and damaged further.  It may even be possible to save some of PACLAB's more valuable scientific equipment if we begin dismantling it now and load it on Seaview."

"Then you are recommending that we begin the evacuation procedure now. . . in preparation for abandoning the station?"

Nancy's fists were tightly clenched, her nails digging into her palms as she turned a pleading expression toward Lee, hoping that he would offer another suggestion. Any kind of wild idea that would spare her this sense of hopeless failure ‑‑ the loss of her first, and perhaps only, command.

Lee felt Nancy's despair as though it were his own. He glanced downward, unwilling to meet the raw, naked appeal in that gaze.  But he could not deny his own sense of frustration at losing this base to a blind, unthinking force of nature.  It was not in his temperament to stand idly by and do nothing.

He appealed to the Admiral, "Isn't there anything we can do, sir?  Use our missiles to set off some kind of counter vibration? Trigger the shockwave before it builds up to dangerous proportions?  It's not like you to give up so easily."

Nelson cast a sidelong, oblique look at the obviously distraught Dr. Carrick, before he answered in gruff tone of voice. "There's too much at stake here, Lee.  If Seaview goes off on some wild goose chase trying to prevent this disaster,  then we lose any possibility of preserving the irreplaceable data gathered by this station.  Besides we could search for weeks and not be able to pinpoint exactly what is causing the undersea instability.  And by that time PACLAB would be rubble."

Suddenly, there was a hurried knock on the office door.

"Come in," Nelson growled, impatient at the interruption.

He was surprised when Kowalski and Diane McClellan stepped tentatively in,  several data sheets clutched in the young seaman's hand. "Sir," he began hesitantly, "We just finished the breakdown of those dolphin recordings of Diane's."

"Never mind, Kowalski," the Admiral waved the proffered sheets aside. "We've got an emergency on our hands. I want you to report to Chief Sharkey and as soon as Seaview is relinked to PACLAB, you'll be in charge of dismantling and removing as much of the scientific equipment as possible."

"Aye sir," Ski replied automatically.

"We're abandoning the station?" Diane questioned in dismay.

Nelson glanced at her in exasperation, hoping she wouldn't prove to be as difficult as Ms. Shimada in accepting the necessary reality. "Yes, Miss McClellan, the undersea shockwave that hit a short while ago will likely be repeated. This base won't be able to survive subsequent shakeup." 

Even though he had his orders, Ski paused at the Admiral's explanation, holding out the data sheets once more. "I think you should look at these, sir.  That shockwave that hit. . . it wasn't natural.  Someone's doing undersea drilling in the Necker Range.  Judging by the amplitude on those subsonic waves, probably within a twenty mile radius or less."

"Undersea drilling!"  Both Carrick and Shimada reacted in shock.  "No one is supposed to be doing any sort of mining within a hundred miles of this base." Nancy declared in disbelief.

"Then it's an outlaw operation," Nelson reacted coldly, his blue eyes glacial. "Recklessly endangering not only the research lab but the lives of its scientists as well."

Nancy turned on Lee with a sudden fierce hope burning in her eyes. "Your submarine.  You have missiles, torpedoes!  Surely you can take action against these criminals?"

Nelson interrupted thoughtfully, "Yes, I suppose we can try to find the drill site and order them to cease and desist.  Or even send a diving team out to sabotage their operation, if we could find it in time."

"Why not just blast it with your torpedoes?" she demanded. "After all, their actions have endangered our lives and the survival of this station.  Surely that is sufficient reason to take the necessary stringent measures."

Crane gazed at Nancy, with a cool, remote expression on his face. "Whoever built that drill site, whether a nation or a company, may have done so willfully without regard for the consequences of their actions.  But I'm willing to bet that most of the workers and technicians there have no idea they're involved in an illegal operation and I don't feel I have the right to set myself up as judge, jury, and executioner of innocent men and women."

"Innocent!" she sputtered in outrage. "Their very presence there makes them as culpable as the designers and builders of that drilling facility."

"Not to me, Nancy," Lee answered quietly, his hazel eyes compassionate. "In my country, people are innocent until proven guilty."

Nancy turned angrily away, obviously fuming at Crane's softheartedness.

"Besides," Nelson continued pragmatically. "There are magnetic ore deposits in the Necker Range that make sonar and our other detection equipment almost useless. And far too many ravines or crevasses where that drill operation could be hidden, for a visual sweep. The odds against our locating them before they hit another subsidence area and shake PACLAB down around our ears are just too great. Seaview has to remain here to salvage as much as possible, in case this base is destroyed."

"And to make sure all its personnel are evacuated safely, as well," Dr. Carrick seconded, his eyes haunted. 

"What if there was a detection system that wasn't affected by magnetic oar deposits and could sweep a large area like the Necker Range in much less time than your most sophisticated sensing devices?"  Diane questioned in a low intense voice.

Everyone looked at her as though she had lost her senses. She pointed to the sheaf of paper in the Admiral's hand and spoke a single word. "Bubbles."

Lee's face was suddenly keen with rekindled hope. " And the Flying Sub.  You won't need it for the evacuation and it's ideal for the kind of tight maneuvering that we'll need to follow a dolphin in and out of those ravines and canyons."

"And if you find the drill site," Nelson questioned, "what then?"

Lee's face was resolute. "We stop it.  Using whatever it takes."  He pushed stiffly out of his chair and gestured for Diane and Ski to follow him.


*          *          *


Lee was headed back to Seaview while Ski and Diane went down to the Cetacean Lab to retrieve the necessary dolphin communication equipment when he encountered Nancy Shimada in the corridor.  He hesitated for a moment, wanting to speak with her, but not exactly certain what he should say.  Whether he should apologize or simply say good‑bye.  Meeting his glance, Nancy seemed equally uncertain.

She smoothed her hair self‑consciously and then reached for his hands almost desperately, no longer attempting to conceal her apprehension. "Lee, I'm. . ."

He spoke almost simultaneously, "Nancy, don't. . ."

Suddenly embarrassed by the intensity of emotion that threatened to erupt, they both halted in mid-sentence.  Then Lee spoke first, businesslike and pragmatic, but with a deep undercurrent of emotion.

"We're going to do our best to save PACLAB but if we don't locate that drill site in time, don't take unnecessary risks.  I know you feel this station is solely your responsibility, but that doesn't mean you have to `go down with your ship'."

Nancy's face was stricken but there was a steely resolve beneath the fear. "I won't endanger my life unnecessarily," she agreed. "But I do have duties and responsibilities and I won't abandon them.  No matter the danger."

There was only time for a brief awkward embrace before they both resumed their desperate efforts to save the endangered lab.

Lee paused in the Control Room to give Chip his final orders before boarding the Flying Sub.

 "Even if this plan works, Chip, we may not find the drill site in time to prevent the destruction of the lab.  The Admiral is determined to salvage as much as he possibly can of the station's data and equipment, but don't let him stay there if it looks like another shockwave is due.  Send an armed detail to drag him out if you have to."

"Aye, aye, Skipper," Chip answered soft‑voiced, his clear blue eyes showing the strain. "I'll do my best, Lee."

Crane clasped his former roommate and longtime friend's shoulder with sudden warmth. "I know you will, Chip.  Take care of my boat."

He climbed hurriedly down the ladder into the Flying Sub's cockpit. To his surprise, Dr. Kim was there with Diane, helping hook up his equipment to the Flying Sub's communication system.

Crane looked over the bruised marine biologist in concern, "You shouldn't be here, Dr. Kim.  After the beating you took during this morning's dive, you ought to be in Sick Bay."

"Diane told me about your plan to use `Bubbles' to find the outlaw drilling operation. You need me if you're going to succeed.  Bubbles came back to the lab just a few minutes ago, frantic with alarm.  I think she senses the increasing vibrations and wants us to leave PACLAB before it's destroyed." 

Lee paused in running down the prelaunch checklist with Kowalski, "Did you pass that information on to the Admiral?"

Dr. Kim took a deep breath, attempting to calm his irritation. "Yes, I did.  Ms. Shimada was somewhat disparaging of my reliance on the responses of a `dumb animal' but I think the Admiral took the warning seriously."

"Let's hope so," Lee muttered grimly to himself as he completed the checklist and initiated launch. "Fasten your safety harnesses," Lee gestured to the auxiliary seating that had been set up behind the piloting controls. "If we're going to keep up with Bubbles, we'll probably be testing our maneuverability to its limits."

Dr. Kim had his earphones in place and was listening intently while Diane adjusted the pitch and frequency of the signal they were transmitting.

"Any more warnings from your dolphin, Doctor?" he inquired.

"She's waiting just ahead of us, impatiently.  She wants us to follow her to the surface so we'll all be safe." Dr. Kim reported.

"Can you signal her to try and find the source of that vibration instead?"

"That's what I've been trying to do," Kim replied peevishly. "But it's not quite that simple.  Our mutual vocabulary is somewhat limited."

"Tell her that we need to find the danger that threatens the lab.  The source of the vibrations," Lee suggested.

"I'll try."

Dr. Kim's expression was intent as he bent over the transmitter, muttering softly to Diane. "Get on the computer and pull up the language program.  See what kind of danger signals we've got on file.  Maybe there's something that fits."

As the two scientists worked on their communication efforts, Lee steered the Flying Sub into the twists and turns of the undersea ridge.  Moments later a burst of short, sharp, high‑pitched cries issued from their transmitter into the cold dark waters surrounding their craft. Silence. Dr. Kim repeated the signal. Again there was no response.  A third time he reiterated the beseeching cry, modulating it and adding nuances to the signal that gave it an almost panic‑stricken note.

After a pause that seemed eons long, Dr. Kim's face lit up has he received a low hesitant answer.  He recorded the halting squeaks and burbles. Even though he was familiar enough with Bubbles' usual vocalizations to make a rough translation, he had Diane run it through their linguistics program just to be certain.

"She's still scared," Diane confirmed softly. "The undersea vibrations from the drilling are almost torture to her `sonar'. She doesn't want to have anything more to do with it."

"She must!" Dr. Kim's dark eyes gleamed feverishly. "If we can find that drill site and save PACLAB, it would vindicate our research.  We'll prove the value of what we're doing!"

"But Kim, it hurts her," Diane answered white‑lipped.

"I know," he whispered, his face haunted and grim. "But we must convince her, not only for the sake of human lives but for the dolphins, as well. If we are able to save the lab . . . together, it will demonstrate the possibilities in human‑dolphin teamwork."  

Diane nodded, trying to ignore the nervous fluttering of her stomach as she went through the program looking for the right expression to persuade Bubble to help them find the illegal drill site.  Luckily, their efforts were aided by the altruistic and friendly nature of the dolphins themselves.  Their vocabulary contained numerous sounds and signals that described both distress cries and assurances of aid.  Bubbles quickly recognized their description of `bad hurtful sound place' and the necessity to stop it from injuring their friends at the lab.  Finally, answering Dr Kim's plea to locate those painful sounds, the dolphin began to use her exquisitely fine‑tuned underwater senses to pinpoint the exact location where the disruptive vibrations originated.

Lee watched in amazement through the viewports of the Flying Sub  as the silvery supple figure of the dolphin danced lightly ahead of them, slipping in and out of the canyons and crevasses of the undersea range.  Ski steered a slow careful course in the dolphin's wake, sweat beading along his forehead as he tried to follow the narrow twists and turns of Bubbles graceful progress.

Lee's hands were also on the controls, trying to spare Kowalski a little of the energy‑draining, delicate hairpin maneuvering and ready to compensate if the young seaman's over-strained muscles should go into spasm. His eyes raked across the shadowy cliffs and ridges that could have concealed entire cities, wondering how they ever hoped to find a solitary drilling operation in this undersea maze

"It's impossible," he muttered to himself. "Like looking for a needle in a haystack.  They've probably camouflaged it to blend into the rocks themselves."

"It won't matter," Diane whispered, awed by the jagged, unweathered magnificence all around them. "Bubbles isn't using her eyes but other senses and abilities that they have no way of hiding from.  The very vibrations of their drilling operation makes them as conspicuous as a man standing in an open field waving a scarlet banner."

There was a loud screech on Dr. Kim's earphones that caused him to snatch them off with a curse.  But before he could alert the Captain or Kowalski, there was a shudder and a sharp blast from the rocks ahead that sent the Flying Sub spinning end over end like a broken‑winged hawk, heading directly toward a jagged cliff that threatened to rip their hull open and send them all to a watery grave!


*          *          *


LCDR. Chip Morton felt a little bit like Noah caulking the Ark while the animals were lining up two by two on his doorstep.  Engineering had its hands full trying to assure the Admiral a stable uninterrupted power supply during the downloading of PACLAB'S mainframe into Seaview's system. It was a touchy delicate operation that required Nelson's presence and it left Chip dealing with fifty distraught marine scientists as their equipment was dismantled and they were prepared for a hurried evacuation.  It was an exercise in controlled pandemonium, calling for diplomatic skills that he was not sure he possessed.

He muttered angrily under his breath  as the comm system buzzed incessantly with urgent pleas for his attention. "Dammit Lee, I wish I was the one hunting that renegade drill site instead of refereeing this Chinese fire drill."

He answered the urgent signal and listened as still another scientific genius protested the necessity for abandoning everything except his notes.  He answered firmly, in as patient and calm a voice as he could manage. "I'm sorry, Dr. Czerny, but we don't have room for any specimen samples, not even your algae growth plates.  This is an emergency evacuation. Now, please clear the lines, we need them for critical messages."

Moments later, the Admiral hurried into the Control Room.  He gave Morton a quick distracted nod of approval then started towards the main lock leading into the undersea station.  Morton looked up, startled, and recalling Lee's warning, questioned the Admiral, "Where are you going, sir?  We're scheduled to castoff in less than twenty minutes. I thought you were still supervising the data transfer."

"We've loaded as much into Seaview's computers as its memory will hold and still be able to function in an emergency.  I'm going to see if Dr. Carrick or Miss Shimada need any help with last minute details."

Chip's jaw clenched nervously, "I wish you wouldn't, sir.  The seismology lab reports a steady increase in the vibrations.  We may have to leave sooner than expected if we hope to avoid the turbulence."

Nelson's expression was grimly determined, "I know.  I just want to make sure Robert and Ms. Shimada get safely aboard. I don't intend to lose anyone to an overactive martyr complex."

Chip nodded reluctantly, hoping that the Admiral would exert a similar care on his own behalf.

On the station, Nelson stuck his head into the geology lab, noting that the most sensitive seismic monitor was still in place and had not been crated to be loaded on Seaview. He glanced inquisitively at the round‑faced Dr. Patel.

"I thought this was your most valuable piece of equipment.  Why isn't it already packed?"

"It must remain on line," his softly accented voice was resigned to the loss, "if we are to have an early warning of a dangerous shockwave build‑up.  Saving lives takes precedence over the continuation of my research."

Nelson clasped the Indian geologist's shoulder in commiseration.  "Hopefully, if Captain Crane's mission succeeds, the station won't suffer any more damage."

Dr. Patel shook his head in reluctant disagreement. "The P waves generated by the drilling are increasing in frequency and amplification.  I fear that they will reach a dangerously critical state in less than an hour."

Nelson nodded wearily and ordered the geologist to join the rest of PACLAB's personnel aboard the sub.  "There's a hook‑up in my lab to relay the data from your seismic recorder. I would be grateful if you would monitor the current readings and if you see any changes, notify Commander Morton at once."

Nodding in agreement, the geologist hurried away, an armload of readouts tucked under one arm.  Nelson strode hastily through the base, noting in satisfaction the bare stripped labs as the last of Seaview's crewman loaded equipment onto dolleys and handtrucks.  In the Administrator's office, he found Nancy and Robert placing the last of the data disks containing the station's supply and equipment inventory into an storage box.  Patterson and his crew were waiting impatiently for them to finish.

"Is that the last of your notes and equipment, ma'am?"

Nancy stared at the bare‑walled room, silent and unresponsive, as Dr. Carrick took the box from her unresisting hands and handed it over, telling the crewman he could seal the crate. 

As the last crates were trundled hastily away, Nelson gave Patterson new orders. "Tell Mr. Morton to prepare to get underway.  Dr. Patel thinks we may be hit again very soon and with Seaview as overloaded as she is, we need to be well away from any possible turbulence."

"Aye sir." Patterson acknowledged.

Nelson glanced hurriedly around, then turned his attention to the stunned administrator. "Well, that seems to be everything. Do we need to shut down the generators before we leave?"

Nancy shook her head numbly.  Then as Nelson started back toward the base's connecting lock, she declared in a low, hoarse voice, "I'm not leaving."

"What?" Nelson spun around to confront her, stunned.

"I'm the administrator of this station, ultimately responsible for its success or failure. I can't abandon my post.  No matter what the rest of you do."   

"Don't be an idiot," Carrick retorted harshly. "There's no reason for you to die out of some warped sense of duty when this station is destroyed.  It would be a criminal waste of your skills and talents as a project leader."

"Don't you understand?" Nancy raged at the two men. "If this station is destroyed, I will never have the opportunity to use those skills and talents again. To fail to such a degree. . . . I would never be allowed to hold another leadership position, ever.  I will be shuttled from company to company in one dead-end, low‑prestige position after another, never having a chance to prove myself.  I would rather die, than face such a useless, meaningless existence for the rest of my life!"

Stunned by this vehement outburst from the normally self‑restrained young woman, both Carrick and Nelson stared in disbelief.  Then Nelson tried to reason with her, "Surely, you wouldn't be judged so harshly because of circumstances that are totally beyond your control.  Besides, you've managed to save  people's lives and valuable scientific data.  That must count for something?"

"Failure is failure," Nancy answered grimly. "Particularly for any woman who strives to succeed in a man's world in my culture.  We must be willing pay the same price to redeem our honor when we fail.  Death is the only acceptable coin."

Carrick had gone ashen at Nancy's words and spoke in a low, shaken voice. "No, death is not the answer, to anyone's problems.  I've seen someone I cared for deeply pay that ultimate price because of my own failure. My wife died because of my mistaken belief that my work was more important than human lives. I was wrong and I spent years regretting my blind stupidity and more years realizing the value of life.  And I won't let you throw yours away like this!"

"You cannot stop me," Nancy answered dully.

Before Nelson could press his side of the argument, there was an urgent call over the intercom. "Admiral, you've got to get aboard now! Dr. Patel just spotted another shockwave headed our way.  We've got less than five minutes to get out of its way!"

Nelson glanced over to Dr. Carrick leaning heavily on his cane and Ms. Shimada's stubborn expression.

"Chip, Dr. Carrick and I are on the far side of the station.  I don't think we can make it back in time."

Morton bit off grimly, "Get started toward the main airlock.  I'm sending out a rescue team.  They'll help you get Dr. Carrick back to the sub in time."

Carrick gripped Nelson's shoulder, "Don't try it, Harry. Just leave me here. You and Ms. Shimada can make it without me holding you back."

"No, Robert. I won't abandon you or Nancy."

Her fists were clenched tightly in frustration, then Nancy suddenly seized Dr. Carrick under one arm to help in their hurried retreat to Seaview. "The two of you are too valuable to be allowed to sacrifice yourselves.  I will come aboard, if that is what it requires to save your lives."  She glared at them bitterly.  "But do not expect my gratitude for this interference.  You have robbed me of my honor."

Nelson gasped hurriedly over the transceiver he carried. "Belay that rescue team, Mr. Morton.  We are on our way to the airlock, moving as fast as we can. If we aren't on board at least two minutes before the shockwave is scheduled to hit, cast off and get Seaview clear of the station!  Your cargo is too valuable to risk just for three lives."

"Aye, aye, sir," was Morton's reluctant answer.

Nelson pocketed the transceiver and concentrated on muscling Robert over the high sills and down the silent corridors of the abandoned station.  He almost thought they were going to make it, when Nancy caught her foot on a discarded piece of equipment and they all stumbled to the deck, breathless and half‑stunned by the force of their fall.  As they tried to gather their scattered wits and get to their feet, Nelson heard the loud clang of a closing hatchway and then the labored high‑pitched hum of Seaview's turbines as she backed slowly away from the station, then put out for open water.

Nelson let out a deep shaky regretful breath and glanced at his two companions somewhat ruefully, "Well, it looks like we missed the boat." He brushed off his pants' legs and climbed stiffly to his feet, and along with Nancy, helped Dr. Carrick up as well. He couldn't decide if Nancy looked frightened or pleased, since she had been left behind as she desired.

 "We've got less than a minute before the shockwave hits.  Is there any part of this station that's more heavily reinforced than the rest?"

Nancy shook her head reluctantly.

"What about the evacuation modules would have been used if Seaview  hadn't been here." Carrick questioned desperately.

"Back down this corridor," she gestured. "But I do not think we have time to reach them."

"Well, you never know till you try," Carrick retorted in a disgruntled tone as he limped back the way they had come.  But before any of them could get more than ten paces down the

companionway, there was a long rolling shift that shook the whole station. Then the lights flickered and went out, plunging them into darkness.


*          *          *


The Captain and Kowalski wrestled with the controls, barely managing to halt the potentially fatal spiral before it hurtled them against the jagged edges of the overhanging cliff.  They pulled sharply up and then came around in a slow circular sweep trying to get a closer view of the drilling site that Bubbles had just located for them.  Despite the dark waters and efforts at camouflage, the Flying Sub's thermal detectors were able to pinpoint a main control area separate from the three large drilling shafts.

As Lee made another pass over the drill site,  they were hit by a second blast from a weapon concealed somewhere near the main control area.  Sparks flew up like comets inside the flying sub and there was a momentary power loss before the secondary circuitry came on line.  Ski staggered out of his seat to reset the circuit breakers and activate the fire suppression system.

            Lee gritted his teeth in frustration. "Kowalski, can you get a fix on that weapon they keep hitting us with?"

"It looks like some kind of laser, Skipper!" Ski wiped the sweat dripping down his forehead out of his eyes as he resumed the co‑pilot's seat, trying to help the Captain fight the shuddering controls.

"Then I think it's time we gave them a taste of their own medicine," Lee responded tersely, pressing the switch that activated the Flying Sub's laser targeting system.

"Steer an evasive course. Then bring us around to heading 216." Crane ordered as he peered into the magnifying view screen that aimed the laser. "I'm going to aim for the control housing at the main drill site first.  If we don't stop that, PACLAB may not survive another shockwave."

"Aye, aye, Skipper," Ski replied with grim determination, equally certain that another hit to the Flying Sub could be fatal for all of them.

"Steady as she goes, Ski," Lee's hands were steady on the controls and he then he pressed the button that sent the white hot beam cutting through the darkness.  Diane held her breath as the water bubbled furiously around the control housing, then with a huge rumble that they all felt in their bones, the whole drill structure collapsed in a cloud of steam and erupting magma.  Hastily, Ski pulled them away from the turbulence and Lee noted with some relief that the main control area, where most of the workers were probably located,  seemed relatively unscathed.

"It looks like at least one of their emergency generators  is still intact." He remarked peering through the slowly settling silt and debris. "Enough to keep life support functioning until we can get a diving team down here to clean this operation out."

"Luckily not enough to activate that laser again," Ski grinned in relief.

Dr. Kim pressed his earphones to his head again and gazed out the Flying Sub's viewports at Bubbles' sudden demonstration of undersea acrobatics, then over to Captain Crane, his dark eyes sparkling in amusement.  "Bubbles is very grateful, Captain, for your action against `bad noise hurting place'.  And I think she just gave us the dolphin equivalent of a standing ovation."

Crane gave a brief quirk of a smile in response to the exuberant dolphin antics before Bubbles headed for the surface.  But it was obvious he was still worried, uncertain that they had stopped the drilling in time to save the undersea base.

He tried to reach Seaview on the Flying Sub's comm system but it remained silent, possibly damaged in the blasts that had hit them earlier. With Diane's assistance, Ski worked on repairing communications while Captain Crane piloted the Flying Sub back to the lab.  A few minutes later, Ski slid out from under the control panel and wiped his soot‑smudged forehead.

"I think that's got it, sir.  We should be able to reach either Seaview or PACLAB . . . if there's anyone there to hear us."

Refusing to consider that possibility, Lee pressed his throat mike, attempting to reach the sub.

"FS‑1 to Seaview. FS‑1 to Seaview.  This is Crane on the Flying Sub.  We've destroyed the drill site.  Relay this message to Admiral Nelson and Ms. Shimada. PACLAB is in no further danger."

After long minutes, there was a weak static‑filled reply as he heard the welcome sound of Chip Morton's voice. "Seaview to FS‑1. Glad to hear the good news. That last shockwave shook us up pretty badly and we're dead in the water for the moment.  We just got communications back on line."

"Let me speak to the Admiral."

There was a long strained silence, then Chip answered in a quietly anguished voice, "He's still on the lab, Lee.  There was a sudden build up in the vibrations while he and Dr. Carrick were helping Ms. Shimada collect the last of the data.  They couldn't get aboard Seaview before we had to leave. I tried to wait for him but he ordered me to get clear so we wouldn't endanger Seaview and the PACLAB personnel and data."  There was a painful guilt in the Exec's voice. "I'm sorry Lee, I shouldn't have let him go."

Lee's voice was calm. "You can't stop him, Chip, when he's that determined." Crane wiped his hands down his face wearily. "Are you sure PACLAB didn't survive that last disturbance?"

"I don't really know. Like I said, there was a lot of turbulence we barely managed to ride out. We are trying to hold this boat together with spit and baling wire long enough to make Pearl Harbor."  Chip sounded worn to the bone.

"Let me see if we can reach them. Maybe Nancy was right about the station being built well enough to survive a major earthquake. Crane out."

Setting the comm set to PACLAB's band, Lee did not allow himself to consider the possibility that Nancy and the Admiral might be dead. That his mission had succeeded, but not  in time to save their lives.  He activated the transmitter. "FS‑1 to PACLAB. FS‑1 to PACLAB." After another interminable silence, suddenly there was a burst of static and the welcome sound of the Admiral's voice.

"PACLAB to FS‑1." Nelson answered, not even trying to conceal his elation. "You did it, Lee!  You saved the station!"

Lee smiled in relief at the Admiral's enthusiasm. "Well, not by myself. I couldn't have done it without Diane and Dr. Kim's dolphin language program and most definitely not without  Bubbles.  She was the one who actually located the drill site, Admiral.  Without her special senses, we could have searched for months and never located it."

There was a gruff chuckle aimed at someone in the background, "See Ms. Shimada, you never know when `useless' research might come in handy."

"So it would seem, Admiral."

There was another rumble of static and then Dr. Carrick interrupted impatiently. "Can you contact your submarine, Crane?"

"Yes sir."

"Then would you kindly tell that Exec of yours to turn that boat around and get my people and equipment back where they belong." There was a peeved but humorous note in Dr. Carrick's voice. "We've wasted enough time the past two days and I've got research that needs to be done, with the equipment that's just sitting idle on that sub of yours."

"Your wish is our command, Dr. Carrick," Lee chuckled in relief. "We'll have your science station back on line before you know it."


*          *          *


A week later after most of the scientists on PACLAB had gotten their equipment reinstalled and resumed their research, Nelson and Carrick were having coffee in Ms. Shimada's office.  The atmosphere was much more cordial than it had been the week before and the young administrator was less on‑guard and defensive than she had been at that first meeting.

Nelson had just reported the current disposition of the engineers and technicians who had manned the illegal drilling operation that had nearly destroyed PACLAB. "All of them have been safely evacuated and turned over to the appropriate authorities.  Judging by the enormous fines levied against the company that financed the operation, I think future developers are not going to find similar illegal operations quite as attractive."

Carrick muttered peevishly into his cup, "And I think you're underestimating the degree of greed that exists out there, Harry."

"I hope you're wrong, Robert," Nelson turned a very probing gaze on Ms. Shimada. "I hope people will eventually realize that profitable exploitation of the ocean's resources is only the smallest part of what we can gain in our exploration of the depths."

Nancy stared into her cup, seemingly oblivious to the discussion tailored for her ears. Then there was a sudden knock at her door and she looked up expectantly as Crane and Kowalski entered, followed by Dr. Kim and Diane McClellan.   

"You wanted to see all of us?" Lee's expression was somewhat baffled.

"Yes," she nodded and gestured for them to be seated, then folded her hands as she began hesitantly, "I received a message earlier this week from the executive committee in charge of the overall operation and the progress of various research projects within PACLAB.  They are the people who I am ultimately responsible to for the success of its mission."

            She glanced down at the paper folded carefully on her desk. "I won't read the entire letter, except to mention that I was commended for `my superb leadership skills, courage, and resourcefulness in preventing the destruction of this base and the tragic loss of invaluable research information and numerous human lives."

There was a wry expression on her face, "I sent an immediate response to correct that misconception, stating that it was Dr. Kim's language research and his dolphin that were largely responsible for saving the lab."

She continued in a somewhat pained tone of voice. "They  responded this morning. `In view of such superb leadership qualifications, we would like to offer you a position on the Executive Board as Vice President in Charge of Research and Development!"

Carrick and Nelson exchanged glances, glad to see Nancy being offered the well‑deserved promotion, yet hating to lose her as the Administrator of PACLAB.  Nelson gave her a warm smile, "Congratulations.  I'm glad to see you are getting the recognition you deserve."

"I don't deserve it," she retorted bitterly. "Especially not after my deliberate blindness about the potential of Dr. Kim's research. If he hadn't been so stubborn, I would have forced him to leave the station months before. . . and PACLAB would now be scattered debris across the ocean bottom."

Dr.Kim's dark eyes glinted in amusement, "We Koreans tend to be stubborn and as difficult to uproot as six‑hundred year old oaks."

She took another shaky breath,"Worst of all was the fact that I allowed prejudice to taint my judgment of the value of Dr. Kim's and Miss McClellan's work.  That alone is sufficient reason to tear up this offer and submit my resignation as an unfit administrator."

She picked up the paper and started to rip it into shreds, but Dr. Carrick placed a restraining hand over hers. "Now just a minute.  I'm not happy with the idea of losing you to that promotion, but I'm damn well not going to sit here and let you throw your career down the drain over a sense of guilt."  He gazed at her, his eyes dark with remembered pain. "Hell, girl, compared to me, you've got nothing to feel guilty about. I lost a whole undersea research base because of my own blind stupidity.  At least, you were smart enough to listen to the experts...even when you thought it meant the end of your career. I don't look forward to trying to work with a brand new Project Administrator who knows less about how things work than I do, but I'm willing to do that if I know that someone who truly does understand PACLAB and its value to the future will be on the Executive Board."

Nancy exchanged a long and meaningful look with Lee, before shaking her head again. "No, I'm not ready for such a powerful and prestigious position . . . at least, not yet.  I still have too much to learn about the value of Research and Development.  Especially when the bottom line is improving human lives and not just profit and loss margins."

"Not just human lives," Diane interjected softly, "But the lives of all thinking and self‑aware creatures within the sea and above it."  Ski placed his arm around her shoulders and she smiled warmly into his eyes.

"Amen to that," Nelson echoed softly, with Drs. Kim and Carrick nodding their silent agreement with the sentiment.

Then Nelson stood up, shaking Carrick's hand once again as he prepared to leave. "Well, Robert, enjoy your new assignment."

"Hopefully, the next twenty‑five weeks won't be as nerve‑wracking as the first one was." Carrick grinned.

"I imagine Ms. Shimada will keep things under control so you can get some of your research done.  We'll be back in six months to take you home."

Carrick noted with amusement that Captain Crane had taken Ms. Shimada aside for a rather prolonged farewell and Diane and Ski were still making their good‑byes. "Oh, I dunno Harry. Somehow, I think Seaview is going to find excuses to visit us at much more frequent intervals."

Nelson nodded in agreement, "I think you're probably right."