Dragon Of The Sea


By R. L. Keller



“Skipper?”  It took a second for the voice in his ear to register.  “Skipper.”  A little more insistently this time, and Lee finally acknowledged it.


“Yes, Kowalski?”


“Where are you?  I can’t see you.”


Lee finally looked around and chuckled to himself.  He’d been concentrating so hard on the samples he was collecting, he’d apparently wandered off from his diving partner.  And how many times have you fussed at the Admiral for doing the exact same thing?




“Sorry, Ski,” Lee answered, a bit chagrined.  “I must be on the West side of this little kelp bed from you.”


“Okay, Sir.  Just turned around and you’d disappeared.”


“Sorry,” Lee mumbled again.  “Be right back.”


Seaview was in the cool waters off Australia’s southern coast, checking on reports of pollution damage.  Two teams of divers had been sent out to collect water and plant samples for Admiral Nelson to analyze and see if he could identify the source of the pollution, and make recommendations for reversing the damage already caused.  Nielson and Roberts had been sent off Seaview’s starboard side and Lee and Kowalski had headed port, gathering samples as they swam through the kelp and sea grasses.


But as Lee turned and started to head back a feeling of unease hit him and he paused, looking around.  The hair on the back of his neck bristled – not an easy task inside a wet suit – and Lee suddenly got the feeling that he was being watched.  Seaview’s instrumentation hadn’t registered any other boats in the area prior to the divers going out and, try as he might, he couldn’t see anything or anyone.  But the feeling persisted.  Getting paranoid, Crane.  He tried to shake off the feeling but just couldn’t make himself move from that spot, continuing to glance around him nervously.  “What was that?”


He didn’t realize he’d spoken out loud until Ski’s voice once again sounded in his ear.  “What was what, Skipper?  Everything okay?”


Lee shook his head.  What’s going on?  “Nothing, Ski.  Thought I saw something.”  He looked around again nervously, but tried to keep the unease he was feeling out of his voice.  “On my way back.” 


But he still couldn’t make himself move from that spot.  His attention kept being drawn back toward a section of sea grass.  Unable to see anything but natural vegetation, he still couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched.  He swam slowly toward the patch, growing between two sections of the kelp bed, Kowalski again forgotten.  He thought that he could just make out two very small eyes looking back at him through the leafy grasses, but he wasn’t sure.  In fact, suddenly he wasn’t sure of anything.  He shook his head and cleared his mask but that didn’t seem to help.  Small eyes continued to watch sorrowfully but Lee couldn’t make out what – if anything – they were attached to.  All he could see around the eyes was vegetation.  Shaking his head again, and belatedly realizing that he was in trouble, he was about to call out to Ski for help when a shove in the back was immediately followed by a severe pain in the back of his right thigh.  Immobilized by the pain and the fuzziness, he didn’t even realize the instinctive grab he made for a handful of kelp.


* * * *


“Skipper?” Kowalski called again when Lee failed to appear from around the edge of the small kelp bed they were taking samples from.  “Skipper!”


“Lee,” another voice joined the conversation.  Nelson had been monitoring dive communications from the Radio Shack.  He knew Chip was listening in as well from the chart table.  As nothing but silence greeted Nelson’s call, Chip joined him next to the main radio.  “Lee?” Nelson said into the radio a good deal more firmly.  More silence.  “Kowalski?”


“Here, Sir.  Already headed in the Skipper’s direction.”


As Nelson just grunted, Ski swam faster.  He didn’t think Crane could be far away, but couldn’t understand why he wasn’t answering.  That just wasn’t like the Skipper at all.  Often Crane’s diving partner, the two had become very used to each other’s dive styles.  The seaman hadn’t liked the sound of distraction in Crane’s last communication.  “Skipper?” he called again sharply.  There was still no verbal answer, but suddenly he thought he heard a sharp intake of breath, then a gagging sound.  One final curve and he finally spotted Crane wrapped in a length of kelp, hanging almost limp.  “Skipper!” he practically screamed, and reached for him.


* * * *


Awareness returned slowly.  The pain in his leg seemed to have disappeared.  In fact, he wasn’t even sure now if he’d dreamed that part.  He tried to move his legs to test the theory but they didn’t seem to want to cooperate.  Sounds tried to filter into his ears but he couldn’t identify them.  Frustrated, he tried to open his eyes, at the same time reaching out to try and figure out where he was and what was happening.  Frustration quickly turned to panic when his arms wouldn’t move and his face felt covered by something that didn’t feel like his diving mask.


He had no idea how long he tried to fight whatever had hold of him when the sounds finally sorted themselves out into the Admiral’s resonant “Lee, take it easy, lad.  Everything’s okay,” and Jamie’s quiet, confidant “Easy, Skipper.  You’re safe now.”  This time when he tried to open his eyes they worked, and he found himself looking at a very fuzzy bulkhead several feet away and a lump of something right next to him.  “Huh?” he mumbled, closed his eyes, and tried again.


“Lee, how do you feel?” finally sunk in, and Lee tried to focus.  The ‘something’ finally organized itself into the very worried face of Admiral Nelson about the same time Lee realized there was an oxygen mask covering his nose and mouth.  Closing his eyes again, he gradually became aware that he was lying on his left side on what felt like the exam table in Sick Bay.  The sense of smell was also returning, further indicating he was once again – however it had happened – in the domain of Seaview’s CMO, Dr. Will Jamison.  Still trying to put all the disjointed images into something that made sense he took a deep breath, let it out in a long sigh, and again opened his eyes.


“Skipper?”  The voice came this time from behind him, and he turned his head far enough to make out Jamie’s face.  Before answering, however, he tried to use his right hand to brush the mask off his face and again started to struggle slightly when it wouldn’t move, belatedly realizing it was because Jamie had hold of it.  “Easy, Skipper,” came in Jamie’s now slightly bemused voice.  “Frank?”  Lee watched as the corpsman moved to the head of the gurney and the mask was removed, only to be replaced by nasal canules. 


Lee frowned.  “What happened?” he muttered.


“Suppose you start by telling us what’s the last thing you remember,” Nelson asked gently.  Lee turned back toward him, now aware that Jamie was holding him on his side, not allowing him to roll over onto his back.  Lee didn’t immediately answer, sorting through the mental images, and Nelson prodded gently.  “You and Kowalski went off to collect samples, and got separated…”


Lee gave a slight nod.  “Guess I wasn’t paying any attention,” he gave Nelson a small sheepish grin, “and ended up around the other side of a kelp bed.  Heard Ski call, and started back…”  He hesitated, not sure now what he actually did remember.


“And…” Nelson again encouraged.


“Not sure,” Lee admitted.  “Suddenly…I don’t know…things were kind of fuzzy…disjointed, sort of.  I thought my mask had clouded up.  Tried to clear it but that didn’t help.”  He tried to reach up with his left hand and remove the canules – even if I’m lying on my side, the forearm should work, he reasoned - and finally noticed that arm firmly attacked to an IV board.  He tried to use his right arm again, and scowled when Jamie refused to turn loose.


“Leave it along, Skipper,” the doctor just scowled right back.  “What you’re describing is classic symptoms of hypoxia.”


“Lack of oxygen?  But I was no where near the end of my dive time…”  He trailed off and looked at Nelson as the Admiral grumbled.


Which is why I’m having Chief Sharkey check your tank.  A dark look crossed Nelson’s face before he again prodded Lee.  “What else do you remember?”


“Not sure,” Lee repeated carefully.  Hypoxia could cause any number of symptoms, most of which Lee wasn’t overly anxious to admit to.  Unfortunately, it appeared neither Nelson nor Jamie was going to let him off the hook.


“Any bits, Skipper,” the CMO encouraged.  Lee turned slightly toward him, but was still not permitted to roll over.  Its important.”


“I thought…well…”  Lee closed his eyes, trying to remember.  “I got the feeling that I was being watched.”


“Did you see anyone?” Nelson immediately pounced.


Lee gave him a curious look, reacting to the growl in Nelson’s voice.  “Not really,” he admitted.  “I sort of remember thinking that I saw eyes looking at me from behind some sea grass…”


He was cut off by a new voice.   “Oh, oh.  Mermaid alert,” Chip said easily, walking up to stand by Nelson.  Lee noticed that the lighthearted comment didn’t quite match the worried expression on the blond’s face, but Jamie chuckled, Nelson finally dropped his scowl and grinned, and Lee glared at his XO and friend.


“It wasn’t a mermaid,” he grumbled, then lowered his gaze to focus on nothing in general.  “Eyes were too small,” he continued very softly, but loud enough that all three other men chuckled before Nelson once again got serious.


“So, what you thought you saw was in front of you?”


“Yes, Sir.  Why?”  All the questions were confusing him.


“In a minute,” was all Nelson would say.  “Anything else?”


Lee closed his eyes, trying to piece together the last of the remnants.  “I was trying to make sense of the eyes…started to swim toward them…something hit me in the back.”  He stopped and looked at Jamie, now getting suspicious of why the doctor wouldn’t let him move from laying on his side.  “A pain in the back of my leg…”  He let the sentence trail off.  Jamie scowled again, but it was the Admiral who answered.


“You were being watched, alright,” Nelson growled, “but not from in front of you.  Someone fired a spear gun at you.”  Lee jerked to sit up but was held firmly in place by not only the doctor, but Nelson and Chip as well.


“Easy, Lee,” the blond said quietly.


“You’re going to be okay,” Nelson continued.  “Fortunately the spear glanced off the tank.”


“Unfortunately,” Jamie continued the explanation, “it ricocheted into the back of your thigh.  No permanent damage, but its going to hurt like the blazes for a day or two.”


Lee remained stiff with indignation.  “Who?” he demanded.


“Don’t know,” Chip answered when Nelson didn’t.  “Ski said he didn’t see anyone when he came around the kelp and found you.”


“He’s okay?” Lee wanted to know instantly.


“Except for the fact that you scared the hell out of him,” Nelson answered sternly, and Lee cringed back against the pillow he finally noticed was under his head.  “When you wouldn’t answer him he went looking for you.”


“Which he shouldn’t have had to do,” Chip joined in the accusations.  Lee settled deeper into the pillow.


“Just saw you half clinging to a few strands of kelp,” Nelson continued a little softer.  “Saw the spear sticking out of your leg.  By that time Nielson and Roberts had heard the radio calls and were headed back toward Seaview.  They all helped get you back inside.”


Lee hadn’t noticed Jamie move from where he’d continued to stand on the other side of the gurney from Nelson and Chip, his hands on Lee’s arm, but Lee suddenly started to feel fuzzy again and turned to glare at the doctor.


Jamie just grinned.  “Yes, I had Frank add a little something to the IV.”  He held up one hand to stop whatever Lee was about to bluster.  “Don’t even start.  The spear went in at an angle, and not very deeply.  I was far more concerned with getting your oxygen levels back up so I haven’t even gotten around to removing it.  That’s why I’ve been so insistent that you not roll onto your back.”


Lee knew he blanched at that bit of information, that he still had a spear sticking in him.  But whatever the corpsman had put into the IV was doing its work rapidly, and Lee suddenly had no interest in anything except closing his eyes.


* * * *


Chased out of Sick Bay until Jamie could finish putting his ‘least favorite patient’ back together, Chip and Nelson headed for the Control Room.  After sharing a quick grin at the CMO’s mutterings, knowing the friendship and respect that was in fact behind it, Chip started a few mutterings of his own.  He was intent on sending out a gang of well-armed divers to try and find whoever had, as he phrased it, “punctured Lee.”


Nelson nixed the order.  “I understand how you feel, Chip.  I’m very concerned that someone’s taking potshots at our divers.  But since Kowalski didn’t see anything they have to be long gone by now.”


“Any idea why anyone would object to us being here?  At least to the extent of shooting at us?”  Chip paused a second.  “Or do you think it could have been an attack on Lee personally?”


Nelson shrugged.  “The latter is doubtful.  No one could be sure Lee would be one of the divers.”  Chip snorted and Nelson smiled.  “True.  Anyone who knew Lee at all would know he goes out on as many dives as he can.”  He sent Chip a grin.  “I don’t envy Doc having to tell him he’s boat-bound until that wound heals.”


An absolutely wicked smile spread slowly across Chip’s face.  “Did Jamie ever find out about Dr. West showing Lee how to bandage a wound like that?”*  The smile spread to Nelson as he, too, remembered the incident in question.


“I don’t believe so,” he admitted, but finally sobered.  “However, Jamie was also concerned at how much blood Lee lost.  He’s not going to be happy to let Lee dive anytime soon.”


“And since when has that ever stopped him?” Chip grumbled, before both men shrugged.


They were interrupted as Chief Sharkey caught up with them just as they were about to enter the aft hatch of the Conn.  “Sirs,” he nodded to both men, then looked at Nelson.  “The Skipper?”


“Will be fine.  He was awake long enough to tell us his version of what happened…”


“Which wasn’t much,” Chip muttered darkly. 


Nelson frowned at the interruption, but continued to the Chief.  “Doc’s treating the spear wound, and I’m sure will keep Lee in Sick Bay overnight.”


“If he can put up with the Skipper’s complaints that long, you mean?” Sharkey grinned.  Nelson couldn’t stop a slight one from showing, and noticed Chip’s expression lighten as well.  The crew made great sport of the ‘conversations’ that always erupted between CO and CMO whenever Lee was under the weather.


But Nelson quickly got back to business.  “Did you find out what was wrong with Lee’s tank?”


“Yes, Sir,” the Chief also sobered.  “The air was contaminated.”


“What?” Chip exploded.


Sharkey visibly cringed.  The XO was not going to like hearing this.  “We found a faulty “O” ring on the compressor.”


“The rest of the tanks?” Chip demanded.


“Everything filled before two days ago was fine.  The Skipper was the only one out today who had one of the newly filled ones.  We’ve already fixed the compressor, and all the tanks filled after Tuesday’s dive are being re-done.”


“Then re-checked, as well as the compressor,” Chip ordered.


“Aye, Sir,” Sharkey answered meekly.  If that was the worst of the XO’s outburst, the crew just might survive unscathed.  The Chief was, however, still almost holding his breath.


Chip half-turned to Nelson.  “Lee’s going to love my trying to explain that one.”


“That’s why I’ll explain it,” Nelson said quietly.


“My job…” Chip started even quieter.


“Chip,” Nelson sent his Exec an indulgent smile.  “We all know what Lee’s reaction will be.  He’ll just start berating himself for not noticing before he left the boat that something was a little off.”


“But…” Sharkey started to interrupt.  Nelson held up a hand.


“That’s right.  There’s absolutely no way for him to have noticed in that short a time.  But we all know that won’t stop him.”  There were nods of agreement from the other two.  “So I’ll tell him, and he’ll jolly well listen!”


“Aye, Sir,” came immediately from both Chip and Sharkey, as well as a quick shared glance that said silently they’d each be making themselves scarce at whatever point the Admiral headed for Sick Bay.


“In the meantime, Chip,” Nelson re-directed the conversation, “let’s maneuver Seaview over closer to that particular area – see if our instruments can find anything that could account for the attack on Lee.”


“Any ideas, Sir?” the Chief asked.


Nelson just shook his head.  “None that I can think of, unless it has something to do with what’s causing the pollution.  But most of that’s been blamed so far on runoff from agricultural spraying.”   He shook his head.  “Could be there’s a different threat no one’s aware of.”


Chip grumbled under his breath, and Nelson raised an eyebrow at him.  “Leave it to Lee to stumble into trouble…”  Even Chip had to grin at his own comment, however reluctantly.  “But, Chief,” he sobered, “all divers going out from now on, collecting more samples or whatever the reason, go out with an armed escort.  And no one,” he emphasized firmly, “goes off on their own, for whatever reason.”


“No, Sir…ah, I mean yes, Sir,” Sharkey nodded rapidly.  He sent an unconscious glance back over his shoulder.


Nelson chuckled.  “We’ll see that Capt. Crane is reminded to follow proper procedures,” he said sternly, although he was unable to suppress a slight smile.


“Aye, aye, Sir,” Sharkey grinned as well.  “By your leave, I’d better get back to the Missile Room.”  As he headed aft, Nelson and Chip continued on into the Conn.


* * * *


All was quiet as Nelson entered Sick Bay several hours later.  It wasn’t quite 1700, but the main room lights had been dimmed slightly.  Nelson could see Lee’s dark head poking out from under the blankets in a lower bunk.  The IV was still attacked – there was a half-filled bag of fluid hanging from a stand next to the bunk.  Lee was lying quietly and Nelson hesitated, not wanting to disturb him if he was, in fact, sleeping.  Of course, it could still be the after-effects of whatever Jamie had given him earlier.  As Nelson continued to stand there the CMO appeared from his office, coffee mug in hand.  Nelson raised an eyebrow and nodded toward Lee.


“Enjoying the peace and quiet,” Jamie said good-naturedly.  “It won’t last much longer.”


Nelson grinned.  “You heard about the air tank?”


Jamie nodded.  “Chip’s been here a couple times.  He told me.  You want some coffee?”


“Thanks,” and both men entered Jamie’s small office.  Nelson sat down in the visitor’s chair in front of the desk.  Jamie settled into his behind the desk, once he’d filled a mug from the carafe sitting off to one side on a cabinet and placed it in front of the Admiral.


“Was just getting the Skipper settled the first time Chip came down.  Told me what happened.  Said they’d made a sweep through the area and didn’t see hide nor hair of another diver or boat of any kind.”


Nelson shook his head.  “Chip set Seaview facing the area where Lee was attacked, confirmed by Kowalski.  None of the instruments picked up anything that shouldn’t be there.  I told Chip not to bother sending out divers – that whoever it was had to be long gone.”  He shrugged.  “He waited until I’d headed for the lab to start analyzing samples and sent them out anyway.”


Jamie grinned.  “Sharkey rat on him?”


Nelson chuckled.  COB Francis E. Sharkey had a rather unique – for want of a better word – position aboard Seaview.  He probably wouldn’t have lasted a week on any other submarine, with his tendency toward doing things pretty much as he wanted despite what he may have been told by his superior officers.  He got away with it for several reasons, not the least of which was, he was Nelson’s personal pipeline to everything that happened aboard Seaview.  Also, despite his occasional lack of respect, indicated not so much by outright insubordination as it was by tone of voice, he ran one of the tightest boats anyone on board had ever served on.  Everyone was aware that Chief Sharkey would make sure the Admiral knew what was happening on his boat.  But no one said much because the Chief was just as likely to rat on the Skipper as he was the lowliest seaman.  Maybe even more so.


“Heard me tell Chip that sending out divers was probably a waste of time, and just wanted me to know that not one of the crew objected to checking out the area anyway.”  He gave Jamie a slightly hesitant grin.  “Might be a good idea they didn’t find anyone out there, given the crew’s loyalties toward Lee.”


Jamie shivered.  “Good point.”


Frank poked his head in the door from the main area.  Nelson hadn’t seen him when he’d come in, but wasn’t surprised.  With Lee’s propensity for walking out of Sick Bay whether he was supposed to or not, Seaview’s captain was rarely left unsupervised.  “The Skipper’s getting restless,” he now said quietly.


Jamie nodded.  “You go on and get some dinner if you want.  I want to be here when he wakes up, and I rather suspect the Admiral isn’t going anywhere for awhile, yet.”  He just grinned as Nelson grunted and scowled at him, but it changed quickly to a look of chagrin.  Both men rose and headed for the main room.


Lee was indeed in the process of pulling himself out from under whatever Jamie had given him.  Nelson noticed the CMO had left the nasal canules in place, assuring Lee a steady oxygen supply after his brush with the contaminated tank.  That won’t last long, Nelson chuckled to himself as he settled into a chair close to the foot of the bunk and let the CMO monitor his patient.


* * * *


Unbeknownst to the men watching, Lee was not coming gently out of the sedation.  As senses returned, he found himself stranded in the middle of a bed of giant kelp.  The long tendrils kept wrapping themselves around him, impeding his progress as he tried to make his way back to Seaview.


Suddenly he felt eyes watching him but couldn’t find a body attached to them.  The harder he tried to get away the more firmly the kelp held him and the closer the eyes came.   He felt a tendril tighten around his face at the same time the eyes drew close, surrounded by fluttering leaves.  Lee struggled to keep away from the small black eyes, the leaves building in volume and starting to encase him, the tendril under his nose threatening to smother him.  At the last second he threw himself to one side, away from the eyes, at the same time ripping at the tendril around his face.


He succeeded in dislodging the tendril but in doing so the side of his head connected with something extremely hard.  Momentarily stunned, and waiting for the instant pain to go away, a voice filled with dry humor registered in his ears.  “Giving yourself a concussion is just going to keep you here longer, Skipper.”  Lee finally opened his eyes and found himself in a lower bunk in Sick Bay, his head still ringing from bouncing off the back bulkhead.  He didn’t say anything as Jamie nonchalantly reached for the nasal canules Lee had ripped off, and turned off the air supply.  He did stiffen slightly as Jamie reached for his arm.  But the CMO just smiled as he gently took hold of Lee and urged him to lie back down.  It wasn’t until he had his head back on the pillow, and Jamie was checking to make sure he hadn’t dislodged the IV, that Lee noticed Admiral Nelson watching him as well.


“You awake now?” Jamie interrupted his thoughts.


“Think so,” Lee said softly, his hand reaching up to rub the side of his head.


“Behave yourself and I’ll let you stay that way for awhile.”  Lee sent the CMO an instant glare, but Jamie just chuckled.  “Hungry?”


“That’s not what this is?” Lee growled, indicating the IV.


“Not really, Skipper.  Just trying to balance your fluid levels a bit.  You lost more blood than I’m happy about.”


Lee tried another glare, knowing it was probably a lost cause but wanting to give it a shot just in case.  “I can go back to my cabin now?”  Nelson snorted, Jamie growled, and he surrendered and settled back against the pillow.


“He’s awake,” Jamie told Nelson dryly.  “You willing to take responsibility for him for awhile?”  Lee scowled at the CMO, but Nelson just chuckled.


“I promise not to let him escape,” Nelson told his CMO seriously – or as serious as he could, given the broad smile on his face.  Lee just muttered something under his breath as Jamie walked back to his office.  Nelson pulled his chair closer to the head of the bunk and began his explanation of the morning’s misadventure concerning the tanks.


He’d been right earlier – Lee tried to take responsibility for not doing a better check before heading out on the dive.  Nelson quickly squashed the notion, but wasn’t sure he had Lee totally convinced when Chip poked his head in the door just after 1800 hours.  “Come on in, Chip,” Nelson told the blond, who had hesitated by the door.  “Lee’s coherent.”


“At least for the most part,” Jamie added, joining them.


“Is he coherent enough for dinner?” Chip asked the CMO.


“Haven’t a clue,” Jamie shrugged, as Nelson chuckled at the very put-upon expression that crossed Lee’s face.  “But tell you what.  You go get yours, and something for the Skipper.  Something light,” he added hastily, as Lee seemed intent on interrupting.  “Maybe Cookie has some soup handy.  If not, just half a sandwich – not too much, anyway.  When you get back you can Skipper-sit while I make sure the Admiral gets a decent meal.”


It was Nelson’s turn to scowl and Lee’s to chuckle softly at the CMO’s slightly underhanded way of prying Nelson out of Sick Bay.  Chip scooted back out the door, and Jamie came the rest of the way over to Lee.  No one said much as the doctor did a quick check of Lee’s pulse, and had him sit up long enough to listen to his lungs.  He grabbed a couple extra pillows off nearby bunks and arranged them so Lee could sit up a bit straighter, then looked at him sternly.  “Promise to at least try to eat something and I’ll disconnect the IV.”  Lee nodded, and Jamie was just rolling up the line and pushing the stand to one side when Chip returned with a dinner tray piled high as his typically was.  He was followed closely by Cookie himself carrying another tray.  The chef didn’t look overly happy, probably because all the tray held was a cup of soup, half a turkey sandwich, and a couple cookies.  But he greeted his captain cheerily, helped Lee settle the tray on his lap as Chip snagged a small table for his, and quickly followed Nelson and Jamie out as the older men headed for the Wardroom.


“Status Report,” Lee demanded as soon as they were alone.


Chip choked on a bite of food as he tried to keep himself from laughing out loud.  “Chill, Lee.  Eat your dinner.  Everything’s under control.”


“Except me,” Lee growled.  He stared at the mug on the tray, which held Cookie’s beef barley soup – the chef’s personal cure for whatever happened to be ailing a person.  “Where’s the coffee?”


“Doc ordered no caffeine until at least morning.  Not sure why.”


“Pure meanness,” Lee muttered, nearly causing Chip to choke again.


The blond glanced around and, not seeing a corpsman anywhere, handed Lee his cup of coffee.  But he only allowed a couple swallows before regaining possession of the cup and pointing to the food on Lee’s tray.  “Make nice and eat, and you can have some more.”


Bride though it was, Lee nodded and picked up the sandwich.  The bribe was, however, about to work both ways.  Before taking a bite Lee asked again, “Status Report?”  The two long time friends shared a laugh, then got each other caught up as both worked their way through the meal.  Chip recapped his efforts to find whoever had shot at Lee, and Nelson’s orders that all future dives be under guard.  Lee used his friend as a sounding board, walking himself through not only the disjointed images caused by the hypoxia but the dream they’d later apparently influenced.  Chip teased again carefully about Lee being watched by a mermaid.  He knew only too well how Lee liked to bottle things up inside, and wanted to lighten up the conversation to keep Lee from dwelling on the incident.  Teasing too hard, however, would just make Lee clam up, so he also listened intently to what Lee told him.  Between the two they decided that Lee must have seen something amongst the grasses – a fish of some sort.  “But definitely not a mermaid,” Lee told his friend firmly.  They figured that Lee had to have already been feeling the effects of oxygen deprivation from the contaminated tank, and that was the reason he never saw the fish clearly enough to identify it.  Chip was relieved that that seemed to satisfy Lee’s need to pinpoint exactly what happened, and gladly handed over the last of his coffee.  Lee had finished his abbreviated meal, except for the one cookie Chip had snagged, and looked longingly at Chip as he handed back the now empty coffee cup.  But Jamie returned right then and Lee just sighed, handing Chip his now empty dinner tray.


“And how much of that did you actually manage to get down?” the doctor asked, walking over.


“All of it,” Lee answered defiantly.  He wasn’t ticked at Seaview’s CMO.  In fact, the two had a great relationship.  But their squabbles when the CMO had to treat his CO had become such a long-standing, comfortable tradition, neither one particularly wanted to give it up.


Jamie glared at Chip, happily keeping up ‘The Game’.  The XO was pretty good at it as well, although not nearly on a level with the other two, and folded quickly under Jamie’s gaze.


“Swiped a cookie,” he admitted sheepishly.


Jamie just nodded philosophically.  “All things considered, I’ll accept that.”  He half-grinned at the two younger men.  “Do as well with breakfast tomorrow,” he told Lee, “and I might just release you to your cabin.”  As Lee started to open his mouth, Jamie cut him off.  “Don’t even start,” he ordered.  “I put seventeen stitches in the back of your leg.  I don’t want to have to replace any your shenanigans rip loose.”  Chip grinned as Lee just lowered his eyes and folded his arms over his chest.  “Now,” Jamie continued, “if Mr. Morton will kindly get lost I’ll have John help you with a quick trip to the head, then it’s lights out.  And if you don’t think you can sleep on your own I’ll find something to help you.”


“I’ll manage,” Lee growled.  Actually, while he wasn’t about to admit it to Jamie, the short walk to the head and back cost Lee more energy than he imagined it would.  He didn’t complain when the corpsman removed the extra pillows and settled Lee into the bunk.  He knew he wouldn’t sleep – he never slept well in Sick Bay unless Jamie didn’t play fair and sedated him.  But he thought he’d close his eyes for a while, just to placate the CMO.


* * * *


Lee had rolled over to face the bulkhead.  When he heard someone walk over, and felt the blanket shift so whoever it was could check his pulse, Lee turned his head far enough to see Jamie smiling down at him.  “Good morning, sleepyhead,” the doctor grinned, before concentrating on his watch and counting.


“Huh?” Lee muttered drowsily, and shifted onto his back.  He flinched as there was a sharp pain in the back of his leg, and Jamie glanced up.


“Leg a little sore this morning?”  Ignoring the question, Lee concentrated on the fact that that was the second time Doc had used the work ‘morning’, and he tried to see around Jamie to the clock on the far bulkhead.  Finished, Doc pushed the blanket a little further over.  Its just after 0930,” he said, the grin broadening as Lee started badly.  He’d have sworn he barely closed his eyes!  “You slept a good thirteen straight hours.  That should be a hint that your body wants to stay quiet and mend no matter what your mind happens to be plotting.”  Lee just frowned at him.  “Now roll back over toward the bulkhead.  I want to take a quick look at my handiwork.”  Grudgingly Lee complied.  Since he was wearing only skivvies, Doc had easy access to the wound.  Lee flinched again as Doc peeled the bandage back, but paid attention as his leg was gently touched around the wound, finally identifying where exactly it was.  He looked back at Jamie, who supplied the information.  “When the spear glanced off the tank it went almost straight down along your leg.  Unfortunately it angled just enough to rip a path starting about three inches below the buttocks for four inches, then imbedded itself just under the skin and continued on another couple inches.  Because the spear was barbed, I had to extend the incision to get the point out.”


“I still say you should have just yanked on it,” Chip’s voice sounded from the doorway.  Whipping around to glare at his XO, Lee had to smother a groan as he pinned Doc’s hand between the incision and the mattress.  With a sheepish glance at Jamie, he rolled back over enough to allow the doctor to remove his hand and replace the bandage.


“Mr. Morton,” Doc started, but Lee cut him off.


“Who’s minding my boat?” he growled, rolling back over onto his back.  He slowly sat up, earning himself a glare from Jamie that he chose to ignore.


Chip ignored both men’s grumbles and walked over.  “Chris is holding station a few hundred yards further west from where we were yesterday.  I just sent two teams of divers out to gather more samples for the Admiral who, in case you’re interested, is holed up in his lab working on the samples that were brought in yesterday before you decided to go mermaid watching.”


“It was not a mermaid,” Lee hissed.  “Haven’t you got something better to do than harass me?”


“Actually, no,” Chip quipped cheerfully.  “Both the Admiral and I checked in earlier, but when you decided to sleep in we got things organized for the day without you.  I just came to see if you’d decided to rejoin the living.  Doc said, once you woke up, he’d appreciate my assistance hauling your tail out of his Sick Bay and back to your cabin, with a stop in the Wardroom for sustenance on the way.”


“Not exactly dressed for eating out,” Lee quipped back, instantly in a better mood now that his prospects for getting out of his least-favorite part of the boat were looking up.


“Got it all under control, Sir,” Chip answered, more smirk than respectful response.  Lee gave a low snarl but didn’t interrupt.  “Once I made sure you were no longer comatose I was going to hit your cabin for a pair of sweat pants and some clean skivvies.  It will take Doc at least that long to get in a few parting shots before you escape.  A quick hit on the Wardroom and you’ll be all tucked into your nice comfy rack in your nice quiet cabin before the divers get back and I have to get busy again.”


By this time Jamie was fighting a losing battle to smother his laughter.  It never ceased to amaze him how two of the finest, most competent officers it had been his pleasure to serve with could come off sounding like a couple of little school boys.  And he loved every minute of it!  It was, however, time to exert a little control over the proceedings.  “Mr. Morton,” he started again, “you have already been given your assignment.”


“Aye, aye, Sir,” Chip answered respectfully.  But heading for the door he burst out laughing, and even Lee’s frown disappeared.


Jamie turned back to Lee.  “You about ready for a quick shower?”  When Lee gave him a grateful smile, he nodded.  “Frank will give you a hand.”  He stopped whatever Lee was about to say with a glare.  “You’re going to be stiff and sore for a few days, not to mention a little weak until your fluid volume is back to normal.  The last thing I want is you falling on your face and my having to put up with you down here any longer than I have to.”  He chuckled to himself as Lee dropped his eyes.  “By the time I’ve changed the bandage Chip should be back.  However,” he added firmly, punctuated by a finger tapped lightly against Lee’s chest, “I see your backside anywhere on this boat other than your cabin or the Wardroom, until I tell you differently…”  He let the threat drop, knowing he’d made his point by the expression on Lee’s face.


Lee knew only too well that Jamie was allowing the escape from Sick Bay in exchange for some cooperation while Lee recuperated.  And Lee would try.  He always tried – for awhile.  He sent the CMO a shy grin as Frank walked over from wherever he’d been, and Jamie moved so Lee could swing around.  Jamie continued to look at the younger man sternly, but grasped Lee’s arm gently and helped him stand.  As he let go the corpsman moved close to Lee’s side, and while not touching his CO, stayed right next to him as the two made their way to the head.


Jamie was standing in the doorway to his office, coffee mug in hand, watching Frank redress Lee’s leg when Chip returned.  Wrapped only in the towel he’d used for his shower, Lee was laying on his stomach on the exam table, face in his crossed arms.


“You know, Lee,” Chip started, with a wicked grin at Jamie, “maybe I have been wrong all this time.”


Lee sent his XO a weary glance.  “About what?” he asked carefully.


“If you weren’t so skinny, that spear would have deflected down right into your butt.”  He grinned broadly as Jamie choked on a swallow of coffee and Lee just shook his head and buried it back in his arms.  “Would have made sitting down a decided problem, at least for a few days,” Chip continued, walking up to the gurney.


“Pathetic,” Lee muttered, not lifting his head.  “You are totally pathetic.”  He finally reached out a hand as he felt Frank tape the new bandage in place.  “Pants,” he ordered, and turned to sit up as Chip handed him his underwear.  Once dressed in the sweatpants, soft flannel shirt, and leather moccasins Chip had brought, the pair headed out of Sick Bay toward the Wardroom.  Lee had frowned at the clothes, much preferring a fresh uniform.  But as the look he shot Jamie was returned in a firm stare, he acquiesced.  Lee knew the casual dress was Jamie’s signal to both Lee, and the rest of the crew, that Lee was still on Sick Leave no matter where he was on the boat.  While the crew respected their Captain, and would do anything for him, they would be careful not to risk the CMO’s wrath by forgetting that little fact.


Lee wasn’t overly hungry but he allowed Chip to tease and cajole him into downing the scrambled eggs, bacon, hashbrowns and blueberry muffin that Cookie cheerfully set in front of him.  He did insist on, and received, a large mug of the strong black fluid Cookie called coffee, but Chip made him balance it with a big glass of orange juice.  As he ate he made Chip catch him up on the day’s planned activities.  Once the divers returned from gathering samples in this area Seaview would move on to the next section Nelson wanted checked.  Neither the men now outside, nor those watching the instrumentation in the Control Room, had reported another human in the area, only marine life.  Chip teased Lee again about a mermaid, but Lee just growled that no mermaid would have fired the spear gun at him.  Chip nodded seriously, then responded with a wicked gleam in his eye that they’d far prefer taking the handsome, dark-haired Lee home to their lair.  Lee muttered a few choice epithets just loud enough for Chip to hear, and demanded the rest of the Status Report.


Once he’d finished breakfast Lee knew that, back in his cabin, Chip would lobby strongly for Lee to lie down and rest.  Lee had other plans.  He fussed until Chip brought him the logs, and the dive reports from the previous day, then chased the XO out so he could go over them in peace.  He was most of the way through Kowalski’s debriefing of yesterday’s incident when there was a quick knock on Lee’s door.  When it started to open before Lee could get out a response he knew who was on the other side, and was therefore not surprised when Admiral Nelson walked in.  What did surprise Lee was the fact that Nelson was followed in by Cookie’s assistant carrying two food trays and Lee took a quick glance at his watch, discovering that it was just past 1230.  Nelson just grinned as Higgins placed the two trays on Lee’s desk and quickly left, then settled into the chair opposite Lee and very purposely began eating.  With a quick glance at Nelson’s suddenly upraised eyebrow Lee took the hint, pushed the reports to one side, and pulled his tray a little closer.  Nelson nodded, then began going over with Lee what he’d found in the samples that had already been brought in.  So far there had been no surprises.  The local naturalists were already suspicious that the increase in agricultural spraying was leading to run-off finding its way into the ocean.  Unfortunately, it was having a detrimental effect on that area’s marine life, some of which could be found in no other waters in the world.  “Especially the dragons,” Nelson said offhandedly. 


Lee’s hand stopped halfway to his mouth with the last bite of brownie and he stared at Nelson.  “Dragons, Sir?” he sputtered disbelievingly.


“Weedy and Leafy Sea Dragons,” Nelson explained patiently.  “You’ve heard of them, I’m sure.”  He gave his captain an indulgent smile.  He was well aware that Lee preferred to concentrate on the technical aspects of Seaview’s cruises and leave the scientific part to the Admiral and his band of experts.  But he also knew that, with Lee’s insatiable curiosity, at least some of the Admiral’s interests had rubbed off.


“Yes, Sir,” Lee finally answered.  “Guess I’ve just never heard them referred to quite that way.”


“Um,” Nelson nodded, finishing off his coffee, then glanced at the reports Lee had been reading.  “How are you feeling?” he asked quietly.


“I’m fine,” came out automatically.  Lee gave Nelson a glance through his lowered eyelashes as Nelson chuckled softly.  “Don’t know why Jamie won’t let me go back to work,” he added carefully.


“Because he would prefer you let yourself heal properly for a change, not keep pushing yourself so it takes four times as long.”  Nelson kept a half smile on his face, but his voice carried a warning.


It wasn’t lost on Lee.  “Yes, Sir,” he responded softly, and stood slowly as Nelson gathered up the lunch dishes and stood as well.  The Admiral gave the reports another glance.  “Want to finish Ski’s report,” Lee interpreted.  “Thought if I could match what he saw to anything I can remember…”  He left the thought unfinished, relieved when Nelson nodded.


“Just take it easy.  I know its going to be frustrating, especially not to be able to dive.”  A grin Lee didn’t totally understand crossed Nelson’s face as his conversation with Chip about the substitute doctor’s rather unorthodox recommendations to Lee after a minor diving accident crossed his mind.  Lee gave him a curious look but Nelson didn’t elaborate.  If Lee had forgotten the incident, Jamie would not appreciate the Admiral reminding him of it.


When Nelson didn’t respond to his questioning look, Lee just sighed.  “Almost the worst part,” he agreed with a little grin.


“Hopefully we’ll see you in the Wardroom for dinner?”


“As long as casual attire is acceptable,” Lee indicated his clothing.


Nelson chuckled.  “Never can tell – just might try it myself sometime.”  At Lee’s snort of disbelief, he picked up the trays and left.


Jamie was still working on a cup of coffee when Nelson returned the trays to the Wardroom.  Nelson refilled his own and joined him, greeted by an upraised eyebrow.  “Working at his desk,” Nelson confirmed the unvoiced question.  “But he did eat all his meal.”


“That’s something, at least,” Jamie replied with a sigh.  “Guess I can’t expect miracles.”


Nelson grinned.  “Told him I expected his presence at dinner,” and related the comments concerning attire.


Jamie guffawed.  “That I want to see.  You’re harder to keep out of a uniform than our workaholic Captain.”  Despite Jamie’s grouch, the two old friends shared a grin.  “I’ll go check on him after awhile – see if I can’t harass him into laying down.”  He laughed.  “And if that doesn’t work I’ll sick the Exec on him.”


“Those two,” Nelson said fondly.  He laughed heartily as Jamie related what had transpired earlier in Sick Bay.  They both had to quickly get themselves under control when one of the objects of their merriment, Chip, poked his head through the Wardroom door.


“Just wanted you to know, Sir,” he said to Nelson, “we’re ready to send out the next survey teams.”


“Still no sign of other divers in the area?”


“No, Sir.  Sending out watchdogs, though, just in case.”


“Good.  Those kinds of surprises I can do without.”


“Yes, Sir,” Chip agreed emphatically.  “Lee?”


“Just finished having lunch with him.”  Nelson grinned.  “Jamie would appreciate you dragging him down here at dinnertime.”


“Consider it done,” Chip grinned.  He glanced at his watch and disappeared. 


Nelson gave his own a quick look, polished off his coffee, and stood up.  “Making any progress?” Jamie asked.


“So far, nothing we didn’t already know as far as the pollution goes.  Have several more areas to check before I can start to formulate a plan for correcting the problems.”  He hesitated.  “Also want to do a little more poking around where Lee’s attack occurred.  That whole thing just doesn’t make any sense.”


“And when does the Skipper walking into trouble ever make sense?”


Nelson laughed.  “Now Jamie.  Just think how boring life would be aboard Seaview without Lee around.”


“But do you think, just maybe, we could have even one cruise without all hell breaking loose?”  He only frowned worse as Nelson left the Wardroom still chuckling.


* * * *


When there was no response to his light tap, Jamie stuck his head inside Lee’s cabin.  Expecting to find the younger man at his desk working, he was pleasantly surprised to see him sprawled across his rack instead.  Doing something right for a change?  What’s wrong with this picture?  He walked over and sat carefully on the edge of the bunk.  Lee was lying on his stomach, face turned toward Jamie, arms over his head and pillow shoved into the corner.  He hadn’t bothered to pull a blanket over himself but the cabin was warm.  Jamie reached out a hand and brushed it gently over Lee’s forehead.  “Good.  No sign of fever,” he told himself softly.  He reached up and checked the pulse just on general principles, and discovered it steady and strong.  He hesitated laying the stethoscope he’d brought with him on Lee’s back to check lung sounds for fear of awakening Lee, then got concerned that Lee hadn’t awakened already since he was usually such a light sleeper.  Hopefully still the after effects of the blood loss, Jamie rationalized.  Pulse was okay, no fever, the expression on Lee’s face didn’t indicate he was in any pain.  You’re constantly fussing at him to rest – now let him do it.  Time enough to get worried if Chip couldn’t get him to come down to the Wardroom later.


But as he started to get up Lee moaned ever so slightly and turned his head toward the bulkhead.  Jamie sat quietly, just keeping watch.  He suspected Lee was just reliving some adventure or another.  He did shift a bit toward the foot of the bunk, remembering the incident where Chip had disturbed one of Lee’s nightmares and, still not totally awake, Lee had tossed Chip head first into the side of his desk.**  Poor Chip – he was never going to live that one down.  Jamie just watched quietly as Lee became more and more restless and finally, with a grunt, opened his eyes.


“Did you win the battle?” Jamie asked softly, and smiled as it took Lee a few seconds to follow the voice to Jamie’s face.


“Don’t think so,” Lee admitted, took a deep breath and blew it out, and rolled over onto his side.  “Not sure, but think the man-eating seaweed got me that time.”  He grinned, raising up long enough to retrieve his pillow and tuck it under his head.”


“Definitely just a dream, then,” Jamie grinned back.  “In real life it wouldn’t stand a chance.”  He was pleased when Lee chuckled softly but made no effort to get up.  Usually, as soon as the Skipper was awake he was on his feet – no matter what he’d been doing or how badly he hurt.  My guess is, it has something to do with the fact that his eyes still have that slightly unfocused look of half-sleep.  Jamie thought he might just have an idea to help things along even more.  “Could I get you to roll back over the other way for a minute?  Just want to check quick to make sure your lungs are still clear.”


“They feel fine, Jamie,” Lee groused instantaneously, but the doctor just smiled.  He knew all too well he’d get some kind of grumble no matter how simple the request.  It was Lee’s instant reaction to being asked any question whatsoever by any person even remotely associated with a medical degree.  He waited patiently, and Lee finally sighed heavily and turned.


“You know the routine, Skipper,” Jamie said lightly, scooting closer again.  “Deep, steady breaths.”  He very purposely took his time, starting at the top of one lung and working his way down.  Almost to the bottom, he hid a grin as Lee yawned broadly.  As Jamie started down the second side Lee’s eyes started to close.  And by the time Jamie was through, happily determining both lungs were totally clear, with no sign of pneumonia that could so easily follow a bout of bad air, Lee’s eyes were totally closed and his deep breaths had changed to the soft, steady, rhythm of sleep.  Mentally chalking one up for his side, Jamie very carefully left.


* * * *


The last thing Lee remembered was Doc’s gentle teasing so he was a bit puzzled to hear Chip calling him.


“Hey, slacker.  Gonna miss dinner if you’re not careful.”


“Huh?”  Lee finally opened his eyes, realized he was staring at the bulkhead behind his rack, and rolled over.  His XO was sitting where he’d last seen his CMO, and he glanced at the clock on his desk – almost 1800.  “Smart-aleck doctor,” he mumbled, realizing what Jamie had maneuvered him into doing, and slowly sat up.


Chip just grinned.  “Jamie strikes again?  He didn’t mention that he’d slipped you anything.”


“Didn’t have to,” Lee grouched, and explained. 


Chip laughed out loud.  “Sneaky.  Very sneaky.  Definitely have to keep a better eye on him.  In the meantime…”  He gestured toward the door.


“If you’d move your six I could get up,” Lee sniped back and gave Chip a light backhand.


Coming out from a quick trip to the head, Lee gave his closet a longing glance.  “Not a chance,” Chip interpreted the look.  “You show up in uniform and Doc will have my tail.”  The instant look of speculation that crossed Lee’s face sent them both into snickers.  “Come on, smarty.  If I heard correctly, Cookie’s fixing pot roast with oven roasted potatoes and carrots, apple salad with raisins and pineapple, and your favorite chocolate pudding cake for dessert.”


“That’s your favorite dessert,” Lee corrected firmly, then wavered.  “Think I’ll just have you bring me a tray later.”


One long step brought Chip close.  He didn’t grab Lee, but laid his hand gently on his friend’s arm.  “Come on, Lee.  Chris will be there.  You can quiz him about all the things he thinks I did wrong while you were playing Rip Van Winkle.”


A wicked grin crossed Lee’s face.  “You mean you’re actually admitting you’ve screwed up?”


Chip stiffened.  “I said, what Chris thinks I did wrong, not what I did wrong,” he muttered indignantly.  Lee’s grin broadened and the two finally headed aft, nattering easily at each other.


They were still at it when they entered the Wardroom, and Nelson gave Jamie a quick wink.  It would have been nothing new for their stubborn captain to have dug in his heals and refused to wander around the boat out of uniform.  No one was quite sure why Lee had such an aversion to doing it.  On shore, at home, he was perfectly happy lounging around in whatever clothes he happened to grab.  Part of it, Nelson knew, had to do with Lee’s workaholic personality.  On board Seaview Lee felt he was on duty 24-7.  And in essence, as Captain, he was right.  But Lee tended to take the trait to extremes.  He caused not a few people, and most of all the CMO, major headaches by refusing to allow himself any downtime whatsoever, for any reason.  Jamie had been known to threaten to shoot Lee out a torpedo tube and put him out of their misery, but so far Chip hadn’t let the CMO do it.  He kept telling Jamie that if he did, Chip would get stuck with the Captain’s share of the paperwork, and no way did he want that!


But that’s why the two older men had made sure Chip had been the one to go roust Lee for dinner.  The blond had an absolute knack for wheedling and needling his long-time friend without totally ticking him off. Nelson knew he could have simply walked in and ordered a reluctant Lee to accompany him to dinner.  And he would have if Chip’s tactics had failed.  It was far too easy for Lee to shut himself off and brood when things weren’t going the way he wanted them to.  This way was so much easier, and better for Lee’s psyche.  Chip steered him, once their trays were full, toward where several of the JOs, including Lt. Chris James, frequently Chip’s second in the Control Room on day watch, were sitting.  Lee had hesitated just briefly, looking toward where Nelson and Jamie sat a short distance away.  But Chip made a quick crack to Keeter, Chris and O’Brien joined in, and Lee was quickly involved in the conversation.


Nelson grinned over his coffee cup and said quietly to Jamie, “Chip strikes again.”  He concentrated on his dinner a bit, not wanting to seem like he was listening to the others’ conversation, but enjoyed the banter nonetheless.  “You going to let Lee go back to light duty tomorrow?” he finally asked the CMO.


“Doubt I’ll have a choice,” Jamie grumbled, but finally smiled as Nelson snorted lightly.  “He’s doing well.  There are no signs of any problems from the bad air.  And I’m pleased he actually rested today.  Guess I can’t expect miracles.”


“We are talking about Lee Crane, Doctor,” Nelson quipped, and they both chuckled.  “Nothing much planned over the next several days except what we’ve been doing.  As long as we can keep him from diving, there’s not much trouble he can get into.”


It was Doc’s turn to snort.  “To coin a phrase, we are talking about Lee Crane, Admiral.”  Both men cracked up.  Nelson saw the object of their wisecracks glance over, but was immediately distracted by something Lt. Keeter said and returned his attention to his own table.  Nelson almost said something to Jamie about Dr. West’s solution for allowing Lee to dive with stitches, but quickly changed his mind.  If Chip was right and Jamie didn’t know about that incident, no sense getting him worked up unnecessarily.


“Thought I might suggest Lee come and sit with me in the Observation Nose for awhile after dinner,” Nelson said quietly.  “I know that’s closer to the Control Room than you’d like him to get.  Just have a couple project proposals I haven’t gotten around to doing much about and thought if he had something to distract him for a couple hours, he might sleep better tonight.  Or had you already made other arrangements?” he asked with a grin.


“Actually hadn’t thought that far ahead,” Jamie admitted.  He grinned sheepishly.  “Was still patting myself on the back for this afternoon.”  Nelson chuckled.  “I was about to suggest that you try keeping him off his feet as much as possible, but letting him wander around might be a good thing, within reason.  Let him work off a little energy and maybe I won’t have to get into my bag of tricks.”  He sent Nelson a disgusted look.  Its getting harder and harder to keep ahead of those two.”


“Keeps you young,” Nelson teased.  His only answer was a growl.


When dinner was over Nelson made his suggestion to Lee, and had to bury a grin at the look of pure delight that hit the younger man’s face.  “That would be just fine, Sir,” Lee said instantly.  Behind him, Chip grinned at the excitement in his friend’s voice, and Nelson figured Lee had been gearing himself up for being sent back to his cabin.


Nelson adjusted his normal brisk walk through Seaview’s corridors to allow Lee to move a bit slower, and covered it by enthusiastically starting to discuss the first of the proposals he wanted to go over.  By the look that flashed briefly across Lee’s face as they first left the Wardroom he suspected Lee understood the ulterior motive.  So little gets past him, Nelson chuckled to himself.  He purposely led them through the aft hatch into the Control Room instead of entering by way of the spiral stairs, and pretended to have some urgent business with Chief Sharkey while Lee made his way slowly forward, stopping at each station to check monitors and chat easily with the duty crew.  As he hesitated at the chart table Nelson finally came forward, and the two went on to the table in the Nose.  Nelson had left several folders there, just in case.  Not noticed in the Wardroom, Nelson saw Lee flinch as he sat down and reminded himself that no matter how casual Lee was acting, he still had a long gash on the back of his leg that had to be somewhat painful.


The two spent the next couple hours discussing the pros, cons, and ramifications of several projects NIMR was being asked to undertake.  Because Lee took a totally different tact from Nelson when looking at a project, the Admiral valued his input immensely.  Nelson sometimes forgot what he would be asking Lee to put Seaview and her crew through.  Thankfully, Lee had never been bashful about pointing out the pitfalls of such a one-sided view.  That didn’t mean the Admiral wouldn’t get hot under the collar when Lee stubbornly refused to budge on this or that.  In fact, there had been more than a few arguments loud enough to have any junior officers wandering past the Admiral’s cabin, where these discussions usually took place, instantly decide that they had urgent business elsewhere.  But the two were usually able to work out a solution agreeable to both without actually coming to blows.


At one point, shortly after they sat down, Cookie appeared with a fresh carafe of coffee and a plate piled high with peanut butter cookies.  Chip was in and out of the Control Room several times, each time coming forward and helping himself to the munchies.  Lee swatted at his friend’s fingers the second time, and they all chuckled.


About 2145 the blond ambled forward, grabbed a cookie, and parked himself on the window ledge, listening as Lee sketched out a possible cruise route to combine two of the proposals he and Nelson had been discussing into one cruise.  Nelson sat nodding approval, then asked if Lee thought it would be possible to add a small detour.  “That way,” he offered, “we can combine two paying trips with a little research of my own.”  He watched silently as Lee thought for a second, and tried to cover a yawn before answering.


“It would mean Drs. Waskom and Lester being on board about, oh, six days longer than they’d planned.  Either that or we could send them home in FS1.”


Nelson nodded.  “That would work.  No, wait.  The last time Dr. Waskom was on board I took him out for a little reconnaissance and he got sick.”


Lee started laughing.  “I remember.  Riley got stuck cleaning up, and didn’t quit complaining for a month.”  He didn’t quite get the next yawn covered up, and Nelson grinned at him.


It was Chip, however, who spoke.  “How about you wandering down to Engineering with me.  You wanted to check on the improvements to the power converter Bobby was talking about at dinner.”


“Kind of like to hit the Missile Room and check the compressor,” Lee said carefully.  “Keeter said he kept the damaged “O” ring.”


“Don’t push your luck,” Chip muttered darkly, not quite under his breath.  But he grinned when Nelson snorted at the comment.  “Come on then,” he added, standing up.  “Let’s see how much we can accomplish before Doc sends out an armed posse.”  The two left by way of the aft hatch, and were barely out of sight when the CMO walked down the spiral stairs.


“Been listening long?” Nelson asked amiably, gathering his folders into a pile.


“Not really,” Jamie answered, totally unabashed.  He grinned.  “Chip’s been giving me updates.”


Nelson laughed and glanced at his watch.  “About 20-25 minutes to check Engineering.  Another 15, maybe 20 minutes to hash over all the ramifications of what happened with the compressor.  Say 2230, maybe a bit more, and Chip will have him back at his cabin.”  He grinned at Jamie.  “One way or another.”  They both chuckled.


It was a little closer to 2300 – Lee got involved with Patterson and Chief Sharkey over why, all of a sudden, they’d had problems with the “O” ring, and it took Chip a little extra to pry him away.  Through it all Lee had been fairly good-natured, but he got stubborn when Chip offered to come in and help Lee get ready for bed.  The look he sent his XO, and the one Chip sent back, had them both instantly chuckling.


Lee’s died, at least momentarily, when he entered his cabin.  Sitting squarely in the middle of his desk was a glass of water and a small paper cup with two pills inside.  Instantly ticked, he almost immediately switched gears and recognized Doc’s gesture – the CMO had supplied the meds, but left it up to Lee whether or not to take them.  At first he was going to ignore them on general principles.  But by the time he’d washed up and headed toward his bunk he allowed himself to acknowledge just how painful his leg had become.  He still hesitated, flipping a mental coin.  He didn’t know for sure whether the pills were simple painkillers or something a little sneakier on Jamie’s part, despite the CMO’s assumption that Lee could recognize every drug in the dispensary simply from the fact that Lee’d had to have been given all of them at least once.  Finally deciding it didn’t really matter either way he downed the pills, crawled into bed, and was asleep in his usual two minutes flat.


* * * *


The next morning started out much better for Lee, although he had to get a little sneaky himself.  Awakening about 0515 he rose – not without a moment of complaint from his leg that he simply chose to ignore – and took as quiet a shower as possible in the hopes of not awakening his light-sleeping XO next door.  Dressed again in a uniform he felt almost back to normal, and was halfway through his breakfast in the Wardroom when Chip and Jamie walked in together.  His warning glare defied either to make a derogatory comment, but it died to one of hesitation when Nelson walked in right behind the other two.  When all three simply said good morning and filled their plates his confidence returned, and the four visited amiably.  He did have a moment of irritation when Jamie mentioned casually that Lee should come down to Sick Bay for a minute before heading to the Control Room but the expression on Nelson’s face, one of authority with an underlay of amusement, had Lee nodding ascent.


It turned out all Jamie wanted was to change the bandage.  Lee had been careful of it during his quick shower and Jamie, happy with how the injury was healing, covered it with a much smaller bandage that would be easier for Lee to change himself.  Lee wasn’t holding his breath that that would keep the CMO out of his hair for any great length of time, but it was a start.  He also wasn’t holding his breath that he’d actually be allowed to put in a full day of work.  Especially since what Lee considered a full day was 0600 one morning to roughly 0100 the following.  But he’d tackle that problem when it became one.


There was more to keep him occupied in the Conn than there had been for several days – they were getting closer to Kangaroo Island, an area heavily used by sport divers.  While still wanting to maintain security for the collection teams after Lee’s run-in with whomever, they had to be sensitive to not upsetting or scaring anyone with a legitimate right to be there.  Lee spent the morning coordinating a balancing act between sonar, hydrophone, dive communications, and monitoring surface vessels.  He and Chip decided the best way to keep everything from getting too far out of hand was to surface so that the locals were aware of Seaview’s presence as well.


At one point about halfway through the morning, without so much as a word to Lee, Chip retrieved from its storage cabinet the small stool that sometimes sat next to the chart table.  Lee was at that point standing over Riley’s shoulder monitoring hydrophone traffic.  He turned as he heard the stool legs hit the deck.  Chip didn’t look in his direction, just headed toward the Radio Shack.  Lee grinned as he turned back to query the young seaman.  But he also took the hint and sat when he returned again to study the reports and maps scattered across the tabletop.  He had to admit it felt good to get his weight off the injured leg for awhile.


He was still sitting there when Chip returned from the Missile Room after the morning’s teams of divers returned.  They were discussing the next section scheduled for that afternoon’s dives, and whether they wanted to stay on the surface or submerge, when Riley called that he was getting weird hydrophone traffic.  Lee gave the seaman a stern look.  “Riley, seems to me we’ve had that discussion before, about the definition of the term ‘weird’ as it pertains to the hydro readings.”**


Chip grinned and Riley gave both senior officers a sheepish look, but held one hand over his earpiece, clamping it to his head to block out as much extraneous noise as possible.  Everyone else sat quietly, concentrating on their own equipment, not wanting to disturb the young man.  Finally Lee couldn’t stand the waiting and started to walk over, followed closely by Chip.  But they’d no more than reached the hydrophone station when Riley’s face brightened.


“Got it, Sirs,” he said happily.  “Water scooter of some sort.  Coming from port, probably launched from one of the sport dive boats sitting off Kangaroo Island.  From that direction, anyway.”


“Long run for a scooter,” Chip observed.  “Headed toward Seaview?”


Riley listened intently for a bit before answering.  “Now veering to cross in front of our bow.”


Chip grabbed the nearest mic and double-clicked.  “Missile Room.  Unidentified water scooter approaching port side and headed across our bow.  Divers in the water, but stay close to the boat.”


“Aye, aye, Sir,” came back immediately in Sharkey’s voice.


“Interesting that the scooter appeared right after our morning teams came in,” Lee observed.


“Just thinking the same thing,” Chip answered.  “Think they’ve been monitoring our schedule?”


“Not sure why, but would seem to be the case.”


“Lee, what’s going on,” came over the intercom from Nelson, and Chip handed him the mic.


“Probably nothing, Sir,” Lee answered calmly.  “Just taking precautions.”


“Harrumph,” came through loudly, and Lee and Chip shared a grin.  “Keep me posted.”


 “Yes, Sir.”  Lee handed the mic back to Chip just as Sharkey announced, “Divers away.”


“Roger that, Missile Room,” the XO acknowledged.


“Where’s the scooter?” Lee asked Riley softly.


“Passing about 50 yards forward of the bow…ah…  Hang on.  Sounds like he stopped.”  No one said anything.  “Seems like maybe he’s lost…just sort of hovering.”


“Spotted our divers?” Chip asked Lee, who just shrugged.  “Whoever it is can’t be stupid enough to think we can’t hear the scooter.”  Lee just raised an eyebrow at him.  “Forget I said that,” Chip backslid rapidly, causing Lee to grin again.


“Scooter turning back the way he came,” Riley reported, just as Nelson came through the aft hatch.


“Apparently whoever it was didn’t want any part of our divers,” Lee told the Admiral, with still half a grin,  Turned tail as soon as they were out.”


“How far away are we from where you were attacked?” Nelson asked.


Lee frowned and walked back to the chart table.  Pushing a clipboard aside, it took him only a moment to get his bearings.  “Here’s where we are, Sir,” he indicated one spot.  “Here’s where we were two days ago.”  He measured it with his eye.  “Call it two thousand yards.”  He looked at Chip.  “But no report that day of a scooter?”


“No,” Chip confirmed.  “No reports of anything but our own divers.  Two separate incidents?”


“Who knows,” Lee shrugged.  “Sure would like to know where this one thought he was going, and why he turned tail the instant our divers hit the water.”


“We could always send FS1 out to follow him home and ask,” Chip offered helpfully.


“No, no,” Nelson interrupted.  “Probably someone just curious, and decided we weren’t friendly when he found divers with spear guns staring at him.”  He glanced at his watch.  “Just about lunch time,” he said pointedly to Lee.


“Yes, Sir,” Lee answered with a heavy sigh, and lightly backhanded Chip who had unsuccessfully tried to bury a snicker.


“You go on, Lee,” the XO got himself under control.  “I’ll be along as soon as the scooter’s left the area and the divers are back aboard.”


Ganged up on by both the Admiral and the XO, Lee didn’t have much choice, and followed Nelson to the Wardroom.  Nor was he overly surprised when Jamie walked in within a couple minutes.  With a heavy sigh and a shrug of his shoulders, he just grabbed what he wanted from Cookie’s abundant selections and settled down at his usual place.  Nelson and Doc sat opposite, and they were joined shortly by Chip.  Lee gave his XO an upraised eyebrow but the blond just shook his head.


“Riley’s got his gain turned up as high as it will go, and he’ll pass the word to the other shifts.  Sonar is also on alert until further notice.  We won’t be surprised again.”


“Famous last words?” Lee asked with a small grin.


“Not on my watch,” Chip growled.  Lee raised an eyebrow again.  “At least not twice on the same cruise,” Chip qualified, finished filling his plate, and sat down next to Lee.  As Lee continued to grin, Chip returned the backhand Lee had given him earlier.  “Eat your lunch,” the XO ordered.


“Aye, aye, Sir,” Lee smarted back.  All four men chuckled, and enjoyed an amiable meal.


* * * *


Lee had a feeling he’d get ganged up on after lunch to go and rest, and he wasn’t disappointed.  He put up a half-hearted defense, knowing perfectly well his arguments were doomed to fail but also knowing it would be expected.  He eventually surrendered peaceably – sort of.  Leaving the Wardroom he wandered down to the Missile Room and hung around until the afternoon teams of divers were away.  Ambling back through the boat to the Control Room he ignored Chip’s decidedly pointed glares, grabbed the previous day’s Status sheets he hadn’t so far taken a look at, and finally headed reluctantly to his cabin.  Once there, however, he got one glimpse of his desk, slammed the cabin door shut behind him, and just stood there a moment.  Eyes closed and fists clenched, he took deep, steady breaths until the instant temper storm that had hit him started to subside.  One very deep sigh, a growl that ended in a soft chuckle, and he opened his eyes and reread the placard that had been placed on his desk.  “This Desk Out Of Order.  Use Your Bed,” it read in large block letters.  It wasn’t until he took a step closer that he saw what was written underneath in Chip’s neat script.  “If you remove your uniform first, it will look a little less like you slept in it.”  There was also more water and pills set to one side of the sign.


“I will get them for this,” Lee muttered darkly.


“No, you won’t,” came firmly from behind him.  Lee started badly, not having heard his cabin door open, and whipped around.  Admiral Nelson was standing in the open doorway.  “Heard the door slam two corridors away,” he added a bit more gently.


“Sorry,” came out instantly, then Lee nearly had to stifle a snort.  There was an instant flash through his brain, associated with the expression on the Admiral’s face, that reminded Lee of a comment Chip had made at Annapolis shortly after their first class instructed by then Captain Nelson.  Something about exasperation at just how stupid some young men could be, coupled with how much rope to hang themselves fatherly indulgence was going to allow.  Lee hadn’t understood the comment at the time, having lost his own father so early in life.  He’d picked it up rather quickly when Chip started dragging Lee home for holidays.  This wasn’t the first time Lee’d seen it on Nelson’s face – a fact that both embarrassed Lee, and pleased him.  Noticing that the Admiral’s expression had softened into more indulgence than exasperation, Lee gave him a quick grin.  “Not even a little bit?” he tried carefully.


Nelson snorted.  “You know what always happens when you smart-mouth Doc,” he said in his best ‘land on the junior officers’ voice.  But he almost instantly grinned.  “With Chip you’re on your own.  However,” and the lecturing quality was back, “for right now…”  He let the sentence die, but not the meaning still written clearly across his face.


“Yes, Sir,” Lee surrendered. 


Nelson nodded and tucked the reports Lee had brought up with him and tossed on the edge of the desk under his arm.  “You won’t be needing these for awhile,” he told Lee, and left. 


For a split second Lee strongly considered ignoring everyone anyway.  But with a shrug of his shoulders he finally stripped off his uniform and laid it carefully over his desk chair.  He disposed of the pills down the head on general principles, deciding the pain throbbing in the back of his leg wasn’t really all that bad, and stretched out on his bunk, pulling the top blanket over his lower body.  He’d play the game for an hour or so, then return to the Control Room.  By that time the divers out now would be back, their debriefing reports filled out and given to Chip.  Between those, the reports he’d brought up with him and confiscated by Nelson, and catching up with whoever had “B” watch today, that should fill the rest of the afternoon.


He’d barely closed his eyes when they popped back open, suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling that he was being watched.  He hadn’t heard his cabin door open but it would be just like Chip to come check on him, even with Nelson’s interruption of his plans.  But it wasn’t Chip.  Lee blinked as Jamie’s face came into focus, sitting quietly on the edge of Lee’s bunk.


“Beginning to wonder if you were going to wake up in time for dinner,” the CMO said casually.


Lee blinked again and glanced over at the clock on his desk – almost 1745.  “Damn,” he muttered, not totally under his breath.  “But I didn’t…”  He let the thought drop and lowered his eyes, looking at Jamie carefully through his eyelashes.


“Didn’t take the pills?” Jamie asked casually.  “Didn’t really think you would, Skipper.  Not with your track record.”  He grinned.  “Wouldn’t have made any difference.  It was just an antibiotic anyway.  I’ll give you a long-lasting one to make up for it.”


“But why…?” Lee started, then let the question die.


“Why did you sleep all afternoon?” Jamie refused to let him off the hook.  “I keep trying to tell you, Skipper, but you stubbornly won’t let it sink in.”  His grin broadened as Lee again dropped his eyes.  “Your body wants to rest and heal.”  He paused to let that sink in.  “I suppose it’s too much to ask that you’d just stay curled up ‘til morning.”  Lee’s answer was a snarl as he started to sit up.  “Don’t get in a hurry, Captain,” Doc ordered, a hand quickly landing in the middle of Lee’s chest.  “Three minutes, and an injection in your backside.  Okay?”  Lee continued to grumble under his breath, but laid back down and rolled over to face the bulkhead so Doc could check the wound, run his stethoscope quickly up and down Lee’s lungs, and administer the wide-spectrum, delayed action antibiotic.  “There,” Doc did a bit of muttering of his own, giving the injection site a final swipe with the antiseptic swab, “go harass your XO for awhile.”


“Think you’ve got that backwards,” Lee sniped as Doc finally let him get up.


“Whatever,” Doc replied amiably, just grinned when Lee sent him a glare, and left.  Lee dressed quickly and headed for the Control Room.


He was somewhat surprised not to find Chip there as he came down the spiral stairs.  He wasn’t sure what expression crossed his face when he inquired as to the XO’s location and was given the message that Chip would meet him in the Wardroom.  Whatever it was had young Lt. James burying his head into a computer printout, and Lee was left to wonder if Chris was hiding nervousness or laughter.  Deciding he really didn’t want to know, Lee headed aft.


He was further disgruntled to discover that Chip had gone out diving that afternoon, but only because it reminded him that he couldn’t.  Once the teams Lee had seen leave were back aboard, Seaview was shifted back into the area where Lee’s attack had occurred.  Chip, Kowalski, Sharkey, and a couple armed divers had gone out to scout around.  But they’d returned without a clue as to why anyone would object to their presence in that area.  Nor had they seen, or Seaview’s instrumentation detected, anyone else.  It was all very strange.


Admiral Nelson was particularly annoyed.  He spent a good deal of the meal waxing not overly poetic about the forms of pollution he was finding in the samples Seaview’s divers had so far brought in, how much damage was being done to this very fragile marine environment off the southern coast of Australia, and how many different species could be effected – some of them unique to this area.


“You mean like the dragons?” Lee asked innocently, and sat smiling to himself as both Chip and Jamie started.  Nelson had to explain to them what he’d told Lee the previous day about the Weedy and Leafy Sea Dragons.


Chip could have kicked himself into the next time zone at one point, when he messed up and said something about Lee having to hit Cookie up for some plastic food wrap so he could go play with the dragons.  As Lee’s face instantly lit up, Nelson gave Chip a kick under the table that caused the younger man to yelp, and all three had to explain to Jamie.  The CMO plastered a hard look on his face that had the other three looking somewhat sheepish.


“Try it, Commander,” Jamie growled, and Lee ducked even further, “and I’ll have you confined to Sick Bay, in restraints, so fast you won’t know what hit you.”  He continued to glare at Lee until Lee nodded.  Jamie reserved that particular form of addressing his CO strictly for times when the CMO was extremely irritated.


“It was just a thought,” Chip tried to deflect some of Jamie’s ire, since he was the one who’d caused it.


“Well, unthink it, immediately.  Both of you,” Jamie ordered.  “I find out the Commander’s left this boat any time in the foreseeable future by way of the diving hatch, he’d better not come back!”


Nelson chuckled as both younger men gave their CMO “Aye, Sirs” respectfully, then earned a glare himself from Jamie, as well as chuckles from Lee and Chip, when he casually told Lee, “There’s always the escape hatch.”


“Keep it up, Admiral,” Jamie warned.  “Your next physical is only a few weeks off.”   Even he was finally forced to grin as both Chip and Lee cracked up, and the Admiral buried a mutter in his coffee cup.  “So,” Jamie decided it was time to change the subject, at least somewhat, “tell me more about these ‘dragons’.  Don’t think I’ve ever heard of them.”


“Not surprised,” Nelson was immediately back in good spirits.  Chip and Lee shared a quick grin between themselves.  They’d learned very early on at Annapolis – give Nelson a subject he loved and he could talk happily for hours.  “Phycoduras eques and Phyllopteryx toeniolatus,” Nelson said, instantly into his element.  “Leafy and Weedy Sea Dragons, respectfully.  Related to common sea horses – and pipe fish, for that matter,” he added thoughtfully.  “Their bodies look a bit like the common sea horse, but fully grown adults are usually about 18 inches along.”


“I suppose that’s why they’re called dragons,” Jamie asked, “because they are so much larger than the sea horses?”


“One reason, I’m sure,” Nelson agreed.


“Why the weedy and leafy part?”


“Sea Dragons don’t have a prehensile tail like a sea horse.  While their body shape is somewhat similar, the Weedy Sea Dragon looks sort of like a twisty twig with a sea horse head.  The Leafy Sea Dragon has much the same body style as the Weedy, but he’s covered all over in appendages that sort of look like someone dumped a basket of seaweed pieces on top of him, and half of them stuck.”  Nelson chuckled as Jamie just shook his head.  “Wander down to the lab sometime and I’ll show you some pictures.  It’s a little hard to describe.”


“I’ll do that,” Jamie nodded.


“Like the common sea horse,” Nelson continued, “it’s the male of the species who carries and incubates the eggs in a ‘brood patch’ on the underside of his tail.  Carries them about eight weeks, and once the eggs hatch, just swims away and leaves them to fend for themselves.”  Nelson shrugged.  “Part of the reason only about five percent of the 250 or so hatchlings are estimated to reach maturity.”


“I take it they live in this area?”


Nelson nodded.  “All in Australia’s waters.  The Weedy is a little more common.  He’s found along some coral reefs, rocky ledges, jetties and in sea grasses from Sydney to Southwestern Australia, and even as far as Southern Tasmania.  The Leafy is far less common, with a much more restricted range.  The only ones ever spotted are here along the southern coast, particularly around the Kangaroo Island area.  A few have been found as far East as Victoria province.”


“They sound pretty spectacular, Admiral,” Jamie was suitably impressed.  “Why are they not better known?  I mean,” he backtracked a bit, “I’m hardly an expert on marine wildlife.  But we do tend to pick up a certain level of knowledge aboard Seaview.”


Nelson chuckled.  “Little hard not to,” he agreed.  “Part of the reason is, Sea Dragons are extremely hard to spot in the wild.  They blend in perfectly with the kelp and sea grasses they live in.  And you don’t see them except rarely in aquariums.  They are protected by Australian law, and their export is strictly regulated.”


“Ah,” Jamie said.


“I know that there’s a very nice Sea Dragon exhibit in Singapore, and I believe the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, Oregon was able to acquire a few.  The Florida Aquarium in Tampa has an exhibit.  Several places here in Australia have lovely displays, as well as doing research.  Has to be other places as well.  But don’t feel bad,” he added to the CMO.  “They really aren’t a well-known species.”


“That makes me feel a little better, at least,” Jamie said.


“You don’t want Lee and I to go catch you one so you can see it for yourself?” Chip asked, all innocence.  “Much better than just a picture.”


“You want to join the Skipper strapped to a rack in Sick Bay, you go right ahead,” Jamie growled back.


“That’s if we could keep you out of the Australian Judicial System,” Nelson added.  “They don’t take kindly to anyone messing around with their dragons.”


“That would sort of take all the fun out of it,” Lee told Chip with a sigh.


“Major bummer,” Chip agreed.  Nelson chuckled, Jamie growled, and the group broke up.


* * * *


2030 found Lee at loose ends.  After dinner he’d gone to the Control Room to catch up on what he’d planned to do that afternoon.  That was all well and good.  But the logs he planned to take to the nose and work on, he discovered when he picked them up, had already been taken care of by Acting Captain C. P. Morton.  Chip caught him looking at the filled in pages and snickered softly.  “Thought you hated paperwork,” Lee muttered, and frowned when Chip just shrugged his shoulders and walked off.  His next couple hours’ worth of activity foiled Lee headed aft, walking through the boat checking all the departments and visiting with whoever was on duty.


But even that didn’t occupy him as long as he’d have liked, and he found himself standing in the juncture of the corridors to Engineering and Reactor Control, both of which he’d already visited, trying to think of something to do to fill the hours before his usual bedtime.  Suddenly, over the intercom, came, “Capt. Crane, please report to the Wardroom,” in Chip’s quiet, confident, voice.  Lee, just starting to wonder what was going on, had to smother a soft groan when Chip added with a grin in his voice, “Your money is needed at the poker table.”


The game was in full swing when Lee ambled in.  Not that they actually played for money – they just passed the poker chips out amongst whoever was playing.  Tonight it was Chip, Chris, Keeter, and Sparks, supplemented by Seamen Patterson and Kowalski, and Chief Sharkey.  Lee rounded out the table of eight, and so sure had Chip been that Lee would show up that they’d already assigned the empty place a stack of chips.  Lee just shook his head, grabbed a cup of coffee, and joined in.


In Sick Bay Jamie chuckled when he heard Chip’s intercom call.  Good.  That will keep the Skipper off his leg until bedtime, he nodded to himself.


Nelson had much the same thought, working in his lab.  Leave it to Chip to sidetrack Lee for awhile, he smiled.


Even Lee had to send his friend a smile of gratitude over his cards awhile later.  Lee was always at his worst when bored, and Seaview’s crew couldn’t often indulge in the pleasures of a good game of cards – they were usually kept far too busy.  Besides having something to fill his evening, Lee got great pleasure from watching the others’ enjoyment of the evening as well.  Much more relaxed at 2230 than he’d been earlier, he had no qualms about Chip breaking up the poker game and hustling him off to bed.


* * * *


Not usually one who needed to set an alarm, Chip vowed Lee wasn’t going to beat him up two days in a row and was up, showered and dressed, and parked in Lee’s big desk chair when Lee came out of his shower.  Lee just shook his head but said nothing as he laid out his uniform and started getting dressed.  Chip suppressed a shudder as Lee changed the bandage, not because the wound looked bad – it was healing quite nicely.  But Chip had a sudden image of how much damage the spear could have done if it hadn’t glanced off Lee’s air tank first.  He figured Lee must have seen at least a little movement because he paused and raised an eyebrow at his friend.  Chip just shook his head.  “Nothing,” he shrugged off Lee’s unasked question.  After the briefest of pauses, Lee went back to getting dressed.  Chip still got the impression Lee might have read something on Chip’s face, however.  While Chip had the reputation among the crew as totally unreadable when he chose to be, and the possessor of the best ‘poker face’ on the boat, there were still times he knew Lee saw right through the act.  Not always.  Lee sometimes complained that he didn’t know what Chip was thinking.  But more often than not, however Lee managed it, Chip knew he could hide very little from his friend.


Lee finished buttoning his shirt and tucking in the tails.  “So,” he asked, “do I get to walk through the Conn for my usual morning check, or do I get hustled immediately to the Wardroom?”


Chip snorted, then grinned bashfully.  “Actually hadn’t thought that far ahead,” he admitted.  “Just wasn’t about to get caught flatfooted two mornings in a row.


Lee just shook his head as he started toward the door.  “Like I said before.  Pathetic, Morton.  Totally pathetic.”  Unfortunately, as Lee looked back to toss that last jibe over his shoulder, opening his cabin door at the same time, he practically walked right into Nelson.  The Admiral had his hand upraised, about to knock.  Chip snickered as the two managed – just barely – to keep from tripping over each other.  Lee gave him a dirty look and muttered under his breath, “I rest my case,” before turning back to the OOM.  “Good morning, Sir.”


Nelson, not knowing totally what had triggered it this time, still so enjoyed the hi-jinks of his two senior officers.  While his old friend Admiral Jiggs Stark was firmly convinced the two unorthodox young men were going to lead to Nelson’s ruination, probably sooner than later, Nelson was positive of just the opposite.  Even Jiggs has had to change his tune, Nelson grinned to himself.  “Interrupting something, am I?” he now asked Lee with a grin.


“Just considering the possibility of feeding my XO to the nearest shark and promoting Lt. James,” Lee answered easily.


“Watch it, junior,” Chip muttered, but he was by this time also smiling.  “Who was it that wandered off and tried to become fish food?”  Lee immediately turned sheepish as both Nelson and Chip chuckled.


“Come on, you two,” Nelson said sternly, but still smiling.  “I’m hungry, and Sharkey said Cookie’s making blueberry pancakes.”  A grin split Chip’s face wide open, seeing it Lee just shook his head, and Nelson headed aft, followed closely by his still happily bickering officers.


* * * *


The morning went by peacefully enough.  Since Seaview had already taken samples from this area, the divers Nelson still ordered out were more on the lookout for anything unusual than scientific.  Still, for most of them, any excuse to be out swimming was good enough.  The waters here were clear, not particularly deep and, while cooler than further north, still abundant with marine flora and fauna.


Chip, especially, was antsy to go back out.  He didn’t get nearly the opportunity he’d like.  He tried to cover it as he and Lee sat eating meatloaf sandwiches for lunch in the Wardroom.  While he knew his CO certainly wouldn’t begrudge him the chance, he still felt a bit of a traitor for going out on what amounted to little more than a pleasure dive while his friend was stuck inside.  He knew Lee had caught some of his mood when Lee put down his only partially eaten sandwich and stared at Chip.


“Go, please, before you split your seams,” he said amiably, despite a small frown.


“You don’t mind?” Chip asked carefully.


Lee sent the blond a disgusted look.  “Of course I mind.”  He quickly changed to a grin.  “But at least one of us should be enjoying themselves.”  He looked around the mostly empty Wardroom and frowned again.  “I’m expecting any time now to have Doc wander in and send me to my room for the afternoon.”  Chip nearly choked on his last bite of macaroni salad, and ended up with a huge grin on his face.  “Don’t,” Lee ordered firmly.  “I’d just as soon not hear about how it did me a world of good, that it was exactly what I needed, all the other hogwash Jamie’s been trying to feed me.”


“I assume you also don’t wish to be reminded he’s right?” Chip said innocently, still smiling.


“You’re right, I don’t,” Lee muttered, and put down the sandwich.  Chip instantly glared at him.  Lee frowned again, but picked it back up with a heavy sigh.


“Thank you,” it was Chip’s turn to say determinedly.  Lee just lowered his eyes and took another bite, but Chip saw the corners of his mouth twitch that had nothing to do with chewing.


That was when the object of Lee’s mutterings happened to walk in, and Chip decided he’d better make his escape while he still could.  He did pause just a moment as Lee again started to put down the sandwich, cast a quick glance at Chip, and changed his mind.  “You don’t eat, I don’t play,” he said quietly, so only Lee could hear.  Lee just sighed heavily again and nodded, and Chip headed happily to the Conn.  He’d report in long enough to make sure Lt. James had everything under control, just in case Lee didn’t make it back, then head for the Missile Room and write himself in for that afternoon’s dive.  He gave momentary thought to who he’d be kicking off but reminded himself that rank did have its privileges, after all, and grinned.  That accomplished, he hit his cabin for 45 minutes’ worth of assorted paperwork, then headed back to the Missile Room.  He hadn’t heard any sound from Lee’s cabin, in particular a fist into a bulkhead as would happen occasionally when his friend was ticked.  He didn’t take any chances, however, and edged past the door quietly without checking inside.


He needn’t have worried – Lee was in the Missile Room when he got there, ostensibly seeing off the afternoon’s teams.  Chip suspected there was probably more to it than that but didn’t say anything.  He did raise an eyebrow as Lee walked over to give him a hand getting into his wetsuit.


“Yes, Mother Hen, I finished my lunch,” Lee growled, then gave Chip a sheepish look.  “The Admiral walked in right after you left,” he admitted, and finally matched Chip’s grin.


Chip knew instantly that Lee had gotten his revenge when he finally walked over to the dive hatch and discovered that someone had shuffled the teams.  Chip’s original partner was supposed to have been Richardson.  All of a sudden it was now Henderson.  Immediately suspicious, Chip gave Lee a hard look.  His friend just looked back, total innocence written far too blatantly across his face.  Not that Chip had anything against Henderson.  He was actually an excellent diver.  It was just the first time Chip had partnered with him since a diving incident involving a half grown nurse shark.*  It was rather obvious from the expression on Henderson’s face as well that he hadn’t noticed the change in assignments, either.  But Chip just gave him a thumb’s up and they headed out.


The plan for this afternoon’s dive was to scout around the base of the larger of two kelp beds in the area.  As he got closer, Lee’s voice in his ear mentioned casually that it was the same one he’d been around the other side of when he’d been attacked.  That told Chip that one, Lee hadn’t been grounded for the afternoon; and two, he was watching out the Observation Nose windows.  Chip responded that he’d keep an eye out for mermaids, got a grunt in response, and swam happily on.


One team headed east around the bed, scouting close to the base for anything they thought might be of interest either to the Admiral and his research, or to finding a reason for the attack on their Skipper.  Chip’s team headed west, doing much the same.  Mickelson, playing watchdog, swam about 20 feet above them.  For the first 15 minutes or so they didn’t find anything that hadn’t already been reported, and just kept on traveling.


The three of them had just rounded another section of kelp when they found their way blocked by an area of heavy sea grasses.  Suddenly suspicious, Chip sent a call back to Lee, who confirmed that it sounded like the area where he’d been attacked.  “But Kowalski and several others went over that area with a fine toothed comb,” Lee finished.


“Well, think we’ll just use an even finer one,” Chip answered back.  Henderson had heard the conversation, gave Chip a nod, and started very carefully checking along the base of the kelp.  Chip started around the base of the grasses, and Mickelson positioned himself halfway between the two, still overhead.


Figuring that if there was anything worth finding left behind by Lee’s attacker it would be on the ocean floor buried in grass, Chip focused his attention down.  He stayed along the edge for a few minutes, noticing at the same time that Henderson was doing the same several yards away at the base of the kelp.  They kept in sight of each other, and also in sight of Mickelson.  But not finding anything, Chip decided he’d go just inside the outer perimeter and search carefully along the bottom for a bit.  He told both Henderson and Mickelson what he was doing, and was assured by both that even if he went in three or four feet they could still see him, the grass wasn’t that dense.  Henderson also went just inside the edge of the kelp but he, too, stayed visible to the other two.


“Mr. Morton?” Henderson called a few minutes later.


“Find something?” Chip answered hopefully.


“Not sure, Sir.  But didn’t the Skipper say he felt like he was being watched, just before the spear hit him?  That he saw eyes looking at him?”


“Remember, he was breathing contaminated air,” Chip replied.  “That stuff will make you see all sorts of things.  Why?”


“Because I’m getting the same feeling, Sir.  Haven’t seen any eyes, but something is for sure here.  At least…I don’t know.  It’s just a little spooky.”


Sharkey’s voice broke in from dive control in the Missile Room.  “Whatever it is, its not bad air, Mr. Morton.  All tanks are now triple checked before anyone goes out, and the compressor is checked after every use.  Maybe it’s the Skipper’s mermaid.”


Please, Lee, be somewhere else besides monitoring dive communications, Chip begged silently.  It was one thing for Chip to get away with a minor crack.  But if the crew starts in…  Out loud he said casually, “I’d be careful about that, Chief.  Last I knew, the Skipper was in the Conn with a headset on.”


“Oh, sh…” came clearly through Chip’s ear piece, followed almost immediately by a growl that Chip easily recognized, and suspected at least a few others did as well – especially Sharkey – as coming from Lee.


“Counting on having any free time in the near future, Chief?” Chip asked casually.


“No, Sir,” came miserably back.  Chip just chuckled.


Unfortunately, the conversation had taken his attention away from what he was supposed to be doing.  It took him a second to refocus, and realize that he couldn’t see his dive partner.  Henderson?” he called instantly.  No answer.  “Mickelson?” he asked immediately.


“He was right there a second ago, Sir.  Now I don’t see him.”


Henderson!” Chip yelled, and kicked toward the last place he’d seen the young seaman, noticing that Mickelson was also headed down to the same spot.


Both men reached Henderson at the same time, lead there by a mass of bubbles – Henderson’s air hose had been severed.  He was hanging loosely, appearing unconscious – or dead!  Chip’s own breathing wasn’t too steady for a few moments.  But as he reached to support Henderson, Mickelson grabbed the two ends of the air hose with one hand, reached into his belt pouch of supplies with the other and, as quickly as he could, wrapped waterproof tape around the damage.  When he signaled, Chip gave the man’s midsection a squeeze and was relieved when Henderson gulped in a huge breath of air.  “Just unconscious,” Chip said unnecessarily.  “Mayday.  Coming in with an injury.  Notify Doc.”


“Done,” Sharkey’s voice responded, again all business.  “Hatch set for emergency cycle.”


Search forgotten, Chip had his team headed back toward Seaview as fast as they could go.


* * * *


“What the hell is out there?”  Chip wasn’t the only one who cringed slightly as Lee thundered, pacing in the Missile Room while Doc tended to Henderson.  The seaman had regained consciousness on the way back to the boat but was still a bit stunned.  Jamie’s quick assessment revealed a good-sized lump on the back of his head but, cushioned somewhat by the hood of his wetsuit, no skin was broken.  Chip saw the doctor send a glance his way as Lee continued to stalk the room, and took a deep breath.


“Lee?” he tried softly.


“What?” Lee growled viciously.


Chip cringed again.  Lee didn’t get this steamed very often.  It was well known among the crew that it was the XO you stayed away from if at all possible when things weren’t going well.  Lee was much more likely to be the one to go along smoothing ruffled feathers once Chip got done ruffling them.  Today, however, not only were the few crewmen in the room looking for corners to hide in, Chip noticed Jamie cringe with nearly every heavy stomp Lee took on the metal decking.  “Calm down,” he said as controlled as possible.  “We’ll get to the bottom of this.”


“We damn sure will,” came the answering growl.  Chip was just gearing himself up for Lee bashing his fist into the control station for the diving bell, that being where he happened to be standing, having momentarily stopped his pacing, when Admiral Nelson came through the hatch.


“Lee, calm down,” Nelson told his irate Captain.  “I could hear you bellowing halfway to the lab.”  Chip almost choked on a snicker – Lee was also usually the one trying to calm down a for-whatever-reason-at-the-moment irritated Admiral.  “We’ll get to the bottom of this.”


“That’s for sure,” Lee still said darkly, but toned it down a few decibels.


Chip was by this time out of his wetsuit and toweling off.  “Nothing on the instrumentation?” he asked Lee


Lee just shook his head.  “Not a d…”  He paused and took a quick look at a frowning Admiral.  “Thing,” he finished, and sighed.


“Could they be using a re-breather?  No air bubbles, and silent.”


“Has to be,” Lee answered, getting himself back under control.  Chip saw Jamie finally relax as well as Lee quit stressing his own injury.  “But where are they coming from?  The few boats we’ve come across haven’t been all that close.  And why that particular spot?”  The last was threatening to get loud again, and he looked down as Nelson frowned at him.


“Come on, Henderson,” Jamie changed the subject.  “I want you to come down to Sick Bay.”


“Jamie?” Lee asked instantly.


“He’s fine, Skipper,” Jamie smiled at Lee, whose ire that a crewman of his had been injured could so quickly turn to concern for that crewman.  “Just want to keep an eye on him for a couple hours.  He got his bell rung a pretty fair bit.”


“Obviously not as hard-headed as you are,” Chip teased his friend as he finished dressing, standing up and tucking in his shirttails.  Lee sent him a withering look as there were smiles and snickers from the crew, including Henderson.


“Lee,” Nelson distracted his Captain further, “why don’t you and I take FS1 out for a little reconnaissance.  Think we’ll be safe from anybody taking potshots at us.  And if nothing else,” he added firmly as Lee had gone back to pacing, “it will get you to sit down for awhile.”  From the look that briefly crossed Lee’s face, Chip decided he’d be safer in the Control Room, and rapidly left.


* * * *


While the scouting trip did accomplish that task, it was otherwise a waste.  Even though they stayed out just over two hours, and covered areas much closer to shore than the divers had been able to search, they still came up empty.  Lee could feel his fists tightening on the controls as Nelson asked him to maneuver the little craft this way and that.  He’d hesitated when he’d first entered FS1, not knowing if the Admiral was going to pilot her himself.  But the older man had just grinned, settled comfortably into the co-pilot’s chair, and started studying the chart of the area he’d brought down with him.  Now Lee forced himself to loosen his grip and concentrate on scanning the relatively clear waters for anything that seemed out of place.


Nelson finally called off the search as he glanced at his watch and discovered it was nearly 1715.  While the trip had gotten Lee off his feet, Nelson knew Doc wouldn’t be overjoyed that the still recuperating man hadn’t rested at all that day.  And as steamed – and worried – as he knew Lee was, the prospects for a peaceful evening and night weren’t looking too good, either.  Humm, Nelson thought to himself as Lee neatly tucked the craft back into her hold, perhaps I’ll quietly suggest to Chip that this might be a very good evening for some of Cookie’s infamous Death By Chocolate brownies and a carafe of cocoa – properly augmented by one of Jamie’s stronger potions.


First things first.  Once back aboard Seaview and their dismal failure reported, Nelson coaxed Lee to join him for an only slightly early dinner.  As Seaview was going nowhere until they had answers to why the attacks were occurring, Chip readily joined them as well.  Lee insisted on a quick side trip to Sick Bay to check on Henderson, but the seaman had already been released to his quarters.  Jamie reported that he would be ready for full duty in just a couple days, then joined the others for dinner.


The conversation was all business during the meal, primarily because Lee refused to give it a rest.  The four of them kicked around every conceivable idea they could think of from smuggling to drug running to poaching – although when Jamie asked what could be poached no one could really give him an answer.  They also tried a few inconceivable ideas, pure cussedness being the most reasonable.  But Cookie’s meal of barbeque-sauce-basted brisket, garlic mashed potatoes, pea, onion, bacon and peanut salad, and cherry pie, could do nothing to dispel the bad taste in their mouth each man had when they pushed themselves away from the table.


Lee, especially, was still fussing.  He grabbed a mug full of coffee and stalked off, purportedly headed for Engineering on some errand or another.  But the other three knew it was just an excuse to try and walk off his excess temper.  Nelson waited for him to close the door before mentioning his earlier idea to Chip.  With an enthusiastic nod from Doc, Chip headed to have a word with Cookie.  Notwithstanding the plans for a bit later, Chip knew that the chef had been hovering, concerned because Lee wouldn’t stop muttering threats at unseen enemies long enough to eat much of his meal.  It didn’t take much to spoil Lee’s skimpy appetite, and Chip figured Lee had managed what he did only because Nelson and Doc took turns glaring at him.


Blissfully ignorant of the other three men’s plans Lee did, in fact, head for Engineering, and spent half an hour discussing with Bob O’Brien several advanced courses in mechanical engineering the young lieutenant was thinking about taking.  From there he hit Reactor Control, the machine shop, and spent time tracking down the off-duty Patterson to discuss possible ways to augment the hydrophone.  They even drafted seaman Rawn, Seaview’s hydrograph operator, into the conversation.  But the instruments on Seaview were so finely tuned already, no one could come up with any ideas for making them better.


Lee was just headed back toward the Control Room when Chip hurriedly walked up behind him.  Glancing around, ostensibly checking to make sure he wasn’t overheard, Chip whispered that Cookie had left the galley early and Chip had been able to convince the assistant, Higgins, to part with a few of Cookie’s special brownies and some cocoa.  Chip told Lee he’d hidden them in Lee’s cabin for safekeeping and invited Lee to join him in the repast.  Lee declined but Chip kept insisting, and just to shut his friend up returned to his cabin.  Halfway through the first mugful of the hot, soothing brew, nibbling on the two-inch cube of super rich brownie slathered with half an inch of chocolate cream cheese frosting, Lee finally felt himself relax for the first time since he’d heard Henderson’s call about feeling like he was being watched.  He laid his head against the back of his chair and stretched out his long legs, totally oblivious to the fact that while Chip was filling Lee’s mug for the third time, the blond had taken only a couple small swallows, preferring to concentrate instead on the rest of the brownies.  Lee started out trying to bounce a few more ideas off Chip, each of them getting a bit more ridiculous than the last, until Chip suggested they hit up Riley for his latest UFO theories.  Lee’s expression instantly turned disgusted but he took the hint, took another bite of brownie, and settled back with his once again full mug.  Ten minutes later when Chip removed the almost empty mug from his hands, stripped off his uniform, and tucked him into bed, Lee made absolutely no objections.  By that time, Lee was sound asleep.


* * * *


It was, unfortunately, not the fully restful sleep his three friends would have preferred.  It started out okay, before the dreams came.  Even then Lee was merely paddling through clear waters, looking around at all the sights to be seen.  It did puzzle him for a bit that he didn’t seem to be wearing a wetsuit.  He also didn’t seem to have any scuba equipment.  Not that it mattered – he wasn’t having the least bit of trouble breathing.  What did matter, when he finally figured it out, was that he wasn’t wearing anything at all.  Oh well, he shrugged, and kept on swimming.


He wasn’t totally sure where he was.  The water was clear and warm, but didn’t seem to have the abundance of colorful sea life that so often inhabited those kinds of waters.  Here there were, in the distance, great fields of kelp as far as he could see.  Yet as he swam on, he never seemed to get any closer to them.


Then, suddenly, he was surrounded by them.  He didn’t know how.  He didn’t remember reaching the edge and swimming inside.  But all of a sudden he could see no open water at all.  Not knowing which way to swim, afraid he’d simply be going deeper into the clinging, grasping kelp, he tried to just stay where he was, hoping that eventually he’d figure out which way to swim to get back – ah, but back to where?  Had he come from Seaview?  Had he swam from shore?  He had no idea.  That was when he felt them – eyes, watching him.  He couldn’t find them at first, surrounded as he was by the kelp plants.  Then suddenly they were everywhere.  Little eyes, seemingly a part of the plants themselves.  All around him.  Not threatening him.  Just looking at him, an almost sorrowful expression in them.  They seemed to want to tell him something, but whatever it was he couldn’t understand.  He tried swimming over to one of the pairs of eyes but as he got close they just became part of the kelp plant, disappearing from view.  He turned toward another pair, which also started to fade as he approached.  “No,” he tried to tell them.  “Don’t go away.  I won’t hurt you.  Tell me what you want.”  But the eyes just began to fade, reminding Lee a bit of the Cheshire Cat of Alice in Wonderland fame.  Only instead of a smile, Lee was once again left with only a strand of kelp to stare at.


Then suddenly the strand started fluttering, its leaves moving in a sudden shifting of waters.  Other strands around him started doing the same thing.  And creeping closer as they did it.  Closer and closer they came, leaves fluttering faster and faster.  Lee felt his breathing growing faster as well, matching the movements which had become synchronized.  The eyes began to pop back into view – one here, two there, one again somewhere else.  The kelp strands kept getting closer; started to press against his body.  All the way around, holding him firmly between them.  “Leeeeee,” they seemed to whisper, softly at first, then gradually getting louder.  “Leeeeee, Leeeeee,” louder and louder.  “I don’t know what you want, you have to tell me,” he tried to make them understand.


“LEE!” echoed firmly, and Lee’s eyes finally snapped open, finding themselves staring into worried blue ones.  Taking a deep breath, Lee studied his surroundings.  Obviously not taking any chances, Chip had grabbed the blanket firmly on both sides of his friend and pressed down, effectively pinning Lee’s shoulders to the bunk.  “You awake now?” came a bit softer.


“May have to work on it a bit,” Lee muttered honestly.   His head felt like he’d just regained consciousness from an all-night drinking party.  Sort of, anyway.  There wasn’t really the pain of a hangover, but he was definitely muzzy and disoriented.


“That’s what you get for working yourself so hard while still somewhat under the weather,” Chip lectured, finally releasing the blanket.  His face remained perfectly bland as Lee worked his way through that piece of information.  It took him a second.


“You sure Doc didn’t spike the cocoa?”  He stared hard at Chip.


The blond remained totally neutral.  “If he did, I didn’t see him do it,” he replied benignly.


“Yeah, sure,” Lee muttered, and pushed off the blanket to sit up.  He started badly when he glanced at the clock on the desk and discovered it read 0640.  “Doc, definitely,” he growled.


“Whatever,” Chip said easily, and stood up.  “See you in the Wardroom by 0700?”  His only answer being a grunt, he chuckled and left.


Lee almost made it.  He spent a few extra minutes in the shower trying to unfuzz his brain.  Unfortunately he was only minimally successful.  He had his proof that Chip knew more than he was admitting to when he came out of the head to discover a large mug of the extra potent, morning eye-opening, possibly radioactive sludge Cookie lovingly called coffee sitting on his desk.  Lee stood in the middle of his cabin, towel wrapped around his waist, eyes closed, savoring every last drop before finally getting dressed.


The three co-conspirators were in their usual spots, almost finished eating, when Lee finally got to the Wardroom about 0715.  “Sleep well?” Nelson asked easily as Lee joined them, his usual light breakfast even lighter due to a still slightly queasy stomach.  “Chip was just telling us about his after hours raid on the galley.”  Nelson gestured toward what little was on Lee’s tray.  “Eat too many brownies last night?”


Lee sent a positively frosty glare at Jamie before glancing at Nelson through lowered eyelashes.  Both older men sent back expressions angels would have been proud of.  Chip, as before, was totally nonchalant.  Lee sent a glare across the room to where Cookie was standing.  Seaview’s backup Nuclear Reactor Control dutyman, and Premier chef, was sending Chip glacial frowns suitable to someone who had dared enter his domain without permission.  Lee wasn’t buying any of it.  He also knew there wasn’t a single thing he could do about it, and surrendered.  “Must have,” he muttered.  “Didn’t think so, but don’t quite remember.”  That one went with a meaningful look at Jamie, unfortunately without any apparent effect on the CMO.  “Must have been more tired than I thought.  Don’t really remember much after Chip and I went to my cabin.”


“I have warned you, Skipper,” Jamie said casually, “that your body is perfectly capable of retaliating if you don’t take care of it.”


“Yes, Jamie,” Lee all but growled back before changing the subject.  “Admiral, have you decided on a search strategy?”


“How about blasting anything that moves with the laser rifle,” Chip volunteered.


“Problem being,” Nelson tried hard not to agree, “that so far no one has seen any movement.  Lee didn’t, Henderson didn’t, Mickelson was overhead and didn’t see anything.”  He shrugged disgustedly.


“Picky, picky, picky,” Doc muttered.  Lee and Chip chuckled, and Nelson nodded.


“Really not sure where to start,” the Admiral admitted.  “Well, that’s not quite true.  We’ve started, technically.  Just so far not had any luck.  You have an idea?”  He looked at Lee.


Lee shook his head.  “Both attacks have come in the same general area.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t come somewhere else, just that, so far, they haven’t.  I guess we stay here and keep searching?”


“I’m certainly not in any hurry to leave, not with two of my crew attacked for no apparent reason.”  No one mentioned that, with one of those two men having been Lee, Nelson would move heaven and earth to find the person or persons responsible.


“Back to sending out teams, but the two that go together stay together.”


“Or one armed watchdog for every diver.” Chip suggested.


“Same difference,” Lee nodded.


“If you flood the area with divers, “ Jamie asked, “don’t you run the risk of driving off whoever you’re looking for?”


“Good point,” Lee nodded.  “So we continue to send out teams twice a day.  However…”  He thought for a second before turning to Chip.  “How many re-breather units do we have aboard?”


“Two,” his XO answered instantly.  “They can be used for up to eight hours at a time in this temperature and depth of water, with about an hour needed to get them reset between uses.”


Lee nodded again.  “Then I suggest we send out two divers two hours before we usually send teams out.  Send them out the escape hatch and bury them in the kelp bed.  If we don’t get any nibbles, they come in when the regular teams go out, and return outside to stand watch until the afternoon divers go out.”


“Works for me,” it was Nelson’s turn to nod.  “Suggestions for the strike squad.”


“Kowalski,” Chip and Lee said together, and looked sheepishly at each other.


“And Patterson,” Chip added.


“I need Pat inside,” Lee vetoed.  “He has the most experience on the hydrophone.”


“Then I’ll go,” Chip volunteered himself.


Nelson frowned.  “Not sure that’s such a good idea.”


Lee was frowning as well.  “Normally, Admiral, I’d agree with you.  But right now our guys are sitting ducks, no matter what we’ve tried.  We need our brightest, sharpest people on this part of the mission.”  He gave Chip a speculative look.  “Not to mention our most ruthless.”


“Hey,” Chip decided to take umbrage at Lee’s statement, then got speculative himself.  “On the other hand, I resemble that remark.”


The others chuckled before Nelson turned serious.  “Just remember – don’t get carried away out there.  Lee would be very upset to have to break in a new exec.”


“Don’t know about that,” Lee teased.  “Lt. James is doing quite a good job.  O’Brien could handle it, although I suspect he’d rather stay down below with his machines.”  By this time Chip was giving him the evil eye, which Lee was totally ignoring.  “And I’ve already offered the job to Tim Hughes once.***  I bet with a little persuasion he’d…”  Whatever he was going to say was cut off as Chip punched his shoulder.


“The loyalty I get around here,” the XO complained to the Admiral and CMO.  “Just listen to him – you’d think he was sending me out on a suicide mission without a care in the world.”  Nelson and Jamie were having a hard time keeping a straight face.


“Not suicide,” Lee defended himself.  “Kamikaze.  There is a difference, you know.”


“How’s that?” Chip challenged him.


“Suicide is if I don’t expect you to come back.  Kamikaze is you getting so caught up in what you’re doing you forget to make sure you get back.”


“I think you’ve got that backwards, Junior,” Chip growled, but was again interrupted, this time by Nelson.


“Gentlemen,” he said firmly, “I expect both of you to remember what you’re doing.  Is that clear?”  He tried to keep his voice in command mode, but he knew he wasn’t covering the sparkle of amusement in his eyes as both Lee and Chip sat at attention and gave him wide-eyed, totally innocent, “Yes, Sirs.”


“Heaven help us,” they all heard Doc mutter into his coffee cup.


* * * *


Shortly before 0830 Chip and Kowalski slipped quietly out the escape hatch dressed in dark, camouflage-colored wetsuits and armed to the teeth.  Lee saw them off then hurried back to the Control Room.  Patterson was on the hydrophone and gave his Captain a thumbs up as Lee stopped at the station.


“Absolutely nothing, even when I know where they are,” the seaman said quietly.


Lee gave him an approving pat on the shoulder and headed for the Radio Shack, where Sparks gave him another nod.  “Transponders are working perfectly, Skipper,” the radioman told him.  “Set them on such an obscure frequency, since the divers will be staying relatively close, it would be a total fluke if anyone else were to pick up on them.”


“Good job, Sparks.  Make sure you co-ordinate with Pat and Larry.”  Larribee was their best sonar operator after Ski.


Sparks nodded again and picked up two small hand-held units.  “Admiral Nelson brought these down.  Just finished getting them set.  Since the signal doesn’t have to go more than a few yards, the power level is so slight it won’t interfere with anything else.”


“Perfect,” Lee said, picking up the units.  He gave one to each of the hydrophone and sonar operators, waited while they and Sparks were set up, and headed for the chart table.  Lt. James was going over the logs for both days the attacks had occurred, and sketching out a timeline for today’s dives that matched as close as possible.  “Good work, Chris,” Lee grinned at the young officer.  “Was just going to do that myself.”


Lt. James beamed.  He knew that both Capt. Crane and Mr. Morton liked him; considered him a good bridge officer.  If they didn’t, he wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes aboard Seaview.  It wasn’t so much that they demanded perfection.  They did expect competence but were perfectly willing to allow a person to grow with the job as well, encouraging further education and training, and taking the time to do a lot of the instructing themselves.  Especially the Skipper.  Chris had spent hours – both on duty and off – listening as Capt. Crane discussed procedures, strategies, and tactics.  Chris never tired of listening to him, and tried to soak in as much information as possible.  He worked hard to follow the Skipper’s logic through hypothetical problem after problem, and in particular the real-life situations that occurred unpredictably on Seaview.  That he’d been able to anticipate the Skipper’s plans pleased him no end, not to mention getting the man’s verbal acknowledgement and approval.  Not that that was important.  But with the Exec outside, Chris would have been happy to get nothing more than a nod, as distracted as the Skipper could get when he was worried.


Lee smiled again and grabbed the nearest mic.  Double-clicking, he called the Missile Room.


“Missile Room,” Sharkey answered instantly.


Lee took a quick look at Lt. James’ timeline.  “Just confirming, first divers out at 1015.”


“Aye, aye, Sir.  We’re just doing the equipment check.”


“Be down in a few minutes.”


“Missile Room, aye.”  Lee broke the connection and gave Chris an upraised eyebrow.


“Everything under control here, Sir,” Chris answered smartly.  Almost forgetting himself, his hand started to come up in a salute before he caught it, hoping the Skipper hadn’t noticed.  That was one thing that had been very difficult for the young lieutenant to get used to – the casual attitude Capt. Crane preferred to maintain.  Unfortunately, the Skipper missed very little that happened around him.  Chris just smiled sheepishly as Capt. Crane’s eyes sparkled and he grinned broadly, gave him a quick nod, and headed aft.


Lee had intended to ask the Chief several other things, before deciding it might be better not to do it over the intercom.  He couldn’t imagine any way that Seaview’s internal communications could be tapped into, but under the current circumstances he wasn’t about to take any unnecessary chances.


Some of the questions were answered as he stepped through the Missile Room hatch.  While the next scheduled teams were just beginning to go over their checklists, there were four other men suited up, equipment laid out, ready to hit the water at a moment’s notice.  Lee gave them a nod, had a quick word with Sharkey, and returned to the Conn.


Once there, he realized within just a few minutes that he was starting to pace.  He was just undogging the upper hatch to FS1 when Nelson’s voice sounded behind him.  “Lee, where are you going?”  He turned to find the Admiral coming down the spiral stairs, and waited until Nelson had hit the bottom before responding.


“Just going down to do a systems check – make sure she’s ready to go out instantly if we need her.”


Nelson’s immediate response was a grunt and a frown.  But he finally nodded, and Lee slipped down the access ladder.  Running through the checklist didn’t keep him occupied long, even double-checking the laser rifle.  Nelson was sitting at the nose table looking through a folder when Lee came back up.  He originally intended to walk through the Control Room, giving each of the stations another check.  But he was interrupted when Nelson, using a foot, pushed one of the other chairs away from the table and gave Lee an expectant look.  Lee just sighed heavily.


“Yes, Sir,” he surrendered.  He did look at Lt. James.


“Nothing new, Sir,” came softly back, and Lee settled into the chair.  Or, at least, the front half of it.


Nelson poured him a mug of coffee from the ever-present carafe.  “Settle down, Lee,” he requested gently.  He knew it was probably useless.  With everything that had been going on, and today’s covert operation in full swing, Lee was at ‘Battle Stations’ readiness.  Nelson knew the coffee wasn’t going to help the matter in the least.  But he also had a pretty fair idea of what would happen if he suggested a glass of warm milk.  At least Lee was sitting, however momentarily he could get the younger man to remain there.  At this point he’d take what little cooperation he could get.  “I was just studying some old maps of the area.”  He pushed several papers toward Lee.  “I thought perhaps there might be some references to an old shipwreck; that maybe divers had found something worth looting.”


“You’d think that sonar would have been able to pick that up,” Lee replied, and gave the charts a distracted glance.


“You’d think so,” Nelson agreed.  “Just a possibility we hadn’t totally explored yet.”


“Yes, Sir,” Lee answered politely.  His attention, however, was focused on the various stations in the Control Room.


Nelson knew when he was licked, and surrendered gracefully.  “Go on, Lee,” he said with a sigh of his own.


Lee bounced out of his chair so fast he bumped the table.  That piece of furniture was firmly bolted down.  But in regaining his own balance Lee put out his hand and overturned his barely touched mug of coffee – right into Nelson’s lap.  “Oh my gosh,” Lee gasped as Nelson launched himself to his feet, and reached for the handful of napkins next to the carafe.  Once the shock of getting a full mug of coffee dumped on him subsided slightly, Nelson realized the futility of Lee’s efforts.


“Never mind, Lee,” he said firmly, then had to repeat it as Lee was busily trying to soak up the spill.


“Sir?” Lee finally looked at Nelson.


“I’ll call the Wardroom and have this cleaned up.”


“I’m so sorry, Sir.  I can’t believe I did that.”  Lee was so embarrassed.


Nelson just shook his head.  The whole time Lee was trying to clean up the mess he was also looking over his shoulder into the Conn.  “Lee,” he said firmly, and waited until he had the younger man’s attention.  Its okay.  Go.  I’ll see to this, then go grab a clean uniform.  Go,” he ordered as Lee still hesitated.  Lee finally gave him a sheepish grin and headed for the chart table.  Nelson gave his head another shake, called Cookie to have someone come clean up the mess, and climbed the spiral stairs toward Officers’ Country and his cabin.


Lee didn’t stay long at the chart table before moving nervously around the Conn checking each station.  Everything was quiet and he started back to the chart table, thinking that if he stuck a clipboard in his hand he’d at least look like he was doing something productive.  But he wasn’t halfway there, headed back from the Radio Shack, when Sparks called to him. 


“Skipper, I thought the divers were supposed to stay hunkered down and just watch.”


Lee was instantly alert.  “Problems?”


“Mr. Morton is on the move – away from Seaview.”


“In a hurry?”


“Not really, Sir.  In fact, he seems to be moving a little strangely.  At least,” Sparks adjusted his tracking device, “not swimming smoothly.”


“He’s in the middle of a kelp bed,” Lee offered.  “That could cause problems.”


“Yes, Sir,” Sparks agreed, concentrating on his headset and tracker.  “But he was supposed to call in any change of location once he settled in.”


“Try calling him,” Lee said, and watched the radioman send a quick series of clicks over the divers’ channel.  There was no reply.  “Again,” Lee ordered, starting to get concerned.  The speaker remained silent.  “Try Kowalski.”


“Aye, Sir,” Sparks said.  Still nothing, and Lee grabbed the nearest mic.


“Missile Room,” Lee practically shouted.  “Divers in the water – Now!”


“Missile Room, aye,” Sharkey responded promptly.


“Has Ski moved?” Lee asked Sparks.


“No, Sir.”  Worry was now evident in the normally controlled radioman’s voice.


“Sharkey,” Lee said into the mic he still held, “Sparks will guide the divers to Kowalski.  Mr. Morton is on the move.  I’m going after him in FS1.”


“I can be up there in two shakes,” the COB offered.


“No,” Lee ordered.  “I need you to supervise the divers.”


“Aye, aye, Sir,” Sharkey’s unhappy voice came back.  He knew the Skipper shouldn’t go out by himself.  Maybe the Admiral is with him, the Chief speculated, and instantly felt better. 


But Lee was already halfway across the Conn.  He gave a quick nod to James, spun the wheel to undog the hatch, and dropped down into the little yellow machine.


Nelson heard Lee’s call to the Missile Room and quickly pulled on his pants.  Grabbing his shirt he hurried back to the Conn, fastening buttons as he went and tucking in his tails as he started down the spiral stairs.  Just as he hit the bottom rung he felt FS1’s docking clamps release and he glared at Lt. James, his expression demanding answers.


Chris was quick to supply what he knew, augmented by Sparks’ report that neither diver was responding to his repeated calls.  He was directing the men Sharkey had sent out to where Kowalski’s transponder said he still was, and FS1 was on a heading toward the still slowly moving Exec. 


Nelson grabbed a mic.  “Lee,” he shouted into it, once Sparks gave him the channel, “you can’t do anything by yourself.  Come back and pick me up.”


“No time, Sir,” Lee answered.  “Chip’s in trouble or he’d answer.  Have the divers found Ski?”


Nelson growled, but looked at Sparks.  “Almost on him, Sir,” Sparks responded.


“Morton’s signal?” Lee asked.


“Two degrees port and about thirty yards ahead of your present position, Sir.”


“Roger that.  Keep me posted.”


Nelson started to say something but the divers Sharkey had sent out called in, saying that they’d found Kowalski.  The senior rating appeared to be hurt badly, with a spear through his shoulder.  Nelson listened, silent but seething inside, as calls were relayed to Sick Bay and two divers started back with the injured man.  Two others were directed toward Morton’s position but it would take them awhile to reach the still moving blip.  Lee was, however, closing fast.


Then suddenly the blip disappeared.  There was mad scrambling in the Control Room between the various stations to try and figure out what was happening.  Nelson called Lee.  For a moment there wasn’t a reply, and Nelson practically screamed into the mic.


“Here, Sir,” came the response – finally.  “There’s what looks like a small seamount.  I just got a glimpse of someone – or something – going around one side.  Then they disappeared.  There’s a small opening at the base of the mound.  I’m guessing there’s a chamber, or bunker, or something.  That’s why we’ve never seen any boats in the area.  Has to be a staging area…”  His voice trailed off.


“Lee?” Nelson asked.  No answer.  “What are you doing?  Wait for the divers.  They’ll be there in a few minutes.”


“No time, Sir.”


“Lee,” Nelson growled, using the tone to try and disguise his worry.  “Lee?”  When no answer came, Nelson transferred the growl to James.  “The instant the divers have Ski on board, get Seaview directly over FS1.”


“Aye, aye, Sir,” the young lieutenant responded, and looked toward Patterson on Sonar to help set the coordinates.


* * * *


Sparks had been vectoring Lee in on Chip when Nelson interrupted his concentration.  Actually, he wasn’t sure what he was going to do, either.  He just knew he couldn’t hang around the Conn doing nothing.  And something told him he couldn’t afford to wait for someone to go with him.  Whatever that ‘something’ was, Lee was grateful.  If he’d been even a few seconds later he’d never have caught the little glimpse he did of the diver – that’s what it had to be – dragging Chip behind the mound.  Lee immediately scooted the little sub around the mound.  Finding nothing, and no one, Lee studied the base of the mound intensely.


It took him a few seconds but he finally spotted it – an opening just big enough for a diver.  He made his last call to Nelson, settled FS1 where he could exit out the bottom hatch, unplugged himself from the radio, and started to suit up.  He did take a couple extra seconds, stripping off his uniform and pulling on a wetsuit, to put two pieces of waterproof tape over the bandage still on the back of his leg.  Sorry, Jamie, he muttered softly to himself.  Best I can do.  Slipping into a tank and harness he strapped on a diving knife, grabbed a spear gun, and opened the escape hatch.


Working hard to steady nerves suddenly on end, Lee approached the opening cautiously but as quickly as he could.  He knew Nelson was going to land on him big time for going out alone.  Not to mention all the little ways Jamie would get his revenge.  But it would have taken too long to explain.  Hell, not even sure I could explain, he admitted.  I just have this feeling…


He did regret that the diving gear on board FS1 was standard scuba gear, without two-way communication capabilities.  But it wasn’t like FS1 was hard to spot or for Seaview to track.  Easing up to the opining, so camouflaged that if he hadn’t seen the diver disappear behind the mound he’d never have spotted it, he tried to keep on the lookout for any detection devices.  But he saw nothing except normal fauna.  Keeping the spear gun slightly forward, and ready to fire, he entered the opening.


The first thing that surprised him was the entrance angle – almost straight down.  There was no light inside so he had to practically feel his way along.  The sides were either smooth rock or concrete.  Old WWII bunker?  Strange place for one, on Australia’s south coast.  Mentally shrugging, Lee continued cautiously.  Good news and bad.  No one can see me, but I’m blind as a bat.  But he estimated he’d not gone more than a couple yards before the angle leveled out, then started up.  Above him he could see a lightening.  Lighted underwater chamber, definitely.  He could also now feel a slight, rhythmic vibration.  The obvious answer was a generator to run the lights that were getting closer.  Hopefully, that also means breathable air inside.  This is getting weirder and weirder, and he continued even more cautiously.


He held his breath as he approached the surface of the water, wanting to control the air bubbles as much as possible.  He couldn’t believe he’d been as lucky as he’d been so far, and that in itself was worrisome.  Anyone who could have set this up had to be smart enough to take a few rudimentary precautions.  He willed himself to relax – a case of nerves wasn’t helping him control his breathing.


The guardian angel that seemed to follow Lee into crucial situations once again watched over him as he entered the underground chamber.  Chip usually referred to it as dumb luck, with a decided emphasis on ‘dumb’.  Whatever it was, when he tilted his head so that just his mask broached the surface there was no one in sight.  His first impression was that the entire chamber wasn’t man-made.  This front part certainly was.  But farther back it turned into natural rock that extended beyond where Lee could see.  Humm – someone must have found a natural cavern, sealed the front and made the channel entrance, then covered it over with dirt.  But whoever did it, its years old.  More weird.  Gently, Lee eased himself into the cavern.


As Lee carefully and quietly rose to his feet, spear gun still at the ready, he heard sounds emanating from around a ‘corner’ in the cavern.  This front area was quite small – barely big enough for a diver to remove his equipment.  Lee left his on and apparently so had the other diver as it wasn’t in evidence.  What was evident was a drag mark on the floor.  “Chip,” Lee breathed, and moved toward the sounds.


A large boulder sat directly in front of the tunnel that led further back into the cavern.  A small opening skirted the rock, and Lee eased into it.  Coming to him from further along was the sound of the compressor, now more evident.  The air was a bit stale but breathable in the chamber so Lee figured it was just a small unit.  He wasn’t sure why Seaview’s instrumentation hadn’t picked up anything but it was possible that something in the original rock formation, and also whatever had been used to face it, was blocking transmissions.  That would explain why Chip’s transponder had blipped out as soon as he’d been taken inside.  Lee also heard what sounded like someone moving about, maybe taking off dive equipment.  If I can catch him distracted, Lee thought, and if he’s alone…  Lee continued into the narrow passageway.


As Lee moved forward he could just make out footsteps fading away deeper into the cave.  “What the hell is this place?” he half growled to himself, and pulled back the hood of his wetsuit.  Still moving slowly, he rounded another corner and entered a larger cavern.  The first things to catch his eye were several fairly large, round, aquarium tanks.  All had water in them but only one held anything else that he could immediately see.  At first he thought it was just a piece of seaweed, hanging suspended in the water.  As Lee stepped closer he realized his error.  From pictures he’d seen, this had to be a Leafy Sea Dragon – the twig-shaped body, the sea horse-type head, and looking, as Nelson had so aptly described, as having bits of seaweed stuck to it all over.  It was more yellow than green, although the coloration varied.  Some areas were more greenish yellow than others.  As Lee watched, fascinated, small translucent fins on either side of the head and a longer one along the spine moved in a feathery motion and the roughly 18” creature turned to stare directly at Lee.  “Oh, my….” he breathed.  The tiny black eyes looking at him almost mournfully were what he’d seen that first day – he was sure of it.  And also what he’d seen in his nightmare.


A small sound behind Lee startled him back into the present and he spun around.  In the corner was a wet-suit clad figure laying somewhat in a heap.  Lee hurried over to it and, laying down the spear gun, he knew even before he removed the faceplate from the re-breather that it was Chip.  His friend appeared to be stunned, and just starting to fight his way up out of it.


“Shush,” Lee hissed, having no idea where the other person was – and hoping it was only one other person.  He had no idea how badly Chip was hurt.  There didn’t seem to be any puncture wounds but his friend was definitely not coherent as he continued to struggle gently under Lee’s hands.  Lee was just about to put a hand over Chip’s mouth to try and keep him quiet when ‘something’, and he was never able to identify what, made him shift quickly to his left.


That movement saved his life, at least momentarily.  The knife blade that buried in his back, had it been more toward the center, would have punctured a lung, and in all probability Lee would not have lived long.  The damage it did cause, however, was bad enough as it sliced into the top of his right shoulder.  Lee couldn’t stop a scream of pain as he felt it scrape his collarbone.  It sliced further, held firmly by whoever had wielded it, when Lee spun around.  His right arm suddenly useless and in severe pain, Lee tried to push his attacker away and grab his own knife with his left hand.  He was only partially successful.  “Who the hell are you?” he screamed.  The man, approximately 25 years old, dark haired and dressed only in the bottom half of his wetsuit, just ignored the question.  He’d taken a stumbling step backward when Lee shoved him, but maintained his grip on the knife and again lunged for Lee.  Not having time to reach his own weapon, Lee’s only option was to grab the man’s wrist and try to keep him from using the already bloody knife again.


* * * *


Chip had absolutely no idea what was going on.  The last thing he remembered was sitting on the ocean floor in the middle of a kelp bed.  All of a sudden he was laying on something very hard, breathing normally instead of through a re-breather unit, and his head hurt like hell.  From somewhere close there were yells and grunts, but it took Chip an undeterminable amount of time to pry his eyes open and try to figure out what was happening.  During his struggle his right hand landed on a piece of metal laying next to him, but for a bit it didn’t sink in what it was.  As the sounds of struggling continued close by, Chip struggled himself.  Nothing wanted to work.  Not his eyes.  Not his brain.  And when he tried to move his body, explosions went off in his head forcing him to stop, take a deep breath, and rest a few seconds before trying again.


Finally he was able to roll slightly on his side and get his eyes to function – if not very well.  Several feet away, two somebodys were fighting.  For a moment Chip wasn’t sure he cared why.  He just wished they’d shut up!


Slowly it sunk in that the dark, curly hair on one of the combatants was familiar.  But it took a few more grunts, and another pain-filled scream, for Chip to finally identify the man as Lee.  And he was in trouble!  Chip tried to sit up in an effort to come to his friend’s aid but again his head exploded.  Flailing about, his hand again landed on the piece of metal, this time identifying it as a spear gun.  Desperately, with hands shaking and eyes that wouldn’t totally focus, he raised the gun, aimed it at the bare back of the combatant who wasn’t Lee, and squeezed the trigger.


* * * *


Nelson was on the warpath, and every crewman anywhere in his immediate vicinity was trying to find a very deep hole to crawl into.  Normally their confident young Captain would be there to deflect the Admiral’s infamous tirades.  In the Skipper’s absence their Exec could be depended upon to step in and help keep things under control.  Unfortunately, this time it was precisely those two people who were the major cause of Nelson’s temper tantrum, and poor young Lt. James was caught in the Admiral’s crosshairs.


So far he thought he’d been managing pretty well.  As soon as the divers bringing Kowalski back were inside, Chris carefully maneuvered the giant submarine around the kelp bed and directly over FS1.  From this position they still couldn’t see what the Skipper had reported seeing but two heavily armed divers were already preparing to go down and investigate, meeting up with the other two who were just arriving.  At that point Nelson went flying off to the Missile Room, intending to go out with them.  Chris knew that this was a bad idea.  He knew that without either Skipper or XO aboard, Nelson should remain here.  Unfortunately, he also knew that there wasn’t a chance in hell of stopping the rampaging Admiral.  All he could do was follow orders, keep Seaview in this position until told otherwise, and pray!


He might have been a little happier if he’d known that Nelson himself realized he was being a damn fool by going after his officers – although that didn’t stop him from going anyway.  Sharkey, already suited up, had Nelson’s gear laid out and waiting when the Admiral hit the Missile Room, and Nelson changed in record time.  As James reported nothing new from the Conn, the divers headed out.


Nelson wasn’t sure if they’d ever have found the opening to the underground chamber if Lee hadn’t pointed FS1’s nose directly at it.  Even then they wasted several minutes scouting around before Roberts spotted it.  With room enough for only one man at a time to enter Nelson, very begrudgingly, acquiesced to Sharkey’s request that the Chief go first, then another armed diver, then the Admiral, who wasn’t armed.  Nelson wasn’t happy, and almost grabbed a spear gun from one of the other divers.  But reason finally prevailed – barely.


Even knowing the reasons for proceeding cautiously, Nelson’s patience was nearly at the limits when he finally broached the surface in the small entry room.  Sharkey was already slowly advancing down a narrow passageway.  Nielson stopped to help him out of the water but Nelson motioned him to follow the Chief and was out quickly by himself, followed instantly by the last two, and they all headed along the passage, deeper into the cavern.


Nelson was just rounding the corner when Sharkey yelled out and everyone charged forward.  The scene laid out in front of them caused everyone a momentary pause before they all headed in a different direction.  Nelson and Sharkey descended on two bodies in the center of the chamber, Neilson headed for Chip, lying in the corner, and Roberts and Richardson, spear guns at the ready, scouted the rest of the cavern. 


The person on top of the other in the middle had a spear sticking out of his back, and it took everyone a second to realize it wasn’t Crane.  Sharkey quickly determined that the stranger was dead and rolled him away, discovering Lee lying underneath.  Nelson’s heart was in his throat until he found a pulse, although only a slight one.  There was a large knife wound on the back of Lee’s right shoulder and another gash on the front of his left.  Both were bleeding profusely, and Nelson tried calling Seaview as Sharkey grabbed the small emergency kit on his belt.  Nelson was realizing that something in the cavern was blocking radio transmissions when the other two divers came back, reporting no one else in the cavern.  Nelson sent Roberts outside to radio for assistance.  He knew Jamie wouldn’t be too happy about diving, but he wasn’t about to try and move Lee without being treated first.  Neilson reported that Chip didn’t have any apparent injuries, that he was just dazed and not totally coherent.


“Hold on Lee,” Nelson pleaded as he and Sharkey tried with what they had to staunch the bleeding from the two wounds.  “Please.  Jamie is on his way.”  He heard Sharkey snort despite the seriousness of the situation, and a small smile appeared on his own face.  “You have to be okay.  You know you can’t deprive Doc of the opportunity to get even for making him leave Seaview in a wetsuit.”


* * * *


Lee’s dreams were a confused mixture of fluttering seaweed, spiked monsters, caves, and severe pain.  The pain finally took over and forced him out of the depths in an attempt to escape it.


“Easy, Skipper,” sounded gently from one side, and Lee tried to turn toward it.  Instant pain forced a cry from his lips.  “Try not to move,” again came softly, and ever so slowly the pain started to subside.  “Open your eyes, Skipper.  I know it’s hard.  But just for a moment.”  Lee finally recognized Jamie’s voice through the fog, and tried to follow the instructions.  It was harder than he expected.  But as long as he didn’t try to move his body, the pain kept to a dull ache.  Ever so slowly his eyelids opened, revealing a smiling CMO sitting next to him, and beyond, the unmistakable images of Sick Bay.  “Welcome back.”  Jamie’s smile broadened.


Lee sighed heavily, letting memories start to sink in.  “Chip?” he asked through a parched throat.  Doc reached for a small glass with a straw in it, and held it so Lee could take a few sips before answering.


“In the next bunk,” he pointed forward.  “Didn’t realize until now that he has an even harder head than you do.”


“Jamie,” Lee growled – or tried to.  Even he realized that’s not how it came out.


“Easy.  Just relax.”  Jamie grinned again.  “He’s sleeping peacefully and I’d appreciate you not waking him up.  He took a pretty good shot to the noggin but he’ll be back on his feet by morning.”  Jamie frowned.  “Has to be.  I’ve told the two of you before, I will not deal with you both in my Sick Bay at the same time.  One of you is bad enough!”


Lee had the good graces to lower his gaze, but he still saw the return of Jamie’s grin.  “Ski?”


Jamie nodded across the room to the other section of bunks.  “Nasty spear wound, but didn’t hit anything vital.  Lost a fair amount of blood.  Once he gets up and going there will have to be a few weeks of physical therapy.  But he’ll be good as new long before you are.”  Lee started to open his mouth but Jamie shushed him.  “Not now, Skipper.  Don’t even start.”  He smiled again.  “Considering what’s in the IV, you wouldn’t last long enough for me to explain, anyway.”


“The Admiral?” Lee managed to get out, already starting to fight a losing battle with his eyelids.


“Is off-boat at the moment, still straightening things out with the Australian authorities.  I’m sure he’ll be here by the time you wake up again.  He can explain everything.”


Lee thought he heard a softly added, “I hope,” but was never sure later as the fog once again closed in.


* * * *


Nelson was finally starting to calm down.  It had admittedly taken awhile.  Getting his injured officers safely back to Seaview’s Sick Bay had started the process.  He’d tried desperately not to vent at the Australians who were called in to help straighten out the mess in the cavern, and clear it out.  He’d taken an immense satisfaction in personally and carefully setting the small charge that completely sealed the cavern with almost no disturbance to the fragile ecology surrounding it.  It did bother him a bit that he was not able to immediately release the captured Sea Dragon.  But the local biologists called in assured him it would be taken care of as soon as possible.


His mood lightened further when he was finally free to return to Sick Bay and looked at the smile on his CMO’s face.  Jamie told him that Lee had been awake – albeit briefly.  They both grinned as Jamie related Lee’s first questions.  Leave it to Lee to be worried about everyone else before himself.  As Nelson settled into a chair next to his young Captain’s bunk Jamie handed him a mug of coffee.  Discovering that it was rather liberally spiked with scotch didn’t hurt his gradually returning calm in the least.


He brightened even more a short time later as he watched Lee fight his way out from under whatever Doc was feeding him.  The CMO, ever on alert, caught the movement and walked over.  “I do need to talk to him for a few minutes, Jamie.” Nelson told the doctor.  “There are still a few details the authorities need before they can wrap this up.”


Jamie frowned but nodded.  “Just not any longer than you have to,” he warned.  “He wasn’t totally back on his feet from the first attack.”  He just shook his head as Nelson snorted.  “Yeah, well.  You know what I mean.”  Nelson smiled as he took another healthy swallow of the ‘doctored’ coffee.  “He did not need the extra trauma,” Jamie continued.  “This time he stays down and heals properly.”


“Fat chance,” Nelson chuckled.


Jamie indicated the upper bunk and picked up a handful of straps laying there, showing them to Nelson before dropping them back where they were.  “If I have to keep him sedated or in restraints – or both – so be it.  He will behave!”  As Nelson continued to chuckle, Jamie headed back toward his office muttering, not quite under his breath, “He will pay for forcing me into a wet suit.”


Nelson was still chuckling when he noticed Lee’s eyes start to open.  He chuckled even harder as he watched Lee recognize who was sitting next to him and very quickly close them again.  “Won’t work, Captain,” he said sternly, but knowing he couldn’t keep the humor out of his voice.  “While we will be discussing this latest episode of wanton insubordination, I’m willing to let it go until you’re a little stronger.”  His smile broadened as Lee barely opened his eyes, looking at Nelson through his eyelashes.  “How are you feeling?” he asked, more seriously.


Lee tried to shrug, realized how painful both shoulders were, and surrendered.  “Pretty lousy,” he admitted.  “What happened?”


“You don’t remember?”


“Some of it.  Parts are a little fuzzy, especially toward the last.”


“You remember entering the underground cavern?”


Lee started to nod but even that simple movement hurt.  “Yes, Sir,” he said quietly.


“Suppose you start there, and I’ll fill in where I can.”


Nelson listened quietly as Lee explained about his anxiety over Chip’s safety, and knowing that he had to get to his friend as quickly as possible.  Nelson suppressed a smile as Lee adamantly insisted that if he hadn’t been so close when the diver disappeared, he’d never have found the opening.  When Lee hesitated, apparently waiting for Nelson to refute the comment, Nelson just nodded and Lee continued.


Lee got as far as finding Chip before once again hesitating.  “After that, all I really remember is a whole lot of pain,” he admitted almost shyly.


Nelson nodded again.  “You were apparently attacked from behind.”


It was Lee’s turn to nod – sort of.  Pain abbreviated the movement and he grimaced before continuing.  “Spotted Chip and was kneeling next to him.”  He sighed heavily.  “Didn’t hear the guy come back from the other part of the chamber.”  He sighed again.


Nelson recognized the signs.  Lee’s body being short of blood, badly needed oxygen wasn’t getting transported as efficiently as it should be.  Trying to compensate, Lee was unconsciously taking in great gulps of air with each heavy sigh.  “My turn,” he interrupted as Lee started to continue.  “You rest.  I think I can take it from there.”  Lee nodded slightly once again.


“Chip regained consciousness, at least partially, while you were struggling with the other man.  He said he tried to get up to help but just couldn’t manage it.  But he found a spear gun lying next to him, and…”


“Mine,” Lee said quietly.  “I remember laying it down when I knelt to make sure he was breathing…”


Nelson nodded.  He could well imagine what Lee had been feeling when he first spotted Chip.  Nelson was sure he’d had much the same reaction moments later, upon finding Lee.  “Chip was able to stay conscious long enough to fire the spear.  From the looks of what we found when we got there, just in time.”  He saw a small shudder hit Lee’s body.  The younger man closed his eyes for a moment, just long enough to miss the shudder that hit Nelson, before a thought seemed to hit him and he looked at Nelson.


“We?” he asked.  “You came?”


Nelson nodded.  “As soon as the divers had Kowalski aboard, Lt. James moved Seaview directly over FS1.  Oh,” Nelson sent Lee a small grin,” it’s a good thing you pointed the Flying Sub’s nose directly at the opening or we might never have found it, either.”  Lee gave a slight nod and half closed his eyes again.  “There were five of us.  Sharkey and I tried to care for your wounds until Jamie could get there.  Neilson looked after Chip, and Richardson and Roberts secured the cavern.”  He couldn’t stop a grin from forming at the expression that hit Lee’s face.


“Jamie came?” Lee breathed softly, and glanced toward the CMO’s office.


Nelson chuckled.  “Chip woke up while Jamie was getting you stabilized enough to transport.”


“Damn,” Lee said softly.


Nelson snickered.  “Jamie let Chip know in no uncertain terms that he expected the XO to use the dive as Jamie’s recertification dive for the coming year.”  Nelson grinned.  “I rather suspect he’ll petition you for the same recognition.”


“Got that right,” came instantly from Jamie’s office.


Nelson grinned, and finally Lee did as well.  It was a standing joke on Seaview that the only way the CMO wanted to be underwater was with a submarine around him.  As a member of the crew, however, Jamie was required to certify his diving skills yearly.  It was the XO’s duty to see that the certification was up-to-date.  On that day each year Lee tended to make himself scarce during the day, then take his Executive Officer out to dinner – and several very large drinks – that night.


Lee finally got back to business.  “What was going on down there?” he asked Nelson.  “Do you know?  I saw the dragon…”


“Poaching,” Nelson answered simply.  At Lee’s puzzled expression he continued.  “Remember when we were talking in the Wardroom, and I was explaining that the dragons are a protected species?”  Lee nodded.  “The Leafy Sea Dragon in particular, because its so rare.  We can only speculate at this point.  But from the set-up we found in the cavern, it looks like he was catching ‘pregnant’ male dragons, holding them until the young hatched, then selling the hatchlings to private collectors.”


“The cavern itself?” Lee persisted.


“Who knows?” Nelson shrugged.  “It was obviously older than the poacher.  Even the Aussies I talked to had no idea what it could have been.  Whatever it was,” Nelson added with a growl, “its history now,” and he explained how it had been cleaned out and permanently sealed.


“That was fast,” Lee mentioned cautiously.


“The Aussies have apparently been trying for a couple years to figure out how collectors around the world were getting their hands on immature dragons.  Whatever that cavern was originally, and however the guy found it, he had a pretty well organized set-up.  The authorities wanted it closed down and out of commission immediately.  I was only too happy to give them the assistance.”  As Lee started to say more another heavy sigh hit him, and Nelson laid a hand on his arm.  “Enough for now,” he said softly.  “You go back to sleep.  You need to rest.”


 “Somehow I get the feeling I’m not going to have any options,” Lee muttered, not quite looking at Nelson.  The Admiral followed Lee’s gaze up to where one of the restraint straps had slipped over the edge of the upper bunk and was hanging down within view.


Nelson chuckled.  “Think I’ll be leaving how,” he said as he smiled and stood.  He gave Jamie, who was once again standing in his office doorway, a nod as he left.  Seeing the expression on the CMO’s face, Lee immediately closed his eyes.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *



 This is for Liz M., because I promised to write her a sea horse story.




*  seeThe Substitute” by R. L. Keller

** see “Past Imperfect by R. L. Keller

***see “Friends” by R. L. Keller


* Free images courtesy of Classroom ClipArt