Job Hunt

By R. L. Keller


(Another in my continuing bits of Capt. Nelson/Lt. Crane during their time aboard Nautilus)


Capt. Harriman Nelson, in command of the submarine Nautilus, watched as his XO, Lt. Cdr. Cory Mains, walked into the tiny Wardroom and heave a huge sigh as he poured himself a mug full of coffee.  Struggling – and failing miserably – to contain a grin, Nelson asked as casually as he could manage, “Okay, Cory.  What’s our newest junior officer done this time?”  Mains turned to face his CO, a blank expression on his face.  “Won’t work,” Nelson told him amiably.  “I’m becoming only too familiar with that particular sigh.”


Mains finally grinned, although it was almost more grimace, and walked over and sat down opposite Nelson.  “He’s after my job,” Mains grumbled.  “I just know that he is.”


Nelson grinned openly.  “Now Cory, don’t be giving that another thought.”  He tapped the top page on the clipboard Mains had carried into the Wardroom and laid on the table next to him.


Mains sighed again before explaining.  “Three days ago Lt. Worth caught him in the aft stores locker.  On his time off,” Mains admitted.  “But apparently it wasn’t the first time he’d been caught wandering through the storage areas.”


“His excuse?”


“At the time he told Worth that he was just looking around to see where things were.” 


Nelson pondered that for a moment,  “Nothing really wrong with that,” he told his XO.  “You can’t knock his initiative in wanting to learn where and how equipment and supplies are stored.”


“That’s fine,” Mains admitted.  “If that’s what he was doing,” he added with a growl.


Nelson raised an eyebrow.  He also raised his coffee mug to hide the grin that was threatening to appear.  Cory was one of the most levelheaded men Nelson had ever served with.  He was also an exceptional XO, fair with his men, but also expecting them to give him their best and exacting due punishment when they didn’t.  It was pretty obvious that, whatever young Crane had been up to it had at least temporarily miffed him, but it wasn’t anything with which Cory could find official fault.  “I gather that you’ve now discovered Crane’s motives?”


Mains nodded.  “This morning, very respectfully mind you,” he admitted, “Crane handed me a proposed revision to the stowage lists, complete with reasons for his revisions.”  He frowned.  “Sir, I thought that I had a pretty good system.  It’s been working just fine.”  Nelson nodded his agreement.  “Darned if that twerp didn’t come up with a slightly better system.”


Nelson chuckled at both Mains’ term for the young lieutenant and his tone of voice.  He’d first met Lee Crane as a Plebe at Annapolis.  Crane had received a waiver to enter the Academy at barely seventeen, and it didn’t help in the least that he looked even younger.  Nelson was an occasional instructor during Crane’s four years there and had been extremely impressed by the man’s intelligence and natural talents.  Nelson had in no way been responsible for getting Crane assigned to Nautilus, but in the preceding two months had gotten nothing but good reports about him.  Nelson was fairly sure that Cory wasn’t actually complaining, just expressing a bit of frustration at having a task that he thought he’d done well being pointed out that it could de done better.  And, by a mere JO.  Mains’ expression, which had softened slightly, returned to the ruffled one he’d walked in with.  “Something else?” Nelson asked, carefully controlling his tone.


Mains grimaced slightly again.  “You know that Lt. Lockridge is our Educational Services Officer.”


Nelson nodded.  “And not overly happy about it, if scuttlebutt is correct.”  It wasn’t said with acrimony.  ESO wasn’t popular duty with some JOs.  Nelson, himself, had hated it.


“I got a request from him yesterday; he asked if I could give the duty to Crane.”  Nelson raised an eyebrow again.  “I know, sir.  I reminded him that Crane was too junior; that he hadn’t served long enough for that duty.  Lockridge told me that that didn’t seem to be stopping Crane.  He wasn’t complaining,” he quickly assured Nelson, as Nelson briefly frowned.  He expected his JOs to accept whatever duty assignments they were given – period!  A fact that Cory – not to mention the whole boat – was familiar with.  “Lockridge said that Crane seems to have a knack for putting the crew at ease, lead them into conversations about what they’d like to accomplish with their military service, and offer suggestions on how to most effectively accomplish those goals.”


“Sounds like a good ESO to me,” Nelson told him.


“He doesn’t have enough experience,” Mains reminded him.


“Is he giving bad advice?”


“Not according to Bull.”  Master Chief Andrew Bullock was Nautilus’ COB


“Have you asked Crane about it?”


“I’m not exactly in the habit of asking JOs what assignments they want,” Mains muttered, backing up Nelson’s own thoughts on the subject.


“Nooooo,” Nelson drawled.  “But you also do a good job of maintaining a smooth-running boat.”


“Thank you, sir.  Still…”  Mains remained unconvinced.


Nelson sent him a small grin.  “If it helps, Crane spent all four years at the Academy ‘helping out’ his classmates.  He rarely did anything overtly.”  He thought back on the ceremonies surrounding Crane’s graduation from Plebe to Third-Year Middie,* but chose not to explain the broadening smile those memories elicited.  “Just seemed to be there to offer a helping hand if one of his class needed a little extra.”


“Humm.  I suppose, if it comes that naturally…”  Mains continued to ponder that as he worked on his mug of coffee.  He didn’t realize that his expression hardened until he discovered that Nelson was once again looking amused.


“What else?” his CO asked him almost gently.  Mains merely shook his head.  “Cory?”  Nelson’s voice was firm, but the order was softened by the sparkle in his eyes.


Mains half-grinned.  “Just something that Bull mentioned the other day.  I don’t think it was meant to get back to me.”  Both of Nelson’s eyebrows went up and Mains sent him a small, self-conscious grin.  “Apparently several of the off-duty JOs were sitting around, kibitzing.  Nothing earth-shattering,” Mains admitted, and Nelson sent him a grin.  “Bull said that he didn’t mean to eavesdrop.”  Nelson’s grin spread.  “But they were offering up their own versions of sub service…”


“Oh, oh,” Nelson told him, barely controlling a chuckle.  “JOs are notorious for coming up with their own ways to run the Navy.”


Even Mains grinned.  “Oh, yeah,” he agreed.  “I remember a few of my suggestions…”  He cut himself off, giving Nelson an embarrassed look.


Nelson chuckled openly.  “Can’t be much worse than a few of mine,” he admitted.  Mains’ expression morphed only slightly toward a grin.  “So,” Nelson chose to get back to the original conversation, “I gather our current JOs were following tradition?”


Mains nodded.  “Bull said that it was pretty much the usual.”  He sighed.  “Until he heard Crane’s suggestions.”


“Should I be afraid to ask?”  Actually, Nelson was extremely interested in what young Lt. Crane had to say.  He’d learned early on at Annapolis that the man had an unusually acute and accurate ability to see a problem and come up with a solution.  But he was also not about to give his XO any more indications of playing favorites with his JOs than the quick comment he’d made when he’d received Crane’s transfer orders.  He’d told Mains only that he’d known Crane at Annapolis, and that circumstances had a chance of getting very interesting aboard Nautilus.  Now he presented Mains with as benign an expression as he could muster.


Mains hesitated but, having opened his mouth, continued on with what he’d been told.  “Bull said that instead of the usual complaints, Crane made suggestions about cross-training more of the crew.”  He nodded as Nelson gave him a grunt.  “Yes, sir, we already do a lot of that.  But Crane mentioned several places where we could, actually, do better.”  He looked at Nelson, a slightly incredulous look on his face.


“Feeling a little incompetent?” Nelson asked his XO.  The two had served together long enough that he knew he could get away with the bit of teasing.


He got his expected reaction.  Mains sat up straight.  “No, sir,” he assured his CO firmly, before a quick grin lightened his expression.  “But I definitely have to keep a better eye on that kid.”  He finally relaxed enough to chuckle along with Nelson, before his expression changed back to a slightly harassed one.  It caused Nelson to chuckle a bit harder.


“Relax, Cory.  Lt. Crane isn’t after your job,” he told his XO again.  He paused before adding, “He’s after mine.”  Mains’ head bounced up and he stared at his CO, before they both burst out laughing.




*see “Cobwebs” posted to Seaview Stories