For David… His legend lives on in our stories.
A scene-filler for a third season episode… and written for the “Fantasy” challenge picture
Fantasy in the Clouds
He didn't remember waking up. All of the sudden, he was just here; but where was here?
Lee Crane surveyed his surroundings, his confusion only growing at the sight of Apple One, Seaview's deep sea diving bell resting in the mouth of a still river. The surface of the water was pond-like; resembling glass and reflecting the gorgeous panoramic views of the mountains surrounding the valley, as well as the cloud-filled sky above. A rubber Zodiac lay beached at his feet near the opening of a cave. Perhaps, he had sheltered here during a downpour, he could only guess. He didn't remember rowing ashore, or diving in the bell for that matter. Perhaps more perplexing however, was the fact that the bell had ended up here at all; in the middle of a valley… far from the sea.
“Admiral!” he called, stepping out of the cave and cupping his hands to his mouth. He turned in another direction and called, “Chip!” but heard no reply.
A sharp pain pieced his temples in sudden agony as he reached for his forehead, screwing his eyes tight in an unsuccessful effort to abate the pain. A loud clap of thunder brought his attention to the sky above. He looked up, squinting through the discomfort just in time to see the sun breaking through the dark purple rain clouds. The pain eased off into a dull ache as he watched sunlight beam through the storm clouds like hope itself, illuminating the once-darkened valley. The new light source revealed the presence of civilization. A bridge arched over the calm water; and beyond that, a cabin resting on a mountain’s plateau. The waterfall at the base of the plateau promised fresh water, and smoke billowing from the fireplace offered warmth and hospitality.
Suddenly, his path seemed clear. Everything in him said he needed to get to the cabin. He walked past the diving bell, never once questioning whether the radio was operational; whether there was anyone yet in the bell; or why he hadn't brought a sidearm when he came ashore. And with every step forward, he felt the piercing pain in his temple subside. It was now a manageable ache, which he was readily able to ignore, as reaching the cabin became less of a goal and more of an obsession.
Driven forward, he focused on the cabin in the distance. The storm clouds parted as beams of light bathed the mountains, and its purple hues gave way to the warmth of the sun’s golden reach. Every step forward produced an abiding peace deep within, till he hardly remembered the stricken diving bell or even how he failed to question how he’d come to rest in this strange valley.
“Wait,” he said to himself, stopping in his tracks and suddenly looking back at the bell when something suddenly dawned on him. “Wasn’t I flying… in FS1?” he questioned quietly, studying the bell and panning his view upwards. “Cloud,” he said aloud, as if something important was about to breakthrough, until his attention was turned back to the cabin. The enticing scent of the fireplace’s smoke lured him forward once again as a thought, not entirely his own, was dropped and accepted by Captain Crane.
The fog is lifting. The clouds are departing. A new day is dawning.
Focused on his trek, his normally keen sense of danger was oddly missing. He passed the arched bridge, turning to neither side to see where the road led and focused entirely on the best route to reach his goal. There would be a path, he surmised, he only needed to find it.
His mind emptied and cleared of all distractions as he traveled, almost mesmerized by the cabin and its promised shelter. He spotted the mountain trail and took a satisfying step forward, pleased that his goal was all that much closer. Traveling the path, he could smell the inviting scent of a fireplace on a cool morning. Rounding a bend, he could feel a refreshing mist from the waterfall. He was completely at peace until he suddenly remembered the flying sub. He stopped in his tracks, attempting to push through and grab the important memory just out of reach, turning back toward the diving bell and studying it from afar. From this vantage point, it was just a small yellow speck bobbing on the surface just beyond the bridge. The river snaked around a large valley, but as far as his eyes could see, he couldn’t spot the ocean on the horizon. Just as suddenly, the pain in his temple returned with fervor. He reached for his head and looked up at the sky. The clouds that had parted earlier to allow brilliant sun rays to peak through had closed the gaps. The wind kicked up a biting chill and the urgency to reach the cabin returned, followed by a flash of lightning making a jagged path downward. All thoughts of FS1 and the distant memory he was trying to recall retreated, as the need for shelter drove him once again toward the cabin.
Yet another thought was dropped into his mind, replacing the peace he had felt earlier with danger and the need to find shelter.
The clouds bring a storm. Death and destruction are in its path.
He trudged on, despite the growing pain. It wasn’t a headache, more like a piercing, ice-cold tentacle penetrating his temple… making it hard to think. By the time he reached the plateau, he was exhausted.
Cupping his hands to his mouth he called, “Hello! Is anyone here?”
There was no answer. The pain persisted, growing unmanageable when another flash of lightning and a light drizzle urged him forward. Reaching the cabin door, he knocked but received no answer. He was about to knock again, but a loud clash of thunder behind him sealed his decision not to wait and he reached for the door handle.
Stepping inside the cozy cabin, he called again. “Hello, is anyone here?”
The warm glow from the fireplace drew him near, and the soft cushions of the couch beckoned his weary bones. Without investigating the other rooms of the cabin, he headed straight to the sofa and lay down, mesmerized by the comfort it offered. Sleep called to him like a siren, but he resisted, attempting to reach the distant memory of flying FS1.
He wasn’t diving in the bell, he was flying FS1. The clouds… danger… and then… Nuclear!
He bolted into a sitting position, only to be consumed with what felt like a shock of electricity and fell back deeply unconscious as the cabin door opened and a misty fog snaked forward surrounding the couch, until the entire cabin was filled with the strange cloud.
* * * * *
Lee woke to the smell of bacon and eggs sizzling in a frying pan. He pulled off the red flannel throw and blinked himself awake, running a weary hand through his hair. He was no longer wearing his khaki uniform, but was appropriately dressed for the mountain cabin, wearing a blue flannelled shirt tucked neatly into his belted blue jeans, while his hiking boots sat drying in front of the fireplace.
“I thought you were going to sleep all day,” the cheery feminine voice called from the kitchen.
Lee stood and turned in the direction of Carol Denning’s voice.
“That early morning hike must have really done you in,” she continued over her shoulder as she tended breakfast.
The sight of the petite brunette wearing just his pajama shirt brought a smile to his face.
“I thought you were going to take some nature shots,” he said, moving behind her and wrapping his arms around her waist.
“I have a photo shoot all planned out,” she explained with a nod toward her camera gear in the corner, “but first things first. Are you hungry?”
“You could say that,” he whispered cheekily, nuzzling her ear.
“Really, Lee,” she countered in mock exasperation. “You’re impossible!” she added, giggling at his not-so-subtle hints.
He kissed her cheek and released his hold. “Do you want me do anything?” he asked, still smiling, obviously content and happy to lend a hand.
“You could pour us some coffee,” she replied, dishing out cottage fries alongside the bacon and eggs as she spoke. “You know, if you’d had taken your fishing rod you could have caught us a trout for breakfast,” she admonished playfully, placing the plates on the table.
“How about for lunch?” he promised, setting the mugs of steaming hot coffee in front of each plate.
“Only if you clean them,” Carol countered with a grin and sat across from him at the breakfast table.
“For you… anything. You know that,” he said, his hazel green eyes sending chills down her back.
“Keep that up, Mister, and we’ll never make it out of the cabin,” she jested, but knew it was partly true; those hazel green eyes could melt her heart like hot butter, especially when he smiled.
They both chuckled and then settled in for breakfast with a spectacular view of the waterfall out the picture window. They engaged in light conversation, discussing her intended nature shoot before she decided that the day was getting away and it was time to change.
“I’ll clear the table,” Lee offered as she stood. “You get dressed.”
“Thank you, Darling,” she said, leaning over for a kiss. “I’ll just be a minute,” she declared and headed for the bedroom.
Lee watched her departure, thinking his pajama shirt looked way better on her than him, and smiled at the sight. He collected the dishes and took them to the sink, running water and adding soap. He washed the first dish and set it in the drainer. It was a pleasant task with the kitchen window facing the valley below. He washed another dish and soaked in the view, his eyes drifting from the arched bridge to the calm river mouth. His pleasant smile faded slowly as he focused on the diving bell, still anchored in the pond-like water. An unsettling feeling washed over him, remembering another dive that had washed him upon a strange land. A land teeming with live dinosaurs, an uncivilized native tribe that offered human sacrifices to volcanoes, and Carol Denning’s lost father. Of course, the expedition had been made possible upon the unlikely, and just as unexplained, reappearance of Jason Kemp.
A twitch of pain in his temple accompanied the memory, but Lee pushed through, demanding the recollection to fully expose what was now troubling him about his current whereabouts. Another pain followed, this time not physical, when he remembered that Carol and Jason were engaged to be married before the research team, led by her father, was lost at sea. His mood, once peaceful and content, suddenly plunged.
The sounds of Carol humming in the bedroom as she dressed threatened to tear his attention back to the here and now, but Lee pressed deeper into the memory, sensing an important revelation needed to be made.
He loved Carol Denning, but before he could declare his feelings, she had announced her engagement. Kemp seemed to revel in the announcement, having sensed Lee’s attraction to his new fiancé, while Carol now saw Lee’s friendship as purely platonic, though she had previously led him to believe he meant much more to her. He congratulated the couple and buried his own disappointment, even though he was forced to work closely with Dr. Denning and his team. Eventually, Jason Kemp’s true colors were exposed when it was revealed that he had sacrificed his fellow scientists to aid his own escape. Furthermore, he had attempted to thwart the rescue operation until after Dr. Denning had been killed by the natives to keep his secret. Later, he would sacrifice himself as a diversion; not because he was a hero, but because he couldn’t live with the consequences after he’d been exposed.
This is when the memory hit Lee the hardest. He took a deep breath and looked around the cozy cabin. It was the perfect secluded hideaway for a relationship that had never happened and a love that had never come to be.
“Lee?” Carol called, interrupting his thoughts and looking perplexed. “You look like you’re a million miles away,” she said from the bedroom door.
He raised his eyes toward her, studying the deep blue eyes of the dark-haired beauty.
“Who are you, and why am I here?” he asked, strangely perceiving the not-so-obvious explanation. “Is this even real?” he questioned himself, raising a hand to the ever-growing pain in his temple.
“Lee, what’s the matter?” she asked, taking a concerned step his direction.
“No!” he answered with an extended hand stopping Carol in her tracks, while cradling his aching head with his other hand.
The rest of the memory was hard to reach, but it was there…
Carol Denning had taken Lee’s comfort for several weeks after they had returned from the volcanic dinosaur underworld; that is, until Seaview’s next voyage called him away to sea. When he returned a month later, he discovered that their relationship had returned to the platonic friendship they had before finding her father. She informed him that she couldn’t live with the constant fear of losing another loved one at sea, and that she needed someone to share her daily life with; not a sailor who was gone weeks or months at a time. Indeed, she had already cozied up to her father’s new assistant.
And that was that.
He’d had several relationships since then, but he hadn’t given any the deepness of his heart that he’d given Carol Denning.
With the memory now fully recalled, he raised his head and studied her again, his hand still stretched out to stop her progress. There she stood in the beige, skin-tight slacks that she preferred when on a photo assignment. Just like the ones she wore to the volcanic tropical land in the middle of the Arctic Ocean when the Bell was sucked into a wild current, depositing them into the strange underworld.
“You’re not Carol… and this…” he said with sudden clarity. “This is nothing but a fantasy,” he decided just before everything went fuzzy. Suddenly unable to stand, he crumbled to the floor and rolled to his back as strange muted voices talked over him. His eyes fluttered almost closed just as the sounds sharpened into voices, with one very familiar voice overshadowing the other. “Admiral?” he breathed out in a muted whisper, just before he lost all awareness.
* * * * *
A cloudy mist enveloped him, permeating everything until the cozy cabin faded into a dense fog. Every stick of furniture; the cabin; even the mountain itself had disappeared. The entire scene faded into the illusion that it was, leaving only the long rectangular, cold table Lee Crane was stretched out upon. A strange device encased his head, probing his mind and manipulating his thought processes as he lay stiff and unresponsive.
“It was a mistake bringing Nelson here,” the hollow, metallic voice noted, as Bahtol, the alien attending Crane’s mind probe addressed his commanding officer.
“It was necessary to show him the futility of his actions to stop us,” Prime Leader answered from the mist. “Why have you discontinued Crane’s illusion?”
“This one is not easily distracted,” Bahtol replied. “The human was already fighting the deception we created for him, Prime Leader. Nelson’s voice was the final impetus to break the illusion.”
“His mind is of no use to us in this state, and our work on the vessel is not yet complete. His continued resistance will impede our mission since the knowledge we require is only accessible when his mind is active and distracted.”
“I understand my task. What of Nelson? His knowledge of nuclear physics exceeds this one’s.”
“Nelson did not pass through our cloud. We do not have the luxury of time to prepare him for the mind probe before our mining techniques are irreversible. We will learn from Crane. His knowledge is considerable and is sufficient for our needs,” the alien leader explained.
“He has beaten this illusion, we will have to prepare another,” the Bahtol advised.
“Then do it. I have already contacted Artax for an update of his progress aboard the vessel. He has secured the torpedoes, but we need more time to understand the weapons.”
“As you wish, Prime Leader, but I am concerned. The mind probe has already determined that their missiles are capable of penetrating our cloud barrier. We have also determined from Crane’s memories that Nelson is a formidable foe. Why then, do we not destroy the Seaview while we have the opportunity? We can take Crane and continue our study on the return voyage to our home world,” the subordinate alien suggested boldly.
“The humans are not a threat to us, even as they prepare to strike back. Nelson will fail, but the Council finds their futile resistance amusing.”
“As you wish, Prime Leader,” Bahtol replied, withdrawing his concern even though he truly wasn’t convinced.
* * * * *
A misty fog enveloped the spacecraft, mimicking the atmosphere of their own planet, a fiery world, only partially solid. Its semi-gaseous form provided a unique ecosystem for a being of their nature; a lifeform the insignificant humans could only understand in the most simplest of terms, which was why they took a metal form when dealing with the earthlings. Their bipedal locomotion with what humans called legs, was far too limiting. Similarly, their bilateral symmetry was extremely boring, if not redundant. However, within the confines of the earth’s atmosphere they had produced for Crane’s benefit aboard their ship, they had found it necessary to appear in a solid state as metal creatures with flat, non-expressive faces. The “mouth” was there purely for the sake of human expectation, since communication was achieved through audible-projected telepathy. Likewise, elemental metals were absorbed as sustenance in their natural state. They had adopted the form of two-legged, two-armed creatures for ease of movement within the confines of the nitrogen/oxygen/argon atmosphere. Indeed, the latter element was precisely the impetus behind their current mining expedition. The precious gas of argon was more prevalent in the natural state of the aliens’ outer galaxy home world. Though, the precious gas was found in earth’s seawater, it was much more concentrated in the planet’s crust; a process made possible through natural subsurface nuclear explosions.
“Nuclear…” Bahtol stopped to consider. Though, their technology was far superior and his race far advanced above the earthlings, the humans had managed to achieve something their people had never even dreamed. It was this fact that drove his superiors’ desire to learn more about human brain capabilities, and the reason for their interest in this particular human.
Bahtol had found the mind probe with the lower species difficult; and yet, he was as curious as his superiors regarding human thought processes, as well as their passion and love for life. The gaseous form of Bahtol’s natural existence lacked this same vitality. Love of life was absent and as bland as the mechanical voice they projected when speaking with the humans. Their existence could be summarized as “survivors” more than anything, and this was precisely what had led to the callousness of the alien race. His people were conquerors, taking what they needed from other worlds with little regard for the consequences to the inhabitants; whether intelligent or sentient beings, it mattered not… only that they survived.
Consequently, as advanced as their race was, they were far less interested in producing their own argon chemically, as the humans had achieved, but rather were completely focused on exploiting the technology of dominated planets before their mining techniques inevitably destroyed their infrastructure. The sanctity of life was deemed irrelevant to the savage race, who viewed all other creatures as inferior to their own.
Returning to his duty, he reverted back to the metallic silver form. His work with Crane entailed opening the human’s mind so that Artax could effectively take his form. This included mimicking Crane’s habits and personality, as well as utilizing his knowledge of the submarine, while others accessed his knowledge of earth’s nuclear capabilities. All of which, was accomplished while Crane’s mind was engaged in the illusions he created. Thus, providing his people the opportunity to study human nature and thought while still achieving their goals. It was more entertainment than scientific study.
“Now human, we have studied loss, regret, friendship, love, hatred, dedication, fear…” he counted off, listing just a few of the human’s reactions to the many illusions he had created for Crane since they had abducted him. “And now, I am most curious about your thought processes where self-sacrifice are concerned,” he decided. This, indeed, was an unexplored idea in his world where the only sense of sacrifice they understood was their twisted belief that other worlds must sacrifice for their own survival. He found it perplexing as to how humans seemed to hold such high regard for the vitality of life, which was certainly true for Crane; and yet, this particular human had a history demonstrating the propensity for altruism, particularly when protecting others. Indeed, it was a foreign thought and quite contradictory to the alien.
Bahtol reset the mind probe equipment, silently cursing the clunky confines of the metallic form he was forced to utilize within the artificially produced atmosphere created for Crane’s benefit. Satisfied with his adjustments, he reached into Crane’s mind and stimulated his brain producing the dream-like state where the illusion would take place. To be exact, it wasn’t a dream, but an alternative path for his brain functions to exist and react, but in total awareness of his self-identity. It was more reliable than the random state of sometimes, strange and wild dreams and was easily tapped into for most of the sentient beings their race had encountered. All he had to do now was to observe as he facilitated the illusion, mediating the details and outcomes by drawing on memories from Crane’s past; including not only personal experience, but any input his brain had received over the course of his life. Every book he had read, movie he had watched, or story he’d been told; whether fiction or real, was accessible within the fantastic organ of the human body known as the brain. Likewise, while his brain was engaged in the illusion, his colleagues were busy extracting important technological detail regarding earth’s nuclear achievement. Others aboard the spaceship participated like drama-hungry voyeurs, watching the spectacle of Crane’s illusion like a motion picture for entertainment. As the superior race Bahtol and his people believed themselves to be, they harbored no compunction of regret for the intrusion.
And so began the similarly themed illusion featuring the mystery of Seaview’s bell bobbing in a river far from the sea and set in a beautiful valley with mountains in the background; the threat of imminent weather; the hope of the sun’s piercing rays; and the alluring cabin in the distance. It was more than a fantasy world where the mind-probe would play out in yet another illusion for Crane to live; it was a stage and Crane a mere performer, where his reactions were but a veiled façade of reality.
* * * * *
Lee blinked, instantly aware but having no memory of how he came to be standing on the river’s edge. He obviously had come ashore after beaching the Bell, but…Why was this scene so familiar?
Lee ran the back of his hand across his mouth in thought. The deja vu of the moment was overwhelming and indeed, troublesome.
A bridge ahead signaled civilization, but scanning to the north and the south produced no signs of habitation. The cabin ahead offered his best option for discovering his location. “That at least would be something,” he thought. He took a step forward and stopped at the sight of the rubber raft beached beside him and rethought his plan of action. His first priority would be to row back to the Bell and try the radio, since he had no memory of whether he’d been in contact with Seaview. Satisfied with the change of plans, he bent down to push the raft back into the calm water, when a cold breeze swept by, followed by the pleasant odor of wood burning. Instinctively, he looked up at the cabin, focusing in on the smoke billowing from the fireplace.
“Warmth and shelter,” he thought and took a robotic step forward before stopping in confusion. He shook his head to clear the sudden lethargic compliance that had descended upon him unwittingly. Logically, his first concern should have been checking on the radio. Why then was he drawn to the cabin? he questioned and looked up to study the inviting abode on the mountainside.
The mist from the waterfall beckoned to him… fresh water…
He blinked again, recognizing the draw to the mountain and its cabin wasn’t entirely his own. Immediately, the dark clouds parted overhead as beams of radiant sunlight shot down, bathing the mountain in peace and hope. He stepped forward, mesmerized by the silent call to climb the mountain. As surely as he knew he was Lee Crane, he knew that he needed to be at the cabin. He proceeded forward, when the yellow bell caught his attention through his peripheral vision.
Something registered and he stopped in his tracks as the realization of taking this trek not once, not twice… but dozens of times earlier suddenly dawned on him. Flashes of dreamlike memories bombarded him, each one starting with this very same scene, but with one very important difference; every trek toward the cabin was associated with a different outcome once he reached his destination. Flashbacks of those experiences assaulted him; he’d been captured on an ONI mission… lost at sea in shark infested waters… standing by his father’s grave… diving in a coral reef… scaling a cliff face… facing death by firing squad… experiencing a loving relationship with Carol Denning…
He paused and deliberately held onto the passing scene regarding Carol, while suppressing even more flashback memories as they attempted to overload him with details. He took a deep breath, knowing damn-well he and Carol Denning had never shared the intimate scene of the last flashback.
“This is all wrong,” he said out loud just as he heard a distant murmuring, as if two people were having a conversation in the next room. The conversation was muffled and intriguing, as he strained to listen to their incomprehensible dialog. The murmuring grew louder, almost like a hive of angry bees buzzing; growing in volume, until one voice sharpened into stark recognition.
“Admiral!” he shouted, turning and searching for the source of the muted voices. “Admiral!” he repeated as Harry’s voice became even clearer. He focused and turned, honing in on the cabin ahead and took a deep breath in, expelling it slowly to clear his mind.
“I’ve done this before,” he stated to no one but himself, and stepped toward the cabin again; this time, however, was different. This time, he was acutely aware that everything around him was a fantasy, and that somehow, the cabin was the focal point. That was where he would find his answers, and just maybe… his way home.
* * * * *
Bahtol reached deeper into Crane’s psyche to manipulate the desired outcome, but the human had somehow latched onto a thread of reality upon hearing Nelson interacting Artax aboard Seaview. His colleague required accessing more than Crane’s memories but his essence as well in order to function as his double. It was precisely the reason why the illusions were required; to distract Crane’s consciousness from recognizing where the fantasy world ended and the real world began. Adjusting the intensity of the mind probe, he doubled his efforts to prevent Crane’s will from blocking the access; his task of manipulating the human paramount to the success of their endeavor.
* * * * *
Lee hiked the well-trodden path cognizant of his surroundings and listening for any sign that he wasn’t alone. The trail was well-marked and a wooden bridge bypassed the steep, craggily rock face taking him directly to the cabin. In the distance, he could hear the familiar rushing sound of the waterfall plunging over the edge and emptying into the river below. The sun took that moment to pierce through the clouds, raining down warm, inviting rays as if to light his path to the cabin. It all felt so real and a few times, he had to remind himself that everything around him was a fantasy. He’d been up this path before, heard the waterfall in the distance, and seen the exact spectacular sunrays before. A quick tab of the number of times he’d traversed this exact path produced an astounding dozen times. He realized that it was actually even more than that, and there were memories that were just out of his reach, but each time he had opened the cabin door he had been thrust into another situation to live out, fully lost in the fantasy that had been created for him.
He stopped at the top of the path and studied the cabin, now within view. A biting wind passed through his khaki uniform, chilling him to the bone and invoking an involuntary shudder, just as the clouds closed in, extinguishing the rays of hope-filled sunlight.
A storm is coming, he concluded and then shook his head to clear his mind when he realized that the thought was not his own, and realized that he was once again being drawn to the shelter of the cabin.
What would he find in there this time? he pondered silently, “A life or death struggle, a heated exchange of anger, an impossible situation to win… a love that never happened…”
Whatever he found, he wasn’t going to participate in another shallow fantasy, he firmly decided. This time… he was going to get some answers.
* * * * *
Lee opened the cabin door, struggling to keep his mind rooted in reality, even as the cabin morphed into Seaview’s control room. He resisted the overwhelming need to chart out their next check point as his crew operated the boat from their stations; Ski at sonar, Pat at hydrophones, Chief Sharkey at the position board. There he stood in the Seaview’s Nose with his hand still grasping the doorknob of the cabin and refusing to step either into the scene created for him or back to the mountain trail, where he could still hear the waterfall in the distance. Quickly, the scene changed from one blink to the next, and he was in a jungle with gunfire in the distance.
“Run!” Jerry yelled, just before the ONI Operative was cut-down in a barrage of bullets before his eyes.
But despite the powerful emotions the scene invoked, he held onto the cabin door.
“I’m done with your games!” he shouted as bullets whizzed too close for comfort and he fought back the need to seek shelter.
The scene changed again, and he found himself surrounded by sea water, but still oddly holding onto the door handle. Water enveloped him, but it was as if he were caught in a small bubble of reality, even as Chip swam by with a harpoon in his hand. A shadow above caught his attention, and for a moment, he could actually see his yellow dive suit begin to materialize on his body.
“No more charades!” he shouted again, just as the large great white shark took a dive toward his best friend. It took every bit of self-control not to aim the harpoon he could feel materializing into his free hand and fought the urge to allow the fantasy to take him. Rooting himself back to the cabin, he tightened his hand on the doorknob as the scene changed again.
Lee blinked, the cabin instantly giving way to a cloudy mist. He couldn’t see beyond the cloud, but the cabin doorknob was no longer in his grip. He turned in a circle, taking in his strange surroundings and questioning whether he had been dragged into yet, another fantasy. However, though the elemental sensation was familiar to his previous experiences, this time, he was fully aware of the past fantasies.
A breeze of air from an unknown source brushed past him, parting the cloudy mist only slightly, but leaving him with the definite impression that he wasn’t alone.
“Who are you? Why am I here?” he asked, correctly assuming that his experiences had been all too real to be mere fantasies or even hallucinations of the mind.
The breeze blew again, parting another path in a new direction as Lee turned, squinting to make out the figure emerging from the dissipating mist. A semblance of a man emerged as if stepping through a fog-like curtain being drawn open. But as the mist cleared, his view sharpened to reveal a silver being with unmistakably other-worldly features. Nearly taking a step backwards in shock, he managed to stand his ground, taking in a deep breath and then expelling it calmly.
“You’re the one who brought me here?” he stated more than asked.
“I am but a representation of those who brought you here,” the metallic voice answered, though it hadn’t come from the being’s mouth, which was stiffly fixated and without movement. In fact, the auditory response had the paradoxical element of being heard both externally and internally. It was as though his ears could hear what his mind perceived. Thus, a booming voice filled the air from what he inherently knew was telepathic communication, as contradictory as that may seem.
“Where am I?” Lee questioned even as the mist threatened to veil the being once again.
“You are aboard our vessel,” came the simple reply.
“Vessel? You’re an alien… from the cloud,” he correctly surmised, piecing together the strange cloud and the natural disasters together to form the only logical conclusion left to him. “Why did you bring me here?”
“You are an intriguing specimen of your kind,” the silver creature answered vaguely. “You have life experiences much different from other human specimens we have studied.”
“Is that what all of this is?” Lee asked, barely keeping his anger in check. “I’m not a lab rat you can make run through your maze,” he added defiantly, angered by the scenes he’d been forced to participate in, particularly with the intimate details of his fantasy encounter with Carol Denning.
A scoff-filled laugh filled the cloudy mist around him. “But you have been just that, human,” the alien boasted, turning and directing Lee’s attention to the parting mist behind him with a stiff, silver arm.
The mist dissipated slowly leaving only an impression of a figure lying motionless upon a table. A cold breeze swept away the remnants of the fog-like mist obscuring his view. Even with the strange apparatus covering his face and head, he recognized the figure as himself. Dazed, he studied the sight before him, inexplicably knowing that he was actually seeing himself on the table.
“I don’t understand,” he stammered, taken back by the paradox of observing oneself like some sort of out of body experience.
“In the simplest of terms, your physical body is there,” he continued with his arm extended toward the silver exam table, “but your consciousness is with me. This detachment is what makes the illusions possible.”
“But the experiences were so real…” he started.
“Real, but experienced in another reality,” the alien interrupted, “you have lived out many illusions for my people to study,” he boasted arrogantly.
Lee remembered some of the illusions, but he knew there were fragments of even more illusory fantasies locked away in his memories; pushing to come forward, like a secret desperately seeking to be remembered and acknowledged. Contempt swelled up within him for the intrusion, but he tamped it down to turn his attention to more important matters.
“Then your space ship is hidden in the cloud?” he deduced.
Another annoying laugh filled the misty room. “You humans are so 3-dimensional… the cloud is our ship,” he declared with all the disdain that could be dredged up in his monotone, metallic voice. “Or at least one of our ships,” he added.
“You have more ships? But why? What are you doing here?”
“You are on our science vessel, the ‘cloud’ as you called it, that you investigated. Our main vessel is stationed in the sea below.”
“A cloud in the sea,” Lee repeated incredulously, attempting to wrap his mind around the possibility. “You haven’t answered what you’re doing here. Don’t you know that you’re tearing our world apart?” he challenged passionately.
The silver being was unaffected by Lee’s outburst of emotion, answering instead in the same monotone voice as before.
“We are mining for a life-sustaining element for our people, the gas you know as Argon. All that is important is completing our task; your world is of no consequence.”
“Argon? But argon can be produced by chemical manipulation! It’s not even rare here. We can help each other,” he reasoned.
“We do not need your help!” came the most emotional response yet from the silver alien, his contempt for the possibility that their superior race needed any help from mere humans apparent. “We are mining your planet’s core for the element,” he added, having composed his emotional outburst.
“How can I convince you that it’s not necessary to destroy our world to obtain argon? We can live in a symbiotic relationship with your people,” he bargained.
“We are incompatible with humans,” the alien countered before a voice interrupted their conversation.
Lee’s eyes searched the fog for the unexpected voice that filled the air. Though he felt another presence, he couldn’t make out his location.
“Yes, Prime Leader.”
“Artax reports that the Seaview will soon be eliminated. The illusions will no longer be required and the human may be stored in suspended animation at that time. Prepare to merge with the primary vessel.”
“Understood, Prime Leader.”
Every sense in Lee’s body sharpened into controlled apprehension upon hearing their plans for Seaview, but why? If the earth was already devastated, nearly to the point of no return, then why did Seaview need to be destroyed first? It could only mean that Harry had found a way to beat the aliens!
Sensing they were alone once again, his eyes trailed back to his own body, lying motionless. “What do you really need me for?” he demanded. “If our people are incompatible, then why study me?”
“You have been most amusing, human,” Bahtol replied. “You will be an interesting study on our return voyage to our world.”
“No. It’s more than that. Your leader said I wouldn’t be needed once Seaview was destroyed,” he said, struggling to work out the enigma. At that moment he felt an inexplicable sense of duplicity and for a flash moment, felt his shared consciousness aboard Seaview. He saw himself confronting Harry in the missile room, threatening to destroy both Seaview and the world.
Lee blinked, not fully understanding what he had just experienced.
“Knowledge of your nuclear weapons was retrieved from your memories,” Bahtol continued, still seeking to distract Crane since the fantasy illusion had failed. “It was not complete, but was sufficient for our needs.”
“All of this,” Lee said with a wave of the arm to his surroundings, referring to their obvious technological advancements that allowed space travel, “and your scientist haven’t discovered nuclear power?” he questioned. “You come in and destroy an entire world for a natural resource that is readily available and can be chemically reproduced in abundance? For what? Is it because your people have ridden the shoulders of conquered civilizations for their technology; because, perhaps, you’re incapable of such ingenuity yourself?” he challenged. “You need me for something, Bahtol. Now, what is it?” he demanded.
“Do not call me by my name, human!” Bahtol returned with fiery emotion burning in his voice, though his wooden expression never changed. “You are not my equal! You were manipulated into giving us everything we needed to destroy your own ship. It is your knowledge and your very likeness that will bring the final destruction on Seaview… and the world,” he taunted, garnering extreme satisfaction in the revelation.
Instinctively, Lee studied his physical body lying on the table. He had assumed the apparatus was a mind probe and responsible for the fantasy visions he had participated in, but what if it was something more? He had no proof otherwise, but damn it all to hell if they thought he was going to be used to destroy the Seaview.
“Prepare to merge with the primary vessel,” sounded in the mist above Lee’s head. Bahtol was momentarily distracted, and Lee knew that this would be his only opportunity as he correctly deduced that whatever they were doing was somehow tied to the mind probe of his physical body.
“Well, you’re not going to use me to accomplish your goals!” he yelled, lunging forward and body-checking the metal alien in his path. Unprepared for the attack and unaccustomed to the physical form he had taken, Bahtol fell easily, landing disoriented to the floor.
Lee hurried to the table where his physical body lay motionless. He knew he had only seconds to do what needed to be done before Bahtol regained the upper hand. Almost frantically, he reached first for the connections, ripping the leads from the mind probe. Yellow and red sparks flew in every direction as he reached for the helmet covering his head, tearing it away and throwing it as far from the table as he could muster. Taking a step toward another piece of equipment, he was suddenly stopped in his tracks by a high-pitched sound, followed instantly by a jolt of electrical current producing a blue haze around his conscious form. Frozen in place, shards of pain-filled jolts raced throughout his entire body, preventing him from drawing his next breath. Though the shock was devastating to his conscious form, the physical body of Lee Crane remained still and motionless on the table.
Bahtol moved to his feet, simultaneously surveying the damage Crane had done. An unfamiliar sense of panic swelled within him when he realized that the connection with Artax had been broken at a critical moment. Indeed, aboard Seaview, the alien double stood frozen with his hands extended toward the missile controls, unable to act without the knowledge of how to stop the impending destruction of the mother ship.
Suddenly, alarms sounded aboard the misty science vessel, followed by the sounds of an explosion as if from far away.
“Prime Leader?” Bahtol called in desperation, releasing the electrified hold on his human captive to attend to the emergency at hand.
Lee fell heavily, completely unaware and having unwittingly retreated into a black void far from the pain. As he crumbled toward the deck his consciousness took on a transparent hue, growing fainter and fainter until it faded completely, disappearing to reunite with his physical body. He gasped upon the reentry of his essence returning to its rightful place, wincing in acknowledgement of the painful shock his disembodied consciousness had endured. A mere second later, a chain of explosions from the mother ship underwater caught up with the science vessel in the sky. And so it was that the last remnant of the ruthless alien race was completely destroyed, the radiated blast having neutralized the threat of their mining activities forever.
* * * * *
Chief Sharkey picked himself off the deck and blinked his senses back into submission. Beside him, the Admiral was finding his footing while Ski and Patterson both struggled to their feet. “I guess it didn’t work, Sir. We’re still alive,” he noted sorrowfully for earth’s imminent destruction.
“No, it worked all right,” Harry replied. “Look over there,” he said, drawing Sharkey’s attention to the metallic alien lying lifeless on the deck.
The image of the strange being shocked the onlookers as Sharkey’s mouth dropped in disbelief. “What is that?” he murmured.
His question was left unanswered however, when in that instant the creature disappeared, inexplicably leaving Captain Crane in its place; the torn sleeve previously exposing the alien as an imposter, now exposing the very human arm of Seaview’s Skipper.
Lee regained consciousness almost immediately and blinked his eyes open. He was fully aware and recognized immediately his surroundings; a place much different from his last memory aboard FS1. He rolled shakily to his side and pushed himself up to rise to his feet, spotting Harry, Sharkey, Ski and Patterson just a few feet from him.
“What am I doing here?” he asked, fighting a muddled mind as if waking from a deep sleep. He was even more confused when he remembered that he hadn’t been on Seaview at all. “The last thing I remember was flying into that… cloud,” he stammered, seeking clarity and recognizing that he must have missed out on more than one event, evident in the fact that his sleeve was torn and Patterson’s arm was field treated with a sling. “Well, what’s happened since?” he asked, feeling the added sensation of weariness on top of his confusion.
“Oh… nothing much,” Harry jested cryptically. “You’ve just flown out of it, and it’s gone.”
Lee looked around, knowing full-well that there was much more to the story and intending to get to the bottom of the mystery; as soon as he was able to shake off his disorientation, that is.
“Let’s find Chip and get underway. We have a long report to get to Washington,” Harry continued with a fatherly hand to his captain’s shoulder to guide him forward. He had no idea how much Lee knew, if anything, about his time aboard the alien spacecraft. He decided that was something he wanted to find out in private, and then chuckled at the absurd truth of the situation. “I wonder how much they’re going to believe,” he added in astonished amusement of the day’s events.
Still somewhat off-balance, Lee accepted Harry’s guidance with a shaky step forward when all of the sudden, the totality of his experiences finally caught up with him as dozens of strange dreams came into sharp remembrance. Though they had seemed all too real as he dreamt, the stark contrast to reality was easily recognizable now that he was awake. After a few more steps toward the missile room he was able to grasp that the last “dream” was inherently different from the others. He stopped in his tracks, now remembering vividly the metallic alien and the cloud-filled spaceship on which he’d been held captive. He looked over his right shoulder toward the launch controls still smoking with the putrid odor of burnt wires still in the air and noted that a nuclear weapon had been discharged. His mind now clear, he rapidly pieced together what he had surmised aboard the alien ship; the Admiral had found a way to beat the aliens.
“What is it, Lee?” Harry asked, his concern barely concealed for his captain and friend.
“Oh… nothing much,” he replied, repeating Harry’s earlier cryptic answer. “But I think we’d better compare notes,” he added to the admiral’s agreeing nod; each man knowing that their half of the tale wasn’t complete without the other’s. They exchanged thin, knowing grins and then continued their trek to the Control Room, both men relieved that Seaview and her crew had once again overcome overwhelming odds to protect the earth and her inhabitants.
* * * * *
Episode Credit: My story contains quotes, paraphrases, and concepts from the third season episode, The Deadly Cloud; written by Robert C. Carson, directed by Jerry Hopper, original airdate March 12, 1967.
Character Credit: Carol Denning was a character from the first season episode, Turn Back the Clock, written by Sheldon Stark, directed by Alan Crosland Jr, original airdate October 26, 1964. She was played by the beautiful and alluring Yvonne Craig (think Batgirl!) and I always thought that she was absolutely crazy not to hang on to Lee Crane!
Author’s Notes: I must admit, The Deadly Cloud doesn’t rank as one of my favorites, although I do think that the alien was pretty cool. : ) Specifically, major hurdles to overcome included the ideas that an advanced alien race with deep space travel capability and the technology to mine the earth’s core, didn’t know about nuclear physics. In the end, I was less interested in seeing Crane’s double run around Seaview, and much more interested in what was happening to Lee on the table with that contraption on his head. With less back and forth running from the missile room to the control room, I think the episode could have produced more character development and a stronger plotline. So, I decided to help Irwin Allen out with my own vivid imagination. I hope you enjoyed the ride. :)