Pressure Valve

By R. L. Keller


"Doc, is this really necessary?" Lee mumbled around the thermometer in his mouth. He was sitting on the edge of the exam table in Sick Bay, his uniform shirt off, a BP cuff around his upper left arm.

"Of course not," Doc answered sternly. "If a certain submarine captain weíre both overly familiar with would have been in his bunk at 0115 hours where he should have been, instead of crawling around underneath the torpedo storage racks when we hit that turbulence, the only thing that would have happened, maybe, is heíd have fallen out of bed. Instead, heís got several badly bruised ribs and the beginning of a lovely goose egg on the back of his thick skull."

Lee wasnít amused. "But these?" He took the thermometer out of his mouth and used it to indicate the BP cuff. Doc snatched the instrument out of Leeís hand and stuffed it back in his Captainís mouth.

"Youíve somehow managed to stay out of my clutches for over a month. Has to be a new record. As long as youíre here and I have to be up anyway, just thought Iíd make good use of the time."

Lee started to take the thermometer back out but was interrupted by a gruff chuckle from the doorway. "Give it up, Lee," Admiral Nelson was still chuckling as he walked up to the two men. Addressing Dr. Jamison he continued. "I gather heíll live," and smiled as Lee just closed his eyes, resigned to the inevitable.

"At least until the next time he does something this stupid." Doc was unrelenting and Nelson chuckled again.

"Are you keeping him here?"

"No," Lee answered before Doc had a chance. "Heís not!" Lee held the thermometer out to Doc who this time took it grudgingly but still shared a small grin with the Admiral before finally getting in his own response.

"Actually, I wasnít planning to," and Doc paused while he read the temp, then reached over and pulled the cuff away from Leeís arm before continuing to the Admiral. "The Skipperís going to be pretty sore for a few days, and probably wake up to a splitting headache, but if he promises to be a good boy Iíll let him go back to his cabin. However," and he addressed Lee directly, sharply, "you will go directly to your cabin and stay there, in your bunk, or I swearÖ"

The Admiral gently interrupted. "Donít worry, Doc. Iíll see that he gets there personally." Lee looked quickly at the older man then glanced down, knowing nothing he said would make any difference. Nelson just smiled. "Come on, Lee, before Doc changes his mind." Lee slid off the table, but not before Doc stuck a finger in his chest.

"And I mean Rest! Your blood pressure is too high for as quiet a trip as this has been." As Lee started to reply Doc cut him off. "For right now Iíll chalk it up to your natural distaste for being in Sick Bay," he said not totally unkindly. "But," and his voice got itís bite back, "I will be keeping an eye on you."

"So will I, Doc," but Nelson was still smiling.

Doc was not to be distracted. "Thatís a little like sending the thief off to guard the crown jewels," he muttered. It was Leeís turn to grin and Nelsonís to glare. "Now out, both of you."

Docís thoughts were troubled as he cleaned up in Sick Bay before going back to bed. In all the times heíd treated Captain Crane, the Skipperís blood pressure had never been a problem. He kept himself in good physical condition, ate sensibly if not as much as Iíd prefer Doc chuckled to himself, and even with as high pressure a job as his became occasionally, handled the stress well. Turning down the lights and returning to his cabin, Doc knew heíd have to keep a close watch on the situation.

As they walked back toward Officerís Country Nelson asked, "So just what were you doing under the racks?" His voice had just enough of an edge to it that Lee knew he wasnít totally off the hook.

"I was just about to go off duty at 2400 hours when we hit that first bit of turbulence."

"Didnít happen to feel it," Nelson interrupted. "But by then I had sense enough to be in bed, sound asleep," and his voice was stern.

"Iím not surprised you didnít feel it, Sir," Lee refused to be goaded. He knew he put in long hours Ė always had. He wasnít about to get into that discussion again. "It was barely noticeable. But after it passed, Seaview justÖ oh, had a different feel somehow." Nelson chuckled. "Chief Sharkey felt it, too," Lee hurried on with the explanation before Nelson could say anything. Actually it was common knowledge on Seaview, among the entire crew, the Captainís ability to Ďfeelí when something wasnít right with his Ďladyí. "We both thought that something must have shifted in the Missile Room Ė a bracket came loose, whatever."

"And you couldnít possibly just send a work detail down to check it out." The Admiralís voice wasnít accusatory, but Lee heard the edge still in it none-the-less.

"There just wasnít anything definite enough to tell them," Lee defended himself. "The Chief and I were just going to go take a look." They had reached Leeís cabin door and Lee hesitated, but Nelson indicated he wasnít ready to let it drop just yet and they entered, Nelson shutting the door behind him. Lee stood expectantly a moment but when the Admiral just smiled and crossed his arms, Lee surrendered and started to change. "Did the Chief say whether or not there had been any other damage?" Lee wasnít about to rest until he knew what shape his boat was in, and Nelson let a small smile appear.

"Some minor damage in the aft storage locker where a couple boxes shifted and a small glitch with the pressure valve in the number two ballast tank."

Lee was instantly alert. "What kind of glitch?" he demanded.

"Nothing that need concern you at the moment," Nelson said sternly, and Lee finished changing. As he came out of the head and walked to his bunk, the last hourís misadventures started to settle in. His head was pounding and aches from the damaged ribs caused a groan to slip out. The Admiral was at his side instantly, folding back blankets and helping Lee into bed. "Lee, this has to stop. You have good people on this boat whose job it is to see to just those kinds of tasks. Yours is to run the boat and I would greatly appreciate you remembering that." He was no longer smiling. "No," he snapped as Lee started to answer. "If you had been under those racks instead of between them when we hit that next turbulence you could have been crushed. In fact, thatís exactly what the Chief thought had happened. You very nearly gave the man a heart attack before he could get to you."

"Aye, Sir," Lee answered. Both men knew that Lee had always been a very ĎHands Oní kind of Captain, and the crew gave him a lot of respect because of it. But Lee also knew this had been a bit over the edge, even for him. He laid his head back and slipped under the blankets.

"Report to Doc before you go on duty in the morning," Nelson wasnít quite ready to drop the subject. "I want his assurance youíre fit for duty, not just yours," and he turned and left, shutting off the cabin lights on his way out.

Lee figured the Chief probably hadnít been the only one a bit frightened. With the Admiral it just came out a little differently. He smiled to himself, then another groan escaped as he tried to get more comfortable. It really hadnít been the smartest thing heíd ever done, crawling around underneath the racks checking for damaged brackets. Finally finding a fairly comfortable position, he quickly fell asleep.

* * * *

By habit Lee awoke at 0530 but between his ribs and his head it was almost too much effort to move. Muttering murderous threats at whatever forces were responsible for the turbulence, he laboriously crawled out of bed and headed ever so slowly to his shower. When he came out, Doc was sitting on the corner of his desk.

"Not one word, Doc," he growled.

"Actually, I was only going to use three. ĎThis will helpí," and he held up a loaded syringe. The amused expression on his face, instead of increasing Leeís frustration as it usually did, this morning melted his frown into a sheepish grin.

"Thanks," and he allowed Jamie to administer the painkiller.

"Youíre welcome. I donít suppose thereís any way I could convince you to just go back to bed." Leeís frown came back and Doc chuckled. "Didnít think so. Sit for a second," and he indicated the corner of Leeís desk he had just vacated, quickly rechecking Leeís BP. As he pulled the cuff off and started to fold it back up, he continued. "That shot should get you through the morning, by which time you should have worked out some of the stiffness that set in overnight Ė or rather, what was left of the night by the time you got to bed." He was still smiling but the tone of his voice had hardened slightly and Lee hung his head, shooting a sideways glare at the doctor as he started dressing. "Just do us both a favor and try to take it easy for the next couple days. I know the Admiral told you to report to me this morning before going on duty. Weíll consider it done."

"No Restricted status?" Lee was expecting a verdict of ĎLight Dutyí and his voice expressed his surprise. Docís answer just caused another frown.

"We both know it wouldnít do any good anyway," Doc quipped, then chuckled softly. "The only restriction is one you yourself know Ė no diving until those ribs heal. Other that that, just take things easy for a few days, ok?"

"Sure, Doc," Lee agreed readily, then smiled as Doc gave him a disbelieving look and walked out.

* * * *

That day went by quietly. The charting mission Seaview was on, though important, was boring for the crew and Lee in particular since there wasnít much for him to do. He wandered in and out of the Control Room, and all over the boat, doing spot inspections and running drills, things he normally did on missions like this, keeping his crew on their toes. Half a dozen times things came up that he thought about doing: inspecting the wiring in the circuitry room, regular maintenance in the reactor room, checking the problem valve in the number two ballast tank. But each time, bored or not, heíd send a crewman or detail to take care of it. The repair crew reported finding nothing wrong with the pressure valve, and several tests proved it seemed to be working normally. There was no clue to why it had malfunctioned the night before. True to his word, Admiral Nelson seemed to be spending more time than usual either in the Control Room or the Observation Nose. Rather than being irritated, Lee was actually pleased. He enjoyed spending time with the OOM, and visiting helped pass the endless hours of charting.

Even with all the distractions, however, by the end of the day Lee was fighting a headache from sheer boredom. Oh, what he wouldnít give for a good old-fashioned explosion that he could be in the middle of, helping to fix. Just a little one he grinned to himself. Nothing major, just enough to give him an excuse to look at something besides underwater seascape charts and proficiency reports for a while. What he got instead was a note from Doc just before 1800 to the effect that if Lee could drag himself away from the Control Room for a few minutes, Doc needed to see him. Again muttering threats, this time against the CMO and made all the more irritating because of Chipís snickers, he headed for Sick Bay.

Doc didnít help. "Oh, Skipper," he said cheerfully. "Thank you for coming."

"Did I have a choice in the matter?" Lee grumbled.

"No, but itís always so much easier when you co-operate. Have a seat," and he indicated the exam table. At Leeís hesitation he relented. "Just a quick check of your ribs and blood pressure, Skipper. Only take a second."

Lee frowned but sat down and unbuttoned his uniform shirt. The ribs were sore but not unreasonably so, and Doc agreed. However as Lee refastened his shirt buttons Doc looked at him seriously. "Skipper, Iím still not too happy with your blood pressure."

"Just a reaction to being harassed by my CMO," Lee retorted, but with a slight smile as his good humor was slowly returning.

Doc glared at him a moment, then also smiled. "I know you hate being fussed over, Skipper. I just donít normally see readings this high from you, no matter how much you hate being here."

"You worry too much, Jamie," Lee chuckled.

"Somebody has to," but Doc was still smiling. "Now get out of here. Sick Bay is for sick crew," and Lee didnít hesitate to comply.

But Doc was more worried than ever, and as soon as the opportunity presented itself to do so quietly, had a little chat with the one person on the boat most likely to know what was going on Ė the XO. Not only was he acutely tuned in to the crewís moods, he was the one person the Skipper was most likely to confide in. Unfortunately, this time Chip wasnít much help. He could only confirm that Lee was bored but other than that seemed just fine. Heíd said nothing to Chip about anything bothering him and there had been no outward sign that he was fudging the truth. However, Chip promised Doc heíd keep closer watch, just in case his own boredom had caused him to miss something.

* * * *

Again the turbulence came out of nowhere, this time the middle of the afternoon of the next day. Crew and supplies were tossed about like tinker toys and the Control Room briefly burst into a fireworks display. Damage Control reported, however, that there was thankfully little wrong with the exception of another momentary hesitation in the number two ballast tank pressure valve. Wanting desperately to have something to do, Lee was again frustrated that crewmembers had everything under control quickly, and all he could do was wander around the boat checking off repairs on his clipboard. He was so frustrated he had a hard time remembering to appropriately thank everyone for being so efficient. The repair crew could again find nothing wrong with the pressure valve, but assured Lee they were keeping an eye on it.

Once more back in the Control Room, he glanced up from the chart he was trying to concentrate on to see Chip giving him an odd look.

"What?" he grumbled.

"Just wondering if you hit your head earlier," Chip answered thoughtfully.

"Iím fine," Lee groused, irritated.

"Then why do you keep rubbing your temple?"

Lee started to snap off a reply, couldnít come up with anything appropriate because he did, in fact, have a headache, and finally settled on saying something rude. Chip just chuckled and went back to checking off charted sectors.

He did, however, mention the incident later as he was having dinner with Doc and the Admiral.

"Are you sure he didnít hit his head during the turbulence?" demanded Nelson.

"Sorry, Sir," Chip answered. "I was a little busy keeping myself from flying headfirst into Navigation. But my impression is that Lee had a good grip on the periscope railing and didnít let go until things settled down."

"And where is he now," asked Doc, "as if I didnít know?" The other two smiled despite themselves.

"Iíll go chase him out when I get done eating," said Nelson. "Iíll start looking at tomorrowís schedule. That should be sufficient to get him to leave." Again everyone laughed, knowing how much Lee hated charting missions.

But Docís laugh died abruptly. Nelson noticed and raised an eyebrow at him. "Admiral, Iím a bit concerned," and instantly he had both Nelsonís and Chipís attention. "Iíve continued to check the Skipperís blood pressure and itís still high. Not dangerously so at this point, but itís unusual enough to be worrisome."

"What do you think is causing it?" Nelson queried.

"Thatís just it, Admiral. I donít know. A lot of things will cause your BP to raise temporarily Ė exertion and/or stress being the most common. Thatís why I didnít give it too much thought the night of the accident. The measures we take to control it, mostly diet, exercise, stop smoking," and he looked pointedly at the Admiral, "arenít a problem with the Skipper. In fact, his BP is naturally on the low side because he takes such good care of himself."

"Are there medical conditions that could cause it?" Chip wanted to know.

"Yes. In a small percentage of cases things like kidney disease, abnormal functioning of the thyroid or parathyroid glands, overdoses of certain medications," and all three smiled at that one. Just getting Lee to take what he was occasionally supposed to caused the Doctor trouble. "And in very rare cases a tumor on the adrenal gland will cause an excess of epinephrine and norepinephrine to be released."

"Tumor?" Nelson didnít like the sound of that one.

"Relax, Admiral. These types of tumors are rarely malignant, and besides, the symptoms donít match. With something like that there are usually other complaints like sudden, severe headache and profuse perspiration."

"He does have a headache," reminded Chip, but Doc just smiled.

"Iíll check him again, but Iím fairly sure thatís strictly the result of his late night dance with a wayward torpedo."

"So what do we do?" Nelson questioned.

"I just donít know. If it were anyone else Iíd suggest they stick to a decent diet, avoid coffee, and get lots of rest."

"That will go over big with our workaholic Captain," Chip chuckled.

"Hence the problem," Doc agreed. "Any fussing that I do is just going to make him more frustrated, and Iím afraid make matters worse."

"Well, I can at least make a start." Nelson finished eating and headed forward. He didnít really need to check the schedule. Having set it himself it was registered in his head exactly where they were at any given moment, assuming nothing interfered with Seaviewís progress. He was also well aware that Lee knew this so his excuse for checking would need to be plausible. He smiled as he picked the most obvious. And if that didnít work, seeing Lt. OíBrien on duty gave him another.

"Missed you at dinner," he said casually, walking up to the chart table and picking up the current computer readouts.

"Wasnít very hungry," Lee answered just as casually. "Iíll get something later."

Both smiled, allowing the old joke to rest easily between them. Each spent several minutes quietly working, then as OíBrien moved out of earshot Nelson said conspiratorially, "Iíll be here for awhile yet. Why donít you take off and let Bob have to work with me on his own for a bit. Between you and Chip he gets so little practice and this just seems like the perfect opportunity."

Lee thought about just shrugging off the suggestion, yet the OOM was right. The young Lieutenant would benefit from a little more experience dealing with the Admiral directly. "Aye, Sir," he finally replied. "I have reports to finish in my cabin. Goodnight," and he moved off before Nelson could think rapidly enough to come up with a reply. Just trading one set of reports for another wasnít exactly what heíd had in mind. Oh well, at least I got him out of here, and Nelson busied himself with the charts just in case Lee should happen to come back.

Actually Lee was pretty sure what the Admiral had been up to, but since he was just basically killing time anyway headed for his cabin. The headache heíd been fighting had killed his appetite, fragile at the best of times. He figured heíd spend a few hours on the endless reports Ė they never seemed to stop no matter how quiet a cruise was Ė then try to get some sleep.

* * * *

The next two days went by quietly, for everyone except Doc. By using the Captainís tender ribs and the knot on the back of his head as an excuse, Doc was able to check his blood pressure both mornings and late afternoons. Doc tried to keep the conversations light and casual but Lee still grumbled, and each time Doc checked Leeís hypertension was worse than the time before. When Lee again didnít come to the wardroom at dinner Doc spoke to the Admiral and XO.

"The morning readings are especially troublesome," Doc said wearily. "After a good nightís rest Iíd expect it to be fairly normal. Chip?" and gave the XO a questioning look.

"I donít know what to tell you, Doc. Lee hasnít said or done anything out of the ordinary, up to and including typically biting my head off for asking how he was feeling," and he gave the other two a half-hearted grin.

"I have to agree," Nelson added. "Outwardly Lee seems just fine. How sure are you thereís actually a problem?"

"Admiral, hypertension is not called the ĎSilent Killerí without reason. For many people the first sign of a problem is also their last: stroke, heart attack, congestive heart failure or kidney failure."

"WHAT!" Nelson yelled, causing everyone else in the room to jump. He harrumphed, but lowered his voice. "Are you telling meÖ" and couldnít finish the unthinkable.

"Left untreated, Admiral," Doc confirmed, "hypertension kills."

"Then how do we treat it?"

"As Iíve tried to explain, easier said than done. The one thing we have to avoid at all cost is adding to the Skipperís level of frustration. Iíve pushed him as far as I can using his ribs as an excuse. So far heís been fairly amiable but itís not going to last. Unfortunately at this point, for anyone else, my prescription would be light duty, sensible meals, zero caffeine, and enforced periods of bed rest."

"Lee will go ballistic," Chip breathed softly.

"No joke," Nelson agreed.

Doc sighed heavily. "Thatís why in this case I would also recommend medication. With the Skipperís otherwise excellent health, I feel the most effective would be a mild tranquilizer." Chip looked physically ill, and Doc laughed humorlessly. "Yes, Chip, unfortunately I think youíre right. While the Skipper may survive, Iím not sure about the rest of us."

"I gather you havenít yet talked to Lee about this," Nelson said.

"No, Sir, I havenít."

"Coward," Chip snickered softly into his coffee cup, receiving a glare from the other two, then soft chuckles.

"Guilty as charged." Doc admitted sheepishly.

"Then I go with you," Nelson finished his coffee. "Iím not about to risk Leeís health because of a temper tantrum."

"Iím out of here," and Chip started to leave.

Nelson laid a hand on the younger manís shoulder. "Not so fast, Chip."

"The Admiralís right," Doc agreed. "The more united a front we present, the better chance we have of stopping an argument before it starts."

"And besides," Nelson continued, "he needs to know the health threat is real and our concern genuine."

"Agreed, Admiral," Doc said. "Chip, youíre his closest friend. Heís going to need you now more than ever."

"Understood. So, how do we do this?" and both he and Nelson looked at Doc.

"Carefully," it was Docís turn to mutter into his coffee cup. "Actually, Admiral," he continued seriously, "your cabin is the closest thing we have to a sound proof room."

With a grim look on his face Nelson nodded. "Iíll have him there, say 1930 hours."

* * * *

Nelson heaved a gigantic sigh and reached for the Irish whiskey he kept in his bottom drawer. The meeting with Lee had not gone well, however expected that might have been. No matter how logically Doc presented his case, no matter how supportive Chip and Nelson had been, Lee wasnít buying it. He just kept insisting that nothing was wrong, and if everyone would just stay off his case things would be fine. As much as Nelson was hoping to avoid it, it finally came down to the Admiral issuing on order of compliance. Even then he was afraid Lee was going to argue. Finally Lee had backed down, but from the dark expression on his face life aboard Seaview was about to get very rocky, and it had nothing to do with external turbulence.

In an effort to get the Captainís acceptance Doc had kept his rules simple. Leeís normal schedule would not be overtly affected, with the exception that he was off duty as of 1800 hours, period. He could do anything he wanted to in the evenings, just not work. Lee would report to Doc at 0630 and 1800 to have his blood pressure checked and take his meds. Doc had expressed a hope that Lee would eat sensibly, actually meaning Lee would eat at all, but made no other comments on that subject except to restrict all caffeine. It was agreed that the rest of the crew would be told nothing, at which Lee had snorted out a "fat chance", but that was about all heíd said after Nelson issued his order. On being dismissed Lee had stalked rapidly out of Nelsonís office, shutting the door none too politely. Doc had just shaken his head and left, Chip had bolted almost as fast as Lee, and Nelson headed for his whiskey.

Lee went directly to his cabin. After shutting that door much as he had the Admiralís he just stood for a bit with his eyes shut, muttering to himself. His dark mood culminated in his left fist striking the bulkhead so hard he had to swallow a cry of pain and went to run his hand under the cold-water tap until the pain subsided. Standing there glaring at himself in the mirror, he finally calmed down and acknowledged his friendsí concern. He knew Doc wasnít one to unnecessarily cry wolf. If the CMO was worried enough to go to these lengths, Lee had better pay attention. Shutting off the tap he stood for a moment flexing his fingers. Thatís all you need to do, Crane. Show up in Sick Bay with a broken hand, and he shook his head sadly at himself. Ok, calm down and go along with the program. If nothing else, youíll drive the others crazy by co-operating, and Lee chuckled, acknowledging his well-earned reputation as Docís worst patient.

* * * *

Chip was a bit late getting to breakfast the next morning, having decided heíd better talk to Chief Sharkey. Leeís twice-daily trips to Sick Bay were not going to go unnoticed. By telling the Chief that Doc was concerned Leeís ribs werenít healing as fast as they should be, and Lee wasnít dealing with it very well, Chip knew the little fib would not only be all over the boat within the hour, but not one of the crew would risk the Skipperís wrath by saying anything about it. The small smile Chip allowed on his face faded instantly as he entered the Wardroom and noticed Lee sitting in one corner, nose in a report. He started filling his plate, intending to leave Lee alone, but as he turned Lee looked up and motioned him over. This is undoubtedly going to be fun. Chip thought he saw a momentary glimpse of amusement cross Leeís face but figured he had to be mistaken. Not after last night! Chip put on his face the most neutral expression he could muster, walked over, and sat down opposite the Captain, having no idea what was going to happen. To his total amazement, however, Lee simply wanted to discuss the dayís schedule. As the conversation progressed Chip began to relax. Maybe weíll all survive after all.

As Chip finished eating he noticed Lee flexing his left hand and, guessing the reason, risked what for him would be a normal little jab at his friend. "Should I send a repair detail to your cabin to fix the hole in the bulkhead?"

Lee didnít answer immediately and Chip was afraid heíd gone too far. Finally the quick look of amusement Chip had though heíd seen earlier flashed across Leeís face. "Damn near," he said sheepishly, and rose to leave. Chip saw him hesitate just a moment by the coffee urn and knew Lee was struggling not to pour the cup he frequently carried with him to the Control Room in the morning. But Lee just shook his head and left, and Chip let out the breath he hadnít realized he was holding.


* * * *

The next couple days were quiet ones for Seaview and her crew and Lee did his best to follow Docís orders. The days werenít so bad. Admiral Nelson continued to spend time in the Observation Nose, and both he and Lee put aside the confrontation in Nelsonís office and conducted business as usual. Chip tried to keep things light in the Control Room, good-naturedly badgering Lee as was his habit. Lee for his part badgered right back. Evenings, however, were a problem. Restricted Duty included not being able to work on reports and Lee had a difficult time filling the hours. When he did finally hit the rack he found he couldnít get right to sleep as he usually could. The first night, after laying awake for almost two hours tossing and turning, he got up and tried to take out his frustrations doing push-ups on the floor. Discovering almost immediately how painful that was to his still-healing ribs he said a few choice words and laid back down, finally getting to sleep about 0200. The second night Chip kept him up until almost 2230 playing poker in the Wardroom. Although it helped to fill the hours, watching the others in the room drink cup after cup of coffee gave him such a caffeine-withdrawal headache he finally surrendered and went back to his cabin. Swallowing several aspirin, he did manage to get to sleep by 2400.

* * * *

Just before lunch the following morning Admiral Nelson chuckled his way aft toward Sick Bay. Heíd spent the last hour in the Observation Nose watching and listening to Lee and Chip wagering each other on how much paint was going to have to be replaced on Seaviewís hull as the two maneuvered her in and out of a series of deep narrow canyons. It was an old joke between his two senior officers, and to the Admiral signaled a return of the Lee Crane he was used to. Just as he entered Sick Bay he felt Seaview brush against something softly as she moved ahead at Dead Slow through a particularly tight space and wondered who had lost that bet.

Still a broad grin on his face he pulled a chair over and sat down next to Docís desk where the CMO was sitting, frowning at a clipboard.

"Why so glum, Jamie?" Nelson quipped. In answer Doc handed over the clipboard, and Nelson found himself looking at a chart he quickly deciphered as Leeís blood pressure readings for the last several days. Even with the added measures it was continuing upward, and Nelsonís grin faded immediately.

"Not only has there been no improvement," Doc confirmed tiredly, "itís continued to get worse."

"Why?" Nelson demanded.

"Damn it, Admiral," and Docís fist slammed down on the desk, "I donít know." Realizing heíd just swore at his superior officer he looked up shamefaced.

Nelson just shrugged it off. "Heís in the Control Room laughing and joking with Chip like he doesnít have a care in the world."

"And when I check him, as much as I know itís bugging him, he seems to be doing everything he can to co-operate. If this keeps up Iím going to have to start watching my own pressure," and he snorted softly.

"So, now what?" and Nelson handed the chart back. Doc took a deep breath before answering.

"I talked to Chip a few minutes at breakfast and he mentioned he didnít think the Skipper was sleeping very well, despite the meds. Says he hears a lot of tossing and turning through the bulkhead between the two cabins. Most unusual. The Skipper usually sleeps quite well, what little he does of it," and he gave the Admiral a small smile.

Nelson smiled as well. No one could ever complain about Lee being lazy. "Thatís not like Lee at all," he agreed. "And it canít be helping."

"No. Thatís why I think Iíll substitute his evening med for a stronger one."

"Heís not going to like that," Nelson said with a wry smile.

"Which is why I donít plan on telling him."

"Oh, oh. Time to duck."

Doc smiled. "Actually, Iím hoping that he doesnít notice. The pills are quite similar, and with a bit of luck heíll just think heís overly tired."

"Iíll warn Chip, just in case."

* * * *

Lee felt almost human. Heíd spent the day in the Control Room mentally challenging himself, and Chip, to get Seaview through a long series of very intricate maneuvers. No matter how long he served aboard her, he was always amazed at what she could do. By his count Chip owed him three steak dinners from the two challenging each other over getting Seaview in and out of the narrow underwater canyons theyíd been charting all day. Of course, he owed Chip two, and smiled to himself as they prepared to surface for the night. The constant tight maneuvering had kept the entire crew on their toes, and Nelson had suspended operations for the night to give everyone a chance to relax before continuing this dangerous section the following day. He was standing quietly a few feet from the chart table as he issued the orders to surface, and was totally unprepared as Seaview tilted wildly to starboard. She righted herself almost immediately but not before Lee had been slammed hard into the edge of the table. He tried to catch his breath as he heard Chip issuing orders and crew scurrying to comply, but was having some difficulty as he realized heíd re-injured his not-yet-healed ribs. Heíd just heard the Damage Control crew report that the problem had again been the pressure valve in the #2 ballast tank when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

"Lee," and Nelson was standing next to him. "Are you ok?"

"Fine, Sir" he smiled, getting his breathing under control. "Just got the wind knocked out of me for a moment." But apparently he wasnít very convincing, judging by the expression on the older manís face.

"Kowalski," Nelson called, and as the senior rating hurried over continued, still looking intently at Lee. "Please escort the Captain to Sick Bay. Heís re-injured his ribs."

Lee didnít move for a second, but finally gave both men a small smile of surrender and saw Nelson relax as well. "Come on, Ski. Might as well get this over with." He saw Kowalski start to relax as well and smiled again. Lee could well imagine the younger manís aversion to being caught in the middle of a power struggle between he and the Admiral. Chip had everything under control, Seaview was slowly surfacing, and in actual fact Leeís ribs hurt like hell. Heíd managed to land against the chart table exactly on top of where the falling torpedo had grazed him not that many nights before. As he and Kowalski left by way of the aft hatch Lee could hear Chip start to chew out the repair crew who had assured him the problem with the #2 ballast tank had been fixed. Lee instantly had sympathy for the men. As much as he hated mistakes, he also knew that ticking off the XO would mean long hours of extra duty for the hapless crewmen.

As he entered Sick Bay and saw Doc start toward him, Lee turned to Kowalski and gave him a quick smile. "Alright, Ski. Youíve delivered me to the torture chamber. Now back to work."

The senior rating smiled back. "Aye, Sir," and he turned and left.

"I heard that, Skipper. Sit," and indicated the exam table. "What did you manage to do this time?"

"As if Admiral Nelson hasnít alreadyÖ" and his reply was cut off as he sat down, twisted the wrong way, and clutched his side.

"So much for your ribs being almost healed. Letís have a look," and helped Lee to lie down. Twice during Docís exam his gently probing fingers caused a groan to escape, and Leeís former sympathy for the repair crew was rapidly being replaced by a sincere hope that Chip assigned them to cleaning the bilge tanks Ė on a permanent basis! "Sorry, Skipper," Doc said softly the second time it happened. "Nothing appears broken but thereís severe bruising and some pulled muscles. Youíll be more comfortable if I wrap you up."

"Swell," Lee muttered, but sat up carefully and allowed Doc to apply the large stretchy bandages that would stabilize the injuries. When he finished, Doc glanced at his watch and walked over to the meds cabinet. If he seemed slightly nervous when he walked back Lee didnít notice, and Doc handed him a small paper cup with a pill in it and a glass of water.

"A little early, but this will save you a trip back later." Lee also didnít see the relieved look on Docís face as he didnít even bother to glance at the pill, just swallowed it. Doc did the usual BP check then, with a stern look, addressed his Captain. "Do I have to call Kowalski back down, or will you go to your cabin like a good boy? Iíll have Cookie bring you some dinner."

Lee couldnít help but smile at the gentle harassment. "I have a better idea," he countered. "How about I go back to the Control Room until 1800, have dinner in the Wardroom, and then go to my cabin?"

"I think youíd better accept a compromise," interjected Nelson, coming into Sick Bay. "I strongly suggest avoiding the Control Room for the time being. Chipís having an early meal eating crewmen. Why donít you and I go have our dinner and stay out of his way?"

"I probably should go calm things down. We need a few people left standing to run the boat," and Lee smiled.

"Oh, let him have his fun, Lee. The crew needs a good shaking up every so often. And it is rather annoying. I was right in the middle of an experiment when Seaview rolled, and the whole thing ended up on the deck. Not only did it leave a royal mess, now I have to start all over."

"What do you think is causing the malfunction? Weíve never had this kind of trouble before with the pressure valves."

Before Nelson could answer, Doc interrupted. "Hold it right there. If you two are going to get mechanical, go do it somewhere else. Out!" Both Lee and the Admiral grinned, then a small groan escaped as Lee slid off the exam table. "And you," Doc pointed at his Skipper as Lee re-buttoned his shirt, "get some rest." Doc saw Nelson give him a small wink behind Leeís back, and as Lee looked down to tuck in his shirttails gave the Admiral a slight nod.

"Come on, Lee," and Nelson started toward the door. "For some reason Iím famished," and the two left. Doc could only hope that the Skipper didnít fall asleep in the middle of eating, from the sedative Doc had slipped him.

Nelson, too, wasnít sure how much time he had before Lee started to feel the effects of whatever Doc had given him. Todayís timetable had gotten a bit confused. He tried not to hurry but got Lee down to the Wardroom as quickly as he could, encouraged the younger man to eat a decent meal, and noticed Leeís eyes getting heavy just as they both were finishing.

"Lee, looks like the day is finally catching up with you."

"Donít know whatís wrong, Sir." Lee was beginning to have trouble concentrating as he and Nelson had continued to discuss possible solutions to the value problem.

"Itís been a long day, maneuvering in and out of all those canyons, then getting slammed into the chart table. Come on. Iíll walk with you back to your cabin. Looks like youíre about ready to drop."

"But I just donít understand. Itís not like Iíve done a damn thing today - or the last week, for that matter."

"Donít worry about it, Lad." Nelson was careful not to offer physical support. Lee would hate that. "You just need a good nightís sleep," then was afraid heíd said too much as Lee stopped walking and looked hard at his superior officer. Nelson willed a smile on his face and continued on, breathing a sigh of relief as he heard footsteps following him. None too soon they reached Leeís cabin, and Nelson hung around long enough to see Lee safely into his bunk. He stopped back at Sick Bay to give Doc a Ďmission accomplishedí report and headed back toward the Control Room. There was still the unfinished business of the pressure valve.

* * * *

Doc had just gotten to Sick Bay the next morning when Lee stormed in. Oh, oh he muttered to himself, and stuck a smile on his face.

"What the hell did you give me last night," Lee said angrily, giving Doc one of his better command glares.

Busted. Under the circumstances, Doc did the only thing he could Ė put a totally innocent expression on his face and lied through his teeth. It was, after all, for the Skipperís own good. "Just a strong painkiller instead of your regular med, Captain. The ribs were obviously hurting."

That seemed to deflate Lee a little. "You could have at least warned me. I damn near fell asleep in the Wardroom."

"That wasnít from what I gave you, Skipper. All it should have done was take the edge off the pain. You probably just needed the rest. Did some good, too. Youíre looking much better this morning." As Lee lost even more of his defensive stance Doc gestured toward the exam table. "So?"

"So, what?" and Lee slowly sat on the edge of the table.

"So, how are you feeling?"

"Fine," then smiled as Doc snorted. "My ribs hurt like hell, all right?" As Doc pulled the BP cuff out of a cabinet, he unbuttoned his shirt. "Have to admit, Doc," he acquiesced, " its the best nightís sleep Iíve had this whole trip."

Finally! Now, if I can just get him to talk, and Doc continued as casually as he could. "How come youíre not sleeping, Skipper? You usually sleep well, if not always a lot." Doc couldnít resist the slight jab.

"Havenít a clue, Jamie," and Doc could hear the sincerity in the manís voice.

"Nothing happened on the last leave? Nothing worrying you, no problems with anyone?"

"The only one Iím having a problem with is you, Jamie," Lee got in his own jab, followed by a big grin.

Doc couldnít help himself and laughed. "Sorry, Skipper, IÖ" and was interrupted by Leeís upraised hand.

"Relax, Jamie. I know youíre only doing what you think best. Itís ok."

"Thanks, Skipper. This hasnít been easy for you and I apologize."

"Donít worry about it. It will be ok."

"Somehow, Skipper, I think thatís supposed to be my line," and as both chuckled, finished his exam. Some of the earlier tension returned as Doc handed Lee his morning meds. As Lee glared at it, Doc smiled. "Just your regular med, Skipper, unless you want the painkiller."

Lee turned the glare on Doc, but downed the med and started to button his shirt. Finally he smiled. "Thanks, but no thanks, Jamie. I think Iíd like to stay awake, at least until dinner." Despite the implied accusation he was still smiling as he walked out the door. Docís smile died, however, as he entered Leeís current BP reading on the chart.

He was still frowning half an hour later when he walked into the Wardroom and ran into the Admiral.

"Why so glum, Jamie," Nelson asked as the Doctor sat down opposite him. "You should be happy as a clam Ė humm, I wonder where that phrase came from Ė anyway, Lee slept like a log all night."

"Yeah, and this morning his blood pressure was up another four points systolic and 2 points diastolic. This is becoming serious."

"Damn!" Nelson thundered. Junior officers already on edge from their XOís tirade the day before scurried out rapidly. "What is going on?"

"I wish I knew, Admiral. He and I talked a bit this morning. Oh, nothing specific, just kibitzing. Iíd swear thereís no psychological reasons for the continued rise in his blood pressure."

"Weíre not imagining this," Nelson groused.

"Admiral, when we first talked Chip asked me about other, physical causes of hypertension."

"And you assured him that wasnít the case with Lee."

"Yes, Sir. There are usually other symptoms. But Iím beginning to wonder if I was wrong."

"How do you find out for sure?"

"Evacuate the Skipper by flying sub back to the Institute Medical Center and start running a battery of tests." Nelson cringed. "Yeah," Doc agreed. "Thatís why Iím going to hold off a few more days. So far the Skipper, surprising as it may be, has co-operated. Trying to remove him from Seaview under these circumstances could be more hazardous to our health than leaving him here could be to his."

Both were silent for a bit, then a small grin appeared on Nelsonís face. "You could always slip him another ĎMickeyí and we could get him home while heís asleep."

"Thanks a lot, Admiral. When he woke up youíd still be safe and sound here. Heíd only have me around to kill."

* * * *

The day proved to be another quiet one. Lee and Chip spent the morning charting the rest of the deep canyon area, finishing about 1230 hours. Lee won another steak dinner off Chip as the XO was 5 seconds late with a course correction and Seaview barely brushed a seamount. Chip tried to wriggle out of it, claiming heíd been on time, the helmsman had been 5 seconds slow. Lee countered by saying it was the job of an XO to know his crew well enough to anticipate reaction time, and should therefore have given the command 5 seconds early. Admiral Nelson, chuckling openly, ended the argument by dragging both senior officers off to the Wardroom for lunch.

Lee spent the afternoon, now that Seaview was back in fairly open waters, walking around the boat running spot inspections. He spent almost half an hour with Seamen Brewster, Macklin and Maxwell, the crewmen responsible for the ballast tank repairs. Figuring heíd need to unruffle a few feathers after Chipís tirade, he instead smiled quietly to himself as the men quickly assured him the XO had every right to be upset. They still had no idea what was causing the problem, but were continuing to work on it every chance they got. It was easier, of course, when Seaview surfaced and the tank was dry. But theyíd also donned breathing masks and gone in wet. Lee assured them everyone knew they were doing their best.

The only discord to the dayís activities came when Lee purposely went to the Wardroom for dinner at 1800 hours instead of Sick Bay. His defiant expression dared Chip and the Admiral to say anything, but both wisely chose to remain quiet on the subject, as did Doc when he joined them. Lee relented and a quick grin crossed his face as Doc sat down across from him.

"Hope I didnít upset your schedule too much, Jamie. Figured Iíd enjoy a nice relaxing, unhurried dinner and drop by afterward."

"Actually, Skipper, thatís a very good idea. I apologize for not having thought of it myself."

Lee waved off the apology and the Admiral quickly changed the subject, spending the dinner hour regaling his senior officers, as well as several junior ones who were brave enough after the last couple daysí events to wander in, with stories of his early years in the Navy. Some of the stories were familiar, especially to Lee and Chip. But some were new and everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves, especially, it seemed, Admiral Nelson. Lee was surprised, when Nelson finally seemed to wind down, to discover it was nearly 1930 hours. He glanced at Jamie who merely shrugged his shoulders, but both rose and walked amiably to Sick Bay. Doc did his usual BP check, and unwrapped Leeís ribs long enough to give them a quick going over before replacing the bandages. The two kept up a quiet conversation until Doc turned to hand Lee his meds.

"Another Ďpainí pill, Doc?" Leeís voice was mildly accusatory but he said it with a smile, and Doc smiled back.

"Not quite as strong as the one I gave you last night, Skipper." Lee raised his eyebrows and Doc laughed. "But still guaranteed to keep you pain free until morning."

After the barest of hesitations Lee downed the pill and slid off the exam table. "See you in the morning, then," and still smiling, walked out.

* * * *

Seaviewís violent roll slammed Leeís head against the bulkhead, waking him from what had been a peaceful sleep. Everything was fuzzy and confused for a bit, and the emergency klaxon going off didnít help. Standing up, or rather trying to, it took him a few seconds to decide if he was having problems or Seaview had a serious list to starboard. Slowed by the effects of Docís drugs, he eventually concluded it was the boat. Normally Seaviewís violent shift coupled with the klaxon would have sent Lee running for the Control Room, but this time his drug-fogged mind would allow him to focus on only one thing Ė Seaviewís safety. At the moment that focus was directed at the ballast tank pressure valve. He was dragging on a uniform when he heard a loud "No!" and looked up to see Admiral Nelsonís head stuck through his cabin doorway.

"Thatís what I thought," and Nelsonís voice softened. "Lee, go back to bed. In your condition youíll just be in the way. Weíll take care of it."

Lee felt himself nodding an agreement. Just then Seaview shook again and tilted another couple of degrees. Nelson repeated the order for Lee to stay in his cabin then took off, closing the door firmly. But the ballast tank problem was all Lee could think about, and he finished dressing as fast as he could and headed aft.

None of the crew who saw him questioned where he was going, or that he seemed to be having trouble walking. With the boatís severe tilt they were all having their own problems, and the Skipper on a mission was not someone they wanted to interrupt, especially since none of them were aware of what had been going on. They all had their assigned duty stations in an emergency and knew if Crane needed help heíd ask. Lee made one stop on the way, at a supply locker he knew held emergency breathing masks. Each small device held enough oxygen for 20 minutes, which should be plenty time to drop down into the tank and release the valve. Obviously stuck again, it was forcing Seaview to tip dangerously to that side and keeping her from rising. Also from the cabinet he grabbed an underwater flashlight.

Lee was mildly surprised to find, as he reached the access hatch, that there was no one already there. But isnít that why I came? he reasoned through the drug-induced fog, slipped on the breathing mask, undogged the hatch, and entered the ballast tank. The water was almost unbearably cold, further hindering his ability to think, and the flashlight didnít make much of a dent in the murky water of the tank. But Lee knew where he was going and felt his way as much as saw. It didnít take him long to reach the valveís wheel, normally operated by the computer but which could also be turned manually. Moving it proved to be another matter entirely. Unable to do it one-handed, Lee finally dropped the flashlight and tried with both hands. But as hard as he tried he could only budge it a few degrees in either direction. The cold water was continuing to numb his body already sluggish from the drugs, so when something touched his hand he at first didnít even notice it. The second time it floated against his hand it finally registered, and the third time he tried clumsily to grab it. Evading him in the soft movement of the water in the tank, Lee had to concentrate extra hard. The dropped flashlight was casting shadows toward his hands but Lee could see nothing that might be causing the sensations. Again came the soft brush against his hand, and this time turning it slowly, his fingers found the length of polyfilament. Fishing line? Leeís foggy brain questioned. He thought for a bit it was just floating in the water, but as his hands followed it, discovered one end was wrapped tightly around the valve shaft. Lee worked at it, trying to unwrap it, but between the drugs and cold water, was gradually loosing his ability to function.

Then suddenly he had another, potentially serious problem. He was having trouble drawing a deep breath and finally realized the emergency mask was running out of oxygen. Knowing he had maybe a minuteís worth of air left, he wrapped the line around one hand, clasped his hands together, braced both feet against the bulkhead, and gave one long, hard pull. Without the mouthpiece of the mask heíd have cried out as the line bit into his hand and his ribs strongly protested the strain.

He finally felt his hands moving away from the valve and thought he saw the wheel start to turn. But the mask suddenly had no more air to give him. As the cold settled in and his vision started to fade he put as much effort as he could muster into giving the line one last hard pull. He lost consciousness not knowing if it had been enough.

* * * *

"What the hell happened?" Jamie jumped as Admiral Nelsonís bellow announced his arrival in the corridor next to the ballast tank, but didnít stop what he was doing, knowing the question was directed not at him, but at the XO standing a few feet away. Chipís voice was quiet as he answered, but still audible to the CMO.

"As close as we can figure, when the emergency klaxon went off Lee woke up and headed here."

"I checked on him on my way to the Control Room," Nelson interjected, his voice loosing most of its urgency. "He was trying to get dressed. I told him to stay there and go back to bed."

"Obviously it didnít do any good," Chip continued. "Patterson said he saw Lee headed aft as he and Riley made their way toward the Control Room. The repair crews were all busy with the problems in the Missile Room and it took awhile for anyone to get here. When Brewster and Macklin finally arrived they discovered the hatch cover already removed. Brewster said he almost didnít go in, figuring Maxwell had beaten them to it. But just then Max came flying around the corner." Both officers looked over to where Seaman Brewster was standing with the other two members of the repair crew, wrapped in a blanket someone had given him.

"I had no idea anyone was in there," Brewster took up the narrative. "Just knew none of us were, and that valve needed to be opened. As I got close I saw someone Ė didnít know who at that point Ė seem to be pulling on something. Just before I got to him he fell away from the valve and I could feel the rush of water so knew the valve had opened. But whoever it was wasnít moving so I just grabbed him and started back for the hatch. Lucky for the Skipper it wasnít far, because when we hauled him out we discovered he wasnít breathing. The mask he was using was totally discharged. We started CPR and called Sick Bay."

"They found this wrapped around Leeís hand," Chip continued, and held up the 6-foot length of heavy-duty deep-sea fishing line. "My guess is, somehow it made it through the filter into the tank. It apparently kept shifting with the water and occasionally fouling the valve. Itís no wonder no one ever found it. Unless it was actually around the valve it would have been almost impossible to see in the water, and probably just lay innocently on the bottom somewhere when the tank was dry."

"The Skipper obviously found it," Doc broke in. Everyone turned toward him as he stood up, and corpsmen gently transferred Lee, who Doc had been working on, to a stretcher.

"How is he?" Nelson asked worriedly, and Doc smiled.

"Heíll be fine. Oh, that hand is going to require a few stitches where the line cut into it. Heís suffering a bit of oxygen deprivation. Not too bad Ė the mask canít have run out much before Brewster found him, and it kept him from breathing in any water, thankfully. Heís also got a bit of hypothermia from the cold water. All in all, he got away lucky."

"Youíre not concerned that heís still unconscious?" Nelson asked as Leeís still form was carried toward Sick Bay.

Conscious of the crewmembers standing around, Doc was careful of his answer. "Iím pretty sure thatís still the effects of the Ďpainkillerí I gave him earlier because of his ribs. I have absolutely no idea how he was able to wake up enough to get down here and do what he did."

"Thatís just the Skipper," answered Brewster quietly. The other crewmen nodded agreement and started to walk away as the three officers smiled at one another.

* * * *

Doc was making notations on a chart, muttering to himself, when Nelson walked into Sick Bay the next morning. He noticed Chip was already there, standing quietly next to one of the bunks. Nelson could just barely see the back of Leeís head as his Captain, bundled under several layers of blankets, lay on his side, face toward the bulkhead. Chip turned as he heard Nelson enter and walked over, meeting the Admiral at Docís desk.

"Heís sleeping." Chip said, smiling.

"Still?" Nelson asked and turned to Doc.

"Relax, gentlemen. He was awake earlier. Cold and sore, but aware of what happened."

"And you used more Ďpainkillerí to keep him here?" Nelson teased.

"Actually, he didnít argue when I told him he might as well relax and go back to sleep, he wasnít going anywhere for at least the next 24 hours." Doc hesitated and cringed openly. "However, itís going to be the last time he ever listens to me." Both Nelson and Chip raised eyebrows at him. "Heís fine," and emphasized the second work. He smiled ruefully as he realized the other two didnít understand him, and went on to explain. "The only thing thatís been wrong with him, for the last week, is me."

"You meanÖ" Nelson started, but didnít get any further before Doc cut him off.

"We all know, or at least we should by now, how active the Skipper is, in all factions of running this boat. How easily bored he gets when thereís not enough to keep him busy. I just didnít take into consideration how frustrating to the Skipper that boredom is."

"It triggered the rise in blood pressure," Chip translated.

"Correct. And the more I restricted his activity, the more frustrated he got. Oh, he covered it well. He really was trying to cooperate. But it was continually bugging him, needling him subconsciously. Wouldnít let him totally relax; he couldnít sleep properlyÖ Oh hell! I did everything wrong."

"You had lots of help," Nelson commiserated with the CMO. "Weíll have a talk with him when he wakes up."

"No, Admiral. Iíll have a talk with him. Itís my fault."

"We certainly didnít help," Chip said adamantly.

"You only aided and abetted," Doc responded kindly. "No, gentlemen. All this time the only thing the Skipper needed was to be allowed to blow off steam in his own way. Iím to blame for the misdiagnosis. I take full responsibility."

As the Admiral and Chip tried to console Doc, no one saw Leeís shoulders shake softly to the quiet laughter he was having a hard time controlling. Oh, those three are never going to hear the end of this he grinned as he lay there plotting his revenge.

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