Private Thoughts

 By Sue James


Author’s note:  This short piece was inspired by the episode “Death Ship” in particularly the scene where Chip admits to Lee that he isn’t happy about “letting the sub go with just a handful of civilians aboard.” I know the general consensus is that Chip went off to enjoy his liberty but this scene comes between him leaving the sub and having a good time.


Lieutenant-Commander Chip Morton sat in his jeep and stared unseeingly out of the windshield while his long fingers tapped rhythmically against the steering wheel in frustrated anger. Oblivious to the wind that howled around the vehicle or the late afternoon sunlight that sparkled on the vivid blue sea far below him, he thought about the events that had brought him to this exposed bluff high above the Pacific Ocean when he was supposed to be enjoying his liberty.


In his mind he returned to the events that had taken place on Seaview in the past twenty-four hours. First some unseen and unknown enemy had tried to sink them and then, despite his very real concerns for the safety of the boat, he had been obliged to follow orders and come ashore when they had docked in Santa Barbara. He remembered the grins he and Lee had shared as his Skipper had told him to enjoy his liberty and how he had assured his best friend that he didn’t need to worry about that. He hoped that Lee had been completely fooled by his relaxed, light-hearted demeanour as he had left the boat because he really didn’t want his friend to be worrying about his exec’s misgivings but the truth was that, right at that moment, Chip Morton was far from relaxed and light-hearted. In reality he was anxious and angry. Anxious about the safety of his beloved Seaview and the welfare of his best friend, Lee Crane and his boss Harriman Nelson and angry because he felt that his own concerns had been too readily dismissed and that, as executive officer, he should have been given the opportunity to go along on the experimental voyage where his own expertise and knowledge of the massive submarine might have been useful. Certainly it would have saved him from the worries and frustrations he was experiencing now.


Slamming his left hand against the steering wheel Chip recalled how, despite his intention of keeping his thoughts and feelings to himself, he had inadvertently alerted Lee Crane to his reservations about the automated tests Seaview was to undertake. He frowned as he thought back to how Lee had commented on his apparent disapproval and when he had admitted that he had some concerns his friend had more or less dismissed them assuring him that he and the Admiral would be on hand to keep an eye on things.  “That was all very well,” Chip thought moodily, “but who was going to keep an eye on them?”


Glaring at nothing in particular the exec climbed out of his jeep and walked the short distance to the edge of the cliff. The strong wind tugged at his short blond hair and he shivered suddenly in the chill air of the late February afternoon. Despite the dazzling reflection of sunshine on the blue waters of the Pacific which necessitated the wearing of his sunglasses there was no real warmth in the sun and a quick glance at his watch told him that there was only an hour left before the sun set and darkness descended. Lifting the binoculars around his neck Chip scanned the ocean beyond for a few minutes before turning back to the jeep and hoisting himself up to sit on the hood. Residual heat from the engine warmed his chilled body as he kept his eyes on the sea while allowing his mind to reflect, once again, on his reasons for coming up here to be alone with his thoughts.


If he was honest it wasn’t just that he had been excluded from the trip to test the new automated equipment and that he had serious misgivings about the potential disasters that could occur. It was also what these tests represented…the replacing of men with machines. You couldn’t get loyalty from a machine or team work either. What would happen if something went wrong? In times of disaster it was the men, highly trained and dedicated who kept the boat going, not machines which didn’t even work when the power was cut. Then there was the potential for enemy powers to take over the sub by seizing control of those same machines.


It wasn’t that Chip didn’t like computers. In fact, he would be the first to admit that he loved computers; they appealed to his logical, analytical mind and he read all the latest journals voraciously. He firmly believed that, as their development advanced, they would become indispensable to future generations and he was keen to develop their use aboard Seaview but he drew the line at a fully automated boat. His love of technology hadn’t blinded him to its potential faults and he was very wary of the idea that anyone wanting to get their hands on Seaview might do so by taking control of the computers especially if, as the crew feared, those machines actually replaced the men. Chip had heard the scuttlebutt going the rounds before the crew had gone ashore for their own liberty and he had done his best to calm their fears pointing out that it was just a test and nobody would lose their job even though he didn’t completely believe his own words. Although Admiral Nelson had been adamant that this was just a test and nothing was going to change Chip couldn’t help feeling uneasy. If the tests were successful Nelson could well come under pressure to replace men with machines and where would that leave him? The fact that he had been excluded from the tests despite his well known interest in and affinity with computers implied that if the boat was automated his services as exec wouldn’t be required and that hurt. It hurt a lot. Chip loved his job. It gave him the opportunity to exercise his considerable talents for administration while still going to sea and enjoying an active career. He knew that if he was forced to return to the Navy his organizational skills would probably have him confined to a full-time desk job where he knew he would be miserable.


“Don’t borrow trouble!” Words his adoptive grandfather was fond of saying suddenly leapt into his mind and shaking his head Chip suddenly jumped down from the hood of his jeep with a rueful grin aware that his thoughts were becoming increasingly morbid. Walking back to the edge of the cliff he raised his powerful binoculars back to his eyes as he thought he detected a familiar shape on the horizon. His heart rate quickened as the majestic sight of the Seaview filled his field of vision and he watched in awe as she cut smoothly through the Santa Barbara Channel. It was the first time Chip had ever seen her leave her home port and he was overwhelmed with pride as he viewed her progress through the darkening waters of the Pacific. As she disappeared smoothly beneath the waves Chip found himself uttering a quiet prayer for her safe return before lowering his binoculars and returning to his jeep with reluctant footsteps.  He still wasn’t happy about the situation but he knew that there was nothing he could do about it and it would be foolish to waste his free time brooding over something he couldn’t change. He hadn’t been completely untruthful when he assured Lee that he didn’t have to worry about him enjoying his liberty. Despite his worries about the tests he had arranged an evening out with a pretty young research assistant who had recently started work at the Institute and he intended to enjoy himself. Climbing into his jeep he started the engine and with one last lingering look at the ocean he headed home to shower and change.



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