Captain Crane was beating the hell out of the oblong punching bag in Seaview's small gym. His excuse was a fit rep coming up in the new year, but it didn't take a rocket scientist to know he was actually venting his frustrations. Nobody was pleased about taking a mission this close to Christmas leave. Murmurs of being jinxed yet again over the holidays vied with mutterings against Nelson for getting an itch up his sleeve about some damn shipwreck. It could wait, surely. †But something else was eating at the Skipper. †Ever since Admiral Jiggs Starke had arrived unexpectedly at NIMR's doorstep the morning before sailing~
"How could you have forgotten you invited him?" Crane grumbled in the privacy of Nelson's office.
"I didn't forget on purpose, Lee! Give me a break already. It's not as if he's here officially. Besides, he'll be busy helping me..."
"Helping or butting in?"
"Enough. All this doom and gloom is only in your mind."
"I'm sorry. He just..."Crane hesitated and ran a hand through his hair," he always manages to rub me the wrong way..."
"Gad, Lee, one would think he's Attila the Hun the way you're going on! You'd do well to remember that not only is he a senior officer to us both, but a very old friend."
"I know that, but..."
"Seaview will be ready to sail in about 30 minutes," Crane turned and left. But was impossible for Nelson not to catch his muttered, "This is going to be one hell of a cruise. And it hasn't even started yet...."
"Finished setting Crane straight?" Starke asked as Nelson entered the guest cabin aboard Seaview.
"The †truth is, Jiggs," Nelson hesitated, "he didn't know. I completely forgot about your visit."
Starke snorted, "Getting senile in your old age Harry. Now, tell me about this shipwreck.."
"Alleged shipwreck. Divers reported it, went back to the same spot, and it was gone. Shipwrecks duly logged and noted do not simply disappear."
"And I thought you were after treasure."
"We don't know it was carrying anything that important. And we're not even sure if the divers really saw something the first time. I want to satisfy my curiosity."
"It can't be that simple!"
well. It's in the
"I heard some of your men say we might not get back until after Christmas."
"Nonsense. We'll make it in plenty of time. Now, how about a bite? I've had a nice spread prepared in the Observation Nose."
"Did you have to make that?" Ski complained to Cookie in the Crew's Mess later that day.
"What's the matter with it?"
"It's pumpkin pie!"
"There's nothing written in stone about it being a holiday pie. Besides, this is one of the Skipper's favorite. I thought he could use a little cheering up."
"Thatís for sure," Patterson said, "old Starke's already on his case about something."
"I thought the old geezer came along to the Skip's way of doing things...after he saved all our lives and all."
"Yeah, but I guess he's forgotten."
"Cookie?" Chief Sharkey entered, holding an almost untouched slice of pumpkin pie, "can you save this for the Skip? He kinda' got caught up with Admiral Starke about something and forgot about it..."
"Sure Chief...any idea about what?"
"Well, no. But Morton was shaking his head when they headed aft."
Crane was an anathema to Starke.
He had a relaxed style of command that, while it worked, still irked the 'old
school' Admiral. Complaining to Nelson hadn't worked. Starke may only be a
sightseer, but he was still the Commander of Submarines Pacific and was bound
and determined to put †the
uppity Captain in his place. By the time they'd completed their mission and† returned to
It had only been a few days, and Nelson was beginning to regret both the mission and his 'open ended' invitation to Starke, as the †antagonism between Starke and Crane grew. Sure enough, as the sub sailed closer to her destination, Nelson was stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. His only recourse was to let the two battle things out between themselves. As Captain, Crane was already the obvious victor. But Nelson was beginning to ask himself , as Jiggs had put it, if he'd given Crane far more leeway than Nelson had originally intended. Nelson had laughed at the unintentional pun, but there was a growing undercurrent in his mind that indeed, his fondness for Lee may just have clouded his better judgment. When he got right down to it, Lee had become as close to him as a brother. Not a good idea between superior an subordinate. It was going to be a long cruise.
And so it was that Crane found himself in the gym almost daily.
"Lee, " Nelson's voice came over the PA, "report to my cabin."
Crane hit the punching bag again.
"Captain Crane, acknowledge," Nelson's voice reiterated, exasperated.
"All right, all right," Lee muttered, removing the heavy mitts, draping them over his shoulder and headed to the wall mike.
"Cheesh. Give me a chance...," he clicked the mike, "On my way."
"Sir," Starke's voice demanded.
"Sir!" Crane replied and slammed the mike back on its cradle and headed out.
"Bilge pump, maybe?" Patterson mused, adding to the latest scuttlebutt in the crowded Crew's Mess.
"Does it matter?" Cookie said joining the men, "what I can't understand," he said, "is that more and more, Nelson's letting the old goat get away with treating the Skipper badly."
"Crane can take it. Even tells the old coot off now and then."
"Iím not worried about Starke," Ski said, "It's just...well, Nelson's kinda been forgetting that the Skipper's the Skipper, and him being his own best friend too."
"But is he really? Can he be?" Cookie mused, "C'mon guys, Nelson's still the† boss and neither of 'em can cross that line."
"Well, he's sure been letting Starke walk all over the Skipper. I sure wish they could be brothers again. "
"I was 45 seconds late
for my watch," Malone said," Starke gave him hell for it. Then Nelson
demanded to know why he was letting his crew get sloppy and that I was on
report. The Skip had no problem reminding both of em' that he was the Captain and would handle any disciplinary actions aboard
Seaview. Even told Nelson right then and there that he was exceeding his
boundaries, ordered †me
to supper and said he'd deal with me later. But as I left I †heard Starke order
"What did Nelson do?" Cookie asked.
"What he's †been doing for most of this trip. Went and poured himself another stiff drink."
"That damn Starke's gotten himself way †too much influence over the Admiral," Riley complained.
"You know," Ski said, "I'm worried. The Admiral can still fire Crane, you know."
"He wouldn't be dumb enough to do that, would he?" Riley asked, aghast.
"Maybe not, but what's to keep the Skip from walking? "Cookie said.
"Oh he wouldn't...he couldn't," Ski said, "no matter how bad things have gotten. Seaview means too much to him."
"I wonder what new infractions old Starke is gonna' find."
"Well, for starters," Starke, apparently having caught some of the discussion from the doorway, †strode to the coffee pot, cup in hand, "there's no more coffee in the Wardroom, again. Keep it up Cookie and you may be spending the rest of your employment scrubbing pots and pans at the Institute's cafeteria. As for you men, what took you so long to rise to attention?" he filled his cup, "You're all on report," he huffed out.
"Oh swell," Ski groaned. "He's gonna blast the Skipper again. And it's all our fault."
Sharkey was headed to Nelson's
cabin with a message from
"What the blazes do you think you're doing, mister?" Starke's shout startled him. It was difficult to think of an excuse. Not a mop or bucket or crewman in sight. Suddenly there was the sound of glass shattering from inside. Crane barged out, plowing smack into Starke and his hot coffee.
"Ow! Ow! Ow!" Captain Crane was bent double, hopping around, clutching his groin from the spilled brew, the culprit mug, cracked and rolling on the deck.
"If you deemed to listen to Jiggs, perhaps this wouldn't have happened either!" Nelson leaned on the doorway.
"You should talk! Admiral Starke? Chief? Did any get on you?" Crane asked, gingerly standing up, blowing on his burned hands.
"Uh, I'm okay Skipper," Sharkey replied.
"This man.."Starke began indicating the Chief.
"Sharkey. You're so gung ho on protocol you should remember to use his rank if you don't remember his name."
"Very well. Chief Sharkey is †on report," Starke said.
"Admiral Starke," Crane sighed, exasperated, "again, you are here as a guest, on a civilian cruise. How often to I have to ask you to discard the attitude as well as the uniform?"
"Can't you stow that God Almighty opinion of yourself Captain? "
"Part of my job description. I'm well aware you have more of a problem with my friendship with Admiral Nelson than my command abilities and I'd appreciate it if you'd refer any such trumped up complaints regarding them through the ..."
"Proper chain of command', yes Lee,Ē Nelson interrupted, "gawd, you've told us enough times. How many times do I have to remind you that †Admiral Starke is †still a superior officer and my personal guest. You will treat him all due courtesy in spite of any opinion to the contrary."
"Skipper? Maybe Sickbay?" Sharkey pleaded, "Get those burns treated?"
"But uh, really, I mean, most of the coffee landed on your uh..." he stammered, turning beet red, unable to finish.
"What he's trying to say, Crane," Starke intervened, "is that most of the world's father's can relax, their daughter's virtues intact awhile."
"That's a cheap shot, even from you,Ē Crane glared.
"Good!" Starke entered Nelson's cabin and †slammed the door.
"Better have someone clean that up that spill before someone slips on it, Chief," Crane said quietly and made his exit down the corridor and around the bend.
"Lee?" Nelson popped out of his door, "I'm sorry, that was...where'd he go?"
The sound of Crane's cabin door slamming shut answered that question.
Nelson was about to follow him but Starke took his arm and led him back into his cabin.
"You really should've let the Doc take a look, Lee," the voice on the videophone tried again to persuade his old friend seek medical attention. Crane had changed and was leaning on the edge of his bunk.
"I suppose," he said, dejected.
"Want to talk about it?"
"I'm so confused, Joe.† Why's Nelson letting Starke treat me this way? He's on my back as well. Simple things mostly. Stupid things. It's not like him..."
"But it is Lee. I've told you before and I'm telling you again, it was a mistake for you to leave the Navy. Are you Seaview's† Captain or not? No other Captain has to put up with a resident Admiral. He's been seizing your authority all the time, not just now with his pal aboard."
"She's his boat, he's a flag officer and has to override me at times. I'm used to that. It's grating, but it's the price I have to pay to be here. This, well, this is different. I knew what I had to give up to be here, Joe. All of it. Seaview was worth it, but now... Joe, he was berating my handling of something rather petty, and before I knew it, I was actually cussing him out and..."he hesitated.
"Not the way to win friends and influence people. Go on."
"He threw his cut crystal whiskey decanter at me, telling me Starke was right, that I was too soft and that Starke..." Crane faltered, his eyes feral, "that Starke may have been right about bringing me aboard in the first place...that he shouldn't have."
"And then," Lee looked up, "then I told him I was sorry that I had come here..."Lee ran a hand through his hair. "I didn't mean it Joe, but before I could take it back, he yelled at me to get out of his sight."
"What are you going to do?" Joe asked after a moment.
"I was hoping you'd tell me, because I don't know. I just don't know."
"Did you have to toss the good stuff at him?" Starke asked sorrowfully as he nodded toward the shards of crystal †in Nelson's wastebasket.
"I threw it at the door, not him. Jiggs, I can't understand him anymore. We used to be friends, brothers, but now," he took a breath, "He called me...he called me... he called me Bligh! I know I've come down hard at him at times, but only for his or Seaview's own good. I might as well not even be aboard! My advice isn't wanted. I'm as essential as...as an expired tin of Spam!"
"Did he say that?"
"Well, no...but... Jiggs, do you think I've been over-reaching? That I'm," he hesitated, "stepping on his toes?
"Not at all, we have similar problems in the Navy when flag officers visit or observe, but at least our Captain's don't whine like children."
"He still has the legal responsibity for all our lives. Seaview's a double edged sword, Jiggs. She's my personal property as well as a Reserve vessel. We both †outrank Crane, you as an active duty Admiral and as Commander of Submarines Pacific, and me as a retired four star who can still be called to reserve duty. We are, in fact, and †often. The Navy may have given me Crane initially for an emergency, but I called every favor I could to hire him away from it permanently. And I'm the one who told him to loose some of that Navyitis in the first place..."
"That may be, Harriman, but if he can't handle Seaview's special conditions anymore, perhaps it's time you considered someone else for command. In fact, I have some fine officers in mind...."
"If you'd seen his eyes," Nelson continued, "blazing. Crushed..."
"Don't let his hurt feelings rob you of your better judgment. C'mon,' he checked his watch, "we need something to take our minds off Crane. I hear there's cherry pie. "
But it was impossible to take their minds off Crane as the only available chairs in the Wardroom were across from him. Crane's eyes immediately lowered and instead of using his fork to transport a piece of pie to his mouth, he played at moving bits around on the plate. Nelson, likewise barely toyed with the delectable dessert either.
"Uh, you don't like it Skipper?Ē one of the messmates asked.
"I don't seem to have much of an appetite any longer," Lee rose, and left.
While Starke tried to engage his culinary companions in light conversation, mostly about the shipwreck, Nelson said nary a word, his mind elsewhere.
It wasn't all that much later when Nelson found Crane in the Observation Nose, leaning against the window, staring at something invisible in the depths. He didn't even turn as the Admiral approached.
"Want to talk about it?" Nelson prodded quietly, having had time to reconsider his options. Perhaps he'd been too harsh.
"Why bother? You've made yourself quite clear," he turned to face Nelson, " I'm not a rookie Admiral. Neither are the men on this ship. What's †happened to the Admiral Nelson who took me to task for being too 'Navy' when I first came aboard?" he asked coolly. "I was too spit and polish for you back then, pure poster boy. I changed quick enough for you, but now all of a sudden..."
"I didn't want you to turn her into a pleasure yacht either."
"Is that you speaking or your good buddy Starke?"
The slap echoed in the Control Room. The men stared in horror.
"I came here," Nelson said, "to sort things out between you and I. To apologize if need be. I see I was mistaken. You'd do well to remember it's my name on Seaview's ownership papers," Nelson said coldly. "You could use some attitude adjustment toward your superiors."
"You know," Lee replied equally as cold, "I always wondered why it wasn't customary for Seaview's Captain to wear a 'commandĖ at- sea' pip. Now I know why. You simply reserved the job for yourself."
"How dare you! I can still put you on report for insubordination, Captain!"
"Don't you treat me like a first-year plebe. I †deserve better than that from you," †Crane said bitterly and swept up the spiral ladder without leave do so. In seconds he was out of sight.
Nelson moved to the sideboard and poured himself a drink, his hand shaking in fury. Or, some of the crew wondered, in shame?
He was right wasn't he? Nelson mused. Starke had pointed out far too much to ignore. Nelson had given Crane an inch but he'd taken a mile. The boat was lax. He'd seen the reports. One of them a scathing communiquť from the SecNav's office itself. Nelson, as Crane's boss, was responsible.† Commander Crane had been abusing his privileges as Captain. It had to stop.
It was hours later when Starke †found Nelson sitting in the lounger, staring out the window, half a bottle of scotch later.
"Why are we on the surface?" Starke asked as the †moonlit waves glowed through the viewports, " Harry?"
"Leave me alone Jiggs."
"Hmph," Starke moved to the Control Room and asked the Officer of the Deck.
"The Skipper wanted a bit of fresh air," O'Brien answered.
"I see...wait...do you mean to tell me that the Captain had you surface the boat for that?"
"Uh, well, yes sir..."
"Prepare to dive," Starke ordered calmly.
"Pardon?" O'Brien asked, and looked toward Nelson for some kind of statement. None came from the figure in the chair.
"Begging your pardon sir, but I don't take orders from you."
"Gad, now I have a Crane clone! I said Prepare to Dive mister! Nelson! Will you kindly get off your butt, come here, and tell this man that I mean business!"
Nelson merely turned in his chair and nodded, "Do whatever he says Frank."
"But sir! He wants' me to dive!"
Nelson rose and came forward, "Does everyone aboard this boat have a problem following orders?"
O'Brien had no choice but to obey.
As the sounds of machines and men responded with their customary clicks, beeps, horns, and voices.† But no legs were scrambling down the top hatch ladder.
"Where's the deck watch?" Nelson finally asked.
"Skipper's alone up there sir."
"Dive," Jiggs commanded.
"You were given an order Mister," Nelson said.
The order was broadcast and the boat began her descent ever so gently when the sound of the top hatch clanged shut and Crane literally jumped down the ladder. Any words he was going to have with O'Brien instantly switched focus as he saw Starke and Nelson.
"It's customary, gentlemen, to wait until all hands are accounted for before taking her down," Crane said firmly, though realizing full well that his rebuke wasn't exactly congruent with his attire of pajamas, and red plaid robe. He was also barefoot.
"It's also customary," Nelson said coolly, "that the Captain doesn't waste my time, money, †and manpower by taking an unnecessary bedtime stroll topside...."
"You were in the Nose when I took her up. If you had a problem with it why didn't you tell me?"
"How the hell could I without you getting into a hissy fit?" Nelson said.
"Well, Admiral Nelson," Crane said coolly, "if you're that desperate to get me off the boat, I'll save you the trouble. I quit."
"You know damn well I wouldn't have let you drown, Lee," Nelson insisted, "I merely wanted to remind you that..."
"Save it. I know what
you wanted. You've enjoyed humiliating me for the last time. Mr. Morton?"
he clicked the mike," Command of the Seaview is yours; whatever command of
her you can get from Admiral Nelson, and his shadow, that is, " he added
and replaced the instrument in its cradle." I'll return to
"Don't be an ass," Nelson said, "you're acting like a spoiled child, Lee."
"That's Commander ass to you," Crane interrupted, "Like Admiral Starke, I too, have some courtesy due me."
With that Crane padded out, most of the Control Room crew with their mouths agape.
"I thought you of all people would be glad about it, Joe," Lee told his old friend on videophone again.
"About coming back to the Navy yes, of course I am, but...not like this Lee. †It'll look as if you're running away..."
"I've never run away from anything in my life!"
"I just... all right, I'm running."
"I know you're bruised and hurting from Nelson's words and actions, but couldn't you have waited until the mission was over? It'll be all over the Navy that Seaview's Skipper just couldn't take it anymore. You go through with this Lee, †and you can kiss your career goodbye."
"Lee?" a pajamaed Chip entered after a cursory knock, "Lee, what the devil..."
"Talk to you later Joe," Lee ended the transmission.
"Sorry about the short notice Chip, but," Crane removed the ever present chain from his neck, offering it to Chip, "Acknowledge receipt of failsafe key Mr. Morton."
"Lee, please," Morton complained, "I know things have been rough between you and Nelson †but..."
"Rough?" Lee almost snorted in derision. "It's †been damn near impossible. Do you accept the key or not?"
"I can't go on like this Chip. Seaview can't either. We'll tear her apart otherwise. Now, will you accept command or not?"
"Under protest," Morton took the chain, "Can't you try to work things out? It's all over the boat he's soused..."
"He was in perfect control of his wits moments ago. I have no choice. Not anymore."
"But †Seaview's your reason for existence. Everybody knows it! You'll never forgive yourself if you go through with it. Nelson'll take you back if you..."
"If I what? Give him and Starke permission to walk all over me?"
"If that's what it takes. Please Lee, don't leave us in the lurch like this."
"You've been with Seaview from her conception. High time you consummated the relationship and took command. I don't know why he never offered her to you in the first place."
"I've never wanted command!"
"I know, Chip, I know," Lee patted his shoulder gently, "but Nelson will be satisfied with you. So will the Navy. And most of all, so will Seaview."
Word of Crane's desertion had spread. It was a sleepless night for most. Especially as the crew caught glimpses of him walking the boat, touching, feeling her, almost as if† he were saying goodbye to a long time lover. His eyes were shadowed with dark circles, haunted. It was nearing 0400 before he was seen entering his cabin. And even later the light was glowing from under the door long into the next morning.
0745 came all too soon, as Kowalski, accompanied by half the crew, stopped by the ex- Captain's cabin to escort him to the Flying Sub. It †just wasn't real. It just wasn't real.. Ski knocked again, the first having brought no response.
"Problem, Ski?" Chief Sharkey eased his way through the crowd. Nelson might not like the Skipper anymore, but there was no way they were going to let him leave the boat without a proper farewell.
Sharkey gingerly turned the doorknob. As usual, it wasn't locked.
"Skipper?" the Chief approached the tightly curled up form under the blankets, only a glimpse of the wildly curling black hair visible. "Sir?" he tried again, shaking him gently.
"Holy smoke!" Sharkey gasped as the occupant with a very smaller shoulder than normal turned slightly, sound asleep.
"Mr. Morton...Captain Morton sir?Ē Ski clicked the mike, as the men peering in gasped in surprise, "we have a uh, situation. Captain's cabin."
A moment later, a duty steward raised his †own alarm and summoned Doc †to Nelson's cabin.
"But its just plain impossible!" Riley said over breakfast.
"I saw them myself," Sharkey said. "And Frank said Doc's already checked their DNA. The Admiral's around eleven or twelve, the Skipper's six, maybe younger. Thin as a rail. Real dark circles under his eyes...lot's of old scars. Some bruising... "
"So, are they adults in kid bodies," Riley asked, "or just kids again?"
"Who knows. I guess we won't until they wake up. It's like they're in a coma, but Doc says its just a really deep sleep."
"But if they got turned back into kids," Patterson said, thinking hard, " shouldn't Nelson should be a lot older? He's fifteen years older than the Skip isn't he? And if that's the case Crane ought to be unborn or..."
"Whatever, it's like wierdsville," Riley said.
"We're in the Bermuda Triangle, what do you expect? Even Ski hurt his arm falling off a step ladder a little while ago," Brady said.†
"Bermuda Triangle my ass," Sharkey said, " the boat's jinxed, just like she always is when we go off on a mission right next to the holidays."
The younger boy awoke, took one look at Jamison emerging from a curtained treatment area, and darted out of the bunk in sheer terror. But the corner of the hospital gown hanging well below his knees caught on the adjoining bunk frame. He fell, and as Jamison rushed over, he yelled, †"Don't cut me! Don't cut me!" bumping blindly into one obstacle after another as he tried to get away.
Nelson, awakened by the commotion, took in the unfamiliar surroundings, hopped out of his bunk, garbed in own oversized gown, and put himself in front of Lee, " Get behind me, kid!"
"For heaven's sake, what's wrong?" Jamison asked worried and confused.
"Doc,wait! Stop!!" Kowalski raced toward Jamison from behind the curtains, and spun him around," Look..."he poked at the †trails of blood stains on the white lab coat.
"Oh shit...thanks Ski," Doc turned back to the children, "Do you †know who we are? Either of you?"
"Should we?" Nelson asked.
"I was afraid of this...I'm Lt. Cmdr. Will Jamison. The Chief Medical Officer...the doctor here."
†Lee's eyes widened as he visibly shuddered at the word, and held on to the back of the older boy's sleeve.
"Please, there's no need to be frightened. I was just stitching up a wound...Kowalski here..."
"That's right," Ski showed off his arm.."See?"
"Okay," Nelson said, easily satisfied with the explanation, "So where are we?"
"How'd I get here?" Lee interrupted, peering from behind Nelson, his big frightened eyes reminding Kowalski of starving children in third world countries.
"This is the submarine Seaview and..." Kowalski began.
"Submarine? Don't listen to him," Lee tugged Nelson, "there's no such sub in the Navy. I know the names of 'em all."
Kowalski pulled his jumpsuit down to his waist, to free his other arm, and †pointed to the tattoo on his bicep, "This is her, †Seaview..."
"That's no boat," Lee emerged from behind Nelson, "leastwise not† a real one. You're not dressed like a sailor either," he added with a touch of bravado.
"Seaview's †not Navy in the strictest sense, " Ski said," We're reserve. A research submarine really and ..."
"Still, kid's right," Nelson interrupted, "Downright weird looking for a submarine."
"I asked you how I †got here," Crane demanded.
"We don't know Skip..." Ski answered instead, "uh, Lee," he corrected, not knowing what else to call him, though it seemed almost sacrosanct to be so familiar.
"Never mind that now, kid," Nelson pointed to †new faces gathering at the door," we got company."
"A moment," Doc took the newcomers aside and whispered something.
"You're kidding?" Starke hissed.
"Okay, what's going on?" Nelson strutted forward. "Who are you people and what do you want with us?"
"I'm Admiral Jiggs Starke. This is Lt. Cmdr. Morton, the XO, I mean Captain of..."
"He can't be the XO and Captain at the same time," Lee said. "Unless they... unless...."he gulped.
"Unless what kid?" Nelson asked.
"Unless they got rid of the Captain...locked him up or threw him overboard."
"For heaven's sake. We didn't toss the Captain overboard," Morton said firmly.
"Then where is he?" Crane asked.
"He...he fell ill...had to be flown home."
Good save, Ski thought.
"Did you reach Harriman's sister?" Starke asked Jamison.
"I don't have a sister."
"Harriman?" Lee turned," that's a real name?"
"Kinda' weird sounding."
"It's a family name....I knew someday I'd be kidnapped for ransom."
"Or something else..."Lee said under his breath.
"What's your name?"
"What's that mean?"
"Depends on who gets me..they change it a lot. It was John Doe when I was borned."
"John Doe?" Nelson snorted. "That's only for dead bodies in the city morgue."
"Well, †I'm sure as hell not dead!"
"How could your parents be so stupid to call you John with that last name?"
"I don't got no parents."
"Oh. Sorry kid. That an orphan name then?"
"Yeah, so what if it is?"
"I'm sure he didn't mean anything by it, " Morton softly laid a hand on Crane's shoulder.
"I'm not a baby!" Lee pulled himself away from the touch as if Morton had been a poisonous snake.
"Okay, okay, cheech," Harriman said, turning Crane to himself, †"cut the dude some slack. He was only trying to be nice, kidnapper or not. You got a real chip on your shoulder you know that, kid?"
"What? What's so funny?" Lee demanded of the adult's sudden smirks and chuckles.
"My first name's 'Chip'," Morton said, his eyes twinkling.
"And his hand was on your shoulder," Nelson couldn't help chortling.
"I guess it could be funny, " Lee said without humor. But gone was the terrified youngster, replaced by a totally defiant one, "So, how'd we get here and what do you grownups want ?"
"Uh..."Starke began then stopped, totally at a loss, and let Chip handle it.
"We †discovered you both asleep, here, aboard Seaview," Morton took over calmly, "but apparently you seem to have amnesia..."
"What's am-neezya?" Lee whispered to Nelson.
"They think we lost our memories..."
"Do you remember what happened?" Lee asked Harriman.
"Last thing I remember I was splashing in the gutter...what were you doing?"
"I was in the middle of dissecting a †fish."
"What's that mean?"
"It means I cut it up to see how it worked inside."
Crane moved away.
"It was already dead," Nelson explained.
Lee exhaled, relieved but disgusted.
"I'm interested in fish, okay?" Nelson returned his attention to the men, "you didn't answer his question either...what are you gonna' do with us?"
"Remains to be decided, " Morton said after a momentary hesitation.
"Yeah, sure," Lee bit his lip.
"Look, " Doc was bending down to Crane's level, but the boy ducked †behind Nelson again, " We don't know what happened. And we certainly won't hurt either of you. We just want to finish our mission, go home, and return you to yours."
Was it Ski's imagination, or did the young Crane look even more frightened?
"How's yours?" Nelson secured the re-holed belt around the borrowed shirt and turned up pants while the boys changed in the twin bunk guest cabin.
"I look stupid."
"Yeah, gotta' admit you
do," Nelson said at the sight of the younger lad, who, had been given Riley's
"So, how long've you been an orphan?" Nelson asked.
"None of your business."
"Well, exuuuse me!"
"I...I'm sorry Harry."
"Harriman!" the elder corrected," So, how'd they die, your folks?"
"I donít know if they are dead," he shrugged. "A junkyard dog found me when I was a couple of hours old....why do you think some of †the grown ups called me 'Skip' or 'Lee' then acted as if they wanted to take it back?"
"Your guess is as good as mine. Look, it's gonna feel awful weird calling you after a dead guy... how about I call you Lee or Skip like they did?"
"Skip's too much like a dog...so by process of elimination I christen you 'Lee'," Nelson bowed dramatically.
"Lee," Crane mulled it over.."Okay, Harriman. I kinda' like that."
"Here," Harriman handed him some thick socks. "Better than going barefoot."
"Everything's too big on this boat," Lee complained as he pulled up the oversized socks over his calves.
"I just hope the galley †is. Big and busy. I heard some of the guys talking about cookies," he rubbed his hands in anticipation.
"Cookies?" Lee asked warily.
"Yeah...you do know what cookies are, don't ya?"
"Of course I do, just...."
"You decent?" Chief Sharkey knocked on the door.
"You ready, kid? I mean Lee?" Nelson asked.
"Just so they don't laugh at me."
"If they do, they'll answer to these, " Nelson showed of his tightly clenched fists, then opened the door. The two †followed the CPO down the corridor past several curious crewmen who had to see for themselves the transformation of their senior officers.
"I've checked with every theorist I could find," Morton said in the private bull session, sitting down at his desk wearily. "A person simply can't 'youthen' not even with any kind of theoretical time travel. And if Pemm had been behind it he wouldn't have been able to resist telling us and gloating about it. "
"What if we can't figure out what happened and reverse† it," O'Brien asked, "are the Admiral and Captain going to have to grow up all over again?"
†"I don't see any other option. Pass the word quietly to the crew that we can't let the boys know who they really are. Not until we can think things through more clearly. As for their relatives, well, we may have no choice but †to let ††Mrs. Crane and Edith Nelson into it...but not yet. "
"Their ages are out of synch with each other," Doc Jamison added,"and..." he hesitated.
"And what?" Morton asked.
"And I'd like to know why Lee's so afraid of me. It's more than having been treated for abuse in his childhood, I'm convinced of it. "
"Excuse me sir," Sharkey knocked on the door, "the Skipper and Admiral, I mean er, 'the boys', are in the Wardroom, but there's a kind of a problem..."
"I told you, I don't want any," Lee said, "neither does he," he pushed Nelson's plate aside from the older boys' place.
"Trust me," Lee whispered in his ear. "Donít eat or drink anything..."
"We're not hungry," Nelson acquiesced sorrowfully.
"Is there something wrong with it?" Starke asked, from across the table,"looks fine to me."
"Here," Lee proffered it across the table, "You eat it, then."
"Well, I'm not sure if I should if †you don't..."
"See?" Lee said to Nelson, rising.
"What's going on here?" Morton asked from the doorway, entering with Sharkey.
"You can tell the big ape here that we're on to you kidnappers, you †and all your plans to poison and experiment on us or sell us to the highest bidder and pimp us off or ...."
"Now, you wait just a damn minute!" Morton grabbed the boy, aghast and angry. But as Lee winced from the touch, Chip released him immediately,
"Sorry...what could possess you to think such a thing? Well?"
Crane said nothing.
"I'm hungry, Lee," Nelson said.
"Well, if you die, don't come running to me! I'm going back to the cabin," Lee argued.
"Kinda hard to come running if I'm dead," Nelson scraped the food on Lee's plate onto his own, "If you're such a scardy cat maybe they got canned milk aboard, you know, the stuff they feed babies."
Lee responded by pulling Nelson's hair.
"That's enough," Morton ordered.
"Yeah, go away you stupid kid," Nelson shoved Lee backwards.
"As† a matter of fact, I think I just will," Nelson rose, just as Lee managed to knee him in the groin. Hard.
"Who's the baby now!" Lee shouted as Nelson was bent double, gasping. But his triumph didnít last as Nelson grabbed him in return, and punched him in the face and nose before the adults managed to separate them.
"Lemeee go!"Lee fumed, lifted up off the deck by Starke, legs kicking, blood dripping from the cut above his eyebrow and from his nose.
"Enough!" Morton ordered. "You have an argument? You can settle it other ways."
"Just make him stay outta' my way, or I won't be responsible," Nelson demanded.
"Now, both of you to sickbay."
"I don't need a doctor!"Lee griped, then as Starke took his arm, "and I can find my own way!"
"You'd be lost in a minute,"the Admiral explained.
"See, Harry? I told you. We're prisoners," Lee said, squirming under Starke's grip.
"Harriman!" Nelson demanded.
'Spaced out parents," Lee muttered.
"Yeah, well at least they didn't throw me away like yours did."
Starke's arms were too strong for Lee to do anything but wiggle squiggle and squirm in fury.
"I believe one of our guests needs to cool off," Morton said.
Nelson stuck out his tongue at Crane.
"I didn't necessarily mean him."
Lee glowered as his minor cuts and bruises were attended to, flinching from the touch of Jamison more than the iodine. While Doc was grateful for the menacing presence of Starke, he †would rather have had a chance to speak to the boy privately. It didn't help matters that Nelson kept making faces and rude gestures toward Lee while the Corpsman tended to him.
"All done," Jamison said," how about your patient, Frank?"
"Riley will take you to the Observation Nose, Lee," Doc said, "he's just outside. Harriman, Mr. Morton wants to talk with you in your cabin. "
Doc sighed after the boys had vanished. "I wish I knew just 'when' they are right now. It would †help to know just what I'm dealing with."
"What about Lt. Cmdr. Jackson?" Frank asked, " Fellow spooks are joined at the hip, remember. As for Nelson, well, he was fighting mad that he missed his 12th birthday party."
"Well?"Morton asked Harriman in the boy's cabin.
"You must outweigh the child by fifteen or twenty pounds and..."
"He knee'ed me in the nuts!! And his name's Lee. I christened him."
"I'm not excusing him, but you goaded him on. You didn't have to retaliate quite so hard."
"Hard? I barely touched him! Kid's gotta be made of Jell-O."
"You're hardly a child any longer. But he is. You're smart enough to know not to hit a six year old, Harriman. Your school records are..."
"You got my school records?" Nelson interrupted.
"We're as confused about your being here as you are. Now," he continued, "I expect you to behave while you're aboard."
"Well, just how long's that gonna' be?"
"It depends...we're in the middle of a shipwreck expedition. As for now, I want you to join Lee in the Observation Nose and apologize."
"That's not fair!"
"Make the effort."
"Not unless he apologizes first."
"Very well, I can't force you. But can I trust you to keep your hands off him?"
"Okay, okay. I won't kill the crybaby.Cheesh."
"Excuse me Lt. O'Brien," Riley was saying as he entered the Control Room with Lee, "Mr. Morton said for him to go to the Nose. Don't worry. †He looks worse than he is," he added to the officer at the periscope.
"Hello there Skip..uh...Lee. Would you care to take a look?" O'Brien tapped the periscope.
"No kidding?" Crane hopped up and didn't hesitate to turn the instrument up and down and around, before he spotted the closed pleated doors, "What's behind that?"
"The Observation Nose," O'Brien nodded and Riley pressed the button, parting them as Lee joined him.
"Wow..." he gaped at the vista of blue, bubbles, and marine life from the windows, †then he turned his attention to the brass plaque. "What's that's say?" he asked the crewman.
"This ship dedicated to the development of undersea resources for the future use of man."
"He can't understand," Harriman said coming down the spiral ladder with Morton.
"Do to," Lee said.
"Okay, tell me...what's 'dedicated' mean?"
"I don't know..."
"And 'development', and 'resources', and..."
"Leave me alone," Lee pouted, then studied it some more," I can read the numbers though..." In moments, his brows furrowed, and widened. †"I'm...me and Harry. We're in the future aren't we?" he asked Riley. " Must've been that fortune teller! She said I'd be happy in the future. But I never thought †she'd actually be able to send me there. †We're safe Harry! We're in the future!"
"Harriman! †Oh kid, maybe I did hit you too hard...," Nelson took Lee aside," They got my school records. We're here for ransom, all right."
"No, no, Harry. I told you, we're in the future. Besides, even if they could, I'm not worth anything."
"Then you must be †here as a mistake, that's all. "
"Harry, can't †we really be in the future?"
Damn, the kid's eyes reminded him of ...something...maybe that puppy he'd tried to talk his folks into. He almost touched one of the bruises on Lee's cheek, "Sorry I hit you that hard. You deserved it, squirt, but,never mind. You wouldn't understand. You're just a kid.."
"I told you I'm not a baby!" Lee shouted then, a little shamefaced, †"What's a squirt?"
"An irritating kid like you. So, why do you want to be in the future so badly? I'll grant you this is some really sophisticated tub, but..."
"Gentlemen," Morton approached, having observed from a distance, "If you're convinced we're not out to poison you, I'll have something brought forward to eat," nodding to Riley to stand fast.
"He left one of em' as a guard," Nelson whispered, "They want to drug us...just like you first thought..."
"But I was wrong! And I'm hungry!"
"So am I!"
"Look, Har... Harriman," Lee corrected himself, whispering," I'll eat, and if I donít get sick and die you'll know I'm right. If I do, or if I act weird, you'll know you're right."
"No. I'll eat. At least you'll be safe if..."
"It was my idea."
"Iím older. I'll be the guinea pig!"
"I donít see what difference that makes. What's a guinea pig?"he added after a moment.
Nelson fought the impulse to pull his thick red hair out, "You ignorant or just stupid?"
"I'm not stupid!"
"Okay, you're intellectually
challenged, never mind what it means. I'll
test the food."
"It was my idea," Lee whined, "we musta' stopped whispering..."
"Like du-uh. Now you be a good kid and watch me for any signs of distress," Nelson said as the interrupted meal was laid out by the arriving galley crew."That means if I start getting sick," he explained, "okay?"
"Harryyyy...please??? 'Sides, if you're right, and we're not in the future, I don't got anything to go back for...."
"I don't know kid..."
"And I'm soooo hungry."
"All right, all right! Just stop with the eyes."
"Never mind, "Nelson said firmly, pushing Lee into one of the chairs and sat opposite, " I'll observe. But you tell me the second you feel sick, okay?"
"Okay," Lee flashed a smile and began to plough into the food.
"And chew with your mouth closed."
"Because it's not polite to spray crumbs out of your mouth all over the place, including others when you're talking."
"A gypsy?" Malone laughed, "The skip thinks a gypsy put him in the future?"
"Yeah," Riley said, making a move on the checker board in the crew's quarters, "and he doesn't want to go back to the past!"
"I'm not sure that future thing is better than him being scared of us," Ski pondered, "what'll happen if they find out the truth?"
"Mr. Morton's still hoping it won't come to that," Riley said, "and when I left the Nose, Nelson was watching the Skip like a specimen he expected to go bottom up..."
"This is turning into one weird cruise," Ski rose. "I have the watch. See you guys for that card game later?"
"I suppose if you were gonna' die you would have by now, I guess," Harriman said, as Lee downed the extra treat Cookie hadn't been able to resist adding for the boys, "Can I have some ice cream too, uh..."
"Cookie,"Lee explained, "his name's Cookie, remember?" as the man handed Nelson a serving. "You know, for somebody who's already skipped a lot of grades in school, you got a baaaad memory."
Nelson simply stuck out his ice cream coated tongue.
"You look like a frog," Lee laughed appreciating the slimy shade of pistachio green, "Betcha can't catch a fly as good as a real one!" he jumped up and ran around the table 'croaking', pretending catch flies with his tongue. Then, in a squeaky voice intermixed with buzzing, "help me! Help me!" he collapsed †into a fit of giggles. He hiked himself up on the edge of the table, his legs dangling, swinging back and forth. "I saw a guy get all changed into a fly on TV once in one of the places they sent me to. I snuck downstairs to watch sometimes. Boy did that ever make 'em mad...I wasn't there very long."
"I know that movie. Teleportation's actually feasible, theoretically.
"Do you have to use such big words, Harry?"
"Feasible and the-o-ret-ically...and the name's Harriman. What I mean is that movie had stuff in it that scientists actually think can work, once they iron out all the tech stuff."
"No kidding. Nobody's done it yet though... uh, Cookie? Can I have some cookies? How about you, squirt, want any more?"
Lee took some from the proffered tray, filled his mouth with them and began to munch, "So what grade are you in? " he sprayed crumbs,"Sorry."
"Not sure... I probably already graduated high school and they haven't had a chance to tell me yet, being kidnapped and all..."
"I told you, we're not kidnapped. We're..."
"'In the future', yeah yeah, okay, maybe..."
"So what are you going to be when you grow up?" Lee asked.
"I'm going to †be a scientist. You?"
"I was going to be a submarine captain, I'm not so sure now. This is nothing like what I expected, even if she does got great windows," Lee patted them, then he walked the few steps to the sideboard and picked up the heavy carafe.
"I'm sorry, Skip, uh, Johnny...," Cookie †began, waylaying him.
"The name's Lee," Nelson corrected. "I christened him. You should all know that by now."
"Not his fault if he was stuck in the galley when you told everybody else," Lee offered.
"Anyway, "Cookie continued, "That's coffee. It's not for kids."
"Why?" Lee ignored the man, and poured out some into †a mug. The carafe was heavy and he had to use both hands.
"Coffee?" Starke approached from the Control Room with Morton.
"I'm sorry sir,"Cookie said, flustered, "he..."
"Harriman?" Morton asked.
"Don't look at me. It was his idea."
"Lee!" both boys said at the same, firmly.
"Coffee is not for children."
"Why?"Lee asked, exasperated.
"Yeah, why?" Nelson parroted, sarcastic.
"It's not good for you."
"It's not good for grown ups either,"Harriman explained to Lee, "but they think it makes them sharper, but it's addictive...becomes a bad habit. And well, too much caffeine, that's the bad chemical in it...what?"
"Chemical?" Lee asked, his eyes suddenly wary.
"Yeah, all food's made up of chemicals one way or another," Nelson said, "Just too much of this stuff and† you might get real hyper...jumpy and can't sleep."
"Oh," Lee said hurriedly, lowering his eyes, taking a sip and frowning over the bitter brew. Starke thought that was the end of it but Crane looked up and took a long, defiant, exaggerated slurp.
"Put that down!"Starke ordered.
"How you gonna make me?"
"Uh, Lee, maybe..." Harriman began.
"Give me that, you bad bad boy!"Starke pulled on the mug making it slosh out over the rim and onto Crane's hand.
"Ow!"Lee exclaimed, the mug crashing on the deck into smithereens, splattering the deck. "Don't hit me! Don't hit me!" he ducked behind Nelson.
"Nobody's going to hit you, you stupid boy," Starke said.
"Kowalski, " Morton ordered the crewman from his station in the Control Room. Without hesitation, the rating pulled out the first aid kit from under the plot table.
"Cookie, clean that spill up," Starke was ordering.
"You made me drop it, " Lee emerged† from behind Nelson, "you clean it up!"
"Don't you speak to me like that boy! What are you waiting for man?"he spouted to Cookie.
"Is that why you got rid of your Captain, cause he wouldn't let you talk to his crew like that?"
"Nobody got rid of the Captain and I don't see any pips on your collar young man..."
"Pips?" Nelson asked.
"Rank thingies," Lee said. "See? On their collars," he pointed around.. "it's †how they can tell each other apart. Except maybe on Seaview. I donít know what you are, Cookie, or the guys in the jumpsuits,"Lee crunched down beside Cookie to help clean up the mess, "but I bet you'd all make better Admirals than the big ape. Hey!"Lee suddenly found his hand grabbed and examined by Kowalski.
"Humor us," Morton ordered and Ski managed to smear some ointment on the burn." Don't you have something to say to Admiral Starke, Lee?"Morton continued.
"It was †his fault!"
"I meant for you to apologize about the 'big ape' business."
"No," Lee said firmly.
Morton raised an eyebrow.
"No, sir," Lee added.
"Okay okay...but only cause you're the XO. I'm sorry I called you an ape, Admiral Starke, even if you are one. There,"he turned to Morton, glaring, "satisfied, Skipper?"
"You obnoxious little brat!"Starke began," a stiff spanking is what what you need!"
"Watch it buster, "Nelson placed himself between Starke and Crane, "Don't get all unhinged. He's just a kid and he's not a member of your crew."
"He still needs to be taught a lesson...ill mannered ruffian..."
"I donít care what he is. You want a whipping boy? I'll be your man."
"What's a whipping boy?" Lee whispered to Ski.
"Somebody who takes the punishment for someone else," the crewman answered back.
"No kdding?"Lee asked," you'd do that for me, Harry?"
"Harriman! And yeah, I guess so. But don't read anything into it kid. Well, Admiral Starke?What do you want to use, the belt or the cat o nine tails?"
"I give up!"Starke said, "Morton, any more misbehavior by these two and †I'll hold you personally responsible!" he huffed up the spirals as Crane looked at Nelson with sheer adoration.
Embarrassed, disturbed by the juvenile worship, Nelson took Lee aside, "I still don't think I like you. It's just my duty as a fellow kid to protect you. Besides, it was only metaphorical....meta...it means, it was just an old phrase..there haven't been whipping boys for over a century."
"Kowalski?" Morton inquired.
"He's fine sir, really. Shouldn't even blister."
"Very well, return to your post."
"Kowalski?"Lee waylaid him. "Uh, I....thanks."
"Sure think Skip..er...kid."
For the next half hour or so, the boys watched the ever changing view from the windows and occasionally wandered around the Control Room, asking questions. It was a relief for the crew when Doc brought the boys some paper and colored pencils to keep them occupied.
The hours had passed quickly and after a few games of tic tact toe with the officers in the Wardroom after supper, it was all too soon for the boys to go to bed. Although they seemed to be getting along, Morton thought it best to arrange separate cabins, which was apparently agreeable to both.†
However, by the time Nelson drifted off to sleep he found himself awakened by knees and elbows crawling over him to scrunch down beside him.
"Lee?† What are you doing here?"
"Tell me a story?"
"Tell you a story?" Nelson asked incredulous, then "You, uh, †afraid of being all alone in the dark, that it?"
"No!" Lee said defiantly, then contrite,"maybe... being new here and all," he hastened to explain.
"Oh, yeah...well I don't know any stories."
"But you have a mother!"Lee exclaimed, surprised.
"Didn't she tell you stories? Isn't that what mothers do?"
"Well, yeah, I guess she did, but they were fairy tales. Sissy stuff. Fairy Princesses and the like. †Ick."
"Yeah. Ick," Lee parroted him, though he didn't sound quite truthful, "you're smart...make one up for me. "
"Look kid..." Nelson began to say, but as the golden green eyes looked up at him...yeah..it was that puppy all right... he gave in,"Okay, okay...well, there was this one story I remember. It's about a crazy captain, called Nemo, he went around torpedoing innocent ships and one time he took the survivors aboard and.. what?
"But Captain's aren't supposed to fire on anyone unless they're attacked or it's wartime!"
"It's †kind of complicated...anyway he showed them all the wonders of the sea...it was a big thing back then...they didn't even have light bulbs or electricity....do you know what that is?"
"Of course I do."
"Anyway, his prisoners were pretty amazed. All I remember is that is that the sub finally sank with the Captain aboard and the prisoners escaped. Oh yeah, there was a giant octopus too."
"I don't like that story, Harry."
"That's okay. Maybe it would have been better if you'd used once upon a time..."
A knock on the door interrupted and Morton entered,"Lee's not in his cabin and I..."
"He's here. He's afraid of the dark."
"I just didnít want to be alone when I could have a friend, that's all!"
"I told you, I'm not your friend. Don't have a conniption."
"Can I stay here anyway?"
"Only if you use the top bunk, and you don't snore. One snore and you're out. Okay?"
"Okay," Lee crawled over Nelson and began vainly to try to reach the top bunk from the widely spaced footholds.
"Oh good grief," Nelson swung his legs out and pulled the boy back onto the lower bunk as he clambered to the top.† "Satisfied?"
"Well, goodnight boys," Morton almost laughed and departed.
The youths awoke to find Seaview hovering over a trail †of indistinquishable debris while the flying sub was being prepped below.
"That's a treasure ship?" Nelson snorted to himself from the Observation Nose.
"We never said it was," O'Brien said after making a notation by the plot table.
Lee lay down on the deck and peered into the open hatch, as men busied themselves below. Still, it was hard to get a good view of anything from that angle.
"Sure nothing left of it," Nelson mused of the debris among the boulders.
"Her...ships are hers," Lee got up and corrected him.
"Calling a vessel a feminine gender is a ridiculous tradition. Ships are inanimate objects...er...non living man made creations, even Seaview. Not boys, not girls."
"Boat, Seaview's a boat. All subs are boats, not ships and...."
"Well I don't see any titties on any of your precious submarines or ships either. You, er, know what a titty is don't you?"
"Duh! Of course I know!"
"Uh huh. Sure, kid, sure..."
Harriman raised an eyebrow.
"I seen boobies before. So there. "
"Anyway," Nelson said, not believing his tall tale one iota, "like I said, ships are †simply 'it's' including Seaview."
"No no no, Harry!" Lee grabbed his shirt sleeve, †"it's are the bad guys...Never ever call one of ours an 'it'. It's bad luck! Tell Seaview you're sorry!"
"What? You tell her if you're so superstitious."
"But you're the one who insulted her!...what's super-stitches?"
"Oh good grief."
"Will you shut up about it if I do?"Nelson said, exasperated.
Lee nodded in the affirmative. Nelson reached out toward the window and waved his hand, "Sorry. You happy now Lee?"
"Say it like you meannn it," Lee whined.
"You've got to be kidding! Kid, it's a boat, not your mother."
"Say it!" Lee yelled.
"Cheech! Uh, look,er, Miss Seaview, I'm sorry if I insulted you. That good enough Lee?"
"Even I know you don't mean it," Lee pouted, "If we run into bad luck it'll be all- your- fault!" he glowered, finally taking his seat again at the big table littered with drawings. His, the childish drawings common to his age and Nelson's more sophisticated and scientific renderings of the sea life he'd seen through the windows, and some of the instruments he'd observed in the Control Room.
"You're crazy, you know that kid?"Harriman returned to his seat at the table.
†Lee deliberately snubbed him by moving a space away,"For somebody who's supposed to be smart, you sure don't know anything."
Nelson grabbed one of Lee's pictures and tore it in half.
"Boys, settle down," O'Brien ordered.
"Why can't we...why can't I," Lee corrected, casting a mean look at Harry, " go along with the dive team, Mr. Obrien? I won't be in the way, I promise."
"Because we don't have the time or manpower to babysit you on a joy ride, "Starke said †from the spiral ladder then joined O'Brien at the plot table. Looking back toward the officers, the little boy put his thumbs in his ears, waggled his fingers,stuck out his tongue then thumbed his nose at the admiral's back.
"What's so funny..."Starke asked the snickering crewmen. "Lee?"he turned.
But Lee merely looked up at him, the image of angelic innocence.
"Well, I know you boys did something!"
"Who, me?" Lee gave him a look of total shock, his hands on his heart.
"Harriman? "Starke demanded.
"Don't look at me!Lee's the one who thumbed his nose at you."
"He what?" Starke was livid, stomped after Crane, bent him over, and began to paddle him.
"Leave me alone you big bully!"Lee yelled, kicking out in vain.
"That's enough, Sir,"O'Brien placed his hand on Starke's arm.
"He thumbed his nose at me!"
"Well, er...I'm sure he's learned his lesson now."
"He'd better have," Starke released his hold and returned to the charts.
"I wouldn't have told on you,no matter what," Lee fumed at Harriman while rubbing his sore behind.
"Oh, grow up!"
"That's enough," O'Brien turned, "You were friends last night, weren't you?"
"I never said I was his friend. Babysitter more like," Nelson said.
Lee furrowed his brows, picking up one of Harry's drawings. It was a fine drawing, of one of Seaview's consoles and Nelson was very proud of it. "Harrrryyy~" Lee sang dangerously, and tore it in half. †Piece †by ragged piece he continued to tear it to smithereens as he danced around the Nose.
"Stop it you little twit!"Nelson raced after him, "I spent hours on that!"
"Make me!"Lee faced him defiantly.
Nelson grabbed for him, and was about to strike, but a cough from O'Brien changed his mind, " Just leave me alone. They should have let you die in that junkyard,you know that?" he hiked up the ladder and out of sight.
The silence in the Control Room was deafening. It was impossible not to see the pain behind Lee's eyes. The normal golden green had morphed into the† more dangerous greenish hue that all hands religiously tried to avoid from Captain Crane. The little boy grabbed both pieces of his own torn picture, and with all the dignity he could muster, headed aft through the Control Room and out of sight.
"Oh man," Chief Sharkey groaned after he'd heard what happened. He could hardly touch his lunch. "First a spanking from Starke, then that? I don't understand it. How could Nelson be so heartless?"
"He's a kid too remember," Patterson said.
"You're excusing it?"Ski asked, mopping his lips.
"Of course not. But cut him some slack. We were all 12 once. Having a little kid follow you around all day, constantly† interrupt what you're doing, and frankly being a pain in your butt, well, Nelson was bound to snap."
" I had to check out some wiring in officer's country and...well..I saw the Skip. He was hitting the bunk frame over and over. Like he was possessed. Damn near broke my heart to hear him whimper like that."
"Did you talk to him?"Sharkey asked.
"No...Nelson was going to his own cabin with a bag of potato chips. Saw Lee too. It was like he was actually gloating."
"Er, sir?" Chief Sharkey approached Morton in the Control Room.
"What's the problem, Chief?"
"Well....maybe you oughta' talk to the boys sir."
"Ah yes. O'Brien told me about the altercation..."
"Captain Morton has better things to do than to be their nanny!"Starke said.
Morton was furrowing his brows all the while, "Perhaps I should have a talk with them. We can spare the time Admiral, †O'Brien you have the conn."
"Yeah?"Nelson's voice answered the knock at his door.
"Where's Lee?" Morton entered. "He's not in his cabin."
"How should I know?"
"Chief?" Morton picked up the mike, "See where Lee's gone. When you find him tell him I want to see him."
Morton leaned against the bunk and folded his arms. "What happened between you two? You seemed to get along last night."
"He tore up my best picture!"
"You tore his up his first."
"And I've told him over and over to call me Harriman! He calls me Harry anyway! He won't leave me alone! Follows me everywhere! I can't even breathe without him pestering me!"
"I think you're exaggerating but what if† I speak to him, ask him to give you some 'space'. Will you apologize to him?"
"What about him to me?"
"All right. He apologizes too."
"And he quits yakking about all that Navy stuff, little know it all."
"I can't ask him not to like the Navy. But I can ask him not to pester you about it. Fair enough?"
"You'll try to get along with him again?"
"Admiral, we'll have to delay the launch...what?"Morton stopped in his tracks, seeing the trail of the flying sub through he windows.
" I ordered the launch, Morton. I am getting a bit tired of our work being interrupted by the whims of children. "
"You had no right sir."
"I have every right as senior officer aboard."
'You're here as a guest sir, and I believe it's been a mistake all along to continue the mission while Lee and the Admiral are not themselves, especially as Lee is missing."
"Yes, missing. The Chief can't find him, and we have two search parties looking. He may have fallen or is lying unconscious or lost."
"Oh relax man, just because Crane doesn't answer doesnít mean he's lost or hurt someplace. He'll come out of hiding as soon as he's hungry enough. Harry, Admiral Nelson wanted to check this shipwreck out more than anything he'd done for a long time. I don't intend to postpone it because Crane is having a tantrum."
"He's only 6 sir."
"There's' something else
he is, sir,"
"He's aboard the flying sub. They just contacted us to say he spilled out of the supply cupboard under the bunk when they banked behind those larger rock ridges."
"Pipe them through!" Starke ordered.
"Along with a video feed, "Morton ordered.
"But whyyy?" Lee was complaining as the monitor came to life.The boy was apparently in an argument with Patterson and Riley as they donned diving gear.
"'Cause you donít know how to dive, for one thing,"Pat was saying.
"All you do is shove that hose in your mouth and breathe."
"There's more to it than that. And what about...what about sharks?"
"We got an incoming message from Seaview," Riley said and turned on their viewer of inside Seaview.
"Didn't that spanking teach you anything, boy?" Starke shouted.
"I only† wanted to look," Lee added,"Mr...Captain Morton? I'm here already anyway...Pleeeasse?"
Damn, he looked like he was pleading for the last cookie on earth or one from his mother's frequent 'care' packages. "Oh very well."
"I'll take full responsibility. Now you listen to me Lee, I don't want you to touch anything, or do anything unless you're told. Understood?"
"I'll be good."
Harriman watched from the Observation Nose as the flying sub almost dissapeared from sight in the murkey water, maneuvering around the boulders and debris that Seaview couldn't navigate safely, until she setttled to release the divers to retrieve some artifacts. Frankly Nelson †found it all a bit boring. All that was really identifiable of the ship was the ship's bell. Not a treasure chest in sight.
"Hey!"Nelson pointed, squinting until Morton increased the view from the Nose cameras onto the monitors.
Lee, scuba tank dwarfing him,
was paddling away from the flying sub in the opposite direction from the divers.
Soon †he was
hidden from view form some of the boulders. Warned by Seaview, the divers
headed after him. The next ten minutes were filled with curses, mutterings and
finally a "You stupid kid!" from Patterson when they found him and
dragged him back to the Flying Sub.
Almost as soon as the flying sub docked, the hatch wheel turned and Lee was practically pushed out by the men below.
Starke loomed over the dripping boy."Do you have any idea the danger you could have placed yourself and the dive team in? Having to go look after you as well as themselves? Well, do you? Go to your cabin and stay there. Kowalski, no detours.Then stand guard."
Lee looked as if he'd been struck, and shook off Ski's arm as the rating stuck to his side and they headed aft.
For the rest of the day and the next, Lee was persona non grata with just about everyone aboard. He was allowed to visit the Nose for one hour at a time due to Doc's pleading. But the men were still whispering behind his back and casting †him sour glances. If it was unerving to Lee, it was equally unerving to them when they caught his reflection in the window. It was a brooding look,† far worse than any he'd had as an adult. He didn't attempt to speak to Nelson and Harriman certainly hadn't spoken to him all this time. In fact, Nelson had even locked his door and slept by himself last night to avoid him. After about ten minutes today, Lee asked to go back to his room. Starke ordered lunch brought to the Nose for himself, the boy, and Morton. Nothing grand, but the sandwiches were consumed with relish.
"What is it?"
"I think you'd better
see this, "
"A shark?"Morton gasped, "Lee's swimming right toward it!"
Granted, it was a young shark, but shark it was and Lee was whacking it in the nose with a wrench. It wasn't an easy task with one arm as his outsized regulator kept falling out of his mouth and he needed the other to help hold it in. During the mele, Lee lost his grip on the wrench and it fell from his hand,† but the nosebleed had apparently stunned the shark enough to cause it to swim away.
A few kicks and Lee was out of sight of the port camera. The starboard camera only showed the dive team alerted to his presence and headed toward him at full steam...
No one spoke for a moment.
"Oh god...it's my fault,all my fault," Nelson dashed out.
"But you said..." Lee was already arguing with Harriman when the men reached the little boy's cabin.
"Cheech, kid, I only told you what the journals said about hitting a shark on the nose to make it go away. I didn't mean for you to go catch one to test it out!"
"I thought it was going to eat Pat and Riley! I had to save them!"
"You're six years old!" Starke panted from the doorway.
"What's that got to do with anything?"Lee looked up with his innocent eyes.
For the first time in his life Jiggs Starke was speechless.
"You sure have mighty big balls for such a pipsqueek," Nelson said.
Lee didn't pretend to misunderstand and grinned.
"Most sharks leave divers alone," Starke found his voice.
"It looked awful hungry."
"Why didn't you say anything about it to us?"Morton asked.
"You would have thought I was just making it up."
"I think we can consider Lee's punishment terminated, gentlemen. Lee, I'm sorry I didn't ask you why you went out."
"He still disobeyed your orders," Starke said.
"Yes, but he thought was saving the dive team's lives. I don't know about you, sir, but I'm proud of him. Damn proud."
When Starke retired for the night, he happened to pass by Lee's cabin, not expecting to see the door adjar and the light on. This child was more exasperating than the man! Hadn't anyone explained to him about bedtime? †About to confront him, he halted upon entering. Harriman was propped up against some extra pillows on the bunk.The fact that he was still reading Nelson's antique 'Sea Myths' aloud while the younger child had fallen asleep against his shoulder mystified Starke. †
"I think you can put that story to rest now," Starke entered, "Get to bed Harriman."
"Yeah, yeah, okay, keep your pants on," Nelson gently rolled Lee onto his side, and tucked him in. "Night Squirt," he whispered.
"I thought you liked your own cabin," Starke queried as Nelson began to climb up to the top rack.
"I think I'll bunk here tonight."
"Very well," Starke frowned, displeased that Crane apparenlty had too much influence over Harriman even now.
"Well, judging from the calcified tendrils and encrustations," Nelson was saying lingering over breakfast in the Nose, "that bell's only about a hundred years old...do you know what those words mean?"
"No, but I'm sure you'll tell me," Lee sighed.
"Anyway, if we can see what's on the coins, there were only† few, we can figure out what country it's from and when it sank."
"Okay okay, when she sank. And who did it. The
"Of course I do," Lee etched one on one of the view ports. "See? A real one makes a pretty noise when you hit it with a little metal stick..."
"How would you know about a musical instrument?"
"The gypsy had one. She tingled it before she read my palm."
"Well, this triangle is still a real mystery and...""
"What about mermaids? Do they live there too?"
"'Cause I think I just saw one."
If the men in the Control Room had been listening intently before they were deathly silent now. Morton's ears had perked up and he had to stop himself from groaning, remembering† the Captain's special experience. Quicky checking sonar, he was relieved that there were no unusual blips.
"Mermaids?" Starke shook his head after the boys headed up the spiral ladder, "Perhaps he needs psychiatric help."
"You might want to keep this to yourself when you get back to ComSubPac, "Morton pulled out a log from a locked drawer in the plot table. "Caused us a great deal of trouble as you can see,"Morton continued as Starke read the report and studied the photos, "Nelson didn't believe Lee at first either, but..."
"I see...and if the young Lee thinks he saw one...well, just don't let him go out and catch one this time....Morton...we really have to decide what to do with the them..."
"I know sir. I was just
hoping to delay it some...and
Crane hadn't seemed all that interested to inspect the bell in the lab, but it was better than just sitting around drawing pictures.
"I've been studying this fish..."
"And that's an ultraviolet microscope over there..."
"Harry..."Lee tugged at Nelson's sleeve.
"This seawater has high ratio of..."
"I don't like it here..." †
"Huh? How can you not like it. I've been in here lots of times. It's great and....oh," he noticed the half dissected fish he'd forgotten to dispose of."You eat fish sometimes don't you? What's the difference if it gets cut up for science...I thought we talked about this."
"I don't feel so good..."
The younger boy had gone pale, and was stumbling backwards toward the doorway, mutely shaking his head from side to side. But he had the misfortune to bump smack into Starke.
"Whoa there, young man," the Admiral said amicably enough,grabbing his arm "Watch what you're doing."
"Don't touch me!" Lee surprised him by yelling.
"Sorry sir," Nelson said, "he's a little upset about the dissected fish..."
"That's no reason for him to..."
"Leave me alone!" Crane screamed, in tears, breaking away.
"Damned peculiar..."Starke muttered as Nelson ran after him.
"He was scared shitless, "Starke told Morton in the Control Room."Hardly something to go ballistic over!"
"Begging your pardon, sir, †but I suggest you leave it alone."
"Absolutley not. †I'm going to find out why he's behaving like a hero one moment and a crybaby the next!"
"What was that all about?" Nelson entered Lee's cabin.
"Leave me alone Harry," Lee said without looking up from the edge of his bunk.
"Harriman..it was just a fish, kid..."Nelson put a hand on his shoulder.
"It wasn't the fish... leggo of me!"
"Not till you tell me what the problem is."
"I was wrong about the future Harry," Lee said coldly, looking up,"I was so wrong..."he whispered.
"Well, you're †not helping," Starke brusquely interupted at the doorway."What's wrong, boy? I asked you a question, mister."
"Leave me alone! Make him leave me alone, Harry!"
"You can tell me Lee, just ignore the big ape."
"Now, see here Harriman!"Starke sputtered.
"Don't you yell at him!" Lee got up and pushed the Admiral with both hands, "I'm the one who called you that first, not him!"
Nelson pulled Lee's hands away from Starke. "He didnít mean anything by it, Admiral Starke."
"He most certainly did. This behavior is totally unacceptable. "
"Does everyone on this boat have to use big words?" Lee asked, "I just want to be alone, okay?"
"You heard him Admiral," Morton intervened, having quickly joined the senior officer, "give him some space..."
"I don't take orders from children!"
"I'm still Acting Captain Admiral. This is my decision.† Leave him alone. You too Harriman."
"Harry can stay," Lee sighed and returned to the bunk. Morton nodded and escorted Starke into the corridor and closed the door.
Nelson sat down beside him.
"If only..."Lee began but suddenly quieted.
"If only what, Lee?" Nelson asked gently.
"I...look, why don't you come home with me for a while? Seaview's got her stuff and we'll be home soon."
"For real Harry?"
"Yeah, why not?"
"But your Mom and Dad...they'll be old. They won't want me anyway. Nobody wants me," he whispered, "Not unless they want to..."he clammed up.
"Except for what Lee?"
"If it wasn't the fish, what was it? I didn't see anything spooky."
"There was other stuff in there too, Harry.... "
Ski was filtering some water for the aquariums in the lab's storage room when the boy's entered the main area.
"I donít see anything very threatening," Nelson was saying.
"Over there," Lee pointed.
Harriman walked to† the† tray of ordinary items, "Fish food, Algea killer..."
"No, no, no Harry...not those... those," he backed away from the metal prongs.
"Electrodes? They're used to measure everything from salinity to...."
"They hurt Harry, really bad."
"What? Somebody used something like these on you?"
Lee looked furtive, afraid.
"Who, Lee, who hurt you?"
"That his real name?"
"I don't know. That's what he called himself,"Lee could barely be heard now," when he and his friends...."his voice literally cracked.
"When they what Lee?" Nelson asked quietly, "what did they do to you?"
"Please Harry, I don't want to talk about it," Lee said then began to panic,"it was worse than than the other stuff they did at the ranch..."
"Please don't make me talk about it, please don't make me talk about it!" Lee whimpered.
"Okay squirt. Okay," Nelson knelt down, "calm down. It's okay. Everything will be okay..." he muttered as Lee's eyes began to water. Nelson could tell he was trying very hard not to cry. But it was a loosing battle.
Harriman had never been in a situation like this before. Not really sure what to do, he pulled the boy into his arms, letting Lee sob against his chest.
After a few minutes, Lee, eyes red, nose running, looked up and said "You won't tell on me? Promise you won't tell on me?" he whimpered. "It'll hurt worse if they know I told. I don't want to go back Harry! I don't want to go back!"
"Nobody's going to send you back, wherever that is. I won't let them. Besides,† I thought we agreed we're in the future. This Dr. Pain and his pals might all be dead by now. But if they're not, I promise you, whoever these creeps are, they're †never going to hurt you again. You have Harriman Nelson's word on that. Now, blow your nose."
Lee did so, on his sleeve.
Nelson was tempted to correct the boy's manners but this was not the time or place.
"You won't tell anyone that I cried?"Lee pleaded.
"Of course not...now, †how about some cookies? They always make me feel better when I'm upset."
"Okay," Lee sniffed as Harriman took his hand, determined to find out more when Lee was feeling better.
Kowalski was torn. If he told Doc, the CMO might be able to find out something about the Skipper's past. Something important whether he had to live his life over again or if somehow they got Crane and Nelson back to being themselves. But, the Skip had told Nelson in confidence, sort of...wouldn't Ski be in effect breaking that confidence? Still...there wasn't a choice. When he was done here, he'd tell Morton and Doc what he'd heard.
Morton had already ordered the Institute to prepare Edith Nelson and Mrs Crane for some 'disturbing' news and arranged flights for them to Washington, where he had also arranged a meeting with the SecNav for Seaview's† 'unusual' situation. Right now the boys were volunteering to help with some minor chores that Morton had decided couldn't get them into any trouble. That is, Lee was helping. †The last Chip had seen, Nelson was sitting on the ladder leading into compartment A-5, a small almost inaccessible area, and was taunting the piint sized greese monkey who was cleaning the deck with a mop. Lee had happily bantered back that if Nelson studied any more fish, he'd turn into one. Harriman had actually smiled at Morton when he'd turned tail to go back to the lab.
Back to the present, Morton was checking his watch when Seaview listed sharply to Starboard. The klaxton rang and a panicked voice yelled over the PA that compartments A4 through A7 in the cracked frame 8 were flooding rapidly.
By the time the rescue team had reached reached A5 the raging swirling water was almost up to the hatch. Ski was already trying to reach the boy. Swept away by the force of the water himself, he barely managed to make it back to the ladder. †"I can't find† him! I can't catch him..."
"Lee! Lee!" Nelson shouted, and had to be held by Starke from jumping in as Morton ordered Ski up, and the hatch closed.
"Harry! Harry!" the little boy's head popped up against the far bulkhead, with only inches of air to spare, sputtering, obliterated by the inrushing torrent.
"Oh god,"Starke whispered, knowing it was too late.
"I said close that hatch!" Morton demanded.
"Har..." Lee's voice was crying †out as the hatch wheel locked.
"Lee! Lee!" Nelson's gutteral voice permeated the corridor. Starke opened the door and saw his old friend thrashing about on the bunk.
"Harriman, whoa, you old sea dog, wake up, you're having a nightmare!"
"What do you want him †for?"
"But..."it took a moment for Admiral Nelson to realize he was fully adult. "Oh Lord...it was only a dream," he brushed the sweat from his brow.
"Harry! Harry!" Lee's screams from the adjacent corridor interupted his relief.
Darting out of his bunk, Nelson raced out of his cabin and around the bend to the Captain's Cabin, followed by Starke. Flinging the door open they saw Crane similarily anquished.
"Lee, wake up," Nelson prodded Lee on the shoulder," Lee!" he shook him.
"Harry! Harry!" Crane was calling,arms outstretched, searching....blinded in his own nightmare.
"Lee! Snap out of it...we're ourselves again...at least I think we are..."
"Huh? Wha... "he roused..."Oh gawd, what a dream," Lee half sat up, "I...I'm sorry I woke you sirs."
Doc squeezed beside Nelson, apparentlyy summoned by all the commotion.
"No, no, no!" Nelson pushed him aside, 'go away, all of you!" he added to the growing group in the cabin, "He's fine...and close the door."
Waiting till they did so, Nelson returned his attention to Lee. "You okay?"
"I..don't know...I've never had a dream so...intense. Gawd I feel sick...I was drowning and..."
"I know. I tried to reach you but they stopped me..."
"What? " Lee asked, confused.
"In my dream they closed the hatch on you. Compartment A-5..."
"But...that's impossible...we couldn't have the same dream..."
"How old was I in yours?"Nelson asked.
"You were 6 in mine."
"Ohh..." Lee groaned, clutching his stomach, unable to stop the contents from churning over onto his pillow,floor, and Nelson's pajama sleeve.
Nelson grabbed the waste can and held it for him.
"I...I'm sorry Admiral," Lee tried to say between bouts of sickness..." I'm sorry...I'm sorry..."
"Nonsence. Besides, what's† a big brother for..." Nelson waited a few moments to assure himself it had past, then took the can to the head and returned with a couple of damp towels for himself and for Lee who was already stripping off his pajama shirt and the pillow case. Nelson took care of the deck, and reached for the sodden fabrics,† "I'll take them."
Returning to Lee's bunk after disposing of them in the hamper, he sat down beside Lee and began to speak softly.
"Lee...I have something to say, and it's not aobut our interactive dream. It's about your resignation," he began, "wait, let me finish."
Crane was silent.
"I don't want you to go," Nelson continued, " I won't overstep my boundaries and..
"Of course you will," Lee interupted, "you're Harry Nelson, you can't help yourself."
Nelson looked anquished.
"But," Lee looked squarely into Nelson's eyes, "I'll try not to take it personally."
"You'll stay then?"
"Try to keep me away..."Lee said quietly, unable to stifle a heavy yawn.
"You get some sleep," Nelson pushed him back down into the bunk, "You look half dead for lack of it lately. Good night squirt..I mean..Good night Lee," he added sheepishly.
"G'nite Harry," Lee replied unawares, already in the arms of Morpheus.
Turning off the light and closing the door softly behind himself, Nelson found himself surrounded by concerned officers and crewmen.
"Jiggs, we need to talk. Doc, trust me, your services are not required. Chip, shouldn't you be in bed? O'Brien don't you have a boat to run? Ski? What are you doing here? Oh, "he noticed the laundry bags, "Chief? I'm not even going to ask...back to whatever you were doing, all of you..."
As the men scattered, something struck him, "Ski, wait. You're with me..."
Five minutes later Ski and Starke were wondering what on earth Nelson was doing as he scrounged through his desk, his safe, anywhere he could think of until he retrieved and blew some dust off of an old manilla envelope, and dumped the contents on his desk. The scattered memorablila from Seaview's launching, the orders for her Reserve status, the appointment of Captain Phillips as her commander† and Nelson's ownership documents vied with each other as he complained, "It's got to be here someplace...". Fingering through them he finally found what he was looking for, "Aha," he handed Ski a small gold pip, "make sure Captain Crane isn't out of uniform tomorrow, will you?"
With a light heart the rating flashed a huge smile. "Aye sir. Aye Aye!"
It was crowded in the Wardroom the next morning as Nelson confirmed the widley spread rumors of Starke's tale regarding what Nelson had told him last night about the phenomenom Crane and he had shared.
"That's all very well, Harriman," Starke said, "but I get the distinct impression you've kept something out."
"You caught that too?" Doc asked. "Admiral?"
"Perhaps I did leave a little out, Nelson grinned.
"Let's just say some things are just between Lee and me, okay gentlemen?"†
"Yes sir," Morton answered for them, "Still, how do you explain such a weird thing happening? An interactive dream? Sounds like a fairy tale."
"Perhaps it is. There are only two reasons† I can think of to explain it. The Bermuda Triangle or the Twilight Zone, take your pick."
The men laughed.
"I'm glad it happened," Nelson was suddenly serious,"God I'm so glad. I was long overdue to put the most important things in my life into perspective...and I want to go on record here and now, that Lee Crane is one of them. "
Everyone knew what it took for the old man to finally admit what everybody had known for a long time.
"He still runs a lax boat, Harriman," Starke insisted.
"You're speaking about the Captain of my submarine, and my best friend. Jiggs, his command abilities have never really been in question have they?"
"All right all right. You don't have to tell me again. I'll be a good boy and stay out of his way... a long way away."
"Excuse me sirs,"Riley knocked on the edge of the door frame, "Admiral, we found this stuck under one of the guest cabin's baseboards when we were cleaning. I guess it's ..er...yours sir?"
It was a highly skilled drawing of the flying sub in colored pencil.
"There was another one too...from the cabin across from that one..."he handed it over, grinning.
This primitive drawing was† of a tall red haired boy holding the hand of a smaller black haired boy. Both were smiling. Even Seaview, behind them, was smiling with red lipstick, and blue eyelashes sprouting from each side of her view port eyes. The torn paper was held together by scotch tape .
"I just thought of something,"Starke began. "How can this be if it was only† a dream?"
"Do any of you have recollections of us as boys? Is there a crack in frame 8?"
The answer was negative to both.
"It was a dream then," Nelson said, "that's all. "
"But how do you explain the pictures?"Morton asked.
"I can't," Nelson picked them up and left.
The Admiral found Lee in the Nose, command-at-sea pip on his crisply ironed unitorm, †leaning against the window, looking out.
"Penny for your thoughts?"
"Oh, Hi Admiral..."
"Harrim...Harry to you, Lee. "
Lee grinned up at him, " Harry."
Nelson sat. "Lee...about Dr. Pain...what happened next?"he asked quietly. "I know what you told me later that afternoon about that boy's ranch being a cover for a prostituion ring, but..."
"Let's just say it didn't take a rocket scientist in the court to know he'd been using those damn electrodes and other devices as a way to control us for the 'boss' and †make us more compliant for the paying customers. I never was, that's for sure, but it did keep me from telling..."Lee looked up,"for awhile. Nobody believed me, even when I'd managed to run even further away. Especially as some of cops were paying customers, so you can imagine. Kids telling tales, making false accusations..."
"Nobody believed a runaway like me, until the Cranes decided to foster me. That was †after I picked Pop's pocket...you remember me telling you that a few years ago...how I was seven, on the street, and there he was, all those hashmarks on his sleeve...anyway, he got FBI to do a full investigation. The so called ranch was closed, there were a few jail terms, a couple slaps on the wrists, some fines...and the matter was forgotten...except maybe by us..."
"Oh God Lee, what a nightmare."
"Excuse me," Morton approached and turned on the monitor. "Miss Hale, communications..."
"I have that information you wanted Admiral," Lola said from the screen,"The ship's bell belonged to a small merchantman. The story is that one of the owners was lost† at sea with her. The other died pretty much a recluse and complained to anyone who'd listen that he could never forgive himself for some stupid argument they'd had."
"What was the ship's name?" Crane asked softly.
"Oh. Yes. Brethren..."
"The Brethren?"Nelson asked, incredulous.
"Yes sir,"Lola answered, confused by his reaction, "oh, by the way Captain, you're looking smartly pressed and oh so Navy this morning."
"Were there any descendants of the ship's owners?" Lee resumed the discussion.
"That'll take a bit of research. Why?"
"Well, with Harry's...Admiral Nelson's permission, I'd like to return the bell to them."
"Of course, Lee," Nelson smiled.
"Right on it," Lola answered, "By the way, will you be home in time for Christmas?"
"At this rate, with plenty of time to spare," Lee said.
"One more thing, Miss
Hale," Nelson added,"see if you can get tickets for Mrs. Crane and Miss
Nelson to come out to
If it was Lee's turn to be confused about being included with the Nelsons, he wasn't as the Admiral handed him the repaired picture with a grin.
"Will do, sir," Lola replied, "Anything else?"
"No, I don't think so..Seaview out," Nelson turned, missing the kiss she blew to a vey embarassed Lee, before the picture faded.
Seaview had been home a few days and the VIP's at NIMR were milling around the temporary display of the Brethren's bell, no owners having been found. It had cleaned up well, and was safely seconded to a fully enclosed glass container with a brief history of the ship, portraits of her owners on the wall behind it in the small wing Nelson had decided would make an excellent maritime museum.
"You know, there was a six year age difference between them," Starke was saying about Brethren's owners to Edith Nelson and Mrs. Crane, "It's still rumored their argument was some kind of sibling rivalry." His tounge in cheek comment was, of coures, lost on the women.
He was interupted by the sound of golden laughter between Seaview's command pair about something or other in the distance, but spotted their reflection on the †Brethren's glass case. Rather appropriate he thought,considering, for the brothers that were Harriman Nelson and Lee Crane. God help Seaview. Or perhaps, He already had.