By Pauline Owers
Warning – this story contains scenes of a sexually nature and may not be considered suitable for children.
Crane stood in an empty Control Room, enjoying a rare moment's peace and quiet. Soon the area would be filled with the familiar sounds of the instrumentation and voices of the watch crew. But for now, everything was silent.
He walked forward and poured himself a cup of coffee from the ever-present pot in the Observation Nose. It was so quiet that he could hear the rain against the windows, and for a moment, he stood there, just watching the droplets run down the hurculite windows. They had put into New London to pick up a passenger, and most of the crew had been given twenty-four hours shore leave.
One person who wouldn't be enjoying the rain was Chip Morton, who was up on the bridge as Officer of the Watch. Crane toyed with the idea of having him relieved. After all, rank should have its privileges -- now, which junior officer should he send to relieve him?
Left to Chip, he would no doubt choose O'Brien. However, although Crane would never admit to it, he had a soft spot for the young officer and looked out for him whenever possible; probably because O'Brien reminded him of another junior officer a few years earlier. The sound of someone climbing down the Conning ladder disturbed his musing, and he turned back to the Control Room to see who it was.
Crane hid his amusement as a rather damp Chip Morton dropped down the last few rungs of the ladder and turned to face him. Chip glared at him, daring him to make any comment. Fortunately for both of them, Morton was closely followed by Admiral Nelson and two civilians, who distracted Lee's attention from the Exec.
"Hello, Lee," Nelson smiled.
Lee returned the smile. "Admiral."
"I want you to meet an old friend, Stuart Matthews." Nelson introduced the civilian, who extended a hand to Crane.
"Welcome aboard," Lee said, shaking hands.
"Captain, Harry's told me a lot about you," Matthews replied.
"Oh." Lee glanced at Nelson... the Admiral had never mentioned Matthews to him.
"And this is Seaview's Executive Officer, Commander Morton," Nelson continued.
"Commander," Matthews nodded to Morton.
"Mr. Matthews." Morton returned the nod and then glanced at Lee. It was clear from his expression that Lee didn't know Matthews, either.
Matthews was tall with thick black hair and deep blue eyes. Handsome in a rugged sort of way, Chip decided. The dark blue suit he wore complemented his eyes. Chip guessed that he was maybe two or three years older than Lee.
"And this is my assistant, Miss Ward-Thomas." Matthews introduced the young lady standing next to him.
She was very feminine with tawny hair that curled loosely around her shoulders. She wore a pink tailored suit that fit her neat figure perfectly.
"Ma'am." Crane smiled courteously.
"Please, call me Julie," she smiled, and for a moment, their eyes met.
Her accent was unmistakably English, Morton noted. He watched her... he'd seen a lot of women look at Lee that way. Matthews had noticed, too. Chip wondered whether she was more than just an assistant -- if so, there could be trouble if she made a play for Lee.
Lee seemed oblivious to everything as he moved to the Plot Table with Nelson. He seemed to have forgotten his Exec, and Morton decided to grab some coffee and dry off before returning topside. He was about to leave when Lee called him back.
"You'd better change out of that wet uniform, Mr. Morton. And have someone show the lady to her cabin," Lee said. "I'll have someone relieve you."
"I'll take care of it personally," Chip replied.
"Fine." Crane nodded before turned back to Nelson. "So what's our mission, Admiral?"
Nelson spread a chart out on the table. “Mr Matthews is head of a large corporation, part of which deals in precious stones. One of their cargo planes carrying a consignment of diamonds has gone missing, just about here,” Nelson indicated a position on the chart.
“And we are going to look for it?” Lee answered.
Nelson nodded. “That’s right, the plane has a homing beacon that should have activated automatically if it gone down.”
“How much are these diamonds worth?” Lee asked.
“Well, they’re only industrial diamonds, worth around a million,” Matthews told him.
“Hear that Lee, only a million,” Nelson laughed.
Crane studied the chart for a few moments. “What’s the planes range?”
“One thousand, three hundred, fifty five nautical miles.”
“How many people had access to the flight plan and knew what the plane would be carrying?”
“My assistant, the flight crew, my chief of security and myself - why?”
“I like to know ahead of time what I am getting my crew into.”
“And what makes you think that there is anything suspicious about the planes disappearance?”
“In my experience, planes don’t usually disappear without someone causing it.”
“How soon can we sail, Lee?” Nelson interrupted.
“About thirty minutes, Admiral. The last of the crew are coming aboard now.”
Nelson nodded. “Come on, Stu, let’s leave Captain Crane to do his job. We’ll be in my cabin Lee. Let me know when we’re ready to sail.”
“Certainly Admiral.” As Nelson and Matthews headed up the stairs, Crane unshipped a mic to call Sharkey and have him hurry the shore detail
Morton stopped outside the cabin door and opened it. "This will be your cabin, ma'am. I hope you'll be comfortable. Mr. Matthews is right next door."
"Thank you," she paused in the doorway and turned to face Morton. "Can I ask you something?"
"Is Captain Crane married? I noticed the ring," she enquired.
"No, Lee's not married," Morton replied. Somehow, he couldn't imagine Lee settling down to married life. Despite his reputation among the crew, the captain was rather shy with women.
"And is he always so dedicated to duty?"
"Well, he is the captain, and that means he has a lot of responsibility," Chip told her.
"But?" she prompted.
"Our last mission was a little rough, and Lee was injured," Chip explained.
"I see," she nodded thoughtfully.
"If you'll excuse me, ma'am," Chip said as he turned to go.
"Yes, of course," she smiled. "And thank you."
So the captain was single and fair game. She smiled to herself... this could be an interesting cruise, after all.
The Control Room was manned now and alive with the usual mixture of noise that Crane had become accustomed to. It was somehow reassuring, and he was on constant alert for the slightest change that might indicate trouble. As he straightened up from the Chart Table, he was joined by his Exec.
"We're ready to get underway, Skipper," Morton reported.
"All right, Chip, take us out." Crane replied as he took the mike from its clip to call Nelson.
"Aye, sir," Morton acknowledged.
Crane keyed the mike and called Nelson. "Admiral, this is Crane. We're ready to get underway, sir."
"I'll be right there," Nelson answered.
Crane noted their departure time and closed the Log Book. He felt the soft vibration of the engines through the decking as Seaview edged away from the dock. He looked forward to the Observation Nose and watched as the bow wave foamed against the windows while Seaview turned seaward.
They'd been in the South Atlantic and headed home when Nelson received a call from Matthews, asking for help. The Admiral had immediately ordered a course change, diverting them to New London, and Matthews had flown in to meet them.
Crane returned his attention to the Control Room. "Chip, steer course 217, ahead one third."
"Aye, sir," Chip acknowledged. "Helmsman, come to course 217."
Again Morton took the mike from its clip to relay the order. "Engine room, ahead one third."
"One third, aye."
Crane listened to the response to his Exec's orders. They both looked toward the spiral staircase as Nelson arrived with Matthews.
"We're on course, Admiral," Lee told him. "We'll come to full speed as soon as we're in open water."
"Very well," Nelson nodded as he glanced at the charts.
"Once we reach the area, we'll work outwards from the aircraft's last reported position," he told Matthews.
"Was any distress call received before they disappeared?" Crane asked.
Matthews shook his head. "No, they just dropped off Air Traffic Control's radar."
"How many crew were aboard?" Crane asked.
"What do you know about them?" Lee didn't want any surprises this time. If there was any chance that one or more of the crew was involved in the plane's disappearance, he wanted to know.
"Ben Powers was the pilot. He's ex-Air Force. He was with Delta for ten years before he came to us, and his record was exemplary. The co-pilot, Alex, is my brother. And then there was Elaine, the stewardess. She and Alec were engaged."
"I'm sorry," Crane sympathized. The story sounded only too familiar. However, he preferred to keep his opinions to himself -- at least for now.
"The Coast Guard is still searching, and the Forrestal is in the area," Crane told him.
"If they're out there, we'll find them," Nelson assured Matthews.
"I know, Harry. And thank you, Captain." Matthews walked away toward the Observation Nose.
Julie joined Matthews, Nelson, and Crane in the Wardroom for dinner that evening. The food served aboard Seaview wasn't bad, but it wasn't food that was on her mind right now. The conversation had been about business and therefore boring, but she really didn't mind. She was content to sit and watch Lee Crane across the table. He was the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome with the most alluring golden-brown eyes, but how was she going to land this catch? With such good looks, the captain probably had a lot of women chasing him -although it appeared that none of them had caught him yet. Again her gaze drifted in his direction, lingering over what she could see of his lean body. She couldn't help wondering what lay beneath the uniform... but it would certainly be fun finding out! Of course, it wouldn't be easy. The captain was undoubtedly a man of honor and integrity, and duty came first. However, she had a few ideas that would seriously test his restraint.
"More coffee, Miss?" Cookie's voice interrupted her thoughts, and she almost blushed with embarrassment.
"No, thank you," she glanced up at him with a smile.
"I hope we're not boring you too much, Miss Ward?" Nelson said apologetically.
"Not at all, Admiral," she replied. "Thank you for inviting me to join you."
"It's been my pleasure," Nelson said graciously.
"Why, thank you, Admiral," she smiled politely, then glanced at her watch. "But it is getting late. If you'll excuse me? It's been a long day, and I'm rather tired."
Nelson and Crane both stood up as she started to leave. She wondered hopefully if Crane would offer to walk her to her cabin. Otherwise, she would have to think of another way of getting him alone.
"If you don't need me anymore, Harry, I think I'll turn in, too," Matthews said.
Nelson nodded. "We won't reach the coordinates until morning. Get a good night's sleep. I'll see you in the morning."
"Good night, Harry... Captain." Matthews walked to the door and held it open for Julie.
"Good night, Stu," Nelson replied. "Miss Ward, I hope you'll be comfortable."
"I'm sure I will. Good night, Admiral," she said before she reluctantly preceded Matthews into the corridor.
Julie poked her head around the cabin door and surveyed the corridor. Satisfied that there was no one to observe her nocturnal activity, she left the cabin and carefully closed the door. Moving quickly and quietly down the corridor, she headed for Officers' Country. One officer in particular was on her mind -- Captain Lee Crane. She knew where Nelson's cabin was located, and she guessed that Crane's quarters would be in the same area.
When she reached the corridor where Nelson's cabin was located, she tiptoed past and took a right at the next intersection with another corridor. She found Crane's cabin down the passageway, then paused outside and knocked. There was no reply to her knock and she tried the door. It opened, and she stepped inside.
She waited until her eyes adjusted to the darker interior of the cabin before she closed the door. A shaft of light spilled into the room from the corridor, illuminating the floor and part of the bunk where Crane lay sleeping. She closed the door and moved across the cabin toward the bunk.
Crane looked so innocent lying there, in complete contrast to the authoritative officer she had met earlier. For a moment, she stood watching him and wondering what Lee Crane was like beneath the reserved exterior. At last, she bent over and kissed him.
"Umm," he stirred and then settled again.
Great! It was exactly the response she had hoped for. She remembered that Morton had told her the captain had been injured. Could it be that he was taking pain medication? There were no visible injuries that she could see. She reached out and brushed her fingers gently through his thick black curls. Her hand moved down and burrowed under the covers.
His hand seized her wrist. "What are you doing?"
She raised her head to look into his eyes, now a deep brown in the dim interior of the cabin. "I would think that was obvious, Captain."
Crane raised himself up. "I'm flattered, but I'm not in the habit of taking strange women to bed."
"That's not what I've heard," she smiled wickedly as her eyes traveled down to where the covers had fallen around his hips. Damn those pajamas! "Why don't you take off those pajamas so that I can see more of you?"
Lee blushed. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I don't go to bed with every woman I meet," he said harshly.
"I'm sorry, too," she tugged, trying to pull free from his hold. "So what happens now?"
"Nothing. Go back to your cabin," he ordered as he released her.
"Are you sure you won't come with me?" she replied seductively, not ready to give in yet. She knew it wouldn't be easy to capture a man like Crane, but the rewards would be worth it.
"We hardly know each other," he protested, but Julie stood her ground.
"I like what I've seen so far. Don't you like me?" she asked softly. She opened her robe and let it fall to the floor. Her neat, but ample figure was scarcely concealed by the flimsy fabric of her nightgown. "I want you," she whispered enticingly as her budding nipples pushed at the delicate fabric of her nightgown.
"I’m not available," he told her.
"Why not?" she asked. “You’re not married.”
"Because I'm the captain, and you're a guest aboard my boat."
"As Captain, you can do what you want, can't you?" she argued.
"I’m not interested. Now please go, or I'll call Security and have you escorted back to your cabin," Crane threatened.
"What would that do to your reputation?" she teased. "It'll be all over the ship by morning."
"I don't care." Crane was on his feet, bending down to retrieve her robe from the floor. He strode across the cabin to the door and opened it, then held out the robe to her. "Good night, Miss Ward."
"All right. But I'm not giving up," Julie told him defiantly.
She took her robe and walked to the door, then paused. She extended a hand and trailed her fingers lightly over his cheek.
"Good night, Captain," she smiled.
With that, she turned and disappeared down the corridor.
Lee ran a hand through his hair... he needed a drink. Pulling on his robe, he walked over to the desk and switched on the lamp. He picked up the phone and called the Galley. "Have a pot of coffee sent to my cabin.”
He pulled the chair out from behind the desk and sank into it. He hoped that Cookie would read between the lines and make the pot of coffee one of his `specials.'
He didn't need this added complication. There was no denying that Miss Ward was an attractive woman, but he loved Sophie. He would have to keep his distance and hope that they found the aircraft quickly.
"Captain, I have Captain Gallagher from the Forrestal for you, sir," Sparks called from the Radio Shack.
Crane turned from the Chart Table and hurried aft. He took the handset from Sparks and answered the call. "This is Crane. Go ahead, Captain."
"Captain, we've had aircraft searching along the flight path of the missing Matthews plane. They haven't found any signs of it or any wreckage," Gallagher reported.
"Thank you, Captain. We're proceeding to the aircraft's last known position. We'll start a search from there," Crane replied.
"Very well, we'll keep on looking. Over and out."
Crane returned the handset to Sparks. It didn't look good for the crew of the missing aircraft. If there were no signs of it on the surface, the plane had either gone down too fast to give the crew time to escape, or else it simply wasn't there.
He suspected the latter. If the aircraft had been hijacked, it could be hundreds of miles off course. Either way, the prospects for the crew weren't good. They were either in on it, or else they were dead. However, Lee hadn't voiced his suspicions to Nelson.
"Anything?" Morton asked when Lee returned to the Chart Table.
Lee shook his head. "Nothing."
"You think that the crew had something to do with the aircraft's disappearance?"
"I'm afraid so." Lee nodded as he indicated their position on the chart in front of them. "We'll know soon enough. We should reach the coordinates in a couple of hours. Have the Flying Sub checked out, and prepare a diving party," Lee ordered in anticipation of finding wreckage or even the diamonds. Although the latter was unlikely.
"Aye, sir." Morton turned to carry out the orders.
Lee looked at the line that plotted their position on the chart. They had made good time. It was all going too well... like their last mission. It hadn't been until he'd made that fateful dive that things had gone horribly wrong.
Lee absently rubbed at the dressing on his arm that covered a bullet crease he'd received when Chip had taken a shot at him. Of course, Chip hadn't known that it was him. After what Braddock's atmosphere did to him, even Chip hadn't been able to recognize his own friend and commanding officer. Lee had been grateful for the time he and Nelson were forced to spend decompressing the bell on the way back up. It had given him a breathing space before facing the crew.
"Is that arm still bothering you?" Nelson's question interrupted his thoughts. Lee turned to find the admiral standing behind him, watching him.
"No, sir -- it's fine," Lee replied. He hastily lowered his hand from his arm, then tried to think of some way to distract Nelson from the subject of his health.
"We're making good time. We should be at the coordinates in thirty minutes," he reported.
"Very good, Lee."
Miss Ward had accompanied the admiral and Matthews to the Control Room. She was wearing a black, one-piece jumpsuit that molded her body too clearly for Lee's liking. Several of the crew turned to watch as she passed their stations. Lee sighed... why did Matthews have to bring her aboard? It was asking for trouble on a submarine with over a hundred men aboard. After all that had happened, Lee just couldn't handle it.
"Is something wrong, Lee?" Nelson asked.
"No, Admiral." Lee shook his head and forced a smile. He didn't want Nelson to think that his inattention was due to any lingering after effects from his ordeal. He didn’t need Jamie fussing over him.
"Better have a diving party standing by, Lee -- just in case," Nelson said.
"It's already been taken care of, Admiral," Lee told him.
Nelson nodded. "Very well, Lee. Carry on."
He turned to Matthews, "Let's go forward. We can keep watch from the Nose."
Matthews nodded in agreement, and they moved off toward the Nose. Crane noted the change in the sonar echo at the same time that Kowalski announced a contact.
"Range?" Crane asked.
"Two miles. Bearing two eight eight degrees," Kowalski reported.
Crane walked over and stood behind Kowalski, then observed the echo on the sonar screen. If it was the aircraft, they should pick it up on the magnetometer soon. Crane continued to watch as Seaview edged closer.
"Two degrees, left rudder," he ordered.
"Two degrees, aye."
"We should be within visual range in a few minutes," he commented to Morton who stood behind him.
"Got something, Lee?" Nelson asked as he joined them at the sonar station.
"Sonar is picking up a contact." Crane nodded, turning back to the screen. "It's on the right heading."
"Metal contact," Murphy reported from his station. "Bearing two, nine, one."
"Activate nose camera," Crane ordered.
"Camera activated, sir."
Crane reached up and switched on the monitor. There was wreckage, all right, but not from the type of aircraft that they were looking for. Someone was trying to throw them off the scent.
"Chip, bring us to full stop above the wreckage," he ordered over his shoulder.
"That's not from a King Air," Crane commented to Nelson as Seaview moved closer, giving them a clearer view.
"No," Nelson agreed. "We'll send out divers to bring part of the wreckage aboard. But I'm sure you're right."
Crane had already taken the mike from its clip on the periscope mount. "Missile Room, send out the diving party, and have them bring some of the wreckage aboard. They'd better check for bodies, too."
"Aye aye, sir," Chief Sharkey's reply came back.
"I'll be in the Missile Room, Lee," Nelson said as he headed for the aft hatch. "Coming, Stu?"
"Very well, Admiral."
Lee watched them leave. He was relieved to see Julie follow Matthews. Turning his attention back to the Control Room, Crane walked forward to watch the divers through the windows in the Observation Nose.
"Dead stop. Trim satisfactory," Morton reported.
Crane nodded, "Very well, Chip. Carry on."
Half an hour later, Sharkey reported that the divers were back aboard.
"Very well, Chief," Crane acknowledged. "Mr. Morton, get us underway. Ahead standard."
While Chip gave the order to get underway, Lee turned his attention to the charts and their new course. He would start Seaview moving in a search pattern while he took the Flying Sub out for a look around.
"Captain, I have that report from ONI that you requested, sir," Sparks called from the Radio Shack.
"Mr. Morton, you have the comm," Crane ordered.
"Aye, sir," Morton acknowledged.
Turning aft, Lee headed for the radio operator. Maybe this would answer some questions about Matthews and the crew of the missing aircraft.
Lee took the reports and headed for his cabin. He didn't want Nelson to know that he'd been checking up on Matthews. Although he felt guilty about going behind the Admiral's back, the safety of Seaview and her crew came first.
He reached his cabin without encountering anyone and locked the door behind him. He settled into the chair behind his desk and then opened the report.
Stuart Matthews is the son of Admiral Michael Matthews, retired. Admiral Matthews and Nelson grew up together and went to the same school. After graduating, both applied for Annapolis. They were eventually assigned to different ships but kept in touch.
Nelson was best man at Matthews' wedding. The marriage produced two sons, Stuart and Alexander.
Matthews, Sr., retired from the Navy to take the helm of the family business when his father died. The business has grown into the multi-million dollar corporation that it is today and has diversified into related industries.
Both of Matthews ' sons work for the company. After their father suffered a mild heart attack and was forced to retire, the two boys took over as joint heads of the company.
However, Alex did not want to be tied to a desk. He had learned to fly while serving with the Air Force and wanted to continue to fly. He became a pilot for the company and is happy to remain in that capacity.
None of this was getting Lee any closer to finding out what had happened to the missing aircraft. There was nothing to suggest that either Stuart or his brother were behind the plane's disappearance. That left the pilot and the stewardess. He was beginning to wonder if his suspicions were unfounded. But then why the phony wreckage? Crane placed the report in a folder and locked it in the desk drawer... so now what?
A knock at his cabin door interrupted his contemplations. He was about to call out to the person to enter, then remembered that he'd locked the door. He got up and unlocked the door then opened it. "Yes, what is it?" he started to ask.
"Aren't you going to ask me in?" Julie smiled as she leaned elegantly against the frame.
"Why? What do you want?" Lee asked. Damn -- how had she known where he was? She was supposed to be in the Missile Room with Matthews.
"I thought we could talk. Just get to know one another better," she replied.
"I'm sorry. I have to get back to the Control Room," he told her.
"Surely Mr. Morton can manage without you for a little while longer," she said as she slowly unzipped the front of her jumpsuit to reveal her cleavage.
"Won't Mr. Matthews be wondering where you are?" Lee asked mildly.
Despite himself, he was unable to keep his gaze from dropping to the swell of her breasts. He could see that she wasn't wearing a bra beneath the one-piece garment that showed off her curves to perfection.
"He doesn't need me at the moment," she replied.
The sight of her was doing things to him. He was used to the women at the Institute flirting with him, but he'd never had to deal with anyone as blatant as Julie. He stepped into the corridor and closed the cabin door firmly.
"I suggest that you go to your cabin and stay out of the way," he told her. He abruptly turned and walked away, hoping that she wouldn't follow him back to the Control Room.
Crane banked the Flying Sub in a graceful turn away from Seaview on the first leg of his search for the missing Matthews flight. The Flying Sub could cover a greater area with more speed than the submarine. If the crew of the aircraft were still alive, their lives might depend on being found quickly.
With half an eye on the sonar screen, he watched as the Flying Sub's searchlight moved across the seabed ahead of it. The ocean floor was mostly rock and sediment, so anything on the bottom should be easily seen.
He was sure now that the aircraft was a long way from its original flight path. The phony wreckage had been an amateurish attempt to throw them off... it wouldn't have fooled anyone for very long. Lee didn't expect to find anything; if there had been something, Seaview's instruments would have picked it up.
Before leaving the sub, Lee had checked the charts for any remote islands big enough for an aircraft to land on. It would be a sensible alternative to ditching in the sea and far safer, too. However, it would mean that they -- whoever they were -- would need another means of transportation. Alternately, they could have headed straight to Mexico or South America. Either way, it would be a good place to dispose of the diamonds.
He increased the sub's speed a little, leaving Seaview behind. At least he'd escaped from Julie's clutches for a few hours and could relax without having to worry where she would ambush him next.
And he also owed Chip an apology for having snapped: he'd taken his annoyance and frustration out on Morton. He shouldn't have let Julie get to him like that... it was unprofessional.
He focused his thoughts on the task at hand and turned on the receiver to see if he could pick up the signal from the aircraft's ELT. If the plane had gone down, it should have activated automatically.
"Has Lee taken the Flying Sub out?" Nelson enquired.
"Yes, sir," Morton replied.
"Who's with him?" Nelson asked, noticing that Kowalski -- Lee's usual co-pilot -- was seated at the Fathometer.
"No one, sir," Morton replied evenly.
"But he knows the regulations," Nelson protested. No one was supposed to go out alone.
"Yes, sir, but Lee wasn't in the mood for an argument," Morton said carefully, and his expression was as unreadable as always.
"I see," Nelson nodded in understanding.
He knew Morton was saying that Lee had been upset or angry... the only question was why? Lee had seemed okay when Nelson had seen him earlier.
"Any idea of who or what could have brought that on?" the Admiral asked.
Nelson had the distinct impression that Morton wasn't telling him everything. Lee and Chip were close friends, and Chip could usually tell what Lee was thinking.
"Didn't he say anything?" Nelson persisted.
"No, sir," Morton replied innocently.
Dammit! Nelson swore to himself. Lee had probably just wanted some time by himself. But it was foolish to take the Flying Sub out alone when they didn't know what they might run up against. Lee could be walking into a trap.
"Is something wrong, Admiral?" Morton asked.
"I hope not, Chip," Nelson replied, trying to shake off the uneasy feeling that had suddenly descended on him. There was nothing he could do for now, however -- only hope that Lee would return safely. "When is he due to check in?"
Morton looked at his watch. "About thirty minutes, sir."
"All right, Chip, keep me informed. I'll be in the lab," he ordered.
Maybe he could learn something from the wreckage they had recovered. It might be possible to track the debris back to its original source, and besides, it would give him something to do while he waited for Lee to return.
Morton's "Aye, sir," was directed at Nelson's back as the Admiral left the Control Room. Morton was relieved that the Admiral hadn't remained... the last thing that he needed at the moment was Nelson watching over his shoulder.
Chip's mind went back to the conversation he'd had with Lee prior to the Captain's departure in the Flying Sub. From the moment that Lee returned to the Control Room. Chip had known that something was wrong.
"The Flying Sub is checked and ready to go," Morton reported as he handed a clipboard to Lee for his signature.
Crane took the report and glanced at it briefly. He signed it and handed it back to Morton. "Continue on course, Chip. I'll report in an hour," he said as he walked forward to the Observation Nose.
"What about a co-pilot?" Chip followed him to the access hatch.
"I don't need one," Lee replied curtly.
"Lee, I don't think you should...." Chip started to object. Lee had taken FS-1 out alone before, but regulations stated that no one was to go out without a co-pilot.
"Mr. Morton, you're supposed to obey orders -- not question them," Lee snapped.
"What do you want me to tell the admiral?" Chip asked, even though he knew he ran the risk of annoying Lee even farther.
"Tell him whatever you want," Lee answered tersely as he started down the ladder into the Flying Sub.
Chip crouched beside the open hatch. "Lee, are you sure about this?"
Lee paused, and as he looked up, a fleeting smile brightened his features. "Don't worry, Chip. I'll be fine."
Then he was gone, pulling the hatch closed behind him. As Chip watched his departure from the observation windows, he pondered the cause of Lee's sudden irritation. He suspected that it had something to do with the report that the captain had received from ONI. But since Lee hadn't chosen to share any information with him, Chip would just have to wait until Lee was ready to talk.
Morton's attention slowly returned to the Control Room, and he walked over to the vertical Plot Table, where Chief Sharkey was now following FS-1's course.
"Everything all right, Chief?"
Morton looked at the line on the glass that marked the Flying Sub's course. Lee had almost completed the first leg of his search and should be turning onto a new heading.
"Think we'll find her, Mr. Morton?" Sharkey asked.
"If they're out there, we'll find them," Morton told him. He only hoped that Lee didn't find trouble waiting for him, as well.
"Yes, sir," Sharkey agreed.
Lee knocked and then entered Nelson's cabin. "You wanted to see me, Admiral?"
"Yes, Lee. Come in." Nelson put down the papers he had been reading.
"Is something wrong, Admiral?" Crane asked as he perched on the corner of the desk.
"You shouldn't have taken the Flying Sub out alone," Nelson told him.
"But why?" Lee argued, unconsciously going on the defensive. "I've taken her out alone before."
"It's too dangerous. We don't know what happened to that plane," Nelson said.
"What do you think happened to it, Admiral?" Lee asked.
Maybe Nelson would finally share his own suspicions about the aircraft's disappearance. Lee wondered if he should tell Nelson about his own gut feelings about the situation.
Nelson shrugged. "I don't know. But we shouldn't take any chances."
"So you do suspect something?" Lee persisted, feeling that Nelson was being evasive. He was beginning to think that Nelson knew more than he was telling.
"I think it's highly unlikely that the aircraft's disappearance was caused by a mechanical failure," Nelson answered with exaggerated patience.
Lee recognized the warning tone in Nelson's voice -- the one that always let him know when he was on dangerous ground. Lee wasn't in the habit of questioning the admiral... after all; Nelson usually had good reason for whatever he did.
"How long do we keep searching, Admiral?"
"Until we have reason to stop."
"Yes, sir. Is there anything else?" Lee asked as he got to his feet.
"Is everything all right, Lee?"
The unexpected question caught Lee off-guard, and he responded in open surprise. "Yes, of course, Admiral."
It bothered him that Nelson should think something was wrong. Did the older man suspect something?
"Don't look so worried, Lee," Nelson smiled, pausing as he scrutinized him. "You just seemed a little tense, and you don't usually disregard regulations. You haven't had any reoccurrences of the effects from...?"
"Braddock's atmosphere?" Lee interrupted. "No, Admiral, I'm fine."
So that was it! When he'd taken the Flying Sub out alone, Nelson had thought that he'd had some sort of relapse.
"Well, goodnight, Lee," Nelson said. "We'll continue the search in the morning."
"Very well, Admiral. Good night." Lee headed for the door. He was relieved that no one suspected his real reason for wanting to escape from Seaview for a few hours.
As he entered his cabin, Crane switched on the light and closed the door... then stopped when he saw Julie. She was wearing only a black lace bra and panties as she posed seductively on his bunk.
"What are you doing here?" he asked in annoyance. She'd been pursuing him ever since she came aboard, and he couldn't cope with it.
"Waiting for you," she replied as she gracefully slid from the bunk.
He tried to ignore her state of undress, but he couldn't stop his gaze from wandering to her scantily covered breasts. For the moment, he could only watch as she approached him.
"I want you," she whispered. She smiled as she stood before him, then took his hand and pressed it to her breast. He pulled his hand away, then shoved it into his pocket.
"I told you, I'm not interested," he said, even as he fought the urge to run his hands over her body.
He could imagine lifting her firm breasts free from the lace cups and holding them in the palms of his hands. The thought sent a wave of excitement coursing through him, arousing him. What the hell was wrong with him? He shouldn’t be having these feeling about this woman, he loved Sophie.
Her gaze fell unashamedly to the conspicuous bulge that betrayed his arousal. "Your body betrays you."
Crane felt himself blush in embarrassment. He swallowed hard, trying to regain some control. He couldn't let this happen... the consequences could be disastrous.
"Don't be embarrassed," she said gently. She pulled his hand out of his pocket and placed it over her breast again.
He could feel her nipple grow hard beneath the lace fabric at just his touch. The erotic sensation pushed his self-control to the limit. He couldn’t stop his body responding, heat continued to build in his groin, making his pants uncomfortably tight.
"Give in. Let go," she whispered encouragingly.
She rubbed her hand over the bulge of his arousal, and with a groan, he closed his eyes. She tugged his shirt free from his pants, and he felt the way that her soft hands burrowed underneath. Stop it! He told himself, but he didn't want to. A powerful, primal animal lust took control, driving a charge of sexual hunger. She was an aphrodisiac. He pushed the straps off her shoulders and unfastened the bra, letting it fall to the floor. Gently, he pushed her away and urgently started to strip off his own uniform.
She watched him undress until he stood before her naked, and her eyes feasted on his male form.
Taking a step closer, he pulled her into his arms. He encircled her waist with one arm, while his free hand lifted her breast, kneading the firm flesh. He groaned as she stroked his hard length.
"You like that?" she asked.
"Ohhh... yes," he groaned breathlessly.
He was so aroused by her touch that he no longer cared about where they were or about duty and responsibility. All he could think about was satisfying his growing hunger.
Crane straightened up from the Chart Table, unsuccessfully trying to stifle a yawn. Hell! What had he been thinking of? He'd let things get out of hand last night, and it could make the rest of this cruise difficult.
"Keeping you up?"
Crane looked up to find Chip watching him. "Sorry, I didn't have a very good night."
He could hardly tell Chip that he'd spent the night with Julie. They had eventually progressed to the bunk where they had made love again and again. Even when he thought he was spent, she had brought him to arousal once more.
"Do you want me to assign someone else to go with Kowalski?" Chip asked, breaking into Lee's thoughts.
"That won't be necessary," Lee replied irritably, then immediately regretted it. What the hell was wrong with him? He was behaving like a sex-crazed animal... he needed to get his mind off sex and back on the search.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Chip asked quietly. "You don't look so hot."
"Sure, don't worry, Chip," Lee nodded in assurance. "I'm fine."
Chip gave him a hesitant look as if he intended to dispute Lee's claim. But then he seemed to think better of it.
"The Flying Sub is ready whenever you are," Chip informed him.
"Then let's get on with it." Lee slipped on his flying jacket as he walked forward to the access hatch in the Nose.
Beyond the observation windows, the water was dark. If the aircraft had gone down in mid-ocean, there would be little hope for the crew.
Miles to the north, aboard the old tug Henryetta, Captain Ben Powers followed the search for the missing plane closely. His original plan had been to meet Julie in Mexico. They had been forced to abandon that idea after Julie had been ordered to accompany Matthews aboard Seaview. Now he waited for Seaview to find the plane. It would be up to Julie to find a way off the submarine, and he would pick her up.
Of course, the whole operation depended on Seaview finding the aircraft before the Navy did. Fortunately, Powers had taken the aircraft well off course before ditching it in the sea. That should ensure that the search would be conducted well away from the plane's real location. But not so far off that an experienced captain like Crane wouldn't be able to find it, Powers thought. He assumed that when the search teams failed to find anything on the aircraft's original flight path, they would start looking in the opposite direction.
He had waited until they were well into the flight before putting his plan into action. He'd told Alec that he was going back for some coffee and to stretch his legs. Powers left the cockpit to take care of the unsuspecting stewardess. Elaine had the passenger compartment to herself.
She smiled and stood up. "Can I get you something, Captain?"
"Some of your wonderful coffee would be nice," he returned the smile.
Powers followed her to the small galley in the rear of the plane. He took a wad of cotton and a small bottle from his pocket, then poured the chloroform onto the wadding. He moved in behind her and placed the pad over her face. She struggled briefly before succumbing to the chloroform. He dragged her back to her seat and strapped her in, then straightened his uniform before he returned to the flight deck. Overpowering his co-pilot wouldn't be so easy, he thought.
"Everything okay back there?" Alec asked as Powers entered.
"Yeah, everything's fine," Power answered casually.
He glanced at the controls and checked to make sure that the autopilot was on -- standard procedure when only one person was at the controls. Before he sat down again, Powers took a wrench from his chart case on the floor behind his seat. He raised the wrench and bludgeoned Alec on the back of the head.
Alec slumped forward over the controls, and Powers eased him back into the seat and secured the safety harness around him. By the time that Alex and the girl regained consciousness, he would have already bailed out, and the plane would be in the ocean.
It hadn't been easy to get the plane to come down exactly where he wanted. All he could do was put it into a dive and then bail out.
In the Radio Shack, Seaview's radio operator was busy monitoring the radio frequencies. Sparks listened to the conversation between the Forrestal and her search aircraft. At the same time that he kept up to date with the progress of the search, he also listened for anything from Crane. Nick "Sparks" Peatty had been Seaview's radioman since she was commissioned. Like the rest of the sub's handpicked crew, he could also handle a variety of other tasks. He'd even taken the con on the rare occasions when the senior officers were otherwise engaged. However, he was happiest at his post here in the Radio Shack. He looked up from the dials as Morton approached, then shook his head in answer to the Exec's unspoken question.
"Forrestal reports sector S.6 clear, sir," he said. "Her aircraft are returning for refueling."
"Keep monitoring," Morton nodded.
He left the Radio Shack and collected the printout of the latest weather report, then walked back to the Chart Table. The report came via satellite from tracking stations in the United States, and the information was continuously updated before relay. He overlaid the map on the charts spread out on the table, then began to plot the course and speed of the weather front that now approached the area. Once that frontal system hit, the search planes would be grounded until it blew over. Morton calculated that they had roughly three hours before the storm arrived. On the surface, the wind had already started to pick up, and a heavy swell was developing. He was thankful that they were submerged... down here, they would be almost unaffected by the weather.
He wondered if the missing aircraft had been equipped with a life raft. Any small craft could be quickly swamped in a storm, and he didn't hold out much hope for them if they were still adrift up there.
"Riley, anything on radar?" he asked as he turned from the conn.
"Nothing, Mr. Morton," Riley replied.
"Nothing, sir," Patterson reported.
Morton nodded in acknowledgment and turned his attention back to the charts. He hoped that Lee was having more luck than they were.
"Chief, what's FS-1's position?" he called over his shoulder.
"295 degrees north, 105 degrees east," Sharkey reported.
Morton marked the position on the chart and picked up the mike to call Lee. "Seaview to FS-1. Come in, Lee."
"FS-1," Crane's voice came over the speaker. "Go ahead, Seaview."
"Request update on search progress," Chip said.
"No sign of the aircraft," Lee replied. "Has Seaview located any debris?"
"Negative, FS-1," Chip told him. "We just received the latest weather update from the satellite, and there's a major weather system moving in, Lee - advise you return immediately."
"Very well, Seaview. Will rendezvous at your coordinates, ETA approximately 30 minutes. FS-1, out."
"Patterson, keep a look out for the Flying Sub," Morton ordered as he returned the microphone to its bracket.
Nelson paused at the bottom of the spiral staircase and let his gaze wander over the Control Room. He listened to the familiar sounds as the men on watch worked with quiet efficiency. Chip Morton was bent over the Chart Table, studying the charts laid out in front of him, and he looked up as Nelson approached.
"Chip, what's the status of the search mission?" Nelson asked.
"Admiral, we've covered over fifty square miles, working in a grid pattern out from the aircraft's last known position. So far, we haven't found anything," Morton told him.
Nelson nodded knowingly as he glanced down at the charts. As the search progressed, the areas that had already been covered were marked on the chart. And as the search dragged on, Nelson was becoming more doubtful. He was beginning to think that the plane might not be there to find. It couldn't have accidentally gone so far off course unless someone had deliberately taken it off its flight path -- probably in the opposite direction.
"Have you heard from Captain Crane?" the Admiral asked.
"FS-1 reports no sign of the plane or wreckage, sir."
They were doing everything possible, but Nelson still wished that there was some way of speeding things up. Admiral Matthews was a friend, and his son was aboard the missing plane.
"What about the Forrestal?" he asked.
"They're continuing the search, but there's a weather front moving in," Morton informed him.
Just what they didn't need. A weather front would make it impossible for the aircraft to continue the search, and that meant that Seaview would be on her own.
"All right, Chip, carry on," Nelson said. "I'll be in my cabin."
Dealing with the victims' relatives was never easy in a situation like this, and no matter how many times he had to do this, Nelson never got used to it. And the fact that the person was the son of a close friend made this particular situation even more difficult. For a moment, Nelson could only stare at the young man seated across the desk from him while he tried to think of a way to break the news that things were not going well. Finally he chose the simple, straightforward approach -- just as he always did.
"I'm sorry, Stuart," he apologized. "We haven't found anything."
"That's a good sign, isn't it?" Matthews asked eagerly.
"It... could be," Nelson agreed, even though he knew it probably meant that the aircraft had been either hijacked or deliberately flown off course.
"You suspect something?" Matthews prompted.
"It's too early for speculation." Nelson tried to sound optimistic, despite his own misgivings. When Lee returned, Nelson planned to have him start looking in the opposite direction. And in the meantime, Seaview would continue on her present search pattern.
"I'd like to think that they're alive out there, but I know the odds, Admiral."
"I'm not giving up yet, Stu," Nelson smiled reassuringly.
He'd already decided not to tell Matthews the whole truth. There was no point in worrying him further by telling him about the deteriorating weather conditions in the search area.
"Thank you, Admiral. I know you're doing all you can, and I appreciate it. I'm sure that my father does, too."
Nelson nodded. "We'll do our best."
He wasn't sure that would be enough, though. Despite Seaview's instruments and specialized equipment, they still couldn't find what wasn't there.
Crane turned FS- I onto a new heading that would take him back to Seaview. It was the end of another fruitless search, and he was beginning to think that they were just going through the motions. They were no closer to finding the missing aircraft than they had been at the start.
"Do you really think that the missing plane is somewhere around here, Skipper?"' Kowalski asked, but Crane shook his head.
"I don't know, Kowalski," he answered honestly.
They didn't even know for sure that the aircraft had gone down, Crane thought. He wondered how long Nelson would tie up Seaview with this search before he called it off and put them on a course for home. Their last mission had been rough, and the crew was looking forward to returning to Santa Barbara and shore leave.
Crane glanced down at the instruments and noted their depth and speed. He eased the controls forward and pointed the nose down into a dive that would match Seaview's course and depth. He'd spent many hours piloting the Flying Sub, and docking maneuvers had become second nature to him. FS-1 responded immediately in the way that only a nuclear-powered sub with a cruise speed of seventeen hundred and fifty knots could. With a range equivalent to most conventional aircraft and unmatched speed and maneuverability, she had become an invaluable asset. At times like these, Crane wondered how they had ever managed before the Flying Sub had become a part of Seaview's resources.
"Sonar contact," Kowalski reported. "Range, five thousand yards."
"Zero point four five degrees relative," Kowalski answered.
Lee glanced at his instruments, checking their heading and making the necessary minor adjustments to dock with Seaview. At the same time, he eased off on the power and slowed his approach. He knew that Morton would be doing the same thing aboard Seaview.
"Four thousand, five hundred yards," Kowalski reported again.
Seaview would be in visual range in a few minutes, and Lee's thoughts returned to Julie. He wondered if she would be waiting for him in the Control Room. His mind drifted back to their encounter the previous evening. She was certainly a skillful seductress... she had used her expertise to ensnare him and then used her body to give him such pleasure. Even now, he remembered the feel of her full, firm breasts in his hands as she stroked and caressed him until he thought he would explode. Shifting uncomfortably in the chair, he swore under his breath, degusted with himself for his lack of self-control.
"Four thousand yards," Kowalski said, and Crane almost blushed with embarrassment. Get your mind back on the job, he chided himself as he checked their speed and depth.
"Three thousand yards," Kowalski said as they closed the gap between Seaview.
Lee banked FS-1 into a slow turn in order to approach the sub from the side and come up in position below the bay doors. It was a maneuver that he'd done many times, but as always, he smiled to himself as Seaview's sleek shape came into view. She was a beautiful sight, he thought to himself. The light from her Observation Nose was like a welcoming beacon, promising shelter and safety in what could be a hostile environment. It was easy to forget that there were unseen dangers -- crushing pressures and freezing temperatures that were always waiting to catch the unwary. As Crane eased the Flying Sub into docking position beneath the bay doors, he had time for one thought. Fish may swim with apparent freedom, but men will always been alien in this world.
The Flying Sub rocked gently as she settled into her berth beneath the Control Room. Crane swiveled in his seat, then unfastened his belt and got to his feet. "Come on, Kowalski, let's go."
Crane emerged from the hatch and glanced around the Control Room. He was relieved to see that there was no sign of Matthews or his assistant. Crane slipped off his flight jacket and handed it to a waiting crewman, then joined Morton at the Chart Table.
"Chip, get us underway," he ordered.
"Aye, sir," Morton acknowledged.
While Morton gave the order to get underway, Crane turned his attention to the charts. Seaview was still following the aircraft's flight path, moving away from the Forrestal.
"How long do we have before the storm hit?" he asked.
"Just over two hours," Morton told him.
"Very well," he nodded. "Have the Flying Sub checked out. I want to go out for a look around before the storm hits. Have Kowalski meet me back here in half an hour. Where's the Admiral?"
"He's in his cabin."
"Mr. Morton, you have the Conn," Lee turned and headed for the stairs. There would be just enough time to report to the Admiral and grab some lunch.
In the aft hatch, Julie stood, listening to their conversation. She realized that if she could somehow get Kowalski out of the way, this would be a perfect opportunity to get Crane alone -- away from the boat and any interruptions.
However, she didn't have much time. She checked the corridor to make sure that she wasn't seen, before quickly headed down the ladder to 'B' Deck. She followed Kowalski to the Mess and then waited for him to enter before she followed him inside. The room was almost empty. Perfect, she thought.
Kowalski was talking to Cookie, and both men turned to look in her direction as she entered.
"Excuse me, gentlemen," she smiled at them. "Do you mind if I join you? Mr. Matthews is with Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane, and I didn't want to disturb them."
"Please, have a seat," Kowalski beamed as he pulled out a chair for her.
"Thank you," she smiled as she slid gracefully into the seat.
"Can I get you some coffee, ma'am?" Kowalski offered.
"That would be lovely," she replied.
Kowalski left his own coffee on the table, and Julie quickly made sure that she wasn't being watched by either man. She took a small pillbox from the breast pocket of her jumpsuit, then hastily broke open two capsules and dumped the powder inside. She'd noticed that the coffee aboard Seaview tended to be on the strong side, and she hoped that it would mask the taste of the drug.
"Here's your coffee, ma'am," Kowalski smiled as he put the cup down in front of her. "Can I get you anything else?"
"No, thank you," she smiled pleasantly. "The coffee will do very nicely."
Exactly thirty minutes later, Crane was back in the Control Room. "Where's Kowalski?"
"I don't know, Skipper," Morton shrugged, then reached for the mike before Crane had time to give the next order. "Kowalski, report to the Control Room on the double." He returned the mike to its clip, then followed Crane forward to the access hatch. As they waited for Newman to open the hatch, Lee gave Chip instructions.
"If we're not back in two hours, take her deep, and ride out the storm on the bottom," Lee ordered.
"If I don't hear from you in an hour, I'm coming to look for you," Morton told him.
Crane paused and stared coolly at his Exec. He opened his mouth to tell Chip that he would do no such thing, but he was interrupted by an urgent call over the P.A.
"Sickbay, we need Doc in the Mess, on the double!" Cookie called, and Crane and Morton exchanged looks as they hurried back to the Conn.
"This is Captain Crane," he said as he snatched the mike from the side of the Table. "What's going on down there?"
"It's Kowalski, sir," the relay came back. "He collapsed."
There was a sudden shocked silence in the Control Room as the crew listened to the disturbing news about their shipmate. Patterson turned from his station and looked at Crane for reassurance.
"I'll be right there," Crane handed the mike to Chip. "You've got the Conn, Mr. Morton."
Before Chip could acknowledge the order, Crane had already left the Control Room at a run.
Doctor Jamieson was already kneeling beside Kowalski when Lee arrived.
"What's wrong with him, Doc?"
"I don't know yet, Captain" Jamieson briefly glanced up from his patient.
Lee watched anxiously as Jamieson assessed the crewman's condition. This made no sense... Kowalski had seemed fine earlier.
"What happened?" Crane asked Cookie.
Cookie shrugged. "I dunno, Skipper. He was okay when he got here, but when he got up to leave, he just collapsed."
At the moment, Lee was torn between his concern for Kowalski and the need to continue the search. He turned back to Jamieson and demanded, "Well?"
"Nothing conclusive," Jamieson replied. "I'll have to run tests."
"Will he be all right, Doc?" Lee asked.
Jamieson closed his medical bag and then moved aside so that the corpsmen could lift Kowalski onto a stretcher. "Captain, I can't promise anything, you know that. I'll be able to tell you more after I run the tests."
Crane ran a hand through his hair and nodded. "Okay, Doc. Thanks."
He watched as the corpsmen set off down the corridor, then turned and headed back to the Control Room.
Patterson turned around as Crane entered the Control Room. "Skipper, is Kowalski okay?"
"Doc's working on him now," Crane said. "I'm sure he'll be just fine, Patterson."
"Yes, sir," Patterson said half-heartedly as he turned back to his instruments. "Thank you, sir."
Crane continued forward and joined Morton at the Chart Table.
Chip looked up from the table and asked, "What's wrong with Kowalski?"
"Doc's not sure," Crane shook his head.
"Do you want another co-pilot?" Morton asked as he handed Crane a report for his signature.
Crane glanced at the report before he signed it, then handed it back and looked at his watch. "No, there's no time for that."
"But, Lee, what about the admiral?" Morton objected as he followed him forward to the Flying Sub's hatch.
"Look, Chip, we both know that I'm not going to find anything," Lee told him as he stopped to put on his flying jacket. "That plane's miles away by now. But we still have to go through the motions."
"Admiral Nelson's not going to like it," Morton warned.
"I can handle the admiral," Lee smiled at him from the hatch.
"That's great, but you're not the one who's going to have to tell him," Chip said as Crane closed the hatch. Straightening up, the Exec turned back to the Control Room and ordered, "Stand by to launch Flying Sub."
Julie waited until Crane was clear of Seaview before she emerged from her hiding place beneath the bunk. She moved behind Lee and slipped an arm around his neck. "Alone at last," she whispered in his ear.
FS-1 went into a dive as Lee's attention was diverted from the controls. The small craft plummeted several hundred feet in the few seconds that it took him to recover and bring the sub back under control.
"How did you get aboard?" he demanded.
"I sneaked aboard when no one was watching, " she told him. "I thought we could have some time alone." Last night had been so good. She couldn't wait to get him alone. It wasn't love or even a relationship that she wanted... just sex. And he was so sexy!
"What did you do to Kowalski?" Crane asked.
"It's just Saraphine. It'll wear off, and he'll be fine," she replied casually as she glanced across the instrumentation. "Does this thing have an auto-pilot?"
"Of course it does," he snapped. "What is Saraphine?"
"It's just a drug," Julie said, then added blatantly, "Turn the auto-pilot on, and let's just do it." Just being close to him made her pulse race and her body throb with desire. But before Lee could answer, he was interrupted by the radio.
"Seaview to Flying Sub. Come in FS-1," Morton said anxiously. "Lee, are you all right?"
"Yes, Chip, I'm fine. I have a stowaway. Inform the Admiral and Mr. Matthews that Miss Ward-Thomas is aboard."
"Aye, sir," Morton answered evenly. "Will you be continuing the search?"
"Yes, Chip. There's no time to return Miss Ward to Seaview," Crane told him. "Crane, out."
While he'd been talking to Morton, Julie had pulled the mattress down from the bunk. She spread a blanket over the cold PVC.
"What are you doing?" Lee asked, glancing over his shoulder.
"Making a bed for us," she told him, then walked over and stood behind him. "And don't you dare tell me it's unethical."
She quickly removed his tie and unfastened his seat belt, then whispered. "Come and lie down. Let me undress you. Let me rouse you slowly and gently."
"Don't you care about those people down there?" he objected.
"Of course I do, but you and I both know that you're not going to find them or the aircraft," she said.
She wanted to tell him that she knew, but she had to keep it a secret -- at least until the time was right. Ignoring his protests and attempts to fend her off, she continued with what she was doing. She unbuttoned his shirt, and he felt her hands moving over his chest.
"Please, Lee?" she whispered.
He was aroused. He wanted her to touch him, to strip off his clothes and let her stroke and caress him. He wanted her to do all the things that she'd done to him last night. Her lips trailed warm kisses down his neck, while her hand stroked his thigh, making it impossible to concentrate on flying.
"We're going to crash if you don't stop," he told her shakily.
"Then turn on the auto-pilot," she said.
His resolve was slipping away. His manhood responded as her hand moved to ease down his zipper. He couldn’t let this happen, not here, not now and certainly not with this woman. He watched, unable to tear his gaze away as she opened the front of her jumpsuit to display her firm, full breasts to him once more.
“You know you want to,” she whispered seductively as she cupped one breast and dragged a thumb over the taunt nipple.
Lee shook his head in denial. “I…can’t.”
“I want you, and I always get what I want.” Her warm hand slipped beneath his shirt.
His resolve was slipping away; she was intoxicating, something almost predatory stirred inside him, turning his desires into an urgent need. He found the switch for the autopilot and flicked it on, then stood up and took off his flight jacket. He stepped away from the pilot's seat and pulled her close to him. He encircled her waist with one arm, while his other hand slid inside the jumpsuit to cup her breast. His mouth covered hers, and he kissed her gently. He felt her nipples peak as he kneaded her warm flesh... but he wanted more, much more. He pushed the material back over her shoulders and jerked it down.
She pulled her arms out of the sleeves, leaving her naked to the waist.
By the time that they both reclined on the makeshift bed, they were naked. She pushed him onto his back and knelt astride him. Her hands moved over his body, slowly, skillfully bringing him to arousal. Exciting sensations radiated through him as her fingers stroked and teased.
His hands were on her breasts, lifting and squeezing, and as he rubbed across the taunt nipples, the sensual feeling added to the crescendo of erotic feelings flooding his body. "Ohhh, I need you," he groaned.
She smiled as she positioned herself above him and then took his throbbing need into her warm, moist femininity. He clawed at the blankets as she started to move. Her muscles tightened around his expanding length, massaging him and giving him such exquisite pleasure.
He had never experienced such a prolonged or powerful climax as she evoked. Finally, he subsided, his breath slowing, but even then, she didn't release him. She moved over his length in a sensual massage, and he groaned as he felt his manhood harden again.
She started to rock gently back and forth, and he arched his back, wanting more. His arousal continued to swell with each stroke as she drew him deeper inside.
The intense physical pleasure that she evoked was almost unbearable. His heart was pounding, and he was on the verge of hyperventilating. His manhood was hot and pulsing... he couldn't take much more.
Gradually, a familiar sound permeated Crane's fogged brain -- the aircraft's homing beacon. Exhausted, he reluctantly dragged himself to his feet.
"What are you doing?" Julie asked.
"It's the aircraft's homing beacon," he answered as he grabbed a towel from the pile beneath the bunk.
He glanced at his watch and swore silently. He should have checked in... the last thing that he needed was Chip asking awkward questions. Julie watched him, but she made no attempt to move from the makeshift bed.
"Get dressed," he told her.
He couldn't stand being so close to her naked body. Her exquisite breasts were so sensual -- especially the way they bounced when she moved. His manhood responded instantly to the erotic thought.
Stop it! he chided himself.
He retrieved his briefs from the deck and pulled them on, then moved to the pilot seat. He quickly fastened the throat mile around his neck, and he was more than just a little thankful that the Flying Sub wasn't equipped with a videophone.
He called Seaview, and there was a short pause before Chip Morton demanded, "Lee, where are you? We've been trying to reach you. Where have you been?"
"Never mind, Chip. I'll explain later," he said. "I've picked up the homing beacon, and I'm going down for a closer look."
He tensed, anticipating Morton's next question. Unfortunately, he had no idea of where they were since the autopilot had been on for some time.
He was relieved when Morton merely cautioned, "Be careful out there.""
"Don't worry. I'll report back when I've found the plane. Crane, out."
Crane swam back to FS-1, then pushed his air tanks ahead of him through the hatch before he pulled himself out of the water. He sat on the deck for a moment and started to remove his hood and flippers.
"That's far enough, Captain."
Crane looked up to find Julie pointing a gun at him as she stood over him. "Julie, what in the...?"
"You didn't find the diamonds?" she demanded.
"You know I didn't," Crane replied. It was all beginning to fit -- no doubt, she was involved with a crewman aboard the aircraft. If only he'd been using his head instead of... "I should have known," he said bitterly.
"Don't be so hard on yourself," she smiled as she took a cautious step back. "I'm really sorry that it had to be you, though."
"You're crazy if you think you can get away with this," he said angrily.
"And who's going to stop me?"
As Crane watched her, he wondered what the chances were of taking her by surprise. "You can't fire that gun in here. If you put a bullet through the hull, we'll lose pressure, and she'll flood."
"I'm a very good shot. I hit what I aim at," she boasted. "Now get in the pilot's seat and take us up. It's time that I was going now."
"Why should I?" he argued. "You're probably going to shoot me, anyway." No doubt someone from the crew was waiting to pick her up. Her accomplice, no doubt, Crane thought as he cursed himself for being taken in by her.
"Don't try anything, Captain," she warned. "I'd hate to have to kill you just yet."
"If you shoot me, who's going to pilot this thing?" he replied.
"I'm sure you don't want to put that to the test. Now quit stalling!"
Reluctantly, he closed the hatch and moved to the pilot seat, then turned his attention to the controls. He switched off the autopilot, then pulled the stick back and increased power to the engines. As FS-1 headed for the surface, Crane noticed the blip on the radar screen that meant someone was waiting for them on the surface.
The Flying Sub broached the surface with water streaming off her fuselage. Inside, Crane turned from the controls.
"There are two dead bodies in that plane," he told her. "That makes you an accessory to murder."
She smiled coldly as she moved to the ladder. "Don't try to appeal to my conscience. I don't have one."
"So what happens now?" Crane asked. "You're not going to leave me here to raise the alarm."
"That's a very good question. I could just kill you."
"Now that I'm no longer of any use to you," he said sarcastically.
"Not quite. Open the hatch," she instructed.
It was now or never. If he didn't act, she would get away. Carefully, he unfastened his belt, then launched himself across the space between them and caught her before she had time to react. The gun flew from her hand and skidded across the deck, out of sight. As they both went down, Crane landed on top of her and pinned her down. He captured her wrists and held them above her head.
"Kiss me?" she whispered, smiling up at him.
"A minute ago, you were ready to kill me," he answered angrily. Angry that she had betrayed him. Angry at himself for being such an idiot. How the hell was he going to explain everything to Nelson?
"Well, maybe I was a little hasty," she told him. "You could come with us. Eight million split three ways is still a lot of money."
Crane shook his head. "Thanks, but no thanks."
He stood up and pulled her up after him. She struggled, kicking out at him and tried to wrench her wrists free. Her foot caught his shin, but his wetsuit protected him from the worst of it.
"You might as well give up. You can't get away," he told her through gritted teeth... she certainly was a wild cat.
"Like hell!" she snarled, and with that, she brought her knee up into his groin.
Pain exploded through his body. With a moan, he sank to his knees, doubled over. His eyes filled with tears as red-hot tendrils of agony burned in his groin and paralyzed him. Julie kicked him viciously in the ribs, and he groaned again.
Crane grabbed her ankle and threw her back to the deck. He struggled to his feet, trying to ignore the pain. The sound of the hatch opening signaled the arrival of her accomplice and distracted his attention from the girl. Something hit him hard from behind, and he pitched forward, slipping into unconsciousness.
Julie dropped the weight belt that she had used to club Crane, then complained breathlessly, "You took your time."
"You seemed to be doing okay on your own," Ben Powers told her as he climbed down the ladder. He knelt beside Crane and felt for a pulse, while Julie searched for the gun.
"Is he dead?" she asked.
"No," Powers replied. "I'll find something to tie him up with, and then we can get out of here."
"Don't bother." Julie returned with the gun and pointed it at the unconscious captain. "Let's finish him off."
Powers grabbed her arm. "No, that's not necessary! By the time they find him, we'll be long gone."
She begrudgingly lowered the gun and settled for another savage kick to Crane's ribs, instead. As she watched Powers secure Crane's wrist with insulating tape from the locker, she commented, "What about Alec and Elaine? You didn't have a problem killing them."
"Yeah, and if we kill the captain of Seaview, we'll have the whole Navy looking for us." Powers glanced up at her as he finished binding Crane's wrists and moved to do the same to his ankles. "Not to mention the Coast Guard and every cop in the country."
All the while, Crane had not stirred... maybe she shouldn't have hit him so hard, Julie thought. It was a shame that he was so honorable and dedicated. Such a waste, she sighed to herself. At first, she had worried that he would ruin everything. But in the end, he had turned out to be a bonus.
"Come on, let's get out of here," Powers urged as he stood up.
Morton straightened up from studying the charts and looked at his watch. Crane was overdue, and nothing had been heard from him since he'd reporting picking up the aircraft's beacon. He left the Chart Table and then walked aft to the Radio Shack.
"Anything from Captain Crane?" he asked.
The radio operator shook his head. "No, sir."
"Try calling him again," Morton instructed, then waited while Sparks flipped switches.
"Seaview to Flying Sub," he spoke into the mike attached to his headset. "Come in. FS-l." There was a pause while they both waited for a response, but they heard only static. "Seaview to FS-l. Captain Crane, please acknowledge."
Again, they waited, but there was no response. As Morton turned away, he ordered, "Very well, Sparks. Keep on trying."
He crossed between the vertical Plot Table and the periscope mount until he reached the sonar station. Seaman Patterson was hunched over the screen.
"Any sign of the Flying Sub, Patterson?" Morton asked.
Morton rested a hand on the back of Patterson's chair for a moment and watched the screen, trying to will the Flying Sub to appear. But the screen remained clear, and even when he turned to Riley at the hydrophone station, he knew what the reply would be. "Riley, anything on hydrophones?"
"No, sir," Riley shook his head.
Chip crossed the Control Room again and took the latest weather report from the printer. Even though Seaview was headed away from the center of the storm, high winds and a heavy swell meant that it was still rough on the surface. Chip hoped that Lee was riding it out on the bottom.
But the only problem with that theory was that Lee hadn't checked in, and there was no way to prove or disprove it. He could be having trouble with the radio, but again, Chip's intuition told him that it wasn't the case. He was convinced that Lee was in trouble, and the sooner that they found FS-1, the happier he'd be.
He walked back over to the Chart Table to plot the course of the storm. It was still on the same track, moving away from them, but now the low was expanding and it would be some time before they were clear of it. That might hamper the search for the aircraft and the Flying Sub. Something told him that when they found the plane, they would find Lee. Alive and well, Morton hoped.
The sound of Sparks' voice over the radio brought Crane back to awareness. His head throbbed, and a stab of pain went through his chest as he tried to move. The Flying Sub was riding a heavy swell, pitching with the rise and fall of the waves. She wasn't designed to operate on the surface, and the unpleasant movement added to his discomfort.
It took a moment before he realized that his hands and feet were tied. His hands were almost numb from lack of circulation caused by the tape that was bound tightly around his wrists. Unfortunately, other parts of his anatomy were far from numb.
Pain burned in his chest and groin, reminding him that he had a score to settle with Miss Ward-Thomas. She'd been in on it from start, and she'd used him and the Seaview to get away. At least he was still alive, but that was small consolation compared to the fact that he hadn't realized what she was up to -- even when she admitted that she'd drugged Kowalski.
The Seaview's radio operator was still trying to raise him. Nelson had probably instructed Sparks to keep calling until he got an answer. Crane experimentally tested the tape that bound his wrists. It failed to give and only cut into his wrists even more.
If only he could free himself and get to the controls, so that he could submerge! FS-1 dropped again in another stomach-turning plunge. He tried to ignore the pain long enough to draw up his knees and slowly stretch his arms in an attempt to loop-them under his feet. The effort was agony -- to say nothing of being impossible because of FS-1's continuous motion.
Gradually, the pain eased, and he carefully uncurled. But his head hurt even more now, and he felt as if he'd been hit by a truck.
In the Radio Shack, Sparks had just picked up the faint bleep of the Matthews aircraft's homing beacon. He announced, "Mr. Morton, I've got a signal."
"Can you track it?" Morton asked as he arrived at the duty station.
"I think so, sir," Sparks nodded. He carefully adjusted the tuner until the signal came in at full strength. Morton waited patiently while Sparks triangulated the aircraft's position.
As soon as Sparks had the coordinates, Morton quickly returned to the Chart Table to transfer the data. It took only a few moments to calculate the new course.
"Ten degrees, left rudder, “he ordered. "Helm, come to course one one oh degrees."
"One one oh, aye."
"All ahead full," he ordered, and without waiting for an acknowledgment, he called Nelson. "Admiral, we're picking up the aircraft beacon, sir."
"I'll be right there." Nelson's response was almost immediate.
Chip felt better now that they were doing something positive. But Lee's failure to report still worried him, and he suspected that the girl was somehow involved. And there was little doubt now about what had really happened to the plane.
Admiral Nelson clattered down the stairs into the Control Room, followed closely by Matthews. This was the first break they'd had in what was proving to be a difficult mission.
"Anything from Lee?" Nelson asked hopefully as he walked toward Morton.
The Exec shook his head. "No, sir."
"How long will it take to reach the coordinates?" Nelson enquired. He could do with some good news right about now, he thought to himself. Lee was out there somewhere -- he hoped.
"ETA is forty five minutes, sir," Morton replied, then asked hesitantly, "Admiral, do you think Lee is okay?"
"I hope so, Chip."
"What could have happened to them?" Matthews interrupted.
"It's too soon to say," Nelson told him in the kind of voice that meant the discussion was over. There was no use indulging in speculation at this point. The important thing was to find them... fast!
Crane wondered how long it would take Seaview to get here. They would have been tracking the Flying Sub on sonar, but she would have been out of range before they picked up the aircraft's ELT. Using the ladder as leverage, he tried to sit up. But the movement only increased the throbbing in his skull -- not to mention other parts of his body. How in the hell had he gotten himself into this mess? And how was he going to explain it to Nelson? He leaned back against the ladder and closed his eyes for a moment. He fought back the increasing nausea that he hoped was just the effects of the craft's pitching and rolling, rather than a concussion from the blow that had knocked him out.
Relax, he told himself. Seaview would be here soon, and he'd feel better after a shower and some hot coffee.
The Flying Sub was rising again with the swell as conditions outside worsened. He was worried about whether or not the craft would stand up to this kind of treatment. The fact that she was made from the same materials as Seaview herself was comforting, but he wasn't so sure that she could stand up to this kind of battering.
FS-1 reached the crest of the wave, and then plunged back toward the ocean. With his hands still tied, Lee was unable to hold on, and he was thrown across the cabin. The impact only served to add to what was already an impressive collection of bruises. For a moment, he could only lay there, waiting for the Flying Sub to hit the water.
He didn't have to wait long. The jarring impact tossed him against the pressure tank's control valves. He felt another sharp stab of pain as the wheel jabbed into his back.
Forty-five minutes had seemed like forty-five hours to Nelson. At last, Seaview was positioned above the wreckage of the aircraft. Both Nelson and Morton watched the monitor as the nose camera panned over the area.
"Where's the Flying Sub?" Nelson demanded anxiously.
Morton shrugged. "She should be out there, Admiral."
"She should be, but she isn't," Nelson snapped.
"What are your orders, sir?" Morton asked.
"Send out a diving party to search the wreck and recover whatever is down there," Nelson ordered, even though he secretly feared what those divers might find.
"What about the Flying Sub, sir?"
"I wish I knew, Chip," Nelson shook his head, then turned from the monitor and called over his shoulder, "Sparks, have you been able to reach the Flying Sub yet?"
"No, sir," the operator replied. "The Skipper's not answering."
"Keep trying," Nelson told him, then turned back to the monitor. Where the devil were Lee and the Flying Sub?
"Diving party is on its way, Admiral," Morton reported.
"Very good," Nelson acknowledged, but he was occupied by thoughts of Lee. He'd warned him about going out alone... why hadn't the stubborn young fool listened?
"Mr. Morton, radar has a contact, sir," Baker reported.
The news was enough to bring the admiral out of his grim thoughts. Morton and Nelson walked over to the radar station and stood behind the crewman.
"Object on the surface." Nelson commented, and his hopes were suddenly lifted by this new find. He'd been afraid that Lee's body would be found in the plane.
"The Flying Sub?" Morton speculated, voicing Nelson's own thoughts.
"Possibly, Chip. It's the right size," Nelson said as he studied the blip on the radar screen. If it was the Flying Sub, she appeared to be adrift.
"Shall I give the order to surface?" Morton asked.
Nelson shook his head reluctantly. "We can't surface until the divers are back aboard."
Conditions on the surface were improving, but there was still enough swell to toss FS-1 around like a toy. Once again, Crane was thrown across the cabin and landed against the ladder with bruising impact. He was tired... lack of sleep the previous night, their explosive lovemaking, and the dive to investigate the wreck had all taken their toll.
It's your own fault, he reprimanded himself.
In an effort to stop himself from being thrown around anymore, he curled his legs around the ladder. All he wanted to do was to sleep, but his aching head and the continual pitching of the Flying Sub prevented it.
Nelson had been right... he shouldn't have gone out alone. He wasn't looking forward to facing the admiral. The infamous Nelson temper was a force to be reckoned with, and Lee knew he'd be in for a rough ride when the admiral caught up with him.
He'd been listening half-heartedly to Sparks' repeated calls, but now the message suddenly changed.
"Captain Crane, if you can hear me, sir, we have you in sight. Mr. Morton is on his way to you with a rescue party."
Thank God! Lee whispered with relief.
He was exhausted, and he didn't care how much trouble he was in. He was looking forward to hot coffee and a comfortable bunk.
Morton dove out of the inflatable dinghy and struck out towards the Flying Sub. There was still a heavy swell, which made it impossible to bring the flimsy little craft in close to FS-1. It also made hard work of swimming. The salt water stung his eyes, and the force of the waves repeatedly threw him off course. By the time that he reached the Flying Sub, he was near exhaustion. His chest ached from the effort.
The smooth shape of the sub prevented him from getting a handhold to pull himself up, and he would have to enter via the hatch on the underside of the craft. Not an easy task when she was riding a heavy swell like this, Morton knew. He took a deep breath and then plunged below the surface.
But his first attempt to access the hatch failed, and he was forced back to the surface for air. He gulped in another lungful, then tried again as the men in the inflatable watched anxiously. This time, he managed to get the hatch open, and he hauled himself up into the small airlock.
Exhausted and breathless, he slumped over on the deck until he could recover his strength. After a moment, he sat up and looked around the interior of the Flying Sub. Lee was lying on the other side of the hatch, his legs curled around the ladder. Chip closed the hatch and quickly knelt beside him.
"Lee?" he asked anxiously.
"What took you so long?" Lee smiled weakly.
"What happened?" Chip asked as he carefully inspected his captain. "Are you hurt?
"Julie... she was in on it," Lee replied urgently. "We have to go after them."
"Okay, but you just take it easy," Morton soothed. He pulled the First Aid kit out of the storage locker and searched through its contents until he found the scissors. He quickly cut the tape binding Lee's wrists.
"Thanks," Lee gasped, then curled up in pain as he clutched his injured side.
Chip cut the tape around Lee's ankles, then tossed the scissors back into the kit. He was concerned now that Lee might be badly hurt.
"Lee, what's wrong?" he asked.
"Just a little worse for the weather," Lee said as he struggled to sit up.
"I think we'd better get you back to Seaview and let Doc check you out," Chip said. He put an arm around Lee's shoulder and helped him sit up. But he wasn't sure if he should move Lee or not, and he frowned anxiously at the captain. "Are you sure you're not hurt?" he asked.
"Yeah, I'm okay," Lee nodded.
Lee groaned, but he managed to get to his feet with Chip's help. He still clutched his side with one hand, while he used the other hand to cling to the ladder for support.
"Come on, Lee -- off your feet," Chip urged. From the way that Lee was clinging to the ladder, the Exec doubted whether he could stay upright for much longer.
"Just give me a minute," Lee replied, then grimaced. "The tape cut off my circulation, and my feet are numb."
"Let's get you strapped back in," Chip said as he put a supporting arm around Lee's waist. "I'll have you back aboard Seaview in five minutes."
"I think I'd rather take the bunk," Lee admitted reluctantly.
His head was pounding, and there wasn't a part of his battered body that didn't hurt. As much as he hated to admit to Chip just how badly he felt, he knew that the bunk was a more comfortable option than the co-pilot seat.
Chip nodded, then helped him take the few steps from the ladder to the bunk. Lee groaned as he collapsed gratefully onto the mattress, but he did have one bone to pick with the designer of this craft... why did the blasted bunk have to be so high?
He closed his eyes and listened to the familiar sounds around him. At the moment, Chip was talking to Sparks, and judging from their conversation, Lee knew that he had no chance of escaping Jamieson. In fact, the doctor would probably be in the Control Room, just waiting to whisk his patient off to Sick Bay.
Lee wondered what injuries would be revealed when he removed his wetsuit -- not to mention what Doc was going to say about the.... However, that was the least of his worries at the moment. Facing Nelson was going to be worse... a whole lot worse.
Jamieson drew the blanket up to Lee's shoulders, "Nothing broken. But I still want to keep you under observation for the next twenty-four hours, just in case you've got a concussion."
"Sorry, Doc... I seem to be making a habit out of this," Lee apologized as he tried gingerly to ease himself into a position that didn't hurt quite as much.
For once, he didn't care about being confined to Sick Bay. He needed time to figure out what he was going to say to Nelson. Sooner or later, he was going to have to face the admiral, but he wasn't quite ready for that, yet.
Jamieson smiled. "That's what I'm here for. I'll give you something for the pain, and then we'll get you into a bunk."
"Thanks," Lee sighed wearily.
"The Admiral will probably be down to see you any minute now, and Chip said that he'd check in on you as soon as he comes off watch," Jamieson said cheerfully.
"Couldn't you tell them that I'm asleep or something?" Lee asked. He was ashamed that he didn't want to see anyone right now -- especially not Nelson. He wouldn't blame anyone if they accused him of conspiring with the girl.
"Why? They're worried about you," Jamieson told him.
"I know," Lee hesitated, reluctant to say too much with Kowalski still in Sick Bay. "Please, Doc, all I want is some peace and quiet." He closed his eyes, hoping that Jamieson would leave it at that.
The medic touched his shoulder and gestured at the bunks. "All right, Lee," Jamieson said. "Come on, and let's get you into a bunk so you can get some sleep. I'll tell the admiral that I'd prefer if he waited until the morning to talk to you."
Reluctantly, Lee forced himself to sit up, and he swung his legs over the side of the table. With Jamieson's help, he eased himself down from the table and allowed the doctor to steer him to a bunk.
A little while later, Jamieson closed Lee Crane's medical file and rubbed a hand across his eyes. He got up from his desk and walked over to stand in the doorway of Sick Bay. The lights were dimmed now, giving him just enough illumination to observe his patients. Lee was asleep, and Jamieson walked over to the bunk. He leaned against it for a moment as he watched Lee. He'd treated Lee's physical injuries, but he was more worried about his mental state at the moment. Lee obviously blamed himself for the girl's escape, but Jamieson suspected that there was more to it than that. The captain had hardly spoken except to answer his questions and tell him what Miss Ward-Thomas had done to Kowalski. Lee had also been uncharacteristically cooperative and hadn't made his usual protest about staying in Sick Bay. In fact, Jamieson was sure that Lee had wanted to stay this time. At least he'd been able to justify keeping Lee because of the blow to the head. He hadn't exhibited any signs of a concussion so far, but there was the fact that he'd been unconscious for an indeterminate amount of time. Then there was the matter of those strange bruises. Even though they were more painful than serious, Jamieson suspected that the bruises were only part of the reason that Lee hurt... and not necessarily the most important one, either.
However, he'd let the subject ride for the time being. At least he had Lee in Sick Bay so that he could keep an eye on the occasionally reckless captain. Doc smiled at the thought as he checked Lee again, and when he was satisfied that the captain hadn't slipped into unconsciousness, he straightened up.
As he turned his attention to his other patient, Jamieson smiled to himself at the irony of the situation. He'd always been the one who'd lectured Crane about pushing himself too hard, even to the point of skipping meals or pulling double shifts. And yet here he was, still on duty long after his shift had ended. He had to admit that there was no real need for him to stay. Corpsman Grey was just as capable of monitoring Crane's condition as he was, and if anything should happen, he knew that Grey would call him.
As soon as Grey returned from stores, Jamieson decided that he would take his own advice and turn in. If past experience was anything to judge by, Lee would probably be eager to return to duty in the morning, and Jamieson knew that he'd need all his medical wits and resilience if he was going to win the inevitable argument with his commanding officer.
In fact, Lee hadn't given himself time to recuperate from their last mission before taking on this one. Of course, that hadn't been all Lee's doing, Jamieson knew. Nelson had committed Seaview to help in the search for the missing aircraft, and Lee wouldn't have wanted to let the admiral down.
A quick check on Kowalski was all that was necessary, now that Jamieson knew what had caused him to collapse. Saraphine had no side effects, and the crewman should be able to return to duty in the morning.
But as he headed to his cabin, Jamieson wondered in hindsight if he should have intervened to prevent Crane from taking command of the search. Lee's judgment had been impaired by some of the biochemical changes caused by Braddock's atmosphere, and even after the antidote had taken effect, some of the animal traits could have remained. The medic was annoyed with himself that he hadn't thought to run a hormone level check on Lee. Tomorrow he'd run some more tests... and that alone would be sure to have Lee clamoring to get out of Sick Bay!
"Good morning, Captain," Jamieson studied Crane's chart. "How are you feeling?"
"You're the doctor. You tell me."
Jamieson frowned at Lee's remark. . .it certainly wasn't the response that he'd anticipated. He'd expected Lee to tell him that everything was fine, even if it obviously wasn't.
"Your pulse, blood pressure, and temperature are all normal," Jamieson told him. "Are you hungry?"
"Not really, Doc, but I wouldn't say no to some coffee."
Jamieson smiled -- at least that response was normal!
"I think we can manage that. Grey, would you get Captain Crane some coffee, please?"
"So, aren't you going to ask me when you can go back to duty?" Jamieson joked. "As much as you hate being in Sick Bay, I'm surprised that you aren't already trying to escape."
"I'm not fit to command," Lee replied sullenly as he stared up at the bunk above him.
Well, at least that response was normal, anyway. Jamieson had definitely been down this road before. He pulled a chair beside the bunk and then said down. "Okay, are you going to tell me what this is all about, or are we going to have to do it the hard way?" he asked in determination.
"Lee shook his head. "There's nothing to tell."
"Captain, I know better than that," Jamieson told him. "There's more to this than just your injured pride, but I can't help you if you won't tell me what's wrong."
"There's nothing you can do." Lee closed his eyes and turned his head, but not before Jamieson heard him mutter, "What a hell of a mess."
Jamieson put a comforting hand on Lee's shoulder. "Come on, Lee. Nothing can be that bad."
Who am I kidding? Jamieson thought. I know for a fact that things can be this bad. But Lee's always gotten through it before. So what makes this time so different?
"Doc, please just leave me alone."
"I'm sorry, but you know I can't do that," Jamieson said apologetically. "I have to give the admiral a report on your condition. So what am I supposed to tell him?"
Jamieson knew that Lee needed to talk to someone. But he also sensed that this was something Lee didn't feel that he could discuss with Nelson.
"I don't care what you tell him!" Lee snapped. "I'm tired, and I'm sore. I just want to forget that the whole thing ever happened."
"What really happened out there, Lee?" Jamieson asked gently.
Lee shook his head again. "I told you, I don't want to talk about it."
"You know that anything you tell me is held in strictest confidence," Jamieson reminded him. "We may be aboard a submarine, but you know that my medical oath still applies underwater, too."
"It was just a stupid mistake," Lee sighed. "I feel like such an idiot."
"What was?" Jamieson prompted.
Whatever the problem was, Lee had to deal with it and move on. Hiding in Sick Bay wouldn't help, either. Sooner or later, he would have to face Nelson and the crew. Lee started to say something, but at that moment, Grey returned with a fresh pot of coffee.
Just as I was starting to get somewhere! Jamieson thought. "Drink your coffee," he told Lee. "Then I want to run some tests."
"Great!" Lee grumbled. "More tests."
"The good news is that once I'm done, you can return to duty," Jamieson smiled.
"But--" Lee protested.
"We'll discuss it later," Jamieson said.
Returning to duty was probably the best thing for Lee right now...even if he didn't think so.
"You did what!" Nelson exploded. He stood up, then slammed a fist down on the desk. "Captain Crane, what the devil were you thinking?"
Lee shook his head. "I didn't mean for it to happen. Things... just got out of control."
"Damnation, Lee, you're the captain. You have a responsibility -- a position of trust," Nelson berated him. "Do you realize what this could do to your career?"
"Yes, Admiral," Lee apologized quietly and dropped his head in shame. "I'm sorry that I let you down."
Nelson sat down, and when he spoke again, some of the anger was gone from his voice. "You haven't let me down. You've let yourself down."
"If you want my resignation, it will be on your desk in an hour," Lee offered, but his voice was unsteady.
Nelson knew how much Seaview meant to Lee and what it had taken for him to make such a statement. The Admiral leaned back in his chair and looked at Lee across the desk. "What am I going to do with you?" he shook his head. For a second, he considered relieving Lee of command -- but only for a second. He simply couldn't do that to Lee. The humiliation would make it impossible for Lee to remain aboard Seaview. His thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door.
"Come in," he called, annoyed at the interruption, and he was surprised to see Jamieson. "Yes, Doc, what is it?"
Jamieson walked across the cabin and handed Nelson a folder. "Admiral. I think you ought to read this." The medic's gaze flashed from Crane to Nelson, and he frowned. "Now, sir."
"All right, Doc." Nelson took the folder and started to read the report that it contained. He didn't understand all the medical jargon that it contained, but he understood enough to recognize the significance of its contents. When he finished reading, he looked up, first at Jamieson and then at Crane, who was still studying the floor.
"Well, Captain, it seems that I owe you an apology," he said.
Lee raised his head and gave the Admiral a bewildered look.
Nelson smiled as he handed the folder back to Jamieson. "Maybe you'd better explain, Doc," he said.
"Certainly, Admiral," Jamieson turned to Crane. "Captain, why don't you sit down for a minute?"
Lee perched on the corner of the desk and gave Jamieson a curious look.
"The blood tests that I ran this morning confirmed that Braddock's atmosphere had caused a hormone imbalance that wasn't corrected by the antidote," Jamieson told him, but Lee looked confused.
"Are you saying that this imbalance...?" he hesitated.
"Has enhanced the basic animal instincts, including increased your sex drive," Jamieson finished for him, then added hastily, "And yes, it will correct itself, Captain."
"More like turned me into a sex-crazed animal," Lee blushed.
"I'm sorry, Lee. It should have occurred to me before," Jamieson admitted as he handed Lee a bottle of pills. "In the meantime, these should help."
"What are they?" Lee asked suspiciously.
"A mild sedative. They'll calm you down."
Lee looked from Jamieson to Nelson, then accepted the pills without argument. "Thanks, Doc."
Jamieson smiled reassuringly. "I'm afraid this means that I'll have to withdraw my clearance for you to return to duty.''
"That's okay, Doc." Lee shrugged, then glanced uncertainly at Nelson. "Just as long as it's not permanent."
Nelson nodded. "Just until Doc's sure you're okay."
Crane looked up from his personal log as someone flung open his cabin door. Matthews strode across the deck, determination showing in every line of his face. Crane saw Matthews' expression and stood up, anticipating trouble.
"Is there something that I can do for you, Mr. Matthews?" Crane asked calmly. There was no point in challenging him over his unannounced entry, and in any event, Crane had a good idea why he was there.
"I think you've done enough already," Matthews said savagely as he advanced on Crane.
"I'm sorry. I'm afraid I don't..." Lee said innocently.
"You were in it together, weren’t you?" Matthews raged. He grabbed Crane's shirt and pushed him. Lee stumbled back and knocked over the chair as Matthews skirted the desk and slammed the captain into the bulkhead. "Don't try to play innocent with me," 'Matthews snarled. "My brother is dead because of you."
He pinned Lee against the wall and aimed a punch at his jaw. Crane managed to dodge, however, and Matthews hit the wall. Crane retaliated with a jab to the stomach, and as Matthews doubled over, he caught him again with an uppercut to the jaw.
Before Matthews had time to recover, the captain grabbed him and pitched him across the desk. Matthews sprawled over the desk, scattering its contents across the deck. Crane advanced on him, intending to throw him out. But before he could make a grab for Matthews, the other man planted a foot in Crane's midsection and pushed him away.
Crane stumbled back, but he managed to stay upright as Matthews rolled off the desk and came to his feet. He launched himself at Crane, and both men went down together. Matthews landed on top of Crane and knocked the wind out of him.
Before the captain could recover, his assailant attacked again with a punch to the face. Crane's head hit the metal decking, and for a moment, he saw stars.
Seeing his advantage, Matthews grabbed Crane's throat and began to strangle him until he was barely able to breathe.
Desperately, Crane struggled to break Matthews' hold, and at last, he managed to break the other man's grip. He managed to push Matthews aside and rolled away. He tried to stumble to his feet, but he was a little slower than Matthews, and that delay gave his opponent the chance to catch him with a kick to the stomach. Crane groaned and doubled over, then collapsed to the deck again.
Matthews saw another opportunity, but Crane rolled out of range and forced himself to stand again. The other man was stronger than the captain, however, and the medication that Jamieson had given him earlier was slowing his reactions. Matthews grabbed Lee's arm and twisted him around, then tripped him.
As he fell forward, Lee felt as if his arm was about to be ripped from its socket. Matthews released Lee's arm, and the captain rolled onto his back and then kicked Matthews's feet out from under him. He made a desperate grab for the edge of the desk, knocking more objects onto the floor.
Lee tackled him from behind, and this time, he managed to get an arm around Matthews' neck. But Matthews elbowed Lee in the stomach, forcing the captain to let go. With that, Matthews turned and caught Lee with a roundhouse kick. Lee fell to his knees and groaned as the pain doubled him over.
Chip Morton wanted to know what the hell was going on. He'd expected Lee to return to duty that morning, but now suddenly, that had changed. Nelson had informed him that he would be acting captain until they returned to base. He'd given no explanation and had dismissed Morton without giving him the chance to ask any questions.
To add to the puzzle, there had been no sign of Lee. He hadn't come to the Wardroom for lunch, and Cookie had informed Morton that no meals had been sent to Sick Bay or the captain's cabin, either. So now Chip was headed for Officers' Country to Lee's cabin. If something was wrong, it would be the most likely place that Lee would go to shut himself away.
But as he reached Lee's cabin, Chip could hear the sounds of a disturbance. Without pausing to knock, he opened the door and stepped inside.
"Lee, what is going ...?" he started to say. But the question went unfinished when he saw Matthews with his hand on Lee's collar, about to drag the dazed man to his feet. Chip ran across the cabin and pulled Matthews away.
"Leave him alone!" Morton ordered. "What in the hell do you think you're doing, anyway?"
"Why don't you ask your captain what he's been doing?" Matthews snarled in contempt. He turned and walked out of the cabin, then slammed the door behind him.
At the moment there were more important things to occupy Chip's attention, however. Crane had collapsed onto his knees again with his arms wrapped around his stomach.
"Lee?" Chip asked.
"...think I'm going to be sick," Crane moaned.
"I'll get Doc." Chip reached for the telephone, and he was more alarmed at Lee's condition than he wanted to admit.
"No!" Lee protested.
Chip abandoned the telephone for the moment, then knelt beside Lee and put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Lee, you really do need a doctor."
Lee reached out to him. "I'll be all right, Chip. Just give me a hand, will you?"
Chip took Lee's arm and helped him up, then supported him until they reached the captain's bunk.
"Just lie down while I get Doc."
"No, Chip... I'm all right," he insisted.
"At least let me call the Master at Arms and have Matthews thrown in the Brig," Chip requested.
"No, it was my fault," Lee told him.
"What are you talking about, Lee?" Chip demanded as he perched on the edge of the bunk. "What's going on?"
Lee fell back against the pillows with a sigh, and when he spoke, his voice was quiet. "I really fouled up, Chip."
Chip didn't comment, but waited instead for Lee to continue. He wondered what could have provoked the fight that he had just interrupted... and more importantly, why Lee didn't want him to do anything about it.
Lee stared up at the top of the bunk. "She used me. I let her seduce me. Chip, I feel like such an idiot."
"Have you told the admiral?"
"Yes, and I thought he was going to throw me off the sub." Lee closed his eyes and swallowed hard.
"He didn't, though?" Chip prompted.
Lee shook his head. "Doc said that it was a hormone imbalance that turned me into a sex maniac."
"How did Matthews find out?" Chip asked.
"I don't think he did. I think he was just jumping to conclusions. Can't say that I blame him, though."
“Shit, Lee – what about Sophie? Are you going to tell her?”
Lee nodded. “I have to tell her, she deserves to know and I won’t build a relationship on lies.”
"How do you feel? Are you sure you don't want me to call Sick Bay?" Chip asked.
Lee looked pale, and a bruise on his face was rapidly turning into a black eye. Chip was sure that if Jamieson saw him now, he'd have him back in Sick Bay right away.
But then Lee yawned, and he seemed to visibly relax. "Sorry, it's the pills that Doc gave me," he apologized. His eyes began to drift shut again, and he said drowsily, "I'm all right, Chip."
Morton watched as Lee settled down further into the bedding. Whatever Doc had given him, it seemed to be working. "If you're sure, then I'd better be getting back to the Control Room," Chip told him as he stood up from the bunk. "I'll see you later."
"Fine," Lee mumbled, half-asleep.
Chip quietly left the cabin, but he paused briefly for a final look back at his captain. It would be interesting to see how Lee explained the black eye!
Three days later, Seaview was on her way back to New London. Matthews stood on the Bridge, his thick black hair tousled by the breeze. As his deep blue eyes searched the horizon, he saw nothing but peace and tranquility all around him.
But his expression belied his real mood, and even his stance projected his worry and concern. He stood staring straight ahead at the wide expanse of water, and he watched as Seaview glided almost silently through the waves. The sea was calm again with just a gentle swell, and the sound of waves breaking against the hull only added to the sense of peace and harmony.
Lee leaned against the Conning Tower. No matter how many times he experienced them, he never tired of the sea's ever-changing mood. Under any other circumstances than these, it would have been a lovely evening. But as he watched Matthews, he was reluctant to intrude on the other man's thoughts. It was difficult to find the words, especially since Julie had made such fools out of both of them. How could he have been such an idiot? He'd acted like an adolescent, letting his hormones rule his head. Not like a grown, intelligent man who should have known better.
And not only had he made a complete fool of himself, but his indiscretion had jeopardized the whole mission. Hell, it could have even cost him his command, not to mention what it was going to do to his relationship with Sophie. Even though Jamieson had reassured him that it wasn't his fault, Lee still felt guilty. He didn't blame Matthews for thinking that he'd helped Julie escape. He understood only too well how the whole situation must have looked to him.
But surprisingly, it was Matthews who made the first move.
"Captain Crane?" he began awkwardly as he turned from his contemplation of the ocean. "I'm sorry. I had no right to attack you like that. And I shouldn't have accused you of those things, either."
"No, sir. I'm the one who should apologize." Lee hesitated, unsure exactly- how to tell Matthews what had gone on between him and Julie. "Those accusations were at least partly correct."
"It's all right, Captain. You don't have to explain," Matthews told him. "It seems that Miss Ward-Thomas made fools of us both."
Lee nodded in agreement. "We both did some things that we regret."
Matthews took a step closer and held out a hand to Crane. Lee accepted the gesture of apology and shook hands.
"I'm sorry about your brother," Lee said sympathetically.
"Thank you, Captain," Matthews said as he turned to the open hatch. "If you'll excuse me, I have some arrangements to make."
Matthews stopped and turned back to Lee. "I'm sorry about your eye, Captain. I hope it will be all right."
"I'll live," Lee assured him with a smile. Again his thoughts going to Sophie, he may not survive when she found out what he had done.
He turned his attention back to the sea, then decided to stay topside and enjoy the tranquility while he had the chance. After all, it wasn't often that he got the opportunity to be a passenger.
Sophie fought back tears; she wouldn’t let him see her cry. “Why? How could you do this to me? To us?” She loved Lee Crane, but obviously he didn’t feel the same way. She had been looking forward to spending some time with him and then he had dropped this bomb shell on her.
Lee took a step closer. “I never intended for it to happen. It was something in the artificial atmosphere we were testing. It turned me into a wild beast.”
“I don’t care what caused it. How can you expect me to ever trust you again?” She took a step back, don’t able to have him touch her.
“Please, Sophie – I love you,” Lee pleaded.
Sophie shook her head. “If you loved me, you wouldn’t have had sex with another woman. What happened to the tough ONI agent who would never fold under torture?” She questioned sarcastically.
“I…it didn’t mean anything.”
Sophie couldn’t believe he’d said that. “Don’t you see? That makes it worse. What about the next time you are sneaking around some place for ONI and need to seduce some foreign diplomat or enemy agent?” She was so angry and hurt, his behavior was unforgiveable.
“Sophie please – I’ll resign from ONI.”
“It’s too late, Lee – you’ve blown it.” She was determined that she wasn’t going to let him charm his way out of this one.
Lee dropped his gaze to the floor. “I’m sorry. I know you’re upset and you have every right to be. But I am not giving up, I love you and I know that you love me.”
“Yes, I love you and I thought that you loved me. It seems that the rumors about you are true, you’re just a gigolo.” She wanted to lash out, to hurt him the way he’d hurt her. “Admiral Johnson has asked me to return to ONI as an Intelligence Analyst. I was going to turn him down, but under the circumstances, I’m going to accept. There’s no reason for me to remain in California,” she turned away, headed for the door.
“Sophie, wait,” Lee caught hold of her arm.
“Don’t touch me!” She pulled free. “What did you expect, Lee?” She yelled. “Did you think that you could say you were sorry and that would make everything all right?”
Lee shook his head. “Of course not, and I understand that you need some time, but I had hoped that in time you could forgive me,” he said quietly.
“Forgive you! I could kill you. You don’t love me, you never did. How could I have been so stupid? How many more women are you stringing along?” She raged. “You really are something. The famous Lee Crane, Captain of the Seaview – infamous more like.” She really should have known that he was too good to be true.
“No!” Lee was shaking his head. “There isn’t anyone else, I swear.”
“I don’t want to hear it,” she started for the door again. “Don’t try and call me, it’s over.”
Lee nodded, dragging a hand through his hair. “You’re right, I can’t blame you. I had it coming.”
“Good bye, Lee,” she wrenched open the door, ignoring the distressed expression on his face and slammed it shut behind her before she changed her mind.
The End…to be continued in Escaping Christmas.