Second Thoughts


By K. Corris


Captain Lee Crane stood in front of the charting table with his arms crossed, looking down onto the charts.  But that certainly wasn’t where his mind was.  The tension in the control room, and in the entire boat, could be cut with a knife.   The mission itself was highly classified, desperate, and just plain dangerous.  Everything was planned out carefully, but he knew from experience that was no guarantee there wouldn’t be problems.  There were, as always, too many variables they weren’t in control of, or may not even be aware of.  Too much had to be played by ear at the last minute.  He had to stay on top of everything constantly, to be able to give orders based on the most informed decision on a second’s notice.  He would always go with his “gut’ feeling, but he stilled wanted the facts first.  They were on silent running, and all their torpedoes and nuclear missiles were armed.  Only a skeleton crew from their regular crew was on board, so there was some relief to that.   No strangers to be suspicious of, and only a minimal loss of life if the worst happened. Right now they were sitting just above their crush depth, waiting.  And waiting, and waiting.  They had to be patient until the first sonar or hydrophone contact reached them.  Admiral Nelson was waiting in the nose, to be nearby when they received it.  Contact and identification was up to two of their top operators.  Kowalski, with his vast sonar experience, and McIntye, filling in for Patterson, was on the hydrophones.  Both men were responsible for translating any sounds picked up into a possible profile of another submarine. 


The coded message Washington had intercepted could not be decoded entirely, and they weren’t even confident of the accuracy of what had been decoded.  But the perceived threat fit in with intelligence reports retrieved from the Internet, wiretaps, intercepted cell phone calls, and vague written threats forwarded to Homeland Security from several newspapers.  And the threat was so great that, real or not, they had to be prepared.


No other submarine, including those in Navies all over the world, could go as deep as Seaview. So, she was safe here, for the time being, waiting, alone and in secret, to protect her country.


Supposedly, from somewhere near these coordinates, a missile was to be launched toward the United States.  If the intercepted intel had been deciphered even partially accurately, it was believed to be carrying a dirty bomb.  No clue as the where it would land, but it was intended to cause vast destruction and a great loss of life when it did. A Middle Eastern terrorist group was being blamed already, but with faulty intelligence, no one could be sure until they tried to take credit for it after the fact.   So Seaview and her crew silently lay in wait.  America was depending on them.  All of their families, neighbors, relatives, friends, and people who didn’t even know they existed or what they did, were depending on them. Such was the nature of all covert military operations.  But no one outside of Seaview’s crew, the President, and the top levels of the involved intelligence agencies knew what might happen.  Everyone else was naively and happily going about their day to day business, living their lives in blissful ignorance.  Lee had come to realize, as did all members of the military, how much the average American citizen was completely unaware of all that was being done, how many lives were being risked, to protect them on a day by day basis, by their armed forces.  The fact that they were able to carelessly enjoy that measure of security and freedom was testimony of a job well done, even though one usually done discreetly and anonymously.


One of the many things Lee was concerned about was that with radio silence, they had no way of knowing if the missile had already been launched, but from a different location.  Was home still there? And if there were more than one sub, perhaps one acting as a decoy, would they be able to detect the one arming a missile soon enough to torpedo the ship before it launched?  And he hated killing the crew of the sub; he hated any loss of life period.  He was sure most of the sailors were probably unaware what they had been recruited for.  But home came first.  It certainly wasn’t the first time he had been responsible for the deaths of innocent people in the course of a mission.  But he never got used to it, never liked it, and had a hard time forgiving himself for it afterwards.  He was also worried that counter intelligence may have discovered their plans, and Seaview herself could be in danger.  One sub could try to take them out while another delivered the missile.  At least at this depth they were safe.  Even depth charges would implode long before they reached Seaview’s current depth.


Every few minutes he would walk around the control room, checking every gage, screen, control, light.  He knew his men were on their toes without his scrutiny, but he did it for himself. He had to be sure.  It wasn’t only a question of being prepared for anything regarding their mission; he just didn’t like Seaview sitting this long so near her crush depth.  He had to be aware of the very first signs of stress.


He had sent a runner to the galley, and had sandwiches and coffee brought up for the control room crew.  He did not want anyone leaving their posts, unless they had to use the head.  And even for that there were crewman standing by to cover for them. 


He wished Chip would get back.  Somehow, his Executive Officer’s presence had a calming effect on him at a time like this.   Lee had ordered him down to the Missile room again to check on the missiles and torpedoes and the officers responsible for manning and launching them.   He could have called down there himself on the intercom, but he felt a visual inspection by Chip would do more to reinforce the seriousness of the situation.  And they were on silent running, even if there weren’t any other subs in the area yet.  He didn’t want to take any chances of being discovered by using the intercom. 


Waiting, waiting, waiting…


“Skipper, I have something!  It’s approaching us, but not too fast.  It’s a few hundred feet above us, but it sounds like it’s slowing down, like it’s going to come to a complete stop right above us.  Reads like an old Russian diesel sub, and I’m only getting one contact.  She’s alone, Sir.” 


“Ski, do you-


“Verified, Sir.  I just picked her up on sonar.  I agree with the configuration. And I’m only getting one contact, too, Sir.”


He was relieved she was alone, and not at all surprised she was an old Russian Diesel. They would sell those rusting relics to anyone.  Seaview would have no problem outrunning or outgunning her if need be.   And no way could she make it to this depth.  They could send a torpedo straight up and be done with it.  Mission accomplished.  But how could he be sure?  They were in international waters.  A Russian sub, even an old non-commissioned one, had every much right to be here as they did.  But why would they be slowing down right at the suspected coordinates?  Coincidence, or plan?  He walked to the nose to inform the Admiral.


“Admiral, I want to take Seaview up to get a better look.  If they deploy a missile, we can send another missile up to intercept and destroy it.  I can’t in all good conscience torpedo what could be an innocent sub.  Our intelligence just isn’t that clear.  If we destroy an innocent, we could cause an international incident or even start a third world war if we’re wrong.” 


“If we move, Lee, they’ll know we are here.  Just because they can’t reach these depths doesn’t mean their sonar or hydrophones can’t.  She may have depth charges on board they could release when we are in range.  I know Seaview could easily outrun them, but they could launch that missile in the meantime.  I wouldn’t worry about the loss of life.  If they are Middle Eastern terrorists as we suspect, they expect this to be a suicide mission. They are prepared for it and will probably feel exalted for their sacrifice.  They probably believe they are doing a blessed thing and will be hailed as martyrs for doing it.  I share your concern that this might be an innocent sub.  But we aren’t near any shipping lanes, there is nothing to research or investigate in this area, Naval exercises would involve more than one boat,  and an ancient sub like this has no other reason being in these waters, or even out to sea period.  She’s on a one way, no return assignment.   And so is her crew.   If it makes it easier for you, I’ll give the order to fire.”


“No, Sir.  It’s my responsibility.  I just wish there was a way to be sure first.”  Lee walked back to the Control Room with a heavy heart.  He would do his duty. He just wouldn’t like it.  Then he had a thought, and walked back to the Admiral.               


“Sir, how can a ship that old deploy a missile?  Depth charges and torpedoes, sure.  But she doesn’t have a missile silo to keep a missile in, or the equipment to launch one with if she did.”


The Admiral looked at Lee intently.  He had a point, but it wouldn’t be the first time the Admiral had seen a ship or sub outrigged to do something it normally wasn’t capable of or designed for. Maybe Lee was right.  If they could get a visual contact of the sub, they would have a better idea what she might be up to. 


Launching the flying sub was too noisy.  It would reveal their presence on the Russian sub’s sonar and hydrophones even if it wasn’t seen visually.   The old sub probably would have no idea what the Flying Sub was by the readings, but it would make them suspicious. And while a lone diver would easily be dismissed as a biological by the other sub, they were way too deep to send one out.   Anything they did would cause them to expose themselves.  All they could do then was be prepared to act fast if they found the danger existed. 


He knew Lee’s concerns were justified.  He had to admit himself they weren’t certain of the facts and were taking a chance, working in the dark.  He had questioned that from the very beginning. Self-defense was one thing. But if there wasn’t a presumed attack to defend against and they were just being paranoid, America would lose all world respect and trust.  This whole thing could be a trick to cause just that.


Of course they could always just blow the sub out of the water. It certainly wouldn’t take much to destroy her, given the condition she was in.  No one would be the wiser.  The Soviets wouldn’t miss their old sub.  The new owners wouldn’t complain about the incident, not so much because it would reveal who they were but because they would have to admit they failed, and that they had a nuclear missile on board.  That would take a lot of explaining, and would ruin their element of surprise for future attacks.  And no one would know it was Seaview, or, more worrisome, America, that was responsible.  The problem with that action was if they were carrying a nuclear missile, that would get blown up too, and the resulting radiation would not only destroy all sea life in a huge area, but make thousands of miles of shipping lanes and fishing waters off limits for years to come.  And the nuclear cloud would eventually travel over the world causing many exposure problems before finally dissipating.  Nelson had explained that carefully and in great detail to his superiors. But it was still better than a huge loss of life in America instantly, and the horrible suffering that came later, the lingering loss of life after radiation poisoning set in.  The lucky ones in any nuclear attack were the ones who perished immediately.  


But still, as Lee had said, the old sub could be an innocent, unaware of what was going on, and was here for another reason.  Now even he was getting curious as to why else they could be here.


“All right, Lee, blow ballast, slowly, but stay right underneath them.  Let’s see how they respond.

But be ready to move fast if we detect depth charges being deployed.”


Lee turned to give the order and realized Chip had returned.  “Mr. Morton, blow ballast, take her up slowly.  Level off at about 300 feet beneath that sub.”   


“Aye, Sir.”  Chip gave the order, wondering what was going on.  This wasn’t what they had planned.  But he was relieved something was finally happening.


Absolutely nothing happened.  The old sub acted as if they didn’t even know they were there, or didn’t care.   Other than their engines before they had cut power and came to a full stop, not a sound was picked up from them on any of Seaview’s instruments.


Had they felt so secure in their secrecy that they didn’t suspect their plan had been discovered?  Were they that inexperienced, or just stupid?  Were they foolish enough to take an ancient, rusting sub out to sea even if the sonar and hydrophones weren’t working?  Maybe they didn’t care about their own lives or the sub, but they still had to be capable of completing their mission.


We can’t just sit here, waiting.   




“It’s all right Lee.  Do what you think is best.  Just don’t let America get bombed.  If you want to get closer to check her out, go on.  They should have had the missile armed by now, but we aren’t picking anything up.  Maybe she is an innocent.  Maybe our intelligence is more flawed than we think. See what you can find out.”


“I’ll take the Flying Sub, Sir.  If I can’t figure out what she’s here for by observing her underwater, I’ll take FS1 a few miles out, go airborne, and see what I can detect from a flyover.  I’ll just skim the surface right over her.   Since their sub won’t have any visual contact with me, their radar, if they even have that working, will only pick up a large bird, albeit it one moving a an incredible speed.  I’ll maintain radio silence, though.   Mister Morton, ready the Flying Sub.” 


The Admiral was still concerned about the possibility of a nuclear warhead.   If Lee discovered there was one on board, they only had two options. First, find a way to disable the sub and take it over.  He didn’t have a worry in the world that his men couldn’t pull that off. They could also rescue the sub’s crew that way, if they wanted to be rescued.  They could fit the crew compliment of a small old sub like that on Seaview easily, especially since they were running with only a skeleton crew.   The missile would then have to be disarmed and removed to Seaview for safe disposal later.  Or, two, blow the sub out of the water themselves and pray they didn’t set off the missile as well and were able to recover it.   As much as the Admiral liked the first option best, it would reveal American involvement.  But when it came to light that terrorists had a nuclear warhead aimed at America, their actions would be understood, even expected.  They may even be praised for taking the more cautious, humane route, and the most ecologically safe one. Well, the decision would have to wait until Lee returned from his fact finding mission.




It was almost an hour before Lee returned.  Nelson was just starting to get worried. Being on radio silence, Lee had to depend on sonar to recognize the signature of the incoming flying sub and open Seaview’s doors to berth her. The docking went smoothly. 


The only thing Lee could find out for sure was that there was no missile silo, or any visible external apparatus to launch a missile from.  She appeared to be dead in the water, totally oblivious to him and his scans.  She was definitely an old Russian diesel derelict sub.  With no evidence of even life support or air revitalizing systems running, how could the crew survive?


“Admiral, do you think she could be radio controlled, remotely, to act as a decoy?”


“That same thought just passed through my head, Lee.  So much for caring about a crew.  But blowing her up would be too obvious to anyone watching.   She could be a decoy, or this could very well be a trap, or a test.  They could be trying to find out how America would respond to a threat like this, or if we would even respond at all.  Could be they are just curious to see if we received the various intel, were able to put it all together, or took it seriously if we did.  They could just be studying how we would react for future planning.”


“I’m also concerned the sub herself may be the bomb, and that’s why she is remotely controlled.   Did your scans pick up any radiation emitting from her?”


“No, Sir, but that would only mean that any bomb on board her isn’t a nuclear one, or is heavily encased in lead.   If you believe she could be a bomb that could be detonated remotely, I want to get Seaview out of here, Sir.”


“I agree with you, Lee, but unfortunately that’s not what our orders are.  You and I may believe one thing, but as far as our government is concerned, when it comes to the country’s safety, we are expendable.  And every crewman on board was told before hand what the risks were and that this was a volunteer mission.  That’s why Chip assigned shore duty to Patterson, Sparks, and all the other family men, not because we only wanted a skeleton crew.  We’ve a bachelor, all volunteer crew this cruise, not that anyone’s life is less valuable than another’s.”


Lee was biting his tongue.  He finally decided he had to tell Nelson, let the Admiral make the final decision.  “Admiral, I know you don’t always understand this or believe me, but my sixth sense is, well, I just have a strong feeling this sub herself is harmless, Sir. I don’t feel anything is going on with her or that she poses any danger whatsoever.”


The Admiral stood there, looking at his Captain, his friend.  How many times had he found himself in this position?  Too many times.  Him, a four star, flag officer Admiral, who had earned his rank by always outguessing and being one step ahead of the enemy, only to be confronted with a “sixth-sense” Captain whose gut feeling was too often correct.  Training, experience, skill and knowledge, against instinct.   But this time could very well prove to be a death sentence not just for Seaview and her crew, but millions of Americans.


“I’m sorry, Lee, it’s not that I don’t believe you or trust in your sixth sense.  You know how I value your input.  But the stakes are too high this time.  I can’t take a chance.   I’m the one the orders were given to. I am the one responsible for what happens.  I have to consider that sub a threat to America.  Get a diving team together.  Let’s try to board her before it’s too late and we have no other options than to follow orders and blow her out of the ocean.   Have Mister Morton bring us up to her depth, 250 feet parallel to her.”


“Sir, permission to-


“Yes, Lee, permission to lead the dive team granted.  But I want you to maintain radio contact out there, even if we are supposed to be on radio silence.  I want to know what you find out immediately.  Oh, and Lee, I know your usual diving partner is Kowalski, but I want him here on sonar in case we have any other visitors.  Take someone else with you this time, and two other divers as well.  And remember, the crew is on a need to know basis regarding the classified information regarding this mission.  They were only made aware of enough information to decide if they wanted to volunteer. Only tell the divers as much as they need to know to board her, render her harmless, inactivate and secure the missile, if there is one.  It’s not that I don’t trust any of them, but it is, again, how our orders read.  One more thing, Lee.  Be fast.  We can’t be really sure we have an accurate time, only an accurate date for anything to happen.  Good luck, Captain.”


“Aye, Sir.  Thank you.”


Lee transferred command to Chip, after ordering him to bring them up to the old sub’s depth and 250 feet parallel to her, and then met with the rest of his diving team in the missile room to suit up.  So far no one had asked him why they were going out.  With only a skeleton crew, and not expecting any diving to be necessary, Lee’s choices for divers were slim.  All crewmen had to be certified divers, it wasn’t a question of capabilities, but it was a question of keeping all critical and mandatory stations posted.  Fortunately, all crewmen on Seaview were cross trained for two, sometimes three other posts.  Their two first mates, Kowalski and Patterson, could be on duty on any post on the boat.  So could CPO Sharkey, Executive Officer Morton, and he himself.   Well, probably the Admiral, too. After all, he had designed and built Seaview, and had been an XO and Captain himself.


The running joke on board was that if Captain Crane could find a way to be in several places at once, he wouldn’t need a crew.  He would retort that he hadn’t made Captain at only thirty-four because of his good looks.  With the combination of being first in his class at both Annapolis in Maryland and Nuclear School in Connecticut, his Bachelor’s degree in Engineering, and his previous command experience on several nuclear Navy subs, including one where Admiral Nelson was Captain and he was Executive Officer, he truly felt that nothing was beyond him on Seaview or any other sub.  He didn’t boast or brag about it, but it did give him a secure, confident feeling that was obvious in his command style.  He was considered a natural born leader whose men confidently followed him anywhere, and who trusted him implicitly.  Their respect for him was one of the main reasons Seaview ran so efficiently.  Plus the fact he knew he had the best crew in the world, and he let them know it. 


He explained they were investigating an old Russian derelict sub that appeared to be dead in the water.

They had to try to board her and see what was going on inside, if anything. Try to find out why she was here.   If he had been one of them, he would have known immediately that there was more to the mission than that.  A skeleton crew on a classified mission, running on radio silence, just to board an abandoned, rusty old foreign sub?  The Navy could have handled this easily.  Fortunately, they knew better than to ask any questions.  He wanted to tell them the Admiral suspected there could be a nuclear warhead inside, but decided not to impart that information just yet. Although he always believed in being honest and up front with all his men, he couldn’t afford for any one to balk and opt out now, or to panic the rest of the crew.  Although he believed his crew was better trained than that, every man has his limits. His only choices left then for divers would be Chip or the Admiral, and someone had to run the sub.  A thought suddenly struck him.  What if that sub was booby trapped?  Set to explode the minute they came on board?  He excused himself for a minute, then went out to the intercom in the corridor where the rest of his team couldn’t hear him.


“Captain to Control Room.”


“Control Room here.  Aye, Captain?”


“Chip, after the diving team gets halfway to the sub, I want you to get Seaview out of here.  I’ll radio you to come back when we are done.  I’m afraid that sub might be rigg-…….” Lee suddenly realized he was being heard by everyone in the Control Room. “Just get Seaview out of here.  Captain out.”


Chip was a little bewildered, and looked at the Admiral for clarification.  From the look on Nelson’s face, the Admiral understood exactly what Lee was concerned about.  He gave Chip a knowing nod, confirming Lee’s order. Suddenly, realization dawned on Chip himself. Lord, what had they gotten themselves into this time?  And by orders of their own government no less, not any crazy scientist, space or sea creature, or any experiments that went ‘poof’ in their lab. No deranged, mind controlled crewman, natural disasters, foreign enemies, or mechanical sub problems.  No, just following their own President’s orders could get them all killed! 


“Understood, Captain.  We will wait for your call.”  Please don’t be too long calling, Lee.  Doc thinks I might be getting an ulcer.  Chip prayed his best friend would return safely.  That all the divers would.


The diving team departed, and Chip got Seaview out of harms way, as Lee had ordered.  They continued to watch the dive team on the long range cameras, but soon the divers were all out of sight on the far side of the sub.  He knew they were in radio contact, but that was only to be used in an emergency or if Lee found anything significant.  He hoped that emergency wouldn’t be something like “She’s gonna blow, get Seaview out of here fast, forget us!”   Chip would have no choice but to comply, follow orders, even though it meant the diver’s lives.  He’d had this nightmare before, but so far that was all it was, an authentic, down home, old fashioned, little kid nightmare. He would always bless himself when he woke up; thankful that was all it was.  But someday…even with all their technology, preparations, drills, security measures and planning, the odds sometimes seemed to be against them because of the nature of their work.  Whether they were doing undercover work for the government, investigating a natural disaster, conducting underwater tests, things just seemed to go wrong too often.  Even normal supply runs to the Institute’s undersea labs had caused life threatening situations at times.   Life was certainly interesting aboard Seaview.  Well, they were paid handsomely for it, but it was more a dedication than a job.  That’s why so many of the original crew were still here, had been since Seaview’s maiden voyage.  They had lost their original Captain, John Phillips, and their original Chief Petty Officer, Curly Jones.  Ferrell and several other crewmen had died in the line of duty, but only two of them were from the original crew.   He never had trouble recruiting personnel for Seaview.  He usually hired only Naval Reserve applicants, but for some positions he accepted civilians.  They all had to pass a background check for obvious security reasons, and an intense medical examination.  Submarine duty wasn’t for everyone, and only the very healthy could be hired. But his inbox for applications to serve on board Seaview was never empty for long, even though new positions rarely opened up. 




Lee approached the sub first, the rest of his team a few yards behind him.  He had been on board a Soviet sub before, but had never been this close to one on the outside.  As rusted as it was he was surprised she was able to maintain buoyancy.  She had to be leaking water inside.  With any luck, she had a double outer hull and the inner one along with the pressure hull were still intact.  He circled around her and didn’t see any surprises.  But he also didn’t see any way in.  There was no diving hatch to be found.  Even subs this old usually had a way for divers to get out, if only for repairs.  Even if he was able to force open the main hatch on the bridge, the boat would quickly flood and they wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything.   He suddenly really appreciated the Moon Pool on Seaview.  But not even any Navy subs had that luxury.  He also missed Seaview’s Herculite windows.  If this sub had even one, he could look in and get an idea of what she was like inside.  But again, not even the Navy had them on their subs.  The Herculite in Seaview’s windows was developed by Nelson himself, and was patent protected.  And he wasn’t willing to share even with the Navy.   It had nothing to do with money. He wanted Seaview to remain unique.  And as Seaview was supposed to be primarily a research vessel, the glass windows were a necessary accouterment that added to her value.  Many of their assignments and contracts had been because of these windows alone, such as the time they had to count migrating seals.


As he had circled around, Lee had scanned the boat with the portable underwater Geiger counter.  He could not find a trace of radioactivity coming from anywhere.  Either this boat was lead lined, or she simply did not have a nuclear missile or reactor on board.   Then why was she here, at the exact coordinates America’s Intelligence agencies had intercepted?  He had to get inside, this was driving him crazy.  But apparently the only way in was to go in topside, through the main hatch.  Even the cargo hatch to load supplies through was welded shut. He had felt along the hull in several places and could not feel any vibrations from running machinery.  He had not been able to find any areas that would open to fire a torpedo, launch a missile, or even let a diving team out.   All he had been able to find was the main hatch topside.  But they sure had one hell of a radio mast, for a boat that apparently had no communications.  They must be remotely controlled by radio.   Or could that radio mast be used to pick up a signal to detonate?  He knew cell phone signals were used by terrorists to trigger bombs to explode.   Somehow, as suspicious and confusing as it all was, Lee still felt the sub was benign.  He had to get inside.  He had an idea, if only the Admiral would agree.  He knew Nelson still felt the easiest thing to do was to follow orders and torpedo it. 


“Crane to Seaview”.


“Seaview here.  Ready to be picked up, Sir, or did you find something?”


“Chip, I need to talk to the Admiral.  Is he there?”


“I’m here Lee.  What did you find?”


“Nothing, Sir.  There is absolutely no way into this sub other that the main hatch topside.  No torpedo tubes or missile silos, no diving or cargo hatches.  And her ID number is sanded off.  I don’t detect any radiation coming from her anywhere, and there is no machinery running.  I can’t even tell how she is maintaining position. And as rusted out as she is, I don’t know how she is maintaining this depth. She should have sunk by now, she certainly isn’t seaworthy.  Admiral, I have an idea.  How about surfacing Seaview under her and forcing her to the surface?  I could get in through the main hatch that way without flooding her out.  As much smaller than Seaview as she is, and apparently empty of machinery and crew, it shouldn’t be too much for Seaview.  I have a small amount of plastic explosives with me I can use to blow the hatch.  And I don’t think she is booby-trapped in any way, or I wouldn’t suggest it.  What do you think?”


“I think you’re nuts, Lee.  But it might just be crazy enough to work.  I’ll tell you my two concerns, though.  Our bumping into her could trigger an explosion if she has a bomb on board or is booby trapped, or you can trigger one by blowing the hatch.  Either way, we are going to a lot of trouble for something we no longer are sure is a threat, and that we could easily sink to the ocean’s bottom with very little effort.  And be following orders by doing so.”


“Sir, I understand.  It’s just driving me crazy why she is here and how she got here.  And all the answers are inside her.  At least we could find enough evidence to guarantee we don’t fall for this again.”


“All right, Lee, I see your point.  Get a good distance away while we position under her.  You’ll have to keep us informed if you see anything strange happening, like she starts to break apart.  We won’t be able to see anything being underneath her.”


“Understood, Admiral.  Thank you, Sir.  You’ll stay under her, support her until we’re done, right, Sir?”


“No, Lee.  As soon as she breaks the surface we are scooting back to Santa Barbara, flank speed.  Have a nice swim back, Captain.”


The worst part was Lee could hear the entire Control Room crew laughing their heads off, and Chip was the loudest. His best friend. What an idiotic thing for him to say to the Admiral!


The diving team watched from a safe distance as Seaview slowly rose up under the old sub. She moved so slowly and carefully they couldn’t even see a vibration or shake to either sub when they made contact. Good job Chip, Lee thought.  Once contact was made, they all swam up slowly themselves, then followed their Captain’s lead and got on top of the old sub before she broke the surface.  He just hadn’t been able to come up with any other way as to how else they could scale her.  She didn’t have the ladder rungs or handholds on her outer hull that Seaview and other submarines had.  It was a weird sensation, surfacing while sitting on top of a sub, instead of inside it.


They broke the surface, and Lee pulled off his mask and air regulator.  He was appreciating how beautiful the weather and sunshine were, and how nice it was to breathe clean, fresh air that wasn’t recirculated or tanked, when he looked up.  Over his head he saw a small silver needle slip behind a cloud.  Only a commercial aircraft, but it made him worry that an orbiting spy satellite could take pictures of them obviously boarding an enemy sub in an unusual way.  They had to get done fast and get out of here.  They were too visible, and too vulnerable.


Once on top he began to prepare the plastic explosives.  Then it dawned on him. If no one was inside, there wasn’t any way anyone could dog the hatch from the inside.  It had to be open.  Sure enough, one turn of the wheel and he heard the clicks.  He pulled on the wheel and the hatch opened up.  Nothing happened, but he had to admit he had been holding his breath.


Not knowing what he might find inside, he ordered the rest of his team to stay topside until he called them.


“But, Sir, I’m your diving partner.  I have to stay with you.”


“Sands, I appreciate the concern, but are we diving right now?”


“No, Sir.  But I would still feel more comfortable going down with you, Sir.”


Lee was all set to say no, but then he remembered Sands was normally assigned to a Security detail and, being a former Marine, was quite a fighter.  It might be a good idea to take him along to cover his back, although he didn’t think there was any crew onboard to be concerned about.   


“Okay, Sands, but only you.  You two wait here until I call you.  If you don’t hear from either of us in twenty minutes, get out of here and back to Seaview.  Go back immediately if you see, hear, or even just suspect something is wrong.  And once you get back on board, relay my order to the Control Room, to Mr. Morton, to get Seaview out of here. That’s an order. Leave your gear on. Sands, only take off your flippers. We don’t know what we will find down there, we may need our own air to breathe.” 


Three ‘aye sir’s in unison, and then Lee proceeded down the ladder to the control room with Sands behind him.  This was an experience in itself, even if he didn’t find anything.  Very few American sailors had ever been on board a Russian sub this old and lived to tell about it.  The one he had been on was much newer.


Well, the sub was certainly in better shape on the inside, and not just cleaner.  The controls were more modern than a sub this old would normally have been equipped with. But the air was stale, what little was fresh was blowing down through the open hatch.  The red ribbons tied to the outsides of the ventilation ducts were laying flat against the bulkhead.  No air revitalization was working on board. Lee used the flashlight he had brought to check the instruments.  Some of them were actually working, but he didn’t know how they could be.  There was a periscope island, but no periscope.  He checked the radio shack; the equipment was in sad shape. Rusted, dried out wires crumbling into brown flakes, bulbs shattered, gages cracked.  If they were receiving radio signals to guide this sub, the huge radio mast certainly wasn’t sending them here.  He looked under the console to see if there were any newer wires rerouting incoming signals to elsewhere in the boat. He couldn’t believe what he saw under there, wedged beneath the bottom of the console and the bulkhead.  It was an old fashioned gyroscope, an antique, and in good shape, too. What the heck was that doing here? Lee put it in his waterproof pouch.  He walked aft down the corridor, shining his flashlight in front of him.  He tried every hatch he passed on the way.  If they did open, there was nothing in there.  No crew, no equipment, no supplies.  Lee started smelling something, other than the damp, musty odor he had been smelling. He pointed his light up. The air was full of a blue haze that Lee couldn’t explain.  He pulled his diving mask down and put the air regulator back in his mouth, then turned and motioned for Sands to do the same.  They had to start using their own oxygen tanks again to breath, not just for the air, but because he wasn’t sure what that chemical smell and blue haze in the sub’s air was from. He hoped the Admiral could explain it, Lee hated mysteries. He eventually found what he thought had probably been the crew’s quarters, across from the galley.  Nothing.  No bunks, and there weren’t any cooking utensils or even appliances in the galley. Even the table and benches had been removed. They headed further aft.  None of the hatches were labeled as on Seaview.  He opened up everyone he could, every compartment was empty.  Most of this sub had been stripped bare, either to protect Soviet secrets, or to sell the metal for scrap. Or maybe to make it as light as possible?


He needed to find the circuitry room.  He could tell from there what type of power was being used to power the instruments and the boat.   For whatever reason, whatever senses guided him, he still did not feel there was any danger from this sub, other than suffocation from lack of oxygen if their tanks ran out, or being trapped on board and sinking with it to below its crush depth if she fell off Seaview.  


He continued to feel along the bulkheads as they walked, feeling for vibrations from any running machinery that could have just come on.  Suddenly, he didn’t feel vibrations but the bulkhead was warm, and getting warmer as they moved further down the corridor.  He had a feeling this was a cargo bay.  Probably, by its location so near the galley, one that had been used to store food supplies for the crew.  


He went down to the next corridor and then turned, still trying to find the hatch into this area.  It was even warmer on this end, he was sure something was going on in there.  He didn’t hear anything or feel any vibrations, but there was sure something creating heat in there.  He pulled out his Geiger counter again.  Nothing.  Whatever it was, it wasn’t radioactive, and it had to be powered by battery.  Any engine or generator would be making noise and causing vibrations.  He thought for a moment. A lot of work had gone into refitting the interior of this sub. Would someone go to all of this trouble for just one suicide mission?  And why would they leave the exterior in such bad shape?  Camouflage?  No one would ever suspect a sub in this poor condition, barely seaworthy, capable of doing anything, or of being any kind of a threat. What a cover! What a disguise!  And how sneaky!  Now if he could only find out what this sub was really used for, they could consider this mission at least a partial success. 




Meanwhile, back on Seaview…


The Admiral didn’t like this.  Something was going on that wasn’t what they had expected, or more accurately, assumed. He couldn’t figure it out.  Lee may be content they were safe, but he wasn’t sure America was. He was tempted to break radio silence to let COMSUBPAC know what was happening, and to find out if there was any new intelligence.  Tell them the threat had to be coming from elsewhere, forget about here. At the very least, he wanted to put them at ease.  He knew the President and his family were being kept in a subterranean bunker far from the Capital, out of harm’s way.  At least he would be able to let them all relax a little. And they might be able to find out something about the old sub for him.  He should probably wait until Lee returned so he could pass on any of the Captain’s findings to them, but they needed to know immediately to take defensive action in other areas. He had an idea.


“Mr. Morton, ready the flying sub, I’m taking her out, alone.  I want to establish radio contact with COMSUBPAC far enough away from Seaview that it can’t be traced back to this location. Be sure to get the diving party on board and Seaview out of here as soon as possible if I am not back by the time the Captain calls.  I’ll find you by instrumentation if I have to. Plot a course towards home. ”  


“Yes, Sir.  Chief Sharkey, ready the flying sub.  Since the Captain just took it out a little while ago, all systems should still be good to go.”


Nelson smiled to himself.  He was so proud of his boat. Seaview was powerful and strong enough to lift and support an ancient relic of a sub from yesterday on top of herself, while from her underside berth she was launching the world’s only Flying Submarine, an incredible, futuristic, technological marvel the entire world continued to be astounded by, a visionary invention of tomorrow that was here today.


Too bad his reputation and accomplishments wouldn’t be remembered or taken into consideration when he informed his superiors that he had not followed the orders given directly to him, orders to blow the threat, whatever form it came in, out of the water.  Well, it certainly wasn’t the first time in his career he had ignored or disobeyed orders.  What were they going to do, throw him out of the Navy or stop his pension?  Strip him of his rank, his four stars? He was already retired and independently wealthy.  Besides, the government needed him and they knew it as well as he did.  How many times had Seaview and her crew saved the world? And one of the true signs of being worthy of rank, one of the differences between being in command giving orders or ranking so low you could only obey them, was in being capable of questioning orders. To have and be willing to use good judgment to know when an order was inappropriate or just plain wrong, and to have the courage and good sense to do the right thing instead, no matter what the cost.  You didn’t just follow orders blindly if there was something illegal, immoral, or absurd about them, or if you doubted their validity or need. He remembered an order given him when he was just a cadet in Annapolis, by a drunken lieutenant.  He was ordered to complete a feat that was anatomically impossible.  He wouldn’t have done it even if it wasn’t.  He did report it though.  That officer steered clear of him the rest of his days there.  In fact, one of his favorite movies was a big box office hit about that very subject. Marines obeying orders they should have known better than to follow. What was it called?  A Few Good Men.  That’s it.  His sister Edith had dragged him to see it when she was visiting him and he had obligingly gone, and was glad he did. He loved it when Tom Cruise’s lawyer brought down Jack Nicholson’s General. He certainly knew a couple of Generals he’d like to bring down.  Some officers just let their rank rule their lives and their actions without a second thought, believing everything they said and did was right simply because they said it.  


That was how he felt about Lee’s reluctance to destroy the sub.  Other than just blindly following orders, there didn’t seem to be a valid reason to destroy it, and the possible consequences resulting if they did just weren’t worth it.   They weren’t protecting America, they were just proving they had better weapons and reacted without forethought.  No, Lee’s chosen course of action was the right one.  He agreed with it.  He hoped he could get the powers that be to agree with it, too.



Lee believed the huge radio mast outside the sub came directly down into this warm cargo bay.  In there were the answers to all his questions.  The ship had to be powered and guided by what was in there.  Lee assumed the power was coming from a huge battery of some kind, but how was the sub being directed, without any visual contact?  Did whoever was behind this truly believe that anything coming near it, vessel or biological, would just automatically get out of it’s way?  Did it not matter if something “bumped” into it, even if it damaged or destroyed it?  It was an understatement to say his curiosity was getting the best of him.  He’d figured out what was going on here if it was the last thing he ever did.  It would drive him crazy if he didn’t.  He could use his plastic explosives to blow a small hole in the bulkhead, but without knowing what was on the other side, he could destroy the very evidence he was searching for. 


He looked at his diver’s watch.  They still had plenty of air left, but the twenty minutes was almost up.

Discouraged, disappointed, and frustrated, he motioned to Sands it was time to leave.


They made their way out of the sub, Lee secured the top hatch, and all four divers dove off the sub, and headed for Seaview.  They entered the diving hatch then the Missile Room, and Lee changed out of his diving gear and back into his uniform, taking the old gyroscope with him.  He headed straight for the Control Room, or, to be more precise, straight for Admiral Nelson.


“He’s not here, Lee.  He took the Flying Sub out to contact COMSUBPAC.  He wanted to give them a status report, and also wanted to find out if there was any new information.  I don’t expect him back for a while yet, but his orders were to get Seaview out of here as soon as you were on board, even if he wasn’t back yet.  Uh, Lee, have you given any thought to how we are going to get that sub off our bow?  I mean, what if we drop back down to below the depth we picked her up at, and she just stays resting on top of us, what then?  We certainly can’t go anywhere with her up there sitting on top of us.”


“I’m not worried about it, Chip.  You do remember Archimedes Principal of Buoyancy, don’t you? I think we learned it the first day at Annapolis? Seaview is a lot heavier that that old sub, and it is practically hollowed out inside.  We can drop faster while going in reverse.  I just hate to let her drop down to below her crush depth.  I think there are a lot of secrets on board that old sub, secrets she is going to take with her to the bottom of the sea, if she doesn’t implode first.  Look what I found under their radio console.  Heaven only knows how it got there.”


Chip took it, turning the gyroscope over in his hand.  “Well, Lee, at the very least, it’s another trophy for your collection.  The Admiral is going to get a kick out of this.  Okay, Sir, I am turning command over to you, and I have informed you of the Admiral’s orders.”


“Mr. Morton, have the engine room ready to go in reverse at full speed on my order.”


As Chip gave the order, Lee took a fast look at their chart.  He wished he could find some place nearby that wasn’t as deep to let the old sub sink to that wouldn’t crush her.  He wanted another chance, on another day, to find out what was in that cargo bay.  He knew a good part of it was some kind of battery, plus there had to be some kind of guidance system and radio receiver in there. But he wondered if something else wasn’t in there as well. 


 “Engine room ready, Captain.”


“Mr. Morton, give the order to take her down four hundred feet, then immediately give the order to reverse engines at full speed, but only for one minute. I want to stay close enough to keep an eye on her.”


“Aye, Captain.”  As Chip proceeded to follow the Captain’s orders, Lee walked forward to the Observation Nose, watching through the windows as Seaview pulled out from under and then away from the old sub.  He saw the old sub slowly sinking.


He quickly walked back to the control room.  “Okay, Chip, all stop, and take her up three hundred feet.”  He returned to the windows, and eventually saw the old sub dead in the water, at the same depth she had originally been at before Seaview forced her up. Well, she hadn’t sunk or been destroyed, but there was no way to ever board her again now, either.


“Mr. Morton, take us home, one-third speed until we intercept the Admiral.”


They didn’t have to wait long for the Admiral.


“Captain, I have the flying sub’s signature, approaching, six hundred yards off our bow.”


“All stop, make ready to retrieve the flying sub.”


Lee walked to the observation nose, waiting to open the flying sub hatch.  


“Welcome back aboard, Admiral.  Find out anything interesting?  I sure didn’t, Sir. She’s as big a mystery now as she was before, maybe even more so.”


“What I can tell you Lee, is that once again, your instincts were right on target.  First of all, America is safe; the red alert has been cancelled. They were able to further decipher and clarify some of the messages. We were right, that old sub is radio controlled and guided.  It was a decoy, as were the messages, to get us to center all our naval attention in this area.  Once we destroyed that sub, they were waiting, just out of range to destroy as many US ships as they could, by air and by sea.  By leaving her alone, we didn’t take their bait.  Their actions wouldn’t be justified.  The whole thing was a trap to weaken our defenses.  But fortunately, thanks to you, we didn’t fall for it.  Good job once again, Captain Crane.”  With that, the Admiral saluted his Captain, and then shook his hand.  “I’m proud of you, Lee, and the President wants to thank you in person, as soon as it can be arranged.  Now, let’s all relax, and head for home.”


“Thank you, Sir.  Oh, by the way Admiral, there is something I want to show you. I found it on board that sub. And a certain smell and blue haze I want to ask you about.” 


But secretly, Lee still wished he could have gotten into that room.




The End