A Very Special Assignment
By Carol aka Catfish Foss
Sequel to The Christmas Bells
Author’s note: There have been numerous ‘what if’s’ in Voyage fan-fiction, especially if command decisions could have been different. This is such a tale. While this story can stand alone it is best to have read The Christmas Bells and to have seen The Mist of Silence in the series.
Sharkey scooped up his winnings from the impromptu poker game in the Crew’s Mess. That they were a varied assortment of pilfered Easter candy was beside the point. He’d proved his Lucky Shirt had done the job again.
“Any luck, Cookie?” Ski asked as the man returned to the Mess with a large chocolate lava cupcake.
“Nah. The Skip’s said he was sure it was good, but that he just didn’t have the appetite.”
“Damn,” Frank the Corpsman said, “that’s what he’s been saying ever since he got back from that retirement party in San Diego.”
“Yeah, he sure has been in a deep funk ever since he got back. Hasn’t even done one midnight tour of the boat.”
“Like, nobody’s even seen him pat any bulkhead, either,” Riley added.
“Hasn’t taken out a dive team,” Sharkey said, “hasn’t so much as sat in the Front Porch with the Admiral like he always does...it’s like...well, it’s like he’s here, but he’s not here.”
“Yeah, hey Chief,” Cookie said, “ you might want to go careful on all that candy. Too much and you might begin to hallucinate.”
“Very funny...um, you want me to finish off that cupcake for you?”
“No, I’m saving it Mr. Morton. He’s sure to hear that the Skipper pretty much skipped dinner and didn’t even have a bite of dessert. Never fear, the XO will find out soon enough and be down here to scarf down what’s left.”
“All right. What’s wrong with him Chip?” Nelson leaned back in his cabin’s chair. “I can’t get more than two words out of him at a time, and it’s usually ‘yes sir’ or ‘no sir.”
“I’m sure I don’t know either. He just tells me...”
“Let me guess,” Nelson sighed, “ he tells you that he’s fine. Me too.”
“I checked with Admiral Cartwright again,” Chip continued, “ but he denies that Lee was doing anything untoward at that party.”
“You believe him?”
“Not at first, but then I also checked with Lt. Cmdr. Jackson who was at the party with Lee.”
“You can’t just trust a fellow spook buddy of Lee’s to be quite honest.”
“He said Lee was fine at first, you know, enjoying meeting old shipmates and commanding officers, but later that night that he was pretty much as we have him now, all depressed. And it’s bad. Even Doc agrees he’s been showing all the classic signs again. Moodiness, his mind’s miles away. I’ve noticed, you’ve noticed, the crew’s noticed. Oh he pays attention to the job at hand. Wouldn’t be Lee Crane if he didn’t. But, when something doesn’t demand his immediate attention, he’s got that faraway look in his eyes…like he’s haunted. I wish we could get him to open up...”
“Well, I haven’t been able to get him to do it, I doubt anyone but God can. Well, you get to bed, I’ll take these reports to the conn.”
“Yes sir...goodnight, Admiral.”
“Good night, Chip.”
After his XO had left, Nelson sighed and bowed his head, “Dear God, if you’re up there, no scratch that, sorry. Dear God, I know you’re up there...please...please fix whatever’s wrong with Lee...I want my Captain back. My son back. The real one. Not this shell of a man.”
Sharkey had pulled the Owl Watch and was checking his clipboard as he headed down the corridor in Officer’s Country when he nearly bumped into someone. “Beg pardon,” he said automatically, his eyes still downward before he looked up as the man passed by. “Hey!” he turned and headed after him. The man sure didn’t look like any of his crew, and none of the Admiral’s egghead scientist buddies were aboard this cruise. Top it off, he was dressed in a white tuxedo! Oh it had to be some kind of joke.
“Hey come back here, you!” he shouted, but as he turned the corner and reached the corridor’s dead end, he’d vanished. Unless he’d fled into the Captain’s cabin.
“Skipper?” he called as he knocked on the door, “Skipper, you okay?” he opened the door a crack. Crane was asleep and there was no trace of the intruder, not even in the head, as Sharkey concluded his inspection, “Oh Francis, you’ve got to stop OD’ing on that Easter candy.”
“Chief? Everything okay?” Nelson appeared, reports in his hand, as Sharkey closed the Captain’s door.
“With the Skip, yeah, with me, not so good. I mean, I know it happens, weird things when you OD on sugary stuff.”
“I’ve never heard of that. Diabetic comas, yes, but you’re not diabetic. And I’ve never heard of diabetic hallucinations. Perhaps someone is playing a practical joke.”
“Pretty darn good joke getting away like that, or else...”he gulped, “or else we got ghosts...”
“Ghosts?” Nelson considered their previous paranormal encounters and dashed into Lee’s cabin, finding, as Sharkey had, that he was fast asleep.
“Yeah, maybe from that old sunk liner we passed by. I mean, they must’ve had rich guys aboard. Like this one in the white tux.”
“What? What did you say?” Nelson paled.
“The guy I saw, well, that I thought I saw, was wearing a white tux. He had black hair. He wasn’t exactly what I’d call black, his skin was more like burnished mahogany...real shiny...”
“Damn! Lee! Lee, wake up!” Nelson rushed to Lee’s side. “Lee!” he shook him to no avail. “Get Doc down here!”
As Sharkey summoned Sickbay from the intercom, Nelson, still holding onto the limp body of Lee, yelled to thin air, “Mr. Bliss! Mr. Glad! Damn it! You promised! You get your Angelic butts down here! Right now! I’ll go right to the top if I have to! I swear I will!”
“Uh, who you talking to, sir?” Sharkey asked, his gut churning. Not only was the Skipper maybe dead, but the Admiral was talking to himself.
“Never mind that now...can’t you hurry Doc along?”
“Harriman, Harriman,” Mr. Bliss appeared, holding his weird glowing clipboard, but was seen only by Nelson, “what’s all the fuss?”
“What’s all the fuss, Mr. Bliss? See for yourself! You reneged on your promise! Lees’ appointment’s not supposed to be on your list yet!”
“Headquarters does not renege on its promises, I assure you. Now, what’s going on down here?”
“You’re an Angel of Death and you don’t know? How can you not know!”
“As we’ve tried to explain to you before, Harriman we’re simply messengers and good deed doers, we’re not all knowing.”
“A man matching Mr. Glad’s description was just here...and now Lee’s...Lee’s...like this!”
“What’s going on here...” Doc appeared followed by Commander Morton, and immediately began to examine Crane, though Nelson refused to completely let go his hold of him.
“You called, Mr. Bliss?” Mr. Glad appeared.
“You!” Nelson yelled, “what have you done to him!”
“Explain yourself, Mr. Glad,” Mr. Bliss said.
“Oh dear...and I promised the boy no one would be the wiser...”
“Chief,” Chip summoned Sharkey over, as he stood, and asked softly, “how long has the Admiral been...like this?
“Since he got here, no, wait. He was fine till I told him about the guy in the white tuxedo. Er...is the Skip okay, Doc?”
“His pressure’s a bit low as is his pulse. I can’t be sure of anything else without a CT scan...could be a stroke...”
“Oh good grief,” Mr. Glad said, “he hasn’t had a stroke!”
“Then what is it?” Nelson let go of Crane and let Doc lay him back down on his bunk.
“He’s fine!” Mr. Glad said, “you might call it a...state of suspended animation, or maybe an out of body experience...he’s perfectly okay. He’s here and upstairs at the same time...I merely asked him to help us out with a small task...”
“Why would Angels need any human help?”
“I’d like to hear that too, Mr. Glad,” Mr. Bliss asked.
“Well, you remember that we had a problem categorizing some tears? Well, since some of those tears were Lee’s, he was the perfect choice to tell us what they were for.”
“You Angels label tears?” Nelson asked.
“Of course...there’s an entire department for it.”
“He went with you willingly?”
“Naturally. I wouldn’t have presumed to take his soul otherwise.”
“Then you can promise me he’s okay?”
“I’m an Angel. I can’t lie.”
Both Mr. Bliss and Mr. Glad cringed.
“Very well, you’ve made your point,” Bliss said, “but I assure you, neither Mr. Glad or I or any of the Heavenly Host that fought on the side of God Almighty have ever lied or ever will.”
“Sorry,” Nelson said. “You have to admit, that Lee looks...almost comatose.”
“Admiral,” Doc took Nelson’s arm as the stretcher bearers arrived, “you’ve had a shock; perhaps a sedative...”
“Let me go! I’m not crazy! I’m fine! Lee’s fine...he’s...’on assignment’ . He’s ...look, I know this is going to be hard to believe but Mr. Bliss and Mr. Glad are here. Mr. Glad’s the Angel Sharkey saw... They...they’re Angels of Death, well, usually, anyway. They helped reschedule Lee and Commander Jackson’s appointments last Christmas. ”
“Appointments,” Doc put his hands on his hips.
“Yes, yes. That’s what they call our appointed times to die. Damn it Will, I’m not insane! I‘m telling you the truth! Lee’s having an out of body experience, right now! He’s here, but he’s not here...”
“Uh, wait a minute, Doc,” Sharkey said, “I’ve heard about those...kinda’ like near death experiences.”
“So have I but the scientific community has mixed feelings on them.”
“Sir, if these guys...these Angels, say the Skip’s okay, and the Skip did kinda’ cheat death after that explosion nearly killed him...”
“I’m still going to run a CAT scan on the Captain. And the Admiral. Mr. Morton, as Acting Captain now, I order you to make the Admiral accompany us to Sickbay.”
Lee, clothed in simple white suit, looked around the Hall of Tears-Past, with awe, the colors from row upon row of clear vials of tears shimmering along the crystal walls. There were also bound and holographic books and several work tables, though there was no one else there but him, since Mr. Glad had suddenly said he’d have to leave him and would be right back.
A man and a dog appeared at the doorway. The dog’s breed was indeterminate and the man was wearing a long blue robe and white sash.
“Mr. Glad was called downstairs to take care of some kind of problem...I was assigned as your temporary escort.”
“You know me?”
“Let’s just say I know of you.”
“Er, what do I call you?”
“Mr. Glad said he wanted me to help label some tears...who’s are those?” Lee pointed to a shelf across the chamber. “They’re...awesome...”
“Yes, we never saw those kinds of colors on Earth. I was a bit startled myself when I first arrived. I believe those are the tears of a countryman of yours,” he picked up the vial. “Ah, good, this one’s not restricted,” and handed it to Lee, “...tears of the heart are more intense than tears of the body. Listen,” he tapped it.
A distant voice, almost like an echo said, ‘The eve of battle is near at hand. . . . How it will end, only Providence can direct, but, dear God, what brave men I shall lose before this business ends.”
“George Washington was supposed to have written that!” Lee said, excited, “are these really his words? His tears?”
“Just a few of them...he has several vials from his lifetime.”
“Wow...um...he’s up here now?”
“Yes, he is,” the dog said.
“Name’s Lucky,” the dog wagged his tail, “glad to meet any friend of Harry’s.”
“You know me too? I um, I didn’t know he had a dog.”
“Well, it was a long time ago. He lost me when he was seven....”
“What...what happened?” Lee couldn’t help but to stroke Lucky’s fur.
“Too long a story.”
“I always wanted a dog,” Lee said wistfully. “Harry was lucky to have you, if only for a little while.”
“Thank you...I do miss him,” the dog sighed. “This waiting to meet him again is tiring.”
“Of course you miss Harriman,” Mr. Glad reappeared. “You’re a canine. It’s your job description to be mankind’s best friend. I’ll take over now, Francis.”
“As you wish Mr. Glad,” the man smiled and bowed slightly.
“Nice to meet you, Francis,” Lee said, “you know, I have a Chief of the Boat who’s name is Francis...but for some reason he doesn’t like us to use it...”
“It was more common a few centuries ago,” Mr. Glad said, “especially in, what was that village’s name again, Francis?”
“Assisi,” he answered, picked up George Washington’s vial and replaced it to its proper location, then waved and walked out of the chamber, Lucky following.
“That...that was St. Francis of Assisi?” Lee asked, awestruck.
“My dear boy, all believers are saints in their own way. Now, I see you’ve met some of George’s tears. Now over here, these are the tears we need a little assistance with,” he picked up some vials from another shelf and placed them on a table. “We categorized them the best we could, but...they’re bursting with too many conflicting emotions..”
“I’m not sure I can help...who’s are they anyway?”
“Why my dear boy, they’re yours.”
“I don’t like what I can’t explain, Chip,” Doc told Morton in the privacy of his office, “both the Admiral and Captain’s CAT and MRI scans don’t show any anomaly, and their blood work’s fine.”
“Maybe Lee really is...on assignment, up there...”
“You believe Nelson’s tale that Lee’s soul’s just taken a little side trip to Heaven? Honestly Chip...”
“Don’t you believe in God?”
“Of course I do! No matter what the scientists say, I can’t believe anything so complicated and functional as the human body could have just ‘happened’. It’s just that whatever the explanation, Lee’s unresponsive to any kind of external stimuli, and has no sign of stroke, or brain death, and his pulse and pressure while low, are just above the danger level. If I were a religious man, I’d say okay, that he’s in some kind of trance....but I’m not a religious man. Oh, I believe some things, but this... it’s a little hard to accept.”
“Where’s the Admiral now?”
“I had no choice but to release him. Did, um, did the Admiral tell you just exactly when Lee’s supposed to return to his body, in a manner of speaking?”
“I don’t think he knows...”
“Then I’ll reserve judgment for if and when Lee can tell us himself...I don’t know about you, but I could use a good hot cup of tea.”
“I thought you preferred coffee.”
“I do, but not this late...or early, depending on your point of view...good God, Chip...this whole thing has me really troubled...to believe it or not to believe it while Lee lies there so still, so unmoving. I’m a doctor, not a theologian. It’s like my world’s been turned upside down...does the crew know?”
“Sharkey couldn’t keep it under his hat. Actually told the crew not to worry that the Skipper was in Sickbay; that he was on a special assignment for the Angels.”
“Captain! Captain Crane!” echoed in Lee’s mind as he listened to his own tears of anguish as crewman Farrell was taken out of the enemy cell block to be executed, “Oh God, oh God...Farrell, Farrell! I... I can’t go on with this one, Mr. Glad,” Lee sat the vial down, got up and began to pace, his eyes watering.
“So you see why we need your help. These tears are a mix of anger, fear, outrage, helplessness, and guilt. But which is the category that best describes this experience that you cried out to God about?”
“Mr. Glad,” a voice preceded a bearded man who’d been reading a book at one of the tables, a tabby cat reading it with him, “I’ll take care of this..”
“You...you’re Abe Lincoln!” Lee stared, “Sir!”
“None of that nonsense up here, young man...I’m just plain Abe. I couldn’t help overhearing…Why don’t we go for a walk, with Mr. Glad’s permission, that is.”
“Granted, but remember, he’s only visiting. He can’t go beyond the mist.”
“Yes, yes, I know, “ Lincoln took Crane’s arm, “ I hope you don’t mind my friend Tabby tagging along,” he indicated the feline.
“You...you were the greatest president we’ve ever had...”
“I’m flattered. Now, why don’t you tell me all about this...situation you’ve been trying to run away from.”
“I’d appreciate it if you’d show yourself, Mr. Bliss,” Nelson asked to the thin air in the Observation Nose,” raising his tumbler of whiskey, the bottle nearly finished, “there are a few matters I think it’s time we discussed.”
“Is that an invitation or a demand?” Bliss appeared.
“I doubt I can demand anything of an Angel, but, I sure as hell can complain to your boss. You ‘d do well to remember that.”
“My, my, you are a proud one. And you’d do well to remember that pride caused the fall of a great many of my former friends. ”
“Don’t mind if I do,” Mr. Bliss poured himself a shot and drank it down appreciatively.
“When’s Lee due back? Some of my officers and crew might believe that he’s up there helping you Angels out, but others are ready to lock me up and throw away the key. I’d prefer to keep my freedom, thank you very much.”
“Your crew won’t lock you up. You may tell them that their Captain still has a great deal to do.”
“He um... he will come back here, won’t he? What if he likes it up there?”
“Harriman, Harriman, Harriman. He isn’t being given the choice to remain or not. And there are many areas of Heaven he won’t have access to or can even imagine. He’ll be back aboard his little submarine in due time, which, by my calculation should be, let’s see, due to the enormity of his task, Sunday morning.”
“That long? It’s barely Friday .”
“Even we Angels cannot hurry some things.”
“Then I have your promise that I can tell my crew their Captain will be returning to his body fully on Sunday then?”
“Yes. Anything else?”
“I’m sure there is, but I’m too drunk to think of anything else.”
“I can alter your body’s chemistry to sober you up immediately if you wish.”
“No, I think I prefer being drunk....damn, I miss Lee already.”
“Only natural,” Bliss helped himself to another shot of the amber fluid, “and I must remind you again to reign in your profanity. Perhaps it will help to think of Lee’s absence as an adventure for him. Even if he nor any of you might not remember it.”
“But…that would be cheating him of the experience!”
“Very well, I’ll request that headquarters leave all of your memories intact. You really should be getting to bed now, Harriman.”
“Allow me,” Bliss waved his arm, and Nelson immediately fell asleep in the chair.
“So you see, don’t you,” Abe stroked Tabby, as he and Lee sat against a very large tree on a grassy knoll, surrounded by flowers, “that you can hardly blame yourself for doing your duty.”
“I know all that,” Lee ran a hand through his hair,” It’s just lately I’ve begun to wonder…maybe if I’d told them I’d talk…pretended to be sick or something so I couldn’t, make it a delaying tactic…damn…”
The very sky seemed to groan in response to the word.
“Uh, sorry,” Lee looked up and around, then, “anyway, if I’d done that, maybe it would have been long enough to figure out a way for us all to escape or for Seaview to come to our rescue…”
“Our lives are filled with ‘what if’s, son. Sometimes, all we can do is what our duty and hearts dictate at the time. We mere mortals don’t have the luxury of hindsight. The good of the many always outweighs the good of the few. Trust me, I didn’t want to declare war, brother against brother, knowing thousands would die. But…it was the only way to save the union and end the abomination that was slavery. Stop second guessing yourself and accept that you did what you had no choice but do to. Don’t you think that General DeAlvarez would have killed you all anyway once he got what he wanted?“
“I…guess so…it’s just…”
“Did something happen to you recently to make you rethink your actions?”
“I..I saw Mrs. Farrell. The boy’s mother…she was at the same hotel where the retirement party was being held for a friend of mine. I guess they have family or friends in Washington. I almost wished she’d come over, ranted, raved, even hit me…but no, she just smiled. Smiled! At me, her son’s murderer…”
“Lee, you don’t honestly believe that you murdered that boy, do you?”
“No. At least I didn’t then. Then I was adhering to my orders…doing my honorable duty by not telling DeAlvarez what he wanted to hear.”
“So what changed by seeing Mrs. Farrell?’
“The mission had been hush- hush. Under orders from ONI, that’s the Office of Naval Intelligence, all I could tell her when we returned was that her son had died bravely in the line of duty, no details due to National Security, but while she might have accepted that, especially without a body, all I could see was that poor boy screaming, crying like a baby as they dragged him to the firing squad. He’d called my name over and over. As if I could save him…as if I would save him…if only…”
“There you are,” Mr. Bliss appeared, interrupting. “Hello, Abe, hello, Tabby, hello, Clyde.”
“Clyde?” Lee rose, wiping the tears from his eyes.
“You should have introduced yourself,” Bliss told the tree.
“That’s for sure,” the cat added.
“I guess everything talks up here,” Lee muttered.
“I didn’t want to interrupt,” the tree said, “besides, I was hoping Lee might remember me.”
“Remember when you flat lined, found yourself here, and leaned against me to enjoy the symphony of the flowers. I don’t suppose you recognize them either.”
“Hello Lee,” they sang in unison.
“Uh, hi.…I um…remember now,” Lee said, “I wasn’t really sure I’d died. Later, in Sickbay, I thought it might have been a dream. Why aren’t the flowers singing now?”
“Taking a break.”
“Oh.... Mr. Bliss? I don’t suppose you might let me speak with Farrell?”
Mr. Bliss checked his clipboard, “I’m sorry, but you’re prohibited from seeing him until your appointment.”
“But if I could only speak with him, tell him I’m sorry, that I...”
“It’s difficult not to second guess yourself, Lee,” Lincoln put his hand on Lee’s shoulder, “but sometimes you just have to take the command decisions you made by faith that they were the correct thing to do.”
“Don’t you think I know that? No way would I really have cooperated with DeAlvarez just…what if I’d played for a little time…I didn’t even think of it as an option! I should have!...I should have...”Lee couldn’t stop the tears from flowing.
“Do you know how many ‘what if’s I’ve lived with, son? That I still ponder them, even here. You have to learn to live with them until the Lord wipes away all our tears.”
“You can pick me up and pet me if you like,” Tabby rubbed against Lee’s ankles, “it’ll make you feel better.”
“Don’t be proud Tabby,” Abe said.
“Actually Mr. Presid…”he stopped as Lincoln raised his eyebrow, “I’m sorry…it’s hard to call you Abe… I think I’d like that...Doc says that petting a dog or cat can lower your blood pressure, so maybe it can help...”
“Well, he is an affectionate cat…was one of my best friends when my heart was in turmoil during that horrible war,” Abe said as Lee picked the cat up and began stroke it
“Mm that feels good,” Tabby began to purr.
“Well, then, Mr. Bliss, I was wondering…maybe you can let me see my Dad... “
“He’s not allowed to help you in this matter.”
“Okay okay, but there’s other stuff I’d like to tell him, that I’m sorry for the things I could have done and didn’t for him, and the things I didn’t do and should have…”
“You were only a boy when he crossed over…”
“It still hurts.”
“I believe there’s a saying on Earth, that grief is the price you pay for love. I’m sorry, Lee but...”
“You won’t let me see him either,” Lee sighed. “Well, okay, but you’re an Angel..so, maybe you can tell me about my biological parents, then. I want to know why they abandoned me...I’ve wanted to know for a long time.”
“All I can tell you is that your biological mother isn’t here yet. And your biological father is in h…”he paused as even the sky seemed to groan while Abe, Tabby and Clyde winced.
If a tree could wince, Lee pondered.
“He’s in the other place,” Bliss continued, “as for Edward Crane, I can tell you that he’s been following your life with great interest and loves you very much. You’ll just have to wait until the secrets of all hearts are revealed for anything else...Now, I believe you still have some more labeling to do…Abe? G.H. wants your opinion of a new orchestration he’s working on.“
“My pleasure…well, Lee,” Abe extended his hand, “until we meet again.”
“It’s been an honor, sir, er Abe. Who’s G. H.?”
“Wow. That Halleluiah Chorus he composed for The Messiah is the most beautiful piece of music I’ve ever heard.”
“You should hear the ones he’s composed since then...but you will, I’m sure, one day.”…
“So the Skipper’s just gonna’ wake up Sunday morning?” Cookie raised an eyebrow as Sharkey dug into his Friday morning breakfast.
“That’s what the Admiral says.”
“Still kind of hard to believe,” Pat said, “the Skip having an out of body experience? Helping out the Angels?”
“You have a better explanation?”
“Well, this batch is done,” Lee leaned back and stretched, “I can’t for the life of me figure out how come you couldn’t figure out some of these tears, Mr. Glad. And why the interest? You’ve had me labeling every tear I’ve ever had since I was born, and I sure can’t remember the reason for those. And some of these others are pretty insignificant.”
“No tear is insignificant to God. And all tears of every human being since Adam have been and will continue to be labeled.”
“I can just hear my Sunday School teacher telling me ‘told you so’ about Adam and Eve,” Lee laughed. “I don’t’ supposed I can take a break? Maybe some coffee and doughnuts?” he got up.
“We don’t have coffee and doughnuts up here. I can bring you some fruit, though.”
“No coffee and doughnuts? Are you sure this is Heaven?”
“Those vials, over there, the stone ones.”
“Uh, yeah, in the Alabaster vials... who’s are they?”
Glad bowed his head, “Those are the tears of the Lord. Too intense for man nor Angel to hold or to witness without harm. Tears for the hurting, the lost…and for the agonizing passion he felt on the cross. For you. And for all of mankind.”
“You know, Mr. Glad, sometimes I wonder why God bothers to put up with us,” Lee sighed, “we’re a miserable lot at best.”
“Indeed, we Angels have wondered about that since he took the dust of the earth in his hands and created you.”
“He’s not going to like all this,” Chip indicated the tubes attached to Lee in Sickbay.
“Well, I can’t let him dehydrate, can I?” Doc pouted, “and a catheter is a necessary evil, as he’s put it at times. I don’t like it Chip. I don’t care that he’s in no medical distress. No matter how mystical or from on high, as Nelson insists, it’s just… not natural.”
“That’s what miracles are all about Will. You remember that little trouble Lee and Joe had last Christmas? Well, it was a miracle that saved their lives, and restored them to complete health after that explosion wasn’t it? Just accept this…um…little pause…in Lee’s life.”
“I still don’t like seeing him like this….I hear the Admiral drank himself to sleep last night?”
“Afraid so. He’s nursing a whopper of a hangover…”
“Excuse me sirs,” Ski appeared at the door, “the Skipper’s coming back Sunday morning right?”
“That’s what the Admiral says,” Doc sighed.
“I’d like to be here when he comes back. A lot of us would. How about it Doc? Can he have a welcoming committee?”
“I don’t see why not, barring any boo boo’s from the crew before then.”
“So this is what Abe was looking at,” Lee looked at the holographic images of himself through the years.
“Only up to a point,” Mr. Glad said, “some things about you and your life are known only to God. This part of the Hall of Tears-Past, holds what you might call scrapbooks, though most are closed to you, even those of the Cranes, and Zelandra...”he stopped as though he’d put his foot in his mouth, while a vial on one of the shelves shimmered and tingled.
“Your biological mother. Please, don’t ask me any more about her.”
“So,” Lee changed the subject, tearing his eyes away from the vial, “ why was President of the United States interested in me?”
“Let’s just say he found in you a kindred spirit.”
“Oh come on. It was pretty opportune wasn’t it, for him to be here just when I had that little meltdown.”
“I didn’t bring you here under fraudulent conditions. I truly thought , and rightly so, that you could help clear up some ambiguities in your tears. It didn’t hurt, however, that Abe was able to help you over this ‘deep funk’ I believe your shipmates called it, that you’ve been in lately. You do feel better now, don’t you? About your crewman?”
“Yeah…but I still think you should have let me meet Farrell, but I can handle it all better now…”
‘It had been a long Saturday and the crew was on edge waiting for their Skipper to return fully to his body, should Nelson actually be sane,’ Jamison wrote in his journal that night, “just one more night and things should get back to normal. If one can even use the word ‘normal’ regarding Lee Crane. One day, somebody need to write a book. Or a TV show.’
“What time is it anyway,” Lee yawned as he handed yet another vial to Mr. Glad. “I can’t tell up here.”
“Time is relative depending on your point of view,” an Angel Lee hadn’t met before appeared. “But it’s Saturday night aboard Seaview. Gabe’s the name,” he extended his hand. Unlike Mr. Bliss and Mr. Glad, he was robed in a sparkling white caftan, or robe, or whatever they called it up there. And he had wings. A spectacular vision.
“Gabe…er…Gabriel? The Gabriel?”
“The one and only,” Glad said, “just don’t let it go to his head.”
“Very funny. Glad, we’re needed at HQ.”
“Very well, I’m sure it won’t be too long before I’m back, Lee. You’re doing fine. You don’t mind being alone, do you?”
“I’ll be fine,” Lee said as convincingly as he could. After they’d gone, without another Angelic or other kind of being in sight that could spy on him, he got up and stepped over to Zelandra’s vial…his real mother’s tears…maybe they could answer all his questions about why he’d been abandoned, to live out an early childhood of neglect and abuse. But…he’d been told he’d have to wait until God himself revealed her secrets. But the answers were just out of reach…beckoning…calling to him…as if they were bewitched.
Uh oh, not supposed to think that word up here, he thought.
“Wait,” Gabe whispered to Mr. Glad who was about to call out to Lee to stop, both watching from the entry, invisible, “he has to make his own decision whether to obey or not.”
“He’s only human, after all. And we didn’t exactly forbid it.”
“He knows enough that to deflower what is forbidden to him is disobedience,” Gabe said as Lee reached toward the vial.
“Oh Lee,” Mr. Glad sighed sadly.
“Brought you some supper, Admiral,” Chip carried a tray over to place on a small table that Doc had set up alongside Lee’s bunk.
“Thanks. Not much longer now,” he continued to stroke Lee’s hair.
“He’s so still. Kind of eerie, sir.”
“I wonder if they’ve been feeding him up there,” Frank, the Corpsman said, “surely your Angels should see that he needs a few good meals under his belt.”
“I wonder what they serve in Heaven,” Chip mused.
“Angel Food Cake?” Nelson asked with a grin.
“Heavenly Hash?” Doc added, though he still wasn’t really certain of Nelson’s sanity at this point.
“Oh good grief,” Chip groaned. “I’ll be back with a list of the winners for the wake up party.”
It would be so easy to see what had happened, Lee thought to himself as he stared at the vial. Maybe he could even find out the rest of his mother’s name and where she lived now. The tears would tell him what had happened, if she’d had any about him. Maybe he was a damned nuisance to her. Maybe she simply hadn’t wanted to be bothered with a child. But... what if his conception had been forced on her? If he went ahead and met her...it might be too traumatic for her... Damn it, he wanted to know! He wanted to know! He had a right to know why his early years before the Crane’s rescued him were something he wouldn’t want his worst enemy to have had. And the Angels hadn’t exactly forbidden him to check, not technically...but if God was going to reveal it in His own good time...would it really make that much difference to his life right now anyway? Wasn’t he a big enough man to wait?
Sighing, Lee returned to the table, and resumed his task.
“That was close,” Gabe said, still unseen or heard by Lee, relieved.
“Would it really have been so bad if he’d learned the whole story?”
“It would have upset the tapestry of life. Headquarters hasn’t really gotten over that it had to be rewoven the last time you and Bliss requested it...”
One could hear a pin drop in Sickbay as Doc checked his watch and nobody breathed, well, not literally, he mused. While Nelson hadn’t indicated the time, he had been pretty vocal that since this Sunday was Easter Sunday, the Angels just might return Lee at sunrise. After all, as a Christian, the Captain might be expected to say a few words for those assembled who wanted to contemplate the day.
“Hot stuff, coming through,” Cookie’s voice interrupted as he and his Mess specialists brought in a carafe of coffee and a plate of freshly baked doughnuts. “Get your mitts off these,” he ordered Patterson who was reaching for a doughnut, “they’re for the Skipper.”
“I’m sure he won’t mind,” Nelson said.
“As long as you leave some for me,” Morton said as he entered Sickbay, and scooped up the tray at Cookie’s outraged expression, “I’ll save some for him...any sign yet?” he asked Nelson.
“For Heaven’s sake, they didn’t give me a timetable.”
“But you think it’ll be soon? I’d like to surface the boat so the men who want can have their sunrise services...”
“Well, that’s it then,” Mr. Glad said, as Lee returned the last of his vials of tears to their shelf. “Thank you for all your help.”
“You know, Mr. Glad, I still think you brought me up here on false pretenses.”
“It’s time to go Mr. Glad,” Mr. Bliss appeared.
“Will I come back any time soon? No, I don’t mean for my appointment...I mean...even though I didn’t get to see or do all I wanted...well, you can count on me if you need me again, sort of like a special agent upstairs...as long as it doesn’t hinder Seaview...”
“Thank you. We’ll keep that in mind,” Bliss grinned and waved his hand.
“Mnnnn,” Lee stired in the bunk.
“He’s back!” Ski whispered.
Lee stretched, yawned, and opened his eyes
“Welcome back Skipper!” the crowd erupted in applause.
“Quiet!” Doc ordered and began to take Lee’s pulse, and blood pressure.
“Is this necessary?” Lee asked, “and my blood pressure’s fine. Tabby saw to that.”
“Tabby?” Nelson asked.
“Abe’s cat...Abe Lincoln’s cat...it talks. They all talk up there...dogs, cats, flowers, trees...”
“Sounds more like a dream than an Angelic adventure to me, Admiral,” Doc said.
“Do I detect a note of skepticism, Will?” Lee asked, “didn’t Harry tell you were I’d gone? And will you please get these damn tubes out? Uh. sorry,” he spoke looking up to the ceiling.
“Of course he did, it was just a bit hard to digest,” Doc moved a screen in front of the bunk so he could remove the IV and Foley in privacy.
“Speaking of digestion,” Lee’s voice said, “do I smell coffee and doughnuts? They don’t have either up there and, oh, Hello Mr. Bliss, Mr. Glad...there you are. Glad you came with me...Cookie? Fix them up will you,” he added as Jamison removed the screen and Lee sat up, his legs dangling over the edge of the bunk.
“Right away Skipper. Uh, they um...they’re over there someplace, right?”
“Aw c’,mon, Bliss, Glad, show yourselves or Doc’s liable to put me in a straight jacket. I bet he threatened you with one didn’t he, Harry?”
“Almost. But he decided to err on the side of caution.”
With a splash of light, both Angels appeared visible to the awed assemblage.
“Uh, Mr. Bliss, Mr. Glad, my crew. Harry, I met Lucky too. He misses you.”
“I’ve missed you too, son,” Nelson embraced Lee.
“There was a lot they wouldn’t let me see, or do,” Lee complained pointedly as Bliss and Glad sipped the offered mugs of coffee from Cookie as the crew looked on in silence.
“I can see why Headquarters doesn’t have this on the menu,” Bliss muttered.
“You liked my booze,” Nelson said.
“Alcoholic distillations are different, this is just...just...it reminds me of something earthy...ah...yes...”
“Mud?” Mr. Glad said.
“That’s the spirit!” Lee jumped up, and patted him on the shoulder, “Supposed to be! Good and strong,” he took the cup from Bliss’s hands and gulped it down gratefully. “Heaven, Cookie, sheer Heaven...er...in a manner of speaking that is Mr. Bliss.”
“It’s an acquired taste,” Cookie explained to the confused visitors.
“It would have to be...”
“I suppose these are those doughnuts you were speaking of...” Mr. Glad took one and took a bite cautiously. “Hmm. Good...very similar to those concoctions your Pilgrims brought the New World from Holland...”
“Oliekoeks,” Cookie said proudly, “Only we Yanks kinda changed them a bit..er, what did you feed the Skipper up there anyways?”
“Some kind of weird fruit,” Lee answered before they could, “it was invigorating, refreshing...but...I have to be truthful; I like your doughnuts way better, Cookie.”
“Aw, gee, Skipper...”
“Well Captain,” Doc said, “now that you’re back safe and sound and I’ve met your Angelic visitors, at least I won’t have to agree to a psych evaluation for the Admiral.”
“Permission to surface the boat, Skipper?” Chip asked, “it’s almost sunrise.”
“Permission granted. Mr. Bliss, Mr. Glad, why don’t you go forward with Chip, er...Mr. Morton...while I change...”
“But our schedule...”Mr. Bliss began, checking his clipboard.
“We’re not on death watch right now, Mr. Bliss,” Glad said.
“If you managed to reweave the tapestry of life last time,” Nelson said, “ and practically kidnapped my Captain this time..”
“Requested his services...”Glad corrected.
“Like,” Riley muttered, ‘who’s going to say no to an Angel?”
“Pipe down,” Sharkey hissed.
“ In any case,” Nelson said, “ if you managed all that, surely you can spare a little time for the Captain of the Seaview to change and to say a few words for Easter Sunday observances for any crew that wants him to.”
“This way, sirs,” Chip motioned the Angels to follow him.
“Very well, Chipper,” Mr. Bliss said.
Morton raised an eyebrow and looked at Lee.
“That is correct isn’t it, Lee? That is the term of affection you used for him when you were drunk that time in the Observation Nose wasn’t it?”
“Seems my whole life’s an open book with them,” Lee sighed and returned his attention to the Angels, “if you wouldn’t mind, Mr. Morton’s the correct term for the Executive Officer of Seaview while you’re aboard.”
“Hey, Lee,” Chip said, “they’re your Angels. They can call me anything they like.”
“Thank you Chipper,” Mr. Bliss said, as he and Mr. Glad began to follow, “but we’re not exclusive to Lee. We’re simply messengers...or gofer’s as you call those who go about doing tasks that need doing.”
As soon as they were out the door the crew crowded around Lee.
“Skipper, what was it like in Heaven?”
“Wow, did you get to meet the ‘big guy’?
“What’s it look like?”
“Did you get to see Cap’n Phillips?”
“What was Abe Lincoln like?”
“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” Nelson intervened,” I’m sure the Captain will sit down and answer our questions soon enough. For now, let’s give him a chance to shower, shave and change...and help with the Sunrise Services...”
“And don’t forget more having more coffee and doughnuts,” Lee laughed.
Seaview had surfaced and Nelson led the Angels up into the Conning Tower. It was just before sunrise and the golden glow was just becoming visible on the horizon of the dark sea.
Below them, on deck, several officers and crew were assembling, those on duty, watched from monitors aboard the sub as the religious, if not denominational service began.
“I’m surprised you didn’t volunteer to host the service yourselves,” Nelson said, “after all, you’re Angels.”
“Mere messengers, nothing more...”Mr. Glad said, as the Captain of the Seaview began the observance.
“Will you, um, be back any time soon?”
“That will be for Headquarters to decide...”Mr. Bliss said.
“It’s possible. After all,”Mr. Glad added, “ Lee volunteered should the need arise for his assistance again...”
“He told me what you did,” Nelson said, “pretty convenient wasn’t it, having Abraham Lincoln speak to him?”
“That was Abe’s idea. We made no suggestion. He was looking a scrapbook of the momentous events in Lee’s life and overheard his distress about Farrell.”
“But you knew he’d be there.”
“Perhaps,” Mr. Bliss smirked.... “now...quiet...”
Lee was reading from a borrowed Bible as he and other Christians said a few words as they watched the now glowing shimmer as sunrise met the day in symbolic tribute for Easter Sunday. “....and the Angel said ‘why seek ye the living among the dead. He is risen...”
“Lee was dead to us all for awhile after that retirement party,” Nelson mused. “He told as soon as he’d dressed this morning that he hadn’t been able to speak to me about things because I would have simply told him he’d done his duty and hadn’t had a choice.”
“He didn’t,” Glad said.
“He knows that. He’s always known that. But sometimes you need someone else to help shoulder the burden of the ‘what if’s...someone’s who’s had them himself, and that person was Abe Lincoln. What I’m trying to say is...thank you. Thank you for bringing Lee back home. The real Lee. The Lee we know and love.”
“Just doing our jobs, Harriman.”
“After all,” Glad said, “ it was your prayer that gave me the idea...after all, just bringing the boy upstairs to help label his tears wasn’t quite enough reason for HQ to approve the paperwork. Your prayer to God to figure out what was wrong with him and fix it, well, its’ a ‘mission accomplished’ now as you’d put it.”
As the sun rose and the men on deck began to disburse back into the sub, Lee looked up and smiled at Bliss, Glad, and Nelson. Suddenly Nelson was alone and saw Lee speaking to them on deck.
He was a little jealous when the Angels ruffled Lee’s hair, after all, that was his privilege.
And they were gone.
Nelson retired back into the boat and met Lee who was already in the crowded Observation Nose with his officers and crew munching on chocolate covered marshmallows from several huge Easter Baskets filled with green fluff and candy.
“Captain Crane, a moment?” Nelson called him over to the plot table.
“The next time you go off on a special assignment, I hope you’ll tell me about it first, especially if it’s an Angelic one...I almost found myself in a straight jacket strapped to a gurney.”
“Very funny. Will told me he might have thought you were having delusions but at no time was he considering anything so drastic.”
“They um...really gone now?”
“Well, they waved goodbye and disappeared, still...”
“Skipper?” Cookie approached, “I’m sorry but...there ain’t any doughnuts left. I went back to Sickbay to get ‘em for you but...”
“Ah well,” Lee sighed, “I guess I’ll have to live without them.”
‘no you won’t,” Chip appeared, handing him the plate, ‘you don’t think I’d eat all of them, do you? Just made sure they were safe. And, though I’ve said it already, welcome home Lee.”
“Well,” Gabe met Bliss and Glad as they walked in the grassy knoll, where Clyde was trying to keep in tune with the flowers singing Handel’s latest composition, “I trust everything is in order now regarding Lee Crane?”
“Yes,” Bliss answered,“ Admiral Nelson’s prayer has been answered and Lee’s tears are categorized properly.”
“Not to mention his moral dilemma resolved, ”Gabe said,“though I wish you’d informed me what you were planning to do...what’s that you have ?” he asked of the gaily colored foil item in Glad’s hand.
“An Easter Egg.”
“It doesn’t look like any egg to me.”
“It’s actually a marshmallow,” Glad unwrapped it, “covered in chocolate...from Seaview. It’s very good. Just like their doughnuts. Perhaps we can request some of these be placed on the menu,” he handed a few more chocolate marshmallows from his pocket to Gabe. “And maybe some more earthly items.”
“But not their coffee,” Bliss added.
“No, not that, thank Heaven,” Glad shuddered then laughed.
“I think you two have been on earthly assignment too much,” Gabe said, “perhaps a sabbatical is in order...” he muttered as he departed.
“By the way,” Bliss said as Handel’s celebratory anthem filled the air, “Happy Easter, Mr. Glad.”
“Happy Easter, Mr. Bliss.”
*The quote from letter from Washington is a fact.
*Abe Lincoln did have a tabby cat, named Tabby, and lived with the Lincolns at the White House during the Civil War.