By R. L. Keller


Author’s note : while my stories usually have a zinger or two, the boys took over this one and decided to have a little fun of their own.  All I can say is, read at your own risk J  RLK


A small frown crossed Chip Morton’s face as he pulled into the driveway of his CO – and best friend – Lee Crane.  Chip was only a couple of minutes later than he’d said he’d be; traffic was a mess, to say the least.  In fact, that’s one reason Chip had volunteered to pick Lee up this Friday evening.  They were headed for a formal reception at NIMR; their boss, Admiral Harriman Nelson, was hosting the event, honoring science project award winners from all of the area’s schools and awarding half a dozen scholarships for high school seniors as well as several for junior college students.  With parking at a premium this would mean one less car.


Enough years around Lee had taught Chip that Lee was always ready at least five minutes early so, when he wasn’t already waiting, Chip had a moment of uncertainty.  The front door was open behind the screen door so Chip figured that Lee had merely stepped away for a second.  But when Lee still hadn’t appeared after two minutes the frown came back and Chip exited his car and entered Lee’s front hallway.  “Lee?” he called out, trying not to let any of his concern enter his voice.


“Sorry, Chip,” came down the stairs.  “Be down in a second.”


“No problem,” Chip answered, starting to relax as Lee’s voice sounded normal.  He ambled into the front room to wait and a small grin hit his face.


For the last several days Lee had been somewhat under the weather.  Nothing serious, not even enough to set off Jamie’s radar although Chip had made sure that NIMR’s CMO knew about it.  Just a head cold, but it had sapped Lee’s usually limitless energy level enough that he hadn’t argued – too much, anyway – when Chip had urged him to take the afternoon off in preparation for what would probably be a long evening of schmoozing with the locals.


What was now tickling Chip’s funny bone was seeing the stained glass afghan that had recently appeared in Lee’s house, usually neatly adorning the back of the couch, lying haphazardly across one arm.  Chip had a sneaking suspicion that Lee had laid down once he’d gotten home and covered himself with the afghan, had probably fallen asleep, then hurriedly tossed it aside once he awoke and realized that he was running late.  Not worrying that Lee was getting worse, although making a mental note to keep an eye on him this evening nonetheless, Chip walked over and returned the afghan to its normal position.


Chip wasn’t totally sure where the afghan, it’s bright pastel blocks each edged with black giving it it’s name, came from; Lee had never said.  But Chip had his suspicions and his grin spread.  Chip had commanded Seaview on a two-week cruise while Lee had remained confined to his home, recuperating from some fairly serious injuries sustained during a battle with poachers.*  With Jamie aboard Seaview as well, Lee’s care had ended up in the hands of the CMO’s not-so-secret weapon, Nurse Esther Hale, USMC (Ret.).  Chip had personal intel that the outwardly tough-as-nails retired Gunnery Sergeant had a heart of gold – intel that he carefully kept to himself.  But he did know that Nurse Hale knit and crocheted during quiet periods to help keep her fingers nimble.  He had a strong suspicion that she’d made it while ‘commander-sitting.’


Chip knew that Lee would be embarrassed if he were caught, even by his best friend, resorting to an afternoon nap so the afghan was neatly back in place by the time he heard Lee’s steps on the stairs.  He met Lee in the doorway and kept a neutral expression on his face as Lee’s eyes flicked toward the couch.  Ever so briefly a shy, sheepish grin crossed Lee’s face before he quickly covered it with a frown as he caught Chip giving him a look up and down.  “What?” he growled.


Chip grinned.  “Just checking.  With all the city officials in attendance, can’t have Seaview’s captain with his uniform amiss.”


Lee sent him a disgusted look.  “Like I’ve suddenly forgotten how to put on a dress uniform?”  Chip shrugged but his blue eyes were twinkling merrily.  Lee shook his head.  “I’m surprised that you’re not pushing me out the door.  I thought you had a new secretary to pursue.”


Chip raised a finger.  “Research assistant, not secretary,” he corrected sternly, but it was spoiled by the broad grin on his face.


“Sorry,” Lee apologized insincerely.  “It’s so hard keeping up with you.”  Chip sent him a glare, as well as a gentle backhand, but they both grinned and headed out the door.


Thankfully they were able to avoid the chaos around NIMR’s front gate – staff was entering through an obscure service gate and Security pointed Chip to an open space next to Admiral Nelson’s sedan.  There were a couple of quick comments about rank thankfully having its privileges before Chip got sidetracked by several groups of people walking past, making their way from this back parking lot towards the conference center where the reception was being held.  Lee grinned as he recognized one of the women as Chip’s newest…  The grin spread as Lee stopped himself from calling the statuesque brunette a target.  That was most definitely not how Chip treated NIMR’s female employees.  He enjoyed ‘playing the field’ as it were.  And such was his charm and honest sincerity that even when he’d gone on to someone new he stayed friends with everyone else.  It was one of a multitude of things for which Lee had always admired his gregarious friend.


Lee turned to close the car door, trying to remember the brunette’s name – it was something unusual – and closed his eyes briefly, hanging on to the door frame as a bit of vertigo hit him.  It surprised him; while the cold had slowed him down a tad it had been more annoying than anything else.  He glanced around once he felt comfortable enough to reopen his eyes but his momentary lapse had apparently gone unnoticed – thankfully.  He’d taken several steps away from the car before Chip seemed to realize he’d abandoned his CO and stopped to wait for him.  Lee tried to shoo him off with the brunette with a flip of his hand but Chip wasn’t having any part of it.  As Lee got closer Chip told him firmly, “If I have to tolerate the next three hours in dress whites, I’m not letting you get out of it by disappearing into your office.”


“Yeah, like I’d get away with that,” Lee groused before both men smiled and followed the growing crowd headed for the reception.


A grin crossed Lee’s face about two hours later.  Actually, he’d had a smile on his face most of the evening.  It was a pleasure watching his boss, Admiral Nelson, enthusiastically emcee the program.  He was very much in his element encouraging continuing enthusiasm in the students being honored for the sciences that were so much a part of his own being and his excitement had a way of spilling over into those around him.  Lee had been surprised, back in his Annapolis days, how quickly he could get involved when Nelson would occasionally get sidetracked from what he was supposed to be teaching into areas of a more scientific nature.  Even now he was somewhat amazed by how easily he was drawn in to Nelson’s ‘world’ as it were, when his primary focus was always Seaview and her crew. 


This particular expression, however, wasn’t triggered by Nelson but by Chip.  Now that the formal festivities were concluded, the social aspects of the gathering took over – NIMR staff putting their best faces forward, as any large employer in an area liked to do.  Lee had spent the last bit of time ambling through the crowd, adding his own personal congratulations to the students and chatting amiably with those city officials and local businesspeople that he knew.  Chip had been doing the same, circulating through the room.  But Lee had just spotted him over by the hor d’oeuvers table, apparently pointing out some of the tastier delicacies to…  Drat, he grumbled to himself, why can’t I remember her name?


But he suddenly had something else to think about as a bit of the vertigo once more caused him to briefly close his eyes.  When he felt it pass nearly as quickly as it hit he decided that in this case, at least, the excess of bodies in the room was responsible for his feeling of being overly warm and he headed for the doors out to the patio area for some fresh air.


He had his hands on the railing around the edge of the patio, staring out across the expanse of grass leading down toward the ocean, when a hand holding a cup of what looked like punch appeared in front of him.  He instantly frowned when he followed the arm to a face.  “What did you spike it with?” he demanded of his nemesis in all medical matters – and one of his closest friends – Dr. Will Jamison.  He assumed Jamie had seen his momentary discomfort and rapid exit from the reception.


Will merely chuckled and held out his other hand, also holding a cup of punch.  “Would you rather have this one?”  When Lee continued to frown, he continued.  “You’re not the only one who was in need of a break.  I saw you head out and it gave me an excuse to sneak out as well.  It’s definitely getting warm in there.”


During the explanation Lee’s expression softened and he finally took the proffered refreshment.  “Thanks,” he said with a quick nod and a soft grin.  The two men stood quietly, shoulder to shoulder, until Lee noticed a hand reaching toward his face.  He caught the wrist in a near vice-like grip and glared at the doctor.


Will stood very still, not struggling, and kept a benign expression on his face.  He knew that the fastest way to tick Lee off was to argue with him.  Sometimes, if he was very patient, he could actually get Lee to cooperate.  Lee held his wrist so long that Will was beginning to think that this wasn’t going to be one of those times.  But Lee finally allowed his stiff posture to relax, let loose his grip, and briefly closed his eyes.  Ever so lightly Will touched the back of his newly released hand to Lee’s forehead before once more returning his gaze to the view in front of him.


Lee allowed the silence to continue for several moments before his curiosity got the better of him.  “Well?” he muttered.


Will sent him a grin.  “I was only going to suggest that you stay out here a bit longer before going back into the stuffiness in there.”  He gestured toward the conference room.  “But as usual you’ll do as you jolly well please no matter what I say.”  He shrugged, his grin increasing as Lee sent him a glare, and he headed for the doors.


“Thanks, Jamie,” floated his direction.  “For the punch,” Lee added.  Will heard the caring in the first part and the humor in the second part and he laughed out loud, but didn’t turn around before returning to the festivities.


Lee continued to grin.  His battles with the doctor were legendary – especially among Seaview’s crew.  Yet, the two strong-willed men had formed a very strong bond of friendship and respect.  They still sparred for real on occasion, loudly and with genuine emotion.  But for the most part they were able to reach an agreement both could live with without either feeling too put upon, or Nelson having to step in and settle matters however he saw fit.  The grin was still in place when Lee polished off the punch and headed back inside.


His first stop was to refill the cup; the punch was a little sweeter than he’d have liked but it was cold, and actually tasted pretty good.  He spotted Jamie in conversation with a group that included the Admiral and Santa Barbara’s mayor, and his grin broadened when the doctor sent him a covered yawn.


“What’s so funny?”  Lee turned to find Chip at his shoulder.


“None of your business,” Lee nattered back, the grin never leaving his face.


Chip easily returned it.  “Ami and I are headed out for a late dinner…”  That’s her name, Lee mentally snapped his fingers.  Pronounced with a soft ‘a’ as in ‘and.’  Why  can’t I remember that?  “…and I didn’t want to strand you here,” Chip finished.


“No biggy,” Lee told him.  The hand holding the refilled cup indicated the room, still full of people.  “Not like I can’t find a ride home.”  Neride, he mentally brought up the new researcher’s last name.  He sent Chip a pointed eyebrow.  “Just behave yourself – she’ll be on the next cruise, you know.”


Chip pulled himself up to his full height.  “I always behave,” he told Lee firmly.  “And I’m not likely to forget the cruise; it’s pretty much all she talks about, getting to go on Seaview.”  His expression relaxed but there was a slight note of disappointment in the comment that had Lee grinning again.


“I keep trying to tell you, Seaview is tough competition.”


“Yeah, yeah,” Chip grumbled, before switching track again.  “You really don’t mind?  When I suggested picking you up I really had no intention of abandoning you here.”


Lee backhanded him lightly.  “I know that, you idiot,” he told his friend fondly.  “Go.  Now.  One of us should make an enjoyable evening out of this.”


Chip waggled his eyebrows.  “I plan to,” he said, his humor back.  Lee flipped a hand at him and the blond headed off.


His good mood firmly back in place as well, Lee maneuvered through the room, chatting easily.  But it wasn’t long before things started to wind down.  He was actually thinking that, without Chip around to nag him, he might just sneak over to his office for a couple hours – there always seemed to be more paperwork than he had time for.  He looked around to see how easy it would be to make his escape and discovered Lt. Chris James at his elbow.  “What’s up, lieutenant?” he asked amiably.


“I was just about to head out, sir.  Thought that I’d check and see if you needed a ride.”


Lee sent him a pointed eyebrow.  “Meaning, Mr. Morton told you to make sure I wasn’t stuck here.”  His voice was firm.


But there was a noticeable sparkle in his eyes that the younger man had served with him long enough to pick up on, and Chris let a small grin show.  “Yes, sir.”


Lee chuckled.  “Far be it for me to be the cause of you ticking off the XO,” he told the lieutenant amiably.  “Just let me say my good evening to the Admiral.”


Will was still part of the group around Nelson when Lee walked quietly up.  He shared a quick grin with the doctor and then very carefully controlled his expression when he realized that the Admiral was explaining to the mayor, as well as several local businesspeople, why he was so excited about some ongoing research NIMR was doing concerning plankton reproduction.  Nelson eventually glanced his way, read the sparkle that Lee was unable to keep out of his eyes, and paused.  His own eyes were bright, although his expression was borderline sheepish, as he finally realized how he’d allowed himself to get wound up in what he found totally fascinating but what outsiders might not!  “Something, Lee?” he used his captain’s presence to get himself out of the slight social faux pas.


Nelson couldn’t see Will’s face but he still had a pretty good idea of why Lee has having such trouble controlling a grin.  Lee took an extra second by coughing discretely into his hand.  “Was just checking to see if you needed anything, sir,” he got out fairly under control.


Nelson took a quick glance at Will, who was barely maintaining a neutral expression.  “We’re just about ready to wrap things up here,” Nelson told Lee, glancing around the starting to empty reception hall.  “I’m sure that Will would appreciate you getting a little extra rest, fighting that cold like you’ve been.”


Lee wanted to frown but out of the corner of his eye he saw Will have to turn his back to the group and smother a snort of laughter and it caused him to grin at the old, overused but still perfectly accurate assessment of Will’s opinion of how Lee didn’t always take care of himself.  He nodded.  “Yes, sir,” he agreed, causing Nelson to grin broadly.


“Hopefully you have plans for the weekend that don’t include nonstop paperwork.”  Will apparently decided that, with Nelson running interference, it was safe to fire a potshot of his own.


Lee started to send the doctor one of his better command glares but it got short-circuited as Nelson snorted.  It didn’t help at all when the mayor, privy to a couple precious sparring matches between Seaview’s Captain and CMO, couldn’t control her own snicker.  Lee decided that he might as well surrender as gracefully as possible and made his escape.


* * * *


Actually, Lee surprised everyone who knew what a total workaholic he could be.  He hit his office Saturday morning for about an hour, made a quick appearance on Seaview to check on how a couple of minor repairs were going, and then left.  He did take a few reports home with him but spent most of the weekend puttering around his house or jogging along the beach.  Chip called Sunday and brought steaks over for dinner that they grilled, and downed them with a couple of beers.  With all the extra rest, Lee was feeling a good deal better Monday morning than he had most of the previous week.


The usual Monday-morning-while-in-port strategy session in Admiral Nelson’s office was mainly to go over the upcoming cruise.  It wouldn’t be a hard one.  In fact, for the first few days or so Seaview would only be a few hours’ journey from her homeport.  One of NIMR’s long-running projects involved various studies being done with dolphins.  They had occasionally, over the years, worked with the Navy’s own projects into dolphin training, but mostly the projects revolved around general physiology and health maintenance as well as communication studies.  Most of the research involved the Bottlenose as well as other common varieties, but this specific cruise was targeting the lesser-known Risso’s dolphin.  NIMR’s research team was headed by Drs. Michael and Alexis Travers, a couple who had met and married after coming to NIMR nearly ten years previously.  While Seaview’s senior staff had seen the project proposals and cruise parameters, the Travers had been invited to attend the meeting to answer specific questions anyone might have.  They’d brought along their lead research assistant, and Lee sent Chip a well aimed, albeit gentle, kick when Ami Neride followed the couple into Nelson’s office.  Chip sent Lee an instant glare, but covered it quickly as all the men stood at the two ladies’ entrance.  It appeared that Nelson hadn’t anticipated the inclusion of the assistant as they were one chair short around Nelson’s desk.  Chip immediately retreated to the couch along the wall, beating Will by only a couple of steps.


Nelson began the session by giving a brief overview of the project.  Their target species was Grampus griseus, or Risso’s dolphin.  It was identified and named in 1811, and for the next hundred years at least was thought to be somewhat rare.  Eventually biologists realized that, instead of preferring relatively shallow waters like the more common varieties, it was usually found in deeper water along the continental shelves away from coastlines, as well as around seamounts.  They tended to travel in pods of from three to fifty members, but occasionally joined up and formed super pods of several thousand.  They were also seen with other species of dolphins, and hybrids had been recorded in both captive and wild populations.


While Risso’s dolphins had a similar body style to the more familiar Bottlenose variety they were slightly larger, averaging around twelve feet in length, with a rounded head like a pilot whale and a larger, slightly curved dorsal fin that had occasionally been mistaken for that of a killer whale.


“But only by the inexperienced or casual observer,” Alexis Travers interjected.  “They are much lighter in color and as they mature their bodies tend to pick up more and more scarring, to the point that older dolphins can appear almost white.”


“Scarring?” Will asked.  “Are they aggressive?”  He didn’t like surprises when it came to possible injuries.


“Not at all,” Ami Neride assured him rather adamantly before seeming to remember her place, and looked to the Travers to continue.


Alexis sent her a grin and nodded.  “They actually don’t really have teeth,” she told the others.  “They have from two to seven sets of peg-like quote teeth unquote on the lower jaw only, which they tend to lose as they age.  The scarring is thought to be caused partially by their contact with each other but mostly from their main prey, squid.”


“Mike,” Lee asked the so far silent member of the research team, “I understand using Seaview as a diving platform since you need to be further from shore than if you were working with Bottlenose dolphins.  Could you walk us through a typical dive?  I’m a little unclear on your procedures.”


“Actually, so are we,” the biologist admitted with a slightly sheepish grin.  He pulled a picture out of a file folder that he’d carried in with him.  “This is a picture of the data collection units we’ll be using.”  It showed what looked like a clear plastic outer unit protecting a smaller internal meter of some sort.  “It’s called a data logger, and was developed by the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program in Florida.  It attaches to the dorsal fin with small suction cups and stays in place usually for several hours.  When it eventually falls off it floats with its radio transmitter antenna above water so we can find and retrieve it.  We then download the data directly into the computers.”  Lee nodded that he was following so far.


But Chip had a question.  “Why is it made to fall off so quickly?  Wouldn’t you get more data if it stayed on longer?”


Mike was already nodding halfway through the question.  “The longer they stay on, the easier it is for the dolphin to move out of range and we lose the whole thing.  And also, some of the data would be redundant after the first several hours anyway.”  It was Chip’s turn to nod.  Sarasota developed it to monitor body temperature, among other things.  They had a project directed toward learning how dolphins maintain steady body heat in fluctuating water temps.  Lexi,” he turned to his wife and she continued the explanation.


“We’ve adapted their unit to record how deep the animals dive, speed at which they swim, as well as heart rate and respiration.  With the GPS data of where we tag them compared to where we pick up the logger once it falls off we can make some guesses as to daily travel patterns.”  She paused and sent the group a sheepish smile.  “But we’re actually hoping that they don’t travel too far so we’re not chasing them halfway across the ocean to retrieve the units.”


“And just how do you propose to attach these units to wild animals?”  Chip was beginning to get confused again.


Mike Travers nodded toward Ami.  “Our secret weapon – we hope,” he told the others, and the research assistant blushed.  “Ami spent time with the Sarasota project and has come up with a system that seems to work.”


“Well,” the assistant admitted, “most of the time.”


“Like other dolphin species,” Alexis continued the explanation, “the Risso’s is relatively curious if not threatened.  We’ll have divers in the water hand spreading squid bits to entice them close.  The loggers will be attached to quick-release poles and Mike, Ami, and I, as the animals hopefully relax and enjoy the free food, will use the poles to reach out and slip the units in place.”


“How deep are you planning to have to dive?” Will asked.


“While the Risso’s like deeper water they still spend a lot of time near the surface as they need to breathe.  We’ll be working with them no more than twenty or thirty feet deep – there’s no need to go any deeper.”  Will nodded.


“The choice of your diving sites?” Lee wanted to know.


Channel Islands National Park is handy,” Mike admitted.  “There’s a fairly stable pod there so we’ll practice our techniques on them.”  There were smiles and nods all around.  “There are reports of a super pod at the second site, near Wake Island and between there and north to the Mapmaker Seamounts.  If everything goes well we’d like to schedule a collection around the Azores in the Atlantic at some point, to see if there are any differences.”  He sighed.  “But that will have to wait for a future date since we don’t even know at this point if we’ll be able to accomplish what we want to in the Pacific.”


“One step at a time,” Nelson told the group.  “While it is an ambitious project, its one that’s long overdue.  Risso’s are lovely dolphins that haven’t had their fair share of acknowledgement.”  There were enthusiastic nods from the other researchers, and Lee turned and sent Chip a quick grin.


The group discussed a few more points but, since all agreed that it was going to be somewhat a ‘trial and error’ type of cruise, at least at first, the meeting didn’t last much longer.  As everyone stood, Ami suddenly slapped a hand just underneath her throat and everyone else stopped dead and stared at her.


The researcher blushed.  “Oops.  Sorry.  Just felt my necklace slip.”  She held out her hand and in the palm lay a pendant with a cameo carved on the surface, the two ends of the chain hanging from it.  “I’ve been having some issues with the clasp.”


“That’s lovely,” Nelson told her.


“I’ve told her that if she’s not careful I’m going to steal it,” Alexis said, but with obvious good humor in her voice.


Nelson took a longer look as Ami continued to hold it out.  “I seem to recall seeing something similar.”  He looked at her.  “Can’t for the life of me remember where.”  If he was fishing for an explanation it didn’t work – Ami merely smiled.


Lee took a step closer.  The cameo, elegantly carved, showed a mermaid half astride a dolphin – a common or Bottlenose, from the head – their lower bodies disappearing into the crest of a wave.  “You should have a jeweler check that clasp,” he said, before realizing how officious that sounded and he ducked his head, sending her a shy smile.


She grinned broadly at him and nodded.  “Actually, I did before leaving Florida.”  The grin turned into a frown.  “Apparently he didn’t totally correct the problem.”


“I can recommend a good jeweler downtown,” Chip chimed in.  He sent Lee a momentary glare as Lee had to turn away and cough discretely into his hand.


“Sorry,” Lee turned back.  “Remnants of a small cold.”


“Skipper,” Will said sternly, “we’ll just see how much diving you do on this cruise if you’re still fighting that cold.”  Lee wanted to send a glare at his CMO, but couldn’t hold it when he realized Will’s eyes were sparkling with his own barely contained humor.


“Get used to it,” Alexis told Ami as she nodded towards Seaview’s officers.  “I’d recommend bringing your own shovel – gets a bit thick from time to time.”  Everyone cracked up at that, and dispersed still grinning.


Will hung back an extra few seconds.  “Looks like it’s going to be one of ‘those’ cruises,” he muttered to Nelson.


Nelson’s grin spread.  “Would you rather it be boring, weird, hazardous, or just downright nasty?” he asked all too innocently.


Will frowned before his own grin returned.  “Point taken.  But those two…”  He didn’t finish the thought.


“Agreed,” Nelson nodded.  “Still, better than the alternative.”  Both men shuddered slightly, remembering a recent cruise where Lee and Chip had spent most of the time at each other’s throats because of a misunderstanding caused by a passenger.**  As Nelson’s expression changed to one of almost puzzlement, Will raised an eyebrow and Nelson once more smiled.  “Ms. Neride’s necklace,” he started by way of explanation.  “I know that I’ve seen that design before.  Somewhere,” he added with a shrug.


“Mermaids and dolphins.  Not that unusual.”


“True,” Nelson admitted.  “But that particular image…”  He shrugged again.  “No biggy, as Chip would say.”


“You just hate puzzles,” Will teased his boss amiably.


“Also true.”  Nelson gave him a broad grin.


* * * *


Two days later Lee hit his office for about an hour then, grabbing his briefcase, he stopped at his car for a small duffle bag and headed for Seaview.  They weren’t due to sail until the mid-afternoon tide but he always used any excuse he could come up with to spend as much time as possible aboard his ‘Gray Lady,’ as he called the boat.  Today he could take a leisurely stroll through the submarine, checking on the few bits of maintenance and repairs that had been scheduled since they arrived home from the last cruise.  He knew that the crew teased behind his back – and the senior officers to his face – that there wasn’t a nut, bolt, or screw in the entire boat that Lee hadn’t had his hands on at some point in the years since he’d come to NIMR.  He would merely grin – they were probably right.  Lee had always been a very ‘hands on’ kind of officer, and with each rise in rank there was that much more within his reach.  He made a quick stop in his cabin, just long enough to toss his stuff on the bunk, before heading for the Conn.


He had to bury the instant grin that hit his face as he found Lt. Chris James had beaten him there, but the grin wouldn’t stay hidden.  The young lieutenant was becoming every bit the officer that both Lee and Chip had expected him to be.  They had had a couple of quiet conversations between themselves about just how long James would be content aboard Seaview before he became bored and wanted to return to the regular Navy where he could continue up the food chain on a more rapid timetable to his own command.  They felt that he’d one day make a great CO.  But so far Chris had shown no inclination to go anywhere.  With no other crewmen in the Conn at the moment Lee decided that this might be a good time to feel him out.


“You keep doing Mr. Morton’s job I’m going to have to find more for one or the other of you to do,” Lee told him as he realized James was working on the Navigation parameters for the second part of the cruise, from the Channel Islands west to Wake Island.


Lt. James sent him a stricken look.  “Oh, no, sir,” came out in almost a panic before he noticed the sparkle that Lee couldn’t keep out of his eyes, and he took a deep breath.  “I was just taking a few minutes to familiarize myself with the route Mr. Morton had already plotted before I have a meeting with Chief Hauck.”  James was also Seaview’s Weapon’s Officer, and worked closely with the boat’s Master-At-Arms.


“Ah,” Lee nodded, the grin breaking through in both expression and voice.  “Still happy with your duty here?” he asked casually as he reached for the maintenance clipboard lying on the chart table.


“Yes, sir,” James answered enthusiastically.  “I’ve learned so much since accepting this position.”  He sent Lee a quick, shy, look.  “I wasn’t sure I’d like it, at first,” he admitted.


Lee nodded.  “I got that feeling,” he told the younger man.


Chris ducked his head again slightly.  “Seaview isn’t what I was expecting.”


“Join the club,” Lee told him with a broad grin, which Chris returned with slightly less volume.


“But I’m so glad now that I came.  You and Mr. Morton are great – I’m really appreciating the chance to work with you.”


“Thank you,” Lee told him sincerely.


“But I know that I’ve still got a long way to go, a lot more to learn.”


Lee looked at him openly.  “Not as much as you seem to think.”


“Thank you,” it was Chris’ turn to say.  “But I’m very happy to stay right here.  As long as you’ll have me,” he added.


Lee laid a hand briefly on the younger man’s shoulder.  “Works just fine for me.”  A look of pure mischief hit his face as he noticed movement by the aft hatch.  “With you around keeping Mr. Morton on his toes,” he gestured toward the navigation chart, “I don’t have to worry about him getting sidetracked and running us into a seamount.”  They both chuckled, Lee decidedly harder than Chris.


“Seems to be too much hilarity going on in here for this close to sailing,” came officiously from the back of the room and the object of their conversation entered the Conn.


“Just talking about you,” Lee told Chip, still grinning.  Chris buried his head back into the navigation chart but Lee could still read the smile on his face that he was trying desperately to control.


“Harrumph,” Chip did his best Nelson impersonation and finished walking up to them.


“Thought that it was a good time to remind Lt. James of how much I’ve come to depend on him, especially on cruises like this one where your attention will be more focused on the passengers – well, one of the passengers, anyway – then it will be on your duties.”  At that bit of joking harassment James could no longer contain himself, grabbed up one of the clipboards off the chart table with a muttered, “I have a meeting with the MAA, if you will excuse me,” and he scurried out of the Conn practically before Chip could acknowledge that he’d taken the duty.  The glare Chip sent at his back was quickly transferred to Lee, but he couldn’t hold it in the face of Lee’s continued bright smile and he finally raised an eyebrow.


“Just a little subtle feeling out of how he sees his immediate future,” Lee told him.  “I know we’re happy with him, and I thought that he was happy here.  Just wanted to make sure.”


Chip had begun to nod toward the end of Lee’s explanation before the frown reappeared.  “But at my expense?” he grumbled.


Lee shrugged.  “Seemed appropriate at the time,” he told his longtime friend with another grin.


Chip finally relaxed and grinned as well, giving Lee a quick slap on the back as Lee headed toward the spiral stairs for his walkthrough of the boat.  He had no problems at all being the straight man to Lee’s occasional hijinks with the crew.  He admired Lee tremendously for his easy leadership style.  Chip did try, but he was perfectly happy being the stricter of the two.  It fit his personality more, at least aboard the boat, and gave a good balance to the command team.  It worked especially well on Seaview, with their ability to handpick the crew.  There was never any doubt of who was in command.  Everyone knew that while Lee may appear relaxed and easygoing he was, nonetheless, always on top of every aspect of Seaview’s cruises.  He kept close watch over everyone’s safety.  Well, everyone except himself, Chip muttered before he had to grin.  That’s my job, and the grin spread.  The crew held Lee in high esteem for Lee’s willingness to go toe to toe with Admiral Nelson on those happily infrequent occasions when Nelson put either his research or his passengers before Seaview or her crew.  There had been instances…  Chip shook his head.  While he’d had great respect for Seaview’s first skipper, John Phillips, there was no doubt in his mind that Seaview wouldn’t have returned home intact a time or two if it hadn’t been for Lee’s quick thinking and determination.


Doesn’t mean I’m not going to get him for that crack he made to Chris, he muttered quietly before the grin reappeared.  This would be an easy cruise – he’d get his chance.


Lee ambled back to the Missile Room, knowing that Chief Sharkey was supervising the loading of the last supplies – mostly perishables for the Galley.  The grin was still on his face and the few crewmen he ran into, without knowing what had caused it, still returned it easily.


As did the COB when Lee entered the Missile Room.  “Almost done here, Skipper,” he told Lee.


“No problem, Chief.  There’s lots of time.  I’m just wandering around, killing a little time myself.”


Sharkey didn’t believe that for an instant.  He was far too familiar with his CO saying that he was just walking around but his eagle eyes never missing so much as a misplaced screw.  But he nodded and grinned nonetheless, knowing that Cdr. Crane expected nothing more unless he asked.  And also, he was just as apt to take care of any little problem he found himself instead of calling anyone else to fix it.


All well there as he expected, Lee continued his easy amble through the boat.  He actually startled Jamie when he poked his nose into Sick Bay – as much as Lee kept an eye on all areas of the boat, he rarely set foot in the CMO’s domain unless either he, or one of his crew, was incarcerated there.  Jamie was matching contents of the drug locker to an inventory list and didn’t notice Lee watching him.


“Suddenly don’t trust your corpsmen?” Lee finally asked with an upraised eyebrow.


Will jumped slightly before sending Lee a frown.  “You know better than that,” he growled before the frown faded, to be replaced by a slightly evil grin.  “Just double-checking that we have a good supply of cough syrup aboard.”


Lee chuckled openly and easily at that jab.  He so appreciated having Jamie around.  It might appear to outsiders that the two men did nothing but snipe at each other.  But there was a strong bond of friendship and respect formed between the two which actually allowed the verbal battles that both quite enjoyed.  Oh, they got hot and heavy on occasion, for sure.  And extremely pointed.  But even then it was balanced with an understanding of each other’s reasoning.


Will raised an eyebrow of his own.  “Need something, Skipper?” he asked carefully.  The quickest way to tick Lee off was to push, but he was also curious as to why Lee had shown up in his least favorite part of his otherwise beloved boat.


Lee’s grin spread.  He knew exactly what Jamie was angling for.  “Nope,” he answered easily.  “Just making a pre-cruise walk-through.  Well,” his grin turned a little sheepish, “and staying out of Chip’s way until there’s more to keep him busy.”


Will laughed.  As he’d told Nelson this was in all likelihood going to be an ‘interesting’ cruise.  “You know how I feel about self-inflicted injuries, Skipper.  You’re on your own with your XO.”  Lee laughed as well, sent his CMO a backhanded salute, and continued his tour.


Coming back through Officers’ Country he heard voices ahead and found Chip directing Ami Neride to Guest Cabin ‘B’ as the Drs. Travers carried bags into Cabin ‘A.’  Lee grinned as he walked up and greeted the others, but somewhat avoided looking directly at Chip for fear he’d crack up from his comments earlier to Lt. James.  As Ms. Neride stepped back into the corridor from checking out the cabin Lee caught sight of a bit of chain around her neck, visible because the top button of her blouse had been left open. 


“I see you got your necklace fixed,” he told her by way of casual conversation.


She sent him a grin.  “Yes, thanks.  I’d be absolutely devastated if I lost it.  It was passed down to me from my mother.  It’s been in the family for a long time.”


“I’m surprised that you don’t have it locked away,” Alexis commented.


Ami sent her a bit of a sheepish smile.  “I know that it seems stupid, but I could never do that.  It’s just…”  She paused, and no one interrupted.  “I take far too much comfort in the memories it gives me to not have it with me constantly.”


Lee nodded.  “Understood,” he told her, and then looked at the Travers.  “You’ll show her around?”


They both nodded, and Mike added, “We’ll make sure she knows where she can and cannot go.”  He looked at Ami.  “My first time aboard I wandered into restricted territory without realizing it.”


“Oops,” Ami said quietly.


“And that wasn’t the worst part of it,” Alexis continued with a broad grin.  “It was Admiral Nelson who caught him.”  Both Lee and Chip cringed, seen by the other three.


“Yeah,” Mike added with a nod.  “I was afraid I’d be keelhauled.”  The others chuckled, the two Seaview officers a bit less than the ladies.


“As I recall,” Chip took up the story, “what saved you was, Curley had been surreptitiously following you and let the Admiral know that you hadn’t caused any problems.”  He turned to Ami.  “Chief Jones was Seaview’s first COB.”


Mike nodded.  “Never was I so glad to see that man as I was at that moment,” he said with feeling.


“I’ll be sure to pay attention to where I can and can’t go,” Ami told the others.  Everyone grinned, the researchers headed aft toward the science labs, and Lee and Chip headed forward to the spiral stairs down to the Conn.


Chip made a quick swing into his cabin as they passed it so he didn’t see Lee suddenly stop and have to place a hand on the closest bulkhead to keep himself from swaying as once again he was hit by a bit of vertigo.  Chip did hear the sound of the clipboard Lee was carrying hitting the deck.  “Lee?” he called out, and scurried out of his cabin and around the corner.  But by the time he got there the vertigo had passed and Lee was just reaching down to retrieve the clipboard.


“Nothing, Chip.  It just slipped out of my hand,” he waved off Chip’s suddenly worried expression.


Chip sent him a frown.  “Getting clumsy in your old age?”


Lee backhanded him gently.  “Hey, you’re older than I am,” he reminded his friend.  He turned and headed for the stairs, Chip walking at his shoulder through Seaview’s wide corridor.


“Yeah, but I take much better care of myself,” Chip muttered back grumpily.  That was a small reminder of how much Chip disliked Lee’s continued service with ONI, the Navy’s Intelligence agency, and the fact that Lee rarely came back from an errand for them entirely in one piece.  Lee as usual let it pass with just a nod and a small smile to his old friend, who he knew fussed because he cared.


“You ready to take over my job?” he asked with overdone innocence.  “Sounds like you’ve got me pegged for the Retired Sailor’s Home.”


“Fat chance,” Chip growled right back.  “You’re staying right here where I can keep an eye on you.”  He smirked.  “However, I may have to have Jamie confine you to quarters and I’ll stick you with all my paperwork as well as your own.  Can’t have you dropping stuff all over the boat.  Too hazardous.”  While his voice was firm through most of the comment, it started to break at the end with the humor that was matched by the sparkle in his eyes.


“You’ll be too busy chasing after Ms. Neride this trip, you wouldn’t pay enough attention to details and we’d probably sink,” Lee nattered right back.  But he, too, could barely get it out with a straight face.  By this time they were coming down the stairs, and nearly ran into Admiral Nelson at the bottom.


“Gentlemen,” Nelson said sternly as Lee and Chip finally saw him and straightened up, facing him with identical expressions of slightly overdone attentiveness.


“Sir,” they said together.


Nelson had no idea what had caused it this time but he sent both of them a broad grin.  Despite the fact that Lee and Chip were two of the finest young men, let alone officers, that Nelson had ever met, they still occasionally reminded him of bickering ten-year-olds.  And he appreciated both of them all the more because of it.  “I gather things are in order for sailing?” he asked.  No matter what else was going on, both Chip and Lee would put their duties before anything else.


“Lt. Keeter has the Conn,” Chip nodded toward the chart table where Seaview’s Mechanics specialist and “D” watch officer was checking in crew.  “I was just getting Drs. Travers and Ms. Neride settled.”


“Just finished a walkthrough of the boat,” Lee told his boss.  “Everything is under control.  We’ll be ready to sail on schedule.”


“Good, good,” Nelson told them, still smiling.  “Then I’ll leave you to your duties.  If it’s safe,” he added, his grin spreading to include his eyes.


Both Lee and Chip sent him sheepish grins.  “Aye, sir,” they answered, again together.


There was a snort that sounded suspiciously like Chief Sharkey coming from the direction of the aft hatch, and when Lee glanced around the Conn he could detect grins on the faces of the duty crew, all trying hard to look like they were studiously buried in their instrumentation.  He sent Nelson another grin.  “Barely,” he added, causing Chip to backhand Lee lightly as he turned and headed to relieve Lt. Keeter.  Shaking his head, Nelson headed up the spiral stairs and Lee joined Chip at the chart table.


Seaview sailed as scheduled at 1530 hours.  Lee did give Chip a little nudge when Alexis and Ami came down to watch from the Observation Nose.  But by then both men were firmly back in Command mode, the silliness controlled for the most part.  Chip returned the nudge when Lee got a little carried away with his ‘Angles & Dangles’ maneuvers as Seaview entered open water, making sure that everything was secured aboard the submarine while they were still fairly close to port.  Both women had to grab the firmly bolted down table to keep from falling off their chairs.  Even though they were only headed to the south side of San Miguel Island, the westernmost of the four northern Channel Islands, Lee would have everyone following departure routines the same as if they were headed out for much longer.  And, Lee reminded Lt. James as he ran through the commands, there were no plans to return to port before heading off to Wake Island so all protocols still needed to be followed.


By 1800 hours Lee had Seaview comfortably settled at his first destination.  The seas were remarkably calm so he had surfaced after the Angles & Dangles.  This far offshore there weren’t a lot of private craft, but what there were could easily give Seaview a wide berth.  Most of the locals were familiar enough with what they perceived to be nothing more than Nelson’s oversized mobile marine laboratory that they pretty much left the submarine alone.  Mike had joined his wife and Ami in the Nose part way out, followed shortly by Admiral Nelson.  Lee had kept track of their conversation with half an ear, attentive in case Nelson needed something.  But he had otherwise left them alone, content to watch his crew maneuver the giant submarine easily and efficiently to the chosen destination.


He did look up as Nelson escorted his guests through the Conn on the way to the Wardroom for supper, and he and Chip followed shortly after.  So far there had been no sign of the pod of Risso’s dolphins known to hang around this area but no one was all that worried.  It was one of the reasons they had wanted to arrive when they did.  Everyone was hoping that if Seaview’s appearance happened to disturb the pod, that by remaining quiet overnight the pod would once more relax.


The others were seated, already chatting about the following day’s expectations, when Lee and Chip got their plates filled and sat down at the same table, but toward the other end instead of across from Nelson as was their habit, that place taken by the two ladies.  Will had also separated himself slightly from the group so Lee and Chip were basically opposite him.  The three shared a grin at the animated conversation being carried on among the scientists.  Will and Lee grinned at each other, not including Chip in the silent acknowledgment of their previous conversation.  Chip knew that he’d missed ‘something’ but chose to ignore it.  When Lee and Jamie started in – about anything – it was usually wise to just stand back and watch the show.  He was a tad disappointed that today it only seemed to be a quick nod instead of any kind of involved verbal sparring match.  But he chose to commiserate that minor disappointment by concentrating on dinner. 


Cookie apparently did some of his prep work on shore before coming aboard, as even for the short time they’d been at sea he had come up with a full meal of caesar salad, chicken-fried steak, cubed and herbed red potatoes, fresh green beans cooked with onions and bacon, and whole-wheat rolls.  Chip noticed Will keeping a casual watch on how much Lee ate but carefully avoided saying anything.  He’d heard from Sharkey that Lee had been aboard early so he probably hadn’t had anything for lunch.  Chip had come down early as well but he’d had the good sense to grab a few things in the cafeteria first.  But Lee pleased both he and Will by not only polishing off what he’d originally taken, but also the slightly larger than anyone else’s piece of pineapple upside down cake that Cookie delivered personally.  Chip did toss a slight glare at the chef’s back and say off-hand that maybe they needed to suggest he have his eyes checked – that he usually gave Chip the largest piece of dessert.  Nelson glanced at that end of the table as both Lee and Will laughed at the obviously fake growl in Chip’s complaint.  Lee smirked slightly as he refused to switch plates with his XO, but nothing more was said.  Nelson and his guests were talking about dolphin respiration rates when Lee and Chip headed back to the Conn.


Lee didn’t stay long.  Bored, he grabbed up the duty roster and headed out for what his crew called ‘the Skipper’s walk-a-boat.’  When things were quiet they never knew where Lee was going to show up – or what hour of the day or night he’d be there.  Usually he’d just wander around, taking the time to visit casually with whoever had the duty in whatever part of the boat he ended up.  Tonight he spent time in Engineering, played a few hands of poker in the Crew’s Quarters, and poked his nose carefully into the Galley.  Cookie wasn’t overly fond of interruptions but Lee couldn’t resist the chocolate smell wafting into the corridor.  He was rewarded with an extra-thick, fresh from the oven brownie.  Grinning his thanks, he grabbed a cup of coffee and carried it forward.


There seemed to be something going on in the Observation Nose as Lee came through the aft hatch into the Conn so he only gave Lt. Bobbie O’Brien, who had the Conn, a brief nod before continuing forward.  He’d felt Seaview settle a bit deeper in the water as he’d been polishing off the brownie, and now knew why.  Out the window he could see, with the outer lights turned on, half a dozen or so Bottlenose dolphins cavorting about, seeming to be having as much fun watching the people as the people were having watching them.


Suddenly, as he stood with the others watching the show, a different shape appeared.  While the body was dolphin-like, the head was much more rounded with the characteristic crease down the center, top to bottom, identifying it as a Risso’s.  He was also fascinated by the haphazard lines of scaring apparent over most of the dolphin’s body, but heavier on the front half than the back.  He smiled as Ami laid a hand on the herculite window and the Risso’s very nearly came close enough to touch it from the outside.  Everyone was quiet, but Lee saw grins on everyone else’s faces as well as several more Risso’s joined the Bottlenose in the bit of apparent people-watching.


“Must be the place,” Chip said softly at Lee’s elbow.


“They are different.”  Lee hadn’t until then noticed Will, sitting with his back against the starboard bulkhead.


“You need to make it out of your hole more often,” Nelson teased his CMO, who did tend to spend most of his time in his own territory and only occasionally came up to the Observation Nose to read.


“Unfortunately I’m usually kept busy,” Will retorted, with a pointed look at Lee.  Lee glared back but a snicker from Chip morphed it fairly rapidly back to a smile.


“We’ll try to keep things quiet for you this cruise,” Lee assured him, earning a couple more snickers from both Chip and Nelson who knew only too well how Lee somehow always managed to put himself in the line of fire before he’d let anything happen to any of his crew.


“You should go swimming with them,” Ami entered the conversation, her voice filled with excitement.  “They’re marvelous creatures.”  Her expression turned to puzzlement as Lee and Chip both cracked up, Nelson snorted, and even Mike and Alexis grinned.


Will merely shook his head.  “Thanks but no thanks,” he told her quietly.  “I’ll watch from in here.”


“Doc doesn’t like being underwater unless he has a submarine around him,” Lee took pity on Ami’s confusion.


“Oh.  Well,” she turned back to Will, “You don’t know what you’re missing.”


“We keep trying to tell him that,” Chip told her.


“I know exactly what I’m missing,” Will assured the group and the grumble had everyone, even Ami, smiling.  He nodded to the windows where the dolphins were still swimming casually back and forth.  “But if anything could convince me otherwise it might be them.”


“They’re wonderful,” Ami agreed.  “Wild and untamed, free spirits for sure, and yet seemingly enjoying human companionship.  Amazing.”  One of the Risso’s came close to the window and she once more laid her hand against the herculite.  The dolphin seemed almost puzzled that it couldn’t make direct contact, causing more smiles, and an almost-giggle from Ami.


Finally, something apparently more appealing to the mixed pod – a late-night snack, perhaps – caused the dolphins to wander off, as did the people as well.  Lee polished off the last swallow of coffee and was turning back toward the Conn when he momentarily lost focus.  He’d been casually watching Ami not really swishing past Chip, but well aware of the blond’s presence nonetheless, when the outline of her body just barely lost its definition, causing Lee to blink to bring everything back clearly.


“Skipper?”  Lee had almost forgotten that Will was still sitting in the corner, but immediately there was a hand on his upper arm.


He tried to shrug it off.  “Relax, Jamie.  A bit of a headache.”  By that time the sensation had passed, as rapidly as it had appeared, thankfully, and Lee frowned until Will released his grip.  Will said nothing, merely continuing to give him a questioning look, and Lee finally relaxed and gave the doctor a small grin.  He held up the now empty coffee mug.  “Maybe a bit too much of Cookie’s high test.”


Will’s expression said all too plainly that he wasn’t buying it.  But both men knew that he’d not likely challenge the explanation.  Will was aware that Lee did fight the occasional tension headache but that it was rarely serious enough to warrant Will’s attention.  And Lee knew that Will wouldn’t start an argument over something so simple, and especially in front of the entire Conn crew.


“Humm,” was Will’s only comment now.  “Perhaps you should consider decaf.”  That caused Lee to frown even further and Will to grin broadly.  It was an old joke on the boat about how strong Cookie made coffee.  And there were very few on board who didn’t praise the chef for it because it was exactly how everyone liked it.


“Perhaps,” Lee told him, but both his voice and expression left no doubt about what he thought of that idea.  Will sent him a quick grin and followed the others up the spiral stairs.  Lee watched him leave, grateful that the doctor’s outline stayed firmly in place, unlike Ms. Neride’s just a moment previously.  Giving his head a quick shake he put his coffee mug down near the carafe that Cookie and his assistant, Higgins, kept supplied in the Nose, and walked back to the chart table.  He kibitzed with Lt. O’Brien for a bit before heading to his cabin and the never-ending paperwork.  For a change, since they’d only left port a few hours ago, this stack actually did have an ending and Lee made it to his bunk at the almost unheard of time – for him – of 2230 hours.


* * * *


He was making his first hit on the coffee urn in the Wardroom the following morning when Chip came in.  The blond said nothing, merely walked over and poured his own mug full of Cookie’s morning brew, which tended to be even stronger than what he made the rest of the day – but not by much.  That mug went down in about three swallows and he poured it full again.  This time he stopped after it was only half gone and sighed heavily.


“That bad?” Lee asked.  He’d not felt Seaview move strangely, or heard any alarms or anything out of the ordinary overnight.  “We’re too close to home for you to be that torqued about anything.”


Chip sent him a bit of a chagrinned look, polished off that mug of coffee, and answered as he refilled it for the third time.  “Went right to sleep, and then spent the night fighting nightmares.  Really stupid, nonsensical garbage.”


“How many times have I warned you about second helpings of dessert?”  Will had walked in and caught Chip’s comments.


As Lee choked on a swallow of his own coffee, Chip glared at the doctor.  “For your information I only had one slice at dinner last night.”


“Yeah, but usually you hit the Galley for seconds about 2100 hours,” Will snapped right back.  Lee put down his mug – this was getting fun and he was afraid he’s spill coffee all over himself from laughing too hard.


Chip’s glare increased.  “That’s only sometimes, Doctor,” he growled.  “When Cookie makes cherry pie.”


The chef’s disembodied voice floated into the Wardroom from the Galley.  “And when I make apple pie, and peach pie, and blackberry cobbler, and…”  Whatever else he said was downed out by both Lee and Will breaking out in laughter.  Chip sent them both dirty looks and started to fill his plate with Cookie’s usual sumptuous assortment of breakfast items.  Lee winked at Will, but both quickly joined Chip.


Once they were all sitting in their usual spots – Will on one side of the table and leaving a place next to him for Admiral Nelson, with Lee and Chip sitting directly across – Will asked not unkindly, “Did you get any sleep last night?”


Chip shrugged.  “That was part of the weirdness.  They never woke me up.  I just got up this morning feeling like I’d gone twelve rounds with one of Lee’s sea monsters but not really knowing why.”


My sea monsters?”  Lee raised both eyebrows.


“You’re usually the one who runs into them,” Chip told him matter-of-factly.


Lee shrugged.  “Point taken,” he agreed amiably.  Will just shook his head. 


“What have they done now?” came from the door, and Nelson walked over.


“Chip’s seeing sea monsters in his sleep,” Lee answered way too innocently.  He got an elbow in his ribs for the comment and sent his XO a quick glare.


“Business as usual around here,” was Will’s assessment.  Nelson chuckled as Lee and Chip finally went back to eating, and he walked over to get his own breakfast.


Once he sat down, he and Lee discussed plans for the day.  Hydrophones had continued to track the dolphin pod.  The different clicks and whistles told Nelson that the Risso’s and Bottlenose dolphins were still hanging together so he suspected that was par for the course for this group.  It wasn’t at all unusual to find the two species together, especially if the food supply was plentiful for both since they tended to eat slightly different diets.  It was speculated that the Bottlenose might make pests of themselves as the divers used squid bits to coax the Risso’s closer.  But Nelson also pointed out that the more gregarious Bottlenose might also help make the Risso’s more relaxed and easier to tag.  As the three researchers joined them at the table there was all sorts of speculation on how the day would go, but Nelson’s continued ‘one step at a time’ was still the best way to look at it.


Once Lt. James had joined Chip and Lee in the Conn Lee got ready to participate in the first dive, scheduled for 0930 hours.  No one questioned that Seaview’s Skipper, whose love of diving was second only to his devotion to the sub and her crew, would be going out on as many of the dives as he could.  He did take the time to warn the lieutenant, totally aware that Chip could hear him, to be especially attentive to his XO this morning; that Chip hadn’t slept well and might end up curled up in the corner of the Observation Nose, snoring.  He winked at James, sent a grin at Chip who had crossed his arms over his chest and was sending a glare Lee’s way that would have had any other member of the crew running for their lives, and headed up the spiral stairs.  With women aboard, changing would be done in the cabins.  He was still grinning when he hit the Missile Room.


Admiral Nelson was standing with the Travers as Lee walked up.  Chief Sharkey handed him a tote that Lee knew contained chopped squid so that he and two of the other four Seaview divers who were suited up could act as bait – literally – for the dolphins.  He saw Ami cast disparaging glances at the other two Seaview divers as, instead of bait packs, they picked up spear guns.  “Relax, Ms. Neride,” he told her.  “We rarely dive without watchdogs.  Too many surprises could be waiting out there.”


Admiral Nelson joined in.  “They are only going along to keep an eye out for trouble.  The rest of you, I suspect, will be so focused on the job at hand that you wouldn’t notice, oh, say, a Great White shark wandering in for a free meal.”


“But the spear guns?” Ami still complained, disgust evident in her voice.


“Not to worry,” Lee assured her.  “The last thing we’d want to do is put blood in the water if there are sharks around.”  He nodded toward his men.  “They wouldn’t be chosen to dive if they weren’t fully trained in procedure.”  Ami shrugged, still appearing unconvinced, and walked over to her own equipment bag.  Lee shrugged as well, aimed at Nelson and the Travers.  All three returned it.  Both Drs. Travers had been aboard Seaview enough not to think anything at all about the extra divers.  Alexis turned and headed for Ami for a little private conversation.


Lee turned back to Nelson.  “I’m a little surprised that you aren’t sending out a diver or two with cameras.”


Mike answered.  “He suggested it – I asked him not to.”  When Lee pointed an eyebrow at the researcher he got back a sheepish grin.  “If this goes exceedingly bad I’d rather there not be any visible evidence,” he admitted.


“It would never get beyond the boat,” Lee assured him.


“That’s what I said,” Nelson added.


“I just want to see what happens…”  Mike paused again.  He glanced over to where his wife and Ami were still talking quietly.


“Mike,” Nelson asked, his voice sincere, “what’s really going on?”  He knew that the researcher was holding back, which displeased him.  But he also knew the man well enough that there was no doubt a good reason.


Mike sent him a nod and came clean.  “Ami just…well, she just seems a little spooked about something.  Almost superstitious.  I checked the Saratoga project web page and can’t find a single picture of her.”


“Do you think that she lied about being there?”  Nelson’s voice was stern.


“Oh, no,” Mike hurried to reassure his boss.  “NIMR Security vetted her and didn’t raise any red flags in her background.  And I personally double-checked her references.”  It was his turn to shrug.  “She just doesn’t, apparently, like her picture taken.”


“She wouldn’t even be recognizable in a wetsuit,” Lee tried to be logical.  He got back another shrug from Mike.


Nelson suddenly grinned, a mischievous sparkle appearing in his eyes.  “How about I go work on a mini-cam that we can attach to the spear guns.  I think I have everything I need.”  Lee could almost see his mind working on the puzzle.  “Ms. Neride will never even realize what’s happening.”  He looked at Mike.  “Of course, not for today’s dive, and only if you want it.”


“Lexi and I would really like more record of this project than just journal notes and pages of data.  It has great potential toward future projects.”


Nelson was nodding absently, his mind already hard at work.  He send a quick glance Lee’s way, although Lee got the distinct impression that Nelson didn’t actually ‘see’ him as much as remember that’s where he was standing, before heading for the door.


Lee grinned at Mike.  “Two cameras, spear gun-mounted, about to be added to his patents list.”  Both men chuckled and prepared to head out for the dive.


“Just don’t mention them to Ami,” Mike warned, and Lee grinned his agreement.


Lee was in the last group to go out – with eight divers they went out in three groups.  First the two watchdogs, Seamen Nielsen and Roberts, exited the boat by way of the dive hatch.  Lee saw Ami frown again but with a glance at Alexis she didn’t say anything.  Next went the three researchers, each carrying an aluminum pole about twelve feet long.  There was some kind of locking mechanism at one end that held one of the data loggers Mike had shown them a picture of.  They also all had several more units attached to their dive belts.  At the other end of the pole Lee could see a simplified trigger used, he assumed, for releasing the logger when it was in place.  Finally Lee and the other two Seaview divers, Seamen Henderson and Richardson, each with a large pouch of bait slung over their shoulders, took their turn in the hatch. 


Once out Lee looked around.  Seaview had stayed where she was overnight but this morning Chip had settled her just slightly deeper in the water.  Her Conning Tower would still be just barely visible, alerting other boats to her presence.  Lee found everyone waiting, and looked to Mike as leader of this dive for directions.  As always, Lee was grateful for the communications equipment in Seaview’s dive gear – it made things so much easier.


It was decided to go out, away from Seaview about fifty yards or so, and spread a little bait to see what happened.  Lee sent the watchdogs on ahead and near the surface, advising them to swim as casually as possible so as not to disturb any wildlife they might run into.  Lee and company swam about fifteen feet beneath them, also at a seemingly lazy pace.  They collected a couple of curious Bottlenose dolphins, and Lee grinned as he watched them practically tease the divers as they swam in and around the group.  Here in the Channel Islands area there were enough sport divers that the dolphins were most likely very used to seeing and interacting with them.


When they reached a spot Mike was happy with he directed Lee and the other two bait divers into sort of the center of a circle created by he, Alexis, and Ami.  Those three hung quietly in the water as Lee and company each scattered a few pieces of squid.  The two Bottlenose were quick to take advantage of the free breakfast.  But as Mike had hoped, their happy – apparently – clicks quickly brought a crowd.  And, as also hoped, among the pod were about ten Risso’s.  The researchers waited as more squid was released, allowing the dolphins to get used to everything before they started their part of the dive.


Lee had his hands full with an overly friendly Bottlenose so just caught the tail end of Ami slowly swinging her pole out, appearing to just tap the dorsal fin of one of the Risso’s.  It startled the dolphin, but Henderson was right there with a free meal and the dolphin quickly forgot that it had a logger now firmly attached.  Lee paid more attention as it was Lexi’s turn.  It took her a couple of tries but a second Risso’s was added to the project.


Apparently the Bottlenose decided that Lee wasn’t dispensing food at a rapid enough rate and tried to get its nose into the pouch.  Lee laughed as he brushed it gently away.  Chip’s voice in his ear also chuckled.  “Gotta be a female dolphin,” he said lightly, causing Lee to frown but the other Seaview divers to snicker softly.  Lee glanced back in the direction of the boat, realizing that Chip obviously had the Nose camera on with the relatively clear water and could see at least part of what was happening.


“Lt. James, now you know why I reminded you to be especially watchful this morning,” Lee took his revenge.  “I knew XO Morton wouldn’t have his mind on his work.”  That crack got all sorts of reaction through the radio and the sound from the boat was suddenly gone.  Lee did a bit of snickering himself and went back to his own duties of dolphin baiting.


All told the researchers tagged eight Risso’s dolphins and it was a very jubilant group who headed back for the boat an hour later.  Even Ami seemed surprised at how well everything had gone.  Lee had noticed, after his little quip to the Conn, that she’d had a few moments where she just sort of hung in the water, uncertain.  Lee figured that, after Mike mentioned that she didn’t seem to like to be photographed, she just realized that they could be seen from the boat.  But shortly after the bit of silliness was over she went back to work.


Lee was swimming toward the back of the group, half-listening to Ami as she chatted away about how well everything had gone and the kinds of information that they’d hopefully garner from the loggers once they fell off and were retrieved – at some point that afternoon, hopefully – when his eyesight suddenly went a bit blurry.  He’d been looking in Ami’s direction – not at all an unpleasant picture and he mentally complimented Chip on his good taste in women – when her outline went from perfectly clear to suddenly wavy and fuzzy.  He stopped swimming and shook his head, also taking the time to clear his mask although that didn’t actually seem to be the problem.


“Skipper?” Nielsen asked, coming up along side him.


“Nothing,” Lee told him automatically, resettling the mask in place.  He sent his worried crewman a nod.  “Back under control,” he said casually.  And it seemed to be; when Lee looked around everything was back in focus.  The two finished their trip back to the boat and waited their turn to enter the hatch.


Glancing around the Missile Room and seeing that Chief Sharkey, as usual, had everything under control, Lee went first to his cabin to change and then to the Conn.  He grinned broadly at the glare Chip sent him, winked at Chris knowing full well that Chip could see it, and headed for Riley at the hydrophone station who was also monitoring the signals that the loggers were transmitting.  It appeared that the pod, now that their free breakfast had come to an end, was slowly traveling east toward the southern side of Anacapa Island, the smallest of the four northernmost Channel Islands and the closest one to the mainland.  Chip maneuvered Seaview to just as casually follow behind.  The loggers, according to Ami, should start to loosen and fall off five to six hours after they were attached.  Their internal batteries would last for about twenty hours, but the researchers wanted to pick them up as soon as possible after the signal indicated that they’d released and were floating on the surface.


Lee glanced up as Chief Sharkey entered the aft hatch, puzzling over whatever was on the clipboard he was carrying.  “Problem, Chief?” he asked


“Did Ms. Neride spend a lot of time on the surface, sir?”


Lee shrugged.  “Not that I noticed.”


Chip chose that moment to join them.  “The Skipper was kept too busy with an amorous Bottlenose to notice much of anything,” the blond got in a little revenge of his own.


The glare Lee sent him was tempered by his own good humor at the ribbing, and he turned back to Sharkey who was grinning broadly at his Senior Officers’ antics.  “Why do you ask?”


Sharkey handed him the clipboard.  “Just finished recharging all of the air tanks.  Hers were still about half full when all the others were pretty well used up.”


“Divers in extremely good physical condition usually use less air then the average diver,” Lee observed, stating something that they all knew.  But glancing at Sharkey’s figures he could understand the man’s puzzlement.


Chip was reading over his shoulder.  “Those figures do seem a bit extreme,” he agreed.  “No chance of an instrument malfunction?”


“No, sir,” Sharkey told his XO firmly.  While Chip kept his XO mask in place, Lee grinned at the COB.  The crew took great care not to tick off their XO, and malfunctioning equipment was a quick way for that to happen.  Sharkey knew that Chip wasn’t being at all accusatory but he was still quick to squash that thought.


Lee handed the clipboard back.  “Just keep an eye on it,” he advised.  “It’s really of no major concern unless she was using too much.”


“Aye, aye, sir,” Sharkey agreed.


Chip nudged Lee.  “Lunchtime.”


Lee, who hadn’t been paying the least bit of attention to the time, glanced at his watch before turning a frown on his XO.  “You go ahead.  I’ll keep an eye on things here.”


Chip crossed his arms over his chest.  His voice was quiet but there was a stiff tone to it when he spoke.  “All that blither about Chris having to keep an eye on me, and now you don’t trust him to follow a radio transmitter signal?  I don’t think so, junior.”  It caused Lee to burst out laughing.  He backhanded Chip lightly on the upper arm and headed aft, the duty crew trying to control their own snickers as they enjoyed their Senior Officers’ lighthearted hijinks.


Chip and Lee were already seated in the Wardroom eating meatloaf sandwiches, potato salad, and sliced pears, when Nelson entered with the Travers and Ami Neride right behind.  Will was sitting in his usual place at the table across from them, thoroughly enjoying listening to the pair continue to chide each other about half a dozen odds and ends as they ate.  It was a clear signal of an easy, under control cruise, and Will valued it as an unfortunately all too infrequent occurrence.


If he hadn’t been looking directly at Lee when the others entered the room he’d have missed the quick look of…  He wasn’t sure what it was.  Lee had ever so briefly closed his eyes, stiffened slightly, then almost as quickly opened his eyes and once more relaxed.  Will realized that Chip, who was usually very tuned in to Lee’s moods, had missed it as he’d greeted the others – in particular Ms. Neride.  It appeared to Will that Lee had been looking in her direction as well when whatever happened, happened.  But he wasn’t sure.  He knew better than to challenge Lee over such a seemingly innocent moment, but nonetheless resolved to keep his eye on his least favorite patient.


But the moment did bring back a quick memory of last night’s little incident in the Nose, as well as his meeting with Lee on the back deck of the Conference Center the previous week.  Lee was far too relaxed for there to be much wrong.  Will knew that, while Lee tended to downplay any injury or illness, he wasn’t a stupid man.  Will buried a quick grin at the thought, thinking back on a few of Chip’s thoughts and mutterings on that subject.  Well, and a few of my own, Will had to admit.  If Lee thought that there was any kind of problem, while perhaps not saying it out loud, he still wouldn’t be displaying the silliness he and Chip were indulging themselves in.  And that would have alerted Chip, no doubt, who would himself not be as relaxed as he obviously was.  Although, Chip does have his thoughts in a slightly different direction at the moment, Will acknowledged with another small grin. 


But he shrugged off that possibility.  It was very rare for Chip, no matter where his focus was directed, not to be extremely tuned in to what was going on with Lee.  Chip was the oldest of three siblings and he’d grown up always looking out for his younger sisters.  When he’d met Lee at Annapolis he’d just automatically gathered the slightly younger only child under his protective wing as well.  Will had heard stories that Lee hadn’t taken that well at all!  And Will had seen first hand, now that the two were reunited on Seaview, how Lee could snipe at Chip when the blond got a bit too carried away with his ‘just looking after my Captain, as any good XO does’ routine.  But for the most part Lee tolerated his old friend’s protectiveness quite well.  Will had come to depend on Chip since the blond could get away with pestering Lee a good deal more easily than Will could.  For now Will would sit back and watch.  If the opportunity presented itself he would have a quiet word with Chip.  But he wasn’t concerned yet that there was anything seriously amiss.


Lee wasn’t sure what happened.  One instant he was happily nattering away at Chip and the next his vision suddenly went blurry and he felt like he was going to topple over.  As instantly as it hit him it went away again.  He opened eyes that he’d not really realized he’d closed and greeted Nelson and the others amiably.  He did give a sideways glance at Jamie.  If the doctor had noticed anything amiss Lee was sure that he’d have challenged his CO, especially after last night in the Nose.  But Jamie was at that point also exchanging greetings with the researchers and asking how things were going, apparently just to make conversation, and they all ended up listening to an excited recitation on how well the morning dive had gone. 


At one point, when he could get a word in edgewise, Lee asked Nelson all too innocently how his new little project was coming.  Mike choked on the bite of sandwich he’d just taken but waved off the instant concern he got.  Nelson’s eyes were once again sparkling as he told Lee that it was coming along quite nicely, but other than that didn’t explain what they were talking about.  It was forgotten as Ami went back to telling Jamie how much information would be added to the little, when compared to other dolphin species, that was known about the Risso’s.  Nelson, Lee and Mike shared a quick, private grin, and went back to polishing off their meal.


The afternoon turned into a bit of an adventure, albeit a fairly controlled one.  Chip surfaced Seaview about 1400 hours and Chief Sharkey launched a zodiac with he, Mike, Seaman Riley, and Ami aboard.  Lee went topside in the Conning Tower along with Seamen Kowalski and Patterson.  All three were wearing headsets that allowed them to keep in touch with Seaman Rawn on hydrophone, Sparks in the radio shack, and Sharkey in the zodiac.  As each logger released from its dolphin host and bobbed to the surface, the Conn relayed the location.  The zodiac headed off in the general direction and Lee and his men scanned by binoculars from the greater height to help vector the smaller craft directly to it.  Ami had originally complained that the zodiac could carry the scanning equipment and they could handle the whole thing by themselves – they didn’t need all the extras.  But she was quickly outnumbered as even the Travers reminded her that this way would be a lot easier and faster, and why not use Seaview’s instrumentation since it was available to them.  Lee also pointed out that it would give Seaview’s crew a little practice for when they hit the usually rougher open water between Wake Island and the Mapmaker Seamounts where this method would prove more practical than just using a zodiac alone.  After Ami had sniffed and walked away Lee nudged Chip.  “I don’t think she likes us interfering in her project,” he told his XO quietly, but with a grin.


Chip nudged him back.  “Probably used to doing things on a good deal more limited budget.  Not everyone can have their own sub.”  Both men chuckled and started getting crew organized for the project.


Part way through the retrieval process Chip joined Lee topside.  The pod had apparently found a good feeding area and hadn’t moved much for the last half hour or so, and Chip was confident in Lt. James’ ability to keep Seaview correctly positioned.  He sent Lee a firm look when Lee grinned at that comment, after how Lee had been using Chris in his cracks toward Chip.  But his easy grin quickly came back as well as they watched the zodiac head after another logger.


Toward the end of the retrieval process there was some consternation that they might have lost one of the eight units.  More than two hours after the first logger had bobbed to the surface, the last one quit transmitting.  The zodiac cruised the general area where most of the other loggers had been found and Chip, still topside, instructed James to ease Seaview closer to the area as well so that Lee and the others could scan better for it on the surface.  Everyone was about to give up about 1730 hours when it finally showed up barely off Seaview’s port side near the bow.


“Better check the battery in that one,” was Alexis’ comment – she’d joined a group of seamen on Seaview’s deck, all trying to scan the ocean for the unit.  It was quickly collected, the zodiac brought back aboard, and Seaview once more submerged, now off the south coast of Anacapa as the mixed dolphin pod continued to stay in that area.


Lee and Chip ended up pretty much by themselves when they headed for dinner.  Nelson was watching the researchers download the data from the loggers, which seemed to be of more importance than food to the group.  Cookie wasn’t thrilled, to say the least.  But he calmed down as the four entered the Wardroom just as Lee and Chip were headed back to the Conn.  From the grins it appeared that the loggers had done their jobs, and all four were chatting happily about the variety of information that had been collected.  Once back in the Conn Lee did a quick check of all stations, as was his habit, before heading out for his normal evening stroll through the boat.


He was wandering past the open door to the labs when Nelson spotted him, and motioned for Lee to join them.  “I gather everyone’s happy with how things went today,” he told his boss.


Mike looked up from his computer.  “We’re still amazed at how well the dive went this morning.”  He glanced at his wife.  “As much as we wanted it to work, we really weren’t expecting that kind of success.”


“Speak for yourself,” Ami jibed, but it was said with a grin in both her voice and expression.


“We’ve just been toying with skipping tomorrow’s dive and heading straight for Wake Island,” Nelson told Lee.  “While we might pick up a different pod of Risso’s outside San Miguel Island, we’re just as likely to end up with this same bunch so all we’d be doing is duplicating what we got today.”


“Not a problem,” Lee assured his boss.  “The course is already plotted.  Seaview is ready, however you want to handle it.”  Nelson glanced at the others, got nods of agreement, and returned his gaze to Lee.  Lee nodded.  “I’ll go lay in the course.  ETA approximately fifty hours.”  Nelson nodded and Lee headed for the Conn.


* * * *


The next couple of days were pretty quiet aboard the submarine.  Lee’s usual routine of spending a good part of the day in the Conn, coupled with how well Lt. James was fitting in and learning the giant sub’s idiosyncrasies, allowed Lee to tease Chip into taking the time to show Ami around a little more.  Lee and Chip both used the time to run crew in various parts of the boat through a series of proficiency drills, neither surprised by the high ratings all around.


However, by the second night Lee was a tad bored, as could happen without enough to keep his mind active.  Not that he ever complained about the quiet times – they were a much appreciated balance to the all too frequent periods of total chaos that could erupt at a moment’s notice.  But they could lead to Lee not sleeping well just from lack of sufficient exercise.  He got back up after tossing and turning for over an hour and headed out for another ‘walk-a-boat.’


His mind a bit more settled about 0200 hours, he passed through the Conn headed for the spiral stairs and his cabin.  But he stopped at the chart table when he noticed that Ms. Neride was seated in the Nose, watching out the windows.  He pointed an eyebrow at Lt. Keeter, who had the Conn.


“She came down about half an hour ago,” the lieutenant told him.  Lee nodded and walked forward.


“Guess I’m not the only one who couldn’t sleep tonight,” he told her casually when she turned.


She smiled.  “Nope,” she admitted, before turning back to the windows.  “Such an interesting and unique way to travel.”


Lee grinned.  “I totally agree.”  He came to stand a few feet from where she was sitting and also stared out.  There wasn’t much to see except the water the sub was displacing as it traveled.  But it was still mesmerizing.  Ami was far from the first person to be fascinated by the sensation.


They remained silent for several minutes, each in their own thoughts.  Lee figured that it was going too quickly from watching the action of the water against the windows to glancing at the researcher that caused his vision to suddenly blur to the point of making him reach out to lay a hand on the window to steady himself for the quick moment it took for the sensation to pass.  When he glanced at her again she was looking at him somewhat strangely.


“Sorry,” he said automatically, although he wasn’t too sure what he was apologizing for.  He glanced at Keeter but the lieutenant had apparently missed Lee’s bit of vertigo – thankfully.  As Ami continued to watch him he shrugged.  “Bit of a headache,” he explained away the moment.  “Guess I’ll head for bed.  Again,” he added, and Ami finally nodded and smiled.


Lee pondered the little ‘spells’ he’d been having as he headed for his cabin.  They were unusual for him, but he didn’t think them serious enough to mention to Jamie as they weren’t causing any trouble.  He snorted softly, mostly at himself, admitting that even if they were causing trouble, as long as they didn’t interfere with his ability to do his job he still wouldn’t tell the doctor.  That thought actually causing him to smile, he once more undressed and lay down.


This time he fell asleep fairly quickly, thankfully, for what was left of the night, but woke up a few minutes later than usual.  Chip and Nelson were already eating by the time he entered the Wardroom, although it didn’t look like they’d been there long.  Chip made a crack about Lee over-sleeping, and Jamie joined in with “that’s what happens when you wander around the boat half the night.”  Lee had no intentions of asking how the doctor knew that, and in fact smiled as his thoughts from the precious few hours ago slipped back into his mind.  He knew none of the other three would understand the smile, instead of the frown that a good many of Will’s cracks about Lee caused, and that in itself caused the grin to spread.


“He’s up to something,” Chip muttered to Nelson and Will, but still loud enough that he knew Lee could hear as he dished up his own breakfast.  Lee winked at Cookie who was keeping an eye on things, causing the chef’s craggy face to split into a smile as well.  “Told you,” Chip complained at that unusual expression coming from Seaview’s cook.


Lee chuckled as he sat down next to Chip and across from Nelson.  “Do I have to be up to something?” he asked innocently.  “Can’t I just be enjoying life aboard Seaview?”


Chip gave him a long look and then turned back to Nelson and Will.  “Like I said, he’s up to something.”  It caused the other three to laugh and even Chip finally grinned.


“Your lady friend might be sleeping in as well,” Lee told Chip as everyone went back to eating.  “She was in the Nose when I came through about 0200.”  No more had the words come out of his mouth than all three researchers entered the Wardroom.


“Oh goody,” Will muttered only loud enough for the four men to hear, “someone else who doesn’t seem to need any sleep.”  The other three chuckled softly at one of Will’s ongoing complaints about his captain.  Their grins caused the Travers to share a look of puzzlement.  Lee noticed that Ami seemed to just ignore it, and nothing more was said as the three joined them.


Talk was general.  Mike asked Nelson if he’d ever found the problem with the malfunctioning logger unit.  Both men had taken turns puttering with it and apparently Nelson had had it last.


“Finally,” Nelson told him.  “I started tracking the wires that led from the battery to the transmitter.  I know we both already checked them but nothing else made sense – everything else was checking out fine.”  He shook his head.  “Finally found the tiniest of nicks in one of the wires.  Barely visible.  In fact, I still don’t understand why or how it caused the total malfunction of the transmitter.  But apparently it was because, once I re-wired that section, it seems to be just fine.”


“We have other units,” Mike said.  “We don’t really need to use it.  If we can get seven or eight of the units attached each dive that should be plenty.”


“Any idea how many dives you’ll want to make around Wake Island?” Lee asked.


He got shrugs from all three researches.  “If we can locate the super pod that’s been reported there, and if we have as good luck there as we did with the first dive, maybe three or four,” Mike told him.


“And assuming,” Alexis added, “that we don’t end up tagging the same dolphins over and over because they’re the most curious.”


“Or most hungry,” Chip quipped.


“Chip and food,” Lee muttered.  “Always inseparable, even in thought.”  He got a kick under the table for that crack as everyone else chuckled.


“Because of individual scarring patterns,” Ami spoke up, “it should be fairly easy to keep that from happening.”


Lee carefully controlled his expression.  “Especially if there were cameras in the water to snap pictures as you tag each one.”


Alexis nodded as she chewed the bite of sausage she’d just taken. “That would be a big help,” she agreed.


“The more people and equipment in the water, the more chance of something disturbing the dolphins and messing up the tagging,” Ami told her.  Alexis just shrugged.  “If we each jot down a few notes about the dolphins we tag, that should be sufficient to keep from tagging the same ones over and over,” Ami continued.  “It would only take a second.”


“Pictures would take even less,” Chip theorized.  Ami sent him a frown.


Nelson spoke up, carefully controlling his own expression after having to bury a grin at Lee’s suggestion.  “Suppose we see how the first dive goes.  We can amend our procedures after that if we feel we need to.”  That seemed agreeable to everyone, even Ami.


Later in the Conn Lee asked Chip, “Ami not like her picture taken for some reason?”  He didn’t mention his conversation with Admiral Nelson and Mike Travers prior to the first dive.


Chip shrugged.  “Haven’t a clue.  But it kinda sounded like it, didn’t it?”


Lee nodded.  They both looked up as Ami and Alexis came down the spiral stairs and settled into chairs in the Nose.  Lee started to open his mouth to say something but was stopped by another of the little dizzy spells he’d been experiencing, and this time Chip caught it.  When Lee reopened his eyes Chip was glaring at him, his arms crossed over his chest.  It was such a typical ‘big brother Chip’ look that it caused Lee to smile.  “Yes, Chip?” he asked oh so innocently.


Chip opened his mouth, thought better of what he’d been about to say, and glanced around the Conn.  “Lt. James, you have the Conn,” came out instead.


“Aye, aye, sir.  I have the Conn,” came just slightly uncertainly from the younger man.  He’d had his head buried in the navigation charts and had no idea why all of a sudden his XO was looking peeved.  Since the Skipper was smiling softly he decided that it couldn’t be anything too serious so when Chip jerked his thumb over his shoulder and he and Lee left out the aft hatch, Chris promptly forgot the whole thing and focused his attention on the duty crew.


Lee followed Chip easily, still with the slight smile on his face.  He knew that he was in for one of Chip’s chewing outs.  He even admitted that he probably deserved it, even though the little spells were more annoying than anything he felt was actually serious.  He’d been known, when circumstances warranted him to be on his toes, to tell Chip where he could shove his concerns and concentrate on the job at hand.  But things were quiet and it would be easier to just let Chip get it out.  He had every intention of dismissing it away as he had the previous time with Ami – just a bit of a headache.  It was an explanation that Chip could understand – the whole crew knew that Lee suffered the occasional headache although no one but Chip, Nelson, or Doc was likely to call him on it.  So he calmly followed Chip out the hatch and down the corridor a ways to a quiet section, where Chip turned and once more stared daggers at him.


“Chill, Chip,” Lee started.  “It’s just a bit of a headache I’ve been fighting off and on.”  He said it with the same small smile in place, trying to calm down his ticked off XO.  And best friend.


“Jamie?” Chip asked in a fierce growl.  He wasn’t near ready to calm down.  He didn’t believe Lee for a second and felt that there was something else entirely going on.  While it was true that Lee fought headaches they were almost always tension headaches caused by whatever chaos Seaview was trying to survive at the moment.  Everything was far too quiet right now for Chip to buy that explanation.


Lee merely shrugged at Chip’s question about the doctor.  “Nothing to bother him with,” he answered.


Half a dozen comments, each one more scathing than the last, zipped through Chip’s brain so fast that he barely paused.  When Lee was this much under control, no amount of badgering from Chip was likely to break him.  But Chip also wasn’t ready to let it go.  Again he jerked his thumb over his shoulder and headed in the direction of Sick Bay.  At that point he didn’t particularly care if Lee followed him or not.  He’d report what he saw and let Jamie handle it from there.  With Nelson’s help if necessary.


But Lee, with another quick grin, followed Chip to his least favorite part of the boat.  Better to let Jamie find nothing – that would be the only way Chip would let go of his little temper tantrum.


Will had no idea what was going on when Chip stomped through his office door, followed by a slightly grinning Lee.  He stood up from where he’d been sitting at his desk reading a medical journal and merely looked at the two.  When Chip said nothing, having turned and glared at Lee, Lee finally spoke.  “Chip’s a tad irritated,” he started.  There was a noise from Chip, almost a snarl, and Lee’s smile increased as he continued.  “I’ve been fighting a piece of a headache off and on the last few days.  He seems to think that I should have told you about it.”  He’d been glancing back and forth between the two but now looked fully at Will.  “I didn’t because it’s nothing.”  He shrugged.  “A little annoying, perhaps,” he admitted.


Will nodded.  It corroborated what he’d seen himself both in the Observation Nose and in the Wardroom – a quick stab of pain that almost immediately went away.  He was grateful that Chip had managed to get Lee down to Sick Bay without Lee being totally torqued.  He suspected that Lee was probably right; that it was nothing.  But he also recognized Chip’s reaction that it needed to be acknowledged and understood why Lee had so easily allowed the blond to drag him down here.


Now he needed to accommodate both men.  Chip’s concern could not be summarily dismissed, but neither could Lee be pushed too far.  “Mr. Morton, you’ve done your duty.  I suspect that you have a boat to get back to running.”  He used his lecturing tone, knowing that both men would expect it from him given the circumstances.  Chip nodded, sent another glare Lee’s way, and left.  Will’s voice was a good deal softer when he addressed Lee.  “Skipper?” he asked, careful to question, not challenge.


“It’s nothing, Jamie,” Lee answered, the smile still in place.


“You have any objections to my verifying that?”  Will kept his voice under control and added a small smile of his own.


Lee knew exactly what Jamie was up to and it caused another grin.  “No, sir.”  He used the little joke the two shared, that Lee would ‘sir’ a lesser-ranked officer, and Will’s grin increased.  He led the way into Sick Bay proper and spent the next twenty minutes checking his usually least cooperative patient.


With Will continuing to keep things casual Lee stayed relaxed and allowed the doctor his ‘fun and games,’ as both he and Chip occasionally grumbled about.  Will wished that Lee were always this amiable, and at one point actually said it out loud.


“I can change that in a hurry,” Lee sent the doctor one of his better command stares.


Will knew better than to accept the challenge.  “And screw up a perfectly good morning?” he teased.  “You’re not usually that mean.”  Both men chuckled.  Finished with his exam and not finding a single thing to contradict Lee’s diagnosis, he stepped back from the gurney.  “My report should placate your Executive Officer,” he told Lee, and Lee nodded.  “But if it keeps up your friend won’t be happy.”


Lee sent the doctor one of his shy, through-the-lashes looks.  “Sometimes having your best friend as your XO creates a bit of a problem.”


“Because you can’t order him to shut up?” Will asked with a grin.


“Exactly,” Lee muttered before he also grinned.


Will chuckled before getting serious.  “You’ll let me know if it gets worse?  Please?”


Lee was not unaffected by this friend’s concern.  “Promise, Jamie,” he said sincerely.


Will nodded.  “Then get out of here and go harass your XO.  I have more important things to do.”  They both chuckled, and Lee headed back to the Conn.


“Told you,” Lee sniped at Chip as he walked up to the chart table.  He glanced forward and saw that Mike and the Admiral had joined Alexis and Ami.  Seaview was traveling at a fairly shallow depth and there was enough light filtering through the water that the occasional school of fish could be seen.  Nelson glanced his way and he walked forward.  “Sir?” he asked as he came to a stop next to Nelson.


“All’s well with the boat?”  Lee realized that Nelson must have assumed that Lee had been off on one of his tours of the sub.


“Actually, I was running an errand for the XO,” he answered with an enigmatic little grin.  “But yes, all’s well.”  His grin spread at that private little joke.


Nelson wasn’t sure what was causing his captain’s lightheartedness this time but he was definitely enjoying it.  Lee could be moody when things weren’t going well.  “Good.  ETA still the same?”  He knew it was or Lee would have already informed him.  But this was an easy way to advise the researchers.


“Yes, sir,” Lee played the game he recognized Nelson had presented.  “We’ll slip into the area between 0200 and 0400 hours tomorrow morning.  Lt. Keeter’s already been advised to slow down and enter the target area with as little disturbance to the local wildlife as possible.  We’ll start a search for the pod after breakfast.  If they haven’t found us first,” he added with another little grin.  Nelson nodded.  Lee had noticed Ami shoot him a curious look when he’d mentioned running an errand for Chip.  She’d covered it quickly, but Lee sent her an easy look.  “A question, Ms. Neride?”


She apparently didn’t realize that her look had been seen, and blushed.  “Sorry,” she slightly stammered.  As it dawned on her that Lee was still waiting for a response, as now so were all the others, the blush increased.  But she finally continued.  “I guess that I just found it curious that the captain would be running errands for an underling.”


Nelson choked off a snort as Lee’s grin spread.  But he didn’t get a chance to respond as Chip, who had obviously been listening, appeared at Lee’s shoulder.  “Every so often I have to remind him of a couple of his duties that he tends to forget.”  The blond deadpanned that commentary about how Lee tended to look out for everyone on the boat except himself.


As much as Lee wanted to smack Chip for his continued needling, he couldn’t; especially after his parting comment to Jamie a few minutes earlier.  But he wasn’t about to totally let it go unchallenged.  “It’s the wise commander who allows his underlings,” he purposely used Ami’s term, “to have their occasional little victories or they start to whine.”


“I did warn you,” Alexis reminded Ami, “that it gets a little warped around here every so often.”  At that all three of Seaview’s ruling triumvirate cracked broad smiles.  As Chip turned to head back to the chart table Lee gave his shoulder a light slap before turning and going with him.


Nelson shook his head as he looked at the researchers.  “I am constantly fascinated and amazed by the things I learn on cruises like this.”  His face split into a wide grin.  “And some of it even involves marine science.”  As the Drs. Travers returned the grin and Ms. Neride merely looked confused, Nelson headed up the spiral stairs to his cabin.


A little while later a light knock on his door made him lift his head from the book he was perusing.  “Enter,” he called out.  Expecting it to be Lee he raised an eyebrow when, instead, Will ambled casually in.  “And to what do I owe this visit?” he asked.  “Not that I object to the company,” he added quickly.


Will grinned.  Since coming to NIMR he and Nelson had formed an easy, comfortable, friendship.  Will hadn’t been at all sure that he’d be able to deal with the temperamental genius persona that was his new boss.  And there were definitely times when he walked softly around the man.  But over time each found in the other someone that they could relax with, unwind from the chaos they all too frequently found themselves in and, while surrounded with men for the most part younger than they were, enjoy the camaraderie of someone their own age.


Will walked over, handed Nelson the folder he was carrying, and settled into the chair next to the desk.  “Just wanted to keep you abreast of a minor medical issue I’m monitoring.”


Nelson’s expression went totally confused.  Normally Will reported to Chip.  Nelson would eventually hear, but not usually in this manner.  He opened the folder, read quickly, and pointed an eyebrow at Will.  “What’s going on?  I haven’t noticed anything.”


Will grinned.  “Chip did.”


Nelson relaxed back into his chair.  “So that’s what he meant when he said he was running an errand for his XO.”  Nelson went on to explain his conversation with Lee earlier in the Observation Nose.


Will nodded.  “I swear he was actually enjoying Chip’s little tantrum.”


Nelson chuckled.  “I wondered what had put him in such a good mood.  I was not, however, about to ask.”  Both men smiled.  “You’re comfortable that there’s nothing seriously wrong?”


Will nodded.  “I’ve seen a couple of his little episodes myself.”  Nelson frowned but it only caused Will’s smile to broaden.  “Just a very brief flash of pain and it’s gone.  Nothing serious enough that I wanted to risk messing up a perfectly pleasant cruise by challenging him about it.”  That caused Nelson’s smile to return.  “Chip all but dragging him down to Sick Bay solved that little problem and I was able to take a good look at him without him going ballistic.  At this point I have no reason to doubt Lee’s explanation.  It’s obviously not affecting either his mood or his appetite.”  Both men were only too aware of one of Lee’s more distressing habits.  Well, distressing to his friends, anyway.  It never seemed to bother Lee to miss meals if his focus and concentration were on something he considered more important.


“And he seems to be sleeping,” Nelson added.  That was most often Lee’s other sign that something was bothering him.


Will nodded before his eyes settled on the book Nelson had been looking at and a mischievous, and slightly evil, grin crossed his face.  “You seem to be the only frustrated one at the moment.”


Nelson briefly glared at Will but it morphed fairly quickly back into a slight smile, and he nodded.  “Picked this up at the library before we sailed, as well as a couple of others.  They discuss artifacts found in shipwrecks in the Mediterranean.  It occurred to me that the design on Ms. Neride’s necklace was most likely something that I’d seen in some museum.”


“You don’t think that it’s stolen,” Will nearly growled out the accusation.


Nelson flipped a hand.  “Oh, good heavens, no.  Much more likely that it was designed after an artifact of some sort.”


Will relaxed and nodded.  “Wouldn’t it just be easier to ask Ms. Neride?”


“I all but did, in my office the other day.  If she didn’t answer then…”  He flipped his hand again.


Will nodded at the book.  “I gather that you haven’t found it yet.”


Nelson shook his head.  “No.”


Will stood up.  “Well, I’ll leave you to your research.  I know how snitty you can get when you have too many interruptions.”  He burst out laughing at the glare he got for that crack and headed for the door.  Just before it closed behind him he heard a soft chuckle from Nelson, grinned again, and returned to his office and his own reading – the medical journal Chip and Lee’s earlier visit had sidetracked.  Lee wasn’t the only one Will didn’t want to tick off on such a relaxed cruise as this one was being.  While he knew that Nelson would want to be apprized of what was going on, he also knew how almost paternal Nelson could get where Lee was concerned.  Will was rather pleased with how well this morning had gone, and sent a silent prayer that it continued on through the entire cruise.


* * * *


The first sight to greet Lee when he came down the spiral stairs the following morning was Ami Neride standing in front of Seaview’s front windows, her hand on the herculite, watching half a dozen Bottlenose and common dolphins frolicking just out of her reach.  Many more shapes could be seen further out into the water.  He hesitated ever so slightly – it had finally dawned on him that almost every time he was around her he’d have one of the little dizzy spells that were bugging him.  But steps behind him turned out to be Chip and he continued on down.


“Well, looks like we don’t have to go searching,” was Chip’s light comment as he, too, hit the bottom of the stairs.  “Seems Ami is a bit of a dolphin magnet.”


“Definitely a time saver if she can find the Risso’s as easily,” Lee agreed with a smile.  He headed for Lt. Keeter as Chip continued forward to have a few words with the researcher.  He and Keeter shared a quick grin before Keeter got him currant with Seaview’s status.  Lee turned and was going to say something to his XO about heading for breakfast but Chip and Ami had their heads together talking.  Lee shared another quick grin with the lieutenant and headed aft, thinking that it might be a good idea to suggest that Chip go out on the next dive.  Chip didn’t get near the chance that Lee did to enjoy one of both men’s favorite activities and he knew that Chip would enjoy the chance to spent the time ‘outside’ with Ami.


He was already sitting in the Wardroom, eating and visiting with the Admiral, when Chip and Ami came in accompanied by Mike and Alexis Travers.  Hydrophones were indicating that, while they might not have found a super pod, there were still a fair number of dolphins checking out the supersized stranger in their territory.  The researchers hadn’t seen any Risso’s out the windows, and so far instrumentation wasn’t picking up their slightly different sounds.  No one, however, was concerned.  Ami assured everyone that they wouldn’t have any problems finding their target species.  Lee tried to bury a grin as he sent Chip, sitting to his right, a nudge with his foot at that statement, after Chip’s crack earlier.  Chip was a bit more successful at keeping a straight face when the nudge was immediately returned.  Nelson sent both younger men, sitting across from him, an upraised eyebrow, but continued visiting with the three researchers.  Lee did notice that he seemed to be keeping an eye on Lee more than usual and assumed that Jamie had said something to him about the previous morning’s goings on.


Thoughts of Seaview’s CMO caused Lee to straighten up and stare at the empty spot at the table where Jamie usually sat.  All conversation stopped and all eyes turned toward him at the sudden abnormal movement, and Lee was immediately self-conscious.  “Sorry,” he said, relaxing and dropping his eyes.  “Just wondering what’s making Doc late for breakfast.”


“Keeter didn’t indicate any problems overnight.”  Obviously Chip had been paying attention to the lieutenant’s report even as he was talking to Ms. Neride.


Lee frowned.  “Word of anything serious enough to keep Jamie busy better not have waited for the morning report.”  It caused both Chip and Nelson to smile.  Lee wanted to hear about problems the instant they happened – if not before!  The entire crew knew that Lee expected them to be attentive to their jobs enough to try to anticipate a potential problem before it actually became one.


No sooner were the words out than the Wardroom door opened and the object of the last few moments’ conversation walked in.  All heads turned in his direction and it was his turn to straighten up and glare.  “What?” he demanded.


“You’re late,” Nelson told him matter-of-factly.


“Lee was worried,” Chip added with a nod toward his CO.


Lee frowned at his XO but turned quickly back to Jamie.  “Just wondering what kept you.  There weren’t any reports of a problem.”


Will grinned and relaxed.  It could be frustrating to work around someone who fussed over something as simple as someone getting up late.  But in a way it was almost comforting to Seaview’s crew that their Skipper kept such close track of those kinds of seemingly innocent occurrences.  It was merely another instance of how carefully Lee watched over his crew.  “Chill, Skipper,” Will told him amiably.


“You end up with some of Chip’s nightmares?”  Nelson decided, with the current silliness that had been going on, he’d get in a jab or two of his own.  He winked across the table at the two younger men.


“Thankfully no,” Will told all three.


He was nearly drowned out by Chip’s “My nightmares? They’re all Lee’s fault.  Sir,” he added only slightly late as he jumped from a decidedly harder kick from his left.


Lee sniffed.  “I was going to let you dive when we find the next pod,” he told his XO officiously.  “But just for that you can stay inside.”


“Suppose you both go diving, get eaten by a giant squid, and the rest of us can enjoy a nice, quiet cruise,” was Will’s suggestion. 


Nelson touched his napkin to his lips.  It was obvious to everyone that it was an attempt to control his about-to-explode laughter at the antics, but he actually got out a fairly controlled, “I’d really rather not have to interview for a new Command team, Doctor.”


Will didn’t miss a beat.  “Then I suggest that you go out with them,” came back with a pointed look at his boss.


As Lee and Chip both put completely innocent expressions on their faces, Nelson got a thoughtful one.  “Not a bad idea,” he told Will, and looked across the table at the two younger men.  “Not a bad idea a’tall.”


Lee sent Chip a disgusted look.  “Just like Annapolis.  You couldn’t leave well enough alone and ended up getting the Commandant involved.”  It finally undid both Nelson and Will, as Lee and Chip also grinned.


Once Will got his breakfast and sat down, conversation went back to a casual sharing of ideas about how the day would go.  Weather was fairly good topside, which was a plus.  Seaview would stay submerged until they’d located, and hopefully tagged, the first group of Risso’s.  Beyond that, it was another ‘take it one step at a time’ kind of schedule.


Because of being a bit late Will was only half done eating when everyone else headed for either the Conn or the Observation Nose.  It took him a moment to realize that Lee hadn’t left.  He’d stopped at the coffee urn to refill his cup, to take with him to the Conn as he frequently did when things were quiet, and apparently got sidetracked saying something to Cookie.  Will grinned softly to himself as it was another sign of how relaxed Lee was staying so far this cruise.  He returned his attention to his plate so he didn’t see Lee head his way instead of out the door until the younger man sat back down at the table across from him.  “What’s up, Skipper?  Your headache getting worse?”


Lee shook his head with a shy grin.  “I’m fine.  Just wanted to make sure that you are,” he said softly.


It was Will’s turn to shake his head – for an entirely different reason.  Typical Lee, he wasn’t going to be happy until he knew that all the members of his crew were okay.  Will just rarely saw this side of Lee directed at him.  Of course, he also didn’t often give Lee reason to worry about him.  “I’m fine,” he said firmly.  “A little indigestion keeping me from sleeping as soundly as usual.  Not nearly as frustrating as certain patients of mine causing me sleepless nights,” he added pointedly.


Lee had the good grace to send him his shy, through-the-lashes look, but then got thoughtful.  “Lu-Tsi send along leftovers?”  It was a reference to another time when dinner with his wife had left Will with serious indigestion, although in that case it had been restaurant food, not something that Lu-Tsi had cooked.


“No.”  Will didn’t look up when he delivered the one word answer, hoping that Lee would let it drop.  He should have known better.


Lee let the silence fall between them for a bit before finally asking softly, “Jamie?”


Will send his CO a glare.  “You tell your XO and you can expect to be made very unhappy the next time I get you down to my territory.”  Lee gave him a way too innocent look.  “Harrumph,” Will did a pretty good Nelson impersonation, but eventually explained.  “I came down to the Wardroom last night for a last cup of coffee just as Cookie was putting the last piece of molten chocolate sauce cake away.”  That had been the chef’s choice for dessert the previous evening.  “It never made it to the fridge.”


Lee burst out laughing.  He couldn’t help himself.  And it only got worse, the deeper Will frowned at him, until finally even Will was forced to chuckle softly.  “You mean you actually beat Chip to it?” Lee finally got out.  Will merely shrugged his shoulders.  Lee sent him another broad grin and finally headed for the Conn.


Part of the grin was still on his face as he came through the aft hatch into the Control Room.  He’d felt Seaview start to move slowly as he left the Wardroom and knew that Chip had started a slow search for their target.  He ambled forward, glancing at all the instrumentation – it was a habit so ingrained that he did it without even realizing anymore.  Stopping at Hydrophones, he laid a hand on Seaman Riley’s shoulder.  The younger man sent him a glance and a quick shake of his head, indicating that so far there was no joy finding the Risso’s.  Lee merely nodded and continued forward.


He stopped again briefly at the chart table and glanced at the approximate course Chip had laid in.  It wasn’t exact because the plan was to wander slowly through the area keeping a lookout through the front windows, as well as using the Hydrophones, to hopefully track down the Risso’s.  He sent a nod Chip’s way, with a bit of a wink to Lt. James that he knew Chip could see, and headed the rest of the way into the Nose where all three researchers plus Admiral Nelson were keeping watch.  The latter sent him a raised eyebrow.


Lee knew what Nelson wanted.  The Admiral had given him a lopsided grin on his way out of the Wardroom as he realized Lee was hanging back.  Lee was formulating a response that would answer Nelson without alerting Chip, who could easily hear what was going on.  Lee was very familiar with Jamie’s forms of retaliation and was taking the doctor’s earlier threat quite seriously.  But he was momentarily sidetracked by a call from the Radio Shack.


“Skipper,” Sparks’ voice came through the speaker, “incoming call from Colonel Mayfield on Wake.”


Lee’s face lit up and he grabbed the nearest mic.  “Hey, Jack.  You beat me to the radio.  I figured that you’d still be sleeping in, with you guys doing so little work, and decided that I’d give you another couple of hours.”  A glance at Chip showed the blond matching Lee’s broad grin.  Behind him he could hear Nelson explaining to the researchers that Colonel Mayfield commanded a unit from the Army Corps of Engineers who were at the moment assigned to Wake to do repairs to the airfield.


“Yeah, right, Crane,” came back in a growl.  “You were caught sneaking into our territory at 0-dark-30, and now it looks like you’re trying to sneak out without so much as a ‘by-your-leave’.”


Lee chuckled.  “Nope.  That’s what I was going to tell you.  We’ll be prowling the area for the next several days at least, looking for Risso’s dolphins…”


“Who?” cut him off, and Lee chuckled again.


“Never mind.  It would take too long to explain to an Army guy.”


Something came through the speaker that was happily too low to hear clearly.  “You bubbleheads going to have time in your obviously under-worked schedule to try and win your fifty bucks back?”


Nelson sent Lee a puzzled look.  “Hang on a sec,” Lee told Mayfield, and he explained the comment to his boss.  “Last month, when we were in the area replacing earthquake sensors while you were in D.C. we stopped off to say Hi and ended up in a touch football game.  They won.”


“They cheated,” Chip added from the chart table.


“Only a little more than we did,” Lee said with a shrug and a smile.


Nelson took the mic away from Lee.  “Sorry, Colonel.  I’m afraid that any renewal of your own personal Army-Navy turf wars will have to wait for a later date.”


“Geez, Crane.  You could have warned me the boss was along,” Mayfield complained.


“And spoil the surprise?  Now why would I do that?” Lee smarted right back once he’d retaken possession of the mic.


The same ‘something’ from earlier was grunted through the speaker.  “Whatever.”  Lee grinned at Nelson, who returned it easily.  “Well, let us know when you sink.  We’ll let San Diego know.  In a week or so.”


Mindful of the ladies present Lee didn’t say what he’d have liked, and rang off instead.  He then had to endure a glare, fake though it obviously was, from Nelson.  “Apparently I need to quit turning you loose by yourselves if you’re just going to go off and waste my work time playing with the Army.”


“Yes, sir.”  But Lee could barely get it out without laughing, and Nelson’s grin came back at the same time.


They were interrupted as Riley called out, “Mr. Morton, ten degrees port, sir.  Not positive, but I’m getting a slightly different call.”  Chip gave the commands to change Seaview’s heading as Lee walked back and picked up the extra headset.  He glanced forward as he listened to what Riley was hearing.  The three researchers were glued to the windows but Nelson was watching him.  As Seaview completed her lazy turn and the sounds from the hydrophone became more pronounced, Lee grinned and gave both Chip and Nelson a ‘thumbs up.’  It was only a few more moments before there was an excited “yes” from the researchers.  Lee walked forward again as more and more Risso’s dolphins appeared, and shared a grin with both Chip as he stopped at the chart table, and Nelson still in the Nose.


Despite the silliness of how it started, all three senior officers headed off with the researchers to prepare for the dive.  Lee would once more be one of the ‘bait,’ as would Chip and Seaman Henderson.  As Lee entered the Missile Room he saw Ami Neride spot four spear guns laying at the ready instead of two as on the previous dive, and made a preemptive strike before she could mount a tirade of her own.  “More chance of shark activity in these waters, Ms. Neride.”


“The more dolphins, the less chance of sharks,” she came back with a glare.  “Those are totally unnecessary.”


“I hope so, too,” Lee answered calmly.  He was having a hard time not smiling as he noticed a small bit of added equipment on two of the sleek weapons.  But he knew that a grin now would be totally misinterpreted by the woman and only cause further friction.  “It didn’t cause any trouble on the previous dive.”  He was grateful when Alexis backed him up.


“You admitted that you forgot all about them once the tagging started,” she joined the conversation as she double-checked her own equipment.  “Get used to it, Ami.  I know that you don’t like spear guns.  Or weapons of any kind.  But that’s not going to change the way dives are handled on Seaview so just get over it.” 


Lee was surprised at the almost angry quality in Alexis’ voice and shared a raised eyebrow with Chip.  Mike, standing with them, said quietly, “Bit of an ongoing argument.  Lexi’s had her fill of it.  Ami can’t seem to get it through her head that she’s not going to change NIMR’s safety regs just because she doesn’t personally happen to like it.”


The rest of the dive preparations were carried out pretty much in silence.  A small grin did break through as Lee watched Admiral Nelson pick up one of the two specially equipped spear guns.  Seaman Nielsen picked up the other one; Lee assumed that he’d already been briefed by the Admiral.  Seamen Roberts and Richardson collected the other two and the dive got under way.


As one of the final divers out, Lee was almost disoriented by the sheer numbers of dolphins.  He’d never been in such congested waters before unless you counted schools of small fish in and around some of the coral reefs.  That was nothing compared to this many ten to fourteen foot bodies darting past him.  There was also a short pause as Mike apparently waited for the Admiral to take over the dive and start issuing orders.  When he didn’t, hesitantly at first but quickly with more confidence, Mike once more set his teams in motion.


Again the pod consisted of a mixture of species but this time the Risso’s far outnumbered the Bottlenose and common varieties.  All seemed unintimidated by the divers and were more than happy to accept a free meal.  Lee divided his time between handing out squid bits and watching the Admiral overhead.  While his movements were seemingly casual, the spear gun always seemed to be pointed at the end of whichever researcher’s tagging pole was closest to a Risso’s.  Lee could see that divers were going to be a part of the pictures, but the dolphins were the main attraction as well as the tagging process itself.  Ami was dutifully making notes on a dive card when she successfully tagged a dolphin, but Lee noticed that Mike and Alexis were only making half-hearted efforts.


Dive conversation was casual and easy.  The three researchers kept each other appraised of their movements, successful tags, and the unavoidable failures.  Lee and Chip lightly sniped at each other about not being fast enough with the bait and messing up a researcher’s aim.  It was a jubilant group that set the last of twelve loggers in place barely fifty minutes after the dive started and headed the short distance back to the boat - with so many dolphins they hadn’t wondered far away.


Lee had a moment’s hesitation as he exited the dive hatch back into the Missile Room, as usual in the last group to return.  Nelson had his back to the room, bending over one of the benches, side by side with Chief Sharkey.  But he quickly realized that the two men were using their bodies to shield the fact that Nelson was removing the two mini-cameras from the spear guns.  As he noticed Ami was giving them a quizzical look he quickly gave Chip a light shove.  He started nattering at the blond about who did the best job of dolphin baiting, which effectively collected the three researchers’ attention to he and Chip and away from Nelson.  Lee figured that Mike caught on to what he was doing since the researcher rather enthusiastically joined the fray, refereeing a tally of who did how many.  Thankfully it only took Nelson and Sharkey a moment to disconnect the cameras and Nelson to head for his cabin to change and Lee could stop teasing Chip, who didn’t have a clue what had started the bit of haranguing.  As both Mike and Lee backed off he shook his head at them and also headed for the hatch.  Lee shared a quick grin with Mike before following his XO.


None of the researchers were in the Observation Nose when Lee hit the Control Room so he took a quick moment to let Chip know what had been going on in the Missile Room.  He’d barely finished the explanation when both Ami and Alexis came down the spiral stairs into the Nose.  Lee winked at Chip and asked Riley, in a voice loud enough to also carry forward, how the signals were doing from the loggers.


“Green across the board, Skipper,” the young seaman told him brightly.


“Good,” Chip broke in.  “Handing out all that food made me hungry.”


“You’re always hungry,” Lee groused the old, familiar line, but he couldn’t keep a grin from poking through.  “Ladies,” he addressed Alexis and Ami, “we’d better stoke up before Chip hits the line or there won’t be anything left for us.  Not to mention that it’s going to be a busy afternoon with twelve loggers to retrieve.”  Chip sent him a glare that he easily ignored, but it caused the two ladies to smile.


“And let’s not forget the computer time downloading and analyzing all the wonderful data we’re collecting,” Alexis said as she somewhat reluctantly left the view out the windows.  “A long day for sure.”


As the ladies passed through the Conn Chip kept step right behind.  Lee brought up the rear, his eyes dancing over all of the instrumentation but not stopping at any of the stations.  The group had barely hit the Wardroom when they were joined by Nelson and Mike.  Lee kept a casual eye on the door, but he had barely sat down when Jamie walked in.  Chip had apparently been keeping an eye on Lee because, as Lee dropped his eyes from the door to his plate, a soft kick nailed his right ankle.  Lee sent his XO a frown, but it morphed fairly quickly into a sheepish grin and both men turned their attention to their plates.


They also kept tabs on the conversation Nelson was having with the researchers about how well everything had gone that morning.  Lee coughed softly to cover a snort when Nelson informed Chip that he’d commandeered Seaman Patterson for the next several hours.  Having been brought up to speed by Lee earlier, Chip merely nodded.  Patterson’s father was a photographer by profession and had taught his son pretty much everything there was to know about developing film.  Pat was no doubt already busy in the lab developing the pictures that the Admiral and Nielsen had taken that morning on the dive.


Once everyone returned to the Conn it was time to start setting up for the second phase of the dive.  The pod was continuing to move north but at a leisurely pace.  Lt. James had Seaview positioned amongst the pod trailers but behind all twelve loggers.  The pod seemed rather under-impressed with their newest member – a good thing.  But it still led Chip and Lee to tease each other about Seaview being ignored, if not outright looked down upon, by the dolphins.


Ami spent the time rewriting the notes each researcher had taken that morning about the physical descriptions of the dolphins they’d tagged.  Lee heard her make a couple of comments about Alexis’ and Mike’s rather sparse commentary, but those two merely shrugged them off with some fairly noncommittal comments of their own.  Lee looked at Chip and they both shrugged – there was no telling what would happen when the presence of the photographs was revealed.  Chip’s thought was that, from his perspective, it was more likely that the baiters would be in the pictures with the dolphins than the researchers since with their long poles they were actually further away from the dolphins that were being photographed.  Lee nodded – that was his idea as well.


But any confrontation over the photography could be postponed for the moment as it was time to get ready for the retrieval portion of the dive.  Lee heard a low muttered, “Hope this goes faster than the last time,” but wasn’t able to identify the source.  In these, much more open waters, even holding where they were at periscope depth, Seaview wasn’t quite as steady as she usually was.  On the surface she was going to roll even though the waters were actually fairly calm, and submariners by nature were lousy surface sailors and tended toward seasickness faster than regular Navy personnel.  Lee decided that a little moral support might not be a bad idea about now.  He grabbed the mic and double-clicked for an all-boat channel.


“This is the Captain,” he started.  He saw Chip try, and fail, to bury a grin.  He knew that his XO was thinking that there wasn’t a person aboard who wouldn’t instantly recognize Lee’s voice even without the preamble.  It caused Lee to smile as well as he continued.  “We’re about to head topside for the retrieval phase of this morning’s dive.  While the weather is good it’s still open ocean.  Make sure everything in your area is secure, and be careful as you move around the boat.  Conn out.”  He hung up the mic, crossed his arms over his chest, and faux-frowned at his Exec.  Chip raised an eyebrow and there was a momentary standoff.  Lt. James unsuccessfully smothering a soft snort cracked up his senior officers, and Chip started giving the necessary commands to bring Seaview gently to the surface.


An hour later Lee was at his chosen post atop the Conning Tower, along with Senior Rating Kowalski.  Once more COB Sharkey, Seaman Riley and Ami Neride were in a zodiac, portside of Seaview’s bow.  Today they were being aided by a second zodiac to starboard manned by Lt. Keeter, Seaman Mickelson, and Mike Travers.  Alexis had wanted to be on deck, as she’d been the last time, but Lee banned anyone being there unless absolutely necessary – he didn’t want anyone missing a step with an unexpected wave and ending up overboard.  Thankfully the weather was holding and winds were light but Lee was still reluctant to take any unnecessary risks so the deck remained clear except for launching the zodiacs, and later when they would be retrieved.  Alexis’ momentary miff was immediately mollified when Lee invited her to join him in the tower.


Right on schedule, four and a half hours after it was attached, the first logger popped to the surface and the game was on.  From the comments going back and forth, everyone was happy having the second zodiac deployed, and even Ami expressed appreciation for the extra help.  Chip came up to the tower about halfway through the exercise and handed Lee a couple of soda crackers, causing both Lee and Kowalski to snicker.  Lee declined – he was perfectly happy topside.  When Kowalski, too, shook his head, Chip munched on them himself as he helped scan the waters.


During a lull in communications traffic Lee became aware that Chip was humming softly to himself as they waited for the next logger to appear.  It took him a bit to recognize the tune but when he did he burst out laughing.  Both Alexis and Kowalski raised eyebrows.  Chip blushed slightly before singing the chorus:


Strike the bell second mate, let us go below

Look you well to windward you can see it’s gonna blow;

Look at the glass, you can see that it has fell

Oh we wish that you would hurry up and strike, strike the bell.


It was an old sailing song, when bells were used to mark the hours.  Eight bells signified end of watch and the sailors on deck would be off duty and could go below, out of whatever foul weather they found themselves in.  Lee’s continuing grin only broke when communications announced another logger had surfaced, and everyone got back to their jobs.


None too soon for everyone the last logger was finally retrieved, all hatches were secured, and Lee could allow Chip to submerge to a more congenial depth for the submarine and her crew.


It was a jubilant but tired group who finally traipsed into the Wardroom over an hour later than usual, just after 1900 hours.  Will had dawdled over his dinner, more than anything to keep Cookie company.  The premier chef, while understanding the reasoning behind it, still fussed until the three senior officers were safely seated in his domain with full plates of food in front of them.  Even the researchers had forgone starting to download data until they had a good meal.


As usual, once Lee finished eating and then checking the Conn to make sure all was well, he headed out for a stroll through the boat.  He was really enjoying the relaxed attitude of this cruise and it was carrying over to his crew.  Because so much of the time they had to deal with so much chaos, this trip seemed more like a vacation for everyone.  Yes, they were away from their families.  But with no restrictions on communications, coupled with spending so much time near or on the surface, there was plenty of time for calls home, catching up with anything important, and just generally relaxing and enjoying the relative peace and quiet for a change.  Lee had a broad smile on his face, placed there by the attitudes of the crew he ran into, as he made his way once more toward the Conn.


A door slamming loudly ahead of him, beyond a corner in the corridor, momentarily wiped the smile away.  There weren’t any alarms, loud voices, or running footsteps – it made the sound of the door seem to echo even more.  But Lee was mostly just curious as he neared the corner, intent on finding out what had happened to cause it.  He totally wasn’t expecting to be barreled into.  As he hit the corner so did the rapidly moving form of Ms. Neride, coming from the other direction.  Slender though she was, at 5’8”, and as relaxed as Lee was, the collision sprawled both bodies against the bulkhead and collapsed them onto the deck.  Lee had only a moment to realize who it was before he had the added problem of being hit with one of his little dizzy spells.  He heard the researcher start to apologize but it took him a few added moments to catch up.  Unwilling to try standing up just yet, he settled for a deep breath and merely tried to open his eyes.  Thankfully he was successful.  Ms. Neride was also still sitting – well, sprawled, actually, as was he – rather ungracefully on the deck.  She was, however, in the process of getting herself back under control and gathering up some pictures that had apparently been scattered in the collision.  Lee reached for a couple laying next to him as he also managed to gather himself into a more controlled sitting position and discovered that they were of that morning’s dive.  Ami had discovered she’d been photographed and wasn’t happy!  Unfortunately, all that knowledge did was cause Lee’s grin to return.


“A problem, Ms. Neride?” he asked, handing her back the photos.


“This was done without my approval,” she growled, before her expression softened ever so slightly.  “Sorry I bumped into you that way.  Are you all right?”


Lee chuckled and tucked his long legs in a little closer.  “I’m fine.  And, we don’t exactly need a junior research assistant’s approval to run ops here on Seaview.”


Ami’s frown came back, but not as fierce as the first one.  “It was just a surprise, is all.  I don’t like having my picture taken.”


“And which one, in those pictures, is you?  The quick look I got, all I saw were dolphins and wet suits.”


Ami’s expression softened even more as she quickly scanned the photographs, and was starting to turn slightly sheepish when another voice echoed down the corridor.  “Lee,” Nelson not quite shouted, and hurried up to the pair.


“We were just having a meeting of the minds over a point of boat’s order, Admiral,” Lee told him casually, with another soft grin.  He started to gather his legs under him as he finally felt under enough control to stand.  Nelson reached out a hand to both he and Ms. Neride.  Lee took it easily and used it mostly as a balance point to once more stand.  Ami was a few seconds behind him, but also finally accepted the help.


When they were back on their feet Nelson asked, “And were you able to reach any conclusion?”


Lee pointed a raised eyebrow at the researcher.  She sent him a quick smile but addressed the Admiral.  “I believe so, sir,” she told him.  “I think that its time I got back to work and helped the Travers download all that data we collected today.”


Nelson nodded.  “I know that they’d appreciate the help.  We’re planning another dive for 0900 hours tomorrow.”  She nodded and headed back in the direction she’d been coming from.  It was Nelson’s turn to point an eyebrow at Lee.


He grinned softly.  “I gather she didn’t take well to being shown the pictures.”


“You could say that,” Nelson agreed with a grin of his own, before giving Lee a speculative look.  “You are okay?”


“I’m fine,” Lee repeated, but with one of his slightly shy smiles.  “She sort of…caught me by surprise.”


“So it would appear,” Nelson deadpanned.  He nodded aft.  “The boat safe for the night?”


Lee repeated the small, shy grin.  “Yes, sir.  Everything’s shipshape.”


“Good.  Then suppose we grab a cup of coffee in the Nose and then make it an early night.  The latest weather report, while not all that bad, is calling for slightly stronger winds tomorrow.  Retrieval could be a bit more of an adventure than it was today.”


Lee was already nodding.  “I saw the report earlier.”  He sent Nelson a smirk.  “Already advised Cookie to break out more crackers.”  Nelson chuckled, gave Lee’s shoulder a soft backhand, and the two headed forward.


Weather predictions for the following day were spot on.  Unfortunately.  Lt. James held Seaview slightly lower in the water, at barely periscope depth, to minimize the sub’s exposure to the slowly building waves topside, as once more Chip joined Lee to be bait divers.  As they prepared to head out Lee saw Ms. Neride send a glance toward the spear guns.  But when she realized that Lee was watching her she sent him a small smile before concentrating on her own equipment.  With her head down she didn’t see Admiral Nelson, who had seen the exchange, share a grin with Lee.


Once ‘outside,’ the tagging portion of the dive progressed rapidly.  With each dolphin tagged, the researchers were getting better and better at the process.  The dolphins were being helpful as well, sticking to a relatively small territory considering that it was nothing to have a pod travel great distances in a fairly short amount of time.  It was theorized that a steady food supply was what had allowed this size of a pod to form in the first place, and was sufficient to sustain the numbers at least for the time being.  And the handouts from the divers weren’t hurting the dolphins’ amiability and cooperation in the least.  There were off and on comments between the divers related to individual markings on some of the Risso’s.  Nelson, whose powers of observation no one ever questioned, called Mike off of one over friendly dolphin, but okayed all the others questionable as to whether or not they had been tagged the day before.  Before anyone really realized it, all twelve loggers were in place and the divers headed back inside.


Chip shared a grimace with the entire Conn crew as the time approached when they would have to surface after lunch.  Cookie had helped as best he could with a meal of salad with ginger dressing, that spice being a proven aid to motion sickness.  Along with the salad he served turkey sandwiches with very little mayo, and hunks of fresh, warm gingerbread for dessert.  There was also a bowl of saltine crackers at every table.  Lee gave his old friend, as well as everyone else, a sympathetic look, but surfacing couldn’t be helped.  He was just glad that the seas weren’t any rougher than they were, and hoped that retrieval of the loggers went well.


He only partially got his wish.  The skies were threatening but at the beginning of the process the winds were only minimally stronger than they had been the day before.  Lee delayed surfacing until the first logger announced its release and arrival topside, and everyone once more jumped into action.


The first logger was safely corralled and the second had just reached the surface when both Alexis and Chip joined Lee and Kowalski in the Conning Tower.  Lee gave them a grin, turned back to the ocean, and then did a double take and turned back for another look at the t-shirt the researcher was wearing.  Alexis held the bottom edge out slightly and flat so that he could read it more easily.  The shirt itself was a sky blue in color.  Across the chest there was a drawing of several Bottlenose dolphins swimming.  Above the picture was the caption, “Advice from a Dolphin.”  Underneath was, “Have a playful spirit; Be curious; Find someone you really click with; Sound out new ideas; Glide through the day with ease; Find your life’s porpoise; Jump for Joy.” ***  Lee chuckled, and gave her a nod and a half-salute before everyone got back to business.


The loggers decided to be perverse today, most of them staying attached to their hosts a good hour longer than they had previously.  Between that and the slowly but steadily building winds even Lee, who regularly spent time in small sailboats, was tempted to reach for the package of crackers Chip had brought up with him before all of the units were retrieved and Lee could settle the boat several hundred feet below the starting to roil surface.  But he also was able to take a little revenge on Chip at dinnertime for all the times the blond harassed him about heading for the Wardroom when Chip delayed the trip by nearly half an hour to let his stomach finally settle down.


Cookie’s dinner selections were a bit more normal, although his entrée of oven-fried chicken did point toward him not necessarily wanting to use the stovetops that afternoon.  There was also more gingerbread for anyone who might still be feeling the after effects of the rolling seas topside.  Even though Lee and Chip were late, they still beat Admiral Nelson and the three researchers by almost fifteen minutes.


Nelson walked over to where Lee was sitting while the other three headed to fill their plates.  “Have you checked tomorrow’s weather?” he asked.


Lee nodded.  “Lousy,” he said around a bite of baked potato.  He swallowed before continuing.  “The storm is supposed to blow itself out by mid-afternoon tomorrow.  After that it looks good for the next several days.”


“So, no tagging tomorrow,” Nelson said, half to himself as he stared at nothing in particular.  Lee didn’t quite get a grin buried and Chip gently kicked his shin, both of them thinking the same thing.


“So, sir, what would you like to check out in the area instead?”


Nelson momentarily glared at him before his expression softened and he chuckled.  “That predictable, am I?”  Lee and Chip both sent him cherubic expressions.  It caused Nelson’s chuckles to increase.  “Actually,” he admitted, “Ms. Neride was telling me of a rather unique rock formation that might be fun to check out since we have the time.  I’ll show you on the charts after dinner.”


“Yes, sir,” Lee told him with a grin, and Nelson went over to dish up his meal.


Lee lingered over dinner, listening to the casual conversation of the others at the table.  The Drs. Travers had no problems with the day off.  They could start collating all of the data that the loggers were collecting.  Ms. Neride immediately perked up at mention of checking out the seamount that she’d told Nelson about, but just as quickly backed down and sent the Travers’ a shy look.


Alexis grinned.  “There’s no reason that you have to spend the whole day staring at a computer screen,” she told Ami.  “You’re welcome to show Admiral Nelson around the seamount, now that you’ve piqued his interest in the area.”  She sent Nelson a look.  “As long as you don’t mind, sir.”


Nelson grinned.  “Not a’tall,” he told everyone, and then focused on Ami.  “You can show me why you think the area is so fascinating.  I’ve never heard anything overly special about it.”


“Not special, per se,” Ami admitted.  “Just unusual and interesting.”


“Well, it will still be good to get samples from the area.  I take every opportunity I can get to dive in areas I’ve not been to before.”  Once more Lee and Chip shared a look, and Nelson’s grin increased.  “Obviously, not the first time those two,” he nodded toward his senior officers while still speaking to Ami, “have heard me utter that sentiment.”  He sent Lee an amused look as Lee gave him one of his through-the-lashes looks, accompanied by a nod and a small grin, before excusing himself and heading for the Conn.


Nelson sent Lee another amused grin when he walked up to the chart table about twenty minutes later.  Lee returned it easily and watched as Nelson studied the chart for a moment before pointing out the specific seamount he wanted to explore.  Lee nodded but let Lt. O’Brien, who had the Conn, plot the short trip.  It would only take Seaview about three hours to reach it at normal cruising speed.  Lee had O’Brien set the speed at one-third normal for a couple of reasons.  There was no big hurry to reach it since they wouldn’t dive until the following morning anyway.  And the much slower speed, especially at first, would hopefully lessen any disturbance to the dolphin pod.  That set up, Lee set off for a walkthrough of the boat before heading to his cabin.


* * * *

Apparently it was Lee’s turn to deal with nightmares.  Like Chip’s, they didn’t wake him up.  But half an hour earlier than his usual time he rolled out of his bunk feeling like he’d gone ten rounds with the giant squid Jamie had threatened him with.  That thought actually putting a smile on his face, he spent an extra few minutes in the shower letting the water wash away the last of his sleepiness as well as helping tense muscles relax and headed for the Conn only a few minutes ahead of his normal schedule.


As Lee expected his super-efficient crew, led at the moment by Lt. Keeter, had Seaview stationed quietly at a depth of 100 feet, approximately 50 yards off Nelson’s targeted seamount.  Lee was surprised at the relatively shallow depth since Seaview was so stable in the stormy sea.  Keeter had a slight smirk on his face when Lee glanced up from the charts, having figured out what the lieutenant had done.  He’d set Seaview facing into the leeward side of the seamount.  With the underwater structure acting as a windbreak, so to speak, any heavy waves were deflected down Seaview’s long sides and left the submarine pretty much unaffected.  Lee gave the lieutenant a nod and a light slap to his upper arm in acknowledgement of the maneuver, gave a quick glance to all the instrumentation as he walked through the Conn, and headed for the Wardroom.


He hadn’t been there long before Chip wandered in, followed shortly by Admiral Nelson and then Jamie.  While Chip had come by way of the Conn and knew how Lt. Keeter had positioned Seaview, Lee had to explain to Nelson and the doctor that no, Seaview wasn’t sitting at a thousand feet, well below not only the heavy seas but scuba depth as well.  Chip did mutter something about having to keep a better eye on the lieutenant; that it looked like Keeter was after the XO position.  But he smiled as the comment caused the other three to chuckle, and Lee to give him a soft backhand.

Lee and Chip were just about to head back to the Conn when Sparks announced an incoming call from Wake Island.  The two shared a quick snicker about what Colonel Mayfield might want as Lee waited for the radioman to direct the call down to the Wardroom.  But all four men stiffened as they listened to the brief conversation.


“What’s up, Jack,” Lee started off easily, expecting the Army colonel to snipe back a reply.


“Sorry, Captain Crane, this is Lt. Ryan Ruiz.”  Lee recognized the man as Mayfield’s second-in-command.  “There’s been an accident.  Jack, ah Colonel Mayfield, slipped in the mud while helping peg down some equipment and hit his head.  Our medic isn’t totally comfortable handling the injury on his own.  We’re hoping that you could send your doctor over to evaluate, and possibly evacuate to Schofield Barracks on Oahu if necessary, using that weird yellow flying saucer of yours.  Because of the storm there’s no way we could get a plane in here much before nightfall, and that’s only if the weather breaks on schedule.”


Jamie had headed for the door the instant he’d heard what the problem was.  Lee sent him a nod as he listened to the rest of the message.  “Doc’s already getting ready, Ryan.  We moved during the night, but ETA should be about an hour for the Flying Sub.”


“Great.  Pete says so far Jack seems stable but we really appreciate the assist.”


“Happy to help,” Lee assured him, and broke the connection.


Chip had headed out the door on Jamie’s heels, and already had Sharkey pre-flighting FS1 by the time Lee joined him in the Conn.  Lee added Kowalski to the flight crew – he wasn’t sure if Jamie intended taking one of the corpsmen with him but, just in case, Lee sent the senior rating along because he had first aid training and could act as Doc’s assistant as well as back-up pilot for the Flying Sub.


Nelson raised an eyebrow when he came down the spiral stairs, with Will right behind carrying one of his emergency packs and followed by John carrying two more.  Lee easily read the question on Nelson’s face of why Lee hadn’t automatically volunteered for the mission.  “If Jack needs to be evacuated there won’t be time to return here,” he told the Admiral, who nodded his agreement to that logic.


Will also heard the explanation as he handed his supplies down to a waiting Kowalski.  Finding the rating added to the mission, he decided to leave John behind just in case he needed to be gone for awhile instead of leaving just Frank to handle anything that should come up aboard Seaview before he could get back.


It was a pretty quiet Conn for the next couple of hours.  All thoughts of a dive were postponed until they knew more about the injured Colonel.  Even the three researchers came down to the Observation Nose to await news.  When the call did finally come in, Lee answered with some trepidation.  While not a close friend, he still had a good deal of respect for the Army Colonel despite wanting to get revenge on the man for a few things that had happened during their last meeting.


His expression turned instantly from concern to disgruntlement at Jamie’s first sentence.  “I’m a little in awe of Colonel Mayfield,” the doctor started.  “I didn’t think I’d ever find someone with a harder head then you, Skipper.”  Nelson grinned and Chip snickered, breaking the tension of the last two hours.

Several comments passed swiftly through Lee’s mind but he quickly got himself back under control.  “I gather that means Jack’s going to be okay?” he finally settled on.


Jamie’s chuckle came through the speaker.  While Lee’s comment had been neutral, everyone who knew him could still easily read the snipe that stayed in his voice as he said it.  “He’ll be fine, Skipper.  He’ll be fighting a wicked headache for the next several days but that should be the worst of it.  We’ll hang around for a few hours, just in case.  But I don’t foresee us not being back by suppertime.”


Lee was quick to get his sense of humor back.  “In that case, tell Jack I didn’t realize he was so clumsy, letting a little mud get him down.  I thought Army guys were used to slogging through the stuff.”


“And I’ll deliver his message about hard heads when I get back,” Jamie assured him, and they broke the connection.


“That should be an interesting message, considering how the football game ended,” Chip told his CO with a barely controlled smirk.


Lee chose to ignore it and turned to Nelson.  “Were you still wanting to make your dive, Admiral?” he asked, also ignoring Nelson’s grin as he watched Lee studiously ignoring Chip.


“Absolutely, now that we can concentrate on this area instead of where Doc is.”  He barely controlled a smirk of his own.  “With Sharkey gone you’ll need to reassign duties.”


Lee nodded.  “No problem,” he assured his boss, before it was his turn to smirk ever so slightly.  “Just so long as the COB doesn’t find out how easily we got along without him.”


“Heaven forbid,” Nelson barely got out around a chuckle, and everyone headed in a different direction to get ready for the dive.


His mind on the best way to shift assignments, Lee turned toward the chart table.  But he stopped short as he watched Chip cross his arms over his chest and send Lt. James a slightly toned down version of his ticked-off-XO glare.  Suspecting the cause, Lee finished taking the couple of steps to the table.  “What did Chris beat you to this time?” he asked the blond with a barely controlled grin.


“I was going to work on the Duty log but it seems I’ve had that job usurped,” Chip muttered.  But Lee easily noted that Chip wasn’t overly upset – his voice held a subtle note of humor.


“They’re just suggestions, sir.  Ah, sirs,” Chris said hesitantly.  “I made a few notes while we were waiting to hear about Colonel Mayfield.”


Lee nodded.  “And you have a problem,” he once more addressed Chip, “with the suggestions?”


Chip finally dropped his arms to his sides and let a quirky bit of grin break through.  “Actually, no.  Well,” he amended, “except for being tossed out of the Conn.


Lee finally glanced at the young lieutenant’s notes and discovered that Chris had given himself the Conn, Lt. O’Brien was assigned as Dive Master, and Chip was released to enjoy the dive.  It caused Lee’s grin to broaden.  “That’s a first – you complaining about going out on what amounts to nothing more than a pleasure dive.”


“Not complaining, exactly,” Chip told him.  He sent a quick glare at Chris before his own expression morphed into a grin.  “Just used to doing it myself,” he admitted.


Lee winked at Chris and gave Chip’s upper arm a quick swat.  “If it will make you feel better you can fill out and sign the Duty sheet before officially turning the Conn over to Lt. James and getting ready for the dive.”  Lee was happy that by now most of the Conn was tuned in to the conversation.  It kept Chip from actually uttering the comeback that Lee read all too easily on his friend’s face.  Chuckling, he headed for the spiral stairs, sure that Chip would only be a moment behind him.


Admiral Nelson raised an eyebrow when Lee entered the Missile Room, the grin still all too evident on his face.  With Chip right behind him, Lee chose a benign reply to the unspoken question.  “Just enjoying the calm cruise,” he told his boss.  “Seems like we don’t get very many of them.”


Nelson nodded.  He did send a glance Chip’s way and Lee suspected that the blond had made a face of some sort behind his back.  “We should try to manage it more often.”


“I’m all for that,” Lee agreed.  “But,” he added with a sigh, “I won’t be holding my breath.”  Nelson chuckled, but his expression was more commiserate than humorous.


Seamen Henderson and Richards were suited up to act as watchdogs.  Chip gathered up some of Nelson’s sampling equipment and Lee grabbed the collection bags.  So far Ms. Neride hadn’t said anything.  But as everyone prepared to head out Lee saw her pick up a digital underwater camera as well as a collection bag of her own and he raised an eyebrow.


Ami sent him a small smile.  “When I was here before I saw…  Well,” she hesitated, “I thought that I saw, anyway, what looked like markings of some kind on some of the rocks.”


“What kind of markings?” Nelson asked.  Lee and Chip shared a quick grin.  It took very little to spark the Admiral’s interest.


“That’s part of the question,” Ami answered.  “I only got a glimpse, and didn’t have any way to record what little I did see.”  She shrugged.  “It could have been nothing more than algae making abstract lines.” 


Nelson nodded.  “Not exactly where I would expect to find any kind of archaeological site.”


“Exactly,” Ami agreed.  “I’d just like to poke around and see if I can find them again.”  With that, the group headed out.


Lee went out first with the two watchdogs, and Nelson, Ami and Chip followed.  There was a moment’s discussion about what everyone was going to do before Nelson led the way toward an area near the top of the seamount, but still on the leeward side away from the heavier currents.  He did ask Ami where she had seen, or possibly seen, the markings on the rocks, but she indicated that things looked different somehow and she wasn’t sure.  Nelson speculated that, while they weren’t all that close to what was called the Pacific Ring of Fire – a band that rimmed the ocean marked by higher than average earthquake activity – that the seamount could have suffered changes. 


“How long has it been since you were here?” Chip asked.


“Been awhile,” Ami admitted.  “You’re right, Admiral, there could have been any number of changes.”


It was decided that, at first at least, the group would explore together.  Lee and Chip helped Nelson take several core samples from different areas while Ami stayed close by, occasionally flipping over a rock but mostly just looking around.  Lee kept an eye on her – he was a little gun-shy about visitors to the boat suddenly taking off on their own without warning.  But Ami did nothing to set off his radar and he finally allowed himself to relax a bit more.


When they started the dive there were no dolphins in the area, just the occasional school of indigenous fishes.  They hadn’t been out long when Henderson called a warning – several small sharks had suddenly appeared.  They were gray reef sharks, occasionally aggressive but usually amiable unless annoyed.  Lee saw Ami glance between the sharks and the watchdogs but both divers were merely attentive and not actively trying to drive the sharks away.  That seemed to satisfy her and she went back to poking around amongst a grouping of rocks.


Admiral Nelson finished one core sample, spent a few moments glancing around the area, and finally headed port and slightly deeper until he located a likely spot for his next one.  Chip dutifully followed along after he and Lee shared a grin through their masks – typical ‘Nelson on the prowl’ dive.  Lee waited to see where Nelson stopped, which actually wasn’t all that far away, before floating over to where Ami was.  She sent him a grin before continuing to gently turn over a series of rocks, explaining that so far she’d found no indication of anything not naturally occurring.  Lee watched her for a bit, studying her search pattern, before going off a few yards and starting his own simple search.


They were both startled by the sound of a small explosion and a yelp of pain that sounded like Chip and they scurried in that direction.  By the time they got there Nelson had things pretty much back in control.  “I was just finishing taking a sample which Chip was reaching for when the drill blew apart,” he explained.  Chip was holding one hand folded over the other but didn’t seem in a great amount of pain.


“A fragment of the bit ripped my glove and nailed my index finger,” Chip continued the explanation.  “Minimal damage, but the salt water hitting it stings all get-out.”


“I’ll bet,” Lee told him with feeling, having had the experience of salt stinging a wound far too many times.  “We’d better head back to the boat.”


“For this little thing?”  Chip’s protest was drowned out by Nelson.


“I’m done.  The drill is broken, anyway, so I can’t take any more samples.  I’ll take him back.  There’s no need for you and Ms. Neride not to stay out longer if you want to.”


Lee looked at Ami.  She ducked her head a bit, but answered.  “I was just about to ask if it would be okay to poke around over in that direction,” she indicated starboard, “for awhile.  Still plenty of air in the tanks.”


“Go,” Chip added.  “I feel like enough of an idiot… Don’t you dare say it,” he challenged Lee, and Nelson chuckled.  “No need to mess up the rest of your dive,” he looked at Ami, “for this,” and he indicated his hand.


“Richards,” Lee called, “escort the Admiral and XO back.  Henderson, you’ll stay with us.”  He got back instant ‘Aye, sirs’ from both watchdogs and the diving party split up, Chip still muttering under his breath and Nelson teasing him along.  Lee sent Nelson a nod before following Ami, Henderson slightly above them.


As they swan more starboard the current tugged at them a bit more, but they hugged the seamount and it wasn’t all that bad.  Ami stopped here and there to look at the rocks but didn’t find anything interesting and continued on.  Lee was a bit bored but enjoyed the chance to indulge in a purely pleasure dive – something he so rarely had a chance to do.  Even the dolphin baiting, while relaxed, kept his attention on being in the right spot at the right time to distract a dolphin while one of the researchers tagged it.  Now he had the time to notice how easily Ami swam, almost like one of the dolphins she was so fascinated with.  Lee himself was an excellent swimmer, and diving came second nature to him.  But even he couldn’t match her seemingly effortless motions.


A soft “oh” brought his focus back.  “What?” he asked.


“Look,” and Ami pointed slightly ahead and below her.  Lee could just make out what looked like a concave area in the face of the seamount as Ami headed for it.


“Careful,” he warned, following.


“Oh, don’t worry,” she told him sincerely.  “I know how easily these things appear and then instantly disappear.”  They both approached the area with extreme caution.


Henderson, check the mount above us – see if it appears the least bit unstable,” Lee ordered.


“Aye, sir,” was instantly answered back.  Lee and Ami studied the area around the opening.  “Everything looks stable, sir,” Henderson came back.  “Even the stronger current doesn’t seem to be causing anything to shift.”


“Same here,” Lee told him.  “But keep your eyes peeled.”


“Aye, sir,” sounded once more as Lee and Ami carefully moved closer to the opening.


What had looked like a simple concave in the side of the seamount proved to be the opening into an actual cave.  Lee and Ami hung just outside the opening, shining their flashlights around as much of the inside as they could.  It looked like just more rocks until Ami’s light bounced off something bright.  She looked at Lee.  “Do we dare?” she asked.  “I’d really like a better look.  It’s probably nothing – a mineral deposit or something.  But…”


Lee appreciated her attitude.  He was actually holding in a grin – if Nelson had found this he’d have most likely charged inside despite the obvious danger.  He glanced once more at the area around the entrance but everything seemed stable.  Henderson, wait here.  We’re going to poke inside for a second.”


“Aye, sir,” came back in much more of a hesitant tone than before.  He definitely had his doubts about the wisdom of what his CO was about to do, but he also wasn’t about to disagree.  He had, unfortunately, locked horns with Mr. Morton not all that long ago**** during a dive and was hesitant to make that mistake again!  But, he still wasn’t overly happy.


Lee easily read the young seaman’s hesitancy.  He wasn’t overly thrilled with the move, either.  But there simply weren’t any indications of excessive risk, and his own curiosity was getting the better of his usually cautious nature.  It would please him no end to present Nelson with something unusual.  Or even usual, but unknown to the Admiral in this area.  He did enjoy Nelson’s enthusiasm for all things marine, even if he didn’t always understand a thing Nelson was saying about whatever it was.  He and Ami took one more glance around the edges of the opening and carefully slipped inside.


The calm water inside was an instant change from the currents outside.  Ami and Lee stopped just inside and once more shown their flashlights around the interior.  It wasn’t a large area – only about four yards top to bottom and about ten yards deep.  Ami’s light once more found the shiny spot, about halfway back on one wall, and they both swam over to it.


It was, as expected, a bit of mineral deposit of some sort.  Lee still had a couple of collection bags tied to his dive belt, along with a small pick, so he carefully knocked off the small bit of shiny material and stowed it while Ami went back to studying the walls.


“Oh, my…” Ami breathed. 


Lee turned to see what had caused the comment and found her flashlight illuminating ‘something’ on the very back wall.  As he got closer he saw what looked like markings of some sort.  The first one that looked remotely familiar was what was almost a trident, although it was sideways and not quite complete.  He also saw a vertical line intersected by three horizontal ones, and something that looked like an upside-down peace symbol but without the circle around it.  A few of the other markings ‘almost’ looked familiar, but everything else was just squiggles to him.  “What is it?” he asked.


Ami didn’t say anything for a bit while she played her light over the collection of markings, definitely not of natural origin.  “I’m not sure,” she admitted finally.  “Can you shine both lights on it while I get some pictures?”  Lee took her flashlight and used it and his own in tandem to illuminate the area, which measured about two feet square.  Ami took a dozen or so pictures from slightly different angles before taking her flashlight back, and the pair went back to studying the walls inside the small cave.


There was absolutely no warning for what happened next.  One moment Lee was starting to once more pull out his pick to take a sample of an ore of some sort and the next he was hit by something on the side of his head hard enough to momentarily stun him.  He half-heard a shouted “Skipper?” in his ear but for a moment was unable to respond.  He also heard a “Captain?” and felt his arm being held and his body coming to rest on what he assumed through the fog to be the bottom of the cave.  “Captain,” came again a little more insistently.


“What happened?” he finally managed to mutter.  Henderson once more yelled, his voice near panic, but it was Ami who answered.


“Henderson, the Captain was hit by a falling rock.  He doesn’t appear seriously hurt, just stunned.  What happened out there?”


“All I can say is, out of nowhere a blast of current hit the area and the opening was buried in a sudden rock slide.  Knocked me about forty yards away before I could catch myself and get back.”  Lee could hear other voices, probably from the dive channel, but either the voices were being muffled by distance or his own condition was making it impossible to hear them clearly.  Either way he wasn’t under enough control yet to join in.


“The opening seems totally closed from in here,” Ami reported.


“Out here as well,” Henderson confirmed.  “But it doesn’t look too deep.  Help is on the way but it might take us a bit.”


“No problem,” Ami told him.  Lee finally got his eyes to open and she sent him a small smile.  “We’re okay here for now.  How do you feel” she turned her attention to Lee.


“Ask me again when I can think straight,” came out before Lee could stop it.  Ami’s outline was once again fuzzy and he was having difficulty concentrating.  He momentarily closed his eyes again but it unfortunately wasn’t any better when he reopened them.  He tried to look toward where the cave entrance had been but all he saw was rock.  It caused him to reach for his dive meter to check how much air remained in his tanks.


“We’re okay for awhile, yet,” Ami told him.


“Not according to this,” and he held out his gauge.  It showed only another five minutes of air.


Henderson said that help is on the way,” she assured him.  Through the fog Lee could hear that she was totally calm and under control.  “And I’ve got more than that – we can buddy-breathe if it becomes necessary.”  She was referring to the dive technique of two people using the same tanks.  Usually it was done by passing the regulator back and forth.  It wasn’t quite that simple with Seaview’s communication-equipped face masks, but still an easy option.  She held out her own gauge.  Lee was surprised that it still registered almost half full, but was reminded of Sharkey’s comments after their first dive off the Channel Islands about how little oxygen Ami had used.  An efficient, highly trained and in-shape diver for sure!  Lee’s vision was still being affected, however, and he once more closed his eyes.


Lee could hear Henderson continuing to talk to Seaview but wasn’t really able to hear the boat’s responses and assumed that the rocks were affecting the longer distance communications.  When there seemed to be a pause he quizzed the seaman.


“The Admiral had just made it back inside Seaview when the slide happened, Skipper,” Henderson answered.  Lee noted that his voice wasn’t nearly as under control as Ami’s and understood why.  He, too, was probably almost out of air.  “He’s grabbing fresh tanks and more manpower as well as extra tanks, and will be back here as fast as he can.  Should be in the next few minutes.  We’ll get you out pronto.”


Lee had to grin, despite the seriousness of the situation, as he recognized the seaman’s attempts to remain calm and also reassure Lee and Ami that things were under control.  He sent the younger man a verbal acknowledgement and once more opened his eyes, hoping that the fuzziness had finally passed.


It hadn’t.  In fact, it was worse.  Not only was Ami’s outline continuing to waffle, her legs were starting to disappear into a fishtail.  Or, more accurately, if Lee could describe his faulty vision with that term, a dolphin tail.  He shook his head, decided rather abruptly that that wasn’t a very smart thing to do under the circumstances, and tried to stay quiet.  Unfortunately his oxygen tanks chose that moment to give notice they were nearly empty and his eyes popped back open of their own volition.


Ami seemed to notice the problem instantly, removed her mask and helped Lee with his, and let him take several breaths before Lee pushed it back to her.  With his senses not totally under control he couldn’t be sure, but it felt like she only kept the mask for mere seconds before it was once more placed over his face.  Again he opened eyes that had closed but the situation was continuing to deteriorate.  This time Ami had turned totally into a dolphin.  No, wait, he half-muttered to himself.  There was, indeed, a dolphin in the cave, but there was also a figure, mostly female.  But the figure wasn’t wearing a wetsuit or carrying dive gear.  She was just hanging in the water next to Lee, making sure that the oxygen mask was firmly over Lee’s face.  She was smiling, apparently in no need of auxiliary equipment to breathe.  Lee decided that, all things considered, he’d be better off keeping both his eyes and mouth closed on that subject.


In addition to those obviously faulty senses he acknowledged that he must be suffering other problems when, with no awareness of passing time, he heard Nelson’s voice firmly in his earpiece.  Or, at least, thought he did.  By this time he wasn’t sure that he could trust anything except the fact that he seemed to still be breathing fairly normally through the mask.


“Lee?” he thought he heard the Admiral again.  He thought he responded to that one, but a more insistent “Lee!” was the only reaction until Ami answered.


“We’re okay for now, Admiral.”  Lee tried to open his eyes.  He could feel the mask on his face, feel himself take a breath.  His logic told him that she must be using his out-of-air mask to communicate.  But the quick look he took, still showing the almost-woman next to him sans any diving equipment at all, made him quickly close his eyes and take another deep breath as she continued talking.  “We’ve got enough air for about fifteen minutes.  Captain Crane got hit in the head by a falling rock and he’s in and out.  But he’s breathing easily.”


“I don’t quite understand how you have that much air left – you should be nearly out.  Are you sure you read the gauge right?”


“Yes, sir.”  Even as fuzzy as Lee was he could hear the smile in her voice.  “I’m a really efficient swimmer – I had extra left over in my tanks.”


“Okay,” Nelson said, not quite hesitantly but not sounding all that sure, either.  “We’re just evaluating the slide area.  It doesn’t look too bad.  We should have you out safely in plenty of time.  Tell me about the inside of the cave.”


“Fairly small,” Ami told him.  Lee decided, what little he was functioning and not trusting himself to get anything coherent out anyway, he’d just keep quiet.  “We’re against the back wall, about ten yards from the opening.”


“Good.  We’re just about ready to start shifting things out here.”


Lee wasn’t quite sure what happened next.  He thought that he pushed the still working mask to Ami, knowing that as much as she’d talked to Nelson she had to be in need of air.  His still faulty senses had her immediately pushing it back on his face and he didn’t have either the strength or assuredness of his being right to argue.  Accepting that Ami seemed to have things well in hand here, and trusting Nelson to handle everything else, he tried to relax and just breathe naturally.


Again, without any seeming preamble, he found himself floating through the water.  He risked trying to open his eyes and discovered a diver on either side of him, easing him through the once more open entrance to the small cave.  The brief glance showed no sign of either the dolphin or the almost-woman he vaguely remembered, just people in wetsuits, several carrying either equipment bags or extra air tanks.  He tried to pull free of the divers assisting him and instantly had Nelson’s voice in his ear.


“Easy, lad,” and Lee realized that it was the Admiral who had hold of his right arm.  “Just relax and let us lead you.  From the rip in the top of your wetsuit it looks like you took a pretty good whack.”


“Head tells me pretty much the same thing,” Lee tried to joke back, to relieve some of the tension and worry he heard in Nelson’s voice.  Apparently it worked as he heard Nelson softly chuckle.


“Doc will have up-front examples for comparing hard heads,” came through the dive channel in Chip’s mellow tone, his usual dry humor very evident.


“How’s your hand?” Lee tried to change the subject.


“Obviously better than your head,” was snapped right back.


“Ahem,” Nelson cleared his throat.  Lee took it as an attempt to not burst out laughing.  “Suppose we continue this discussion once we’re back aboard.”  The Admiral tried to sound officious but apparently Chip heard the same lack of an honest grumble as did Lee because they answered at the same time in much the same tone.


“Yes, sir.”  This time Nelson wasn’t able to muffle the snort.


The sound of an underwater rockslide made it through Lee’s muddled thought processes and all the divers stopped and turned, having to momentarily battle heavier currents and muddy water.  “Well, that’s the end of that cave,” Lee heard Nelson mutter.


“Good thing we got them out when we did.”  Lee recognized Seaman Mickelson’s voice and traced it to who had hold of his left arm.


Actually, Lee wasn’t totally unhappy to accept the help back to Seaview.  His head was pounding out the William Tell Overture with amazing clarity despite how loud his ears were ringing.  He was still a little leery of opening his eyes, all things considered, but when he did things seemed to stay in better focus than they had inside the cave.  Although, that wasn’t saying much!  At least the dolphin and the weird woman had disappeared.


Lee realized that his sense of passing time was still out of whack when they’d barely left the cave and he found himself being assisted into the dive chamber.  He roused enough to try to shake off his two now unnecessary bookends as the water finished draining.  He managed to dislodge Mickelson but just as he did his knees buckled and everything went black.


* * * *


Lee’s next moment of awareness was finding himself lying down and turned on his side so that the wetsuit could be stripped off.  “Easy, Skipper,” he recognized Seaview’s senior corpsman, Frank, as he momentarily rebelled against the handling, and he tried to relax.  As Frank continued to examine where the rock nailed Lee’s head, John finished getting rid of the wetsuit and drying Lee off.  They both helped him slip into a pair of pajama bottoms, and Lee relaxed and let the men do their jobs.  He wasn’t overly pleased, but his head was still pounding nicely so he knew that he wasn’t likely to talk his way out of Sick Bay just yet.  Let the two corpsmen decide first that he wasn’t badly hurt and then he’d get down to the serious business of making his escape.


Chip wandering in distracted him for the time being.  The blond’s left index finger was encased in a bandage over a light metal splint, making it stick straight out.  “Good thing that wasn’t your middle finger,” Lee observed with a bit of a smirk.  Both corpsmen quickly buried snickers.


Chip sent all three men a quick glare.  “Would have been more indicative of my feelings about what happened,” he told them dryly.  “How’s his head?” he asked Frank directly.


Lee beat the corpsman to an answer.  “Pounding nicely but no major damage.  I’m ready to get out of here.”


“Not until Doc clears you, sir,” Frank said quickly and seriously.  Lee sent him a glare.  Or tried to.  From both Frank and Chip’s reaction it apparently lacked something in translation.  “He should be back in a couple hours,” Frank continued.  “I’d strongly advise you rest here until he releases you, sir.”


“We could get the Admiral down here to make it an order,” Chip added helpfully.  Lee could happily have slapped him upside the head at that moment, but Chip’s grin coupled with both corpsmen’s snickers defused any possible comeback and Lee allowed himself to be maneuvered into one of the lower bunks.  Chip stayed for a bit and caught Lee up on what was going on.  Lee had felt Seaview moving and Chip confirmed that they’d dived to 500 feet, well below the starting-to-finally-calm-down surface, and were headed slowly back toward where they’d last seen the pod of Risso’s.


“Another tagging dive tomorrow?” Lee asked, although he already had a pretty good idea of the answer.  The weather had been predicted to break late this afternoon and be sunny and fair for the next several days.


Chip nodded.  “Which both of us will now likely miss,” he complained.


“Me, for sure,” Lee agreed.  “But can’t you just wrap the finger and go out anyway?  Surely it’s not that bad.”


“Half a dozen stitches,” Chip told him.  “Frank just put the splint on to keep it straight.”  But a slightly evil grin started to spread slowly across his face.  “Plastic wrap?” he asked, referring to another time when Lee had supposed his diving limited because of an injury and had surprisingly been told otherwise.****


“Or just plain waterproof tape,” Lee told him.  “It’s only the one finger.”  Chip’s mood continued to lighten and as Lee momentarily closed his eyes against the bright lights that weren’t at all helping his pounding head, Chip gave him a quick tap on the shoulder and headed for the door with a much lighter step then when he’d come in.  Lee opened his eyes just long enough to catch the look of puzzlement that the two corpsmen shared before turning their looks on Lee.  Lee’s only response was to send them a small grin of his own before once more closing his eyes.


He had no idea that he’d actually fallen asleep – he refused to even consider the possibility that he’d lost consciousness – until he once more opened his eyes and discovered that he’d totally lost track of time and it as now almost 1700 hours.  Sick Bay was quiet, although Jamie had both corpsmen trained well enough that Lee knew one of them wasn’t far away.  But he also decided that he’d had quite enough of the place and sat up in preparation for returning at least to his cabin, and better still to the Control Room to catch up on anything his incarceration had forced him to miss.


As expected, the simple motion of sitting up brought Frank instantly out of Jamie’s office.  The corpsman had a very slight smile on his face, in response to the ‘In charge’ expression Lee put on his as he swung his feet down to the floor.  Do not even start, Frank,” Lee tried to strike first.  “I feel fine, I’m going to my cabin, and that’s that!”


Frank tried anyway.  “Really wish that you’d wait until Doc gets back, sir.”  He hurried on before Lee could cut him off.  “I can see that you’re feeling better, and all things considered I can be fairly sure that you didn’t suffer any serious injury.  But I’d still rather have that verified before you head out.”


“I’m fine,” Lee repeated, and tried to stand up.  Frank was close enough by then that Lee nearly had to push him out of the way.  Unfortunately, his quick motion caused an ever so brief bit of vertigo and he had to close his eyes.  While both corpsmen knew that Lee wasn’t overly fond of physical help, Frank’s training took over and he found himself grabbing Lee’s arm almost without realizing that he’d done it.  With eyes still closed, Lee reacted instinctively to the unwanted grab and tried to push Frank away which, unfortunately, caused Lee to suffer even more vertigo.


Thankfully, before the situation could deteriorate even further, there was a growl from the corridor doorway.  “Commander,” Jamie thundered in his most officious voice, “either Frank’s initial evaluation was correct, you’re feeling better, and you’re just being an impossible idiot; or Frank was wrong, your concussion is worse than he thought, and your belligerence is a sign of worsening symptoms.  Either way, it will stop NOW!  Do I make myself clear?”


Despite his bit of a tantrum, Lee took a deep breath and relaxed.  “Busted,” he muttered to Frank, who backed up with a grin.  “I’m fine, Jamie,” he said a bit louder and was finally able to reopen his eyes.


“Since I trust Frank a good deal more than I do you in matters like this, back to your bunk until I can check you out.”  As Lee started to open his mouth, Will pointed to the bunk.  “That was not a request, Commander.”


Lee took another deep breath.  When Jamie was this ticked off, and with no emergency Lee could fall back on, he was doomed.  “Yes, sir,” he once more used the old joke he shared with the doctor and carefully sat back down.  But he refused to lie down and Will didn’t challenge him about it.  Will dropped his bag inside the office door and Frank moved off to ostensibly take care of the other two of Doc’s equipment bags that one of the seamen had brought just inside the door before making a hasty retreat when the fireworks broke out.  “How’s Jack?” Lee asked.


Will didn’t answer until he’d pulled a couple of instruments from the cabinet by the exam table, grabbed a chair, and sat down next to Lee’s bunk.  “He’ll be fine.”  He spent a couple minutes looking at the bump on the side of Lee’s head, and checking eyes and reflexes.  “He’ll have a headache a few days longer than you probably will.”  He smiled at Lee’s instant frown.  “You’ll be back to full duty before he is…”


“I’m ready for full duty now,” Lee growled.


“Twenty-four hours at the very earliest,” Will told him, shaking his mini-flashlight in Lee’s face.  Lee was opening his mouth to argue when there was a chuckle from the door.


“Lee.”  There was no mistaking the unspoken order in the one word, but there was still a grin both in Admiral Nelson’s voice and on his face.


“Yes, sir,” Lee unwillingly surrendered.  He might try to order the corpsmen around, and argue with Jamie.  But his naval training wouldn’t allow him to refuse an order from Nelson unless he had an extremely good reason.


“Down, Commander,” Will continued.  He got so few chances to get the upper hand with his most uncooperative patient that he decided to push a little further with Nelson there to back him up.  As Lee hesitated and the frown increased, Will took a moment of pity on him and allowed his own stiff posture to relax a bit.  “Chip will be here in half an hour with your dinner.  Make nice and I might be persuaded to let you go back to your cabin for the night.”  He sent Nelson a grin that he knew Lee could see as he got up.  With his back to Lee he didn’t see what happened next.  But Nelson pointed an eyebrow at Lee and when Will took a look, Lee was reluctantly returning to a prone position.  The two older men headed for Will’s small office, where the eyebrow was pointed at the doctor.


Will grinned.  “He’s fine,” he said quietly, so it wouldn’t carry beyond the door.  “I just like the feeling I get when he actually has to do something I tell him to.  Well,” he qualified, “even if I needed a bit of help from you.”


Nelson all but choked, keeping the guffaw that statement caused from spilling out.  Shaking his head, he left by way of the office door – there was no way he’d keep a straight face if he had to look at his stubborn young captain right at that moment.  Thankfully he was two corridors over when it finally did bubble to the surface, caused by running into Chip who was now off duty and headed for Sick Bay.


“I gather Jamie has things well in hand?” the blond asked as both men stopped.


Nelson continued to grin broadly.  “Oh, yes,” he agreed.  “Our esteemed CMO is his usual, efficient self.”  Another bubble of laughter escaped.


Chip’s grin spread.  “Safe to go in there?”


Nelson nodded.  “He’s expecting you to bring Lee’s dinner.”


“No problem.”  Chip reversed direction and headed for the Wardroom.  Nelson continued to smile as he made his way to the lab.


Twenty minutes later Chip entered Sick Bay, balancing a tray with not only his own dinner but Lee’s as well.  Under the circumstances he’d kept his friend’s plate down to reasonable portions of Cookie’s dinner items.  He’d almost expected the premier chef to have dug out some of the beef-barley soup he always kept on hand for when Lee was under the weather, that being something that Lee could usually be coerced into eating.  Instead there was pork chops, with garlic mashed potatoes and applesauce.  Lee was in the bunk but sitting up, propped on several pillows.  Chip glanced through the office door – Jamie was sitting at his desk.  He looked up briefly, sent Chip a grin, and went back to whatever he was reading.


“Status report,” Lee demanded of his XO.


“Chill,” Chip snapped back, but with a grin at his obviously frustrated CO.  Frank was checking the inventory in the bandage locker, or at least pretending that he was.  There was little doubt in Chip’s mind that he was more likely there to keep Lee from making a break for the door.  Whatever the reason, he snagged a small table and set it next to Lee’s bunk.  The chair Doc had taken over was still close by and both Lee and Chip were shortly eating.  Between bites Chip got Lee current.  Seaview was back where she had been the day before, north of Wake Island.  The super pod was still in the area, at the moment about 200 yards off Seaview’s nose and port side.  The three researchers were busy in the lab and Admiral Nelson was last seen headed in that direction.  “What was so fascinating in that cave?” he finally asked Lee.


“Ami didn’t show you the pictures she took?  I thought that it was a digital camera and she would have instantly downloaded them.”


Chip shrugged.  “Once I managed to get out of Frank’s clutches I went straight to the Conn.  Other than checking on you that one time I’ve been there all afternoon.”  He raised an eyebrow.  “So?”


It was Lee’s turn to shrug.  “Did Admiral Nelson get the mineral samples I collected?  Was that bag still on my belt?”  His frown came back.  “Afraid I don’t remember much after getting conked.”  He had absolutely no intention of telling Chip about the dolphin and the woman who wasn’t Ami.  His friend would never stop teasing him about that!


Chip had nodded when he mentioned the collection bag.  “Yep.  Took one look and headed for his lab.  Well,” Chip amended, “after waiting around long enough to make sure you were probably okay.”


Lee chose to put a slightly evil grin on his face.  “And you’re jealous that he didn’t spend any time worrying about you,” he told his XO.


“Hah!” Chip muttered with a fierce frown.  “Frank met all you guys in the Missile Room while John finished bandaging my finger.  When they got here I thought for a second that the Admiral was going to order me to my cabin.  For this,” he added with a growl as he raised his injured digit.


“Speaking of which,” Will spoke from the doorway of his office, “if you’re done eating I want to check that.”


“Don’t trust your corpsmen?” Lee couldn’t resist the chide.


“Keep it up, Commander, and you’ll spend the night right where you are.”  Happily, whatever Lee said was low enough that not even Chip heard it clearly, although the grin that hit his face was an indication that he still had a pretty good idea of what it was.  He walked over to the exam table and settled a hip on the edge.  Will unwrapped the finger, put more ointment on the cut and slightly burnt area, and handed Chip a couple of ibuprofen before rebandaging it again.  “Are you officially off duty?” he asked the blond.


“Sort of,” Chip admitted.


“Good.  Then suppose you take him,” Will pointed to Lee, “and both of you hit your racks.  I don’t want to see either of you out of your cabins until morning.”


Chip turned to Lee.  “Then we’ll just have to make sure that he doesn’t see us,” he said brightly.


“I have a couple of suggestions for taking care of that small detail,” Lee smirked.


“OUT!” Will ordered, before all three chuckled.


“Aye, aye, sir,” Chip gave the CMO a backhanded salute. Lee wasn’t quite that whimsical.  He was still feeling the effects of the rock and concentrated on getting up and walking over to the exam table without falling on his face.


Will grabbed a bathrobe and slipped it around Lee’s shoulders with a final glare.  “Commander?” he challenged.


Lee nodded.  “My cabin.  Understood, Jamie,” he acquiesced.


“I will check on you.”


“Oh, I have no doubts of that.”


“We’ll just have to wait until he’s crashed for the night,” Chip told Lee.  At the instant glare that brought from their CMO, both Chip and Lee chuckled again.  But they also sent Will a nod before heading for Officers’ Country.


Lee had no idea what Chip had planned for the evening, and Chip didn’t volunteer.  Lee had every intention of tackling the paperwork that had accumulated in his ‘In’ basket so he was sitting at his desk when he heard the knock on his door.  He was all cocked and primed to glare Jamie into submission – well, at least tolerable level; Jamie wasn’t stupid enough to actually believe Lee would have laid back down – but the visitor turned out to be Admiral Nelson.


The Admiral’s first glance was toward the bunk.  A bit of frown appeared as he tracked Lee to the desk but it didn’t stay long, turning almost instantly to what Lee easily recognized as his boss trying to bury a grin.  Lee was perfectly aware that his workaholic nature was the brunt of a good many behind-the-back comments aboard the boat.  And those that could frequently said it to his face.  But Nelson rarely challenged Lee openly about it from the mere fact that he was even worse than his young captain.  AAR?” he asked as he settled into the chair next to Lee’s desk, referring to the ‘After Action Report’ that Lee would be filling out about the incident.


Lee glanced down, and didn’t quite totally look back up as he answered almost shyly.  “No, sir.  Haven’t started that yet.  Still catching up with Status Reports.”


“It does not need to be worked on this evening,” Nelson told him firmly.


“Yes, sir.”  Lee was still looking at him with slightly lowered eyes but a very small grin tickled the corner of his mouth.


Nelson didn’t miss it.  “That wasn’t a request,” he growled.


“Yes, sir,” Lee once more said all too innocently.


“Harrumph,” Nelson muttered before relaxing a bit more comfortably in the chair.  “However, I would appreciate hearing your version of what happened this afternoon,” he admitted.


Lee’s eyes again went to the sheets of paper on his desk and didn’t come back up.  “Going to have to be the condensed version,” he said quietly.  “I don’t remember a whole lot after the rock slide.”  He finally half-looked up at his boss.


“I’m happy for now with what happened after I headed back with Chip.”


Lee nodded and walked Nelson through following Ami as she puttered along inspecting the seamount until they spotted the small cave.  He was very firm about the steps everyone followed before entering the chamber – he’d been challenged too many times about acting hastily in a crisis, without thought to himself.  He always thought that he made the right decisions for whatever was happening, but…  He was adamant that, since everything seemed to be stable there wasn’t a logical reason not to go inside.  It was his turn to watch Nelson’s lips twitch ever so slightly and figured that it was because Nelson realized that, had he been there, he might not have evaluated the situation as carefully as Lee had if there was something inside that he seriously wanted to see.


“Have you found out what the mineral was that I brought back?” Lee asked.


Nelson nodded.  “Samarskite.  Most unusual to find such a clean sample – it’s usually found in minute amounts in other minerals like monazite and bastnasite.  This particular bit was almost 15% pure Samarium – most of the time it’s less than 1%.  How much of it did you see?”


“That one small outcropping, and a flash of another one on the opposite wall.  When I tapped off the sample, it looked like the vein behind it was narrowing.”  He shrugged.  “It could just as easily have expanded again just behind what I saw.”


“I’m guessing that it was only a small deposit.  Not only is it not usually found in so pure a sample, I’ve never heard of any being found in this area.”  He sent Lee a tiny glare as Lee’s lips once more twitched, knowing perfectly well that what had briefly flitted though the younger man’s mind was how easily Nelson could be distracted by an unusual find of some sort.  “What else did you see in there?” he finally went on with his questions.


“Ms. Neride didn’t tell you?  Show you the pictures?”  Lee watched as Nelson seemed to ponder his response. 


“Ms. Neride said that when she went to download the pictures she took of the markings you two found, her memory card was so badly corrupted that it was useless.  I wouldn’t have expected the seemingly minimal level of radiation that small amount could have produced to cause the problem.  However, if there was much more that was covered, and at that strength…”  His voice trailed off.


“Radiation?  Hazardous to Ami and I?”  Lee sat forward in his chair.  “Jamie didn’t say anything.”


“Will checked Ms. Neride and there were no signs of contamination.”  A wicked bit of grin hit Nelson’s face.  “He didn’t say anything about checking you.  I’m not sure he cares one way or the other.”  Nelson barely got it out without cracking up.


Lee sent him a sheepish grin at the teasing jab and sat back in the chair again.  Although, with the doctor, there were times…  His expression wavered slightly.


Nelson finally grinned openly.  “Relax, lad.  While he didn’t challenge you, he did me.  I assured him that even if the levels were high enough to mess with the memory card, your limited exposure wouldn’t cause any permanent problems.  Even with you carrying the sample it was so small that the swim back to the boat would have gone a long way toward decontaminating both of you.  Will wouldn’t have released you if he thought there was going to be any problems.”  Lee ducked his head again as Nelson sent him a fond smile.  “So, the slide?” Nelson prodded.


“There was absolutely no warning,” Lee assured him quickly, and Nelson’s grin broadened ever so slightly again.  “Ami had just finished taking pictures and suddenly everything got a little crazy.”


“Do you remember the markings?”  Nelson’s voice turned from mildly amused to borderline intense.


Lee didn’t miss the change.  “Ami would remember them better than me,” he answered cautiously.


“I’m asking you,” Nelson told him firmly.


“Yes, sir.”  Lee wasn’t sure what was going on but, whatever it was, he wasn’t about to get caught in the middle.  His loyalties were firmly behind Nelson.  Grabbing a clean sheet of paper he half-doodled while he talked.  “There wasn’t anything that seemed overly familiar,” he admitted, “except something that looked like a trident lying on its side.  The rest seemed to form symbols but of what I don’t know.”  He continued to draw for a bit before he turned the paper so that Nelson could see what he’d done.  “Afraid that’s the best that I can do, sir.”  He’d sketched the two that had made the most sense to him when he’d first seen them, along with a couple of others.  “Those are the only ones I remember, and I’m not really sure about some of them; if I got them totally right.”


“That’s okay,” Nelson told him somewhat distractedly as he studied the page.  “It’s more than I got out of Ms. Neride.”


“Why would she not tell you?”  Lee’s voice held puzzlement.


Nelson looked up and pointed an eyebrow at Lee.  “You tell me.”


Lee lowered his eyes again in the face of Nelson’s demand.  “I have no idea, sir,” he said softly.


Nelson finally relaxed.  “What happened next?”


“That’s where things get a little fuzzy, sir,” Lee admitted.  “There was a sudden rumble, the opening to the cave closed over, and I got whacked.  Well, I got whacked first,” he admitted with a sheepish grin, and Nelson nodded.  “I remember bits and pieces – Henderson yelling, Ami assuring him that we were safe.”  Lee shook his head.  “We…well,” he amended, “me anyway…  I could hear Henderson talking to the boat but I couldn’t make out the responses.  Figured that the rock layer was interfering with the longer transmissions.”


“Makes sense,” Nelson agreed.


“I wasn’t too with it, I’m afraid.”  He sent Nelson one of his somewhat patented through-the-lashes looks, and Nelson smiled.  “My tanks were low but Ami stayed calm.  When my tanks gave out we buddy-breathed until you got the passageway cleared.  She’s obviously in great physical condition – it had already been noted that she didn’t use as much oxygen on dives as a normal person.”


Nelson nodded again.  “Duly reported by Chief Sharkey.”  Both men grinned at that reminder of the COB’s attention to details.


“Do you recognize any of those, sir?”  Lee nodded toward the sheet of paper he’d given Nelson.  “I don’t know why Ami wouldn’t tell you about them,” he added.


Nelson shrugged.  “One or two look slightly familiar,” he admitted, before the mildly evil grin reappeared.  “Although your artistic abilities do seem a bit underwhelming.”


Lee ducked his head again.  “Yes, sir,” he admitted.  “No protractor or slide rule.”  Both men grinned before Nelson nodded his head toward Lee’s bunk.  “I hope that you are about done with paperwork for the night.”


Before Lee could answer there was a knock on the door.  When Lee called out “Enter,” the doctor stalked in.  Seeing Nelson he stopped, and Lee turned to this boss.  “I rather suspect that it isn’t going to make any difference whether I am or not,” he told the Admiral with a disgruntled sigh.


Nelson sent him a grin as he stood.  “So it would appear,” he told Lee before turning.  “He’s all yours, Will.”  He reached back for the paper Lee had drawn the symbols on, sent Lee another grin, and left.


As the door closed, Will folded his arms across his chest and glared at Lee.  Impishly, Lee responded.  “I’m in my cabin as ordered, Jamie.”


Will snorted and the glare broke.  “How are you feeling?”


“Tired,” Lee admitted.  There were times to argue with his CMO and times to surrender.  Jamie had allowed him to leave Sick Bay even when he probably hadn’t wanted to and Lee would willingly give him this victory.


“Any chance you’ll be crashing soon?”


Lee sent him a grin.  “Was just about to.”  He got up, slowly so as not to stir up his headache any more than necessary.  The move wasn’t missed by the doctor but he held his tongue as Lee walked to the head.  When he reappeared, Will had turned down the blankets.  Lee let a sigh escape as he slid into the welcoming comfort of the bunk, but nothing was said as Will did a quick check before settling the blankets over his patient.


“Behave and I might let you go play in the Conn tomorrow,” Will told him firmly.


“Try and keep me out,” Lee threatened.  But both men quickly grinned before Will turned out the lights and left.  The grin stayed on Lee’s face as he quickly fell asleep.


* * * *


Lee did spend the following day in the Conn, although he wasn’t overly active and was quietly kept an eye on by Lt. James.  With weather topside once again clear another tagging dive was scheduled for 0930 hours.  Lee was going to ask Ami at breakfast why she’d been so reticent to tell Nelson about the symbols they’d found in the small chamber but the researcher came in only long enough to grab a plate of food before returning to her computer.  Even Mike and Alexis ate quickly, eager to get back to collating the data from the previous dives.


Will grumbled but admitted that Chip’s injury didn’t warrant restricting his diving so he once more went out as a bait diver.  Nelson also again went along – Lee didn’t ask why but he did notice that there was once more one of the small cameras attached to the spear gun Nelson picked up.  Chip sent Lee a wicked grin as he entered the Missile Room, suited up to go out.  Lee returned it, acknowledging the blond’s moment of triumph over the CMO.


Once the divers were out Lee returned to the Conn.  Chris had everything well in hand, although he did send Lee a quickly covered look of gratitude as Lee wandered past all the duty stations on his way forward from the aft hatch.  The water was a bit murky from the previous day’s storm but Chris kept Seaview close enough that the Nose camera picked up a good bit of the dive activity.  Lee did frown slightly when Will came down the spiral stairs but the doctor settled into a chair where he could read but still keep on eye on the camera screen.


With Seaview in good hands Lee also went forward, settling a hip on the table where he could see the screen, and also see some of the action out the windows.  A few dolphins passed close to the windows, appearing to peek inside and causing both Lee and Will to grin.  But for the most part the dolphins were jockeying for position around the bait divers, happily accepting another free bite or two.  Lee found his mind wandering back to the previous afternoon, pondering why Ami would be so reluctant to talk about the symbols on the wall of the small cave.  They meant nothing to Lee with the possible exception of what he took to be a trident.  As an archeological site it could have great meaning – depending on what the symbols were.  It crossed Lee’s mind that Ami may not want to share her *find*, whatever it was, and had lied about the pictures having been damaged.  Whatever was going on, Lee decided that it wasn’t any of his business.  He’d give Admiral Nelson whatever he could and leave it at that.  Signs and symbols didn’t really interest him unless they had something to do with either road signs while driving, or something to do with the Navy.  That thought caused a grin, which he refused to share the meaning of with a questioning Jamie, and he went back to his pondering.


He didn’t realize that he’d closed his eyes, trying to visualize as many of the markings on the cave wall as he could, until a soft “Skipper” interrupted him and he found Jamie standing next to his shoulder.  He momentarily frowned but his expression turned sheepish as he told the doctor, “Chill, Jamie.”


It was Will’s turn to frown.  “Headache?” he guessed.


Lee shook his head – carefully because it was, indeed, continuing to pound somewhat.  But he had no intention of admitting that.  “Just trying to remember more of what seemed to be symbols of some sort on the wall in the cave yesterday.  For some reason Ms. Neride seems to be reluctant to share.  Admiral Nelson asked me last night and I drew what I could remember of a few of them.  Was thinking about them, trying to dredge up more details if I could.”


“Humm,” Will muttered, trying to decide if he actually believed his very worst patient.  Figuring that he probably wouldn’t get a better answer anyway, he went back to where he’d been sitting.  Lee continued to give him little sideways glances, and knew that Jamie was keeping an eye on him as well, but nothing more was said.


As on the last dive the twelve loggers were settled into place in what seemed like record time and all the divers headed back in.  Lee once more headed for the Missile Room.  He helped Chip off with his tanks and walked back to Officers’ Country to also help the blond, somewhat disadvantaged by his bandaged hand, off with his wetsuit and back into a uniform after a quick shower.  Lee harassed Chip about how he’d managed to get into the diving gear in the first place, wondering out loud if perhaps Ami had helped him.  After ducking a swing from Chip, he laughed all the way back to the Conn.  Chip was still sending him threatening glares when he returned to the Conn a few minutes later but the pair was back to nattering easily at each other when they headed for the Wardroom not long afterward.


Chatter was relaxed over lunch.  Lee took the opportunity of a momentary lag to casually say something to Ami about her camera memory chip being damaged and messing up all of her efforts to track down the unusual markings.  He was hoping to open a conversation about them but his efforts fell flat as Ami just as casually waved off the comments.  Lee briefly considered flatly asking her about the symbols but she promptly changed the subject.  He shared a look and a brief shrug of his shoulders with Nelson before once more concentrating on the meal.


Lee wondered if he’d get any objections from Jamie about heading to the Conning Tower to help during the retrieval process for the loggers as he had on every other dive, but the CMO chose to head for Sick Bay after lunch and didn’t return to the Observation Nose.  Chip once more joined he and Kowalski topside, as did Alexis Travers.  There were a few moments when the boat’s movements in the relatively calm but still rocking waters caused Lee a brief fuzzy feeling.  He knew that Chip caught at least one of them and studiously ignored the glare the blond sent him.  But nothing was said and Lee went back to watching for loggers.


But even Lee was willing to admit – quietly and only to himself – that, once the zodiacs had retrieved the last logger, he needed to go lie down.  Only a few minutes, he told himself, to let the headache that had worsened while he was topside once more calm down.  He wandered casually through the Conn, glancing at the instrumentation, and just as casually meandered up the spiral stairs as if there was nothing wrong and he was merely headed out on a tour of the boat.  Instead he headed for his cabin and, with a heavy sigh, gratefully stretched out on his bunk, resting his aching head on the pillow and closing his beginning to burn eyes.


Apparently he hadn’t been casual enough.  He swore that he didn’t hear a knock on his door, but he felt the edge of the bunk sag slightly and opened his eyes to find Jamie carefully watching him.  He started to sit up but the doctor held out a hand.  “Why?” the doctor asked softly.


Lee frowned but stayed down.  “Why, what?” he grumbled.


Jamie finally smiled.  “Why does my being here automatically make you try to act like nothing is wrong instead of simply admitting that your head is pounding and you need to get some rest?”


Lee surrendered.  He was rarely a match for Jamie when the doctor took direct aim at Lee’s inability to admit injury or illness.  He’d always put on a good show at arguing.  But unless there was sufficient reason for Lee to maintain control he seldom won those arguments.  And right now he wasn’t even in the mood to give it a good try.  “Force of habit,” he replied, and ever so slightly returned Jamie’s smile.


It caused the doctor’s smile to broaden.  He’d been prepared, after Chip quietly ratted out his CO the instant Lee left the Conn, for the usual arguments of ‘I feel fine, I just closed my eyes for a second, now I’m going back to work so get out of my face.’  It was such a surprise to have Lee actually admit that he felt lousy that Will almost didn’t know how to handle it.  He finally settled on telling Lee what he was thinking.  It caused Lee to send him the shy, through-the-lashes look that never failed to make Will think of a little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar.  It made the captain of one of the most powerful ships on earth resemble an innocent ten-year-old.  Will figured that if he uttered that particular sentiment, however, he could kiss any further cooperation from the stubborn young man good-bye and chose to keep that thought to himself.  Instead, he asked, “Any chance that you’re going to stay here until tomorrow morning?”


Lee instantly frowned.  Out of sheer habit, he realized, and immediately relaxed again, but not before he saw Jamie have to cut off a snort.  Caused, he knew, from thinking the same thing he had, and his own grin broadened.  “Chip will worry,” he settled on.


“Who do you think called me,” Will admitted.  Lee’s frown returned.  “He worries about you,” Will added sincerely.


“One of these days I’m going to take his worry and shove it…”  He didn’t finish the growled threat as Will burst out laughing, and once more Lee relaxed.  “Yeah, well…”


“As the afore-mentioned overly-conscientious XO would say, Chill!”  Lee sent him a somewhat toned-down version of his sheepish grin and Will returned it.  “Any reason – besides pure stubbornness – that you can’t rest until morning?”  Spending most of his time in his own territory he was rarely aware of the entire scope of boat’s business.  While he knew of nothing that Lee needed to be doing, it was conceivable that there were issues Lee would need to deal with.


Lee shrugged.  “Not that I know of at the moment,” he admitted.


“In that case, a few of us would really appreciate you actually resting.  Okay?”  Will used his most sincere voice, knowing that it was the only one that Lee might actually listen to at the moment.  Anything else would be more likely to tick him off than penetrate that thick skull Will had a tendency to rant about all too frequently.


Lee was well aware of Jamie’s tactics.  But he also realized that, at least in this instance, there was no real need to antagonize the man.  He frowned, merely on general principles, but surrendered fairly easily.  “Unless something comes up.”  He wasn’t about to totally give up without a comeback.  But he also sent Jamie a little grin, which the doctor returned.


“Understood.  I’ll have Cookie send up a dinner tray.” Lee frowned, Will glared at him, and Lee once more grinned softly.  Will nodded and left.  Lee considered getting up and checking his ‘In’ basket, decided that there wasn’t enough in it to worry about at the moment, and rolled over and once more closed his eyes.


* * * *


Chip gave Lee’s cabin door a soft knock just over an hour later.  While Jamie had said that Lee was resting of his own accord, his best friend wasn’t taking any chances.  Lee might acquiesce to Jamie’s request to keep the doctor from going off on him but take his frustrations out later on Chip.  Knowing the reasoning behind the flare up Chip would in no way take offense, but that wouldn’t necessarily keep it from getting loud and disrupting the rest Chip knew that Lee needed.  So, when there was no answer to his knock he very carefully poked his head through the door, balancing the tray of food he was carrying on his bad hand.  He smiled when he saw Lee’s legs stretched out on the bunk, his friend’s back to the room.  He entered quietly, and closed the door just as quietly behind him.  Carefully setting the tray on the desk he sat in Lee’s big desk chair, took the lid off the small thermos of coffee on the tray and waved his hand across the top, wafting the smell of the strong brew in his friend’s direction.  When it didn’t seem to have any effect, Chip put the cover back on and settled more comfortably into the chair and prepared to wait.


Lee could have sworn that he’d barely closed his eyes after Jamie left when he caught a subtle whiff of Cookie’s potent coffee.  Figuring that it was all in his mind he at first ignored it.  But ‘something’ in the room was different.  He quietly rolled over and instantly smiled.  Chip was leaning back in Lee’s desk chair, his feet propped on the corner of the desk and his eyes closed.  “Trying the office on for size?” he asked without lifting his head from the pillow.


“No,” Chip answered easily, opening his eyes.  But he suddenly bolted from the chair.  “NO,” he practically yelled.  He’d realized the implication between the lines of Lee’s simple question: meaning, was Chip preparing to take over Lee’s job.  Joke that it was, he wasn’t about to take any chances and moved from behind the desk and glared at Lee.


Grinning, Lee sat up and swung his legs off the bunk.  Unfortunately the sudden movement set his head to spinning and he had to close his eyes to get everything back under control.  Instantly there was a gentle hand on his upper arm.  “I’m fine,” he said automatically.  There was a smile in his voice, however, and was not surprised to see, when he did open his eyes again, Chip standing in front of him, arms crossed over his chest, frowning fiercely.  But Chip couldn’t hold it in the face of Lee’s instant grin and they both cracked up.


Chip, knowing his CO only too well, walked over and poured out a mug full of coffee.  He handed it to Lee who was still sitting on the edge of the bunk.  Polishing it off in about three gulps Lee handed it back, stood carefully, and walked toward the head.  When he came back out, Chip was sprawled in the visitor’s chair next to his desk and he settled into his own chair.  Picking up the refilled mug, he watched as Chip reached over and pulled the covers off the rest of what was on the tray – thick meatloaf sandwich, potato salad, applesauce, and a large brownie.


Lee pointed an eyebrow at his XO as he sipped on the coffee.  “And which of those has received Doc’s special treatment?”


A broad smile split Chip’s face.  “You better hope that it wasn’t the coffee.”  As Lee thumped the mug back on the desk and glared, the blond continued.  “As far as I could find out Jamie hasn’t been near the Galley.”  Lee looked unconvinced and Chip continued more seriously.  “I specifically asked Cookie, knowing that you’d be suspicious.  He swore that Jamie hadn’t touched anything, and I filled the thermos from the urn in the Wardroom.”  Lee still looked suspicious but finally picked up the sandwich.


While Lee polished off the meal Chip caught him up.  Once the logger retrieval was done Chip had settled the boat at 200 feet, moving only enough to keep the dolphin pod within hydrophone range.  Admiral Nelson had floated through the Conn once, glancing around.  Chip said that he seemed pleased when he didn’t find Lee there, which caused Lee’s frown to reappear and Chip to grin.  He reached out and snagged a few crumbs that had fallen off the brownie before continuing.  “One good thing to come out of yesterday’s incident – Sharkey’s quit muttering about how little oxygen Ami uses on dives,” he said, starting to reach once more for the brownie.


Lee swatted his hand away.  “Mine,” he ordered, but both men snickered before Lee shook his head carefully.  “That’s really weird, I have to admit.  I’ve been around some SEALs who were ultra-efficient divers.  But even they weren’t nearly as fit as she seems to be.”  Lee sent Chip an absolutely evil expression.  “You’ll have your hands full keeping up with her on dates.”


“The operative words being ‘hands full’,” Chip told him with a smirk before they both cracked up again.


“Another dive tomorrow?” Lee asked.  By this time he’d polished off all of his dinner except the brownie.  He used his fork handle to cut Cookie’s ‘death-by-chocolate’ morsel in half, grabbing one piece and pushing the other toward Chip.


The blond practically drooled as he took a huge bite.  Once he swallowed he answered.  “As far as I know.  Nothing’s been said.”  He once more attacked his piece of brownie.  Lee was also chewing so remained silent.  Once his bite was dispatched, Chip asked carefully, “You staying put for the night?”


Lee’s chewing slowed as he frowned, but his expression turned more sheepish as he swallowed and answered.  “Told Jamie that I would.  Well,” he added with a firmer look, “unless I’m needed for some reason.”


Around his last bite of brownie Chip said lightly, “I’ll do my best to see that you’re not disturbed, sir.”


Lee considered throwing his last bite of brownie at Chip, thought better of the idea, and stuffed it in his mouth.  He did send the blond a glare.  “You sure you’re not after my job?”


“No, sir,” Chip said sincerely before he totally cracked up.  “Too much paperwork,” he got out the old joke between snickers.  Lee grinned as well and started piling the dishes back on the tray.  Chip stood, picked up the tray, and headed for the door.


“Thanks,” Lee told him sincerely.


Chip sent a nod over his shoulder.  He instinctively knew that Lee was acknowledging not just the meal but also Chip’s willingness to deal with as many of the myriad details of command as he could save Lee from doing.  It wasn’t something that was openly spoken of very often, except in the teasing they did about Chip’s ‘Just looking after my CO, as any good XO would do’ comments.  But each drew a great deal of comfort and confidence from the other in both command team and friendship.  They shared another quick grin as Chip pulled the door closed behind him.


The grin stayed on Lee’s face as he laid his head back against the chair.  Going back to their first days at Annapolis the pair had been a good balance for each other – although it took both a bit of time to figure that out.  Serious and studious, Lee wasn’t too sure how to take his gregarious, fun-loving roomie.  And he knew that Chip hadn’t been overly impressed with who the U.S. Naval Academy had stuck him with, either.  There had been some rocky moments off and on through most of that first year.  Despite the differences, however, a strong bond was forming, and continued to build through the rest of their schooling.  Once they graduated they never served together until Lee came to NIMR and Seaview but they’d kept in touch as much as duty allowed.  That first cruise had pushed both to their very limits, but once survived it was like they’d never been apart.  Support balanced silliness; dedication to duty drove both while friendship allowed them the time to relax and unwind.


Thoughts of duty momentarily had Lee thinking of doing his usual evening walk-through of the boat.  Self-preservation had him quickly reconsidering that idea.  Jamie would not be pleasant, no matter how amiable he’d been earlier, if Lee didn’t do as requested and stay put for the night.  A sheepish grin hit Lee’s face.  While adequate reason would keep the CMO out of his face, merely wandering around to check on things would totally tick him off.  Jamie was allowing Lee latitudes that Lee knew only too well the doctor would rather not, all things considered.  For that, Lee would behave.  For tonight, he told himself with a quiet chuckle, changed out of his uniform, and this time crawled between the sheets as he once more settled into his bunk.


A light knock on his door had him calling out amiably, “Come in, Jamie.”  But a baritone chuckle had him rapidly sitting up as Admiral Nelson strolled in.


“Ahem”, Nelson cleared his throat loudly.  Lee continued to sit up but he turned and leaned against the back bulkhead, staying in the bunk.  “Thank you,” Nelson told him as he settled his backside on the edge of Lee’s desk, facing Lee.  “Will said that he convinced you to actually rest for the night.  Not that I thought he was lying, mind you, but I needed to see that for myself.”


Lee ducked his head and pulled his legs in to sit Indian-style on the bunk.  “Promised him, unless I’m needed elsewhere,” he confirmed.


“Which is the real reason I came up.”  Nelson sent Lee a fond smile.  “We all know that one little wiggle on Seaview’s part and you’d come piling down to the Conn.  Lee sat forward, Nelson raised a hand, and Lee stopped.  He didn’t lean back, and waited only semi-patiently.


Nelson easily read the intensity on Lee’s face and it was his turn to use one of Chip’s favorite words.  “Chill,” he told his conscientious young captain.  Lee didn’t move but he did try to relax.  Nelson shook his head, smiling softly, but finally continued.  “I’ve just been talking to Mike and Alexis.  Even though we know that we tagged different dolphins today, a good deal of the data is matching what we’ve already collected.  It’s all useful, and actually quite exciting, but it was questioned whether or not another dive on this pod would bring in anything new.”


“So we go find a different pod?” Lee asked, and finally leaned once more against the back bulkhead.


Nelson shook his head.  “Actually, no.  It was decided that they, along with Ms. Neride, will return home via FS1.  We’ll schedule further collections in the Atlantic, but for now there doesn’t seem to be any reason to do more here.”


“Will you be returning with them?” Lee asked.  If Seaview was merely headed home Nelson would occasionally leave a cruise early to get back to his office, and everything waiting there for his personal attention.


Nelson pointed an eyebrow at Lee.  “And leave you to continue your football game with the Army?”


Lee grinned sheepishly.  “Doubt either Jack or I would be up to it, sir,” he admitted.


Nelson leveled a look at him.  “Just means that the pair of you would end up coaching, and heaven only knows what shape the crew would be in when you got back.”  As Lee continued to look at him practically through his lashes Nelson finally chuckled.  “Actually, I’d like to take another look at that seamount,” he told Lee.  He was still smiling but his voice was once more firm.


“You think Ami used us to get to an unknown archaeological site, sir?”


“All I can get out of her now is, she thinks that the symbols you saw were someone’s idea of graffiti.”  He shrugged.  “And it’s entirely possible that she’s right, especially when you remembered the beer can.  However…”  Lee nodded.  He was actually a bit surprised when Nelson had so willingly left the site in the first place.  Going back while they were still in the vicinity, and without Ami aboard, made perfect sense.  “But,” Nelson continued, once more pointing an eyebrow at Lee, “that’s for tomorrow.  Chief Sharkey is pre-flighting FS1, and he and Kowalski will take off in about an hour.  They should be back by mid-day tomorrow.”  Lee nodded.  “Lt. O’Brien has the notes from our other trip to the mount and already has the course plotted.  Far be it for me to tell you that you’re not needed,” Nelson sent Lee a broad grin before he continued, once more firmly.  “But for tonight, at this point, you’re not needed.  Understand?”


Lee nodded, a small grin of his own on his face.  “Yes, sir,” he told his boss.  “If I may ask, what did Jamie threaten you with?”


Nelson snorted so hard that he started coughing, and shook a finger at his impudent young captain.  “None of your business,” he told Lee, but he also ended up laughing.


Lee grinned broadly.  “Yes, sir.”  His expression went curious.  “Where’s Chip?”


Nelson continued to grin.  “Next on my list,” he told Lee.  “Any more questions?”  There was a tone in his voice that Lee had no trouble reading.


“No, sir.”  Lee’s voice was properly respectful, but he couldn’t totally control his own grin.


“Good night,” Nelson told him firmly, and stood to leave.


“Good night, sir.  See you first thing in the morning,” he couldn’t resist tagging on.  It earned him a momentary glare from Nelson.  But he couldn’t hold it and was once more chuckling as he shut the door behind him.  Lee was surprised at his own bit of impishness with his boss – while he might tease others, especially Chip, unmercifully on occasion, rarely was he so totally relaxed around his boss as he’d been this whole cruise.  Wish we had a whole lot more cruises like this one, Lee told himself as he once more crawled under the blankets.  He let out a heavy sigh as his head hit the pillow.  But I’m not holding my breath, he admitted reluctantly.


* * * *


Lee sent a glance out the front windows as he came down the spiral stairs the following morning and wasn’t at all surprised to see a seamount off the bow.  But for some reason that he couldn’t quite put his finger on at the moment it looked different and he pointed an eyebrow at Lt. Keeter as he walked up to the chart table.


Keeter was pretty sure what the unspoken question was.  “Looks different to me, too, Skipper, but GPS says that it’s the right one.”  While not questioning the lieutenant’s navigational skills, Lee still double-checked all the instrumentation.  Keeter didn’t take offense – he understood that it was just his CO’s way of answering his own questions.


Lee had just finished verifying that Seaview was, in fact, exactly where she’d been two days ago when Chip all but jogged down the stairs.  He, too, glanced out the front windows and it stopped him dead.  “It would appear that something has changed the appearance of the seamount,” Lee told him almost casually from where he was standing next to the navigation computer.


“Or it’s the wrong seamount,” Chip muttered with a look at Lt. Keeter.  Once more Keeter took no offense.  He had no problems reading his XO’s eyes.  While Chip had his ‘XO on duty’ expression firmly in place, Keeter could see the bit of mischief in Chip’s eyes that had been there a good part of this cruise.  As expected, when Keeter glanced at Crane that same relaxed humor was evident.  But whatever the comeback would have been was interrupted by even more steps coming down the stairs.  Lee and Chip met at the chart table.  Lee handed his XO the current computer readout before addressing his boss.  “It would appear that there have been further changes to the seamount since we left it, sir.”  Nelson studied the view out the window.  “We’re sitting almost precisely where we were before but the height of the seamount is substantially lower.”


“It looks like the top of the mount is approximately where the cave had been,” Nelson turned toward him.


“There abouts, sir,” Lee confirmed.  “Underwater earthquake?”


Nelson shrugged.  “As good an explanation as any,” he confirmed.  “I still want to check it out.”


“No problem, sir.”  Lee glanced at Chip.  “After breakfast.”


Nelson snorted.  “By all means,” he confirmed, and Seaview’s ruling triumvirate headed out the aft hatch toward the Wardroom.


Lee did not immediately head back to the Conn once he’d finished eating.  Jamie had sent Lee a look when he’d entered the Wardroom shortly after the other three, but apparently something in Lee’s returning firm expression had the CMO deciding that this might not be a good time to challenge the younger man.  It momentarily flitted through Lee’s mind that that was one of the multitude of things Lee valued Jamie for – he might be an occasional thorn in Lee’s side, but he also tended to choose his battles carefully and not get in Lee’s face without sufficient reason.  Obviously Jamie would like to check Lee out this morning, but just as obviously there was purpose to Lee’s actions at the moment and without open signs of a problem Jamie would wait for a better time.


And Lee did have a matter that he wanted to see to before Nelson had a chance to interfere.  Normally Lee would dive with Nelson, to keep an eye on his boss whether or not his boss actually needed it.  If Lee couldn’t go out, as was the case this morning – that was one issue he’d not challenge Jamie over – Lee wanted to make sure that there were divers out who would be strong enough to challenge Nelson over any issue they thought might not be safe.  Normally Lee would depend on Chief Sharkey and/or Senior Rating Kowalski for that duty.  However, with both of those men at the moment on their way back from returning the three researchers to NIMR, Lee wanted to set the dive team to make sure that he had men out that Nelson couldn’t completely buffalo.


A broad grin hit his face when he checked the schedule posted in the Missile Room.  In Chip’s neat handwriting Lt. O’Brien had been assigned as dive master, with seamen Nielsen and Maxwell accompanying Nelson outside.  Not that Lee would admit it, but he now had first-hand experience of how Chip felt when Lt. James outguessed him a few days previous. 


Chris had appeared in the Conn by the time Lee walked forward, and Lee sent him a broad grin that he refused to explain even though Chip all but demanded an explanation.  Lee suspected that Chip already knew the answer and was just trying to get Lee to admit it.  Lee was perverse enough not to give his XO the satisfaction.


It turned out that neither man’s worries were founded.  While Nelson stayed out as long as his tanks would let him, exploring the seamount both visually and with a Geiger counter, he did nothing to cause consternation for either his dive partners or his command team.  Jamie spent most of the dive in the Nose, keeping track of whatever he felt he needed to keep track of.  Lee sent him a couple of quizzical looks but the CMO kept his thoughts to himself.


Lee met Nelson in the Missile Room on the Admiral’s return.  Nelson answered his unspoken question as Lee helped him off with his dive gear.  “Nothing,” was his almost disgusted mutter.  “No sign of any radioactive minerals of any kind.  While it matches the core samples I took the other day there’s absolutely no sign of the samarium that you found.”


“Buried so deep in whatever slides changed the face and height of the seamount that the Geiger counter couldn’t pick it up?” Lee guessed.


Nelson shrugged as he peeled out of the wetsuit and dried off. Now that the women had left he’d automatically gone back to the usual routine.  “At this point I have no idea,” he admitted.  “I would have expected to pick up traces of radioactivity, especially right at the top of the mount since we think that’s where the cave was.  As close as we can figure,” he admitted.


“My fault,” Lee told him immediately.  “I forgot to order standard measurements when we were here the first time.  Stupid.”  He growled out that last word.


Nelson sent him a grin as he redressed in his uniform.  While Lee might present a calm demeanor Nelson knew that he prided himself on maintaining the highest levels of competence, in his crew but especially in himself.  “Relax, Lee,” he told his over-conscientious captain.  “There was no real reason to do a detailed chart at first, and once the dive got started we all ended up with other things on our minds.”  He watched as Lee muttered something too low for Nelson to hear and he grinned.  “Let it go.”


While the words were an order, the grin broke through Lee’s self-beratement and he sent his boss a sheepish grin.  “Yes, sir.”


“Might as well pack it in and head for home,” Nelson continued.  Lee nodded.  He headed for the hatch to return to the Conn and get his boat turned around.  Nelson shook his head.  This had been a cruise for the books.  While the research had gone extremely well, Nelson was left with a series of puzzles.  And Will was right – he hated puzzles.  At least Lee and Chip had had an easy, relaxed cruise.  That was a definite bonus considering some of their past disasters.  Quit while you’re ahead, he told himself, and headed for his lab.


* * * *


A week later Nelson was once more shaking his head, but this time he was sitting in his office at NIMR glaring at several books laying open on his desk.  “So, what’s wrong now,” came from the door.  Will Jamison was standing in the open doorway. 


Nelson momentarily sent his CMO a glare, but it didn’t last and he waved Will in.  “Puzzles, puzzles and more puzzles,” Nelson muttered, and leaned back in his chair.


“What now?” Will asked, pouring himself a cup of coffee.


“The same ones,” Nelson admitted.  Will raised an eyebrow as he settled into one of the chairs.  “Ms. Neride,” Nelson explained.


“Oh,” Will told him with an enigmatic little smile.


“You heard what happened?”  Nelson was fairly sure that Will knew what he’d found when Seaview got home.  Will may profess to stay in his own little part of NIMR, but Nelson suspected that the doctor knew far more about what was going on around him then he let on so he wasn’t at all surprised when Will nodded.


“She and the Travers had barely gotten back before she handed Mike her resignation.  Something about working conditions?”


Nelson nodded.  “There were issues on the dives – she didn’t like that we don’t go out without armed watchdogs.  She said in her letter that she simply couldn’t continue to work under those conditions.”  He shrugged.  “Her loss – we’re certainly not going to relax our safety standards for a junior research assistant.”


Will nodded before an impish grin hit his face.  “How did Chip take the news?”


Nelson snorted.  “According to sources who shall remain nameless, but who works in my outer office,” he waved a hand in Angie’s direction, “Chip took the first opportunity he had to wander down to the secretary pool office, ostensibly to help one of the computer techs figure out a problem down there.”


Will chuckled.  “Did your source suspect that Chip had caused the computer problem in the first place?”


Nelson grinned.  “She didn’t say,” he told Will.  “She did say that Lee took Chip out to BZ’s for a couple of beers that night to commiserate his loss.”  Both men chuckled but let that subject drop.  Will eventually nodded toward the assortment of books.  “So?”


Nelson sighed.  “So,” he started, hesitated, and shook his head.  “I couldn’t let it drop,” he admitted.  “The necklace, the marks she and Lee found…”


Will grinned.  “You and your puzzles.”  He shared a smile with his boss.  “Any answers?”


Again Nelson sighed.  “Mostly, more puzzles.”  He hooked a finger, and Will rose and walked around the desk to look over Nelson’s shoulder.  Nelson pulled one of the books over to where Will could get a better look at the picture it was opened to.

“That’s the picture on the necklace,” Will said.  “You found it.  Well,” he hedged, “that’s almost it.”


Nelson nodded.  “It’s the one I was remembering, at least.  There are some subtle differences.”


“Like I said to begin with, mermaids and dolphins.”  Will didn’t sound overly impressed.


Nelson leaned back in the chair and sent Will a smug look.  “Ah, but this one is ever so slightly more special.”


Will hesitated a second but bit on the opening anyway, knowing that Nelson not only expected it, but that Will was no doubt in for a lecture no matter what he said.  “And what makes this one so special?” he gave Nelson his opening.


“Because,” Nelson took his victory without gloating, “this is identified as being Amphitrite.”




Nelson chuckled.  “Not what.  Who.  Amphitrite, in Greek mythology, has several origins, depending on which texts you read.  But most agree that she was probably a daughter of Nereus and Doris, and was thus one of the fifty Nereid’s.”


Will glanced at the pages in the next book Nelson pulled over.  “You’re not trying to tell me…”


Nelson held up a hand.  “I’m not trying to tell you anything, just show you what I found.  According to legend, Poseidon took a fancy to Amphitrite and wanted her for his bride.  She, apparently, had her own ideas on that subject and ran away.  The legends say ‘to the furthest ends of the sea’, wherever that is.  Poseidon sent the dolphin-god Delphin to track her down and persuade her to come back.  She was probably the mother of Poseidon’s son, Triton, although that, too, depends on who you read.”  He chuckled softly.  “Apparently Poseidon liked to ‘play the field’ as it were.”


Will sent him a frown.  “You realize that, if I wasn’t actually reading this, I’d be seriously considering locking you up about now.”   He couldn’t hold the expression in the face of the one Nelson sent back and they both ended up chuckling.


“Mostly,” Nelson finally continued, “Amphitrite is represented as Poseidon’s wife and the goddess of the sea – a kind of female Poseidon.  Also, it’s speculated that she created seals and dolphins, as well as some fish and shellfish.”


Will still looked somewhat unconvinced.  “So what you’re saying is, we had a sea nymph take human form and show up on Seaview.”  He paused for a second.  “Although…”  It was his turn to get thoughtful.


“What?” Nelson goaded him gently.


It took Will a couple of seconds.  “Are you aware that nearly every one of the little spells Lee had on this cruise occurred when Ms. Neride was, or had just been, close by?”


Nelson stared at him.  “No, I wasn’t.”


“We both know how apparently susceptible Lee is to odd spirits.”  Nelson nodded uncomfortably.  “Yeah,” Will agreed.


“Oops.”  Nelson said softly.


“Yeah,” Will repeated, this time in almost a growl.


“There’s more,” Nelson offered.


“Why doesn’t that surprise me?”  Nelson pulled over another book showing pages of, to Will, meaningless symbols.  “What are those?” he asked cautiously.


“Representations of Mycenaean, the most ancient attested form of the Greek language, attributed to the Bronze Age.  No prose narratives have been found in this form; no myths or poetry.  Mostly, the tablets that have been found and deciphered seem to be lists and inventories.”


“And this pertains to Ms. Neride how?”


Nelson pointed to a specific page, and to a vertical line bisected by three horizontal lines.  “This one translates as ‘Father.’  See here, this is the page of symbols Lee drew, from what he remembered seeing in the cave.  They are nearly identical.”


“Humm,” was Will’s evaluation.


Nelson pointed to two more, one on each of the pages.  “Lee described this one as an upside down peace symbol but it’s actually a vertical line with two lines coming down at slight angles to meet at the center point.  It signifies ‘horse’, one of Poseidon’s known symbols.  And this one,” he continued, “that sort of looks like a beer can.”  That drew a snort from Will, and Nelson grinned and shrugged.  “Well, it does.”  They both grinned.  “It means ‘woman.’  And we both recognize that triton that Lee drew, even if it is sort of lying on its side.”


Nelson grinned again as he pointed to another symbol on Lee’s page.  “I accused him of less than stellar artistic talent.”  Both men grinned again.  “And yet, here it is.” 

Nelson flipped a page in the book.  “Second symbol from the right. It’s translated as ‘Bull,’ another of Poseidon’s symbols.”


Will polished off his coffee and shook his head slowly as he walked over to refill the mug.  “Please tell me that you’re not going to show any of this to either Lee or Chip.”


Nelson shuddered.  “Stupid, I’m not!”  Nelson sent Will a frown as Will grinned, but it didn’t last long.  “Lee would no doubt take it badly, all things considered, especially after what you just told me about the timing of the little spells.”  Both men nodded.


“And heaven only knows what Chip would do,” Will added.


“No,” Nelson continued, and started flipping the books closed, “I really don’t think that we’ll see Ms. Neride, whoever she is, ever again.  This whole issue is best left as just one of those unsolvable mysteries.”


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~



 *    see Out of the Action

**   see Storm Front

*** The shirt exists as of this writing, and is available from   No financial interest, I just     love their products J

****see The Substitute



As always, mention of Mrs. Will Jamison (Lu-Tsi) is done with the permission of her creator, Cris Smithson.