Sideways Through the Looking Glass by Storm (picture F)
Lt. Commander Chip Morton unhappily twisted a pencil in his fingers as he stood at the chart table in the submarine Seaview’s control room. As he glanced sideways at the captain he could tell that Lee Crane was as displeased with their current situation as he was; not that anyone who didn’t know the captain extremely well would have known it from his demeanor. He could though - and so could the crew. Seaview was definitely not a happy submarine at the moment.
The source of their common discontent was that Admiral Nelson had decided to try again to get the alternate universe portal machine - nicknamed Looking Glass in allusion to the Lewis Carroll books - to work. And this time he had the device aboard the boat rather than in a lab at the Institute.
Chip had already seen - and personally experienced - how unreliable the device was - and how painful the transition was if the device wasn’t functioning properly. So had Lee; Chip once more shifted his look towards the captain, who was looking aft towards the Admiral’s lab with an expression that promised another of the infamous shouting matches between Seaview’s captain and owner before the day was out.
A tremor shook the sub, bringing both officers’ heads up in alarm just in time to see a whirling vortex of green energy rolling across the control room from the direction of the lab. Chip heard Crane mutter an expletive under his breath as both officers grabbed for the edges of the chart table, hoping to be able to hang on through what was about to come. It was clear the machine had malfunctioned - again - and there was no telling where - or when - they would wind up.
The energy field washed over them. It was like being dipped in fire and ice at the same time. Chip felt the familiar squeezing sensation as Seaview seemed to flutter like a rag doll in a tornado. He could dimly perceive some of the crew being flung through the air as the boat’s hull alternated between ringing like a bell and shrieking like a banshee. He had just enough time to wonder if the hull could take the punishment before he lost his grip and was pitched into the bulkhead.
As he and others of the crew bounced around the control room like beans in a nearly empty can, Seaview’s wild contortions seemed they would last forever; in truth it was over in only seconds.
The boat steadied. Chip groaned as he picked himself up off the deck. A quick internal check indicated he’d gotten through with only bruises. He was reaching for the mike to request a damage report when his eyes caught movement on the exterior camera monitor. A brief flicker of surprise that both camera and monitor were still working flitted across his mind, but that was quickly washed away by the apprehension generated by what the camera was showing off to their starboard side.
A city. A vast undersea city, very much inhabited, and unless he was mistaken, very much aware of Seaview’s presence. Indeed, he could see that two futuristic looking vessels had lifted away from what looked like launch pads; one was already halfway to their location.
Lee Crane swore softly beside him as the camera automatically zoomed in on the closest vessel. The entire front of the top half was transparent, almost like the canopy of a fighter, giving the operator a enormous field of view. It also meant they had an unobstructed view of the pilot.
The furred face that looked back at them wasn’t human.
The two officers shared a look. This was one of those worst case scenarios that the two of them had feared once they‘d realized what the device Nelson had really did - and that Nelson had been warned about by the inhabitants of the first alternate universe they’d visited. Chip could only hope they survived for an “I told you so,” shouting match. Heck, he’d even be willing to revisit that first universe so the fans of that TV show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea could gang up on Nelson and give him their pithy opinions about his recklessness. There were a couple of them that he knew would - and in no uncertain terms.
First they had to survive to get back. Chip knew that an uncontrolled transition like what they’d just experienced was temporary - it was just a matter of time before they snapped back into their own universe. He hoped that this was one of the shorter trips; the first of the approaching vessels was almost close enough to grapple onto the boat‘s topside emergency hatch.
Seaview suddenly shuddered, but not because of any hull to hull contact. Forewarned, Chip reached out and snagged an unsteady Crane by the collar with one hand to keep him from being thrown around again, just as the burning green energy once more swept the length of the boat. She writhed like something alive, twisting in ways that his senses told him ought to be physically impossible. The hull rang like the inside of a monstrous bell; the vibration seemed to reach right down into the very marrow of his bones.
It was a rough transition, though mercifully short. When Seaview stopped pitching, the emergency lighting was on and showers of sparks were still cascading from some of the instrument panels. The crewmen were picking themselves up off the deck, tending to each other and the boat. Chip could tell from the angry look in Crane‘s eyes that the device was leaving the boat immediately on their return to Santa Barbara - if not sooner - and preferably in a million small pieces that no one, not even Harriman Nelson, would ever be able to put back together.
One of the senior ratings, Kowalski, appeared at the aft hatch. Both officers straightened in apprehension, for Ski had been assigned to assist the Admiral in the lab. Before they could react to the seaman’s worse-for-the wear appearance, the Admiral stepped through the hatch behind him.
Nelson had clearly taken the brunt of whatever had gone wrong in the lab. Chip could see the color draining from Crane’s face, along with his anger. Nelson was unmistakably singed; burn marks had left dark patches on the admiral’s khaki shirt along with a livid red streak across one cheek.
Making his way across the control room, Nelson came to the chart table where the two senior officers waited. Seeing that he wasn’t seriously damaged, Chip and the captain folded their arms and gave him a glare. He tugged at one ear and gave the pair an almost sheepish look, seeming uncharacteristically subdued. Chip arched an eyebrow as sparks began to flare back into the captain’s eyes.
Nelson sighed at their unspoken reproach. “Okay, Lee, you were right. Bringing the portal machine onto the boat was a bad idea.”
An admission of a mistake?
Before he could stop himself, Chip muttered under his breath, “Who are you and what have you done with Admiral Nelson?”
The instantly annoyed look in the Admiral’s eyes brought a snicker from Crane, who turned to Chip and commented, “Oh, I think we have the right one, Chip. He does admit to being human - once in a while. But you might want to make a note of it in the log.”
For a brief moment Chip thought Nelson was going to explode. Then a wry smile twitched at one corner of the admiral’s mouth as he saw both the truth and humor of the moment. He gave a small nod. “Point taken, Captain. Point taken. Now, take us home.”
Chip noted, however, that while Nelson had said he’d take the machine off Seaview, he’d said nothing about giving up on it.
Captain and XO shared a look. The battle wasn’t over yet.