Author's note:Best to have read 'Somebody Else's Dream' or a great deal of this story may not make sense.
Kowalski thought it looked sort of like a Christmas card, the Crane house. But even blanketed with the sparkling snow, he could tell the beachfront house was badly eroded and at risk of being swept away in a storm. Bundling up against the cold Atlantic wind he made his climb up a few steps to the porch, glad of the handrail. Time had taken its toll as well, however and it broke. Stumbling and slipping, he braved the few remaining steps and rang the doorbell. It was broken too, or it was too early for anyone to be up, though he'd been informed otherwise. Knocking loudly, he finally noticed a shadow peering out from behind the window curtains, then duck quickly away to open the door.
The woman stood, hands on her hips, the picture of domesticity, as she wiped her hands on her apron. He'd remembered seeing her at Captain Crane's funeral service and the reading of the will but he couldn't tell now if the white streaks in her hair were real or from the flour that dusted her apron.
"Excuse me, Mrs. Crane, but I uh, I needed to see the Skipper."
"You must be freezing, hurry up, come in, come in.... The snowplows must be early," she looked at her watch, "Kowalski isn't it?"
"Yes'm, uh," he held up the broken wooden rail," I uh..."
"Never mind that now. I've got some hotcakes in the oven keeping warm and bacon's frying. Lee's still asleep. Upstairs, first door on the right."
"Oh, maybe I'd better not bother him....."
"Nonsense. He's been loafing for two weeks. It's time he was up anyway. Go right on in. And tell him if he's not down in five minutes I'll make him proof his Aunt Amy's latest book. Breakfast is just about ready. You'll stay, won't you?" It was not a question.
It was with some trepidation that Kowalski knocked on the door. He wondered how the Captain would react to this invasion of his privacy. He was still recuperating from his ordeal at the hands of Dr. Tobia. While the brain implant that had induced his coma had been removed, examined, and deemed to have had no other ill effects, Ski was still nervous. What if...well, he'd save that worry for another day. Even the Doc had said all Crane needed was a little rest. He knocked again a little louder, but there was no response. He cracked the door open and peeked in.
The Captain lay face down against squishy pillows, and was covered by no less than two thick down comforters. Ski noticed with some relief that he'd grown some hair back, and didn't look quite so bald now. The silicon patch that covered the hole in the Skipper's skull was still there, even if Ski could only see the scarring from the skin overlay. It had only been a pinprick hole that had invaded bone to brain but he still shuddered at the thought.
As he moved closer to the sleeping form, Ski noticed the few childhood mementos that either Crane or his mother had refused to get rid of even though it was decades since the Captain had actually lived here.
A well-frayed book by Bentley Falk, a cheap plastic and broken toy submarine with a child's name scrawled on it. He had big dreams even then, Ski laughed, as he noticed that the child had marked it as Captain Crane. A GI Joe in camouflage gear lay on a dusty bookshelf, a plain fishing pole leaned in a corner of the room, and a small-framed photo sat on the dresser along with a baseball mitt and a signed baseball.
That the child in the photo was the Skipper there was no doubt. He seemed to be about 8 or so, with a mischievous grin that made Kowalski wonder what he had done or was about to do. He couldn't help but to return the smile. He wasn't sure who the man was with him, but he was looking at the child with obvious affection. Then a waft of the scent of bacon brought Ski back to the present.
He coughed, and when that brought no response he knew he had no choice but to take drastic action. "Uh... Skipper? Skipper? Sir?" he tried again, louder, firmer, finally nudging his shoulder. Crane only snuggled deeper into the pillows with a groan.
"Excuse me, sir, but uh, your Mom said your breakfast was getting cold."
"Mmmph?" Crane responded with a yawn, "wha.. Ski?"
"Your Mom. She said to wake you." Ski paused, noticing his Captain's confusion, " I came by this morning cause I wanted to give you this," he took out the folded letter of recommendation " I mean...well...I've decided not to become an officer after all."
"You sure you don't even want to consider it?"Crane asked as sat up he put on a heavy red flannel robe over his green pj's. He pulled on some thick socks by his bedside.
"I'm pretty sure."
"Pretty sure is not the same as certain...Look, Ski," he yawned, " you go on downstairs and tell Mom to heat up some coffee, then we'll talk, okay?"
"On Seaview it's Aye sir, here, it's Okay, okay?"
"Well, I have to agree with him, Lee honey, and you shouldn't have pressured him. Here son,"she said to Kowalski, "have some more hotcakes."
"I didn't pressure him, at least I didn't mean to, but he does have the ability..."
"I'm not saying he doesn't. But asking him from the grave to do this thing? The very idea, putting that in your will. It was you wasn't it, who told me a man has to do what he believes in, or have you forgotten all about breaking my heart years ago when you decided to go off into your precious pigboats. Making me worry every day of my life since that you'd be squashed, trapped, or drowned down there at the bottom of the sea. And then all that ONI business...but no, you'd made up your mind, and nothing but nothing was going to stop you and....."
"The offer still stands, Ski," Lee interrupted, "so if you ever change your mind..."
"Okay sir. I'll uh, remember the option." Ski racked his mind for a way to escape the charged atmosphere. While the Skipper didn't seem to be upset, what Kowalski couldn't understand was how his own mother could apparently still harp on a decision he'd made so many years ago. Then an idea came to him. "Excuse, me, ma'am, but this is the best meal I've ever eaten."
"I'm glad you enjoyed it. Unlike like Lee here."
"You're not coming down with something are you? "
"I've already eaten four of them, you can hardly call that nothing."
"Yes, but you're supposed to use butter and syrup, not all dry and plain. That's just plain yucky."
"But I have a fit rep coming up and..."
"Enough with the fit rep! And you're walking too much. You're supposed to be resting."
"I've had all the rest I can stand and...."
The doorbell rang and effectively ended the conversation, and Lee went to answer it.
"Mom, it's Aunt Amy," Lee practically shoved the woman into the kitchen.
"And you are?" Amy Migilicutty greeted the young man who'd arisen politely.
"Kowalski Ma'am. Seaman Kowalski. From Seaview."
"Oh," she clapped her hands delightedly, "one of Lee's sailor friends! How nice to meet you. I'm Lee's Aunt Amy. I thought your submarine was up the coast, not in this godforsaken place. Really,"she turned to her sister, " you really ought to take Lee up on his offer to move you out to California."
"I like Cape Cod. It's my home."
"Home is where you make it, and if I had the chance to move out west to warm winters and all that sunshine ...."
"Oh, don't go on about it again, Amy. I told you, I like it here. If you're that desperate to get away, why don't you just go yourself. I know Lee's offered to move you as well."
"I may just do that, but I have some obligations just now I can't get out of...my books, my seminars..."
"You just don't like the idea of flying."
"No I don't, but..."
"Amy," Mrs. Crane sighed, exasperated, "it's too early."
"Oh....well, now, young man,"she changed the subject, "there's something I'm dying to ask someone in the know, tell me, is Lee here as ornery with you as he is with his favorite Aunt?"
"You're my only Aunt," Crane poured himself a cup of coffee.
"I know that, I was speaking to Klowasie here."
"Kowalski," Lee corrected.
"Whatever...so, Klowasie...is he as much a grump at sea as he is here?"
"Yes," Crane came to the rescue, " and we have some important business to discuss, if you'll excuse us."
"Now that was a snub if I've ever heard one," Aunt Amy blew them both a kiss and began to discuss the latest gossip about one of their neighbors with her sister.
"Thanks Skipper, I uh..."
"Forget it," Crane opened the curtains in the rather small living room, "don't worry, the Officer's Candidate matter's closed, I was just starting to feel a bit suffocated in there."
"I understand sir....I just wanted to let you know of my decision personally."
"You could have waited," Lee studied the man, "or just sent the letter back through interoffice memo or regular mail...so why did you really come all the way down here? You're supposed to be on shore leave. I know New London doesn't have much in the way scenery or bikinis, at least not at this time of year, but..."
"I...oh hell, skip," Ski sat down, embarrassed, "I just wanted to see for myself that you were okay."
Crane laughed, "Relax Ski, they ran lots of tests. I'm fine."
"I've heard that before and...."
Crane gave Ski a look that said to stow it.
"Anyway, that Dr. Tobia was a real jerk.. What's gonna' happen to him?"
"As far as I know, he'll be spending time behind bars, and he's been ruined professionally. Disqualified from practicing any form of medical anything, including clones and robotics."
"Oh, Klowsie, there you are," Aunt Amy interrupted the two, " you really must let me introduce you to my friends. Can you come to the historical society's meeting today at the library? They've never met a real submariner before, except for Lee, but he doesn't count, so uppity. Won't tell us a thing about his adventures. And with a name like yours, why my dear boy, you probably have a fascinating family tree! Just the thing for the Genealogy division that's meeting a few hours later."
"Me? I kinda doubt it, and ..."
"Aunt Amy, I'm not sure if Ski has the time...."
"Well, you're his Captain, can't you order it? "
"It's okay Skipper, I'd be glad to."
"You don't have to do this Ski," Crane said.
"Actually, it might be kinda fun, I'm all yours ma'am."
"That's Aunt Amy to you dearheart."
"Aunt Amy, yes'm."
"And with that," the lawyer said as the snow flurried outside the window, " the will as read previously to all parties is hereby null and void, having been made such by your sudden resurrection from the dead, and your properties are herewith returned to your ownership and custody."
"I wouldn't make light of it Mr. Simpson," Crane said, as he stood by the window and watched the snowflakes. It was odd but the sight of them made think of spiders.
"Of course not, I meant no offense. Now, your new will is basically identical with the old except that the afore mentioned note to Seaman Kowalski be removed. Is that correct?"
"Then I'll get it prepared for your signature, if you'll just wait a few Moments while my new secretary types it up. Had a complete changeover of staff. Been in a bit of a muddle. Help yourself to some coffee. Be careful of the ants though, they've been invading the break room, and I thought the blasted buggers hibernated in winter, but what do I know."
Ski had probably managed to escape Aunt Amy's clutches by now, Lee thought as he soaked in homey feel of the late afternoon sunshine pooling on the old worn braided rug in the living room. It was supposedly intertwined with hair cut from one of Blackbeard's wives in a drunken rage. At least that was the legend. One day they really should check into it further, a forensic test, perhaps. But it was Aunt Amy's wedding gift to his mother and the family had pretty much taken the 'truth' of it for granted. Lee stretched out lazily on the sofa, and was lulled to sleep by the sound of the radio playing in the background.
He awoke suddenly to the sound of crying.
"Mom? Mom?" he rose quickly to find her alone at the table, a letter in her hand amid the hodgepodge of magazines and letters from the daily mail. "What is it, what's wrong?"
"Oh, baby, my baby," she grabbed him and sobbed against his chest.
Lee let her cling to him, and he snatched the letter and envelope from her hand. The return address had become water logged, illegible.....
I have so much I want to say. It's hard to put it all into words, and by now you've read the will so I guess some of it's already been said. But here goes.
I know I wasn't always your pride and joy. There were times when both of us had to work through the rough spots, especially after Pop died. I know his passing was bad for me, but what I couldn't or wouldn't comprehend at the time is how much worse it must have been for you. Stuck alone and with me to handle at the same time. It was just so hard for me to let go, to let myself accept the fact that he wasn't coming home, without even a body to help with any 'closure' that I so desperately needed at the time.
That's what they call it now. I was so certain that it was all a mistake, that he hadn't actually died, that he was still out there, somewhere, a castaway just waiting to be rescued. And there you were, wanting, needing to be comforted yourself and I kept telling you that you and the Coast Guard that you were all wrong and wanted him dead or you wouldn't keep telling me that he was. I was very angry. At you, at God, and even at him for getting himself blown overboard.
And yet you were there, wanting to dry my tears, and I wouldn't let you. But instead of giving me a quick kick in the pants, you allowed me to grieve in my own way and finally come to terms with it all. I still remember that horrible Christmas when I finally admitted to myself that he was gone. I lost my childhood that day I think. I hope I've made up for some of the agony I must have put you in during those terrible days and if I've never said it before, I want you to know how deeply sorry I'm for it all.
I also know you weren't all that glad that Pop talked you into my adoption in the first place. I know it was only a grudging acceptance.
Aunt Amy thought you'd never be able to handle it, that you had no maternal instinct and that you 'd confifed to her lots of times before then that you were glad you'd never had any kids.
I overheard a lot when you all thought I was upstairs sleeping, and I have to admit I'd often sneak down the stairs and try to listen to far more than I was entitled to.
But you never showed your hesitation to me. You gave me unconditional love through the years even when I didn't deserve it. And if that's not a real mother, I don't know what is.
Before you and Pop my life was a maze of disjointed memories and overwhelming loneliness like that of a stray dog, robbed of any home life or even a chance at some happiness. You made my life worth living.
And now I'm gone too I guess. I hope it was in the line of duty, aboard Seaview, though I pray to God not at the expense of any of my crew or to her. I know you were none too pleased about me going into subs in the first place. I wish you could understand Mom. Seaview is the most awesome, wonderful lady I've ever served aboard. I wish you'd take up the offer for a tour of her, perhaps even remaining aboard during one of our more mundane cruises.
Speaking of the Admiral, I hope you'll try to ease things for him a bit. He's actually been more like a brother to me than a boss, maybe even like a father, and I can just hear the shrinks saying 'daddy complex' as to our relationship. Well, maybe so. But it's more than that; he's the friend that stands by you, that chastises you when you need it, but that would risk his own life for you without a Moment's hesitation. Suffice it to say, he's bound to be a bit broody. I hope you can help him understand that I'm in a better place now, though I'll sure miss him and Seaview.
Try not to cry over me. You have to go on with your life, just like you did when Pop died. You know I'm an organ donor. I'd like Seaview's CMO to have charge over the rest of my remains, but this is up to you. The family plot is okay I guess, unless NIMR has a spot they could dig for me, but I doubt if they could get state approval for the burial license. And it would probably be too hard on the Admiral to have me so close by. Too many memories. It could cause him to tibble more than he should. He's Irish you know.
Mom, please really consider taking that trip aboard Seaview. Tell her I miss her. Coming from you she might understand why I have to leave her in anther's hands. And I'll feel better knowing you're in hers, at least for a little while.
I miss you already and I haven't even died yet. This is just a letter to go along with my will in the event that I may. God willing it won't happen, and this letter will simply yellow in age in some folder, and be completely forgotten.
I love you more than I can express in words. More than I can say by any action. But I will always be, even if I'm dead, your loving son, forever.
"I am sorry Mr. Crane, but it was a mistake,"the voice insisted on the phone.
"My mother's still crying! How could you bungle things up so badly!"
"But it was your letter to her."
"To be delivered to her by hand, just after the reading of the will! What's the mater with you people? Even if you were shorthanded at the time, somebody should have known what to do! Mom never mentioned it so I'd assumed she'd already read it long ago, didn't have a problem with it, and everything was okay!"
"I apologize for the mix up but what real difference does it make, really. You wanted her to read it didn't you?"
"What diff...look, how would you feel, going through the shock of my death, then my being alive, then this, bringing back all the memories and the trauma?"
"We're hardly responsible for the content, Mr. Crane. It's just an unfortunate mistake."
"And what about the other letters? Have they been sent out too?"
"We're not sure. We'll let you know." The phone clicked off.
"Simms? Simms?" Damn, he whispered as he hung up, Now what am going to do?
"Anything wrong with the lobster, Harry dear?" Edith Nelson asked her brother as they sat on the floor of her new apartment, boxes and crates still crammed with stuffing."The grocery store steamed them for me. I picked them myself. I thought they looked okay."
"Uh, no, just reminds me of someone...er, something."
"You've been kind of moody, is everything okay?"
"Sorry, pumpkin, I guess I've just had some things on my mind lately."
"That's for sure, how is Lee anyway, now that he's back home safe and sound?"
Nelson laughed, "He's fine. I'm the one with the problem."
"So, what is it?"
"I can't help thinking about X24."
"That's right. He really was Lee in a way. And now...well, he's nothing but melted plastic and metal. All that's really left are these," he took out two round objects from his pocket. "Admiral Conte gave them to me today."
"Ohh gross, Harry! Put them away someplace!"
"I'm going to give them to Lee."
"What on earth is Lee going to do with two robot eyeballs?"
"I thought, well, since they were related, sort of, well, that he might like to have them."
"It's not like you to be so maudlin, Harry. This whole clone thing has really upset you hasn't it."
"I was so damn adamant that he wasn't real, and now, well, I'm just not sure. And I can't help feeling that I let him down, that I should have been able to figure out some way to rescue Crane from Tobia without him sacrificing himself like that."
"You couldn't know what he'd try; let it be."
"I know, but it hurts just the same."
Nelson let his eyes wander, and changed the subject, "I think you need a social secretary, pumpkin, "Nelson leafed through the pile of letters on the coffee table. "Invitations, advertisements, bills, I'll take care of these, oh, what's this? A law firm? You're not in any kind of trouble are you?"
"Not that I know of, "she took the letter, opened it, and began to read.
Nelson noticed with disquiet that she turned rather pale."Honey?"
"It's nothing," she put the letter into her pocket.
"Nothing, my ass, you're pale as a ghost, let me have it."
"Harry, please, no."
"Edith," he tried to retrieve it, and she shooed him away.
"I don't think you're supposed to have this now that things have changed. I don't know if it's legal for you to see it."
"Legal? What on earth are you talking about?"
Edith looked up at her big brother, "It's from the Crane's lawyers. I think they had a mix-up, and it was sent to me my mistake, and it's awfully late, or I simply overlooked it with the move. I remember the lawyers had mentioned that a few private letters would be sent to various people when they read the will....you might be breaking the law if you read it now..."
"I'll make that decision...hand it over. My curiosity is peaked now, anyway...."
This is probably the most difficult letter I've ever written. I know by now that you've read the will, but there are a few more things I still need to say.The problem is how.I'm not very good at speaking what I feel, but here goes.
When I was drafted for temporary command of my old Skipper's whatchamacalit submarine I thought 'well, not bad.' But now...what I'm trying to say is that she's the most beautiful, most wonderful, most awesome submarine in the whole world and I just can't believe it that she's mine. Or was. I have to remember that you're reading this because I'm dead.
You and Seaview had made an indelible impression on me.I can't even comprehend my life without her. The new subs the Navy has on the drawing boards are supposed to outclass her. Perhaps maybe one day they will, and Seaview herself will be consigned to the scrapheap. But she will never die in my heart because she's my very soul I think, at times, anyway.
Speaking of hearts what I have to say next will sound a bit loony but it needs to be said now or I'll never rest in peace.
We've certainly had our differences through the years. Sometimes you can be very difficult to get along with, but you're the best friend I've ever had in my whole life. And I have to admit, and this is hard for me to say,that maybe I do regard you a little bit like a brother or father after all. Don't laugh, everyone says so, even Chip.
My pop was one in a million. No man on earth could ever hope to replace what I feel for him. But you've come pretty darn close to it.
The friendship you've shown me these past few years
can really be called a kind of kinship. You've stood by me , and put up with me when I could be pretty exasperating. But you've remained steadfast in spite of everything.
I can only hope that as time passes you'll remember that of all the persons on earth, I'm privileged to have known you, Harriman Nelson, as my friend. I'm very grateful that you deemed me worth it.
P.S. Chip is bound to be upset and not just 'cause we may be forcing him to take command.
While he might not take the same liberties with you as I have, such as trying to convince you to give up those damn lung burners, I know he'll be your right hand man and he's already a good friend.
"Oh shit," Nelson ran a hand through his hair. "If he knows I've seen this...his father?"
"Well, actually I think it's kind of nice, and it's really the highest compliment he could ever pay you, isn't it?"
"I guess so, but...it's damn embarrassing."
"Why? Harry, "she have him a hug, "It's the truth, like he said, everybody knows it."
"Okay, okay, but..."
"So, what's the problem?"
"The problem is that I have to work with him, and this hovering over us..."
"Oh for Pete's sake. There's nothing un-manly about being friends, or un-professional, if that's your worry."
"Of course not, but...look, pumpkin you don't understand. It's a..it's a guy thing."
"And I thought you were smarter than the average bear.Harry, what's so terrible that your friendship's a little deeper than the occasional pat on the back? What's wrong with telling Lee that you feel the same way about him? You drank yourself drunk and kept calling his name out in agony or days. And don't you dare deny you had a lot of tears either, I was there. Harry... he's your closest and dearest friend. There's no crime in letting him know how you feel, especially now that he's barred his soul to you."
"But I was only supposed to read this if he were dead! When Lee called to ask if I'd received anything from the lawyers, I told him no. He'll be appalled to know I've seen this."
"Look, Edith, let me handle this my own way. Please, not a word to the Crane's."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to reseal this envelope and mark it as a 'return to sender'."
"That's defrauding the post office and a federal offense. I'm surprised at you."
"Then I'll hand it over to the lawyers myself. It is addressed to you isn't it? They'll realize their mistake and file it away and Lee won't be the wiser. Can I trust you to keep silent about it?"
"I've never lied to Lee before and I'm not about to now."
"Then just promise me you won't bring it up, okay?"
"It'll cost you."
"Whatever you want."
"I didn't mean I wanted anything. Harry, if you go through with this denial, you're not the man Lee thinks you are. You're only deceiving yourself if you think you can put it behind you. He loves you as a father, and this letter proves it! You can't change that, even if for some reason you're too embarrassed to admit it, to yourself or to him."
"Will you promise me you won't tell the Cranes?"
"You're only hurting yourself Harry."
"Damn it woman, will you promise me?"
"Okay okay okay, don't get all ballistic on me. I promise not to tell Lee or his mother that you're a stubborn old goat! And a stupid one at that!"
"It's your decision, but may you never have a Moment's peace with it until you admit to Lee you love him too!"
"Don't you fling some Irish curse at me, Edith Nelson, I taught you how!"
"Then you'll also know that you also taught me how to see when somebody's acting foolish!"
Nelson snatched up the letter, stuffed it back into the envelope, and strode to the entryway for his coat.
Then he heard a sniffle, the beginnings of some tears. He had no choice.
"Pumpkin, I .. I'm sorry. Okay, okay, I know when I'm beaten. I'll give this back to Lee, just as it is."
She ran into his arms, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it But you're so damn stubborn."
" If you tell him how you feel...in front of me...in front of his mother...in front of his crew."
"The crew? That's going a bit too far. And it was a private letter you know."
"All right, me and Mrs. Crane then."
"I'm going to regret this, but anything to stop your nagging and blubbering.... Pax?"
Lee awoke to a raging headache, almost as if someone had been shaking him from side to side. He hadn't slept well. And his skin itched.
"Here you are love," his mother sat a thermal pitcher of coffee at the bedside table and poured out a cup. "I know how to prime your engine before you're capable of speech or coherent thought. How you can stand this stuff is beyond me."
Lee took took a sip, "This is awful. Where'd you get this? At a garage sale?"
"Quiet. Aunt Amy made it. She thought you should have some. Kowalski told her you were a caffeine junkie. And don't you dare tell her it's bad."
"Mom, I know she's my Aunt, but does she have to practically live here? She's driving me nuts. If I have to look at one more of her pirate ancestor charts I'll puke."
"You will be polite and at least look interested. She's put a lot of time and effort into it. And I've told you before; you can swear all you like aboard your precious tincan of a submarine but not here. Understood?"
"Aye aye, sir."
"Good," she swatted his rump." Now hurry up. She's cooking breakfast and it's almost ready."
"Oh gawd. She'd burn instant oatmeal."
"How'd you know that's what she's preparing, now up," she half pulled him up, then felt his forehead. " You look a little flushed. "
"I'm fine, just a bad night, bad dream too, I just can't remember it. "
"Well I still say he looks ill," Lee's mother was concerned.
"Oh, he's fine, no fever at all," Aunt Amy countered, "You saw the reading. How's your oatmeal hon?""Just fine, "Lee lied as he forced himself to place another glob of concrete in his mouth
"Lee, dear, do you have to got back to Nelson?" his mother asked. "I know how you feel, but can't you become a CPA or a Banker or something else more civilized? You're a whiz at arithmetic. I just don't know if I can stand the thought of you getting hurt or kidnapped again."
"It wasn't Nelson's fault Mom. And it was the Navy that chose to trust Dr. Tobia and his robo-clone experiments. It could have happened to anyone."
"Perhaps, but it was you he chose to clone. I doubt if he'd have noticed you if you hadn't been Captain of the Seaview. Since you've been with Nelson I can't even count how many close calls you've had, and those are only the ones I know about. Damn top secret stuff you seem to thrive on."
The crash of someone falling on the porch steps effectively ended the conversation and Crane raced to the door, flung it open and saw Nelson and Edith sprawled on the broken steps.
"His boss?" Aunt Amy whispered to her sister in the kitchen, "The big cheese himself? Is Lee in some kind of trouble?"
"I don't know. Here, take this in to them, they look half frozen."
"Earl Grey Tea?" She blew some dust off the lable. "You've never offered me any of this fancy stuff."
"Just do it. And be polite. Edith Nelson's very sophisticated from what I've heard. She's even lunched with movie stars and studio heads."
"What's wrong with Seaview?" Crane asked, as he sat facing the Nelsons.
"Lee," the Admiral groaned, "for once in your life would you get Seaview off your mind? This is a social call.... I wanted to return this," he pulled Lee's ring out of a pocket, "I would have returned it sooner to you or your mother, but I had the jewelers clean it." He handed it to Lee and rose to go.
"Didn't you have something else you wanted to say?" Edith waylaid her brother.
"What's this all about Admiral?" Lee asked.
"Umm, there was a foul up at the lawyers. This came late and was sent to Edith.,"he handed Lee the letter.
Lee turned pale," You read this?"
"It was an accident," Nelson lied. Edith rolled her eyes upward.
"Oh shit," Lee buried his head in his hands and crumpled into a chair." I'd hoped it got lost in the mail or something..."he muttered.
"What is it dear," Mrs. Crane took the letter and read it with Amy.
"It's a baring of the soul, " Edith said, "ladies, why don't we retire to the kitchen while they uh, come to terms with it."
"But why tell me?" Crane pleaded, "Why not just ignore it and forget I ever said anything? I wish now that I'd never written the damn thing."
"She made me! Believe me Lee, I was going to send it back and pretend it had never been opened, but she began to cry and fuss and hell, what was I to do? I am sorry I read it Lee. I...I know how hard it must have been for you to write.... This is going to be damn awkward."
"I'm never going to live it down, that's for sure."
"Me neither but....we'll have to...."Nelson suddenly grinned, " or I won't let you borrow the flying sub on a Friday night, son,"he laughed. "Oh, uh, here, these are yours too,"he said, glad of a handy out of the topic as he held out two small orbs in his hands.
"What on earth? They look like...eyeballs."
"They are. They belonged to X24. As far as I know, this is all that's left of him. Conte turned over the rest of the.. debris to the committee."
"What am I supposed to do with them?" Lee asked as he rolled the eyeballs in his hand. It was odd but they felt warm. It was suddenly ghastly disturbing. He set the round orbs down on the coffee table but they rolled toward the tea service and one of them looked up at him. Lee felt sick.
"I just thought...perhaps it was a bad idea...," Nelson was about to pluck them up when Lee beat him to it and both spheres into the sugar bowl, covering it quickly with the lid to hide the offending objects.
"I...never mind. I'll keep them. Admiral....there are still things about clones I'm confused on, but he...he really was me, sort of , wasn't he?"
"Yes, Lee. I really do think so, though at the time I didn't. I only understood he was synthetically engineered, even if he had your DNA and mental impulses. I couldn't believe that his organisol brain was real. I'm rather ashamed of myself for that. I treated him rather badly, I'm afraid."
"I guess I'll have to figure out where to store these," Lee indicated the sugar bowl and suddenly shivered.
"Well have you boys settled things?" Edith Nelson approached with two steaming mugs of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream. "The girls are waiting for me to give me them the all-clear for them to come back in. I didn't want them to find you both in the middle of a brawl or something.... I still think you both need to admit to yourselves that at least you like each other."
"We're fine pumpkin. And we already established that, long ago. It's the...father -son thing we have a problem with."
"Well, I think you're both idiots. And please, Harry, for the last time will you cease and desist from calling me a vegetable?"
"This is horrible!"Nelson gagged after sipping the brew.
"I'll take them," Lee grabbed the mugs and with a quick surreptitious glance poured the offending contents into a nearby potted plant. "Mission accomplished. Don't worry, both my Mom and Aunt are terrible cooks and..."Suddenly Lee began to tear at his skin. "Get them off me! Get them off me!" he yelled as the mugs shattered to the floor.
"Lee what's wrong?"Edith shouted.
"Stop them! Crawling! Crawling all over me! Biting! Stop! Stop them!" Lee's eyes rolled into the back of their sockets but he was still fighting something off as he writhed on the floor in agony. "Help me! For God's sake help me!"
"You're sure?" Mrs. Crane asked in the hospital's lobby.
"Absolutley,"Dr. Cynthia Bozette said, "There's no trace of anything physical that could account for his symptoms. I'm convinced it's entirely psychological.There's no other explanation. It could simply be stress or hysteria, or something far more imbedded. I'm told Dr. Jamison had had some concerns that there could be complications due to the implant, but it's this is nothing chemical or biological. It could be subliminal, but I doubt it. I'll arrange for a complete battery of psychological exams. The Mayfield Institute will be as good as any asylu...facility, and it's nearby."
"I knew it, I just knew it! Damn that Tobia!" Ski bashed his fist on the table in the crew's mess. "They wouldn't even let me see him! Guy's....it's bad." Seaview was still in dry-dock in New London, but he hadn't been able to resist returning 'home' to the boat. A few of his shipmates had the same idea apparently, especially when word of the Captain's latest crisis had gone from rumor to fact.
"He'll lick this Ski,"Sharkey said.
"Yeah? Then how come he's all locked up in a straight jacket and a padded cell?"
"Lee? Lee?"Nelson asked through the heavy metal mesh that divided the padded cell. "Lee? Can't you hear me, can't you see me?"
Crane only responded by crouching in a corner, shivering, whispering incoherently.
"It's no good Admiral," Jamison said. "He's totally unresponsive."
"But why? Why?"
"I'm convinced, Harry, the thing's clean," Admiral Conte stressed. "Nothing. Not a subliminal anything came out of that implant. Perhaps he was hypnotized."
"That' s possible?"
"Highly unlikely, but it's the only thing I can think of other than some kind of psychosis. But if it is hypnotism, I have to ask why? Why ravish his mind of any coherence? That would make him of no value to Tobia or the People's Republic. It doesn't make sense Harriman. I'm sorry, but I think Crane's had a nervous beakdown."
It was two full days before there was a glimmer of hope. Nelson was almost as unshaven as Crane.
"Admiral! What happened? Get me out of here!" Crane yelled, restraints in place on his wrists and ankles on the hospital bed. He was wild eyed, hair madly tousled, as an IV dripped sedately into his arm and an attached Foley hidden under the sheets.
"Do you remember anything?"
"The last thing I remember, we were talking, then nothing. Why am I stuck here, like some kind of animal? What...why are you looking at me like that?"
"Lee, we need to take some tests..."
"Admiral, what's happened?"
"You...were a bit psychotic...in fact, you were rather," Nelson struggled for the word, "hysterical. Yes Lee, you were screaming. You thought something was crawling all over you and eating you alive...you withdrew into yourself...didn't recognize any of us, not even your mother...."
"My god Admiral....what the hell did Tobia do to me?"
"We don't know that he did anything, Lee. The implant's been tested again and again. Nothing. Conte had an idea about you maybe being hypnotized but....there's nothing yet to confirm that."
"You think I'm crazy?"
"I think you're....ill."
"Ill?Look at me! I'm strapped down like a nutcase!"
"They were afraid you'd hurt yourself."
"Admiral?"Crane seemed to be gathering some control.
"Look, if...if I'm...crazy or something...promise me you'll take care of my Mom?"
"That goes without saying. She's here, I'll call her."
"Does...does she have to see me like...this? Bad enough I'm a raving lunatic."
"Now stop that. You may have been the victim of hypnosis, or a drug we haven't been able to identify. You're a long way from being committed yet."
It was an uncomfortable ten minute wait. Crane had been removed to a small room, with a table and two chairs. It had no window and was painted yellow.There was a large mirror on one wall. Crane thought they must think him stupid not to know it was a two-way window for their scientific observation. Finally the door opened.
"Lee?" Mrs. Crane ran in and embraced him, weeping.
"Mom, Mom, it's okay, I'm okay." Lee lifted his mother's face to look up at him," that's not my tower of strength now is it?"
But the reference only made her cry more. Lee let her cling for a while then moved her gently to a chair and helped her to sit down. She stared at the floor.
"Mom? Mom, look at me. I don't know if I'm crazy or not, but I want you to promise me that you'll protect yourself from me. The first sign of me acting weird, you run away. No, listen to me. They said I got violent. I'd rather kill myself than hurt you. Promise me Mom?"
"You'd never even think of hurting...."
"Mom, please, just promise me...just in case."
"Okay, I promise. But it won't happen Lee. Just you wait and see."
He wasn't used to such an early bedtime. 1900 hours. Resigned to his fate incarcerated here, Crane dutifully crawled into bed. There was a TV in the wall. Probably a two-way viewer as well, he thought. But he clicked it on. Only a few channels were available, but the shows actually helped relax him, and soon he was drifting to sleep when suddenly one of persons on the talk show grabbed his attention. Within minutes he pounding on the cell door and screaming at the top of his lungs.
"I should have been informed!"Doc Jamison argued in the supervisors office the next day.
"It wasn't thought necessary to disturb you. These incidents happen all the time. In future we'll call you even if it's in the middle of the night."
"How is he now?"
"Within reason, he's been allowed to visit Nelson in the quiet room. But at the first sign of him going into mental distress again like last night and he'll be returned to the violent ward and sedated immediately."
"But I'm fine!" Lee stressed to Jamison and Nelson. " Don't you see? It was on TV! All about twins. How they can communicate..."
"You're groping at straws Lee," Nelson said.
"Doc, tell him!"
"He does have a point, Admiral. Identical twins, sometimes even fraternal, can sometimes finish each others sentences and at times they actually know when something's happened to the other, but in this case...."he paused, "Lee. I don't see how it's possible. The clone was utterly destroyed."
"His eyeballs weren't, why not his brain? He's out there, hurting. ..."
"Now you are sounding crazy Lee," Nelson said as gently as he could, "I know you want to believe that X24 is alive, and that your symptoms are somehow related to it, but it...he... doesn't exist anymore."
"What if everybody's wrong about that, what if..."
"Enough,Lee. I was there when he exploded and melted...there was nothing left!"
"You didn't know the eyeballs survived till Conte gave them to you. What if he just doesn't want you to know? What if he's been in cahoots with Tobia's? What if..."
"Lee, enough," Nelson tried very hard to remain calm,"there's nothing more I want than for you to get well. I do sympathise, but...you'll be staying here for more tests and ..."
"Sympathy? I don't' need your sympathy, I need your help! X24's alive! At least his brain is, even if it's only a little bit leftover! He's in pain, he's desperate!"
"You can't hope or wish him alive. You'll remain here for the time being. It's for your own good, Lee."
"My own good?"
"Lee,"Nelson said gently trying to defuse the situation.
"Stop it! I don't need your pity and I don't need any damn keepers! I'm not insane! I'm fine! You're the ones that are crazy if you can't see that X24's alive and ..."
"I'll be back tomorrow," Nelson said, " to see if you're feeling better by then," Nelson nodded to Jamison and the attendants in Crane's side of the room.
"Admiral, please! Please listen to me!"he struggled against the men escorting him out,"Admir..."
The door closed. Nelson stood silent, deep in the loneliness of his own thoughts.
"I'm telling you guys, "Ski said as he inspected a new hull plate, "that's what I heard...the Skipper's about a hair's breath away from being committed."They think he's crazy....but that Tobia did something to him, or else...the Skipper's right."
"Oh come on, kid!" Sharkey said, "look, I want him to be okay as much or even more that you guys, but these are professionals. And as much as I hate the idea...what else can they do? He could hurt himself. Or anybody else that gets close to him."
"But Chief, "Ski argued., "how many times has the skip been wrong? I mean really wrong?"
"Enough. The matter's closed. I don't' want to hear any more about it."
"You've got to...look, chief, I got an idea...."
"Oh, Klowsie," Aunt Amy sat down accross from Ski in the Crane's living room, "I want you to be right, but you heard the doctors..."
"I've heard about that twin stuff, " Ski said, "and the Skipper's had, well, second sight a couple of times...maybe he does now....."
"I know Lee's had more than a few psychic events in his life," Mrs. Crane added, " but...this is stupid. The clone's destroyed."
"So Admiral Conte said," Ski said.
"You don't believe him?"
"I don't know about him, but I do believe in the Skipper. With your help, maybe we can... "
"Oh, son, what am I supposed to do, march right on into Mayfield and tell them Lee's X24 clone is alive out there someplace sending him telepathic signals? They might just lock us all up."
"That's not funny ma'am."
"No it's not, neither is ignoring some of the top professionals in the country. You have to face it, Lee is for all intents and purposes psychotic and nothing you can say or do is going to change that."
"I'm sorry Dr. Jamison," Admrial Conte pressed an intercom button to summon his aide, "but the idea's preposterous."
"The eyeballs exist. Maybe someone on the carrier scooped up the brain and...."
"How many times do we have to go through this? I've already had Nelson on my case and..."
"Why, yes, he flew back to the carrier, interviewed the crew, and is still searching for any orgainsol glob left on the deck. If you think I'm involved in some kind of Tobia complicity take the matter up with him. The eyeballs had simply been mislabeled and placed in a box of experimental bearings. The damn brain doesn't exist and if it did, it wouldn't be viable. There was a safety mechanism in the cortex to erase all biochemical function if it was damaged in any way. Now, if you have nothing further..." he handed his aide a manilla envelope and the meeting was over.
"What the hell is he doing?" Chief Sharkey hissed in Riley's ear. They stood well back from the nurse's station. It had been a bold plan to dress like attendants and sAunter into the institute as if they owned the place. In fact, the medical assistant style uniforms had been easy to obtain in a local clothing store. But this...
"Relax, Chief, he's just chatting her up."
"This ain't the time or place..."
Ski nodded for the two to come over. "And these two are from the staff pool as well, man, I hope we don't get that bug that's going around...anyhow, we' got some rounds to make...we're supposed to begin," he pulled out an official looking document, "with the isolation ward, the one where all the real,"he made a swirly motion with his finger," weird ones are, I even understand one of them thinks he has a robot twin," he laughed.
"Hold it," two security guards suddenly stood before the group." You're not going anywhere."
"Of all the idiotic stunts!" Morton yelled at the miscreant crewmen as they left police station out into the cold. "You were just going to sneak in and rescue the Skipper!You realize you could have been arrested or worse? I had to promise them that you'd never step foot in the place again unless you're patients! When the Admiral hears about this he'll blow a fuse and..."
"Uh, excuse me, Chip?" a woman's voice said softly, as Aunt Amy waited in the car, engine running.
"Mrs. Crane? What are you doing here?"
"Ski called me, please don't chew them out anymore. I'm as much to blame for this."
"I don't understand."
"They had a better plan...but I was too caught up in myself to trust then, and Lee....Commander? Do you believe Lee? Because I've been thinking, and I'm beginning to."
Nelson was tired and had finally returned from the flatop. He could have stayed in the VIP quarters on the sub-base near Seaview's drydock, but he'd felt the need to be with family, and Edith was all that was left to him. She was out for the evening apparently, and thankfully there were several TV dinners in the freezer.
As he sat and watched TV, he realized he'd no idea what was on. All he could think of was that last horrifying and cut off cry for help from Lee. His brother, his son, his friend, was certifiably insane. Tomorrow the commitment papers would be signed and Lee would spend the rest of his life in the hands of others. There were no answers. He'd finished the meal without even tasting it. Wearily he removed the TV tray to the kitchen and noticed the mail. It too had been delivered rather late judging from the various postmarks. What was going on with the mail lately. Of course, that blizzard that had delayed things for awhile and the many damaged post-offices.... There was a letter for him, marked from the former Tobia Labs....
I'm writing this in appreciation for my time aboard Seaview. I know we didn't get along. I wanted so hard to be Lee. For you and her and for myself. I should have tried to become my own man instead of being him. I guess I was living a stolen life, his memories, his DNA, and though I did not create myself, I should have realized that no-one has a right to be someone else. Even twins are different. Oh they can sometimes think the same things, and act alike, but deep down inside they're individuals.
That's what's so hard for me. I'm only a clone. I have no right to myself. I'm only a duplicate copy of someone else.
Dr. Tobia says I have no soul and that when I'm recycled or destroyed, I'll simply cease to exist into nothing. As if I never existed at all. But I feel, so how can I be nothing? Would the creator of all the cosmos and humanity leave me to non-existence?
Lee believed in God. Sometimes he questioned Him. But he never stopped believing. I want to believe that there will be something for me. I have to, or my life for want of a better word is meaningless.
But this letter is not to question or discuss with you the philosophy of life, it's only to say that of all the people I could have been cloned from, I'm glad it was Lee, and that he had you as a friend. I can only wonder what it would have been like for me to have had you as a friend as well.
Nelson crumpled the letter and felt like he'd lost Lee all over again. And tomorrow? Tomorrow was going to be a nightmare.
"I'm sorry Mrs. Crane," Dr. Bozetti stressed at the lawyers office the next morning," but committal will be for his own good. You can't possibly expect to be able to care for him yourself?"
"I'm quite capable of caring for my son doctor, and it's really none of your business is it?"
"But he's dangerous!" Crane's Mayfield physician insisted.
"Mrs. Crane, " Nelson said gently, "I know how you must feel but..."
"How I feel? Have any of you even, for one Moment, thought about how Lee feels?"
"But he's not even coherent ," Conte explained.
"You won't even give him the benefit of the doubt! What if he's right? Ask Admiral Nelson if Lee hasn't had paranormal experiences before?"
"Well?" Bozetti asked
"Lee....Lee has had a few psychic experiences, yes."
"And he had them growing up too,"Aunt Amy added. "Lee's not crazy, just misunderstood."
"Please, ladies, I know that you may be having second thoughts about this, but I have to agree with the doctors. Lee needs to be protected, from himself, and from harming others. If it helps you, I had the Navy re-examine every nook and cranny of that carrier and every storage center in the fleet for anything left of X24 and even if by some miracle the brain is still alive somewhere, there's no way humanly possible for it...him to communicate with Lee. Not with an organisol brain, which has probably already gone into a programmed neuron meltdown and...."
"But it's not human, Admiral, and who are you to say what type of being can or can't have psychic abilities with Lee." She stood, "I am taking my son home. Today. "
"You're making a mistake,"Bozetti said, " and if he hurts anyone there will be no reprieve. He's certifiable and even the law can make you turn him over."
"When hell freezes over, and he's not insane! You'll see, all of you. " She walked to the door and turned to Nelson, "I would have thought at least you'd be on Lee's side."
"What do you see Lee?" Aunt Amy asked as he just sat staring at the fireplace.
"Nothing, absolutely nothing!" he rubbed his head. "I've been trying for hours..."
"Lee, honey," his Mom sat beside him with a hug, " why don't you take a break from trying...just relax a bit...it will come when it will come. And if not...well, at least we tried. I think he'd know that."
"Mom?" Lee leaned his head against her shoulder, " thanks for believing in me."
She kissed his forehead, "You just take a little nap, close your eyes, that's a good boy...just rest. I'll stay right here."
It was all in the news now, well, the tabloid news. Dr. Tobia laughed out loud in his jail cell as he read about Lee Crane's latest crisis. And to think he'd had nothing to do with it. But what if his wild theory was right? That X24's brain was it managing to get out a distress signal of sorts. No, the tabloids had to have gotten it wrong, they always did. Invented stories most of them. And the Navy had denied any knowlege of this paticular robo-clone experiment at all. Surely the default meltdown had set in at the Moment of the explosion. And telepathy? That had to be Crane's imagination, that's all. Wishful thinking of a lunatic. Tobia laughed at that. While Crane might be able to live outside of Mayfield's walls, no one would ever be able to completely trust him again, not even Nelson. Seaview would have to be commanded by another, and that was a sweet victory indeed.
Fangs were tearing at him now. The ants had been bad enough when he'd finally been given up as a lost cause and discarded in the trash behind the lab as unsalvageable. Just because a good part of him had melted. He was still sentient, wasn't he? He just hadn't been able to communicate. He hoped the end would come quickly, and as the slaver of the dogs mixed with the liquefying organisol, he felt himself fading with one last thought....Lee!
Crane awoke with a gasp. He didn't know how, but he knew it was over and that Conte was responsible. Then he saw that he was still resting against his mother's shoulder. She'd fallen asleep too. He moved slowly not to wake her, and placed the afghan she must have draped over him over her. He wasn't sure Nelson would even help him, but he had to settle this, one way or another.
"You're sure ?" Nelson asked, as he walked with Crane behind the lab. Not that he believed Lee, but he felt it best to at least humor him with an attempt at it. Some dogs scattered as they neared a dumpster and some spilled over garbage cans. Lee stopped in his tracks. The Admiral saw where Lee was looking, ashen. "Lee, I'm sorry I put you through all that, but I had no choice, I had to side with the doctors and..."
"I know" Lee said gently as he knelt down . It was a very small greenish orange blob, or what was left of it, some of it badly torn and melted into thin wisps of fluid that stained the snow. But there was no mistaking it for anything else. It was part of the organisol brain.
Lee closed his eyes and pursed his lips in emotion for a Moment. "He was terrified. Those dogs... then all of a sudden he wasn't afraid at all anymore. It was like he was suddenly floating in light. Free."
"And Conte's involvement?"
"I don't know how I know, I just do. He had to have been behind it, a cover-up. He must have wanted to see what they could do with what was left after the explosion, and hid the brain. Admrial, he...X24...he really wanted to be your friend."
"I know, Lee, I know."
Seaview was off on another boring charting mission for a few days, but everyone knew the real reason. But nothing was said, at least not out loud. The men on watch stiffened out of respect as the boat surfaced and stopped. Mrs. Crane and Aunt Amy were soon topside, along with Edith Nelson and Morton and a great many of the crew joined them followed at last by the Captain, holding a small silver box.
"I guess I really don't know what to say," Lee began, " There are those who think that X24 was no more than micromush, as they called it; others, that he was only a robo-clone and that he was not really alive. But what is life? Is it merely the pumping of a heart and the electronic impulses of a brain? Some would think so, but I can't.
"To me, life is more than someone's mere existence. It is the all-encompassing urge to be something greater than oneself. To think and to feel. To be a friend. X24 experienced all of these, and most of all he was a friend. And though I never actually met him, he saved me from Dr. Tobia at the expense of his own life. In so doing, he was damaged beyond repair and subsequently discarded and destroyed in agony. Many people would say that all that is left of him is dust," he looked at the box.
"But I don't believe that. I can't, "he paused, then spoke more quietly, "I believe that where there is love, there is life, and what is friendship but a form of love? I can't believe that love ever dies. Oh, he doesn't exist anymore in this plane of existence, but in another. And I for one, look forward to the day when I can meet him up close in personal in that great beyond when I may call him by his real name of friend."
Crane then moved to the small platform over the deck opened the box and let the cremated remains, including eyeballs, scatter into the sea. " Be at peace."
Everyone was silent for a Moment, then Crane nodded to the deck crew and the assemblage retreated back into the sub.
"I don't think anyone could have said it better, Lee," Nelson said genuinely.
Tobia leaned back in the prison's library, and glowered. Crane had been declared misdiagnosed and quite sane after all, and Conte had been dishonorably discharged for his part in lying about X24's recovery efforts. It had been a blunder letting Conte partner with him in the first place. But that was water under the bridge, Tobia smirked. They'd see, they'd all see when the new X26 was completed one day. Only this time he'd choose a different specimen for the New World order he'd be creating. Someone....
"Dr. Tobia," the guard said, "your parole hearing starts in a half hour."
"So, Mom," Lee asked from the table in the observation nose, as Seaview finally headed toward the surface and home after a few more days of charting. "How'd you enjoy our little cruise? Over your fear of me falling overboard?"
"I was never afraid of that, only of you sinking or drowning or....okay okay, don't look at me like that, It was just... fine."
"She's lying, "Aunt Amy poured some coffee and handed to Lee, "she just can't resist those puppy dog eyes of yours."
"Are you okay now Lee, really?"
"I'm okay, but...I wish I could really have known him Mom."
"But dear, he was your clone, you knew him better than anyone on earth, because he was you."
"No, only he knew who he really was."
"It was a beautiful service, Lee, "Aunt Amy said. "He'd have been proud."
Crane stood up, a little bit embarassed and silent as Seaview broached the surface and the seafoam splashed against the windows. Some dolphins rode some waves ahead of them, and the clouds danced in the sunlit sky. Lee looked up to the heavens, content.