Storm Front

By R. L. Keller


(Fidelma has a tendency to pick out sentences that I had originally intended for nothing more than a ‘throw-away’ line and request “the rest of the story.”  This is one result, from a line in ‘Jigsaw’ where Jamie reminds Lee that he’s seen Lee so mad at Chip that he could barely think straight.  Blame this story on her J   RLK)



Dr. Will Jamison paused as he spotted his boss, Admiral Harriman Nelson, coming toward him in one of Seaview’s wide corridors.  There was a frown very evident on the Admiral’s face and, noting the direction he was coming from, Will figured that he knew at least part of the reason.  “Just come from the Conn?” he asked quietly as Nelson got close.  The Admiral nodded, the frown, if anything, growing deeper.  “I gather that the temperature hasn’t changed.”


Nelson grunted.  “If anything, it’s gotten even colder.”


Will shuddered.  “Still no indication of why?”  Nelson merely shook his head.  “Isn’t there anything that you could do?”


“And just what would you suggest, Doctor?” Nelson growled.


Will hesitated a moment.  “How about we lock them in the same cabin until they settle whatever is going on?”


Nelson grimaced.  “The entire sub is barely large enough to contain them.  I don’t think the boat would survive the explosion that close a confined confrontation would most likely produce.  At least as it is, one tries to stay as far away from the other as much as possible.”


“Good point,” Will nodded, his expression now matching Nelson’s.


“I’ve tried taking each aside.  Didn’t question them,” Nelson admitted.  “Just talked about other things but gave each the opportunity to vent.”  His frown came back.  “No takers.”


“They seemed fine before this cruise started.”


It was Nelson’s turn to nod.  “Even the first couple of days they seemed fine.  Then something…”  His voice trailed off.


“Yeah,” Will agreed.  “Two of the closest friends I’ve ever seen – let alone worked with – and with no apparent reason they are suddenly turning this submarine into a deep freeze, as icy as they are toward each other.  Not to mention that it’s spilled over to the rest of the crew.  I’m sure you’ve noticed how almost everyone is getting more tense with each passing day.”


“Yeah,” it was Nelson’s turn to mutter.


* * * *




Lt. Cdr. Charles P. (Chip to his friends) Morton let out a short whistle as he stepped out of his SUV in the parking lot of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, where he worked as XO aboard NIMR’s research sub, Seaview.  The sound stopped his CO – and best friend – Cdr. Lee Crane’s progress up the Admin Building’s front steps.  Lee grinned, waited for Chip to catch up, and they continued into the building together this Monday morning, chatting about nothing more important than how each had spent the weekend.  Chip had driven up to his sister’s place – she lived just north of San Francisco - and caught Lee up on what chaos his nieces and nephews were currently causing their parents.  Lee had spent the weekend hiking with an old friend, Pete Sinclair.  The marine geologist worked at Logan Sealab, a regular stop on Seaview’s re-supply route, and the pair had discovered a lot of common interests – especially those pertaining to the outdoors.  As confining as the undersea lab was, Pete preferred his infrequent off-times be spent in as wide-open territory as possible and kept a cabin up in the mountains precisely for that purpose.  Both men enjoyed camping and hiking, and tried to schedule some time together whenever they were both on shore.  This trip they’d been limited by Lee’s schedule.  Seaview was due to sail in three days to test some new underwater electronic sensors so the pair had limited themselves to several day hikes around the Santa Barbara area.  Pete had left for his cabin the previous afternoon for what was left of his off time.


Chip was giving Lee an evaluating look up and down as they entered the open area outside Admiral Nelson’s office.  Lee stopped walking and raised an eyebrow at Chip, as did Nelson’s PA, Angie, into whose domain they’d entered.  “What?” Lee demanded with a glare.


Chip continued the examination a moment longer.  Then, with a wink at Angie, told his friend, “Just checking for signs of bodily mayhem.  You and Pete rarely go hiking without one of you ending up with an owee of some sort.”


Before Lee could open his mouth to verbally squash, albeit good-naturedly, his insolent XO, he was distracted by chuckles from behind them and turned to find both Admiral Nelson and Dr. Will Jamison, Seaview’s CMO, entering the area.  Lee’s glare turned sullen.  “I’m fine,” he growled, before his expression turned to a broad grin.  “However, Pete got stung by a bee,” he said all too innocently.


“Where?” Will wanted to know.  Ninety-nine percent of bee stings were, while painful, fairly insignificant in the larger scale of injuries.  Will was merely curious.


Lee’s expression went extremely sheepish.  He glanced at Angie before telling the men, “Rather not say, Jamie, if you don’t mind.”  That drew a round of chuckles.  “We had sting stuff in the first aid kit,” he continued.  “He’s fine.”  It was Lee’s turn to chuckle.  “Or, at least, he will be in a couple of days.”


On that note, the four men entered Nelson’s office for their usual Monday-morning-while-in-port senior staff meeting.  Mostly it was used to catch everyone up on any work that was going on aboard Seaview and to cover updates for upcoming cruises.  Over large cups of strong coffee – not nearly as strong as Cookie made it aboard Seaview, but Angie knew her senior staff well – they quickly covered everything as there had been no major changes from what was already known.


Nelson did throw Chip one small curve.  “The computer tech that ComSubPac was sending to help with the sensor computers…”  His voice trailed off as he searched through several sheets of paper.


“Lt. Galway, sir?” Chip offered respectfully.


“Yes,” Nelson agreed, but continued to scan the sheets for a moment longer before finding the one he wanted.  “Apparently Galway was involved in a car accident early Saturday morning.  Nothing too serious, I’m told, but it will keep him from this cruise.  He’s being replaced by a Lt. Dawes.”  He handed the sheet to Chip.  “Apparently he knows both you and Lee, and volunteered to take Galway’s place.”


Chip’s quick eyes scanned the sheet.  “Adam Dawes.  Of course, sir.  I’ve taken a bunch of computer classes with him, both at Annapolis and since then.”  He glanced at a puzzled Lee.  “You remember him, Lee.  Two years ahead of us at the Academy.  But he’d hang with us when he could.  My height, brunet, a couple pounds overweight but nothing that threatened to get him expelled.”


Towards the end of the description Lee started to nod.  “Yeah, now I remember.”  He rolled his eyes.  “How do I put this tactfully – not the brightest light bulb in the world.”


Chip backhanded his buddy lightly.  “So, he was a little naïve.”  Lee shrugged.  “He was great fun to be around, easy-going.”  Lee was frowning.  “What?” Chip half-demanded.


Lee shrugged.  “Just seemed like he never put in any real effort – tried to get by doing the absolute minimum he could get away with.”


“At least he wasn’t trying to prove that he was god’s gift to the Academy,” Chip muttered.


Lee sent him a glance.  “No, that would have been Alex Van der Slate.”  Both men shuddered despite identical, and slightly evil, grins.


Will turned to Nelson.  “I really do hate it when they give out these little gems of intel but never elaborate.”


Nelson nodded but still told his CMO in a serious voice, “There are, however, a few things I don’t think you and I really want to know about.”


“The statute of limitations has to have run out by now,” Chip told Lee.


“Not Gunny Zitka’s statutes,” Lee replied, and both younger men shuddered again before returning only slightly overdone attentive expressions back on their boss.


Nelson didn’t quite cover his grin behind his coffee mug, but did have a question for Chip.  “If he was two years ahead of you, why were you taking the same computer classes?  And any idea why he’s still only a lieutenant?”


Lee answered the first part.  “You remember, sir, that because of Chip’s aptitude he was scheduled for advanced classes a lot more rapidly.”


Chip nodded at Lee, but spoke to Nelson.  “That and, like I said, he was always a bit on the naïve side.  I rather suspect that it’s clouded the odd Fit-Rep or two.”


“Security clearances?” Lee asked. 


Chip once more scanned the sheet of paper Nelson had handed him.  “Doesn’t really say much, Lee, but ComSubPac would never have approved his substitution if there was any question.”


“True,” Lee agreed.


“We don’t sail until Wednesday afternoon,” Nelson reminded everyone.  “There’s time to check clearances.”


“And I’ll call and get a copy of his medical records,” Will put in.  He added, with a frown       aimed at Nelson, “If he was even remotely associated with these two…”  He didn’t finish as Nelson choked on the swallow of coffee he’d just taken.  Will ignored the glares he got from his CO and XO – by this time he was pretty well immune.  As they both knew only too well so the glares didn’t last long, especially when Nelson, now recovered, sent them broad grins.


* * * *


A mound of paperwork kept Lee busy for the next couple days until Seaview sailed, and a minor glitch in Engineering kept him out of the Conn until Seaview was away from the dock and almost through the channel into open water.  He walked in as Chip was issuing the commands to set the course, and the pair not so gently harassed each other as they put the submarine through the usual “Angles and Dangles” maneuvers to make sure that everything aboard was secured correctly.  By the time they got all the department reports it was time to head for the Wardroom and dinner.  Admiral Nelson and Dr. Jamison were already sitting down in their usual spot at the first table.  Lee sat opposite them as usual but Chip went over to the next table and sat down with Lt. Dawes.  Lee sent them both a nod before sitting down with his back to their table.  He’d spoken briefly to the lieutenant when Dawes checked in the previous day, but was already running late for a meeting so left Chip to get him acclimated.  Several other JOs sat with Chip and Dawes, and occasional laughter broke out.


Lee spent the meal updating Nelson on the Engineering snafu, now fixed, and going over several other odds and ends of boat’s business – what was a frequent topic of conversation at mealtimes.  With Lee involved with the boat and Nelson with his projects and research, it was sometimes the easiest way for each of them to catch up with the other.  Will kept one ear on that conversation and the other on the next table, where computer jokes seemed to be the order of the day.


At one point Lee half-turned as soft laughter filled the room, and then sent both Nelson and Will a broad grin.  “If the Academy had accepted ‘Geek Speak’ as the foreign language requirement, Chip wouldn’t have had to struggle so hard getting through French.”  It was their turn to send chuckles into the room.  Lee didn’t turn around again, but his grin broadened as he watched Nelson look beyond him and laugh out loud.


“I remember,” the Admiral agreed.  “That was not his favorite subject.”


“No, sir.  Well,” Lee’s expression turned mischievous, “except for the time one of the French naval attaches, Captain Duchard, visited.  Chip was assigned to escort the group on a tour and the Captain’s daughter, Angelique, took quite a fancy to him.  Sure weren’t any communication problems for the week the Duchard’s stayed at the Commandant’s place.”


Nelson’s blue eyes sparkled.  “That was towards the end of your plebe year?” he asked.  Lee nodded, and Nelson’s grin grew.  “I recall the ‘Dant making a comment or two.  Seems Captain Duchard was getting a little concerned.”


“That sounds like our future XO,” Will offered, and all three men laughed. 


When Chip rejoined Lee in the Conn a bit later Lee was unable to keep the grin from reappearing.  Chip sent him a raised eyebrow, but Lee decided that discretion was the better part of staying alive and refused to explain.  Instead, the pair spent the next half hour going over cruise details for the next couple days.  Lee continued to let the occasional grin show, and Chip continued to occasionally frown because of it.  Lee finally gave Chip’s shoulder a soft punch, both men grinned openly, and Lee headed for his cabin – and the seemingly never-ending mound of paperwork. 


A flat hand smacking his cabin door made him glance at his desk clock and discover that it was nearly 2300 hours.  “Goodnight, Chip,” he called out amiably, got an answering chuckle, and headed for bed.


* * * *


The following afternoon found Lee making one of his casual walk-throughs of the giant submarine.  The crew was very used to Lee’s ‘walk-a-boats’ as they called it, and enjoyed the relaxed way their Skipper kept in touch with them.  He wandered through Engineering, where today everything was running smoothly.  Same with Reactor Control, Mechanics, and Electrical.  He spent some time in the Missile Room, kibitzing with several of the crew as they performed routine maintenance checks on the dive gear stored there.


Lee expected to find Lt. Dawes in the small lab set up to handle the computers being tested this cruise.  Nelson had designed some new sensors that, if they worked as well in the field as they did in NIMR’s lab tests, could be set out and send back detailed computer graphics that would greatly enhance Seaview’s future charting missions.  The testing area was around Easter Island, a fairly straight shot south from Santa Barbara.  Lee had raised an eyebrow when the Admiral had given him the cruise parameters and asked, if they were simply testing the new sensors, why they were traveling so far.  Nelson had smiled and told Lee to read a bit further.  When he did, Lee discovered that Nelson was also using the trip to replace some earthquake sensors along the Easter Fracture Zone that bisected the East Pacific Rise north-northwest of Easter Island.  Lee had nodded at Nelson’s use of the trip to kill two birds with one stone – so to speak.  But the computer room was empty, and Lee continued his easy amble through the boat. 


After a quick stop in the machine shop – used mostly for storing spare parts but still manned, even if minimally – Lee spent almost half an hour with Chief Hauck, Seaview’s Master-At-Arms.  Lt. Chris James, most often Chip’s second in the Conn, was now also Seaview’s Weapons Officer.  The Chief’s reports had all been positive as he worked with Lt. James through the crew changes.  But Lee liked to follow up with a more personal evaluation as well.


Lee found Lt. Dawes curled up in a corner of the Wardroom reading a book when he stopped in for a quick hit on the coffee urn.  “Ah, that’s where you are,” he told the lieutenant with a soft smile both on his face and in his voice.


“I’m sorry, Lee,” Dawes told him, laying the book in his lap but still not standing, as protocol would have dictated.  Lee saw Cookie frown before heading back into the galley, but Lee merely increased his smile.  Obviously Chip had impressed on Dawes that a bit less formality was the more normal plan-of-the-day aboard Seaview.  “I didn’t hear a page.”


Lee shook his head as he filled his mug with the powerful, possibly radioactive sludge Cookie lovingly called coffee, and which the whole crew was extremely fond of.  “Just expected to find you fine-tuning your computers,” Lee told him, resting a hip on the closest table.


Dawes picked his book back up.  “No need,” he said more to the book than to Lee.  “I don’t need them until we get to the area and the divers start setting out the sensors.”


“Uhm,” Lee agreed around a swallow of coffee.  “But if you happen to run into any glitches from moving them, you can fix them now and we don’t waste time doing it later.”


Dawes apparently had no answer for that one.  He put a marker in his book and ambled out without another word.  Lee sent an amused expression at the lieutenant’s back and downed the last of the coffee.  It would appear that Dawes hasn’t changed his stripes.  He shook his head at that horrible pun.  He’s still putting in as little effort as possible.  He must really like staying a lieutenant.  With a shrug he headed back toward the Conn.


The short conversation was forgotten until Chip stopped by Lee’s cabin at 2000 hours to give Lee his usual evening report.  They covered half a dozen odds and ends before Chip sent Lee an unusually penetrating look.  “You know, Lee, there was no need to land on Adam with both feet this afternoon.”


Lee’s instant expression was one of total confusion.  “Huh?” he asked, somewhat stunned at both the comment, and the tone of voice with which Chip had delivered it.  “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”


“He said that you reamed him out for taking a few minutes of down time.”


“I did no such thing, Chip.”  Lee’s expression turned more frustrated than confused.  “Dawes was in the Wardroom reading when I stopped by for a cup of joe.  I made an offhand comment about expecting him to be checking his computers, and he said that he didn’t need to do it until we reached the test site.  I reminded him, still all friendly, that if he did it now and found any problems, that he could fix them now and we wouldn’t waste time later.  End of discussion.  He left and I headed for the Conn.


Chip sent him one of his patented frowns the entire crew was only too familiar with.  Lee almost smiled, but was still confused enough to wait for Chip’s explanation.  Chip finally relaxed, at least slightly.  “You sure you didn’t say it stronger than that?  Maybe in that voice you use to scare the you-know-what out of the new recruits?”


Lee snorted.  “That’s your tactic,” he told his friend firmly.


Chip finally grinned.  “True,” he agreed.  “But whatever happened, Adam is really upset.”


Lee shrugged.  “Have no idea why,” he told Chip.


“You never really did like him at Annapolis.” 


Lee frowned.  “Never had all that much to do with him.”  He grinned slightly as he thought back to his conversation earlier with Admiral Nelson and Jamie.  Chip raised an eyebrow again and Lee figured that he’d better say something, so chose the lesser of several evils.  “I had my hands full keeping you, Tim, and Jerry out of trouble.  I didn’t need one more cut-up.”  As expected, that caused Chip’s frown to deepen.  Lee chuckled and gently slapped his friend’s knee.  


“Well, I’ll talk to him in the morning and get it sorted out.”  Chip’s voice held a careful quality.  He got the feeling that there was still something Lee wasn’t telling him.  But he let it drop, sent Lee a bit of a crooked grin, and headed to finish his own paperwork before hitting the rack.


Lee got hung up the following morning with Admiral Nelson.  Among other things, Nelson handed Lee several sheets of instructions for Dawes.  Lee raised an eyebrow, silently asking why Lee was delivering them instead of Chip who was already being asked to work more closely with the lieutenant than Lee.  Nelson merely grunted and said that Chip had his own list of instructions.  Both were late getting to the Wardroom, and ended up eating by themselves before Lee made a quick check on the Conn.  Chip sent him a couple of snide little remarks about being late, which Lee countered by telling Chip that maybe he’d have to assign his XO to more of Nelson’s little projects so he would be free to eat at regular times.  He sent a wink at Lt. James when Chip merely snorted at that crack, ran a finger quickly down the young lieutenant’s navigational notes, and headed to track down Lt. Dawes.


Today Dawes was exactly where Lee would have expected to find him – in the computer lab.  Lee entered carefully, not quite knowing what he was going to find.  But Dawes sent him an easy grin.  “Chip said you slept in this morning.”


Lee frowned.  “Hardly. Got tied up with Admiral Nelson first thing, even before my first cup of coffee.  Always makes for an ‘interesting’ morning.”


“Better you than me,” Dawes replied, still grinning.  “Not sure how I’d handle the brass hanging over my shoulder 24-7.  Nelson especially.  He was a real ash can at the Academy.  From what I’ve seen and heard he hasn’t changed much.”


Lee took a deep breath before answering.  Defending the Admiral wasn’t what he’d come down here to do.  And he figured that it would take a good deal longer than Dawes was scheduled to be aboard for anyone to explain to him, or him to even begin to understand, the genius that was one Admiral Harriman Nelson.  Another deep breath and Lee got back to the purpose for his visit and handed Dawes the papers Nelson gave him.  He wasn’t impressed that Dawes barely glanced at them before tossing them to one side. 


In deference to Chip’s comments the night before, and even though Dawes didn’t seem to be having any problems this morning, Lee decided to say something about their conversation the day before.  “Apparently I somehow upset you yesterday with my comments about the computer calibrations.  Just, on Seaview, we like to be ahead of timetables, not running to catch up.”


Dawes sent him a puzzled look.  “No biggy, Lee.  I understood where you were coming from.  From my experience I knew that I could have it done fairly quickly.  I could see that with your limited computer experience you might not realize that.  At least, that was Chip’s explanation.  I didn’t give it another thought.  I’ll have it all up to speed by this afternoon.”


“Good.”  Lee tried to keep the mutter out of his voice.  “Then I’ll get out of your hair.”  Lee stalked out of the lab.  While it was true that he didn’t have Chip’s knack for computers he wasn’t a total idiot.  But what bugged him more was, he never thought that Chip would put him down like that behind his back!


* * * *


Once more Nelson and Will were already sitting and eating – lunch this time – when Chip came in.  He glanced around after filling his plate, but ended up in his usual place opposite the other two.


Nelson saw Cookie frown from behind the serving table and asked his XO amiably, “Lee get hung up somewhere?”  He was totally unprepared for Chip’s grumble.


“Haven’t a clue.  Came into the Conn about an hour ago with a burr up his six about something, stalked around for a few minutes, and stalked back out.  Haven’t seen him since.”  The blond shrugged.


“You don’t know what set him off?” Will questioned.  It was his observation that the two long-time friends could most often read each other’s minds.  There had, of course, been instances where they hid things from each other.  But it was rare.  Will sensed ‘something’ in Chip now, and suspected that he wasn’t being totally truthful.


“Not a clue,” Chip repeated with a mutter.  But he refused to meet Will’s eyes, and Will and Nelson shared a quick nod before visiting about nothing at all while they finished the meal.  The nods turned to frowns as Chip hurried through his meal and left as rapidly as he could.


“Oh, oh,” Will did his own muttering, albeit quietly so only Nelson heard.


“Not the most pleasant way to start a cruise,” Nelson agreed.


“Hopefully it will go the way of past issues and be over quickly.”


Nelson raised his coffee cup.  “One can hope,” he agreed.


* * * *


Chief Frances E. Sharkey, Seaview’s COB, decided to take a break from the tension in the Conn and head aft.  He had no idea what the problem was between the two senior officers.  It was extremely unusual for the two to be out of sorts with each other and it was causing everyone around them to walk softly.  When he first took this position, and realized that the two young men were such good friends, he hadn’t been too pleased.  He was the man most responsible for seeing to the needs of his crew and he wondered if they’d get lost in the dynamics of the officers’ command structure.  It didn’t take him long to realize that he need not fear that ever happening.  Not only did CO and XO never allow their friendship to get in the way of proper command protocol, his ridiculously young Skipper had an extremely strong attitude toward taking care of those under his command, right down to the lowliest seaman.


Sharkey quickly realized something else about the Skipper.  He’d learned by watching Cdr. Crane’s seemingly aimless ambles around the boat any time he had a few extra minutes that it often lead to picking up more of the subtle nuances of crew temperament than ‘official’ observations.  Crane wanted to know what was going on around him at all times, as any abnormalities could so easily affect crew performance.


Sharkey shook his head.  That was exactly why the current problems between CO and XO were so unusual.  Oh, there were always the occasional little squabbles – that was expected any time this many men served together in tight quarters.  A grin hit Sharkey’s face.  Mr. Morton made no bones about Crane continuing to take ONI assignments.  But Sharkey was quick to acknowledge that those moments had absolutely nothing in common with the current tension between the two.  At least, as far as anyone knew there hadn’t been any indication of that being the problem.  Whatever was going on, it wasn’t dissipating fairly quickly as those spats always did.  In fact, it was growing worse with each passing day.


The frown from those thoughts was still on his face as he passed by the open door to one of the storage areas.  It grew as he caught a bit of the conversation going on inside.  “That’s just stupid,” came in Senior Rating Kowalski’s voice, at the moment filled with disgust.  “He’d never say anything like that.”


“I tell you, he was heard saying it.”  Sharkey easily recognized Seaman Maxwell’s voice.  The man was part of Seaview’s Damage Control team.  One of the reasons he was so good at his job was his even-tempered confidence.  Sharkey wasn’t happy to hear the edge in his voice now, especially directed at one of his best friends aboard.


“Hey,” Sharkey called out loudly, and quickly walked into the room.  “What’s going on?”  The two men were standing nearly toe to toe, but turned to face Sharkey as he came to a halt just inside the door.  “Well?” he demanded, when both merely looked at him.


“Ah,” Kowalski started, “it was nothing.”


“Sure didn’t sound like nothing from the corridor,” Sharkey continued to challenge them, hands now on his hips.


“Just a misunderstanding,” Maxwell told his COB


“A big one,” Kowalski growled, not entirely to himself.


“Whatever it is, it ends right now,” Sharkey did a little growling of his own.  “Understand?”


“Aye, aye, sir,” Both men answered, Kowalski a bit more slowly than Maxwell.


Sharkey wasn’t thrilled with either man’s response but huffed loudly, turned on his heel, and left.  Behind him, in the storage area, the two seamen turned their backs on each other and tried to finish the task at hand without admitting that the other one was even there.


Eesh, Sharkey told himself with a heavy sigh, just what this boat needs – more squabbling crew.  Shaking his head, he once more headed aft.


* * * *


Lt.’s O’Brien and Keeter, besides their other duties in Engineering and Mechanics respectively, normally shared duties as Watch Officers during Seaview’s “C” and “D” watches from 2000 hours until 0800 hours.  O’Brien tended to crash as soon as he got off duty at 0200 for six hours or so, and the pair often ended up eating breakfast together about 0900 after Keeter got off duty and finished his stack of reports.


Today they sat with heads close together so their conversation couldn’t be overheard.  “Man,” Keeter said, shaking his head, “I just cannot believe Mr. Morton’s thinking about leaving Seaview.”  He sighed heavily.  “I mean, I know that he’s ticked at the Skipper.”  He sent O’Brien a bit of an impish grin.  “Nothing new there when it has anything to do with ONI.  But normally he just threatens to toss Crane into the nearest bulkhead.”


Bob O’Brien swallowed a bite of his breakfast.  “I heard that the Skipper is going to ask Admiral Nelson to fire Mr. Morton for insubordination.  Said that he can’t work with him anymore.”


“You have got to be kidding.”  Keeter was totally amazed.


“Nope.  He was overheard complaining that Mr. Morton was undermining his authority.”


“With who?”


O’Brien shrugged.  “Not sure,” he admitted.


“Certainly wasn’t with me,” Keeter assured him.


“Me, neither.  Just, that’s what I was told.”


“By who?”


“Lt. Dawes.  Said they got into it right in front of him.  Said he figured that, since he wasn’t regular crew, they didn’t care if he heard.”


Keeter shook his head.  “That doesn’t sound like either one of them.”


O’Brien nodded.  “I said the same thing to Dawes.”  He paused.  “But, you have to admit, I can’t remember ever seeing them this ticked at each other for so long a time.”


“Got me there,” Keeter agreed.


“Not sure that I want to stay if Mr. Morton goes,” O’Brien told him.  Keeter stared at him.  “I know that it’s different for you.  You came aboard after Crane.  But I was one of the original crew.  I’ve never had another XO here except Mr. Morton.  Not sure I’d want to stay if Crane gets rid of him.”


Keeter was quiet for a bit.  “Something to think about,” he admitted.  “I’d never have thought that the Skipper would do anything like that.  But…”  His voice trailed off.


“Yeah,” O’Brien agreed.  They finished the rest of the meal in silent contemplation of their own thoughts.


* * * *


Chip practically slammed Lee’s cabin door behind him as he left from giving his CO the required 2000 hours report.  Mostly it was merely a formality as Lee spent as much time in the Conn as he could no matter what was going on.  It was also a respite for the two old friends to relax and forget about their jobs for a few minutes; try to forget whatever chaos had happened around them that day.


But not this week!  For whatever reason Lee was being a particular pain in the six, and staying as far away from the Conn while Chip was on duty as he possibly could.  Chip was perfectly happy with the arrangement under the current conditions, made his reports succinctly and officiously, and got the heck away from his CO as fast as he could.  And Lee did nothing to stop him.  He would brusquely answer Chip’s knock to enter, listen with total silence to Chip’s verbal report with a dark, hooded expression on his face, grunt his acknowledgement of the report, and glare at Chip until Chip left. 


Originally going to his cabin, Chip changed his mind and headed for the Wardroom.  Cookie’s high-octane brew probably wasn’t the smartest thing in the world to be drinking at this hour if he wanted to get any sleep.  And tonight of all nights he needed the rest as tomorrow they’d be at the test site.  If this were a normal cruise Chip knew that Lee would be going out on as many dives as possible to set out the new sensors.  But things were far from normal.  Besides Lee’s weird attitude, Admiral Nelson had requested that Chip be in the computer lab monitoring Lt. Dawes’ tests.  Lt. James was perfectly capable of handling the Conn – Seaview wouldn’t be making any technically demanding maneuvers, and Chip was fine with leaving Chris in command.  But in Lee’s present mood there was no telling what he’d do.  So far, according to Chief Sharkey, while Lee was relatively short with the crew, the only one he was treating like dirt was Chip.  Well, and Adam, Chip told himself.  Something, and Chip had no idea what, had set Lee on edge about the man.  And Chip had to admit, Adam hadn’t helped. He’d tried to tell Adam to just do his job and not let Lee get to him.  But for some reason Adam had gotten it into his head that Lee hated him.


And, after the first couple of days, it appeared that Adam was right.  Adam was a basket case about staying away from Lee.  He’d complained to Chip after that first encounter and hadn’t quit whining since.  He kept telling Chip that Lee went out of his way to put him down but was really sneaky about it, doing it when no one else was around.  That so didn’t sound like Lee.  But then, neither was the mood Lee was in!


Chip was therefore surprised to find Adam sitting in a back corner of the Wardroom, reading.  No one else was there, but Chip knew that it would be nothing new to have Lee walk in at any hour of the day.  Or night, for that matter, Chip grumbled to himself.  If Adam wanted to stay out of Lee’s line of fire he hadn’t chosen a particularly safe place.  Shrugging, Chip glanced at the coffee urn but hesitated pouring himself a cup.  A soft clearing of the throat caused him to look up and he found Cookie watching him through the Galley doorway.


“I was just about to throw that out and make fresh before going off duty,” Seaview’s premier chef told his XO.


Chip sent him a wry grin.  “Wasn’t sure that’s actually what I wanted anyway,” he admitted.


“Won’t take me a second to whip up some cocoa.”  Cookie wasn’t big on special favors but not only was it wise to keep the XO on your side, the tension on the boat this cruise was causing everyone to walk softly and do what they could to keep things from getting any worse.  When Chip continued to hesitate, Cookie sent him a nod and headed for the big walk-in fridge.  With another wry grin Chip walked over to where Dawes was sitting and collapsed heavily into the next chair.


“Rough day?” Dawes asked.


“A little frustrating,” Chip toned down his rotten mood.


“I don’t know why you put up with the crapola around here when you could have so much more.”


Chip sighed.  “Most of the time it’s not a problem.  Oh,” he admitted, “we get our share of weirdness.”  He sent Dawes a smile but didn’t try to explain what caused it.  “But I really, really like it here.”


“Playing second fiddle to Mister Perfect?  I don’t understand how you can put up with Crane.”


Chip chuckled at that one, totally confusing Dawes.  “I’ve tried to tell you, whatever his problem is this cruise, he’s usually pretty laid-back.  He’s easy to work with, he’s one of the most knowledgeable skippers I’ve ever met or served under, knows his job, this boat, and her crew inside out.”  Chip sighed heavily again.  “I wish I knew what set him off this time.”  He added, but only to himself, But once this cruise is over I’m going to beat the answer out of him.


“You’re way too good to be putting up with his garbage, no matter what.”  Dawes glanced toward the Galley but Cookie was still out of sight.  “Look, once this cruise is over I’m resigning my commission and setting up my own computer consulting firm.”  He frowned.  “They’re going to kick me out anyway so I might as well.”  Chip raised an eyebrow.  “I’m just about to get passed over for promotion.  Two strikes and you’re out – stupid Navy rule.”  The growl was totally overridden by his sudden impish grin.  “On the other hand it’s probably the best thing that could happen.  Come with me.  No more cow-towing to the Navy, no one looking over your shoulder.  Set your own hours, be your own boss.”


“Leave Seaview?”  The very idea was so foreign to Chip’s thoughts that he couldn’t help the incredulity coming through his voice.


“Think about it,” Dawes urged him, ignoring Chip’s tone.  “You and me – it will be great!  We’ve always worked well together.”


Chip started shaking his head, but anything he might have said was stopped as Cookie came out of the Galley holding a large mug.  Chip, grateful for the interruption, stood up and met him halfway, taking the steaming mug of hot cocoa and concentrating on it as he stood with his back to Dawes.  Cookie gave him a puzzled look, and Chip finally sent him a small smile and a thank you.  He still didn’t quite know how to respond to Dawes’ offer without blasting him into the next time zone for even thinking Chip would leave what to him was the best job he could ever think of having.  Despite the weirdness, he admitted to himself.  He gave his head another shake and walked out of the Wardroom without a backward glance at Dawes.


* * * *


Will took a deep breath.  And, another swallow from his fifth cup of Cookie’s extra strength brew.  It was nearly 1230 hours and Seaview’s CMO was dawdling over lunch.  He’d brought one of his medical journals with him to read as he expected to be eating pretty much by himself.  Nor was he mistaken.  Seaview had reached its destination fairly early that morning and the activity level aboard had instantly increased.  Will knew peripherally what was going on even though he wasn’t actively involved.


Lee was one of half a dozen divers who went out to place Admiral Nelson’s new sensors.  Will was actually pleased that, with the warm waters just north of Easter Island, the divers were staying out an extra long time.  He was hoping that the activity, something his CO loved anyway, would help him let go of at least some of whatever was causing his sour mood.


Chip was relegated to the computer lab set up for Lt. Dawes.  Will had raised an eyebrow when Admiral Nelson told him that a couple of days ago as the two ate dinner – once more by themselves.  Chip was eating at another table with Dawes, and Lee was nowhere to be seen.  Nelson admitted that he wasn’t willing to risk the whole trip on the Navy’s choice of computer operator and wanted a pair of eyes he totally trusted to oversee the tests.  While the final evaluations would be done much later back at NIMR, Nelson wanted to make sure that they didn’t have to re-do the entire cruise because the tests weren’t run correctly.  Will had sent a glance toward where their visitor was sitting and then back toward Nelson.  The Admiral hadn’t elaborated, but the expression on his face said volumes to someone who had served any amount of time with him – Nelson wasn’t enamored with their guest!


Will hadn’t said anything either, but he did start to pay more attention to the boat’s unusual atmosphere.  Dawes was the wild card – the only abnormality aboard.  Will hadn’t considered it before now as Dawes seemed to be such a non-entity.  He wasn’t one of the occasionally manic scientists Nelson invited aboard.  He seemed to keep mostly to himself, although he ate regularly with Chip.  Will hadn’t seen him wandering around the boat.  On the other hand Will didn’t do much of that, either, so he might not have noticed.  So, he’d spent the last couple of days quietly working on a research project of his own.


One of the things that had always fascinated Will was how small groups of people maintained optimum working conditions over an extended period of time.  When he’d come to NIMR it was the first time he would be serving aboard a submarine and he’d anticipated lots of good research.  Unfortunately he’d been extremely disappointed.  His research had been almost instantly reduced to one sentence.  ‘The Command team structure and dynamics keep everything on an even keel.’


Well, it wasn’t quite that simple.  But it hadn’t taken Will long at all to realize that NIMR’s ability to hand-pick their employees, coupled with Lee’s relaxed command style and connection to his crew as individuals, went a very long way toward facilitating and maintaining a calm work atmosphere.  So Will had been relegated to doing his research on, for the most part, the teams of scientists Seaview delivered to the undersea labs and Antarctic stations they regularly resupplied.  Will would conduct interviews with the teams going in, as well as the exiting teams, and over the years had written very knowledgeable research papers on what worked and what didn’t.  They’d earned him a modest but well received following in Psychological fields.


Things stayed so calm aboard Seaview that he’d gotten out of the habit of keeping tabs on his own crew.  He was embarrassed to admit to himself that even with how bad things had gotten this last week he’d not thought to try and track down the cause.  Well, over and above that it had something to do with Lee and Chip being at each other’s throats.


Will spent most of the next day in quiet observation of his boat mates, with a specific focus on their interaction with Lt. Dawes.  He started with obscure questions directed at his two corpsmen.  Frank and John spent more time among the regular crewmen than Will did but they were fairly unhelpful.  The only thing he learned was that Dawes seemed to ignore any crewmen he came in contact with, treating them basically as somewhat beneath his dignity.  But also that any contact was kept to a bare minimum simply because Dawes spent most of his time either in the cabin assigned to him, the computer lab, or the Wardroom.  Shrugging his shoulders at that lack of information, Will set out on some reconnaissance of his own.


Will had a good relationship with the crew.  While holding the rank of Lt. Commander, he was not considered part of the Command hierarchy.  On top of that, the crew recognized Will as someone who wasn’t afraid to stand up to the ruling triumvirate any time the three chose to ignore their own health issues – not an easy job, but occasionally a very necessary one.  That alone brought Will a great deal of respect.  And also, a great deal of autonomy to wander around as he pleased.


Since his corpsmen indicated that the seamen didn’t have much knowledge, Will now went in search of his own intel among the officers.  He casually checked each department and sought out the officer in charge.  He kept his questions casual and friendly, seeming to merely be killing time while Seaview was relatively stationary.  He hoped that the men he talked to didn’t even realize that they were being questioned.  He knew that if they did they’d clam up.  Nicely, of course, but still keep their own counsel.  Lee didn’t like scuttlebutt messing up his orderly boat.  The crew was well aware of that and kept such chatter to a minimum for the most part.


So it was that Will learned basically nothing in his first three stops.  While there was a definite tension level that wasn’t normally noticed aboard the submarine, Will was unable to draw anyone into more than casual chit-chat.  Frustrated, Will wandered down to the Missile Room.  Chief Sharkey, always a veritable fountain of information, was monitoring the divers from there.  Will had no intentions of actually trying to question the COB.  The problem was never getting the man to talk, it was a matter of balancing what he said against the man’s fierce loyalties to Nelson, boat and CO – in that order – followed then by XO, with the other JOs at a considerable distance.  Will had a smile on his face as he entered the area.  There was never any doubt that Sharkey ran a tight, well-organized boat.  He just had his own way of doing it.


Sharkey had his headset in place, responding if necessary to the divers.  But audio was also coming through the room’s speakers so Will merely sent the COB and the several other crewmen a nod and took a seat out of the way, listening to the divers’ conversations as they set out the sensors in whatever grid pattern Nelson had plotted.  He easily recognized Lee’s voice as he kibitzed with Kowalski about several passing Hammerhead sharks.  Will happily noted the casual way Lee was communicating and was again glad that his CO was finding at least this moment of peace from the stress he’d been under the last week.  No one was overly concerned about the sharks.  Will, as well as everyone else, knew them to be fairly harmless to the divers if left alone. 


Apparently the dive was about complete as Will heard Henderson and Nielsen call in that they had completed their assignments and were coming in.  There was a response from Chip over the dive channel acknowledging that all of their sensors were reporting in correctly.  Will assumed that the pair had been assigned the sensors closest to the boat as Marks and Lewis were the next pair to report in, just about the time the diving hatch cycled to let the first pair reenter the boat.  Again there was a quick comment from Chip.  Will smiled to himself – typical that Lee would have given himself the farthest away sensors to place.  But it was only a couple more minutes before he, too, reported all sensors placed and that he and Kowalski were headed back.  Chip’s response was very conspicuous by it’s absence.  Will noticed frowns and concerned looks all around the room, but nothing was said – at least where he could hear it.  Sharkey finally acknowledged Lee’s comment.  All he got back in response was a grunt.  Sharkey did glance at Will at that point.  Will shrugged, and neither said anything.


Will hung around until Lee and Kowalski came back aboard.  He was prepared for the frown Lee sent him so shrugged again, made light of a bit of boredom, and helped Lee out of his dive gear.  It gave Will the opportunity to take visual stock of his CO, something he’d not had much opportunity to do of late with Lee’s absence from the Wardroom at normal mealtimes.  Will wasn’t at all happy with the stress so very evident in Lee’s bearing, nor the loss of weight, easily recognized as Lee changed back into his khaki’s.  Will would have liked to spend a couple minutes massaging some of the tension out of Lee’s shoulders but didn’t dare.  While he could get away with a lot around his occasionally temperamental CO – and friend – there were lines that he didn’t cross.  If they’d been alone he might have suggested it, but not in front of other crewmen.  He watched Lee give a quick glance around the room as all traces of the dive were properly handled and stored, give a quick nod to Sharkey, and head out.  Will assumed to the Conn, but didn’t follow.


Instead, he headed toward Nelson’s lab.  Knocking, he didn’t wait for an answer and quietly opened the door.  Nelson looked up from the sheaf of papers he was scanning and motioned Will the rest of the way in, at the same time sending a definite ‘what’s up’ expression.  “Just wandering around, taking the temperature here and there around the boat,” was Will’s answer as he settled into a chair.


“And your prognosis?” Nelson asked, relaxing back in his own.


“Not good,” Will admitted with a grimace.


Nelson almost growled.  “So help me I’m about to take your suggestion, relieve both those two nincomtwits of duty, and throw them overboard.”


Will shivered involuntarily.  “You remember what happened the last time you relieved Lee of duty?”  He wasn’t prepared for Nelson’s instant chuckle.  “You think that was funny?” Will asked him, incredulously.  Will was referring to a time Nelson had wigged out on some mis-prescribed medication.  The boat barely survived that incident.


Nelson sent him a fond grin.  “Funny, no,” he told his ticked off CMO,  “Just the effect that it had on Jiggs.”  Nelson named the head of ComSubPac, Admiral Jiggs Stark, an old friend of Nelson’s who had been aboard at the time.


“Oh,” Will breathed out, and relaxed.  He sent Nelson a bit of a smile of his own.  “I wasn’t sure Lee was going to make it back from that cruise in one piece.  Which would have been a shame since he managed to save all of us – Stark included.”


“Fried poor Jiggs’ brain, as Riley would phrase it,” Nelson said with a grin.


“Unfortunately, it didn’t help Admiral Stark’s animosity towards Lee.”


Nelson laughed outright.  “Jiggs doesn’t dislike Lee.”


“Oh, really,” Will muttered.


“Not at all,” Nelson assured him.  “But he realized that he can’t intimidate Lee.  He has a great deal of respect for Lee’s abilities, but Lee throws him off-kilter and Jiggs covers it with added gruffness.”  Nelson chuckled again as Will finally nodded. 


They were interrupted by a knock on the door, whoever it was this time waiting for Nelson’s call to enter.  Will was half-expecting Lee, but it turned out to be Chip.


He handed Nelson several sheets of paper.  “Preliminary report on the first dive, sir.”


“How does it look?” Nelson asked him.


“Good,” Chip replied.  Both Nelson and Will raised eyebrows at the short response.


“No problems?” Nelson asked, trying to draw Chip out of what Will suddenly realized was a severe moment of stress, and knew that Nelson had figured it out as well.


Chip took a deep breath, hesitated, but finally answered.  Will got the distinct impression that he’d rather not have, but couldn’t figure out a way to get out of answering the direct question.  “One small glitch, but Adam and I have it under control.”


“And what is that?” Nelson refused to let his XO off the hook.


“Every one of Lee’s sensors are misplaced by point 017 degrees.  His nav-meter was apparently mis-calibrated.  We just need to adjust the data the sensors are sending back.”


“That doesn’t sound like our ultra-competent Skipper.”  Will tried to make it sound like a joke, to get Chip to relax a bit.


Unfortunately it had just the opposite effect and Chip’s expression went even darker.  Nelson, too, noticed, and sent a look Chip’s way that said all too plainly he was waiting for further clarification.  Again Chip hesitated, but finally answered.  “Adam suggested that Lee did it on purpose to skew the data and make Adam look bad.”


“Lee would never do that,” Nelson blustered, leaning forward and glaring at his XO.


Chip visibly cringed under the glare, but held his ground.  “Before this trip, sir, I’d have agreed with you.  But right now…”  He let his thoughts trail off unspoken.


Nelson held his gaze a moment longer, before finally exhaling loudly.  “Dismissed,” he told Chip none too gently, and the blond wasted little time complying with the order.


Will made a soft attempt to defuse his boss, who appeared ready to explode.  “Someone else who’s not afraid to speak his mind,” he said casually.  “He’s obviously been hanging around Lee way too long.”


The look Nelson sent him nearly had Will running for cover.  But he sent Nelson back a small smile, and the thunderstorm broke with a snort.  “True.” Nelson agreed, finally settling back again in his chair.


“But it’s still worrisome,” Will added thoughtfully, “that he would show you that much disrespect to say it at all.”


Nelson nodded, having already come to that conclusion.  “Also true.”  Both men were silent, staring at the closed door.  “Have you ever visited Easter Island?” Nelson broke the silence.


It was such a complete change of topic that it took Will an extra couple of seconds to register the question.  “Actually, no,” he finally answered, looking at Nelson with a totally puzzled expression.


“Amazing place,” Nelson continued, still looking at the door instead of at Will.


“So I’ve heard,” Will played along with whatever game Nelson was up to.


Nelson continued to look at the door as he spoke, but did send Will the occasional glance.  “While it’s probably best known for the Moai, the stone monuments, it’s actually quite a cautionary tale for humanity.”


“How so?”


“When the island was first colonized by Polynesians it was covered with trees.  Although many of their staple crops wouldn’t grow there a couple easy crops, like sweet potatoes, thrived.  The trees included one of the largest species of palm tree.  The bark and wood supplied the inhabitants with cloth, rope, and canoes, and also a way to move the stone heads from the quarry where they were made down to where they were erected.  There was abundant fish and birds, and the colonies grew rapidly.  It’s theorized that the living was so easy, that’s what gave the people so much time to carve the statues.”


“So, what happened?”


“A combination of things, but all based on a closed society.  A lot of it is speculation.”  He glanced at Will, who nodded that he understood.  “But as the colonies grew, more land was needed to grow crops, and more and more trees were cut to clear land.  The only livestock they had were chickens, which didn’t supply enough manure to replenish what nutrients the crops leeched from the land.  Fights started to break out between the different groups as resources were becoming more scarce, eventually leading to cannibalism as the crops failed and fish around the island were depleted.”


“Eesh,” Will muttered.  “Its surprising that anyone survived.”


Nelson nodded.  “By the 1870s there were only a little over one hundred descendants of the original inhabitants left.  Starting in the early 1700s the island was getting the occasional visiting ship.  It actually got it’s English name when the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen first visited it on Easter Sunday 1722.  But those occasional visits weren’t always helpful.  One missionary brought tuberculosis to the island and wiped out almost half of the population.”  A soft ‘damn’ escaped Will’s thoughts to be spoken out loud, and Nelson nodded.  “Eventually after Chile annexed the island it was turned into one large sheep ranch.  Those inhabitants left, besides working on the ranch, started re-erecting the statues that had all been toppled during the fighting.  Eventually the ranching stopped, and more and more tourism has taken over.”


“You’re right, Admiral,” Will told him, “there’s a lot for the world’s societies to learn from that.  But, while I appreciate the history lesson…”  It was Will’s turn to let his thoughts trail off.


Nelson shrugged and sent him a rather enigmatic little smile.  “Thought perhaps, since we’re this close, that you might enjoy visiting there.  The island is so small you can see a lot of it in one day.”


“Were you planning on being my tour guide?” Will couldn’t help ask.


“Nooooo,” Nelson drawled.  “I was thinking I’d ask Lee to take you in FS1.”


Will momentarily closed his eyes.  “Toss him off the boat and leave me to deal with him.”  He opened his eyes and glared at Nelson.  “Thanks a lot,” he growled.


Nelson grinned.  “Not exactly, Will.  Merely ask him to help you scratch an itch.”


“I wasn’t aware that I had a rash,” Will muttered not quite totally under his breath, causing Nelson to chuckle.


“I suspect that at least part of Lee’s frustrations stem from not having enough to do this trip.”  Both men shuddered slightly – there had been issues on past cruises when Lee got bored.  “While the diving now helps, I think he could use a bit of time away.  He likes you.”  Nelson sent Will a fond smile.  “You, he won’t throttle.”


“Under the circumstances,” Will continued to mutter, “I wouldn’t be too sure of that.”


“Try to keep him gone as long as possible.  All day and into the evening if you can manage it.”


“I hope you don’t expect me to ask him.”  Will was still muttering, unhappy with the whole plan.  “He’ll just blow me off.”


Nelson nodded.  “No, I’ll take care of that.  You just be ready for a day of sightseeing right after breakfast tomorrow.”


Will took a deep breath, let it out slowly, nodded, and rose to leave.  He sent Nelson a frown, which again Nelson smiled at enigmatically, and Will headed back to Sick Bay.  Admiral, I don’t know what you have in mind, he was still muttering, but now only to himself, but whatever it is, I sure hope that it works.


He couldn’t know, but Nelson was saying something of the same thing to himself.  He had a sketchy outline of a plan in his head, one that would benefit from having only one combatant to deal with.  Since Chip was needed to help monitor the tests, that left getting rid of Lee for a while, and the nearness of Easter Island was a quick fix.  Lee could be a handful, but he and Will shared a very unique friendship.  Outsiders hearing them kibitz were usually left wondering why one hadn’t yet killed the other as much as they bickered.  But anyone who spent any time around them quickly realized that there was a great level of trust and respect between the two strong-willed men.  Nelson took in a huge breath and let it out slowly as he pondered his hastily thought out plan.  This could get messy, he admitted to himself.  But he was also a man who had always taken action over inaction in any given situation.  And conditions aboard his submarine had reached a point where something – even if it was wrong – needed to be done.


* * * *


From Nelson’s lab Chip headed for the Control Room.  But running into Sharkey instantly changed his mind.  With COB in tow he headed for the Missile Room, telling Sharkey that he needed to check the nav-meters to correlate with the computer data.  Sharkey nodded.  He never tried to understand his XO’s techno-babble. He was perfectly comfortable with the fact that his talents lay in other areas, and never let officers get under his skin.


There were several crewmen working on different tasks in the Missile Room when Chip and Sharkey entered.  Chip ignored them all and went straight to the locker that contained, among other things, the small, hand-held underwater navigation units that the Admiral had invented and patented several years before.  “Do you know who used which unit?” he asked Sharkey.


Before the COB could respond to what to him was a stupid question, Kowalski spoke up.  The senior rating was nearby, refilling air tanks used during the earlier dive.  “I think I can help you, sir,” he told Chip.  “I put them away and I sort of remember in which order.”  Chip nodded, Kowalski passed off his job to Nielsen who was helping him, and walked over.  “These two were Marks’ and Lewis’,” he pointed to the top two in the cabinet.  “Not sure which used which.”


“That’s okay,” Chip told him.  “It doesn’t totally matter that I have it exact.”


Kowalski nodded and continued.  “These two are Nielsen’s and Mickelson’s.”


“Mine has a tiny nick in the top left corner,” Nielsen said with a glance at Sharkey.  “I accidentally banged it on a rock.”


“Not enough to affect the unit,” Sharkey assured everyone.  “It’s barely a scratch.”


Chip nodded and Ski pointed to the next unit.  “This is the one I used and this,” he indicated the one right below it, “is the Skipper’s.”


Chip’s quick move to grab the last two units Ski pointed out somewhat startled both he and Sharkey but they didn’t say anything, just shared a puzzled look.  Chip held one in each hand and turned them on, looking at the readout screens.  “Did you recalibrate them before putting them away?” he asked the rating in almost a growl.  It caused Ski to hesitate, but only a second. 


“No, sir.”  His voice carried puzzlement.  “I glanced at each one, especially after Nielsen’s little knock.  But they all looked good and the readouts were identical.  And we always recalibrate before each dive anyway, just in case.”


“So you didn’t do anything to the Captain’s unit?”  Chip’s voice was still hard, and again COB and rating shared a glance.  Especially at Chip’s formal address instead of his usual ‘Skipper.’  “No, sir,” Ski repeated.  “Like I said, they were all reading okay so I turned them off and stowed them.”  He was totally puzzled as Chip put both units back, turned on his heel, and practically stomped out.  Both he and Sharkey all too clearly read the hard, dark expression on Chip’s face, and didn’t say a word until the hatch was closed.


“Man, Chief,” Ski breathed out.  “What was that all about?”


Sharkey huffed.  “Obviously none of our business or Mr. Morton would have said.  Now forget it and get back to work.”


“Aye, aye, sir,” Ski acknowledged.  But he still cast another long look at the hatch as he walked back to finish the tanks.


Chip was disgusted.  And worse, he wasn’t sure who he was disgusted with more.  It started with himself.  He couldn’t believe that he’d said what he did to Admiral Nelson.  Even if it was what he was thinking at the time he could shoot himself for actually saying it out loud.  He hadn’t wanted to believe Adam’s comments in the first place.  That kind of tactic was just so un-Lee!  But when Nelson had pushed him, what with all the days of frustration and anger and, because it was fresh on his mind, it had slipped out unbidden.  He was almost glad that Nelson dismissed him so rapidly – all he wanted to do at that moment was get the heck out of there before having to say anything else.


When he’d run into Sharkey he’d had the harebrained idea to redeem himself by proving that it was the nav-meter’s fault.  He’d latched onto Nielsen’s little scrape as a perfect way for Lee’s unit to have gotten just that little bit out of whack.  But not only didn’t Lee’s have a mark on it, it read exactly the same as Kowalski’s and all of the rating’s sensors had been placed correctly.  He’d instantly been ticked once more at Lee.  What other explanation was there but that Lee had purposely misplaced the sensors.


He was already starting to fight a sudden headache when he entered the Conn by way of the aft hatch and saw Lee standing at the chart table.  There was absolutely no way he wanted to deal with him at that moment – he was still too angry.  He knew that Lt. James could handle anything that came up in what was left of his watch, especially with Lee around, so he rather abruptly changed direction and headed towards Sick Bay.  Hopefully Doc would still be with the Admiral and he could get Frank to hand out something stronger than aspirin for his now pounding head.  He’d tell Frank that he was relieving himself from duty for the rest of his shift and staying in his cabin until morning.  It would be unusual, and he’d still no doubt have to deal with Doc later.  But hopefully he’d have himself under a bit more control by then.


Frank, Seaview’s senior corpsman, was surprised when his XO walked through Sick Bay’s door.  But from the expression on the man’s face he wasn’t about to question Mr. Morton’s self-diagnosis of a killer headache, quickly checked the records to see what Doc had prescribed in the past, and dispensed the meds.  He just barely covered a raised eyebrow when the meds were downed without another word and Mr. Morton stomped back out.  Eesh, Frank muttered to himself before grabbing the closest mic.  He was glad that it was Lt. James who answered in the Conn and not the Skipper, and he quickly relayed the message.  There was a moment’s hesitation, and Frank thought that he heard the Skipper’s voice say something, but Lt. James acknowledged the message and they broke the connection.  Man, what the blazes is going on around here?   Frank shook his head and went back to the inventory Chip’s visit had interrupted.


He was surprised once more a few minutes later, when Doc came back and he relayed what had happened, that Doc took the news with little more than a shrug.  Seaview’s CMO took his charges seriously, and was especially attentive to the three senior officers who seemed to go out of the way to ignore their own health issues.  Will noticed his corpsman’s raised eyebrow, and sent him a smile that was more grimace than anything.  “Ran into the XO a little while ago,” he admitted, without being specific.  “I’m actually happy that he admitted the pain and did something about it.”


“Me, too,” Frank told him, breathing out, and the two shared a genuine smile.


Will glanced at the clock.  “I’ll take another dose up to him after dinner.  That, hopefully, will get him through the night, and with any luck he’ll be better by morning.”  Frank nodded, and they left it at that.


Lee was checking the chart for the next day’s dive location when the call came from Sick Bay.  His instant frown was hard, and he realized that he must have uttered an oath louder than he’d intended when Chris sent him a puzzled look before acknowledging the message.  He sent the young lieutenant a slight frown.  “You didn’t hear that, Lieutenant,” he faux-grumbled.


“Hear what, sir?” Chris replied with a small grin.


It caused Lee to chuckle softly.  “At least Doc should be happy that for once, one of us admitted that we didn’t feel well.”


“Yes, sir,” Chris responded, and then turned bright red as he realized how enthusiastically he’d said it.


Lee laughed out loud, which didn’t help the poor lieutenant’s facial color at all.  But anything else that might have been said was interrupted, first by Lee having to stifle a yawn, and immediately after by a call from Admiral Nelson for Lee to come to his lab when he had a few minutes.  “You didn’t see the yawn, either, Lieutenant,” Lee once more growled, but quickly sent the younger man a small grin.


“Must have been a good dive,” Chris felt comfortable enough around Lee to say.  After the last week he’d try anything to help ease some of the tension.  Lee was a bit surprised that Chris would be that open with him, but figured that he knew why.  With a grin he nodded, and headed up the spiral staircase.


Not knowing quite where Lee was at the moment, Admiral Nelson had used the all-boat intercom to make his call.  Chip was just throwing himself down on his bunk when he heard it.  It was a measure of his lousy mood that, for a man who rarely swore, a particularly vulgar phrase slipped out.  Chip had no doubt about what would happen.  Even though he was longer aboard Seaview than Lee, and even though he had the computer printouts and Kowalski’s testimony to back him up, he knew that Admiral Nelson’s loyalties would be more firmly behind Lee.  Oh, Nelson would find a way to let Chip off the hook for his accusations.  But it would be there between them nonetheless.  Chip had meant what he’d told Adam – he didn’t want to leave Seaview.  But suddenly it was looking like he might not have a choice.  He couldn’t continue to work here under current conditions.


Lee rapped lightly on Nelson’s lab door, and entered at the Admiral’s call.  Nelson sent him a fond smile and waved him toward the chair Will had recently vacated.  His grin broadened as Lee didn’t get another yawn completely buried.  “Long day?” he asked.  “Or, too short a night last night?”  Lee ducked his head.  While it seemed sometimes that Nelson might keep himself buried in his own projects to the exclusion of everything else, he still had an uncanny knack for knowing what was going on.  “The tests go well today?” Nelson changed the subject just enough to let Lee off the hook that he’d gently put him on.  With the tension his young Captain had been under it was a wonder he was sleeping at all.  That and food tended to be low on Lee’s priority list at the best of times.  Under stress, both were apt to be easily ignored.  Normally Nelson and Will looked to Chip to keep Lee’s habits halfway under control.  This trip, all bets were off.


“You’d know more about that than me, sir,” Lee told him.  “I just set out sensors.”


“That went well?”  Nelson continued to keep his voice light and a soft smile on his face.


“Yes, sir.  Everything went extremely well.”  He couldn’t stop another yawn and he sent Nelson a slightly disgusted look that morphed into sheepishness when Nelson chuckled.


“Well, I have a favor to ask that will keep tomorrow a good deal less physical than today was.”  Lee said nothing, just raised an eyebrow.  With the Admiral, there was never any telling where and how he’d get sidetracked.  “I’d like you to take Will over to Easter Island by FS1 tomorrow morning, and stay with him while he spends the day exploring.”


Nelson wasn’t halfway through the explanation before Lee started shaking his head.  “Can’t, sir,” he told his boss.  “Chip just took himself off-duty with a headache.  I need to stay aboard just in case.”


Nelson buried a grin.  He didn’t know about Chip, but he knew that Lee would find some excuse to get out of the request.  “Lt. James is perfectly capable of handling the Conn, and Chip would be in the computer lab anyway.”


“Jamie won’t want to leave if Chip’s still down.”


Nelson was actually pleased to hear a note of concern for Chip in Lee’s voice, despite the recent apparent feud between the two.  “I’ll check with him this evening.  But unless you hear differently, plan to leave by 0800.”


Lee took a deep breath.  When Nelson used that tone of voice, no matter the slight smile still on his face, Lee knew that it would take something totally out of the norm to change his mind.  “Yes, sir,” he acquiesced.  “As long as everything is under control,” he still said, reminding Nelson that he wouldn’t back down if he wasn’t comfortable with what was happening.


After his recent conversation with Will on basically the same topic, Nelson couldn’t stop the broad grin that hit his face.  “Absolutely,” he told his all-too-young-but-extremely-competent Captain.  Glancing at his watch he added.  “A bit early but suppose we head for the Wardroom.  I suspect that, with all the exercise you got today, you’ve probably worked up a hearty appetite.”


Again Lee shook his head.  “I need to make sure the Conn has everything in order,” he paused half a second and took a deep breath, “since it doesn’t look like I’ll be around much tomorrow.  I’ll be down a bit later.”


“See that you are.”  While Nelson was still smiling, his voice had a definite edge to it.  Lee nodded, stood, and left.  Nelson gave his own head a shake, stood, and headed for the Wardroom alone.  If nothing else he was in desperate need of coffee!


He wasn’t the first one there.  It surprised him somewhat to find Lt. Dawes already eating, his nose stuck in a book.  Nelson glanced at the title out of habit, curious to see what was holding his attention so much that he barely looked up when Nelson walked in.  Expecting a computer manual or something similar, he was slightly irritated to discover that it was nothing more than a trashy science fiction novel.  He turned toward the coffee urn and discovered Cookie glaring at the lieutenant from the safety of the Galley, and sent him a nod.  Filling his mug with the chef’s potent brew he turned back around.  “I’m surprised to see you here, Lieutenant.  I haven’t gotten your report from today’s tests yet.”


At that Dawes did look up, but never laid down the book.  “Chip said that he’d take care of it, sir.” 


The last word wasn’t quite an afterthought, but Nelson wasn’t at all pleased with the tone in which it had been delivered.  He nonetheless tried to keep his own voice under control.  “I very promptly received his report.  There wasn’t anything in it from you.”


“No need,” Dawes tossed off lightly.  “He was with me the whole time.  The reports would be identical.”  Dawes dropped his head back to his book.


“Hardly,” Nelson practically growled.  “Chip had his own checklist.”  It popped Dawes’ head back up, which gave Nelson a small measure of satisfaction.  It also had him wondering why Chip apparently didn’t share that information, and why now it had caused such a knee-jerk reaction in the lieutenant.  “I’ll expect your report by 1930 hours.  Deliver it to the Conn.  I’ll be going over some things in the Observation Nose.”


“Okay, sir.”  Dawes continued to read, but seemed to at least eat a bit faster than he’d been doing.


Nelson didn’t know the man well enough to be sure but he thought that he detected a slight smirk on the man’s face.  He merely nodded and turned to dish up his own meal.


He was just sitting down when Will walked in, followed by several JOs.  Nelson found it interesting that they chose to sit elsewhere instead of the table Dawes was sitting at, and realized that Will had caught it as well when he sat down opposite Nelson, where Lee and Chip usually sat.  “Chip?” he asked so quietly that no one else could hear.


Will answered in kind.  “I’m actually amazed that this hasn’t happened to both he and Lee at some point the last week.  Speaking of whom…”


“In the Conn,” Nelson told him, “ostensibly making sure everything is under control for tomorrow since I basically tossed him off the boat.”


Will shuddered.  “How did that go?”


“Actually, better than I was expecting,” Nelson admitted.  “Oh, Lee tried to wiggle out of it.”  Both men nodded.  “Tried using Chip’s headache as an excuse for not being able to leave.”


“Really.”  Will immediately picked up on the significance of that, as Nelson had done so earlier.  Lee, no matter how mad he was, still cared for his friend.


“And then that you’d not want to let Chip out of your sight,” Nelson continued.


Will grinned.  “Yep, that sounds a lot more typical.”


Nelson nodded.  “Chip?” he asked again.


“While I’m still a bit blown away that he actually admitted to the headache and asked for meds, I suspect that there’s something more behind it.”  Nelson’s eyebrow went up.  “Frank said that Chip seemed more angry than anything.  And you and I both know what kind of mood he was in shortly before that.”  Both men cringed slightly.  “Under present conditions that doesn’t seem all that unusual.  But Chip prides himself on the ability to keep his cool no matter what’s going on around him.”  Nelson nodded.  “I suspect that he was more angry at himself than anything for the momentary lapse, and that he used the headache as an excuse to buy himself some time to regain his composure.  My guess is he’ll have himself back under control by morning.  However, I’ll take him another dose of meds about 2000 hours.”  He shrugged.  “I’ll try to talk to him, but…”


“Yeah,” Nelson muttered.


“Those two.”  Normally Will used that phrase in a teasing tone when referring to something the pair had been up to.  Not this time, however, and received another nod from Nelson before they went on to other topics.


Nelson didn’t quite get a grin buried at one point, and it was Will’s turn to raise an eyebrow.  “Have you noticed how Cookie keeps glancing at the door?” Nelson said softly.


Will relaxed and nodded.  “I figured that I’d ask him to fix a sandwich or something, and I’d take it up to Chip when I go later.”


“And looks like I’d better go chase Lee out of the Control Room.  I’m not sure Cookie could handle having both of them not show up for a meal without an active crisis going on.  Well,” he qualified, “like what’s been going on isn’t crisis enough, but you know what I mean.”  Will nodded, and they finished their meals and headed in different directions.


Nelson wasn’t sure how much trouble he’d have pointing Lee in the direction of the Wardroom.  Or even if Lee would actually make it all the way there and eat before ‘something just happened to sidetrack’ him.  He ended up using Lee’s unwillingness to stick other crewmembers in the middle of things against Lee.  Lt. O’Brien followed Nelson into the Conn to take over the Watch while James ate.  Lee was in the middle of telling the young lieutenant about some on-line extended learning classes one of the state’s universities was offering, and Nelson casually mentioned that since James was now off-duty, why didn’t the two of them continue their discussion over dinner.  The look he got from Lee told him that Lee, in no uncertain terms, understood exactly what Nelson was up to.  But Nelson sent him back a grin and Lee surrendered fairly easily.  Chalk one up for my side, Nelson told himself.  He settled down at the table in the Observation Nose, what most of the crew referred to as ‘Nelson’s Front Porch,’ and started going over half a dozen project proposals that he’d brought down from his cabin.


Lee came back to the Conn about 45 minutes later.  Nelson took one look at the frown plastered on his face, decided offense was the best defense, and sent him a brilliant smile.  “Dinner was especially good tonight, don’t you think?”  Nelson read just a flash of ‘ticked off’ on Lee’s face before he relaxed and produced a small smile of his own.


“Yes, sir,” he agreed.  He knew perfectly well what Nelson was up to.  Whatever was going on between he and Chip – and Lee still wasn’t sure he knew what that was – Nelson was taking the opportunity to try and get Lee to relax even a little bit.  He also knew that that was behind being assigned to escort Doc the next day, although he suspected that it was something Jamie had cooked up.  He’d really like to tell both men where they could stuff it but didn’t have a good enough reason.  The boat would be perfectly fine without him for the day, and the crew would probably benefit from having at least one of the antagonists gone, even for a little while.


“I was just going over the latest batch of project proposals,” Nelson continued, before Lee could come up with a retaliatory crack.  “We have quite an assortment.  Hey,” and he sent Lee another big grin, “how about, instead of circumnavigating the planet the usual way, we do it pole to pole.”  He chuckled at the incredulous look Lee sent him and shrugged.  “It was just a thought,” he added.


Lee finally smiled.  The whole conversation was so reminiscent of the silliness he and Chip would get into from time to time that he felt himself actually start to relax.  It lasted only an instant as steps on the spiral stairs turned out to belong to Adam Dawes.  He was just opening his mouth to ask what the lieutenant wanted when Nelson beat him to it.


“Ah, Mr. Dawes.  Right on time.”  Dawes barely spared a glance at Lee, merely walking up to Nelson and handing him the folder he was carrying.  “Thank you.  And from now on I’ll expect your reports in a timely fashion.”  There was a bite to the voice, and a glare that went with it, which he saw out of the corner of his eye Lee caught all too well.  He wasn’t sure about Dawes, who did nothing more than nod before heading back up the stairs.  Once he was out of sight Lee turned back to Nelson.  The Admiral just waved it off.  “A minor misunderstanding about status reports.”  He kept his voice casual, but suspected that Lee knew there was something far more serious going on.  Nelson glanced at his watch.  “I suspect that you’re just about to head out on your evening patrol through the boat.”  Lee ducked his head and sent Nelson a small smile.  “Well, don’t be all night at it.”  This time the warning was definitely directed at Lee.  “I told Will to be ready to leave by 0800 hours.  You’ll need to be up early so that you have time to eat a decent breakfast before doing the pre-flight on FS1.”


Lee sighed.  “Yes, sir,” he told his boss.  Obviously there was not going to be any backing down from the slightly strange project.  He sent Nelson a quick nod, and headed out to do what Nelson had rightly assumed he was about to do.


* * * *


Cookie only grumbled a little bit about fixing a light supper for his XO, and then produced a thick ham sandwich, chicken pasta salad, sliced peaches, and one of his ‘Death by Chocolate’ brownies.  Will quickly buried a grin – Seaview’s premier chef may present a grumpy, grouchy exterior, but he did everything within his extensive culinary powers to take very good care of his crew. 


Will wasn’t sure what to expect when he rapped on Chip’s cabin door about 1945 hours.  He didn’t think that he heard a ‘come’ from inside, but opened the door anyway.  Chip was sitting up on the edge of the bunk, looking pretty rough around the edges.  “Did I wake you?” Will asked solicitously.  “Sorry.”


Chip shook his head, but carefully.  “Nah, Doc.  Wasn’t sleeping.”  He glanced at the tray in Will’s hands.  “Not hungry, either.”


Will smiled.  He’d been expecting that.  “Just a sandwich and a few things to go with it.  All I ask is that you try to eat at least part of it.  Hunger will only make your headache worse.”  He saw Chip’s mouth move and suspected it was along the lines of ‘that’s not possible’, but no sound reached the few feet between the two men.  Will came the rest of the way into the cabin and placed the tray on Chip’s desk.  Continuing on into the small head, he returned with half a glass of water.  Sitting down next to Chip he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a small packet.  “These should help,” he said, waited until Chip held out a hand, however unwillingly, and dumped three pills into the palm.


Chip lifted his eyes enough to glare at Will, but it lacked the power Seaview’s XO used occasionally to flatten a crewman without ever having to say a word.  Will had learned over the years to pretty much ignore that look and merely held out the glass, still a soft smile on his face.   “Why did you bother bringing dinner if you were going to drug me into oblivion?”


“Because,” Will used the lecturing voice he frequently had to resort to with the senior officers, “contrary to what you’re thinking, that’s merely to help the headache.”  He had to carefully control his expression as Chip finally surrendered and downed the meds.  “Thank you.”  He hesitated a moment, not sure now if he should try to get Chip to talk or not.  Suspecting that, if his head was still pounding as much as it looked like conversation would be hopeless he rose, returned the glass to the head, and walked toward the door.  But at the last minute he couldn’t help himself.  He pulled the door open, and then turned and looked at Chip.  “How does it feel having Lee ticked at you for a change, instead of vice versa?”  From the look that Chip shot him he decided that now might be a really good time to leave, and promptly did just that.


Chip continued to glare at the closed door.  How dare Will say that!  He had every right to be angry.  It was Lee who was totally off base; Lee who was causing all the trouble.  Chip hadn’t done anything wrong.  Lee had absolutely no right to be doing the things he was.  Chip had the proof!  Food ignored, Chip flung himself back on his pillow, a fist pounding the bunk to the beat of his pounding head.


Admiral Nelson poked his head into Will’s office about half an hour later, finding the CMO with coffee mug in hand, reading.  One of the multitude of things Nelson appreciated Will for was his constant effort to keep up with what was new in the world of medicine.  Will had enough common sense that he didn’t always take much stock in ‘new and improved’ methods or medicines.  Nelson occasionally had to bury a grin when something Will read sent him off on a tirade of ‘now why are they doing that when this already works just fine and it’s safer and a fourth the cost?’  But Will never quit keeping up, and would easily switch to a new practice or prescription if he found enough merit to it.  Nelson wondered what had set him off this time as he turned a scowl on the interruption, which he covered fairly quickly.  “Can I offer you a cup of what Lee and Chip refer to as ‘doctored’ coffee?”


Nelson grinned broadly.  Will kept a bottle of brandy in his bottom desk drawer.  He didn’t dispense it often but it had been known to come in handy. “Not tonight, Will,” he told him, staying in the open doorway.  “Just stopped to see if you’d had any luck getting Chip to open up about what’s going on.”


Will grimaced.  “Sorry, Admiral.  Not only wasn’t he in the mood, but I think that I may have made matters worse, if that’s possible, by teasing him.  Just a little,” he qualified, “but…”


“A little too much?” Nelson asked, understanding in his voice.  Nelson was, unfortunately, familiar with the occasional backfire.


“Yeah,” Will confirmed.  “Any chance Lee and I can get out of here a little earlier than planned tomorrow morning?  Not sure I want to come face to face with Chip any time soon.”


“Oops,” Nelson chuckled softly, but nodded nonetheless.  “I’ll tell Lee.  And also ask Cookie to have at least some breakfast ready to 0600.  He usually does, but it would be our luck that he’d be late tomorrow.”


“Appreciate that, Admiral.”  Both men nodded, and Nelson left.


* * * *


Lee gave Will a sideways glance as he came down the access ladder into Seaview’s little yellow offspring, the Flying Sub, about 0645 hours the following morning.  Will wasn’t sure what Nelson had told Lee the previous evening, but even though there was a slight smile on Lee’s face Will decided that he’d screwed up enough for one cruise and said nothing except a bit of small talk.  Since he was apparently going to be spending the majority of the day in Lee’s company he had no wish to tick Lee off by being the least bit irreverent, as he’d unfortunately managed the night before with Chip.  As they left Seaview’s belly he did ask what the plan for the day was.


“Not sure,” Lee admitted.  “The Admiral didn’t say what all you wanted to see.”


Will buried a frown by coughing into his hand.  Thanks a lot, Admiral he muttered to himself.  Send me on this fools errand and don’t tell either Lee or I what’s going on.  Thankfully Will had done a bit of research of his own the previous evening so wasn’t caught totally flatfooted.  “I was thinking just a nice overview,” Will told Lee, now back under control.  “We’ll dock at Hanga Roa, I presume,” he named the main town, where three fourths of the island’s population of slightly under 4000 people lived.  Lee nodded.  “Then I guess we rent a jeep, maybe grab something to take with us for lunch…”  He paused when Lee pointed toward FS1’s bunk, where two smallish backpacks were laying.  Will grinned.  “Cookie strikes again?”  He got a somewhat sheepish grin back.  “Okay, lunch solved,” Will told him.  “Then, a leisurely drive around the island checking out the moai.  I would like to see the quarry where they were carved.  I understand that at least half of the ones made were never moved?”


Lee nodded.  “It’s a bit of a hike up to the outer rim of Rano Raraku, the ancient volcano that the quarry sits in.”  He glanced at Will.  “But it’s not all that hard.”


Will sent him a glare.  “I’m not that old,” he growled, and was rewarded with one of Lee’s brilliant smiles.  Will relished it – it had been all too noticeably absent of late.  “I gather you’ve been there before.”  He wondered what he’d said wrong when Lee’s smile turned hard.


“Yeah,” came out with a soft growl, and Lee focused on the instrumentation in front of him.


“Skipper?” Will asked softly, and relaxed when Lee took a deep breath and sent him a half smile, half grimace.


“For probably something of the same reason as this trip.”  Lee flipped a couple switches.


It was Will’s turn to take a deep breath.  “I know I’m going to regret this, but…”  He paused and Lee sent him a half-smile again.  “What was the reason that time?”


“Had an ONI mission get slightly out of control.  The first flight out of Santiago, Chile was headed here and I figured that it would be the last place anyone would look for me.  Hid out for a couple days until things calmed down.”  He sent a raised eyebrow at Will.


Will was smart enough not to take the bait and admit that that was pretty close to why Nelson had ordered this trip, although he had no doubts that Lee understood all too well.  He sent Lee a small shrug and went back to the original conversation.  “There’s supposed to be a couple special moai at the quarry.”


Lee sent him a very short glare, but then nodded.  “The biggest one on the island is there.  Theory is, it ended up too big to move.  And also, the only kneeling moai is there.  All the others are head and torso only.”


It was Will’s turn to nod.  “You must know of other things to see.”


Lee sent him an impish grin.  “Want to go caving?” he asked way too innocently.


“NO!” Will told him emphatically, and was treated to another bright smile.


“The view from Rano Kau is spectacular.  Means another climb but it’s worth it.  And not far from there is Orongo.  Lots and lots of petroglyphs.  Well,” he amended, “there are lots of petrogryphs all over the island.”


“Sounds like plenty to keep us occupied,” Will said carefully.  Lee frowned just a moment but it didn’t last long, and they finished the short trip in relative silence.


* * * *


Chip was in the shower when he felt Seaview’s nose dip ever so slightly.  Not knowing what was going on, he hurried through the rest of his morning ablutions and headed for the Conn.  It had taken him forever to get to sleep, and the plate of food Doc had brought was untouched on his desk.  At least he’d awakened without the headache, but nearly an hour later than usual.  Coming down the spiral stairs his eyes swept the Control Room for any sign of what was going on but all crewmen were calmly watching their instrumentation.  Chip walked up to the Chart Table, a look demanding an explanation from Lt. Keeter.  The “D” Watch Officer told his XO what he knew – that Lee had shown up about 0630 dressed in civvies and carrying a couple of back packs.  He’d not said much, just headed to pre-flight FS1.  Doc had shown up shortly after, also in civvies, and the two had taken off.  The logs showed a destination of Easter Island, and Lt. O’Brien told Keeter when their watches switched at 0200 hours that Lee had told him of the trip.  But he hadn’t said why they were going and there was nothing in the logs.  Chip nearly growled at that last – something else that Lee screwed up.  He was just about to blast Keeter into the next time zone for allowing Lee to leave with an incomplete log entry when more steps on the spiral stairs spun him around and he found Admiral Nelson entering the Conn with a slightly sheepish grin on his face.


“I see that you’ve discovered the side trip I sent Lee and Doc on.  Sorry you weren’t informed sooner, but Doc said you were down with a headache and not to bother you until this morning.”


Chip’s glower dissipated, although his voice still held a slightly disapproving quality.  “How long will they be gone, sir?  That’s not in the log.”  He was very conscious of yesterday afternoon’s conversation.  Nelson seemed to have forgotten the whole thing which, unfortunately, seemed to confirm Chip’s assessment of Nelson’s ultimate reaction.  But sending Lee away?  That didn’t make any sense at all.


“And you can blame me for the log as well.  I told Lee that I’d take care of it, and then got sidetracked.  They’ll only be gone for the day.  I expect them back this evening.”  Nelson refused to explain further, and that confused Chip even more.  The cruise parameters specified three days of testing the sensors in slightly different areas and conditions.  If Nelson was getting Lee away from the tests, why would he be back again for the final day?  Chip felt his headache coming back.  Nelson sent him an enigmatic little grin as if he was reading Chip’s thoughts.  “Come along,” Nelson said lightly.  “We’d better get some breakfast.  It’s going to be a busy day.”


“Yes, sir.” Chip answered, and let Nelson coax him toward the Wardroom.  Not knowing what Nelson was up to made him extremely nervous.  But all he could do was his job, and pray that Nelson wouldn’t be too vindictive.


* * * *


“Got a stupid question for you, Skipper.”  They were nearing Hanga Roa on the west side of the roughly triangular island.  They had come all the way, which in fact wasn’t really all that far from Seaview, underwater.


“What’s that, Jamie?”  Lee loved piloting the little craft and had found a good deal of his recent frustrations falling away, the further he got from the submarine.  He honestly enjoyed spending time with the doctor.  Well, as long as Jamie wasn’t harassing him about health issues.  Lee got a kick out of his occasionally irreverent comments on what was going on around him.  He had a knack for scoping out an issue and targeting the main points of contention.  But he had subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – little ways of getting his point across.  Lee had been educated and trained in what were most often very black and white methods.  Unfortunately, especially as he became involved with ONI, too many lines got rubbed into multi-shades of gray.  Jamie had a way of combining the edges back into forms that could be dealt with in a coherent fashion.  And he didn’t always care which bureaucrat got verbally flattened in the process.  Lee had come to depend on the doctor’s strong common sense.  Jamie was frequently the calming effect Lee needed to get his own world back into order.  Of course, most of that went unspoken – the two far more often engaged in verbal battles of will.  Lee grinned broadly as that bit of pun flitted through his mind.  He cocked an eyebrow at the doctor, inviting him to expound on the comment that had started his bit of rumination.


Will wasn’t sure what had triggered Lee’s slightly evil grin.  But he decided that it was at least better than most of the expressions on his face the last week, and asked his question.  “We didn’t bring a co-pilot.  Who looks after FS1 while we play?”


“She looks after herself.”  Lee sent Will a broadening grin and reached into an inside pocket of his jacket.  “Another of Admiral Nelson’s new gadgets,” he said, bringing out a cigarette-pack sized black box.


“Help,” Will muttered, causing Lee to chuckle.


“Not to worry, Jamie.  If it doesn’t work it’s me who gets to take care of the problems.”


“And just what, pray tell, am I going to be expected to rescue you from when whatever that is blows up in your face?”


“Going to have to tell the Admiral you don’t trust him.”  Lee sent Will another brilliant smile.


“Harrumph!” Will growled.


Lee all but giggled, however briefly, before getting himself back under control.  “This is a take-off from the magnetic retrieval system we have aboard Seaview,” he started to explain as he tucked the unit back into a pocket.  “But it assumes that FS1 is operational, as opposed to that system, and it’s tied into the navigation computer and helm controls.”  He glanced over at Will, who nodded to show that he was following the explanation.  The system on board Seaview was based on retrieving the little sub if it was damaged or non-operational for some reason.  “I pick a spot on the bottom to safely park FS1,” Lee continued.  “I program it into the unit and the autopilot.  We surface, in this case at the dock, and get out, and the unit will send FS1 back to that spot.  She’ll be in lockdown mode so even if someone finds her they can’t get in.”  Will nodded.  “Then when we’re ready to leave, I bring her back to the dock and off we go.”


“And it’s been fully tested?

Lee sent Will a grin that, while slightly sheepish, was also slightly mischievous.  “Sort of,” he said with a shrug.  “It works most of the time.”




“Like I said, Jamie, if it messes up I’ll take care of it.  Mostly, the glitch has been in the retrieval part.  It has had a couple of other little problems, but nothing you need to worry about.  Especially this trip.  I’ll park it fairly close in to land and if it won’t come back I’ll just swim out and bring it back manually.  You’ll stay all nice and dry.”


Will sent him a glare for the teasing references to the fact that he didn’t like to dive.  While he had to know how, to serve aboard a submarine, he much preferred to only be underwater with said submarine safely around him.


* * * *


Chip double-checked the diving parameters with Chief Sharkey and then headed for the computer lab.  Lt. Dawes was already there, as expected, tweaking the system and setting it up for the next test.  “Missed you at breakfast,” he tossed over his shoulder.


“Ate early with the Admiral,” Chip said quietly.  He really didn’t want to chit-chat, which was one reason he left the Wardroom as quickly as politeness allowed so that he wouldn’t have to visit with Adam – or anyone else – any more than he absolutely had to.  He’d far rather be in the Conn, where a grouchy exterior would have the duty crew carefully staying out of his way and leaving him alone as much as possible.  Unfortunately he had tests to monitor so he was stuck here.


“Ugh,” Dawes grunted.  “Better you than me.”  Chip didn’t respond, merely busied himself comparing his notes to the equipment settings.  “So, which units does the illustrious Capt. Crane have today?  The farthest out again?”


“He’s not diving today,” Chip answered, again quietly.


Dawes grinned broadly.  “Got set down for yesterday’s screw-up, did he?”


Chip frowned.  He wasn’t sure what was going on, but he took offense at Adam’s obvious delight.  “Double-check station six,” he growled.  “Your setting is off from what I have listed.”


Dawes sent him a long look that Chip ignored, shrugged, and re-checked his settings.  The entire day’s tests were conducted in relative silence between the two.


* * * *


FS1’s arrival at the dock at Hanga Roa drew a small audience of locals.  Will exited the top hatch and took the careful steps necessary to stand safely on the dock, holding the backpacks while Lee closed the hatch and joined him.  Will nodded slightly when Lee used his body to shield the new control unit from curious eyes as he sent the little sub back under the water, giving the impression that someone was still aboard.


A member of the local constabulary was standing at the end of the dock when they turned around.  “Hope you brought your passport,” Lee teased Will.  Will frowned on general principals, but in actual fact probably would have forgotten if Nelson hadn’t mentioned it when he came into the Wardroom briefly that morning for coffee.  The officer was pleasant, merely checked passports and military I.D. after their slightly unorthodox entry, and welcomed them to Easter Island, which he referred to by its local name of Rapa Nui.  He offered them a ride to where they could rent a jeep.  Will was a bit relieved, not knowing how far they had to go.  Despite his crack to Lee, he somehow suspected that he’d walk enough today to last him the next month!


* * * *


Once Admiral Nelson finished breakfast with Chip he carried a full mug of coffee back to his lab, puzzling on recent events.  He understood Chip’s unease that morning, sure that Seaview’s XO was feeling self-conscious about yesterday’s outburst.  What worried Nelson was, did Chip actually believe that accusation or was it merely a moment’s bit of frustration?  He was sure that Chip had been totally torqued this morning to find Lee gone – Chip might have a pretty good ‘poker face,’ but Nelson had no problem reading the anger when he’d come down the spiral stairs.  However, what did that mean?  Well, he’d maneuvered Lee off the boat for the day to give him time to find out.  He still wasn’t quite sure how.  He did know that he owed Chip the opportunity to get himself back under control.  Chip had been a major driving force behind Seaview’s success.  Her first captain, John Phillips, had highly valued Chip’s organizational skills.  The crew had come to depend on his calm in the face of whatever chaos happened to be going on at the moment, at the same time maintaining optimum attention to their duties so as not to set off the disciplinarian side of the Exec.  Chip was never vindictive, and always fair.  But the crew had learned quickly not to tick him off!


Nelson grinned to himself, thinking about a few of Chip’s more eclectic solutions to the occasional problems any crew of this size could find themselves in.  Chip had an absolutely wicked sense of humor, although for Seaview’s first year it was rarely seen unless you looked very closely.  Nelson remembered John walking into the Wardroom one afternoon, barely able to contain his mirth.  Seems one of the crew, fairly new to the boat, had made the unfortunate mistake of being late for his shift in the Conn.  Phillips had told Nelson, between chuckles, that Chip had at first done nothing more than issue a verbal reprimand.  John had noticed Chip spending part of the shift puttering with something on one of the clipboards scattered around the chart table, but as the cruise was quiet hadn’t paid much attention to what was occupying his XO.  Until the shift was over, that is.  Thinking himself with some down time, the unfortunate crewman found himself with orders to entirely inventory the aft storage unit used for small equipment parts.  The area was packed with boxes of rivets, nuts and bolts, circuit breakers, and a whole plethora of things to keep the giant submarine operational.  He was expected to give the XO an exact count of every different kind of everything there, right down to the different sizes of each.  Phillips told Nelson that the order had been given with total calm and control, in a quiet voice, but accompanied by a glare that could have peeled paint at fifty paces.


Yep, that’s Chip, Nelson now told himself, sipping his coffee.  And on top of everything else, he’d have already had his own count of what was stored there, and woebetide if the crewman hadn’t matched Chip’s records.


Once Lee took over command of the boat, and because of his years of friendship with Chip, Chip’s personality became more evident as the two gently – and sometimes not so gently – harassed each other.  It absolutely never interfered with the command structure of the boat.  Well, Nelson admitted with a small shudder, until this cruise.  But under Lee, Chip had not only continued to be an exceptional Executive Officer, but became more and more comfortable commanding Seaview when necessary.  Chip always insisted, when the subject came up, that he didn’t want a command of his own; that he was perfectly happy with what he had.  And Nelson knew that, at least up until now, Chip meant it.  But if the rift that had developed between the two longtime friends couldn’t be healed, all bets were off.


Nelson was not a stupid man.  He had every reason to believe that part of Chip’s unease that morning was his conviction that if anybody was going to leave Seaview it would be him.  Chip was perfectly aware that Nelson and Lee shared a very special relationship that went beyond employer/employee to almost father/son.  Nelson was never sure himself quite how to describe it.  And yet, he owed Chip a strong sense of loyalty as well.


This is intolerable, he growled.  Whatever was going on, he had to find a way to straighten it out before it split his boat, and his dreams for the future, irrevocably apart!  He swallowed the last of his coffee in one swallow, wished it was something stronger, and stormed out of his lab.


* * * *


When Will forgot about what had brought him to Easter Island he had to admit that he was having a great time.  Lee had started the tour by driving around the island to the ancient volcano that had formed the eastern end of the triangle, Rano Raraku.  At some point in history a separate volcano, named Poike, had erupted and attached itself to the very corner but it was, for the most part, bleak and inhospitable.  They passed any number of moai, many on their Ahu, a ceremonial platform.  Lee slowed down at the first several they went by.  But other than snapping a few pictures, Will preferred to begin his actual introduction at the birthplace, so to speak, of the statues.


It was hard to imagine that the island had ever been covered with trees of any kind.  The landscape was dominated by large stretches of barren ground dotted with evidence of ancient lava flows.  There was also evidence of major soil erosion.  Will was thankful for the jeep as, except for the main roads right around Hanga Roa, most everything else was a gravel track.  Not that there was a lot of traffic; never a high tourist destination, today they seemed to be virtually alone.  It was a bit spooky, although Will was actually enjoying it.  Sometimes even Seaview’s great size could get a bit claustrophobic.


Besides the moai they passed there were any number of stone buildings called tupa, or hare moa.  The entrances were very low, requiring crawling to get inside.  Lee told Will that human remains had been found in some, and the locals said that they were the burial places of the ariki, the Rapa Nui kings and chiefs.


“I thought that was what the Ahu were used for, and what the moai represented.”


Lee shrugged.  “I think a lot of things got scrambled during the infighting between the various tribes which eventually brought down the entire culture.  Probably nobody will ever know for sure.  What is known, from the various excavations that have been done, is sketchy at best.”  Will nodded and they continued on.


Once at the bottom of the volcano they parked, shouldered their backpacks, and headed up the narrow trail to the outer rim.  As Lee had warned it was a fair hike.  He’d sent Will another soft grin as he lead the way up the trail, through foot high grasses and rocky outcroppings that wound its way up the side of the volcano past scattered moai, some upright and some on their sides.  Stopping only briefly at the outer rim to take drinks from their canteens they continued down into the ancient crater, now surrounded by more and more moai, many never finished being carved.


There was a bit of ‘once you’ve seen one moai you’ve seen them all,’ so they didn’t spend a lot of time before making their way to the one unique moai on the entire island.  It was obviously ancient; many of its facial features were worn away by weather and time.  But what made it so special was still obvious: arms at each side and, below the torso, legs carved in a kneeling position.  Will took several more pictures, from different angles, before the pair made their way back to the jeep and continued the drive around the island.


Their next stop was almost back to Hanga Roa, at Tahai.  Lee wanted to show Will the Ahu there.  It sat near an ancient canoe ramp made of rounded beach stones and was thought to be among the earliest of the ceremonial sites, dating back to approximately 690 A.D.  Will found it amazing that the island had been inhabited that far back.  He wasn’t sure why and mentioned it to Lee, who nodded.


“I think that, while we are aware of the ancient civilizations, we most often think of those around the Mediterranean.”  It was Will’s turn to nod.  “And while we have the ancient civilizations of Mexico and South America, they aren’t who settled here.” 


Will sent Lee a quick smile.  “It’s a little hard visualizing seventh century A.D. Polynesians setting out in their simple boats, traveling this far into unknown waters.”


“People thought Christopher Columbus was crazy, and that was eight hundred years later.”


“Ever wonder what we’ll be like that far into the future, Skipper?” Will asked, suddenly thoughtful.  He was instantly brought back to reality.


“No!  Got enough trouble keeping track of the here and now.”  There was an ever so slight edge to Lee’s voice.  Will nodded again, snapped a few pictures, and they walked back to the jeep.


Driving back through Hanga Roa they continued this time all the way to the southernmost tip of the island, to the ancient village of Orongo and the crater of Rano Kau.  It was like a different world.  There were no moai; every rock face was nearly covered with petroglyphs.  Lee explained that this seemed to be where the last of the island’s cultures reigned, once the carving started to fade away.  It was known as the Birdman culture, or Tangata manu.  Each year the different tribes would send a representative, who climbed down the sheer cliffs of the crater to the shark-infested ocean below.  They would swim out to the little rocky islets off the coast, fasting until the first of the sooty terns who nested there laid their eggs.  The first man back to Orongo with an intact egg earned special privileges for himself and his tribe for the coming year.


Lee and Will climbed the trail up to the top of the crater wall, and Will was almost overwhelmed by the view.  The bottom of the crater was filled with small freshwater lakes and marshes.  The curvature of the earth as he looked out across endless miles of ocean, balanced against the knife-edged circular crater wall, was beyond spectacular.  He glanced at Lee, a look, he knew, of wonderment on his face.


“Told you the views were cool from up here,” Lee said nonchalantly, but his own face reflected the wonder of the place as well.  Belatedly, for until now neither had been hungry, they found a spot to sit and enjoy the view while they ate what Cookie had packed for them.  Will took one look at the bounty inside the backpacks and almost made a crack about Cookie thinking Chip was with them, so much food was inside.  Luckily he choked off the thought before he actually said it out loud.  So far Lee was being quite amiable – for the most part.  Will had no wish to mess that up.


* * * *


Admiral Nelson was becoming increasingly frustrated.  He knew that Will and his corpsmen had tried unsuccessfully to mine the crew for information on what was causing the rift between Lee and Chip.  Chief Sharkey, usually a wealth of information – no matter that it tended to be a bit skewed – wasn’t much help either.  Nelson couldn’t yell too loudly – the silence said volumes about the loyalty the entire crew felt for their commanding officers and also each other.  But right now, when he needed information no matter how much of it was idle gossip, it was driving him a little crazy.


At almost 0900, before the divers were to go out for today’s tests, he was contemplating one of Lee’s solutions to frustration – driving his fist into the nearest bulkhead.  The only thing that stopped him was a call to come to the Control Room.  Hurrying down the spiral stairs he glanced at Lt. James, who had the Conn, but the young watch officer pointed him in the direction of the Radio Shack.  As he got there Seaview’s senior radioman, Lt. Ted Sines, who was rarely addressed as anything other than ‘Sparks,’ slipped his headphones off his ears and left them wrapped around his neck.  “Sir, we weren’t supposed to lose contact with FS1, were we?”


Nelson’s frown turned instantly sheepish.  “Oops,” he muttered, mostly to himself.  “Tell me what happened,” he said a bit louder.


“I had her when she left here, sir.  The Skipper radioed in that everything was green across the board.  I knew that she’d be out of range, and that the Skipper wouldn’t be aboard for most of the day.  But I also knew that I could send a burst and get a response from the automatic systems check.  I thought that I’d just double-check before your tests started, so that my signal wouldn’t mess anything up, and I can’t get anything back.”


Nelson nodded.  “I’m afraid that it could be my fault,” he admitted.  “I gave Lee a new piece of equipment to check.  It’s been working – well, most of the time, anyway – in the lab, and I thought that this would be a good time to give it an unofficial field test.  One of the problems I’ve been having with it is, when it’s on, it tends to interfere with some of the other systems.  Thought that I had that part figured out and fixed.”  He sent Sparks a shy smile.  “Guess that it’s back to the drawing board.”


Sparks risked a small smile of his own, since Nelson was being so apologetic.  “Not a problem, sir.  I know where the Skipper was headed.”


“And I’m sure that he’ll call in as soon as he gets back from exploring the island,” Nelson agreed.  “But thanks for letting me know.”


“Aye, aye, sir.”  As Nelson walked away, Sparks slipped his headphones back into place on his head.


His slight miscalculation having defused – at least momentarily – his building frustration, Nelson went back to prowling the boat.  He ended up down in the Missile Room just as the last of the divers were headed out to place their sensors, and stayed to visit for a bit with Sharkey.  Like the day before Sharkey had his headset on so that he could respond if the divers needed anything, but the whole conversations could be heard over the speaker system in the room.  As all the divers reported in that they were at their first assigned location there was an acknowledgement over the speakers from Chip in the computer lab, followed by a comment in a different voice.  “At least we don’t have to worry about your illustrious captain messing things up today.”  Sharkey slammed his hand down on one of the switches to cut off the sound to the speakers, but not before Nelson and the several crewmen scattered around the room heard it all too clearly.  Nelson glared at Sharkey, who clicked a different switch.  He also switched the speakers on again, in deference to Nelson.


“Chief Sharkey to XO Morton,” he said into his mic, all the while being held in Nelson’s hard glare.


“What is it, Chief?”  Nelson read an air of disgust in Chip’s voice.


“Ah, check you mic, sir.  I think that it’s stuck open.”


There was a noise of some sort, whatever it was definitely choked off, before Chip’s voice came back in a more civilized tone.  “Thanks, Chief.  Sorry about that.”


“No problem, sir,” Sharkey answered blandly, but it was an effort considering the expression he was still seeing on Admiral Nelson’s face.


Nelson was so mad he was all but speechless.  The voice had definitely been that of Lt. Dawes.  He was also worried because Chip had apparently made no effort to defend Lee, lending credence to yesterday’s outburst.  Not able to get out a coherent thought, Nelson turned on his heel and stomped out of the Missile Room, slamming the hatch behind me.


His thoughts were so overwhelming, trying to make sense out of total chaos, that he found himself in the Control Room without really knowing how he got there.  He glanced around, but thankfully all seemed business as usual.  He took a deep breath and walked up to the chart table.  “Looks like everything’s under control here,” he forced himself to speak calmly to Lt. James.


“Aye, sir,” James confirmed.


“I’ll be in my lab if you need me,” was all Nelson could come up with.  He barely waited for a nod before heading up the spiral stairs.


* * * *


Once Lee and Will finished eating, surrounded by the glorious view, they ambled back to the jeep and drove closer to Orongo to look at the multitude of petroglyphs, most based on the birdman culture that had replaced the building of the moai.  Here there were more tourists, but not enough to disturb the peace Will was finding the more he wandered around.  Lee had explained earlier, when he was talking about the egg-gathering ceremony, that the birdman culture had begun to take over as more and more infighting phased out the building of the moai.  And then it died out as well.  Lack of trees for the birds to nest in affected the frigate bird population, and over hunting depleted other species.  Lee told him that there was some evidence that the two cultures had existed for a time together.  In one of the houses in Orongo there was found an 8-foot high moai complete with a loincloth base relief carved on it, but superimposed over the body were birdman symbols.


“Or,” Will theorized, “as the new culture took over, it was someone’s idea of a bit of revenge, or one-upmanship, or whatever, to take one of the old symbols and turn it into their own.”


Lee pointed an eyebrow at the doctor.  “Has anyone ever told you, Jamie, that you have an evil streak?”


Will chuckled.  “I suspect that it’s muttered behind my back a great deal.  Especially by you and Chip.”  Will could have kicked himself into the next time zone when that reference to Chip slipped out as the grin on Lee’s face instantly went hard.  Damn! he told himself, and tried to distract Lee by pointing out some especially interesting petroglyphs a bit further along the small path they were following.  With a shake of his head Lee allowed the distraction.  Will was still furious with himself, so much so that he didn’t pay attention to where he was stepping.  Without warning he found himself flat on his backside as his foot slipped and he tumbled out of control to one side.  A string of oaths, not totally silent, slipped out and he looked up to find Lee grinning broadly.  “What’s so funny?” he growled.


“I was going to ask if you were okay, but obviously you’re just fine.”


Will was forced to grin.  At least his boo-boo had distracted Lee from his previous utterance.  He reached out a hand and Lee helped him off of the rocks and back to the trail.  “Thank you,” he still said with a bit of a mutter, and they continued walking.


They came up to a small group of women doing pretty much what they were doing.  Will buried a smirk as a couple of the ladies, who appeared to be in their early to mid 40’s, seemed to think that the scenery was somewhat better in the men’s direction than toward the petroglyphs.  But the thought was abruptly choked off when there was an abbreviated squeal and one of the women, who had wandered several feet off the trail, slipped off the rock she’d been standing on and fell down between two others.


“Stay still,” came in Lee’s Command tone as one of the women started to head toward her fallen friend.  On the boat or not, his crew or not, all the women stopped dead.  Lee slipped off his pack, which he handed to Will, and carefully started to make his way across the slippery area.  Will slipped off his own pack, in which he had a first aid kit.  But from the bits of conversation it sounded like the woman was more startled than injured.  After his own minor miscalculation he could totally understand that she was probably feeling more embarrassed than anything.


The rest of the women kept their comments to their friend kind and supportive, but Will still saw several glances that had him suspecting they were wishing it was them that had slipped and was gallantly being helped back to the path by the handsome stranger.


Will was surreptitiously watching the ladies so he didn’t totally see what happened next.  One second everything was fine.  Lee had helped the woman to her feet and the pair was making their way back to the path, the woman in the lead but with Lee right behind, a hand offering her a balance point.  Lee told him later that the woman had slipped again just as Lee was taking a step.  She’d tried to use Lee to regain her balance and did actually make the path, albeit a bit unsteadily.  Unfortunately, in gaining her balance she’d done just the opposite to Lee.  He fell forward and to the side somewhat awkwardly, landing stomach first across one of the larger rocks.  Will heard a whoosh of air but Lee instantly pushed himself upright, sent Will a sheepish look, and returned to the path, totally embarrassed by the multitude of gushing thanks he received from the ladies.  Will tried to keep another smirk off his face when Lee looked his way, seemingly beseeching Will to help him.  But he knew that he’d failed when Lee frowned, having finally sent the ladies on their way and coming to stand in front of Will with his back to them.


“Sorry, Skipper,” Will apologized, but he couldn’t say it without a slight chuckle.  Lee’s expression went momentarily hard, but he couldn’t hold it either and finally sent Will a quick, slightly sheepish grin.  He reached down for his pack and tried to muffle a slight groan but wasn’t totally successful.  “Skipper?” Will was immediately all business.


Lee held up one hand as he straightened up with the pack in the other.  “Chill, Jamie.  Landed a little hard, but nothing damaged except my pride.”  He paused, and reached a hand into the inside pocket where Will had seen him stash the little unit he’d used on FS1.  “Well, no damage to me, anyway.”  What came out of the pocket was a handful of mangled electrical parts.  “Oops,” he said with a sheepish grin.  “A swim back to FS1 for sure.”


Will decided to keep things light.  He suspected that there was a pretty fair bruise to go along with the broken equipment, but now didn’t seem the right moment to fuss.  “Lets hope the ladies are nowhere around when you strip down,” he teased his CO.  He’d have a chance to visually inspect Lee’s ribcage at that time.  He watched as Lee took from his pack one of the plastic bags Cookie had packed sandwiches in, and emptied his pocketful of mechanical trash into it.  He shrugged, shouldered his pack, and the two headed back for the jeep.


* * * *


Admiral Nelson spent a restless morning in his lab, unable to concentrate fully on any of the experiments he had in progress.  Finally, shortly before 1300 hours, he headed for the Wardroom.  Coming around a corner in the corridor he caught the tail end of a low conversation between Lt.’s O’Brien and Bryson as they exited the Wardroom and turned the other direction, not noticing Nelson.


“Man, I still think that it’s crazy,” O’Brien told Bryson, very new to the boat and assigned to Engineering under the senior lieutenant.  “But at least that makes more sense than what he told us.”


“Sorta explains why the Skipper would disappear in the middle of the tests,” Bryson agreed.


“And just who told you what?” Nelson demanded in one of his better blustering voices.


“Sir,” both lieutenants nearly squeaked, turning and coming to attention.


Nelson wasn’t above taking his frustration out on a couple of JOs.  “I’m waiting.”  He stopped in front of the two men, a menacing glare aimed at them.


“Ah,” O’Brien started.  He’d been on board since Seaview was first launched.  “We were just talking,” he tried to get he and Bryson off the hook.


Nelson wasn’t about to let them escape.  “And I want to know about what,” he demanded again, his voice rising slightly.


Bryson visibly cringed.  O’Brien held the Admiral’s gaze, took a deep breath, and surrendered.  ‘We were talking about Mr. Morton leaving Seaview, sir,” he said softly.


“What?” Nelson all but yelled.  This time even O’Brien cringed under Nelson’s glare.  Behind the lieutenants a couple of crewmen, headed down the corridor, decided to change directions rather abruptly and disappeared back around the corner they’d just come from.


“It’s what we heard, sir,” O’Brien told his ticked off boss.


“From who?” was Nelson’s next demand.


The hesitation was even longer, and Nelson’s glare turned nasty.  “Lt. Dawes, sir,” O’Brien finally answered.


Nelson’s voice turned deadly soft, and both O’Brien and Bryson turned a pasty shade of white.  “And just what did Lt. Dawes say?”


O’Brien opened his mouth but nothing came out.  He gulped, and tried again.  “He told me that the Skipper was going to ask you to fire Mr. Morton.  For insubordination, he said, but none of us could figure out who was involved,” he added quickly, trying to get it out before Nelson keelhauled him, as he seemed ready to do.  “He told several others, including Bryson, that Mr. Morton was going to resign his commission and join him in setting up a computer consulting firm.  That Mr. Morton couldn’t stand working with the Skipper any longer.”  He nearly held his breath, waiting for the explosion he felt sure was coming.


It didn’t come.  Nelson held their gazes a bit longer before finally taking his own huge breath.  “Dismissed,” he told them.  “And,” he added before the two could do more than nod, “not a word more – to anyone.  Is that understood?” he added with the power of four stars behind it.


“Yes, sir,” both men hurried to affirm, and quickly got the heck away from Nelson before he had the opportunity to change his mind.


So that’s the game, Nelson muttered, took a deep breath, and finally entered the Wardroom.  There wasn’t anyone else there, but Cookie was hovering in the Galley near the serving counter between there and the Wardroom.  Nelson was sure that he’d heard pretty much the whole conversation.  And probably a good deal more, now that Nelson thought about it.  Nelson sent him some of the glare he’d sent the two lieutenants.  “And if he’s been telling lies to the JOs, what has he been telling Chip and Lee?”  He said it mostly to himself but wasn’t surprised when Cookie answered.


“A lot more lies about how the XO shouldn’t be wasting his time playing second fiddle to a jerk like the Skipper.”  Cookie’s voice was fairly respectful.  “And telling the Skipper that he shouldn’t feel bad about not understanding anything about computers.  That Mr. Morton understood he wasn’t that smart about those kinds of things and had his back covered.”  He snorted indelicately and turned back to a pot on the stove.


Nelson almost smiled.  Cookie was known for speaking his mind.  Like the rest of the crew he wasn’t about to spread scuttlebutt.  But Nelson had asked – sort of, anyway.  He shook his head.  No wonder the boat was a powder keg.  But why in blazes did it get this bad?  He thought back on the conversation in his office before the cruise started.  There had been a bit of tension between Lee and Chip over their perception of Dawes.  Apparently, for whatever reason, Dawes had managed to use that against the two.  He could have picked up ‘something’ from Chip during the classes they’d taken together.  Chip was a gregarious person who was comfortable enough in his friendship with Lee that he wasn’t afraid to take the occasional potshot – all in a teasing, non-serious way.  But Dawes had, apparently, found ways to take Chip’s teasing and use it to turn the two against each other.  That it had gotten this far out of hand attested to Dawes’ deviousness.  Well, it ends now, Nelson muttered to himself.  Or rather, when today’s tests are over and Lee returns, he admitted.  Now that he knew who’s head needed to be dislocated from his body he could afford to spend the next couple hours plotting just how to manage it.


* * * *


Will was starting to be a bit concerned.  Lee was a master at masking signs of illness or injury, but once they’d dropped off the jeep and started walking back to the dock there was an ever so slight tendency on Lee’s part to protect what were apparently some tender ribs.  Will considered his options as they neared the dock.  There was no way, even if Lee told him exactly where FS1 was and how to get past the locks, that Will could pilot the little craft back to pick up Lee.  “Skipper, how deep did you park the Flying Sub?”


Lee sent him a curious glance but answered easily enough.  “Not that far,” he told Will.  “About twenty feet.  I just wanted her deep enough that she wasn’t easy to see from the surface.”  His expression added a definite, ‘why did you ask.’


Will shrugged.  He knew Lee wouldn’t like being told that he was acting a bit too tender to be diving.  At best Lee would ignore him.  At worst he’d end up ticked.  Picking the lesser of two evils – as Lee would see it – he gave Lee another shrug and a slight nod.  “Just doing my job,” he told him with a grin.  He knew that his bright young captain would easily understand.


From Lee’s instant frown Will was right on track.  But happily Lee chose to tease Will a bit about it.  “You volunteering to go bring her to the dock, Jamie?”  His smile wasn’t quite as bright as a couple he’d given Will today, letting Will know who was still in charge.  But it still made Will try to hide a grin in response.


“Not hardly, Skipper,” he muttered on general principles.


“I’ll be fine, that short a swim,” Lee assured him.


“I’ll hold you to that,” Will answered sternly.


The dock was somewhat busier now in late afternoon than it had been when they arrived.  Lee glanced around and then continued walking a bit further north, away from town and to a slightly more secluded bit of coastline.  They still weren’t totally alone but when he glanced at Will, Will nodded.  Lee slipped off his pack and sat down, removing his shoes and socks and finally his jacket and shirt.  He glanced at Will again, who was doing a quick visual inspection.  Will suspected that Lee would have some lovely bruises from his slight altercation with the rocks, but no skin was broken that he could see.  When he made no comment, Lee tucked the clothes into his pack, which he then handed to Will.  “See you back at the dock in a few.”


Will shrugged.  “I’ll wait here until I see you surface.”


Lee again sent him a quick grin, but nodded and carefully entered the water.  He swam easily on the surface to where Will assumed that he’d parked the little sub, and then disappeared.  Will didn’t worry when Lee’s head popped back up long enough to take a deep breath of air and disappear again.  However, Will then kept expecting the little yellow sub to surface so wasn’t totally prepared when Lee’s head came back up.  He kept quiet as Lee swam back toward him, no matter his nerves being a bit on edge, until Lee was easing himself back to where Will was standing.  “Skipper?” came out in a worried tone.


Lee sent him a sheepish look.  “The only thing I can figure,” he said as he ran his hands through his hair, stripping out as much water as possible, “when I broke the unit FS1 translated the loss of contact as a threat and went into Intruder-proof mode.”  He lowered his head and looked at Will practically through his wet lashes.  “Even my override codes wouldn’t work.”


“Oops,” Will said softly.  Before he could say anything else, Lee shivered ever so slightly in the beginning-to-cool-down breeze.  “Put your clothes back on.”  He was relieved when Lee chose to nod instead of get angry at the order in his voice.  As Lee dug shirt, jacket, and shoes and socks back out of his pack, Will continued in a lighter tone.  “Now what?  Do we have a way to contact Seaview?”  Will had no idea if Lee had a radio unit in his pack.


“Sort of,” Lee told him.  “We walk back to town, find a phone, and call NIMR to relay a message.”


“Wring your slacks out first or you’ll just get your shoes full of water from the drip.”


Lee sent him a frown.  But he looked around, found only a few locals anywhere close by and, before putting his shoes and socks back on, stripped off his slacks, wrung as much water out of them as he could, and quickly finished dressing.  He was a little bedraggled looking, and the whole scene got curious glances from the few onlookers.  Will was thankful that all of the locals were men.  He was sure that Lee would have ignored the order if any of them had been women, and especially if the ladies that they’d run into earlier were close enough to have watched.  The thought made Will grin broadly, and Lee sent him a small glare.  Will had to immediately come up with something to cover the grin – he knew Lee wouldn’t appreciate knowing what he’d actually been thinking.  “It’s been a very long time since I’ve had to call the folks to come get me because my car broke down,” he came up with.


Lee snorted.  “A story there, Jamie?”


Will sent him a stern look.  “You and Chip have your stories, I have mine.”  Lee chuckled, even with the reference to his current battle with the blond, and he sent Will little sideways glances as he finished getting dressed.  The pair once more reversed direction and headed back to town.


* * * *


Sparks didn’t realize that he was shaking his head until a voice behind him asked, “Problems?”  He jumped and finally saw that Admiral Nelson had walked quietly into the radio shack.


“Sorry, sir.  And no, no problem, unless you count still not getting anything from FS1.”


It was nearly 1600 hours.  The test had run long and Nelson had just come down to the Control Room from his lab.  He was caught up with the projects he was working on and had given Chip a quick call to meet him there when he was through.  His first stop had been to see if there was any word from Lee.  He’d told Will to stay away as long as possible, but he knew his workaholic captain only too well and was surprised that the pair hadn’t called in by now.  He sent Sparks a nod.  “Well, don’t worry about it.  I did tell them to make a day of it.”  He sent his radioman a bit of a sheepish look.  “Although, I wasn’t actually expecting miracles.”  From the quick grin Sparks gave him, he knew that the man understood the crack perfectly well.


Chip stepped through the aft hatch just then.  He apparently didn’t notice Nelson when he looked around the room before walking forward to the chart table.  Nelson wanted to wait now until Lee was back and he could get both of his command officers into the relative soundproofing of his office before straightening out the mess that Dawes had created.  For the moment he needed to explain why FS1 wasn’t talking before Chip blamed that, too, on Lee.  He followed Chip forward and heard him query James.  Before the lieutenant could do more than start to open his mouth, Nelson cleared his throat and both men turned around.


“Chip, will you join me in the Nose, please?” he said amiably, and continued forward.  He didn’t look back, but blew out a breath when he heard quiet footsteps following him.  Once at the windows, Seaview’s most notably unique feature, he turned and faced the blond.  “One of the things Lee was doing today was testing a new piece of equipment for me.  Neither of us,” he hurried on as Chip frowned, “put it in the trip parameters in the log because it wasn’t actually an official test.  I’ve been having some problems, and I asked him to play with it to see what happened.”  As he continued to talk Chip lost most of his hard look – thankfully.


“May I ask, sir, what kind of test and what kind of problems?”  Nelson grinned ever so slightly at Chip’s carefully correct question, but also at the subtle note of concern in his voice.  Both Chip and Lee had had to deal with a few too many of Nelson’s ‘problems.’


“In this case I think I unintentionally fouled communications with FS1.  I expect Lee to be able to fix it once he and Will return to her.  But that could be a few hours yet.  For now, even though we know where she was headed and it’s not that far, Sparks can’t get a burst response from her automated systems.”


“And you’re not concerned that something else could be wrong?”


Nelson frowned.  Leave it to Chip to think of that.  It hadn’t even crossed his mind.  But he shook his head.  “This is one of the problems that I’ve been having,” he admitted.  “And I’m not really expecting them back for awhile yet.  For now we’ll assume that it’s my fault.  If Lee hasn’t reported in by 1900 hours, time enough to revise our options.”


“Yes, sir.”


“How’d the test go today?” Nelson changed the subject.


“Good,” Chip told him, and held out the clipboard that he’d carried into the Conn.


Nelson noted that Chip’s voice didn’t sound overly enthusiastic, but merely accepted the clipboard and briefly scanned through the half dozen reports it held.  He sent Chip a small grin.  “At least something is going right.”  He suspected that the double meaning he’d intended went right over Chip’s head.  On the other hand, he changed his mind, I’ve seen that look of …whatever… on Chip’s face before.  And it’s not always been a good thing.  But Chip only nodded, not saying anything further.  Nelson decided that he’d surrender while he was ahead – sort of.  He nodded an easy dismissal and let Chip go back to the Conn.  He thought about heading either back to his lab or his cabin to study the reports in more detail, but instead sat down at the table in the Nose.


He was still there about forty-five minutes later when he heard a call come in from Lt. Dawes, asking Chip to meet him in the computer lab; that he had a further report from today’s tests that he needed to discuss.  Before Chip could acknowledge the call Nelson interrupted.  “Why don’t you have him bring it up here,” he suggested.  “He should have his report for me ready by now as well, and I can hear what he’s changed his mind about.”  He raised an eyebrow when Chip gave him a look of puzzlement, but went back to reading the last report while Chip relayed the message.  He didn’t look up again until he felt a presence next to him and discovered Chip standing at his shoulder, looking at him with that same puzzlement easy to read on his face.  “Yes, Chip?”  He had no idea what was causing his XO’s unusual reaction to such an innocent request.  Well, at least Nelson thought that it was innocent.  He raised an eyebrow of his own.


“Sir?” Chip started, but then seemed unsure how to continue.


Nelson, realizing that his XO was extremely nervous about something, sent the blond a small smile and relaxed lazily back into his chair, trying to put the younger man more at ease.  “Spit it out, Chip.”  Nelson kept his voice casual and increased the grin ever so slightly.


“Adam told me that you didn’t want anything from him until a final report when all of the tests were done.  I was just wondering why you’d changed your mind.”


Nelson knew that his expression went hard.  “That man seems to have all sorts of interesting interpretations of what he’s told,” he muttered.  He knew that it came out harshly, but was interrupted from saying anything further by the intercom.


“Admiral,” Sparks called forward, “incoming call for you from the Institute.  They’re relaying a message from the Skipper.”


Nelson couldn’t help the soft grin that crossed his face.  He was reminded of Chip’s nervousness as the blond frowned slightly and then ducked his head.  “Patch it up here, Sparks,” he told the radioman.


“Aye, sir,” and Nelson was connected with Jason Parquer in NIMR’s communications center.


“What have you got, Parquer?” he asked, trying to convey a sense of calm to Chip at the same time.


“The Skipper sends his regrets, sir, but he’s unable to return to Seaview as planned.  He says that you’ll understand; to tell you that not only did the program scramble communications again, but that he accidentally broke the control unit and it put FS1 into total lockdown mode.  It won’t even let him back in.”


“Damn,” Nelson muttered softly.  “He called from Hanga Roa?”


“Yes, sir.  He said that he and Doc would be waiting at the dock…”  There was a slight cough as Parquer seemed to realize what he’d said.  Nelson grinned, noting that Chip did as well and sent him a nod.  “Ah,” Parquer continued, “anyway, that they’d be there whenever you could arrange to pick them up.  He didn’t leave a call-back number.”


“Thank you, Parquer.  We’ll take it from here.”  He broke the connection and looked at Chip.  “I’m never going to hear the end of this,” he admitted, and was glad to see Chip’s grin broaden slightly.


But steps on the spiral stairs interrupted anything else he might have said, and Nelson immediately switched gears.  He abruptly stood up and sent a glare at the lieutenant.  Chip took an unsure step backward, giving his suddenly ticked off boss a little more room.


“Admiral, Chip.” Dawes said as he stopped in front of them.  He had two sets of papers in his hand and he held one out to Nelson.  “Your report, sir.”


“Thank you.”  Nelson accepted the papers but never took his hard look from Dawes’ face.  While he could have, at that moment, cheerfully tossed the man overboard and forgotten where, he tried to keep himself under control.


Dawes apparently thought that that was all Nelson wanted and turned to Chip.  “We can discuss this later,” he indicated the other set of papers, and started to turn away.


“Lieutenant,” Nelson growled, stopping Dawes.  “You haven’t been dismissed.”  Chip glanced between the two, puzzlement back on his face.  “I would very much like you to explain why you told my XO that I’d said I didn’t need daily reports from you, only a final report after all the tests were done.”


Nelson had to give the man an A+ for coolness under pressure.  He never missed a beat.  “I misunderstood that,” he admitted, still a benign expression on his face.


Nelson’s voice got a little softer.  “And I suppose that you’re going to say that Lt. O’Brien misunderstood when you told him that you heard Capt. Crane say that he was going to ask me to fire Mr. Morton for undermining his authority aboard Seaview.”


“What?” Chip yelled.  He stiffened with rage, but a look from Nelson made him hold his tongue.


“And Lt. Bryson misunderstood when you told him that Mr. Morton was resigning his commission to join you in setting up your own company.”  There was a sputter from Chip, and Dawes finally started to look uncertain.  “And, of course,” Nelson’s voice turned deadly soft, “you never would have told Capt. Crane that Mr. Morton said that Lee’s computer skills were so limited that he couldn’t begin to understand the tests, and not to pay any attention to him.”


He wasn’t sure what reaction he was expecting from Dawes but he was totally unprepared for the one he got from Chip.  So fast that it was over before he even realized what happened, Chip slugged Dawes in the face hard enough to instantly collapse the trouble-making lieutenant in a pile on the deck.  There were sounds from the Control Room but no one moved.  Nelson saw Lt. James send a look around the room, getting everyone focused back on their equipment.  But Nelson couldn’t quibble about the continued little glances pointed forward.  He reached for the mic as Chip seemed to realize what he’d done.




Nelson merely held up a hand.  “We’ll get it all sorted out,” he assured the blond.  Into the mic he called Chief Hauck.  When the Master-At-Arms answered he told him, “We’ve had a bit of an incident in the Observation Nose.  I need Security to come forward, please.”  It couldn’t have been 30 seconds before Chief Hauck himself scurried through the aft hatch of the Conn.  Nelson saw Dawes finally open his eyes, but a glare dared him to move and Dawes wisely stayed where he was.


“Chief,” Nelson addressed the MAA as he came to a stop next to Chip, “Lt. Dawes will be spending the rest of this cruise confined to his cabin.  He seems to be too unsteady on his feet to continue to roam the boat without the threat of injuring himself further.”  Hauck glanced at Chip, who was holding his right hand cradled in his left, and Nelson added, glaring at Dawes, “When the lieutenant stumbled, Mr. Morton reached out a hand.  It unfortunately connected with Dawes’ chin.  If you need further witness statements for your report I’m sure that the entire Duty Crew in the Conn will be more than happy to supply them.”


Hauck kept a straight face despite Chip’s snort.  “Aye, aye, sir.  Should I have one of the corpsmen certify that he’s safe to stay by himself?”


Even Nelson snorted.  “By all means,” he told the Chief.


Hauck none too gently helped Dawes to his feet, keeping a tight grip on the man’s upper arm.  “Come along, sir,” he told the lieutenant.  His voice was deferential as befitted addressing an officer, but there was no denying the determined expression on his face  “We’ll get you all safely tucked into your cabin so nothing like this happens again.”


Once the two had disappeared up the spiral stairs, Nelson turned to Chip.  “Do you need that looked at?”  He nodded to Chip’s hand.


The blond’s face turned a couple of shades redder than it already was.  “No, sir.”  He flexed the fingers several times.  Nelson could tell that it hurt, but Chip didn’t seem to be in any great distress when he added, “its fine, sir.” 


He started to add something else but Nelson raised a hand.  He suspected that Chip was going to try to apologize and Nelson had no intention of letting him.  In fact, Nelson had to admit that Chip’s quick action had no doubt kept him from doing precisely the same thing.  “In that case,” he got back to business, “I’d suggest that we do something about rescuing our stranded CMO.  He has, as you are well aware of, spent the entire day with Lee.  I suspect that none of us will be hearing the end of that one for quite some time.”  He chuckled softly and his eyes were sparkling.


Chip didn’t smile but he did nod rather enthusiastically.  “Never have liked Jamie’s retaliations,” he admitted.


Nelson shuddered somewhat overdramatically and clapped a hand on Chip’s shoulder.  “Good heavens, no,” he agreed, and they headed for the chart table.


* * * *


Will glanced at Lee as the pair sat on a somewhat flat rock near the pier.  Once they had returned from another trip into town Lee had gotten progressively quieter.  He’d tried to leave Will at the dock while he went to make the call to NIMR, saying that Will had probably walked enough for one day.  But Will had insisted that he was just fine, thank you, and returned Lee’s grin from the use of that far too familiar line.  “How long do you think that we’ll have to wait?” he asked now.  He really didn’t care but he decided that he needed Lee to quit brooding and talk – about anything.


Lee shrugged.  He’d drawn his legs up to his chest and had his arms wrapped around them, his chin resting on one knee.  “It’s too far to send a zodiac.  They’ll have to come most of the way with Seaview, and that means waiting until the tests are done for the day.”  That said, he went back to staring out to sea.


Will straightened ever so slightly, and purposely put the lecturing tone in his voice that he knew would grate on Lee’s nerves.  “So, just what are you blaming yourself for this time?  The Admiral already knew that his little experiment had problems.  None of this is your fault.”


Lee sent him a look that almost had a smile attached.  “Depends on which experiment you’re referring to – FS1, or sticking me with you for the day.”


Will snorted.  He should have known better than to think he could get that one past Lee.  But at least he had lightened Lee’s mood, if only marginally.  Or thought he had.  All of a sudden he wasn’t so sure.  He needed to keep going, to see what Lee would do.  “Both,” Will finally settled on.  He wasn’t overly happy with Lee’s response – or lack thereof.  Will took a deep breath and tried the direct approach.  It hadn’t worked with Chip.  And Will suspected that not only wouldn’t it work with Lee, but that he’d be stuck with the ticked off version of his CO until their rescue.  Oh well, he told himself.  It’s not like I haven’t ticked him off before.  A small smile touched his mouth.  And I seriously doubt that it will be the last.   “What’s going on, Skipper?”  Lee didn’t even grace him with a glance so Will dug himself a little deeper into the hole he figured he was making.  “Chip has seriously yanked your chain lots of times.  What’s different about this one?”


He thought for a bit that Lee was going to just ignore him.  On a scale of one to ten it sure beat having Lee totally ticked.  But there was finally an answer, almost too soft for Will to hear.  “He’s always done it face to face.”  Lee never turned, saying it mostly to the expanse of ocean in front of him.  “He’s never slammed me behind my back.  At least,” Lee admitted miserably with a long sigh, “not that I know of.”


Will pondered that one for awhile.  “And how do you know that he did it this time?”


Again there was a long pause.  “Dawes told me.”


“Did you ask Chip about it?”  Lee shrugged, still not looking at Will.  “So, you believed Dawes, someone you already didn’t like, and thought the worst about your best friend.”  Will knew that it came out badly.  He couldn’t quite believe what he’d just heard.


And Lee took it just as badly.  “So I should ignore the fact that the instant Dawes shows up Chip starts hanging around him every spare minute he has,” came out in as deadly a voice as Will had ever heard Lee use.


“So, you’re jealous?”  Will shook his head.  This whole conversation wasn’t making much sense.  “Don’t hit?” he ordered, as Lee’s hand closest to Will formed a fist and threatened to make a dent in the solid rock under it.  “And if Dawes was telling you things, what do you suppose he was saying to Chip?”


At that Lee finally looked at him.  Will wasn’t overly thrilled with the anger that he could so easily read on the younger man’s face.  At least he could be pretty sure that it wasn’t directed at him so he merely maintained a query on his own face, trying to be as open with Lee as he could.


Lee eventually went back to staring at the ocean but the fist he’d made never loosened.  Finally there was a growl of something that sounded like, “I’ll kill him.”


“Which one,” came out before Will could stop it.


The glare Lee sent him would have made one of Chip’s rather patented best pale by comparison. “He baited us,” came out in the earlier hard, angry voice.


“And apparently did an excellent job of it,” Will agreed.  Will was actually grateful when Lee chose not to respond, merely going back to his original position of chin on knee.  The fist still didn’t relax but the tension in Lee’s shoulders did, if only marginally. 


Will had no idea of what was going to happen once they returned to Seaview.  But anything had to be better than the last ten days.  Well, he admitted, sort of.  Let’s just hope that it all gets sorted out before anyone says something that they can’t take back.  He thought that he knew both Lee and Chip well enough that they could deal with matters and come out the stronger for it.  He hoped that he was right.  Especially as he saw Lee sit up straight, and looked where Lee was looking.  Seaview was slowly surfacing about five hundred yards off the coastline.  The pair sat silently watching as crewmen appeared on her deck and a zodiac was launched.


* * * *


Admiral Nelson sat quietly on the open bench next to Chip while senior rating Kowalski piloted the zodiac toward land.  He’d considered leaving his XO on board but decided that might not be the best way to handle things.  The crew had already been privy to way too much tension between the two senior officers and he was sure that word had spread like wildfire – no matter how quietly it was done – about what had transpired earlier in the Observation Nose.  Best to let Lee and Chip get things straightened out away from any more prying eyes.  Kowalski was chosen to handle the zodiac duties precisely because he would keep his mouth shut. 


On Nelson’s lap he held a small box with several electronic devises in it.  He was hoping that one of them would trigger FS1’s internal security system into normal mode so that they could get back in.  He wasn’t sure that he could get Seaview close enough to allow the Magnetic Retrieval System to reach her.  Always assuming that that would even work, as badly as I’ve apparently scrambled things.  He half-grinned to – and at - himself.  He was perfectly happy taking the blame for the problems.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  An open smile appeared as he admitted, And it probably won’t be the last.  Chip noticed the smile and sent him a raised eyebrow.  Nelson indicated the box.  “Wish me luck,” he told his XO.


Chip cringed.  “Sorry, but I’m more worried about what I say to him.”  He nodded toward the shoreline, where they could see that both Lee and Will had stood up and were moving down to the dock.


“We’ll get it sorted out,” Nelson assured him.


“Before or after he beheads me,” Chip muttered miserably.


Nelson couldn’t help the soft chuckle that escaped.  “I’m more concerned about keeping him from beheading Lt. Dawes on the trip home.”  His voice got firm.  “Or who’s going to keep me from doing it,” he added with a growl.  It finally caused Chip to send him a short smile.


Nothing more was said until they nosed into the dock.  Chip tossed the tether rope to a waiting Lee, and he and Nelson quickly jumped out right behind.  All four men started to talk at the same time, each voice gradually getting louder as the other three refused to quit, until a sharp whistle pierced the cacophony.  “Ten-hut,” Nelson ordered firmly, glaring at the others.  “As ranking officer here I get first crack.”  There was a snort from Will but both Chip and Lee straightened up, squared their shoulders, and faced him.  “Thank you,” Nelson’s voice softened.  As he started to explain he saw small nods from both Lee and Will as Chip’s expression went hard again.  “You knew?” Nelson asked Lee.


“Finally started putting the pieces together a little while ago,” Lee admitted, and turned to Chip.  “Should have figured it out long before that,” he told his friend miserably.  “Sorry.”


“You’re sorry,” Chip’s voice was also filled with regret.  “I feel like the lowest form of scum that I actually believed what he was saying.”


“When I get my hands on that…” Lee started to growl.


“Already did,” Chip interrupted and held up his right hand, which was starting to sport some lovely bruises.


“You hit him?”  Lee was incredulous.  “Striking a fellow officer, no matter the provocation…”


Once more he was cut off, this time by Nelson.  “Dawes slipped and Chip’s fist just happened to catch him rather forcefully on the jaw.  Everyone in the Conn saw exactly what happened, and Chief Hauck is filling out the incident report.”  He got it out with a straight face, but only barely.


Lee sent Chip a raised eyebrow and the blond shrugged, a suddenly impish grin on his face.  “It was an accident,” he said softly, the old line causing snorted smiles from the others.


Will walked the couple steps needed to stand next to Chip.  “I hope that you had that looked at,” he tried to growl.  But it didn’t quite come out that way around the slight smirk on his face.


They got back to business as steps behind them turned out to belong to the same local police officer that had greeted Lee and Will that morning.  The man checked both Chip’s and Nelson’s I.D.’s – he wasn’t overly happy that Kowalski had nothing on him, but accepted Nelson’s smiled comment of, “Well, he actually hasn’t set foot on the island,” as the seaman had stayed in the zodiac.  He did keep a quiet watch from a few feet off the dock as Nelson puttered with his collection of gadgets.


Chip cut off a sound of some sort as Lee once more stripped down to his slacks in preparation to go check FS1 again to see if he could now get in.  “That’s sort of how the original control unit got broken,” Lee explained the bruising on his stomach and side.  He shot a look at Will, practically defying the doctor to explain exactly what had happened.  Will’s smirk grew but he nodded and kept quiet.  Lee dove into the water while the others waited.  Thankfully, FS1 bobbed up not long after Lee went under the surface.


Nelson untied the zodiac and sent Kowalski back to Seaview.  He let out a huge breath of air as Lee nosed the little yellow craft up to the place Kowalski had just vacated.  He sent Will a look and got a nod in return.  It was going to be so nice to have everything back under control.  Or, he admitted silently, as much as it ever is.  Rarely a dull moment.  He buried a grin as he climbed aboard FS1.  It sure keeps life interesting.