The Code


 R. L. Keller


As always, a big Thank You to Susan, my Beta and my friend, without whose input and advice my stories wouldn’t be nearly as coherent J  R. L.



Lee Crane, you are such a dumb duck.  Chip’s going to have your six after this one.  The tall, slender captain of NIMR’s research submarine Seaview shook his head in disgust at himself, realized that wasn’t such a bright idea right at the moment, and continued walking.


Lee was, for the moment, engaged in his other, part-time occupation – that of special agent for ONI.  His Exec, and long time friend, Chip Morton, tended to wax not at all poetically about Lee’s continued commitment to the intelligence agency.  Lee totally understood what was behind Chip’s antipathy – Lee rarely made it back from an undercover assignment, no matter how innocent or simple it seemed on the surface, uninjured.  The reasons were always different, and usually not Lee’s fault: bad intel, changed plans, back-up problems.  It didn’t matter, at least to Chip.  Lee knew the blond was in a constant state of worry any time Lee was called away.


At least Lee’s injuries this time were minor, just bumps and bruises, and a slightly wrenched knee.  Unfortunately they were also self-induced.  Which, Lee knew, would have Chip overly energetic in pointing out that if Lee had stayed aboard Seaview they wouldn’t have happened at all.  But the assignment was, as far as Lee was concerned, a relatively simple one.  And an obvious one to snag Lee for because Seaview was at that moment not many miles off the coast of the small South American country gathering data on a recent seaquake.  ONI had received information of an arms buildup in a terrorist encampment.  Lee had been asked to parachute in, using FS1, fairly close to the camp, and blow up the weapons stash.  With timed charges he’d be well away when the charges went off, making his way to a village where he’d meet ONI’s informant.  That person would arrange transport to the coast.  Lee would then catch a ride on a local fishing boat to where FS1 could pick him up.


The first part of the plan went exceptionally well.  COB Sharkey, piloting the small craft, came in low and fast, not giving the country’s air defenses enough of an image to cause trouble, and Lee was safely on the ground just before 2300.  ONI’s intel had for once been spot on.  Lee had no trouble gaining quiet entrance to the compound, finding the weapons, and setting his charges.  He was a good five kilometers away when the pyrotechnics went off precisely at 0600.


That was where things started to go downhill.  Everything had been going so well that Lee had gotten a bit complacent.  He had assumed that the explosion would have all the bad guys in the vicinity headed for the compound to find out what had happened, and had run smack into a three-man patrol laying low in some underbrush.  “They do say assumption is the mother of all screw-ups,” he muttered, then coughed.


“What did you say?” came from behind him.  Lee turned and gave the man a slightly embarrassed look.


He’d made another snap assumption that the three men were very minor underlings when he had a relatively easy time dispatching the first two.  An almost instant re-evaluation had to be made when the third one bashed Lee on the back of his head with something hard, knocking him to his knees.  Lee had found himself starring up the barrel of a very large pistol when a shot rang out and the man fell forward.  Lee had just time to notice that the back of the man’s head had ceased to exist when a fourth man appeared. 


“I think, maybe, Senior Crane, it is a very good thing I decided to come meet you on the trail,” the man said, holstering his weapon and reaching down to give Lee a hand up.


“Diego?” Lee asked.  He had to work hard to keep the fuzziness under control.  The other man maintained a grip on his arm until Lee’s eyes refocused.


“Si.  I saw them before they saw me, but unfortunately could not take them out before you got here.”  He sneezed.  “Lo siento.  Sorry.  I have a cold.” 


“Not a problem,” Lee replied with a grin.


“If you can travel, we should be on our way.”


“I’m fine,” Lee mumbled, ignoring his spinning head.


“Good.  I think we will, perhaps, take a slightly altered route back to the village.  One that will keep us off the main trails.”  Sneeze.


Lee grinned again softly.  “Works for me.  You lead the way.”


They had traveled several more kilometers, working their way through the jungle-like terrain, not seeing or hearing anything except a multitude of birds, when another problem occurred as, once again, Lee momentarily lost his usually high level of concentration.  The two men had reached a small game trail that Diego said should be clear of guerrilla use.  He snorted, and Lee gave him a puzzled look.  “They walk around with so many guns and ammunition belts hanging on them, trying to look like they are tough guys, they have to use the wider trails or they’d never make it through the undergrowth.”  Both men laughed, Diego sneezed, and they continued walking, this time with Lee in the lead.  Unfortunately, Lee had glanced up at some brightly colored birds overhead, noisily welcoming in the morning, and wasn’t paying enough attention to where he was placing his feet.  Totally without warning he found himself falling forward, his foot caught on a vine trailing across the path.  He tried to catch himself but ended up jamming his right knee into a large tree root.  A string of epithets was abruptly cut off as his throat connected with another one, and he felt Diego’s hands on his shoulders.


“Are you alright?” the man asked worriedly, helping Lee to sit up.


It took Lee a second to realize what had happened.  “Think that knock to my head is finally catching up with me,” he admitted, then had to cough and rub his throat.  Diego handed him a canteen, and he took several small sips until the pain subsided.  “Thanks.”  He handed back the canteen and assessed the damage.  His knee was sore but appeared to be relatively stable.  When Diego helped him to stand, Lee could put weight on it with minimal pain.  The dizziness he had been successfully ignoring before his fall was annoying more than anything, but as long as he kept his concentration on where he was going instead of what was overhead, he found he could walk fairly steadily.  He gave Diego a sheepish grin and a careful shake of his head.  “And I was just commenting to myself how well everything was going.”


Diego grinned back.  “The scenery is indeed beautiful.  There are a fair number of us who wish to see it remain so.”


Lee nodded carefully.  “If you don’t mind my asking,” he said, aware that his throat was still a bit tender, “why was it necessary to get outside help to blow the munitions dump?  I mean, well, you, for instance, seem to be perfectly capable…”


Diego grinned.  “I appreciate the compliment, Senor.  However, I live here.  If I had been caught, things would have gone very badly for my family.  On the other hand you, as an outsider…”


“There would be no repercussions to the locals,” Lee finished, nodding.


“Are you well enough to travel?”


“Yes.  But you’d better take the lead.  Still a little fuzzy around the edges.”  He gave Diego a small grin and they headed on.  Lee did notice the other man kept the pace a bit slower than they’d been traveling, and was grateful.


Coming into the village from the rear, Diego led Lee to a nondescript hut behind a row of equally nondescript huts.  It appeared to be used for storing farm implements, sacks of grain, and boxes of who knew what.  But tucked out of sight from the entrance, in a back corner, were a cot, small barrel of water, and a recently supplied plate of food.  “Rest here, my friend.  It will be an hour or two before transportation to the coast can be arranged.”  Apparently he noticed Lee’s concerned glance around, and nodded, answering the unasked question.  “You will be safe here.  The hut is being watched.  You will not be disturbed.”


“Thank you, Diego.”  Lee nodded to the plate.  “And thank whoever thought of the meal.”


Diego grinned.  “Many are appreciative of what help we receive.  I will return as soon as I can.”  He nodded toward Lee’s sidearm.  “I will announce myself before entering.”


Lee returned the grin.  “Probably a good idea,” he agreed, and Diego left. 


Beside the barrel of water Lee found a cup, bowl, and a small, well-worn but clean towel.  The closeness of the back corner, with no window for ventilation, wasn’t helping Lee’s continuing battle with a bit of vertigo.  Sitting down on the edge of the cot, he filled the cup with water.  Taking small sips off and on, he also filled the bowl and cleaned up a bit.  There wasn’t any blood from his head wound, which pleased him no end.  One less thing for Chip to yell at me about.  His knee was bruised, but again no torn skin.  Not hungry, Lee nonetheless nibbled at the bread and fruit left for him, just to be polite.


Lee thought he’d barely laid his head down on the small pillow when there was a rustling from the direction of the hut’s door.  The smile that came instantly when he also heard a sneeze died abruptly as he glanced at his watch – he’d been asleep for nearly three hours.  “Senor?” came softly, followed by another sneeze, and Lee’s grin reappeared.


“Pistol holstered, Diego.”  As the man came around the stack of boxes, Lee added with another grin, “Your cold makes a wonderful early warning system.”


Diego dropped his head, but he grinned broadly, if somewhat sheepishly.  “My apologies for taking so long.  There was a small problem that needed attending to.”  At Lee’s instant alert he put up a hand.  “No, Senor, nothing to do with you.  Our cow chose this moment to have her calf and needed a bit of assistance.”


“All’s well?” Lee asked, standing carefully and reaching for his pack.  He was pleased that the rest seemed to be exactly what he had needed.  His head was now clear, and there wasn’t even a twinge from his knee.  There was still a scratchiness in his throat, and he reached to take a few more sips of water.   Swell, he thought.  Survived the mission and caught Diego’s cold.


“Both are doing fine,” the man assured him.  “You?”


“Surprised myself and napped a bit,” Lee admitted.  “Feeling much better.”


“Good.  We have a short walk to another village.  From there you will be given a ride to the coast – about a two-hour trip.  As soon as it gets dark, a boat will take you out far enough to contact your people safely.”


“Won’t a boat going out at night draw attention?”  He’d been a bit worried about that part of the plan.


“Not at all.  The fishermen often leave at night, especially if they are going very far out, to be ready to start fishing at first light.”  He glanced at the plate.  “Perhaps you wish to take some of the food with you?  It will still be many hours before you are safely home.”


Not really, Lee thought, but almost instantly changed his mind.  There was a slight chance that the fruit would help stave off the advancing cold symptoms.  Lee would use any and all tactics to stay out of Dr. Jamison’s clutches.  He stuffed several pieces into his pack as well as refilling his canteen before they left.


* * * *


The trip back to Seaview was uneventful, despite one small detail.  His driver for the next leg of the trip turned out to be a man of indeterminate old age, who chose to take his half of the road out of the middle and assumed everyone else would just get out of his way.  By the end of the trip Lee began to have a new appreciation for the way Chip felt the first time he’d taken Riley out for flight instructions in FS1.  The blond had come back, white knuckled and glassy-eyed, vowing that that was positively the last time he went aboard the flying sub with the young seaman, no matter who was driving.  Over a drink at BZ’s that night, Chip swore that Riley tried to turn the little yellow craft into a big surfboard, attempting to skim the waves.


Arriving at the coast, miraculously in one piece, Lee was turned over to a 40-ish man who spoke mostly in grunts.  He showed Lee to a small room in the basement of a warehouse.  Again a cot, water, and a plate with bread and cheese were supplied.  He didn’t eat any of the food this time, but did continue to drink small amounts of water and nibble on the fruit he’d brought.  His throat didn’t appear to be getting any worse, but the soreness told him he was definitely coming down with a cold.  Oh well, he thought, resting until the man returned for him, if that’s the worst I get from this trip, Chip can’t yell too loudly.  Everything else is just fine.  Lee had taken the time to again check his injuries, but with no outward signs that they had even occurred, Lee made a mental note to not even mention them to Jamie.  There was some slight bruising at the base of his neck, he noticed when he pulled the small signaling mirror out of his pack to check the damage.  But his turtleneck sweater covered it nicely, as should the collar of his uniform shirt once he was back.  No need to tell Jamie about that, either.


Shortly before 2000 the man returned and motioned for Lee to follow him.  They made their way casually but cautiously to a fishing boat at the end of one of the docks.  With Lee’s dark coloring and native dress, he was merely glanced at by the few people they encountered.  He had to smile as he received a nod of approval from his host when he automatically set about helping to ready the boat for departure.  It took them only a few minutes to head out.  Lee noticed a few other boats leaving as well, and was a bit worried about how they were going to make contact with FS1 without drawing a crowd.  He needn’t have worried.  As soon as the boat left the small bay, his host slowed down long enough to let the other boats get ahead of him, traveling in a general northwest direction.  He then doused all the running lights and headed southwest.  Lee wondered for a bit how the man was finding his way.  He relaxed as he noticed that the fisherman kept checking the sky and realized he was navigating by the stars.  They didn’t travel fast, but made steady progress for just over an hour before the man stopped the engine.  He said nothing, just looked at Lee.  Lee took the hint and hit the button on the small transponder he carried.  He wasn’t sure how long it would take Sharkey to trace the signal and said as much to the fisherman.  That man just nodded, slouched further into his chair, tipped his hat lower over his eyes and crossed his arms.  Lee chose to wait on the stern deck for his transport home.


Lee had two small surprises waiting for him.  Although, as it turned out, it wasn’t a very long wait.  That was the first surprise.  Barely five minutes after leaving the pilothouse there was a bubbling off the port side of the boat and FS1 slowly surfaced.  The fisherman (Lee never did learn his name) appeared at his side as Lee tossed a couple bumpers over, and the yellow machine snugged up to the boat.  Lee wasted no time scrambling up to the top hatch.  He glanced back, but the fisherman just seemed to be waiting semi-patiently for Lee to be gone so Lee said nothing, cracked the hatch, and entered the Flying Sub.  That was when he got his second surprise – it wasn’t Sharkey piloting.


“Who stuck you with chauffeur duties?” he asked Kowalski as he dogged the upper hatch and climbed down the ladder.


“Mr. Morton volunteered me,” Ski answered, then asked cautiously, “You okay, Skipper?  Your voice sounds funny.”


“My contact had a cold.  Think I’m catching it,” Lee said easily, hooking the access ladder back into its traveling position.  He gave the rating another smile as there was a moment’s hesitation, the rating obviously wondering if his CO was going to take over the pilot’s seat.  But as Lee slid into the copilot’s chair, Kowalski maneuvered the small craft away from the boat and dove.  Lee knew his XO and friend’s reasoning for sending the senior rating only too well.  If Lee had been injured, Kowalski had corpsman training and would be better able to deal with Lee than the COB.  He continued to grin as he buckled himself into the chair, and noticed the seaman giving him a quizzical look.  But Lee just waved off the unasked question and settled back into the chair, content to let Kowalski take him home.


* * * *


The first sight to greet Admiral Nelson as he came down the spiral stairs into the Control Room of his great submarine was the scowl on his Executive Officer’s face.  Nelson quickly smothered the grin that instantly appeared, and walked over to the chart table.  “No word yet from Kowalski, I take it?” he asked the blond casually.  He knew, as did every man aboard Seaview, how much Chip disapproved of Lee’s continuing to accept ONI assignments.  Nelson wasn’t overjoyed about it himself, but was reluctant to order Lee to stop.  An integral part of his young Captain’s character was a strong sense of duty.  It was part of what made him an excellent command officer.  Nelson knew Lee felt a continued obligation to the intelligence agency, and so far had chosen to allow Lee to make his own decisions about accepting assignments.


But he also knew that Chip had no such reservations.  He nagged his friend unmercifully about giving up the extraneous assignments that, at the very least, took Lee away from Seaview, and all too often left him hurting.  Nelson knew Chip’s worries were two-fold.  Concern for a friend was in the forefront.  But Nelson knew that Chip was also worried about what would happen should Lee no longer be there to command Seaview.  Lee had become such an integral part of NIMR that the thought of him severely injured or killed kept the XO on edge any time Lee was off-boat.  Bad enough if it happened on NIMR time.


“Down, Chip,” Nelson said now, allowing a bit of the grin to reappear.  “Kowalski had orders to break radio silence if Lee missed his check-in.”


The scowl disintegrated into a look of chagrin.  “Yes, sir.  I know.  But…”


“But you still won’t be happy until Lee’s back aboard, safe and sound.”  The grin broadened.


Chip’s chagrin turned more sheepish.  “No, sir,” he admitted.


Anything either man might have added was interrupted as Sparks called, “FS1 sending her beacon, sirs.”  Chip ran through the orders that would prepare Seaview to accept the little craft back into her berth under Seaview’s nose, then he and the Admiral moved forward to welcome back their returning Captain.


The familiar dark curly head of hair appeared moments after Sharkey undogged the hatch, and Nelson watched the apparently in-one-piece man climb easily back into the sub.  “Welcome back,” he said.


“It’s about time,” he heard Chip growl beside him, and turned to find the XO had crossed his arms and stood glaring at Lee.  Nelson struggled hard to keep from laughing.  Ever the totally correct XO to Lee’s Captain, Chip still managed at times to treat Lee like the little brother he’d become soon after the two had entered Annapolis.


“What do you mean?”  Lee gave the Exec one of his better command stares, although Nelson could see his eyes sparkling as he enjoyed the familiar banter.  “I’m back a good hour before I thought I’d be.”


But Nelson noticed a problem.  “Lee, what’s wrong with your voice?”


Lee gave him a suddenly sheepish look.  “My main contact had a cold.  Think I may have caught it,” he admitted quietly.


Before Nelson could say anything Chip took a step back, raised his hands, and crossed his arms at mid-forearm in front of his face.  “Back, you,” he threatened, only half in jest.  “The last time someone came aboard with a cold, half the crew was down with it in less than a week.”


“As I recall, that person was you,” Lee observed.


“Totally beside the point,” Chip countered.


“Yeah, right…”


Before the conversation could deteriorate any further, Nelson stepped in.  “That will do, gentlemen,” he said sternly, struggling to control his laughter.  “Lee, while you were gone I finished my research on this area.  We were just waiting for you to return before heading home.  I doubt you got much rest while you were gone.  Once you clear your medical check there’s no reason you can’t crash until breakfast time.”


“No reason for the check, sir.  Easy mission.  Not even a scratch,” Lee told his boss hurriedly.


“Then you have no reason to avoid the check,” Nelson pointed out.


“I’m sure Jamie’s already gone to bed.  I’ll see him in the morning.”


Nelson was having a terrible time controlling his laughter, watching Lee’s all-too-typical tap dance around reporting to Sick Bay.  “Actually, he’s been waiting up for you.  He’s not exactly used to you coming back undamaged.”  He leveled a command glare of his own at the younger man.


“Yes, sir,” Lee surrendered.  Sick Bay it is.  I’ll just make a quick walk-through of the boat afterward, and then go crash.”


“No!” Chip broke in, then added at Lee’s instant stare, “sir.  Kindly keep your cold germs confined to your cabin.  Please?” he added, nearly begging.


Nelson laughed, and even Lee was forced to grin.  He gave his friend a light punch on the shoulder, nodded to Nelson, and headed through the Control Room toward the aft hatch.  He slowed down as he was passing the sonar and hydrophone stations, but a loud clearing of his XO’s throat had him glancing over his shoulder and continuing on.


As Lee disappeared from sight, Nelson turned to Chip.  “And once you have the course laid in, your tail belongs in your rack as well.  I doubt you got much more rest last night than he did.”


Chip gave him a slightly sheepish nod.  “Aye, aye, sir.”


Orders given, Nelson turned and headed back up the spiral stairs.  He wasn’t holding his breath that there might not be a shenanigan or two yet tonight between his two young senior officers.  But Chip wasn’t the only one who didn’t rest well when Lee was off boat, and the older man was ready as well to find his rack, just as soon as Jamison reported.


Lee considered ignoring both Nelson and Chip and making a quick trip through his boat, just to satisfy himself that all was well.  Not that he didn’t trust his XO to have everything in order.  Just…  But his better judgment took over.  If Nelson knew that Jamie was waiting for him, it was also logical to assume that Nelson would wait up for the CMO’s report.  Undue delay meant Lee in the doghouse – again!  With a deep sigh of resignation, Lee headed for his least favorite part of the boat.


Seaview’s CMO, Dr. Will Jamison, was indeed waiting for him, sitting at his desk reading, a cup of coffee in one hand.  He countered his CO’s oh-so-typical scowl when entering Sick Bay with a grin and a pretended look of surprise.  “What, no escort?  They trusted you to get all this way on your own?  Maybe I should get the two of them down here for a checkup as well.”


“All the doctors in the Navy, and I have to be ‘blessed’ with a smart aleck,” Lee muttered.


Jamie was instantly alert.  “What’s wrong with your voice, Skipper?”


Lee sighed again.  “Nothing, Jamie.  My contact had a cold.  I think I’m catching it.”  He grinned smugly.  “And since we both know there’s nothing you can do for a cold, I’ll be on my way.”


“Not so fast,” the CMO growled.  Lee’s grin broadened as Jamie pointed toward the gurney in the main part of Sick Bay.  “Sit,” he ordered.


Lee gave him another grin several minutes later, as Jamie finished his brief exam.  With no symptoms evident, Lee didn’t bother mentioning the bumps to head and knee.  He did pull away and glare when Jamie wanted to spend a little longer than Lee thought necessary looking down his throat.  Jamie returned the glare but relented, advised Lee to swing past the galley and get some salt, and gargle with warm salt water before going to bed, and again in the morning if his throat was still sore.  Happy he’d been able to outmaneuver the doctor, something he so rarely managed, Lee readily agreed.  Now that his obligatory med check was over, he was still figuring on doing a quick walk through of the boat.  But Jamie got the last laugh, so to speak, and decided that since it was past his bedtime, he’d just walk with Lee back to Officers’ Country.  Not wanting to stir up more trouble than he was prepared to deal with at present, Lee reluctantly accepted the company, his check of Seaview postponed once again until morning.


* * * *


Fate seemed determined to keep Lee from walking around his beloved ‘silver lady’.  Not that he expected to find anything wrong.  Just the opposite.  But Lee used the casual walk-abouts (or as the crew referred to them, walk-aboats) as a way to relax.  Visiting with the crew and feeling the smooth, solid power beneath his feet and through the bulkheads was as close to heaven as Lee ever wanted to get.  The Control Room might be where most of the action took place, but walking the corridors, tinkering with the mechanics, enjoying a bit of camaraderie with the crew – that was where he was the happiest.


But this morning, walking down the spiral staircase for a quick check of the Conn, he was met by a hard look from his XO.  “I thought you were told to keep your cold confined to quarters.”


“I didn’t hear any such order,” Lee answered good-naturedly.  “Besides, I feel fine.”


“You don’t sound like you feel fine,” Chip still grumbled.


Lee had noticed that his throat was still sore and had dutifully gargled again with the warm salt solution Jamie had made sure he’d concocted the night before.  But his head was clear, his knee didn’t hurt, and Lee simply chose to ignore the fact that his voice was still a bit gravelly.  “Give it a rest,” he now told his Exec sternly.  There was a point beyond which even friendly concern became annoying.


“That’s what I’m trying to do,” Chip muttered.  “Make you rest.”


Lee’s comeback was interrupted by footsteps coming down the spiral stairs, and both men turned as Admiral Nelson joined them.  “Chip,” the older man started without preamble, “I need FS1 readied for take-off.  Just got off the horn with Dr. Freeman.  The guys in the lab were trying to recalibrate some equipment we need for the cruise after this next one, and somehow managed to blow up half of it.”


“Was anyone hurt?” Lee immediately demanded.


Nelson cocked an eyebrow at him, but answered nonetheless.  “No, thankfully.”  He gave Lee another long look.  “Your voice…” he started, before Lee cut him off.


“I’m fine, sir.  Just sound a little rough.”


“Why don’t you take Lee back with you, sir?” Chip spoke up. “We’re just headed home anyway.  He’s always complaining that he doesn’t have enough time to get all his paperwork done while we’re in port.  This will give him a few extra days.”


Lee glared into Chip’s cheerful grin.  “I’ll manage just fine,” he grumbled.


“Don’t trust Chip to get her home without you?” Nelson teased, and Lee lowered his hard gaze.  “Actually, that’s not such a bad idea.  I had hoped to talk to you about some proposals I’ve received, and also how we’re going to handle Anderman’s revised schedule.”


“What made him change things around this close to sail date?”  Lee was immediately back in business mode.  “I thought he was happy with the schedule he and I put together.”


“Something to do with his associate needing to complete the cruise and get home for a family event, as I understand it,” Nelson answered.


“So he messes up the family events everyone else had planned,” came softly from Chip’s direction.  Both Nelson and Lee cocked an eyebrow at him.  “Sorry.”  He gave them both a small grin.  “I was hoping to make it home for my nephew’s birthday.”


“Comes with the territory,” Nelson said with a sympathetic smile.


“You could make it up to me,” Chip told the Admiral with a hopeful smile, carefully avoiding looking at Lee.


“How’s that?” Nelson asked, starting to smile softly himself.  He had a feeling he knew where this was going.


“Take Lee and his germs home with you?  Please?”


Nelson openly chuckled as Lee turned a look on his XO guaranteed to send any other member of the crew running for their lives.  Chip ignored it – as usual when it was personal as opposed to work related – and just continued to look at the Admiral.  The older man turned toward Lee, still grinning.  “It really would be helpful, Lee,” he said, as seriously as he could muster, “even ignoring your XO’s reasoning for the moment.”


“Yes, sir,” Lee acknowledged reluctantly.  He shot Chip a look that said only too clearly he wasn’t finished with his friend, but Nelson dragged him off to get a quick breakfast before they took off.


* * * *


The trip home proved uneventful.  Lee hesitated taking the pilot’s chair just long enough to make sure Nelson wasn’t going to grab it.  But the Admiral had his hands full of folders.  Lee did get in one good glare at Chip’s smug look as he headed back through the Conn to FS1’s hatch, and threatened the XO with absolute mayhem if Chip so much as scratched the paint on the way home.  It ended, however, with both men relaxing into easy grins.  Once Lee had the little craft launched and airborne, Nelson opened the first folder and the two spent the several-hour trip discussing business.  First and foremost was the rescheduled trip.  They had worked with Dr. Anderman before, and Lee had handled most of the pre-cruise meetings, working out the route and most of the cruise parameters.  Nelson had the reports Lee and Anderman had pulled together.  Shortly into the discussion, Nelson gave Lee a particularly curious glance and reached into the pack Sharkey had handed down just before they took off.  Out came a thermos, and Nelson handed Lee a cup of what turned out to be chicken soup.


“Cookie strikes again?” Lee asked with a grin.  But actually it tasted quite good, and helped soothe a throat that was becoming increasingly irritated as he talked. 


Dr. Anderman was a respected authority on underwater mining.  This particular trip was originally scheduled to leave about two weeks after Seaview returned from the current one, giving crew and officers ample time for leave.  But now, with Anderman requesting (practically demanding, Nelson growled menacingly, and Lee was glad it wasn’t him the Admiral was ticked at) to move up the departure date, it would only leave four days.  Some of the crew would get very little leave at all, as Seaview would need to be re-supplied.  Lee didn’t envy Chip that task.  Normally the XO would have everything planned out ahead of time, but the change in schedule would keep Chip hopping.  Lee mentioned that to Nelson, and said he’d grab one of Chip’s supply forms and get as much of it going as he could to save the XO at least a little time.  Nelson grinned before reminding Lee he’d better get at least a little rest himself.  His Exec would be none too pleased if Lee was still fighting his cold when they left again.  Lee just gave the OOM a small grin.


The rest of the trip was spent discussing several upcoming projects.  Timetables needed to be plotted out and crew assignments considered.  Normally Seaview sailed with a fairly stable contingent of personnel.  But, as in the case of the next cruise, when so many dives were being crammed into a short amount of time, it meant carrying at least two, and preferably four, extra men just to cover Seaview’s high safety standards.  While all crew were certified to dive – had to be to serve on the submarine – Lee preferred not to pull men off their regular duty rotations to cover missions that required a heavy diving schedule.  Much more practical to just bring extra men aboard.


Arriving back at NIMR about 1530, Lee was treated to another example of Admiral Nelson’s temper; again, happily, not directed at him.  They reported in when they were still fifty nautical miles out, and were told that Admiral Stark was waiting in Nelson’s office.  He was refusing to explain to anyone why, just driving Angie, in particular, crazy until Nelson’s return.


Nelson cocked an eyebrow at Lee.  “Wonder how he knew I was on my way back,” he commented.


“I quit trying to figure out how Admirals do anything years ago,” Lee quipped back, with a quick grin at Nelson. 


That Admiral sent him a meaningful glare before it turned into a more thoughtful expression.  “Perhaps you should give a bit more thought to that, Lee, since the chances are, you’ll be one of them one day.”


“Not likely, sir,” Lee answered lightly, “since I’m pretty much out of mainstream Navy.  Although…”  Lee didn’t finish the thought.


“Yes?” Nelson prodded quietly.


Lee gave him a sheepish look.  “Just wondering if perhaps Admiral Stark’s visit has something to do with the fact that I didn’t answer his last memo.”


Nelson sent him a hard look.  “Jiggs sending you memos?  Why?  He isn’t still badgering you to return to active duty is he?  I thought I’d made it clear to him…”  It was Nelson’s turn not to finish a thought.


Lee sent his boss a quick look.  “It’s nothing, sir.  He just keeps me in the loop of any upcoming submarine command reassignments.  Normally I just send back a quick ‘thanks, but no thanks’.  Figured he’d eventually get the message that I’m happy where I am.  I got busy before sailing and didn’t get around to answering this last one.”  He gave Nelson one of his through-the-lashes little glances, trying to hide the emotions going through his head.


Nelson was all too familiar with that look.  It always meant Lee was trying to hide something.  “Spit out the rest of it, lad,” he ordered, with nonetheless a small smile on his face.


“Sir?” Lee asked innocently.  Nelson just held his gaze, refusing to let him off the hook.  Lee finally sighed heavily.  “Admiral Stark’s never made any bones about not liking that I’m on Seaview.  Doesn’t think I’m good enough for Seaview, or you,” Lee finally answered quietly.


Nelson just shook his head.  “Lee, Jiggs doesn’t so much want you off Seaview as he wants you back in the Navy pipeline to stars.”


Lee gave him a wide-eyes look.  “Begging your pardon, sir, but I’m sure you’re wrong.”


Nelson smiled to himself.  He’d never understood how anyone as confident in his ability to command as Lee was, could yet not appreciate just how good he actually was.  Typical Lee, and the grin spread to his face.  “Well, whatever it is Jiggs wants, I rather doubt it’s as earth-shattering as he thinks it is.”  He sent Lee another meaningful look.  “And if you repeat that, I’ll deny every word.”


“Yes, sir,” Lee answered with overdone meekness.


They got momentarily sidetracked once Lee landed the little yellow craft.  Davy Jackson, one of the security people, needed to talk to Lee about the new underwater security sensors for the sub pen.  Nelson waited while they got it straightened out, then the two walked up to the main office building.  They were just coming toward Angie’s desk when Admiral Jiggs Stark came charging out of Nelson’s office.


“Where the hell have you been?” he challenged his old friend in his usual loud way.  He waved a hand at Angie, sitting quietly at her desk.  “She said you landed half an hour ago.”  He descended on the pair of NIMR officers, starring pointedly at Lee.  Lee just looked back neutrally.


Nelson remained unfazed by Stark’s histrionics. “And it took that long for Lee to get FS1 settled in, deal with a small matter, and us to walk up,” he replied with the beginnings of a smile.


“You’ve never heard of staff to do that?” Stark bellowed.  “Or a vehicle to bring you up here?”


“I enjoy the exercise.  You should try it; you could have walked down to meet us if what you wanted is so all-fired important.”  Despite the smile still on Nelson’s face there was just the hint of a bite to the words.  Lee realized he was holding his breath as he listened to Nelson goad his long-time friend.  Gentle as it was, Lee had a feeling Stark wasn’t going to take it well.  He wasn’t disappointed.  However, before the older man’s temper could boil over, as the color of his face indicated it was about to do, Nelson hooked a finger and headed for his office.  Stark glared at Nelson’s departing back for a second, caught somewhat flatfooted by Nelson’s tactics.  He sent Lee a last glare and followed Nelson through the inner office door, giving it a vicious slam shut behind him.


Lee grinned at Angie, still sitting demurely behind her desk.  “It’s always nice to see that there are some constants in the world,” he observed with a wink and a nod toward Nelson’s office.


Angie had started to grin, but it instantly changed to a speculative look.  “What’s wrong with your voice?” she demanded.


Lee rolled his eyes and sighed heavily.  “I ran a small errand for ONI.  My contact had a cold.  I have a little sore throat, but I’m fine.  I’m going to my office now.  Is that okay?”  Before Angie could do more than open her mouth to give Lee the retaliatory strike his smart-aleck comment deserved, there was a bellow loud enough to circumvent the excellent soundproofing in Nelson’s office – very obviously in Nelson’s voice.  “I’m outta here,” Lee spoke quietly and hastily, and turned to head for his own office.


“Coward,” Angie taunted.  “Not to mention leaving a poor, defenseless lady in the direct line of fire.”


Lee gave her a disbelieving look.  “Defenseless, my foot.  There isn’t a person on this base that doesn’t know you could take on a whole room full of ticked off Admirals and have them begging for mercy in three minutes flat.”


“Not to mention a mere impudent commander,” Angie tossed back, but not without the beginnings of a grin lightening her expression.  It darkened again briefly.  “Go home.  Now.  I’ll not have you infecting half of the office staff.  We’re just getting back to normal after Betsy brought back a 24-hour stomach flu bug from her cousin’s wedding that turned into the three day variety instead.”


“Not a problem.  I’ll be so buried in my office the next few days, I won’t be able to infect anyone.”  Unfortunately, he punctuated the remark with a slight cough.


“Hah!” Angie started, but there was another yell from behind the closed door and Lee beat a hasty retreat.  Not before Angie threw one last comment at his back.  “I’ll have the cafeteria send up some chicken soup.”  That momentarily stopped Lee.  He didn’t turn around, however, just bowed his head, shook it slowly, and continued down the hall.


True to her word, Lee had barely settled behind his desk and started sorting through his ‘In’ basket when one of the commissary workers arrived with a tray.  When Lee saw the amount of food the tray held he closed his eyes and shook his head.  Apparently the waitress had been warned because she just set the tray down and quickly left.  Lee sent a resigned smile at her back and checked through the offerings.  He immediately grabbed the large mug of coffee, and with that in one hand used the other to uncover the large bowl of chicken noodle soup, ham sandwich, potato salad, and thick slice of chocolate cake.  Knowing he’d be in major trouble with Angie if he didn’t at least try to eat – and knowing Angie had her ways of finding out – he started in on the soup.  While it seemed to help soothe the growing discomfort in his throat, the bite of sandwich he took felt like it scraped all the way down.  He didn’t even try the salad, but did manage about half of the soft cake before surrendering.  He’d continued to sort through the paperwork while eating, happily discovering that for once there wasn’t anything that required his immediate undivided attention.  He was starting to get a headache, and the little he’d eaten wasn’t settling well in his stomach, not to mention the ever-increasing cough.


None of it was helped by the loud footsteps he suddenly heard approaching, or the expression on Nelson’s face as the older man stormed through the open office door.  The sight of the food on Lee’s desk momentarily softened the thundercloud that was threatening to explode, and Nelson gave Lee a quick nod.


“I’d make some comment about you actually taking care of yourself for a change, but somehow I find that hard to believe.  Not with your track record.”


Lee just closed his eyes rather than face Nelson’s grin.  “Angie strikes again,” he acknowledged, and finally looked up.


“Sounds like it’s time I gave her another raise,” Nelson said with a continuing grin.  Not wanting the conversation to deteriorate any further, Lee raised an eyebrow.  “Did you need something, Admiral?  When you came in…..”  He let the sentence die as the thundercloud reappeared.


“There’s a powwow in D.C.,” Nelson growled.  “Something to do with a proposed restructuring of US submarine forces.  Can’t see why it involves me.


“I think I do,” Lee interrupted, remembering their earlier conversation.


Nelson just grunted and continued.  “Jiggs is demanding I fly back with him.  Told him I don’t have the time…”  He waved an arm dangerously in the direction of the electronics lab. 


“What can I do to help?” Lee asked carefully.  While he knew Nelson wasn’t angry with him, he wasn’t totally immune from the older man’s tantrums.  He knew Nelson tried to keep his venomous outbursts confined to whomever they were directed at.  But they had a way of occasionally overflowing their boundaries.  And he knew Nelson considered him a safe target, one who would allow Nelson to get the tantrum out of his system without taking it personally.


Nelson took a deep breath before answering.  “Nothing, really.  I’ll talk to Freeman before I leave.  I think I know why the equipment malfunctioned, and how to fix it.  He can deal with that.  Angie can handle most of everything else.”  There was a quick grin as he sent another glance toward the tray of food.  Lee lowered his head slightly.  “I should be back on Monday.  Seaview is due back the same day.  That leaves Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before Anderman and his assistant are due in on Friday.  A day to get organized before we leave again on Saturday.  Not much of a break.”


“We’ve managed on less, sir.”


“We shouldn’t have to,” Nelson thundered, then took another deep breath and relaxed a bit.


“There’s not much here that demands immediate attention,” Lee waved a hand at the papers scattered across his desk.  “I’ll have time to start Chip’s inventory and supplies list, and have a lot of that organized by the time Seaview gets home.”


“You,” Nelson shook a finger at his captain, “will get some rest.”  He stared pointedly at Lee.


“Yes, sir,” Lee answered meekly.


Nelson nodded firmly, but a soft grin appeared before he turned and headed back out the door.  He stopped and turned slightly toward Lee.  “I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes if Chip finds out you had three extra days in port, and used all of them working.”


Lee visibly shuddered.  “No, sir.”  But he sent the Admiral a quick grin before Nelson turned again and left.


Not relishing Angie’s anger either, Lee got rid of the uneaten food before finishing up sorting through the accumulated paperwork.  As he’d told Nelson, there wasn’t anything that couldn’t wait another day or two and Lee was finally admitting to himself, however reluctantly, that he just wasn’t feeling all that well.  Not enough to send him in the direction of Med Bay – nothing short of imminent death, or a certain relentlessly nagging blond, would do that!  But as soon as he’d finished the warm liquids his throat had once again started to bother him.  Guess I’d better swing by the store and grab some lozenges, he acknowledged silently.  He stacked the papers into one criss-crossed mound, least pressing on the bottom, and stuffed the couple most important into his briefcase.  Then he walked down to Chip’s office, found the supply forms Chip kept in his well-organized filing cabinet, and headed out.  He did have to endure one more lecture from Angie when she recognized the papers Lee was carrying.  She was bound and determined that there was no need for Lee to come into the office for at least the next two days – that he should just, please, stay at home and keep his cold to himself.  But the fussing was cut short when her phone rang.  Lee listened as she started to deal with what was an apparent mini-crisis in the secretarial pool, gave her a grin and a wave of his hand, mouthed “see you tomorrow,” and headed out.


* * * *


But Lee didn’t make it into the office on Saturday as planned.  He did give it serious consideration, rising at his normal time, showering, and getting dressed.  But the instant he tried to talk - a gentle self-berating for having burned the toast he’d made for breakfast - the burning, scratching pain reminded him it hadn’t gone away, and the coughing that had subsided somewhat overnight began again in earnest.  He’d dutifully stopped the night before and bought throat lozenges.  But the instant he’d popped one in his mouth he’d promptly spit it out.  Thinking he’d be good and get the high test, super mentholated kind, he discovered they burned worse than just leaving things alone.  Even the hot cocoa he’d made, while it soothed going down, created extra phlegm in his throat and just made him feel worse.   He’d finally tracked down the aspirin bottle, took three on the premise that that had to do a better job than the recommended dosage of two, and went to bed.


Now, reluctantly, he surrendered to the inevitable.  Even if he went to the office, he’d never be able to manage what he’d planned to do.  There was only so much he could get done without actually talking to people, and that could be accomplished just as easily by e-mailing orders from his home computer.  He wrote as much to Angie, knowing she’d be in, Saturday or not, and promptly received a one word reply.  “Hallelujah!” the efficient woman sent back.  Lee chuckled to himself and picked up Chip’s list, sending messages that would get the shore-based crew preparing immediately for Seaview’s revised schedule.


There was a brief note from Angie about mid-morning, asking if Lee needed anything.  He’d been a little surprised that someone from Med Bay hadn’t shown up on his doorstep.  But given his reputation in that building, he decided Angie hadn’t been able to find a bribe or threat sufficient to make any of the medical staff tackle the volatile Skipper without Dr. Jamison there to deflect the usual fireworks.  He wrote a note back to Angie that he was fine, just the continuing sore throat that he was taking care of quite nicely, thank you.  She responded that as today was Saturday, there was absolutely no reason for Lee to show up before Monday morning.  Lee frowned, and almost wrote back to tell her to mind her own business.  Thankfully, before he typed the words, he realized the imminent danger he’d be in if he actually sent it.  Lee wisely just thanked her for her concern, said that sounded like a good idea, and signed off.  He knew she’d never believe him, would probably have Security notify her if he so much as set foot on the property, and decided maybe he’d just stay curled up at home.  He had the several reports he’d brought home to work on, and could at least feel like the weekend wasn’t a total waste.  Not that he was afraid of Angie, mind you.  Never!  But just to be on the safe side.


He spent the rest of the day quietly, working on the reports and answering any e-mails that came up concerning the re-supply.  There were only a couple – Chip had his people well trained.  Not hungry at either lunch or dinner, but realizing that he should at least try to eat something, he heated a can of soup and made tea.  Between them and more aspirin his throat, while not any better, was at least no worse.


The same could not be said the following morning.  The cough had worsened during the evening, but at that point didn’t keep him from falling asleep.  He’d been awakened about 0100 by a feeling of cold, and realized he’d developed chills.  Having been told time and again by Jamie that it would do no good, but doing it anyway, he threw an extra blanket on the bed.  Apparently he’d gone back to sleep at some point because he awoke again about 0430 sweating profusely.  Damn, he growled silently.  I can’t get just a simple cold.  Has to be the flu.  He got up and took more aspirin.  Surprisingly, he didn’t feel the headache and body aches that so often accompanied the various forms of influenza.  But the cough wouldn’t let up, causing his throat to feel worse.  It seemed to be tightening and causing more difficulty with swallowing.  Wonderful.  Just too damn wonderful!  He figured at this hour he might as well stay up, but as suddenly as the sweats had come they were just as swiftly replaced by another round of chills, and he returned to his bed.


* * * *


Chip let loose a heavy sigh followed by a deep yawn as he crossed the last ‘t’ and dotted the last ‘i’ on the last form that would get him off Seaview.  They’d been lucky and got back to port early.  Not expected back until sometime Monday morning, it was now just 2230 Sunday.  When he’d realized they would be docking early he’d immediately notified the crew, giving them all orders to be prepared to leave the boat as soon as they could and get as much rest as possible.  Most would report back no later than 0630 Saturday.  Those few that were needed earlier were the first to depart once Seaview was back in her berth.


Chip had been notified that Admiral Nelson had been called to D.C., although the exact particulars of Friday’s events were left out.  He’d also been advised that Lee had started the re-supply orders, and sent a silent thank you his friend’s way.  He’d tried sending one out loud, calling Lee’s house as soon as they docked, but there had been no immediate answer.  Chip only let the phone ring a couple times before breaking the connection, not wanting to disturb Lee if he was already asleep.  Time enough to catch up in the morning.  With Lee having already started the ball rolling, Chip could afford to head straight to his apartment and crash.


* * * *


Lee heard the phone ring – or rather, thought he did.  He wasn’t sure.  It stopped almost as soon as his brain acknowledged it.  In a way he was glad, not sure if he had the energy or willingness to do anything about it anyway.  The chills/sweats combination had drained his reserves, leaving him very weak.  He knew he should probably call Med Bay – obviously he needed something stronger than the aspirin he’d continued to force down a steadily worsening throat.  Tomorrow, he promised himself, and snuggled deeper under the covers as a sudden chill sent his whole body into spasms.


* * * *


“Hey, Doc,” Chip greeted the older man the next morning as they met walking up the steps to the main NIMR office building.  “Thought you’d be taking a couple days off.”


“Not until I check on your CO,” Jamie muttered.  “No telling how much trouble he’s gotten himself into.”


Chip laughed.  “He’s only been out of your sight for three days, Doc.  Geesh.  Give him a break.  He’s not a total klutz, you know.”


Jamie sent him a disgusted look.  “Klutz, no.  Trouble magnet, a resounding Yes!  Three minutes is time enough for all hell to break loose around that man, I swear.”  The frown broke in the face of Chip’s continuing laughter, and they made their way back toward the offices.


“Morning, beautiful,” Chip told Angie as they approached her desk.  “The OOM make it back yet?”


“His plane’s due in just before noon.”  The secretary gave Chip a broad smile, and nodded a greeting to Jamie.


“Lee in his office, or down at the boat?” Chip asked, starting to walk on toward his and Lee’s offices.


“Hasn’t come in yet this morning,” was the answer.  It stopped both men.


“I called him when I got up,” Chip looked back and forth between the other two.  “No answer.  Figured he’d left earlier than usual because of all the stuff that needs doing before we sail Saturday.”


“I called him, too,” Jamie admitted.  He turned to Angie.  “When did you last see him?”


Angie answered as Chip grabbed her phone and punched in the familiar number.  “Friday afternoon.  Told him to take his cold, go home, and stay there.  I didn’t need him infecting the whole building.”


“Friday?” Jamie asked incredulously.  He glanced at Chip, who was obviously listening to nothing more than a phone ringing eight miles away. 


“If he’s taken another ONI assignment, I’ll…..”  Chip didn’t finish the growled comment.


“We e-mailed back and forth a few times Saturday,” Angie assured the agitated Exec.  “Nothing that didn’t sound like he wasn’t at home.  He seemed fine.  Then I got busy…”  She was interrupted by Chip slamming down the phone. 


He glanced at Jamie.  “I’m going over there.”


“No, we’re going over there,” was Jamie’s quick reply.  “Just let me get my bag from the car.”


The two men wasted little time, and were shortly banging on Lee’s front door.  When that failed to get a response from inside, Chip selected a key from his ring.  The instant the door opened, the two split up, quickly searching the house.  Jamie started with the kitchen and living room while Chip charged up the stairs.  Within moments he let out a yell that had Jamie following quickly after him.


Both were shaken by what they found, but Jamie pulled himself together and got to work.  In the throes of a steadily worsening fever, Lee had tossed the blankets aside and lay on his back on the bed, wearing only undershorts.  As Jamie sat down on the side of the bed, Chip hurried to the other side.  Neither could rouse Lee.  Not with words or a gentle shake.  There was finally a mumble, accompanied by a harsh cough, as Chip helped Jamie turn Lee onto his side so the doctor could check lung sounds.  But the strangled, unintelligible mutterings only caused Jamie’s frown to increase.  He pulled the stethoscope from his ears, and finally glanced around.  His hand reached for the half empty aspirin bottle sitting on the bedside table.


“Well, a start in the right direction, at least,” he growled.  “Chip, he needs to be in Med Bay, stat.  He’s burning up.  His lungs sound fairly clear, but there’s not much air getting to them.”  He reached out and barely touched the healing bruises on Lee’s lower neck.  “Damn!  Why do I ever listen to him?” he roared. 


Chip busied himself wrapping his friend in one of the blankets.  “Same reason we all do, Doc,” he said philosophically.  He gently lifted Lee, cringing as the expected weight was less than it should have been.  “My SUV will get us there faster than waiting for an ambulance.”


Jamie nodded.  He followed Chip down the stairs, relocked Lee’s door behind them, and crawled into the back seat.  As Chip sat Lee on the edge of the seat, Jamie reached to pull the unconscious man snugly against him.  One arm settled around Lee; his free hand reached for his cell phone to alert Med Bay as Chip closed the door and climbed in behind the wheel.


* * * *


Admiral Nelson had barely touched down at the airport and turned on his cell phone when it went off.  Angie’s terse message to go straight to Med Bay sent him charging through the concourse.   On rueful reflection later, he wondered what expression people saw on his face.  Whatever it was, there wasn’t a soul who didn’t immediately get out of his way.


Chip met him at the front door to NIMR’s medical unit.  Not a word was spoken as the younger man led him to one of the treatment rooms.  But while there was obvious worry written across his face, he also managed a short nod and a quick smile, and Nelson had his breathing somewhat back under control by the time they entered the room.


Unfortunately it almost immediately returned to a state of borderline hyperventilation when he stopped just inside the door.  He barely had time to take in the sight of Lee’s body lying unmoving on the gurney, surrounded by IV stands and half a dozen other pieces of equipment, the most upsetting being the ventilator steadily rising and lowering, before Dr. Jamison turned and exploded.


“I swear, Admiral,” he started with a yell that Nelson realized was born of pent up worry and frustration – and not a little friendship for the man laying beneath his hands, “if he doesn’t one day kill himself, I’m going to do it for him.”  He sighed heavily and finally gave Nelson a miserable look.  “Damn near did it this time,” he mumbled.


“Doc, we’ve already been through that,” Chip started.  A look and a raised hand from the CMO stopped him from going on.


Jamie looked at Nelson.  “As you can see, Lee’s in pretty serious shape.  Stable now, however.  He should be fine in a couple weeks.”


“What happened?” Nelson asked, softening his usual bluster.  Obviously the doctor was upset about something, and just as obviously Chip didn’t think he should be.


“I regret to inform you that your CMO is an incompetent fool,” Jamie started.  Another raised hand stopped both Chip and Nelson from uttering whatever they started to say.  It was Chip that he spoke to first.  “We’ve already been over it.  Yes, Lee is a lousy patient, and yes, he refuses to admit anything when it comes to his health.  That just means that I have to be that much more diligent and thorough when dealing with him.”  He turned to Nelson.  “Screwed up big time,” he admitted, looking even more miserable.


“How so?”  It would have surprised a lot of people that Nelson’s voice could be so soft and caring.  It was no surprise to the others in the room.


Jamie responded to it with another long sigh.  “When Lee came back to the boat, I took his complaint of a simple sore throat at face value and didn’t check any deeper into the problem.”


“There wasn’t any reason not to,” Chip challenged the self-accusation in Jamie’s voice.


“Maybe.  Maybe not.”  Jamie’s hand gripped the railing on the gurney.  “But I still screwed up.  And look what it’s costing him.”  His eyes closed and his knuckles turned white as his grip increased.


“Jamie?” Nelson again prodded softly.  The doctor finally opened his eyes, giving Nelson a sad look but a small nod.


“Somewhere along the line Lee must have fallen, or been hit, at the base of his throat.”  He slightly shifted the air hose attached to the vent tube down Lee’s throat, and pulled the blanket down just enough to show Nelson the healing bruises.


“Nothing serious, obviously, because it wasn’t causing him that much trouble,” Nelson offered.


“Serious because it was left untreated.”  Nelson raised an eyebrow at the growl in Jamie’s voice.  It softened slightly as the CMO continued.  “Whatever caused it, and we won’t know until he wakes up and can tell us, there was apparently minor mucosal damage to the endolarynx.  As he spoke, ate, anything that involved that area, the damage formed small hematomas and caused more irritation, infection, which slowly affected his breathing.”  He nodded toward the respirator.  “That’s to give the area a rest while the antibiotics fight the infection.  Damn it!” he thundered suddenly, and slammed both hands down on the railing, startling both Chip and Nelson.  “When Chip and I found him this morning he was barely able to breathe, and running a fever of 104 degrees.  This should never have happened.”  He gave Nelson a look of such misery and pain that the Admiral reached out a hand and laid it gently on Jamie’s arm.  “It wouldn’t have happened,” the CMO continued in a slightly more controlled voice, “if I’d been better at my supposed job and done a more thorough exam.”


“Jamie,” Nelson started, then waited until the doctor looked at him, “we all know that Lee’s not the most honest person in the world when it comes to his health.”  He held up a hand of his own to stop whatever Jamie was about to say.  “We also know,” he continued firmly, “that you’re the only doctor any of the rest of us who know him has ever seen come even remotely close to dealing with him.”  He smiled softly at Jamie’s suddenly embarrassed look.  “I’d appreciate it greatly if you’d let yourself off the hook.  No one’s going to blame you.  And least of all him,” Nelson indicated Lee.  “Knowing him, he’ll be just as miserable about this as you are, blaming himself that he’s caused you all the trouble.”


“Doesn’t change the facts,” Jamie muttered.


“The facts are,” Chip broke in with a growl, “that Lee Crane can be a stubborn, bull-headed, nincomtwit who’d manage to land himself in trouble even if he was constantly followed by a whole platoon of medical personnel.”  As the other two finally broke into soft chuckles, Lee’s right hand, closest to where Chip was standing and not encumbered with an IV, gently backhanded the one Chip rested on the railing.


Jamie was immediately all business.  “And just how long have you been awake, Commander?” he demanded.  Lee’s eyes still weren’t open, but thumb and forefinger came close together.  “Harrumph,” Jamie did his best Nelson impersonation, and both the Admiral and Chip grinned.  “Little bit, my foot.  Come on.  Might as well open your eyes, now that the cat’s out of the bag.”


They didn’t open much further than small slits, but it was enough that the three men looking down on him knew the worst was over.  Lee seemed at least coherent enough to understand what was happening.  His right hand moved slowly to touch the tube down his throat.


“Leave it alone,” Jamie demanded instantly, and Lee’s hand was withdrawn as he looked at the CMO through still barely opened eyes.  Jamie’s voice softened slightly as he continued.  “As I’m sure you’ve already figured out, it’s only set to feed you oxygen, not forcing respiration.  Mostly, it’s just maintaining an airway, allowing the damaged areas to heal without further irritation.  If you’re a good little commander I’ll pull it in a day or so.  However,” and his voice again had a bite to it, “there’s going to be a period where you’re still going to have to rest the area.  That means only liquids and soft foods to eat, breathing cool humidified air to help retard the formation of crusts on the mucus lining, and absolutely no talking.  Zilch.  Not a word.  Do I make myself clear?”


“Geesh, Doc,” Chip complained.  “He can’t even talk back?  In my book that’s cruel and unusual punishment.”


“Let the punishment fit the crime,” Jamie muttered.  “And besides, Chip,” he added with a grin, “he can’t smart-mouth you, either.”


“No biggy,” Chip assured him.  “I just ignore him anyway.”  That earned him another quick slap from his friend.  His easy grin faded slightly as he watched Lee try to grin back, inhibited by the respirator.


“That’s enough for now,” Jamie ordered, also noticing the slight look of pain that briefly crossed his patient’s face.  “You two,” he indicated Chip and Nelson, “don’t you have paperwork or something to do?  And you,” he looked down at Lee, “will go back to sleep.  That’s an order.”  But he was forced to chuckle as Lee gave him a backhanded salute.  Once the others had left, Jamie, with the help of one of the nurses, started getting Lee ready to be transferred upstairs to a private room.  At one point, when Jamie’s arm came within range, Lee reached out and gripped the doctor’s wrist firmly.  There was a moment as each looked at the other.  No words were spoken, yet volumes were said between the two.  Jamie finally broke the spell as he took Lee’s hand, gave it a squeeze, and tucked it back under the blanket.  “Thought I told you to go back to sleep,” he growled softly, yet couldn’t keep a small smile off his face.  Lee finally closed his eyes, his face showing contentment.


* * * *


Chip was stopped dead as he entered Lee’s room early that evening by the scene before him.  Instead of the aura of gentle humor and friendship he’d left earlier, CO and CMO were obviously in the middle of a huge battle of wills.  Lee’s face was filled with anger and frustration, and Jamie was just plain angry.


“Enough!” Jamie was all but yelling as Chip walked in.  “I don’t know what you want, and I don’t care what you want.  Just lie there quietly or I’ll put you in restraints.  Is that clear?”


“Whoa!” Chip admonished, hurrying to the bedside.  “Settle down, both of you.  While it’s nothing new to have the two of you squaring off at each other, and I’m sure not a head would turn anywhere in the whole complex because of it, Lee’s at a bit of a disadvantage here, don’t you think, Doc?”  Chip’s gentle humor caused both of the others to take a deep breath and relax tensed muscles.  “Thank you,” the blond continued.  “Now, what’s all the hoop-la about?”


“I just caught him,” Jamie pointed viciously toward Lee, “trying to pull the trach tube out.”


Lee’s right fist smacked the bed and he momentarily closed his eyes.  Chip reached across the bed and snagged the small notepad and pen from Doc’s lab coat pocket.  Flipping to a blank page, he laid it where Lee could reach it, and put the pen between Lee’s fingers.  Immediately there appeared on the page, “I DID NOT.”


“Then what the blazes…”


Chip’s “Stop!” ended Jamie’s retort.  “Just chill, both of you.  Please.  You’re giving me a headache, and I have quite enough problems right at the moment.”  As both Jamie and Lee continued to glare at each other, Lee began to write again.  But because he could only use one hand, the small size of the pad caused the paper to shift.  With Lee’s head trapped by the respirator he wasn’t able to see clearly what he was writing, and the exercise ended in more frustration as neither Chip nor Jamie could figure out what Lee had tried to write.  When Chip tried to explain, holding up the pad for Lee to see, the pen went flying into the closest wall.


“Admiral Nelson gave me that pen,” Jamie observed dryly, and went to retrieve it.  “You’ll be the one explaining if it’s broken.”  Lee closed his eyes again.


“Okay, so we need to figure out a better system,” Chip said.  All were quiet for a moment, until Lee’s hand started banging on the bed railing.  “Settle down, Lee.  We’ll come up with a plan.”  Lee continued to tap the railing, a little quieter however.  “A clipboard would work better.”  -.-. .... .. .--.  Chip.  “The paper’s larger, easier to write on.”   .-.. .. ... - . -.  Listen.  “And we could put a large rubber band on the bottom to hold everything steady.”  Lee’s hand snaked out, grabbed Chip by his uniform tie and pulled him down closer.  “Hey!” Chip started.  “Watch what you’re doing.”  He gave Lee a firm glare and started to put himself back together as Lee went back to tapping, this time more loudly, on the railing.  .-- .. .-.. .-.. /  -.-- --- ..- /  .--. .- -.-- /  .- - - . -. - .. --- -. --..-- /  -.-- --- ..- /  .. -.. .. --- - ..--..   Will you pay attention, you idiot?


Slowly a look of utter astonishment, then total glee, came over the XO’s face.  “Gotcha,” he said, giving Lee a wink.


“What?” Jamie demanded.


“Listen,” Chip indicated Lee’s hand as fingers connected with metal.  “Morse,” he told the still confused doctor.  “Morse code.”  He took the pen from his own shirt pocket and gave it to Lee.  The tapping instantly became more familiar sounding.   - .-. -.-- .. -. --. /  - --- /  .- -.. .--- ..- ... - /  .. - .-.-.- /  .. - /  .... ..- .-. - ... .-.-.-  “He’s saying he was only trying to see if he could figure out a way to turn to make it more comfortable.  It was hurting.”  Jamie reached to adjust both machine and bed, and Lee finally relaxed a bit.


 - .... .- -. -.- /  -.-- --- ..-   “He says thank you,” Chip translated.  Jamie growled something under his breath.  Both Chip and Lee gave him a raised eyebrow.


Jamie just shook his head.  “Forget it.” 


Chip grinned broadly.   .... --- .-- /  .-.. --- -. --. ..--..  “How long?”  Chip gave Lee a quizzical look.  “How long what?”  Lee tapped the tubing.  Chip looked at Jamie.


The CMO took both other men into his gaze.  “The fever, and therefore the infection, is responding well to the antibiotics.  If it stays that way, I’ll pull the tube tomorrow afternoon and do another fiber optic exam to see how the tears in the mucous lining are responding.  Just hold your horses,” he held up a hand as both Lee and Chip’s faces lit up.  “That’s a long way from healed, and that’s assuming there’s enough improvement in the first place that I don’t feel it necessary to put the tube back.” 


Lee’s face fell.   .-- .... -.-- ..--..   “Why?”


“Left untreated, the tears in the mucous lining of the larynx will close off your airway.  That’s what almost happened over the weekend.”  He gave Lee a very chagrinned look.  “You’re aware that this shouldn’t have happened.”  Lee’s eyes closed until he was looking at Jamie practically through his eyelashes.  “No, I’m not blaming you – for a change.  I should have done a more thorough exam.  If I’d caught the damage then it would never have gotten to this point.  I’m very sorry, Skipper.”


  .-- .- ... -. .----. - /  . -..- .- -.-. - .-.. -.-- /  ..-. --- .-. - .... -.-. --- -- .. -. --. /  .-- .. - .... /  .-- .... .- - /  .... .- .--. .--. . -. . -.. .-.-.-    “Wasn’t exactly forthcoming with what happened,” Chip continued to translate.


“Speaking of which…?”


- .-. .. .--. .--. . -.. /  --- ...- . .-. /  -- -.-- /  --- .-- -. /  ..-. . . - /  .- -. -.. /  .... .. - /  -- -.-- /  - .... .-. --- .- - /  --- -. /  .- -. /  . -..- .--. --- ... . -.. /  .-. --- --- -    Tripped over my own feet and hit my throat on an exposed root.


“You did what?” Chip demanded.


“Chip?”  Jamie waited impatiently for an answer.


 .. - /  .-- .- ... /  .- -. /  .- -.-. -.-. .. -.. . -. -   It was an accident.   .. /  .-- .- ... /  .- /  .-.. .. - - .-.. . /  -.. .. --.. --.. -.-- /  ..-. .-. --- -- /  --. . - - .. -. --. /  .- /  -.- -. --- -.-. -.- /  --- -. /  - .... . /  .... . .- -.. /  . .- .-. .-.. .. . .-. .-.-.-  I was a little dizzy from getting a knock on the head earlier.   When Chip didn’t immediately translate, just stood there glaring at Lee, Jamie gave him a quizzical look.  Lee still had his eyes lowered in the ‘little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar’ look Jamie was only too familiar with.


While the glare Chip continued to direct at Lee never wavered, he said menacingly, “Check his head, Doc.  He just admitted tripping because he was spacing out from getting whacked on the head earlier.”


Jamie frowned.  “Where?” he demanded, and Lee pointed to the spot.


“And if you don’t find a lump still there, there will be when I get done with him,” Chip continued.


“Down, Chip,” Jamie said softly, checking the area Lee had indicated and finding nothing.  “Obviously it was not all that serious.  He wasn’t showing any signs of a problem when he got back to the boat.”


... . . /  - .... . .-. . ..--.. See there?  Lee’s expression was triumphant.


“Chip?” Jamie asked again gently.


“Nothing you need worry about, Doc,” Chip growled, never taking his eyes off Lee’s face.  “But I need to have a long talk with junior, here.”


Jamie carefully hid a grin.  Normally Chip kept his ‘big brother’ tendencies toward Lee well under control.  At least on NIMR property, Chip was ever the proper XO.  And especially in front of others.  Jamie was glad that Chip felt comfortable enough with Jamie’s understanding of the friendship that bonded the two younger men that he would let loose at Lee in front of him.  And obviously, Lee was enough under the weather to not bridle instantly at Chip’s growl.  However, Jamie needed to take back command of the situation.  “Well, right now he’s going back to sleep,” he said firmly.


 .--- ..- ... - /  .-- --- -.- . /  ..- .--.  “Just woke up,” the complaint was evident on Lee’s face even without the translation.


“Tough!” Jamie ordered.  “Let’s get something straight right from the beginning.  If you don’t follow orders exactly, and if the mucous lining doesn’t heal properly, there could be serious damage.  As in permanent.  Do I make myself clear?”


 ...- . .-. -.--  “Very,” Lee surrendered.  Even Chip looked a little taken aback as he translated for the doctor.


“Don’t suppose you’d let him stay awake just a bit longer?” came from the open doorway, and Nelson walked the rest of the way up to the bed.


 --. --- --- -.. /  . ...- . -. .. -. --. --..-- /  .- -.. -- .. .-. .- .-..   Good evening, Admiral.


Nelson grinned.  “Clever, Lee.  I was wondering how we were going to handle this.”


“Handle what, Admiral?” Jamie fussed.  “He needs to rest.”


 --- ...- . .-. /  .--. .-. --- - . -.-. - .. ...- . /  -- --- - .... . .-. /  .... . -.    Over protective mother hen!   Nelson chuckled and nodded toward Jamie while still looking at Lee.  “You’re sure he can’t understand you?”


 .-- --- ..- .-.. -.. -. .----. - /  -.-. .- .-. . /  .. ..-. /  .... . /  -.. .. -.. .-.-.-    Wouldn’t care if he did.  Both Nelson and Chip laughed.  Jamie started to look angry again.  Nelson saw it and laid a hand on the CMO’s arm. 


“Relax, Jamie.  It’s obvious Lee’s not up to his usual standards.  He’s fallen back on old complaints.”  As Jamie relaxed he added.  “I won’t stay long.  But since Lee won’t be sailing with us Saturday, I’ve got some details I need to get straightened out.”


The pen banged the railing rapidly in no pattern other than frustration, and Lee’s expression beseeched Jamie to refute that statement.


“Sorry, Skipper.  Even if everything goes as I hope it will, there’s still going to be a period of time when you’re going to have to rest.  I’ve already warned you.  You cannot do anything that starts you coughing again.  Even speaking softly, or anything that uses that part of the throat, will cause irritation until it’s totally healed.


 .. .----. .-.. .-.. /  -... . /  --. --- --- -.. .-.-.-    “I’ll be good.”  Even with Chip translating, some of the ‘little boy’ quality that occasionally slipped into the Captain’s speech pattern when talking to the doctor was very much in evidence.  As much as he wanted to, Jamie knew better than to smile.  Not so Nelson and Chip, who were both grinning broadly. 


“And if I thought you’d actually stick to that I might consider it.”  


 .. .----. .-.. .-.. /  ..-. --- .-.. .-.. --- .-- /  .- -. -.-- /  --- .-. -.. . .-. ... /  -.-- --- ..- /  ... . - .-.-.- /  .--- ..- ... - /  .-.. . - /  -- . /  --. --- ..--.. /  .. /  ..-. . . .-.. /  ..-. .. -. . .-.-.-   


“He says he’ll be good, and follow any orders you set.  He just wants to go, and says he feels fine,” it was Nelson’s turn to paraphrase.


 “No, and that’s final.  Any further injury or irritation could cause permanent damage.  I won’t allow you to risk that.”  Only a very rapid movement by Chip to grab Lee’s wrist saved that pen from following the same path as the first one.


“Easy, Lee,” Chip said softly, and left his hand lying lightly on Lee’s arm.


“Settle down, Lee,” Nelson ordered, back to business, “before Jamie throws me out.  I’ve got several details to go over with you before I speak to Anderman in the morning.


(tapping)   Yes, sir, and Lee finally relaxed.


“Ten minutes,” Doc got in one more shot before turning to leave.  Chip took the hint from Jamie’s raised eyebrow and left as well.


Nelson hid a grin as, once the conversation turned to business, Lee settled into his ‘Captain’ mode, going over Anderman’s outline.  Lee had made copious notes but there were still details he’d only alluded to, and simply made mental notes about.  They were in the middle of the dive schedule when Nelson looked up and saw Jamie standing in the doorway, arms crossed.  “Guess my ten minutes are up,” he told Lee philosophically, and started gathering up his papers.


(tapping)  Jamie just likes pushing his weight around.


Nelson looked at his young Captain.  “When it comes to the health of my crew, he has my total support,” he said firmly.


Lee dropped his eyes.  (tapping)  Understood, sir.


“I sincerely hope so.”  The growl was softened by Nelson resting a hand briefly on Lee’s arm.  “We’ll finish this tomorrow.”


(taping)  Yes, sir.  Goodnight.


The first thing the doctor did once Nelson left was to take possession of the pen still in Lee’s hand.  “You won’t be needing this for awhile,” he said.  Lee started to glare at him, but relaxed as Jamie merely put it on the bedside table, still within Lee’s reach.  He spent a few minutes checking his patient and adjusting the IV drip, then told Lee ‘goodnight’, lowered the lights, and left.  It wasn’t long before Lee discovered that his frustration level was dissipating.  He knew why, of course.  Whatever Jamie was feeding him obviously came with a kicker over and above antibiotics.  But it was only a matter of a few minutes before he no longer cared.


* * * *


 Lee knew he was in major trouble.  He wasn’t sure how or why.  He’d been trying his best to follow all of Jamie’s orders.  It had been hard, sure.  But the doctor had sat down with him Tuesday afternoon and had a little heart-to-heart conversation about just what the complications could be if Lee’s injuries didn’t heal correctly.  The thought of never being able to dive again, or – horror of horrors – having to give up Seaview completely, had Lee being as cooperative as he could force himself to be.  Sure, there had been a few little, really minor, indiscretions.  Lee had nearly lost it later Tuesday afternoon.  The doctor wasn’t happy with the results of his exam after the intubation tube was removed, and decided to put it back for another 24 hours.  But he managed, quite nicely he thought, to avoid physical violence against the CMO.  Then when the respirator was finally, permanently, gone on Wednesday, only to be replaced by a slightly oversized mask that snugged securely over Lee’s nose and mouth, attached by a hose to a humidifier, it was a struggle to contain his frustration.  It didn’t help at all that Jamie explained he’d be tethered to the machine for at least the next week and probably even longer breathing cooled, humidified air to lessen the chance of crusts and scars forming on the still healing mucous lining of his larynx.  The only time he’d be allowed off of the machine was for trips to the head, and the short periods of time it took him to eat.  Which was another thing!  Soups, juices, puddings and Jell-O.  That was the sum total of his menu choices.  Nothing that could cause further irritations.  Jamie wouldn’t even allow coffee!  


But Lee had managed.  With remarkable restraint, he thought.  Well, there had been that one, minor misunderstanding earlier that afternoon.  One of the nurses had caught him out of bed standing by the window, looking out toward where his “gray lady” was berthed.  From his window Lee could see the crew scurrying about, getting supplies and equipment loaded in preparation to leave the following morning.  He had his mask firmly in place just standing there quietly.  But she’d still had a hissy-fit and made him get back in bed.  Geesh!  Chip and Nelson had visited him frequently in the intervening days.  The blond had said no more about how Lee had gotten hurt, but Lee knew all too well he wasn’t yet totally off his XO’s list.  Lee had continued to use Morse to communicate with those who knew it, and all found it the easiest, quickest way.  On Chip’s first visit Tuesday morning he had brought Lee a clipboard with a supply of blank paper.  A large rubber band held the bottom edges firmly in place, and Lee had used that for dealing with the medical staff, as well as the members of Seaview’s crew who had dropped in off and on.  Everyone except Sparks.  He found Lee’s method of conversation exceptionally clever, and the two spent several hours driving the nursing staff crazy as they both used code to catch up on a myriad of Seaview business, as well as a few of the choicest jokes making the rounds.  


Now, however, from the expressions on both the CMO’s and Admiral’s faces as they came into his room Friday afternoon, Lee just knew his six was about to be fried for sure.  He turned and sat on the edge of the bed, facing them.  Apparently his face all too plainly showed apprehension because Nelson relaxed and gave him a half-smile.  It didn’t last long as the older man settled into a chair.  Jamison continued to stand.  Lee looked back and forth between the two nervously.


“Just got done having a yelling match with Anderman,” Nelson started.  Lee cringed.  A seriously ticked Nelson was not a pretty sight.  “And another, only slightly less dramatic one, with Doc.” Nelson gave the CMO a slightly sideways grin.  The doctor, however, just continued to glare at Lee.  “To make a very long story a little shorter, you’ll be going along with us in the morning.”


Lee knew his face instantly lit up, especially as Jamie growled, “Don’t look so blasted happy, Commander.”  Lee gave the doctor a quick, sheepish look, then focused on Nelson.


“For some reason, Anderman has a burr up his a…, ah, six, about you being aboard.  He’s convinced everything will get messed up somehow without you there.”


Lee reached for his pen.  Without the resigned half-smile that appeared on Nelson’s face, he would never have tapped out what he did.  I do try to make myself indispensable, sir.  Thankfully he was rewarded with a soft chuckle.


“Don’t get the mistaken idea you’re going to be on duty any time soon.”  Jamie sent a glare in both directions before continuing.  “From here you’re going straight to Sick Bay, Commander.  No escape attempts.  No going for a little walk.  Zilch!  Until I say otherwise.  One wrong move and your six is on FS1 so fast you won’t know what hit you.”  The glare this time was pointedly directed at Nelson.  Lee put his hands in his lap and a totally cherubic expression on his face, drawing a snort from both older men.  Jamie grimaced again, and turned and left.


“Lee,” Nelson said, drawing the younger man’s attention back to him from the departing CMO, “I’m only going to say this once.  You will follow Jamie’s orders to the letter.  Is that understood?”


(tapping)  Yes, sir.


“I’m not happy at overriding my CMO.  I depend on him far too much to risk his leaving Seaview.”  Lee gave the Admiral a startled look.  “Don’t even try, Lee.  You know only too well that one of Jamie’s requirements when I hired him was that he had total, undisputed control over medical matters.”  Lee nodded.  “I had to do some pretty fast talking to get him to agree to let you go.  Nothing short of your total compliance will keep him from going ballistic.”


(tapping)  Understood, sir.


“I sincerely hope so, Lee, because my backside is on the line this time as well as yours.”  He paused and gave Lee a sheepish look.  “My next physical is coming up shortly, as the doctor all too pointedly reminded me.”  He matched Lee’s grin, albeit more slowly, and the two spent a few minutes going over a couple things before Nelson headed back to the lab to finish a few projects.


Jamie reappeared shortly after Nelson left.  A frown was pasted firmly on his face until he read what Lee hastily scribbled on the clipboard.  “You threatened him with his next physical?”


“Whatever works,” the doctor growled, but his expression softened and he finally sat down in the chair Nelson had so recently vacated.  “Not sure, however, I’d ever have the gall to hold him responsible for your actions.  That is asking a bit too much.”  He gave Lee a firm look.  Lee had the good grace to lower his eyes, and Jamie finally grinned. 


“I’ll behave,” Lee wrote.


“That’ll be the day,” Jamie muttered, not quite under his breath.


“Promised the Admiral.  You, too.”


“I’ll hold you to that promise,” Jamie said firmly.




Jamie harrumphed.  “We’ll see how long that lasts,” he muttered.  Taking a deep breath as Lee once again dropped his eyes, he finally continued.  “Whatever.  Well, here’s what you’re agreeing to.  Might as well spell it out right now and let you make the final decision.  Much easier to just leave you here if you don’t think you can deal with it without coming unhinged, then have to return you by FS1 in a few days.”


“Has to be better then being here.  At least eventually.”  The complaint was plain, even if it was just words on paper.


Jamie grinned.  “Heard Chris read you the riot act earlier.”


“I was only standing at the window, looking out.”


“And because of the liquid diet you’re restricted to, it’s going to take longer than usual to regain your strength.  Even standing quietly, you could have been hit with an unexpected dizzy spell.”  Lee frowned.  “Not probable, I agree.  But you do have a slight tendency to make my staff, shall we say, err a bit on the overly cautious side.”  Lee closed his eyes, a harassed expression on his face.  When he opened them again, Jamie was grinning at him.  Lee finally, reluctantly, grinned back.


The frown returned as Jamie started his explanation.  Basically, although Lee would be aboard Seaview, he’d be restricted to Sick Bay at least the first couple days.  Gradually, and the doctor emphasized that word over-dramatically – at least Lee thought so – Lee would be allowed to be off the humidifier long enough to take his meals in the Wardroom, and if that went well, to maybe spend an hour or so in the Control Room.  As long as Lee behaved himself, Jamie again emphasized.  Lee went back to the harassed look.


“My cabin?” he scribbled at one point.


“Eventually,” Jamie conceded, but held up a hand at Lee’s instant grin.  “Just hold your horses, Skipper.”  The grin didn’t fade totally, as Lee realized Jamie had gone back to the familiar address instead of the ‘Commander’ he used when he was royally ticked.  “It’s going to be close to a week, probably, before the tears are healed enough that the threat of swelling bad enough to interfere with breathing is gone.  Until that point, you’re going to have to put up with being monitored on a fairly regular basis.”  As Lee started to write something else, Jamie reached out and took hold of the hand holding the pen.  Lee looked up, frustrated.  “No, Skipper.”  Jamie spoke softly, with a slight smile, and it helped to ease Lee’s expression.  He realized that Jamie was trying to make this as easy as possible, while maintaining what he felt was optimum care for his Captain – and friend.  “I’ll not drag all my equipment up to your cabin, and make someone run up there every hour, day and night, just so you can sleep in your own rack.  Okay?  You wouldn’t do that to Frank and John, would you?”


They both knew that last was dirty pool.  Lee sent the CMO a disgusted look that quickly turned into a sheepish grin in the face of the smile Jamie was sending him.


They were interrupted at that point by Chip.  In his hand was a clear plastic oversized cup containing some kind of pink fluid.  The cup had a domed top, and whatever was in that part was white.  A straw poked out the small hole in the top of the dome.  Lee’s face lit up.


“What is that?” Jamie demanded suspiciously.


“You have Lee restricted to a liquid diet, Doc,” Chip said, matching Lee’s grin.  “Liquid, see?”  He jiggled the cup.


“Yes, I can see that it’s liquid,” Jamie agreed, still cautiously.  “My question is, liquid what?”


Chip laughed.  “Relax, Doc, it’s just an Italian cream soda.  Club soda, flavoring – in this case raspberry – half-n-half, a little crushed ice, all stirred together and topped with whipped cream.”  He looked at Lee.  “Drat.  Didn’t even think of any additional flavoring.”  Lee’s grin broadened.  Before Jamie could make any comment, as he looked about to do, Chip continued.  “Just heard Lee would be joining us after all, and figured I’d help him get his strength back.  These things are not exactly low-cal.”


Jamie gave the cup a speculative look.  “And with all the half-n-half and whipped cream, the slight carbonation won’t hurt the Skipper’s throat.”  He nodded toward Lee.  “Approval given to add them to his restricted diet.”


“Was hoping you’d say that.  I just told Cookie to lay in the fixings.”  Chip smirked as he handed Lee the cup.  Lee shifted the mask just enough to get the straw into his mouth and took a long pull.  His eyes closed, a look of total bliss on his face.


“Where did you come up with something like that?” Jamie wanted to know, watching Lee inhale the drink.


Chip gave the CMO an unbelieving look.  “Obviously you don’t stop at too many espresso stands,” he observed dryly.


“Never,” Jamie agreed.  “Can’t stand the stuff.”


Chip nodded.  “Not my favorite, either.  But most of them also serve these as well.”


“Harrumph,” Doc did his best ‘Admiral’ imitation, and stood up.  “Well, I’d better start putting together a survival pack.  I was looking forward to a nice, quiet, relaxing cruise.”  He gave Chip a wink, fully aware that Lee could see it as well.  “So much for that, now that I’ve been overruled.  That’s assuming,” he gave Lee a questioning look, “that the Skipper hasn’t decided he can’t live with my ground rules and is staying home.”  The glare Lee sent his CMO answered that comment rather succinctly.  Jamie just grinned.  “Didn’t think so.”  Chip was looking back and forth between the other two, a puzzled expression on his face.  Lee began a tapped out explanation as Jamie turned and left.


* * * *


It was early afternoon the following day before Chip had a chance to catch up with Lee again.  The first thought to hit his mind as he entered Sick Bay sent an instant, broad, smile across his face.  He wiped it off immediately, realizing how inappropriate it was, all things considered.  He had no idea why the thought hit him now, and not any of the other times the last few days he’d seen Lee.  But for whatever reason, seeing Lee laying there in a lower bunk, back propped against several pillows, the sight of the mask with its hose leading down to the humidifier unit sitting on the floor brought to mind an old, classic, Tim Conway comedy routine.  It was from Carol Burnett’s television show, about Siamese elephants joined at the end of their trunks.  Conway had totally cracked up the other actors on the set with him as he ad-libbed his way through the routine, talking about the little monkey that was trained to run back and forth across the joined trunks.  There was also something about what happened when one of the elephants sneezed, but Chip didn’t totally remember that part of the routine.  By that time everyone, including Conway, was practically rolling on the floor.


Belatedly, Lee’s closed eyes and slack hands sunk in, and Chip stepped quietly into Jamie’s small office, nodded back toward the main room, and raised an eyebrow.  “Slip something besides club soda into his lunch?” he asked, beginning to smile again.


The doctor was sitting behind his desk, coffee cup in one hand and several sheets of paper in the other.  He shook his head.  “Didn’t have to.  Just getting dressed, walking out to the car, and from the dock to here, tired him out.  Not that he’d admit it, of course.”


“Heaven forbid.”  Chip’s grin broadened.  “How’s he doing?” he continued, and sat down.


“Actually, quite well.  I scoped his throat again this morning and the tears are healing nicely.”  He gave Chip another hard look.  “Not that I’ll admit that totally to him,” he added, with a nod toward the other room.  “I’m enjoying the cooperation I’m getting, and I’d like to keep it going long enough to allow him to heal totally – for a change!”


Chip smiled.  “Understood, Doc.  Believe me.”  They were silent a moment, thinking about the man in the next room.  Both had watched him push himself beyond all reasonable limits far too many times to be happy about it, even if they had to admit that a lot of what they sometimes saw as reckless behavior was just Lee being duty driven.


“And thanks for sending Kowalski over first thing this morning.”


“Figured you could use the break.”  It had been one of the first things Chip had done that morning upon getting to the boat, knowing that Lee was more likely to cooperate totally with the senior rating than he would with the CMO, no matter how many promises he’d made.  Thankfully Jamie was quite used to dealing with his Skipper’s frequently ill-tempered responses to anything pertaining to his own health issues.  But that didn’t keep the rest of the crew from lending a hand whenever the opportunity presented itself.  Ski had given the Exec a quick smile and hurried off the instant he’d been asked. 


Chip had barely gotten the chance to exchange one quick nod with his friend as Lee ambled through the Conn, Ski right behind him, about 0715.  Having to do both his and Lee’s jobs getting Seaview underway, even with Lt. James’ able help, had kept Chip hopping.  Lee had looked like he’d wanted to stop.  Instead, he gave Ski a quick glance and continued on resignedly.  Chip saw the senior rating heave a sigh, and gave him a thumb’s up behind Lee’s retreating back.  Chip did take the time to gather up a handful of reports and the duty logs, and have them delivered to Sick Bay in hopes that they would keep Lee occupied for at least a little while.  He’d not expected to find Lee peacefully sleeping.


“Didn’t see you in the Wardroom at lunch,” the CMO said casually, causing Chip to grimace.




“Ah, ah,” Jamie cut in with a raised hand and half a smile, reacting to the instant frown on the Exec’s face, as well as the instant growl in that one word.


Chip gave him a disgusted look.  “If we all survive this cruise, it won’t be because of Anderman and that idiot he has working with him.”


Jamie chuckled.  “They came in with the Admiral just as I was finishing up.”  He gave Chip a nod.  “I very quickly decided not to hang around.  Anderman keeps up the way he was going, Nelson’s going to fire them both out the torpedo tubes.”


“Only if I don’t beat him to it,” Chip threatened.  “Anderman’s always been a little…dedicated…to his research.  But this trip…”  He just shook his head.  “Weird is about the only way to describe him.”


Jamie got a thoughtful look on his face.  Chip saw it and raised an eyebrow.  The doctor took a sip of coffee before answering.  “Just an impression I got, from the little I saw.  Probably totally off-base.”


When he didn’t continue, Chip prodded.  “Spit it out, Doc.  As the person responsible for the health of this crew, you need to keep the command staff aware of any potential problems.”


Jamie chuckled softly, then got thoughtful again.  “The man clearly had things on his mind.  Things other that the cruise.”  He paused for another swallow.  “He seemed nervous, almost distracted as the Admiral tried to talk to him.  He kept glancing at the assistant.  Who, by the way, was basically ignoring him.   He’s probably so used to the guy by now, he’s learned to tune him out.”  He stopped again.


Chip was a good people-watcher, especially with people he knew well.  “There’s something more,” he said softly, not making it a question.


Jamie gave him a stern look, but Chip just raised an eyebrow.  Jamie sighed heavily.  “I’d have to run some tests to know for sure, but he was acting almost like he was on uppers.  Nervous, disjointed movements; easily distracted.  I’ve never seen him even close to the way he was today, the other times he’s been on board.”


“You want me to order him down here?”


“NO!” Jamie thundered, then glanced toward the main room with a stricken look.  Chip pushed his chair back enough to check on Lee.  The dark head was still resting against the pillows, turned slightly toward the bulkhead, and Chip gave the doctor a nod.  Jamie continued in a much quieter tone.  “The absolutely last thing I need is Anderman down here, and the Skipper getting even an inkling that there’s a problem aboard his boat.”


“But you are going to mention it to the Admiral, aren’t you?”


Jamie hesitated, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly before answering.  “I’d rather not.  At least,” he cut off whatever Chip was about to say, “not yet.  I really don’t have anything to base that on except one quick observation.  If I say anything, we both know that Nelson will go ballistic and demand I verify it.  I’m not that confident that I’d risk either my reputation, or the Skipper’s continued cooperation, on what I saw.”


Chip nodded, then gave Jamie a little grin.  “Well, this is one person who trusts your judgment, Doc.  I’ll tell Security, quietly, to keep an eye on Anderman, just in case.”


Jamie gave his XO a speculative look.  “You just don’t want to take the chance that you’ll have to explain to the Skipper you let something happen to his boat on your watch.”


“Got that right,” Chip agreed readily with a grin, and took another glance into the main room.


“You’re not, by any chance, going to wake him up, I hope,” the doctor said, very firmly.


Chip’s grin broadened.  “Nope.  Getting the CMO ticked at me is almost as bad as the CO.”


“Got that right,” Jamie mimicked his Exec, and they both chuckled.  “What you might do,” he offered, “is come back about dinnertime.”  It was well known by the crew that Lee and Chip’s long friendship led to the blond being one of the few people Lee would allow to badger him about his eating habits – or lack thereof.


“See what I can do.”  Chip rose and started to exit through the office door to the corridor.  “Oh,” he turned back, “I packed an extra supply of the CDs I like to listen to.  You know, the ones with the light classical music combined with nature sounds.  Grabbed them just as soon as I heard Lee was coming.”  Both men chuckled softly.  “Since they’ve come in handy before.”


“One of the things that makes you such an excellent XO, Mr. Morton.  You’re always prepared for any and all contingencies.”


“Just call me a boy scout,” Chip quipped, and quickly scooted out as Jamie threw his fistful of papers at the rapidly closing door.


* * * *


Admiral Nelson was noted worldwide for a great number of things.  Patience wasn’t one of them.  And he was about to lose what little he had!  If Anderman’s research into a new technique for mining underwater minerals with minimal damage to the surrounding environment wasn’t so vitally needed, Seaview would never have left her berth in the first place, given Lee’s injuries, the cruise postponed until a more convenient time.  Now, two days later, needed or not, Nelson was on the verge of ordering her turned around and headed home.


Anderman had been a royal pain since hitting the Institute Friday morning.  Usually Nelson got along fairly well with the mining engineer.  Anderman had been aboard several times before and, while excitable and totally focused on whatever project he was currently working on, still visited amiably and got along with those crew members with whom he came in contact.  Sometimes got along too well, Nelson had noticed on other occasions, carrying on to anyone who would listen to him about his projects.  Nelson had buried a chuckle several times on previous cruises watching a crew so used to their OOM’s enthusiasm over a project that they had plenty of practice dealing with a passenger doing the same thing.


This cruise had proven different right from the get-go.  The normally gregarious mining engineer, while effervescently expounding on the virtues of the new procedure, was uncharacteristically reticent about explaining its particulars.  Nelson hadn’t pushed, at least at the beginning.  He understood the need to keep things secret until they were proven safe, effective, and patented.  But he’d caught Chip muttering to himself about Anderman being so paranoid about letting anyone see his equipment that the crew hadn’t been able to do a decent security check before loading some of the crates.  Nelson had smoothed his XO’s ruffled feathers with the reminder that the engineer had been on board before with no problems, but he knew the conscientious officer still wasn’t pleased.


But security concerns didn’t explain away the continued problems once Seaview sailed.  Nelson tried several times to get the engineer to explain his new procedure but Anderman just kept putting him off, telling him he’d explain everything when they reached the test site.  Nelson couldn’t even get the man to explain why he’d chosen that particular site on the ocean floor in the first place.  The Admiral knew of no studies revealing minerals of any interest in that area.  Anderman just muttered something about his assistant handling that information.


Nelson had even less success with that person.   Of large stature and dark complexion, he didn’t exactly match the oriental-sounding name of Benni Shinera he gave the XO, almost reluctantly it seemed to Nelson, when Chip needed it Friday afternoon for his manifest.  Something else for Nelson to placate Chip about, as there hadn’t been time to do a proper security clearance.  Shinera stayed in the background, not saying anything to anyone, attention normally buried in a clipboard full of paperwork.  Nelson just reminded Chip that Anderman was fully aware of Seaview’s tight security measures and would have done his own clearances before bringing the man along. 


Another thing that was puzzling was that after all the ruckus Anderman had made about Lee being aboard for the cruise, once he was assured of the Captain’s presence he just shrugged his shoulders and made no more mention of Lee.  Warning bells started to niggle at the back of Nelson’s brain, but so far back that he just ignored them, took to heart what he’d been trying to get Chip to accept, and let it go.


That was, until this moment.  Once everything got sorted out, the crew settled into old, familiar routines.  Seaview’s CMO sent her Admiral the occasional blistering look but, when questioned directly, admitted that Lee was actually behaving himself quite well.  Nelson knew Chip was helping keep Lee occupied with the stacks of paperwork Seaview’s cruises always generated.  Nelson had added a few more, letting Lee do the initial evaluations on several proposals for projects the Institute had received.  He dropped in every chance he got – which, unfortunately, wasn’t often – and kept Lee apprised of anything current, and knew that Chip was doing the same. 


He’d stopped by Sick Bay that morning, Monday, but one look at Lee stretched out on one of the exam tables, fists clenched and eyes closed as Doc used an instrument of some sort to examine Lee’s lower throat, stopped him cold.  Jamie, apparently hearing his entrance, gave him a wink and a quick thumbs up, and smiled as Nelson let out the breath he’d instinctively held.  Nelson still turned and left, not wanting to interfere.  He’d recognized the signs of his temperamental Captain trying desperately to control his emotions and not take Jamie’s head off.  As much as he enjoyed watching the two friends spar with each other – and friends they were, despite the occasionally upper decibel level of their ‘conversations’ – this didn’t seem an appropriate time to visit.


Despite the CMO’s optimistic attitude earlier, Nelson was still surprised to find Lee in the Wardroom when he entered about 1230 for lunch.  To be sure, Lee was still obviously off duty, dressed in casual slacks and polo shirt.  In front of him was a big bowl of Cookie’s special beef barley soup, a particular favorite of Lee’s, and a large Italian cream soda.  It pleased Nelson no end to have things even that much back to normal even if, at the point of Nelson’s entrance, Lee was glaring at his Executive Officer, sitting opposite him at the table, spoon stopped halfway to his mouth.  Those two, Nelson chuckled to himself, assuming he’d interrupted a sparring match of a slightly different sort.  Chip had a wicked sense of humor he usually kept well contained.  However, when things were quiet and under control, it had a habit of escaping.  Chip’s favorite target had always been his old friend Lee.  The equally serious Captain was perfectly capable of dishing it right back, and the entire crew got a kick out of watching the two.  Nelson suspected, although he was never able to prove it and wasn’t about to ask, that the needling the two did to each other was occasionally on purpose.  Carried out in plain view of others, junior officers, seamen, and Institute staff alike, the gentle – and sometimes not so gentle – teasing had a way of overflowing and including everyone around them, helping to bond the entire Institute into a single community.  No matter the problems, everyone pulled together.


Of course, there were also times when the two old friends hassled each other for no other reason then the pure joy of doing it.  Nelson was fairly sure that’s what he’d walked into the middle of this time.  While the expression on Lee’s face was stern, there was a sparkle in his eyes anyone who knew him well would recognize instantly.  The frown on the rest of his face changed to a smile as Lee looked up and spotted Nelson.  It almost immediately changed again, to his ‘working’ face, as he looked past Nelson, and the Admiral turned to find Anderman and Shinera coming in behind him.


The engineer was instantly back in the mode he’d been on Friday, Nelson realized.  Assuming it was the Captain who held all the answers, he descended on the hapless man, rattling off questions so fast Lee wouldn’t have had the opportunity to answer even if he’d been able to talk.  The clipboard he’d continued to use lay in the middle of the table, and he was just putting down his spoon and reaching for it when Nelson laid a hand on Anderman’s shoulder.


“Doctor, Captain Crane is still recovering, restricted from using his voice.  I’m sure he’d be happy to answer your questions, but you’re going to have to slow down and allow him to write out his responses.”  From the expression on both the XO’s and CMO’s faces, Nelson had barely beaten them to the same explanation – and possibly delivered not nearly so politely, if Nelson was reading his officers’ faces correctly.  Thankfully, Lee was almost finished with his lunch so the bowl he pushed away to exchange for the clipboard was nearly empty.


But only a few minutes later Nelson was on the brink of abandoning the mission and returning to base.  Either that, or torpedoing Anderman off the boat and finishing the research with Shinera.  While Nelson and the assistant dished up their own lunches, Anderman started in again on Lee.  He was allowing the younger man time to write out the replies but it was the questions that had Nelson starting to grind his teeth, and wishing they were on the mining engineer’s throat instead of his sandwich.  Extremely demanding in his speech and body language, Anderman was nonetheless asking questions that half a dozen people on board were perfectly capable of answering.  Questions, in fact, that Anderman should already know the answers to.  What was their exact position?  How long to the test site?  How many divers were available?  Did they have collection bags?  How long would it take to get there?  Did the divers know their jobs?  Were communications in order?  Was Lee going to be diving?  Nelson was somewhat amused at Lee’s response to the stupid – to Nelson – questions.  The Admiral had seen this particular attitude in Lee a multitude of times, usually when dealing with an inexperienced crewman.  For someone who could occasionally put even the Admiral’s infamous temper into the category of amateurish, CDR. Lee B. Crane could sit for hours explaining tedious procedures quietly, calmly, and efficiently, until the problem was resolved.  Nelson had no idea how he kept himself under such control.  And it wasn’t just aboard Seaview.  Chip told stories of Lee’s handling of training sessions with the local Sea Scouts, where he and Chip volunteered their expertise whenever possible.  Lee’s infinite patience with the youngsters had them almost instantly idolizing the man.  Well, come to think about it, Nelson mused to himself, back under control, he’s done the same thing, albeit with a little more subtlety, to Seaview’s entire crew.  Not sure why I’m surprised he’s handling Anderman so easily.


Apparently there was a limit to even Lee’s patience, and Nelson was somewhat ashamed of himself for the fact that the CMO picked up on it before he did.  Half chuckling to himself, he missed whatever triggered Jamison’s sudden, “That’s enough for now, Dr. Anderman.  The Skipper needs to return to Sick Bay for treatment.”  Nelson’s focus was instantly back on Lee, but he had to hold back another chuckle at the look the young man was directing toward the CMO.  Jamie, it’s a good thing Lee likes you.  Nelson grinned inwardly.  Typical Lee, bridling at any limits the CMO tries to place on him, no matter what the reason.


But a frown appeared outwardly as Anderman’s only acknowledgement of the Doctor’s comment was to raise his voice and ask Lee another question – something to do with Seaview’s having been to the test area on a previous cruise.  As Lee was turning a blank look on the engineer Shinera spoke up, in one of the rare times Nelson had heard him utter a word.


“Dr. Anderman, you should really get something to eat.  We have to get back to calibrating the equipment so we’re ready for the experiment the instant we reach the site.”


It seemed like Anderman was just going to ignore him, but as both Chip and Jamie rose and Lee got that look of resignation on his face that meant he’d surrender for now but they had better watch out in the future, Nelson laid his hand on Anderman’s shoulder again.  Everyone startled as the engineer jumped like he’d been hit with high voltage electricity.  Nelson did notice a quick look pass between the XO and CMO, but dismissed it as Chip urged a disgruntled Lee to accompany him back to Sick Bay.  Jamie hesitated, looking at Anderman intently for a moment.  The engineer mumbled something unintelligible before heading toward where the food was set out and, behind his back, Nelson sent Jamie a raised eyebrow.  The CMO sent a speculative look toward Anderman’s back before just shrugging his shoulders and following the two younger officers out the door.  Nelson was left to shrug his own shoulders, and get back to his own meal.


* * * *

Lee was confused.  It wasn’t like he was Admiral Nelson, needing to know every last little detail about the entire universe.  He just needed to know what was going on in his own particular little part of it.  Right now, he was having trouble figuring out what was happening in front of his face.


It had started the instant he’d hit Seaview Saturday morning.  As excited as he was to be leaving Med Bay – even if it meant just exchanging one medical facility for another and ending up in Sick Bay – he was still on his boat, heading out to open ocean.  He’d quizzed Kowalski all the way down to the dock that morning about what was happening, so sure was he that Jamie had been censoring his incoming intel.   He knew Chip had been the one responsible for sending the senior rating, to keep Lee to whatever Doc’s specific orders had been that morning.  It was well known that Lee would be less likely to harass the man into letting him do anything extracurricular, as opposed to ‘forgetting’ what Doc had told him and ‘just taking a minor side trip’.  He’d been tempted, nonetheless, to stay in the Control Room at least long enough to get a feel for how the departure routine was going.  Between Chip’s stern look and Kowalski loudly clearing his throat, he’d surrendered to the inevitable and finished walking down to his least favorite part of his otherwise beloved submarine.  Despite the fact that he didn’t think he was breathing badly, Jamie’s instant frown belatedly reminded him that he’d better be on his best behavior or he’d have both the CMO and Admiral Nelson gunning for his hide.  As he allowed Frank to tuck him into one of the lower bunks and settle the humidifier mask on his face, he was suddenly hit with the realization of just how tired the little exercise he’d been allowed had left him.  Vaguely aware when Seaview started moving, he couldn’t remember later feeling her leave the safety of the breakwater into open sea.  In fact, he didn’t remember much of the rest of that day at all.


Sunday was a little better – but not much.  He’d barely gotten started on the stacks of paperwork both Chip and the Admiral dumped on him – the former way too cheerfully – when he’d felt his eyes start to get heavy.  At least he didn’t sleep all day.  But he’d wake up long enough to do a little work, eat his meals – such as they were – visit with whomever of the crew happened to wander in, and then he’d feel himself start to doze off again.  At one point that afternoon he openly accused Doc of slipping something extra into the antibiotic shots he was giving Lee four times a day.  “Much easier than trying to swallow pills,” Doc had said cheerfully.  But Jamie had just smiled and assured Lee that he wasn’t getting anything he didn’t need, and Lee had been left to grumble in silence – before falling asleep again.


Monday morning had been better.  Sort of.  At least he’d stayed awake for all of it!  He’d been thrilled when Jamie had allowed him to get dressed and go to the Wardroom for lunch.  His pleasure had been tempered somewhat by having to first endure one of the CMO’s tedious exams.  Not to mention the knowledge that ‘dressed’ had absolutely nothing to do with his uniform, or that ‘lunch’ would be nothing more than what little he was already allowed to eat.  But Chip had shown up not long after Lee had stepped out of Sick Bay’s shower area and gently heckled him into at least enjoying the outing.  He’d kept up the harassment until Lee threatened to rap out his responses none too gently on Chip’s blond head!  Chip’s answering grin had Lee contemplating appropriate revenge, but was interrupted by Admiral Nelson’s arrival, followed immediately by Dr. Anderman.


Now maybe I can get a feel for how the cruise is shaping up, Lee thought, and prepared to quiz the engineer.  He’d always gotten along well with the man, and had enjoyed working out the details of this latest cruise via vid-phone conference.  Despite Nelson’s disgruntled mutterings, Lee was grateful to the engineer for the express reason that because of him, Lee had been allowed to come.  While Lee wasn’t about to mention that openly, he was willing to cut the man some slack.


But Anderman was way over the top.  Even as Nelson tried to slow down the first onslaught, the engineer continued the verbal barrage.  Lee kept up as best as he could, but it was almost as if Anderman cared less about the answers than merely asking the questions.  He’d barely glance at what Lee wrote before starting the next.


Lee had just noticed the hint of a grin cross Nelson’s face, and was wondering what that was all about, when Jamie rose abruptly and put an end to the inquisition.  While Lee was glad to see the last of Anderman for a while, no way was he ready to be hustled back to Sick Bay.  However, between the expression on the CMO’s face, as well as Chip’s, who had also stood, defeat was inevitable.  He let the blond coax him into lying back down, and bribing him to stay there with the latest status reports.  Not that Lee would have had much choice in the matter anyway, as they were followed fairly closely by Jamie.  Lee got at least a little satisfaction by remaining dressed.  But it wasn’t long before his eyes grew heavy again and he abandoned the reports for quietly trying to puzzle his way through the strange goings-on aboard his boat.


Tuesday started out a definite improvement, beginning with breakfast.  Instead of plain yogurt and Jell-O, he was presented with scrambled eggs, cantaloupe, and half of a soft cream cheese Danish.  He held up the roll in his left hand and wrote with his right, “What happened to the other half?”


Jamie chuckled.  “Be grateful you got that much.  I had to salvage it from Chip’s greedy assault.  He heard me tell Cookie that you could start having a little more solid food, as long as it was soft, so Cookie made a small batch of those.”


“Any left?” Lee wrote with a grin.


“Cookie was putting several away in the freezer when I left, but I heard Chip telling a couple of the juniors that he thought it might be a good day to inspect the galley.”  Lee’s grin broadened.  “Eat your breakfast, Skipper,” Jamie returned to the lecturing tone he so often had to resort to when dealing with this particular patient.  “Then, if you feel up to it after your shower, you can go pester the XO yourself in the Control Room for a couple hours.”  Lee’s face lit up even more, and Doc crossed his arms and looked sternly at the younger man.  “The ground rules are still in force, Commander.  One wrong move and all bets are off.”


“Understood,” Lee wrote rapidly.


“You’d better,” Jamie threatened, but Lee noticed a small smile cross the older man’s face as he turned and headed toward his office.


Lee let a huge sigh of relief/pleasure/satisfaction – whatever – escape as he stepped through the aft hatch into the Control Room not quite an hour later.  Again in casual clothes, denoting his continued status on Sick List, it was still with extreme joy that he wandered past all the stations, stopping at each for a brief word (written, on his part) with the duty crewmen.  At his entrance he noticed Chip, standing at the chart table, reach down for the mic.  He figured it was only to inform Doc that Lee had done as promised and not made any side trips on his way to the Conn.  But before Lee was even halfway through the room Higgins, Cookie’s assistant, came down the spiral stairs and placed a large Italian cream soda in the cup holder on the chart table – a recent addition after one too many reports got ruined by overturned coffee mugs.  Lee just shook his head at the grin his XO sent him, and completed his walk through the Conn.


Nothing much was said between the two old friends as Lee finally walked up to where Chip was standing.  But then, nothing much needed to be, especially on a quiet watch.  Each knew where they stood with the other; each knew what was expected of himself and each other.  A glance, an expression, a nod.  Many a shift had passed in this fashion, and each was comfortable within the familiar routine.


It lasted until Chip called for an early lunch break about 1145, but even knowing that would probably be the end of his freedom for the day, Lee surprised himself and surrendered peacefully.  He harassed Chip unmercifully as his lunch included the other half of the Danish, while the XO was relegated to a roast beef sandwich.  Lee was even allowed a small portion of macaroni and cheese before being coaxed into returning to Sick Bay.


* * * *


Jamie was worried.  And for once it had nothing to do with his stubborn CO.  He’d continued to keep a surreptitious eye on Dr. Anderman and was uncomfortable with what he was seeing.  Of course, he only saw him at mealtimes, and sometimes not even then as the engineer and his assistant occasionally took their meals at times other than when Jamie did.  As this also tended to keep Anderman away from Lee, that at least pleased Jamie no end.  The one time the two did meet hadn’t gone all that well.  From his infrequent observations, Anderman was continuing to exhibit severe mood swings, from the manic he’d been during his ‘conversation’ with Lee, to other times Jamie saw him where he’d barely say two words.  Jamie was still trying to decide, Thursday afternoon, if he should say something to the Admiral, when other concerns took precedence.


Lee had improved so much that Doc had finally allowed him to return to his cabin – with some continued restrictions.  The humidifier unit went with him, and Lee was admonished to continue using it any time he was there.  He was on limited duty status, as well as a gradually less restrictive diet.  Jamie chuckled softly to himself as he thought about the final restriction – Lee was not yet allowed to use his voice.  Chip told him that Lee was firmly convinced Jamie was doing this last on purpose, so he wouldn’t have to listen to Lee complain.  But his thoughts were interrupted as he felt Seaview shudder slightly, and ‘Red Alert’ sounded throughout the boat.  He quickly scanned the contents of his Emergency Response Kit, and waited nervously by the intercom.


* * * *


A smug, satisfied expression spread over Chip’s face as he stood at the chart table and glanced around the Conn.  While the eyes of each crewman were still focused and concentrating on the equipment in front of them, there was nonetheless a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere in the room that hadn’t been there an hour ago.  At least, not to this extent, he acknowledged.  And he knew exactly the reason – the presence of Seaview’s tall, dark-haired Captain standing next to him.


A lesser man might take that personally, as an assault on his own competence to command.  Or come to resent the crew, or CO, for their supposed lack of trust in his leadership abilities.  It didn’t bother Chip a twit.  Instead, he found it almost amusing, and just another example of how needed Lee was aboard.  While Chip enjoyed the chances he got to run the giant submarine – for the most part – he never wanted to be in command.  He loved his job as XO, knew he was good at it, and was extremely comfortable in that role.  Especially with Lee by his side – figuratively or literally, he chuckled to himself.


The dark head came up from the Navigation report that he was studying and sent the still grinning blond a quizzical look.


“Nothing,” Chip deadpanned, getting his expression back under control.  Lee continued to look at him for another few seconds, before sweeping the Conn with a glance.  Finding everything running smoothly, he returned to the report.


Quite frankly, Chip admired Lee greatly.  That didn’t keep him from occasionally tormenting his Annapolis roommate, or treating him like the younger brother Lee had become all those years ago.  Surrounded by sisters, Chip had appreciated and enjoyed the camaraderie Lee offered.  Even if I didn’t always appreciate and enjoy some of the predicaments he put me in.  Chip frowned, but rapidly covered it.  The Conn crew all too quickly picked up on the emotions of the command staff and he wanted no accidental misunderstandings.  That in itself speaks volumes about Lee’s leadership style, Chip nodded to himself, and a small bit of the grin returned at his little pun, given Lee’s current condition.  Chip wasn’t always sure how Lee managed it – the quiet assurance (and Chip’s grin broadened slightly) he so often maintained in the face of whatever disaster was currently threatening.  That the man’s dark complexion matched a dark, volatile temper there was no doubt.  Like recognizing like, Chip gave himself another nod.  But while Chip had learned to bury his behind the mask of cool efficiency he presented to the world, his friend could seemingly think and act through any situation as if it was no problem at all.  Or rather, just a problem that with a little common sense would have a logical solution, and there was nothing to panic about.  While Chip knew the crew trusted his knowledge and leadership skills, it was Lee’s quiet assurance the crew had come to rely on.  ‘Quiet’ being the operative word at the moment, Chip snickered to himself.


Or thought only to himself.  Lee dropped the report, crossed his arms over his chest, and gave Chip the look that always made Chip feel like the time his father had caught him experimenting with a cigarette out behind the barn.  He had absolutely no idea how Lee managed it, especially since Lee was the younger of the two.  Mom probably taught it to him, Chip muttered under his breath.  I’m sure that’s who taught Dad.  Knew it was a mistake introducing Lee to her.  He was just putting together the ‘total innocent’ look he was best at and bluff his way out of this little situation he’d created with his wool-gathering when he was interrupted by a slight shudder felt through Seaview’s deck, and Patterson’s instant, “Alarm sounding – Marine Lab.”


Instantly both men were all business.  As the second report came in from Damage Control – a small explosion – Chip ordered “All Stop”.  Small explosions had a habit of turning into big problems in the confines of a submarine.  Chip watched Lee swiftly depart out the aft hatch, Chief Sharkey on his heels.  That’s something else I could let bother me, he muttered as he waited impatiently for a further report.  He’d seen the look of distress cross Lee’s face as the marine lab – Nelson’s domain – was identified as the source of the problem.  The close relationship that existed between Nelson and Lee actually pleased Chip no end.  Growing up surrounded by a plethora of extended family members, the relative isolation of naval service had actually been something of a relief.  Lee, on the other hand, was an only child whose father had died when Lee was five years old, and Nelson’s only family left was a younger sister he rarely saw.  Each found in the other a piece of his life that had been missing, and the bond strengthened both.  Chip never felt left out – or rather, never let himself feel that way.  Chip had his tight friendship with Lee.  If he wasn’t quite that close to the Admiral, it didn’t matter.  They were still the triumvirate that ruled Seaview, to the detriment of all who would oppose her and her missions.


The next report was more reassuring – minor damage only – and Chip left Lt. James with the Conn while he walked back to check things out for himself.


* * * *


Nelson had no idea what happened.  One minute he was working on a small redesign for an underwater earthquake sensor, only half listening to Shinera try to calm Anderman down from another one of the engineer’s ‘talkative’ episodes.  At least he wasn’t pestering the Admiral, instead seeming to go on and on about the area Seaview was headed for to do the underwater testing on his new equipment.  Nelson still hadn’t seen anything except some vague schematics, and was beginning to wonder if he hadn’t assigned Seaview and her crew to a fool’s errand.  Oh well, he thought to himself as he stepped into his private lab next door for a moment to check on an experiment he was working on there.  If Anderman’s new procedure turns out to be a bust we can send him packing at the nearest port, and maybe do some algae studies on the way home.  He’d barely sat back down at his workbench and picked up the sensor when for some reason it sparked sharply.  Startled, he dropped it.  As it hit the floor it burst into flames and Nelson threw himself backwards, accidentally stumbling and landing in a heap against a cabinet.


Momentarily stunned, the next thing he knew the lab was filled with DC crewmen getting the air filters going and assessing the damage.  Almost instantly he became aware of the assessment of a different kind of damage.  Dr. Jamison appeared at his side as he sat on the deck where he’d fallen.  He tried just waving the CMO off, far more interested in any damage to his boat than he was to himself, especially since he realized that nothing hurt all that much.


Doc just snorted at him.  “Forget it, Admiral.  You don’t stand a chance, not with all the practice I’ve had on a certain stubborn Commander.  Now just sit still so I can see what you’ve managed to do to yourself.”


“I’m fine…” Nelson started, then gave Jamie a sheepish glance.  Both men snorted at that all too familiar line, and Nelson relaxed and let Doc do his job.


Nelson wasn’t surprised when the next person to walk into the lab was Lee.  He had to immediately step to the side as Shinera was in the process of escorting the suddenly very quiet Dr. Anderman out the door.  Jamie’s voice challenged the exodus.  “I’ll need to check you both for injuries.”


“No need,” Shinera answered, continuing to steer the engineer toward the door.  “We were well away from the Admiral.  Dr. Anderman is just a bit shaken from the experience.  He’ll be fine after a brief rest.”


As they left and Lee walked up to Nelson and Jamie, the Admiral chuckled.  “Think that’s the longest string of words I’ve heard that man utter at one time since he’s been onboard.”


Lee’s fist pounded once on the scorched countertop.


“Down, Skipper,” Jamie answered the frustrated question.  “A couple minor electrical burns.  I’ll be lucky getting him to slow down long enough to get salve on them.”  He gave Nelson a long look as Lee relaxed and grinned.  Lee then raised an eyebrow at Nelson.


“Not sure.  I was only working on the calibration for the new underwater quake sensor I’ve been puttering with.  Suddenly it sparked, then caught fire.  There should have been nothing to cause that.”  He watched as Lee’s expression turned dark.  One of the qualities that was so integral a part of his young captain was a determination to understand why anything and everything happened on his boat, and an absolute loathing of the unexplained or unexpected.  “I probably just put a couple wires too close together,” he continued on casually, trying to lighten Lee’s mood.  Lee’s expression said all too plainly how much he doubted that particular circumstance.  Nelson grinned.  “I’ll figure it out.”


Lee’s pen instantly started tapping on the countertop, and Nelson grinned as Lee immediately started running through half a dozen possibilities, none of which included Nelson mis-wiring anything.  The Admiral tried responding but, since that also tended to involve hand movements to emphasis his descriptions, Jamie instantly grumbled, still trying to assess the damage Nelson had inflicted on himself.  Nelson tried, fairly good-naturedly, to deal with both officers at the same time, and thought he was handling it well until Jamie let out a particularly obnoxious snort and sat back.


“You,” he snarled, indicating the Admiral with a glare, “need to come down to Sick Bay or I’ll never get those burns treated.”  Nelson had the good grace to give Jamie another little sheepish grin.  “And you,” Jamie switched his glare to Lee, “need to be out of the residual smoke the fire caused.  Don’t you have a boat to run?”


Nelson’s grin returned as he watched a series of expressions cross Lee’s face.  The older man could read them easily: frustration, anger, belligerence, - all connected with and directed at the man who had done everything in his power to keep Lee off this particular cruise in the first place, and who was now blithely sending Lee off to do his job without even a mention of the earlier arguments.  Lee finally reached, stiff with anger, for his clipboard.  Nelson was just figuring that he’d better say something to Lee before things got too far out of hand when Chip walked in.  He knew the XO had heard at least the gist of the current topic when he reached out a hand and stilled Lee’s furious scribbling.  Lee gave the blond one of his more dangerous glares.  Nelson watched Chip glance quickly at both he and Jamie before telling his friend softly, “You’ll lose.”


Jamison didn’t quite bury a snort, which transferred the glare away from Chip and toward the CMO.  Jamie just ignored him, started gathering up his equipment, and looked pointedly at the Admiral. 


“I’m coming, Will,” Nelson told the doctor grumpily, and all four officers headed out of the lab.


Admitting tiredness only to himself, Lee entered his cabin that night about 2245 with a heavy sigh of relief.  What with the bit of excitement earlier that afternoon, getting the Damage Control reports, setting crew to making repairs, and dealing with an irritated Admiral after Doc placed salve and light bandages around the palms of both hands, no one had bothered to harass Lee much about taking an afternoon nap.  The only time he’d seen Doc was for a few minutes at dinnertime.  Lee had just been leaving the Wardroom when Jamie finally came in, muttering under his breath.  Lee had taken the time to discover that the doctor had just come from trying to check on Dr. Anderman and been told none too pleasantly by Shinera that the engineer was still resting from the mild tranquilizer he’d taken to calm down from the incident that afternoon, and would Dr. Jamison please just go away and let him rest. 


“But, Jamie,” Admiral Nelson interpreted Lee’s instant tapping, “if he was that shook up, shouldn’t you definitely be checking on him?”


Will nodded toward the Admiral, but answered Lee.  “Yes, I should.  However, I suspect that it would take an armed escort to get past Shinera.”


“That can be arranged.”  It was Chip’s turn to translate Lee’s statement.  Lee was watching Doc intently.


Will hesitated, then shrugged his shoulders and gave his skipper a small grin.  “I doubt seriously that it’s worth the effort.  But I’ll take you up on the offer if Anderman’s still holed up in his cabin in the morning.”


Lee had just nodded and continued out, to spend the next several hours casually walking through the boat, making sure all was right with his ‘Lady’ before he allowed himself to settle.  It was the first time this whole cruise that he’d been allowed to wander around as he pleased, without a noticeable tail.  He wasn’t entirely sure that there hadn’t been one this time, but at least he’d not noticed one.  Didn’t look real hard, either, he admitted as he sat down on the edge of the bunk to take off his shoes.  He was just trying to decide how much trouble he’d be in if he crawled under the blankets in his uniform instead of making the effort to get back up and change into pjs when there was a quiet knock on his cabin door.  Since he couldn’t answer, and didn’t feel like walking that far, he threw his shoe.  He assumed it was just Chip, coming to make sure he was settled in for the night.  Instead, Admiral Nelson hesitantly poked his head through the carefully opened door and Lee instantly, albeit a little tiredly, jumped to his feet.  He gave his boss a sheepish look as Nelson picked up the shoe.


“Expecting blond instead of auburn?” Nelson asked with a grin.


Lee’s knuckles rapped against the bulkhead.  Or balding brown.


Nelson chuckled, replaced the shoe in its proper place, and settled into Lee’s big desk chair.  “They can wait a few minutes.  I came to pose a question.”  He paused, looked at Lee expectantly, and finally raised an eyebrow until Lee took the hint and settled back down on the edge of the bunk.


“Thank you,” Nelson said, not quite sternly.  “Now.  As much as I’d like to see Anderman’s research go forward, I’m beginning to have some serious doubts about the man.”


(rapping)  How so?


Before Nelson answered, he grabbed a pen out of the middle drawer of Lee’s desk and tossed it across the room to the younger man.  “If Will finds bruises, it’s still my six that’s in trouble,” he said, this time quite sternly.


(tapping)  Sorry, sir.


“Harrumph.”  Nelson eyed the younger man suspiciously, before they both grinned.  “At first,” the older man continued, “I was willing to chalk up his weird behavior to eccentricity.  He’s always been a little…excitable.”


When he didn’t immediately continue, momentarily looking off into space, Lee gave the bulkhead a couple taps.


Nelson heaved a huge sigh.  “I’m not sure, Lee.  I’m just getting a funny feeling.”


(tapping)  Too much of Cookie’s Hungarian goulash?  Lee put a totally innocent expression on his face, and then replaced it with a huge grin as Nelson glared at him.


“Aren’t you supposed to wear the mask anytime you’re in your cabin?” Nelson growled.


Lee touched his uniform shirt.  Haven’t changed yet, he tapped out.  What do you want to do about Anderman, sir? he continued, a more serious expression on his face.


“Not sure,” Nelson admitted.


(tapping)  Can Shinera handle the tests?


“Not sure about that, either.”


Might be a good idea to have a talk with him and find out.  Or were you considering canceling the tests?


Nelson’s fingers drummed on Lee’s desktop momentarily before he finally gave Lee a rueful smile.  “I’m not sure what I was thinking.  Just needed someone to listen to me rattle on for a few minutes.”


I’m told I’m a good listener, sir came with a mildly smug look as Lee laid his hands in his lap.  Fortunately for him, considering the look Nelson shot back at him, whatever the Admiral was about to say was interrupted by a head poking through the door, sans knocking first.


Like I said, balding brown.  Disgruntlement was written all too plainly across Lee’s face as he tapped that out.


Doc ignored him for a moment and looked at Nelson sternly.  “Him,” he nodded toward Lee, “I expect to find wandering around the boat at all hours.  You were told to report to Sick Bay half an hour ago to have the dressings changed on those burns.”


“They’re nothing,” Nelson complained.


“You’ll think nothing if they get infected.”  He crossed his arms and the expression hardened.  “John’s waiting for you, Admiral.”  There was emphasis on the last word, accompanied by a lightly tapping foot.


Lee sent Nelson a little wink behind Jamie’s back.  At Nelson’s snort Jamie whirled around, but by then Lee was once again sitting innocently, hands in lap.  He remained that way until the door closed behind the departing Admiral, and Jamie muttered, “Well?”  Lee just pointed toward the door.  “Don’t give me that ‘it’s all Nelson’s fault you’re not in bed’ bull.  I’m totally not in the mood.  Move!”


Lee gave him a snappy salute, but the first full day he’d spent back on the job finally caught up with him and he rose wearily to walk into the head.  When he came back out Jamie was still standing there, waiting for him.  But the doctor’s expression softened and his touch was light as he settled the blankets on Lee’s body and the humidifier mask on his face.  The irritation was back, however, as he gave Lee one final warning before leaving.  “I catch your six out of that bunk before 0600 tomorrow, there better be a darned good reason.”  Lee nodded seriously, Jamie dimmed the lights, and Lee was practically asleep before the door was closed.


* * * *


Dr. Jamison did catch Lee up before the allotted deadline, but as luck would have it, it was for a good reason.  About 0230 Lee’s sleep was disturbed by several pairs of feet running past his cabin door, and he threw off the mask and threw on his robe to go find out why.  Following the sound of worried voices, it took Lee only a few moments to hit the cabin shared by Dr. Anderman and Shinera.  The assistant was standing somewhat blankly in the corner, watching Doc and his night corpsman, John, frantically working on the unconscious body of the engineer.  Chip was already there as well, and Lee laid a hand on the XO’s shoulder.


“Jamie thinks Anderman’s had a stroke,” Chip told him quietly.  “Shinera apparently got up to visit the head, and noticed something odd.  He tried waking him and when he couldn’t, notified Sick Bay.”


Nelson had come in in time to also hear the explanation.  “Will?” he now asked softly.


“Not now,” the CMO answered briefly.  “But not good.”  He took a moment to glance at the three.  “Mr. Morton?”


“Sir?” Chip answered respectfully.  While he wasn’t in the doctor’s immediate line of fire, as were both Nelson and Lee, he also wasn’t taking any chances.


“Go put your two senior officers back to bed, then yourself.  That’s an order,” he emphasized, as there were mutinous looks on Lee’s and Nelson’s faces, and a slightly stricken one on Chip’s.  “I won’t know much more before morning anyway.  Somebody around here should get some sleep.”


“Do my best,” Chip answered softly.


Both Lee and Nelson took pity on their ‘stuck-in-the-middle’ XO and left quietly.  Lee wasn’t sure if the Admiral ended up sleeping any more that night, but he didn’t expect to.  He gave Chip a grin, or rather tried to, as he settled himself back in his bunk.  Chip’s returning one wasn’t much better as he closed the door behind him.  Lee tried to close his eyes and go back to sleep, but there were just too many unsettling and/or discordant thoughts and images running rampant through his brain to let him rest.  Five minutes of tossing and turning, and another ten spent staring at the ceiling, and he quietly got up and settled into his desk chair.  The troubles with Alderman throughout the cruise, and now this latest, were bad enough to disturb Lee.  But he quickly realized that what had him on edge the most was the earlier conversation he’d had with Admiral Nelson.


Lee had become fairly comfortable in his role of handbrake to Nelson’s enthusiastic charges into any project that took his interest.  The Admiral wasn’t actually thoughtless about his boat and crew.  He just had a tendency to ignore the kinds of dangers he asked Lee to put them into for the sake of research, and needed the occasional reminder to temper his exuberance with some thought to the consequences.  No matter the project, be it his own or someone else’s, Nelson had a tendency toward jumping in headfirst and figuring out the challenges as he went.  Lee allowed himself a wry internal chuckle.  Seems like I’ve heard Chip mention that a time or two to me in conjunction with ONI missions.  But that was definitely not Lee’s attitude toward his boat and her crew.  While he might – not that he was totally ready to admit it, and definitely not to Chip – be a bit cavalier with actions that only involved himself, when it came to others he wanted as much information and as much advance planning and thought to alternative outcomes, as possible.  Lee realized that what was so disquieting was having Nelson seemingly reining in himself; to have him not assume that whether or not Anderman and/or Shinera were available, that he couldn’t just plow in and figure things out.  Lee puzzled that one for a bit, trying to get himself to relax.  Could it be that – no, that’s not right.  He shook his head.  He’d started to wonder if Anderman’s apparent stroke, catching a man years younger than himself, had given Nelson pause to consider all the warnings Dr. Jamison had given him over the years about his continuing to smoke.  But the Admiral was back-peddling earlier this evening, Lee reminded himself, before that happened.  Could he have already noticed a problem, and just hadn’t put all the pieces together?  With Nelson’s convoluted thought processes anything was possible, Lee decided, leaning his head against the back of his chair.  Just have to wait and see (yawn) how things look in the morning. (yawn)  I should probably get busy on those project proposals since I’m not going to sleep anyway…


A hand settling lightly on his shoulder startled him and he jumped, not having seen his door open.


“Easy, buddy,” came in Chip’s voice.  As Lee opened his eyes Chip continued, humor plainly evident.  “Don’t think this is exactly what Doc had in mind, but at least you slept.” 


Slowly it sunk in that the light was on, and Lee looked over at the clock on his desk – 0650.  He shook his head slowly and gave Chip, standing at his side, a lopsided grin.  Not exactly what I had in mind, either, he tapped out on the desk.  Anderman?


It was Chip’s turn to shake his head, in his case sadly.  “Didn’t make it.  Jamie called me about 0430.”  Lee frowned and started to stand, but pressure from Chip’s hand, still resting lightly on his shoulder, stopped the movement.  “And what good would it have done anyone for you to have that information two hours earlier?”  Disgruntlement still written plainly across his face he acknowledged Chip’s logic, then pointed toward the head.  Chip grinned.  “Meet you in the Wardroom in half an hour.”


(tapping)  Admiral Nelson?  Lee’s earlier concerns were still niggling at the back of his brain.


Luckily Chip didn’t seem to notice as he answered his friend.  “Hit the Conn at 0530.  Obviously Doc called him as well.  Must have already poked his nose in here – said to let you sleep.” 


He sent Lee a small grin as Lee turned his palms up and his expression said only too clearly, “So?”


“So,” Chip admitted, almost reluctantly, “by 0645, when you still hadn’t appeared, I figured I’d be in even bigger trouble if I didn’t at least come and check.  You, I have to work side by side with.  The Admiral, I can usually stay out of his way.”  Lee’s left hand snaked out and backhanded his longtime friend.  They both grinned, and Lee headed for his shower.


He was tempted to put his XO behind the proverbial 8-ball 25 minutes later.  Rounding the last corner, headed for the Wardroom from his cabin, he spotted Chip coming from the opposite direction and they entered together.  They were met by looks of disapproval from both Nelson and Jamison, sitting together finishing their coffee, and Lee quickly realized that the looks were specifically directed at Chip.  Lee hesitated just long enough to let a look of distinct unease cross the blond’s face before raising a hand and quickly tapping out, I was just waking up when Chip came to check on me.  He thought he heard Jamie mutter something distinctly rude when Nelson translated, but nothing more was said as the two younger men filled their breakfast trays and joined the older ones.  Chip did send a soft, “owe you one” Lee’s way as they turned their backs to grab coffee.  Lee just grinned softly.


Sitting down opposite Nelson, he started to tap out a question, but Jamie reached out a hand and stopped him.  “I already know the question, Skipper,” the CMO said firmly.  “You eat, I’ll talk.”  Lee glared at him, but as usual it had little effect against Jamie.  “There was nothing anyone could have done that would have made a difference.”


Stroke? Lee did tap that out between bites.


Once Nelson again translated, Jamie just shrugged.  “It will take an autopsy to know for sure, but that’s still my opinion.”  Lee raised an eyebrow.  “I’ve already talked to his sister.  Anderman wasn’t married.  We have the facilities to keep the body here until we can ship it home.  I’ll let the authorities there handle those details.”  Lee nodded and looked at the Admiral.


“I’ve had a talk with Shinera.  While he’s understandably upset, he was most adamant that we continue with the tests.  Said it would honor Anderman’s memory.”


Lee nodded again, as much to the comment as to the tone of Nelson’s voice.  The old confidence was back again, unlike the evening before, and Lee decided he’d just been worrying for nothing.  Apparently he let some of the pleasure he felt at that thought show on his face, because Jamie frowned and muttered something into his coffee cup.  Lee raised an eyebrow at him again.


The doctor sighed.  “While I realize that the one place you’re happiest being in the whole world is aboard this boat, you don’t have to act quite so pleased we’re not returning home.”


“He’s just afraid you’ll stick him back in Med Bay,” Chip snickered, earning a glare from his CO.


“Masochistic I’m not,” Jamie growled, and both Nelson and Chip chuckled as Lee just frowned at him.  “However, while it’s quiet,” and a small smile appeared on the CMO’s face, “I should probably re-check the lining of your throat.”  Lee started to tap out a response but Jamie stopped him with an upraised hand.  “Just sometime today, Skipper.  Finish your breakfast, then go make sure your precious boat isn’t about to sink.  At whatever point today that you think you can manage to spare me a few minutes…”  He left the rest of the sentence unfinished as Nelson and Chip again interrupted with chuckles, and Lee lowered his head back to his plate and stuffed a fork full of scrambled eggs in his mouth disgustedly.


* * * *


Lee half expected Chip to gently harass him all morning until Lee surrendered and headed for the ‘requested’ visit to Sick Bay.  Lee was prepared to ignore his XO, at least until Chip switched to pointed needling.  But as it turned out they were both kept occupied, and most of the morning passed swiftly.  Usually Lee’s duty to arrange for the transport of casualties home, that fell to Chip this time with Lee’s continued restrictions on talking.  Between walking Chip through the necessary procedures, and keeping tabs on Lt. James, who had the Conn, it was nearly 1130 hours before he decided there wasn’t any way he could postpone the inevitable any longer.  Admiral Nelson had wandered down the spiral stairs about 1000 hours and given him a rather pointed look.  But it was during a tedious bit of navigating, and Lee was watching quietly from just ahead of the chart table as Lt. James skillfully handled Seaview and her crew through the maneuvers.  He gave Nelson a nod, along with a quick thumb’s up that he hid from the young lieutenant.  Time enough for a ‘job well done’ once Seaview was once again in open water.  Both Captain and Admiral knew perfectly well that James would execute the maneuvers carefully, taking Lee’s non-interference as a sign that he was continuing on correctly. 


But by 1100 the Conn was once again peaceful.  Chip returned from his cabin where he’d been working at 1120 and Lee was out of convenient excuses to stay, leaving by way of the aft hatch.  He was running half a dozen ideas through his brain for how to wipe the smirk off Chip’s face that had instantly appeared as he explained where he was headed when he very nearly ran, literally, into Shinera a couple of corridors over.  Lee hastily scribbled an apology for not watching where he was going on the clipboard he continued to carry everywhere, and also expressed his regrets about Dr. Anderman.


“I wasn’t completely surprised, Captain,” Shinera answered, almost gruffly, after reading what Lee had written.  “Dr. Anderman was a man driven by his passions.  Much like your Admiral Nelson.  Sooner or later it catches up to all of them.”


Lee wasn’t overly impressed by that remark, or the tone in which it been delivered.  At any other time he would probably have just walked away.  But he was also still looking for any excuse to postpone his visit to Sick Bay so he quickly wrote out another question, asking Shinera if he knew why Anderman had been so adamant about Lee’s presence on this cruise.


“He had his reasons.”  This time there was no mistaking the distaste with which those words were delivered, nor the glare that accompanied them.  Not even avoiding his least favorite part of the boat was worth dealing with the hostility being exuded by the assistant engineer.  Lee quickly scribbled another ‘I’m sorry’, nodded, and continued on his way.


Dr. Jamison’s cheery welcome irritated Lee no end, more so because he suspected Jamie of doing it for that express purpose.  “You know the drill, Skipper,” the doctor continued, coming out of his office and walking over to the exam table.  “Loosen your tie and collar, and lay down with your head just slightly over the end of the table so I have a straight shot down to the problem area.”


While the voice stayed light, Lee noticed the doctor stifle a yawn as he turned toward the instrument cabinet, and Lee’s frustration instantly turned to contrition.  Here I am fussing over a simple exam, putting it off for as long as possible, and Doc has been up most of the night struggling with a seriously ill patient that he eventually lost – through no fault of his own.  And instead of being able to then get some rest, he’s had to sit around all morning waiting for his least favorite patient to finally find the time to leisurely wander down.  Lee hurried to put himself in the requested position.


“What, no arguments?” the CMO continued to tease.  But Lee could see the strain of the last hours on the older man’s face, and his regret only deepened.  He closed his eyes and tried to relax, but knowing what was coming, along with everything else, caused him to clench his fists.  He could feel the doctor hesitate briefly, then sigh and complete the exam as quickly and gently as possible.  When Lee again opened his eyes Jamie was watching him closely, the earlier smile gone, replaced with concern written all too plainly across his face.  “Okay, Skipper.  Give.”  Lee raised an eyebrow as he also sat up.  “Huh uh.  That went way too easily.  What are you hiding that you hope I won’t notice?”


Lee bowed his head, ostensibly to re-button his shirt and fix his tie.  When he glanced up, Jamie was just standing there quietly, arms crossed, looking at him seriously.  Lee meekly reached for his clipboard and wrote out what he’d been thinking.


The doctor shook his head slowly, a small grin appearing on his face.  “Only you, Skipper.”  He chuckled softly.  “As it turns out, you have nothing to feel sorry for.  Yes, it’s been a hell of a last few hours.  But I’ve had enough forms to fill out to keep me quite occupied all morning.”  He frowned.  “Tell me something, Skipper.  Why is it that the government always needs five copies of everything?”  Lee grinned and reached for his clipboard again, but a hand stopped him and he looked at Jamie with upraised eyebrows.  “Never mind,” the doctor grumbled.  “Don’t think I really want to know.”  Lee’s grin broadened, and the doctor eventually returned it.  He was just opening his mouth to say something else when the intercom interrupted.


“Sick Bay, this is Circuitry.  Man down with an electrical shock.”


Lee instantly went flying out the door.  Jamie slowed down only long enough to grab an emergency kit and tell Frank, who appeared seemingly from nowhere, to grab the defibrillator, since accidents of this sort had a tendency to disrupt heart rhythms.  But he was still only a few seconds behind Lee.


Happily, the emergency turned out to be more embarrassing than serious.  Riley had been replacing a circuit breaker and had accidentally touched a live wire.  He was just sitting up, shaking his head slowly, when Jamie entered.  Patterson and Mickelson were steadying the seaman, kneeling on either side of him.  Lee remained standing, and Pat gave way as Jamie knelt down next to the young man.  A quick exam indicated that the charge had been minor, so Doc decided a little gentle teasing wouldn’t hurt.  Especially since it would also, hopefully, relieve some of the tension he read in Lee’s body as well.  “Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to stick your fingers into light sockets?” he asked Riley, the smile on his face belying the sternness in his voice.  There were chuckles all around, and Riley turned bright red.


“It was an accident,” the young man stammered.


“I certainly hope you didn’t do it on purpose,” Jamie quipped right back.  To the sound of more chuckles he felt a hand on his shoulder, and looked up at Lee.  “I’ll take him back to Sick Bay, just to be sure, Skipper.  But I rather suspect that he just needs a couple hours to reflect on where he screwed up and he’ll be fine.”  He glanced at his watch.  “Shouldn’t the XO be expecting you about now in the Wardroom for lunch?”  The worry on Lee’s face instantly changed to a frown, but Jamie also saw the corners of his mouth twitch before he turned and left.


* * * *


Admiral Nelson wasn’t sure what was wrong.  He wasn’t even sure that anything was wrong.  He just had this feeling…


He’d had lunch with Lee and Chip in the Wardroom, getting caught up on that morning’s activities and listening to the younger men gently harass each other.  The levity had surprised him at first, given the serious nature of the last half-day or so.  But he quickly realized that it was precisely that seriousness that had triggered this release of tension.  He’d watched it happen in the past, where one long-time friend would tease and cajole the other into relaxing when things weren’t going well.  While it was usually Chip needling Lee, Nelson had also seen Lee reciprocate a time or two.  Now, they seemed to be helping each other.


It started innocently enough with Nelson’s comment about how well Lt. James had handled that morning’s exercises.  Lee, with a wink at Nelson, tapped out that perhaps Chip should spend more time away from the Conn, so smoothly had things gone.  Chip retaliated that by the time he had shown up, having Lee standing over his shoulder all morning without the XO as a buffer had the young lieutenant so paranoid that he was a nervous wreck, and Lee had better take the afternoon off.  Having both senior officers hanging around would surely drive Chris over the edge.  Wasn’t Lee supposed to be resting, anyway?  Lee countered that Doc hadn’t said a word after that morning’s exam and Chip had gotten even less sleep the night before than Lee.  Nelson interrupted at that point, reluctantly to be sure, to question what Will had said to Lee about how he was healing, and that led to relating Riley’s little miscalculation.  That set Chip off, designing extra training sessions for the obviously under-educated seaman.  Lee immediately came to his crewman’s defense, which led to a discussion of alternative training classes aboard the submarine, most of which had absolutely nothing to do with circuitry.  Nelson ended up not sure who had been helping put whom in a better frame of mind, but he did know that he’d enjoyed the discussion just as much, if not more, than the other two.


Nelson had then returned to the lab to work some more on rebuilding the sensor that had practically exploded in his hands the previous day.  He still had no idea why, but was being extra careful this time.  Shinera was working on the other side of the room, tinkering with several small pieces of equipment.  Nelson tried starting a conversation with the man, but he seemed even more sullen and withdrawn then he’d been.  Nelson turned slightly so that he could surreptitiously watch Shinera, trying to figure out in his own mind what the equipment was and how it was going to be used.  Obviously not surreptitiously enough as he caught Shinera staring at him.  “Sorry.  Just trying to figure out what all that does,” he said, trying to sound friendly and interested.


“I will show you when it is time,” came the gruff response, and Shinera turned his back as he continued to work.  Nelson just shrugged and went back to his own problem.


But it wasn’t long before Nelson was again starting to puzzle over a couple pieces of the strange equipment, running what he’d seen through his mind and starting to worry when he couldn’t immediately figure out how they could be used.  He gave himself a small shake and chuckled soundlessly.  Jiggs used to say that I always reminded him more of a lab rat than a Naval officer, puzzling over why something was the way it was instead of just accepting it at face value and dealing with it.  He harrumphed.  Nothing wrong with being both, he assured himself.  In fact, there was nothing wrong with an officer raising questions about anything, as long as they were legitimate questions.  A smile crossed Nelson’s face.  That was precisely the problem Jiggs had with Lee.  ‘Old school’ Admiral Jiggs Starke wanted junior officers to respect his rank and follow orders immediately.  While Lee respected the rank, he was sure enough of his own intelligence, Jiggs calls it cocky, to challenge orders he felt detrimental to whatever mission was ongoing.  Cocky it may be, Nelson nodded to himself.  But it’s saved our hides more times than I care to think about. 


Behind him, Nelson heard the sound of a pump spray, like one of Edith’s small perfume bottles, discharge several times, then Shinera immediately left without a backward glance.  Must have been spraying a light lubricant on something, Nelson reasoned, although he could smell nothing, and instantly forgot about it.  He continued to tinker with the sensor but when Shinera didn’t return, his curiosity got the better of him and he walked over to the table where the engineering assistant had left the equipment.  Nelson assumed that they went together to form something more suitable to underwater mining than the kitchen utensils they resembled at the moment.  Or, to be more precise, at least one of them did.  It reminded Nelson of nothing more than an elaborate can opener.  Nelson shrugged his shoulders and, not wanting to aggravate Shinera further should he return and find Nelson standing over the equipment, returned to his own problem.


Nelson was no closer now, after completely dismantling the unit that had partially burned the day before, to finding the reason for the problem than he had been when it happened.  It made absolutely no sense.  He started taking apart a working unit, looking for possible design flaws that he’d missed, or that had been masked by the malfunction.  While he worked he let a myriad of things run through his mind until he realized he’d taken the sensor apart without even remembering doing it.  Concentrate, you old fool, he chastised himself.  You’re not just sitting here destroying a sensor.  You’re trying to figure out what you did wrong when you designed these things, so they don’t destroy themselves.  He went back over the pieces of the sensor carefully, but everything looked just as it should.  He reached up and rubbed a suddenly aching temple.  And how would you know if it didn’t look right?  You assume that everything you do is perfect, so how do you expect to recognize a problem you yourself created?  He squeezed shut suddenly painful eyes.  I must be more tired than I thought.  Coffee!  Take a break and get some coffee.  That will do the trick.  Not bothering to put things away, even though he knew how small inanimate objects could get thrown about if Seaview shifted unexpectedly, he rose abruptly and headed for the Wardroom.


Will found him there twenty minutes later, sipping his third cup of Cookie’s potent brew and questioning his competence.  Something must have shown on his face because the CMO stopped his own progress toward the coffee urn and gave Nelson a challenging look.  “I’ve just had both corpsmen gang up on me, telling me how bad I look.  I swear you look even worse.”


Nelson’s smile was mostly grimace.  “I don’t know what’s wrong, Will.  Can’t seem to concentrate.  To make sense of anything.”


“So, instead of sleeping and making a fresh start in the morning, you’re loading up on Cookie’s radio-active sludge,” Will observed dryly.  “You’re right.  You aren’t making sense.”


Nelson glared at him.  “Notice you were headed in the same direction,” he shot right back.


It was Will’s turn to grimace.  “So neither of us is making very good judgment calls at the moment.”  He yawned and gave the coffee urn a long look before turning back to Nelson.  “Make you a deal.  I’ll hit the rack if you will.”


Nelson raised an eyebrow and looked at his CMO coolly.  “And if I refuse?”


“I drag your six down to Sick Bay and try to figure out why your eyes are bloodshot and you’re fighting a headache, and neither of us gets the rest we need to straighten ourselves out.”


Nelson snorted.  “Point taken, Will.”


* * * *


Lee spent the first part of the afternoon in his office catching up on reports, as well as the project proposals Admiral Nelson had left for his input and he’d not yet gotten to.  He paused before starting them, letting the previous evening’s conversation play again through his mind, still a bit unsettled by the Admiral’s seeming lack of confidence.  But Nelson had seemed perfectly normal at lunch today.  Lee had caught, and suspected Chip had as well, the way the older man’s eyes sparkled as he listened to the younger men tease each other.  That was something that had started back in their early Annapolis days – the ability to joke with each other and make light of any situation no matter how bad it seemed at the time.  From upper classmen’s hazings to walking disciplinary tours, from unannounced dorm inspections to cramming for major exams.  Being able to laugh had gotten them through it all.  And not occasionally driven their classmates a little crazy in the process, which had at least partly kept them at it just to keep everyone from becoming stressed out, in the process sealing the rapidly growing bond between the two roommates.


By 1530 hours Lee had finished clearing out his ‘In’ basket.  He tucked the log under one arm and headed for the Control Room to return it, and get caught up.  Noticing Rawn at the hydrophones he queried Chip about Riley and was told he’d gotten the report that the young seaman was fine, but Doc had restricted duty until the following morning and told him to rest.  Lee noticed his XO’s frown, and Chip quickly controlled it and tried to wave off Lee’s upraised eyebrow.  Lee wasn’t buying any of it, quickly tucked the log into its holder, and crossed his arms.  Chip glanced around and motioned forward, more into the nose before answering.


“I was just remembering the last time Riley had that much off time in one stretch while aboard, and how much trouble he caused drawing those caricatures of all the officers aboard, and posting them in the crews’ quarters.”


Lee grinned broadly, and grabbed the clipboard he’d laid on the chart table.  The only person it caused any trouble for was you, when you went in to retrieve your book.


Chip glared at him.  “Your point being?”  But Lee saw the corners of his mouth twitch as they both remembered the incident.  Riley had only meant for the crew to see the caricatures and, since the officers rarely entered the crew’s quarters, didn’t think he’d have a problem.  There was always the possibility of the Skipper wandering in at any time, but Riley had been fairly sure that Lee would enjoy them for the fun-loving prank they were and enjoy them along with everyone else.  He’d been totally unprepared when Mr. Morton had come looking for a book he’d loaned Patterson.  That seaman, not knowing what Riley was up to, had mentioned he’d left it on his bunk, and Chip said he’d stop by and get it on his way back from Engineering.  The caricatures would probably have been deliberately unnoticed by Morton had not Riley gotten so flummoxed by the XO’s unanticipated appearance.  Trying to come to attention while also trying to sidle over in front of the incriminating evidence, he’d managed to bump into Patterson who was carrying a huge coffee urn.  Fortunately for all concerned, most particularly for the XO, the urn had not yet been plugged in.  The water and coffee grounds that had cascaded all over Morton’s pristine uniform had been cold…about as cold as the XO’s dressing down of the hapless Riley had been hot.  Lee had been told in confidence by Ski that Riley had yet to get a cup of coffee outside the mess deck.


Admit it, Lee wrote out, not wanting anyone else in the Conn to pick up on the conversation – it would just further tick Chip off, once you thought about it, it was a great gag.  Took a lot of creativity, not to mention ingenuity.


“Neither of which is an especially sought-after quality in hydrophone operators,” Chip still growled softly.  “We won’t even mention the mess he made, particularly to my uniform.”   But a small grin was starting to replace the frown, and Lee furthered it along by punching him lightly on the shoulder.


Trying to control his own expression, Lee wrote out, I’ll go check on him, and express to him the importance of proper shipboard decorum.


“Think that’s hopeless,” Chip muttered, but a small grin stayed in place as Lee headed aft.


Lee’s first stop was Sick Bay.  While in no way questioning the official report, he just liked to get things first hand.  He grinned broadly when Frank told him that the corpsmen had ‘ordered’ Doc to his bunk.  Giving Frank a thumb’s up he headed for the crew’s quarters.  With an inward grin he entered carefully but Riley’s area was empty except for a few sleeping seamen, none of whom was the young blond.  Lee’s next stop was the crew’s mess.  Again, no Riley.  Lee did learn, however, as he snagged a couple brownies, that Doc wasn’t the only officer who’d been ‘ordered’ to his bed.  Higgins, the cook’s assistant, had been in the Galley during the conversation between Doc and the Admiral in the Wardroom.  Not that he was gossiping.  He just casually asked if Admiral Nelson had actually gone to his cabin.  Lee got the impression that Doc’s reputation for slaying recalcitrant senior officers was about to go up another notch.  Unfortunately, he could neither confirm nor deny the allegation.  Promising, with a grin, to find the answer, he grabbed another brownie and continued his search.  He was glad now that he hadn’t tried to return the project proposals to the Admiral’s cabin earlier.  If Jamie had indeed been successful in getting Nelson to lie down for awhile, he’d be none too happy to find out Lee had disturbed him for no good reason.


Lee finally found Riley in the Rec room.  The seaman had headphones on, apparently listening to what for him passed as music.  Lee wasn’t impressed with the music as he walked up behind the man.  Riley had the volume turned up just loud enough so that it was audible if you were fairly close to him, but not so loud as to be disruptive to the other crewmen in the room. Nor, Lee noted with a nod of approval, was it so loud that it could be detrimental to the sensitive hearing Riley needed to properly operate the hydrophone equipment.  The other crewmembers present quickly rose and gave him expectant looks as he’d walked in, which he waved off with a soft smile.  Noticing that Riley’s eyes were closed Lee left quietly, another person’s rest he had no wish to disturb.


Lee was unable to identify the looks of…something…that crossed several crewmen’s faces as he returned to the Control Room by way of the aft hatch.  The mystery was solved, however, when he walked up to Chip, standing at the chart table.  A huge grin split the blond’s face as he reached out and gently removed something from the corner of Lee’s mouth.


“Cookie’s baking brownies again, I see.”  Chip snickered, examining the crumb.


Just wanted to make sure they were fit to give to the crew, Lee tapped out.


“Yeah, right.  As if anything Cookie ever fixes isn’t edible.”


(tapping)  How could you tell?  You eat everything that doesn’t eat you first.


At first indignant, Chip paused to reconsider.  “True,” he conceded.  “Well, almost true.  There was that octopus sushi we tried at that restaurant in Tokyo.”  They both shuddered at the memory.


The pen slipped out of Lee’s fingers, and he frowned as he bent to retrieve it.  Giving Chip a look of total frustration he tapped out, I’ll sure be glad when Doc lifts the restriction on talking.  This is getting old fast!


Chip grinned.  “I don’t know.  I’m kind of enjoying it.  Sort of breaks up the dull routine around here.”


Lee glared at his friend and tapped out firmly, ETA testing site.


Instantly all business, but with a grin still tickling the corners of his mouth, Chip turned to the charts and quickly did some figuring.  “At present speed, 1330 hours tomorrow, sir,” he answered crisply.


Lee’s face saying all too clearly what he thought of Chip’s smart aleck demeanor and all but insolent expression, they both instantly cracked up.  Lee shook his head slowly at his longtime friend, and headed up the spiral stairs.  Chip sent a scowl around the Conn, quickly and efficiently squashing the grins that had appeared on many of the crewmen’s faces at the senior officers’ seemingly casual antics, before returning to his charts.  Have to keep some order around here.  But he had to work hard to control his own smile.


Arming himself with the project proposals from his own cabin, Lee headed toward the Admiral’s.  He had, after all, promised Higgins he’d ascertain if Doc had indeed managed to corral Nelson’s workaholic nature long enough to make up for the lack of sleep everyone had gotten the night before.  Not to mention, not having seen the older man for several hours, Lee just wanted to make sure that he was okay.  But the same hesitancy to mess up Doc’s plans that had hit him earlier turned Lee around and headed him toward the lab.  I’ll check there first, just in case, he told himself.  The only person there, however, was Shinera.  Made uncomfortable by the man’s instant hostile stare at his entrance, Lee quickly wrote out, I was just looking for Admiral Nelson.


“I have not seen him for several hours,” came the surly reply.


Lee nodded, more to himself than Shinera as he wrote out, If nothing changes, we’ll arrive at the testing site early tomorrow afternoon.


Lee assumed the expression that crossed the big man’s face was meant to be a grin, but for some reason it made Lee even more uncomfortable than the stare.  “My preparations are almost compete,” Shinera assured him, and promptly turned back to whatever he was working on, effectively dismissing Lee.  Lee just shrugged and, out of options but unwilling to suspend the search, headed for Admiral Nelson’s cabin.


* * * *


Nelson wasn’t sure how Will had known he’d been fighting a headache, but he’d long ago quit trying to figure out how his chosen CMO did a lot of things.  He’d watched the unassuming doctor pull far too many rabbits out of his proverbial hat over the years to challenge him about much of anything.


The bloodshot eyes I’ll concede easily.  He grimaced at himself as he stood in his small head, splashing water on his face.  I’ve spent so many hours looking at that damn sensor…  He sighed and walked back into the main part of his cabin, plopping heavily into his desk chair.  Can’t understand why I’m not finding the problem.  Shouldn’t be that hard…something that would have made it go off in my hands like that.  He closed his eyes and puzzled on that for a bit.  Unless…  His eyes popped open.  Could it be something I did wrong while I was handling it?  He closed his eyes again and walked himself through the calibration he was trying to adjust.  That doesn’t make any more sense than a design fault, he blustered at himself.  I’m not that incompetent.  He snorted derisively.  And how would you know, you old fool.  You couldn’t even figure out how Anderman’s equipment went together, let alone how it works.  He reached up and rubbed his eyes, then instantly stopped as that just made them hurt more.  Instead he reached down into the bottom drawer of his desk, and pulled out the Scotch bottle he kept there, pouring an inch into one of the glasses kept there as well.  “Anderman,” he said out loud.  Not a close friend, but a man Nelson had respected nonetheless.  “At least it was quick and apparently painless.  Not a totally bad way to go.”  He toasted the air and drained the glass before a heavy shudder hit his body.  Harry, whatever made you think of that? he scolded himself.  You despise death in any way, shape, or form.  Here you are practically congratulating Anderman for managing to accomplish a graceful ending.  You should be ranting at the utter waste of a good man’s talents.  Not understanding his choice of thoughts, yet still angry at himself for thinking them, he poured out another finger, this time nursing the fiery spirits, sipping slowly as he pondered his sudden earlier lack of confidence in himself.  Certainly not a typical trait for you, Harry.  He snorted.  If anything, you’re way too overconfident for your own good.  Gets you in all sorts of trouble.  Thank heavens you have Lee around to bail your six out – you sure can’t do it on your own.  He nearly spilled what little was left in the glass as his other hand made a fist and pounded solidly on the desktop.  Damn, Harry.  There you go again.  Yes, Lee has to remind you to think before you leap occasionally.  But he’s not responsible for your faulty sensor design.  And he sure shouldn’t have to figure out what’s wrong with it just because you’re too stupid to manage it on your own.  He drained the glass again in an angry snit, but was able to control the urge to refill it – just barely.  Harry, this is getting you nowhere except to exacerbate your headache.  You just let Anderman’s death hit you too hard, and now you can’t concentrate on one thing for more than thirty seconds.  Follow Will’s prescription for a change and get some rest.  You’ll be fine in a few hours.  He looked across the room at his bunk, but suddenly didn’t seem to have the energy needed to make the short walk.  He crossed his arms on the desk and laid his head on them.  Taking several deep breaths, he was asleep almost instantly, not hearing the cabin door open silently a few minutes later.


* * * *


Hesitating just long enough to take a deep breath and put a benign expression on his face, Lee tapped very lightly on Admiral Nelson’s door.  If the OOM was awake, it would still be loud enough for him to hear.  Getting no answer, Lee opened the door just enough to stick his head in, then smiled to himself and stepped the rest of the way in, closing the door silently behind him.  Looks like something else we have in common, he acknowledged, finding Nelson’s head down on his desk.  Sidestepping Doc’s orders by sleeping at our desk instead of in bed.  But serving the purpose.  Or is it?  He frowned, noticing the Scotch bottle for the first time.  He stepped closer and took a better look at the label, and the frown relaxed.  Okay, that’s better.  Only a couple of good belts missing.


 Lee had devised his own little code for Nelson’s private stock of booze, and it had become something of a game between the two.  It had all started as the two were sharing a drink and a relaxing moment during a particularly trying cruise a few months after Lee had become Seaview’s Captain.  Admiral Nelson had been assigned the task of returning a young prince to his homeland from the United States, where he’d been attending school.  The crew had coped brilliantly with assassins out to ensure that the prince never made it home; much harder was the effort they expended to keep from killing the kid themselves.  The term ‘spoiled brat’ didn’t even begin to cover the difficulties he managed to cause aboard the submarine.  One evening, after a particularly trying day placating not only the prince, but also other members of his entourage, Lee’s presence was requested in the Admiral’s cabin.  He’d gone hesitantly, wondering what indiscretion he’d unwittingly managed and was now going to be admonished for.  Instead, Nelson poured them both a small shot of Scotch, and spent well over an hour in seemingly causal conversation about various odds and ends of boat’s business – everything except the current mission.  At one point Nelson made an offhand comment about the necessity of observation as it pertained to successful scientific research.  He went on to say that such a skill also came in handy to spot when a certain officer took on more than his share of the work and worry on any given mission.  Lee could still remember his brief flash of embarrassment as keen blue eyes left no doubt as to which officer Nelson was referring.  Lee had thought that he’d been hiding his stress quite nicely.  He’d covered his sheepish thoughts with the comment that those same powers of observation were equally necessary in sub commanders, as well as intelligence agents, and asked casually if perhaps there was some mechanical difficulty with the Admiral’s cabin that precluded sleep.  Nelson had harrumphed loudly, but Lee had been pleased to see his eyes sparkle as well, as it became apparent to the older man that if Nelson was keeping watch over his captain, then his captain was equally keeping an eye on his admiral.  The two had shared an easy smile, and kibitzed along those lines for several minutes.  An incoming message disrupted the quiet camaraderie, and both men had sighed heavily and given each other resigned smiles and shrugged shoulders.  Lee waved Nelson off to the radio shack to take the call, saying he’d put things away.  As he started to stow the bottle back in the bottom drawer, he decided to place several dots on the label and see how long it took Nelson to pick up on what he was doing.  They’d both gotten busy again, and it wasn’t until several weeks later that Lee, in the shower one morning, noticed something a little…different…on the underside of his small medicine cabinet.  Chip, in one of his more whimsical moments and after a particularly grueling cruise during which Lee had pushed himself almost to the point of exhaustion, had bought a 3-inch-long wooden replica of a banana slug.  He’d presented it to a totally unimpressed Lee, in the presence of both Nelson and Doc, telling him that he’d bought it to remind Lee to slow down once in awhile instead of always driving himself so hard.  Lee had immediately tossed the toy into the nearest garbage can, only to watch it be retrieved by Nelson, who tucked it into his own briefcase.  Lee hadn’t seen it again until that morning, when its nose peered out at him from the underside of the cabinet, a magnet having been glued to the toy’s belly, and holding a small piece of paper that had two small dots on it.  He was still chuckling to himself as he hit the Wardroom and casually left the slug beside Nelson’s coffee cup.  While neither he nor Nelson ever mentioned it again, it was the start of a little innocent game between the two.  Whenever Lee was in the vicinity of the Scotch bottle he’d surreptitiously manage to put a series of tiny dots on the label, signifying the approximate lever of fluid.  One dot meant it was full; three, half full; 5, almost empty.  It wasn’t a precise gage, because Lee didn’t go out of his way to keep track.  Nor did Nelson often shift the slug, although it was always a cause for amusement to find it gone from its previous position, only to find it somewhere else in his cabin.  But Lee realized that it had become a way to help both men deal with the sometimes deadly tension aboard the boat and, from the sparkle that appeared occasionally in Nelson’s eyes, knew that he understood as well.


Looking at the bottle now, Lee knew he’d obviously had this bottle in his grasp recently because there were two barely noticeable dots hidden carefully among the various words on the label.  Smiling, Lee added one more, and replaced it carefully on the desk.  Silently laying the reports into Nelson’s “in” basket, he slipped back out of the office, hoping that things remained quiet enough that Nelson would realize he’d been dotted one and slug him in return.  Lee grinned as he visualized Chip’s reaction if he casually mentioned that he had “dotted the admiral one and been slugged in return.”  Nelson was resting, Jamie was apparently doing the same, and Chip was occupied in the Conn.  Time to walk through the boat uninterrupted, he smiled, and headed out.


* * * *


With thoughts of fresh brownies threatening to ruin his concentration, Chip took a quick break shortly after Lee left the Conn and hit the Wardroom.  Still working on short sleep himself, coffee was welcome as well, no matter how many hits he’d already made on the pot kept in the observation nose.  He good naturedly let Cookie grumble about ‘officers who couldn’t wait until regular mealtimes and disturbing his routine” before bringing out a plate of still-warm-from-the-oven treats, remaining passive as the older man muttered to himself all the way back into the galley.  While Chip knew perfectly well that the chef wasn’t as temperamental as he liked to portray, it was still wise to show proper respect around the man, no matter your rank.  Besides, Chip finally allowed a grin to appear as Cookie got busy in the galley and Chip reached for his first brownie, for this kind of goodie I can afford to grovel just a little bit.  Apparently Seaview’s internal radar was in full working order because he’d barely started his second hunk of double fudge delight when several off-duty JOs walked in and quickly helped him polish off the munchies.  While they ate they batted around half a dozen topics, including Anderman’s strange behavior and subsequent death, and his assistant’s peculiar activities.  At that, Chip raised an eyebrow – this was the first he’d heard on that subject and he questioned Lt. Keeter, who had brought it up.  Keeter quickly backed down.


“It’s nothing, really,” the Mechanics officer waved off his XO’s sudden concern.  “I think he’d just get fed up with Anderman and have to walk it off before going back to work.  He’s never caused a problem, or tried to get in anywhere he wasn’t supposed to be.”


“Better not have,” Chip growled, the threat somewhat hampered by having to get out around the brownie Chip was stuffing in.  “Can’t believe this is the first I’ve head about it.”


“Guess we just sort of decided to keep track of him ourselves,” Brewster, head of the DC teams, said, indicating the others.”  He gave Chip a quick grin.  “You kinda had your hands full with the Skipper.”


While Chip acknowledged that with a wry smile, he grumbled nonetheless.  “Still should have been told.”  He leveled a glare at the others.


“Aye, aye, sir,” each acknowledged instantly, then to a man suppressed grins as Chip reached for the last brownie.


The mid-afternoon snack in no way affecting his appetite for dinner, Chip gently nudged Lee in that direction about 1820 hours.  His CO had returned to the Conn shortly after 1700 and they’d been going over plans for the next days’ activities – what little they knew, anyway, about Anderman’s original plans.  Their primary job had been to get Seaview to the site.  They both assumed that Nelson knew much more about what was to happen once they arrived, but so far the OOM hadn’t elaborated.  Lee passed along the tidbit of what Jamie had managed, concerning the Admiral, mostly to distract Chip from continuing to grumble about certain JOs thinking they could run things without notifying their XO.  Chip had, of course, not mentioned their reasoning behind the actions.  Lee had just grinned and chided the XO for not commending the men on their initiative; reminding him that in delegating more duties, Chip would not only be training better officers, he’d be easing a bit of his own workload.  Chip just did his best imitation of Nelson’s patented ‘harrumph’ and reminded Lee that delegating was one thing; being deliberately kept in the dark was another.  Lee continued to grin, knowing perfectly well that Chip wasn’t all that upset.  He just liked having a firm grasp of what was happening on his boat – one of the many traits that made him such an excellent XO.


At that point Lee let himself get a little sidetracked, seriously studying charts for the area where the testing was to be done.  While well aware of the generalities, he got the feeling that he was missing something.  Vaguely he remembered Anderman’s comment about Seaview having been there before.  But then, there was little on the ocean floor where Seaview hadn’t been, at least fairly close to, over the years.  Seems that way once in awhile.  He allowed himself a wry grin and eventually just shrugging off the feeling.  Chip started muttering about dinner, and Lee let himself be headed in the direction of the Wardroom.


They were both surprised to find Jamie there already, just dishing up his meal.  With eyes sparkling, Lee quickly wrote out a teasing comment concerning the CMO’s inability to follow his own advice about getting some rest, and left it where Jamie usually sat before turning to get his own dinner.  By the time Lee sat down, Jamie was looking positively sheepish.


“Yeah, yeah.  Go ahead and rub it in, Skipper,” he muttered, not without a slight grin of his own as he turned the paper so Chip could read it. 


Chip nodded toward the empty place next to the CMO, where Nelson usually sat.  “Apparently you had better luck with the Admiral than the corpsmen had with you.”  This time he nodded toward Lee, sitting next to him.  “Lee said he found him crashed in his cabin earlier.”


Will leveled a gaze at Lee.  “Said?” he challenged.


Lee leveled a gaze right back as Chip answered, “Figure of speech, Doc,” then chuckled as Will and Lee both cringed at the unintentional play on words.


“He was actually resting?”  Will looked at Lee.


Lee tapped out his response and Chip translated.  “Apparently poured himself a drink – the bottle was on his desk – and fell asleep there.  Not exactly what you had in mind, I’m sure.”


“No,” Will agreed.  He shrugged.  “But better than I was anticipating.”  After a heavy sigh he added, “I’d prefer he was in his bunk.  If he wakes up with a crick in his neck he’ll be a bear.”


“Some days, how can you tell the difference?” came barely audible from Chip’s direction, and Lee elbowed him firmly.  Chip lowered his head to his meal, but gave his friend a quick sideways grin.


Will chuckled at the two.  He’d served on his fair share of vessels during his years in the Navy, until Seaview all surface ships, and a large number of stations on land.  While at many of the duty stations the commanding CO and XO could be considered friends, he’d never seen the camaraderie that existed between these two.  Part of it had to do with the simple fact that they’d known each other so long.  With rotating duty stations, there wasn’t the opportunity to spend years with the same people in the regular Navy.  Yet, even taking that into account, there was something special about the bond that transcended the chain of command here on Seaview.


A lot of it had to do with the Skipper’s easy style.  It allowed for a good bit of give and take between the officers on board, and also between the officers and crew.  It wouldn’t work everywhere.  But it flourished on Seaview, bonding the crew into one single unit.  But Will was also quick to acknowledge that one of the reasons it worked so well was because of Chip.  Will admired the blond a great deal, for a great number of reasons, not the least of which was his ability to ‘handle’ Lee.  No, that’s not what I mean, exactly, he thought as he watched and listened to the young men across the table from him kibitz about several things.  Most of which he didn’t understand, and not entirely due to the fact that he could only comprehend Chip’s side of the conversation.  Chip just has this knack.  Not sure what to call it.  I do know that it comes from first and foremost being totally comfortable with who and what he is.  Not only was there not a shred of resentment toward Lee, a slightly younger man who outranked the incredibly competent older one, Chip did everything within his not inconsiderable power to support Lee.  He seemed to have an innate ability to know just what it took to be one step ahead of Lee – not to outthink him, or look smarter than Lee was, but to provide total support for whatever Lee was planning.  Well, almost total support.  Jamie suppressed a laugh, thinking how Chip strongly – and vocally – despised Lee’s continuing involvement with ONI.  But in a sideways kind of way, that also supports Lee.  Will nodded to himself.  Coming from a genuine concern for his friend, it helps remind Lee that his place is here, that he has people who care deeply about him, and bolsters his own self-confidence.  Well, Will admitted, not that Lee lacks confidence.  Not the way he handles himself on those occasions when Chip gets just a wee tad carried away.  Will grinned to himself, but realized he’d been caught when Lee looked at him expectantly.


“Eat your dinner,” Will told the younger man gruffly, to cover up.  “And I expect you to get a full night’s sleep tonight.”  He pointed a finger at Chip.  “That goes for you, too, mister.”


“Geesh,” Chip muttered.  “Can’t remember the last time I saw Jamie so cranky.


Eyes sparkling, Lee quickly wrote out, so Will could see, I can – a few months ago, after he found out you’d been walking around with a concussion for two days without bothering to tell anyone.


As Chip once again ducked his head, Will couldn’t resist his own jab, now that Lee had opened up that particular can of worms.  “Excuse me, Skipper,” he said with a pointed glare, “don’t forget that there’s a reason you just wrote that statement instead of just saying it out loud.”  He suppressed a grin as dark head joined blond, bending over their plates.  There was a quick chattering of silverware as Lee ‘said’ something to Chip, and Chip answered in kind.  There were definite smirks in the looks they gave each other, as well as the extremely quick ones they sent Will’s way.  Will wisely chose to ignore them both.  With these two, some things were definitely better left untranslated.  To continued tapping and the occasional snicker, Will quickly finished his meal, refilled his coffee mug, and left.


* * * *


Seaview had reached a point close enough to the aircraft carrier, USS Constellation, to transfer Anderman’s body by helicopter - from there it would be sent home by C2A Greyhound - so the next hour kept everyone hopping.  Will kept expecting Admiral Nelson to show up in the middle of things even though the crew, with Chip looking over their shoulders, had the transfer completed swiftly, yet carefully and respectfully.  Once things calmed down again, and with still no sign of the Admiral, Will headed for his cabin.


He was somewhat unprepared for what he found there.  Nelson was as Lee had described, asleep at his desk, a half-empty Scotch bottle next to his folded arms.  Shaking his head at the unexpected sight of an apparently sloshed Admiral, Will gently shook a shoulder.  “Come on, Harry.  Time to put you to bed.”


“Huh?  Who…  Whatta you want?”  Nelson’s voice was slow, the words slurred and somewhat difficult to understand.


“Admiral, it’s Will.”


“Will?”  Nelson’s head finally came up off his arms.  Or tried to.  Will put his hand behind Nelson’s neck as his head wobbled around.  “What’s happenin’…?”


“For a start,” Will answered dryly, “I’d say you had too much to drink.”


“Noooooo.”  Nelson’s arm swung wildly, and Will barely grabbed the bottle before it would have been swept onto the floor.  He set it on the cabinet behind the desk, out of harm’s way.  Nelson tried to follow the motion, without much success.  “On’y had a couple…”  Will noticed Nelson didn’t seem to be able to concentrate long enough to carry a thought to its conclusion.


“Glasses full?” Will finished for him.  “Come on, Harry.”  He physically pulled Nelson to his feet, then grunted with the effort of keeping him there.  “Bed.  Now.  We’ll have a nice long talk in the morning about why you decided today was a good day to do something this stupid.”


“Did…”  Nelson stayed on his feet, but fought Will’s efforts to get him over to the bunk.  “Didn’t…” he tried again, although he was still having a major problem focusing.  “Can’t concentrate…”


“Gee, I wonder why,” Will told him somewhat disgustedly.  He manhandled Nelson toward the bunk, already knowing his back was going to regret the act come morning.  Once he got Nelson sat down on the edge of the bunk, the Admiral seemed to rally somewhat.




Will noticed that his eyes were focusing – almost.  “Yes, Harry.  It’s Will,” he answered as congenially as he could manage over the twinges of pain his back was beginning to send out. 


“Couldn’t figure out why the sensor blew up…”


“A major blow to your ego, I’m sure.”  Will gave him a glare, and a groan, as he bent down to remove Nelson’s shoes and swing his legs up onto the bunk.  Straight to the bottle for you, too, Will, he told himself.  The bottle of ibuprofen. 


“There was no reason for it to blow up like that,” Nelson insisted, as Will pushed him down.  Nelson’s voice seemed a bit stronger but his eyes still weren’t focusing totally, and apparently were causing some discomfort as well, as Nelson started to rub them with his hands.  Will stopped the movement by grabbing Nelson’s wrists, giving the minor burns a perfunctory glance and noting that they were looking quite well.


“Like I said earlier, Harry, we’ll talk about it in the morning,” Will said firmly.  He took the spare blanket, kept folded at the end of the bunk, and pulled it up to cover Nelson.  “For right now, I want you to go to sleep.”


“Can’t…  Have to…”


“No, you don’t,” Will told him firmly.  “Close your eyes.  That’s an order.”  Nelson continued to try to look at him, mumbling off and on.  But Will could see that the alcohol was becoming too hard to fight, and slowly Nelson lost the battle and quieted.  Will just shook his head.  He’d watched Nelson handle, efficiently and decisively, people and problems that would have turned the best of men into blithering idiots, and always come out a better man for having dealt with it.  Oh, that wasn’t to say the Admiral, once everything calmed down, didn’t grab his private stash and toss back one or two.  But the doctor couldn’t remember a time, no matter what the challenge or disaster, when Nelson had gotten drunk.  Never a dull moment around this boat, he muttered to himself.  He got up, waited a bit to make sure Nelson stayed quiet, turned down the lights, and left.


He hesitated as he approached the next corner in the corridor, hearing footsteps coming from the other direction, and treated Seaview’s CO and XO to a speculative appraisal as they came around the corner and stopped in front of him.  He glanced at his watch.  “While I know I ordered the two of you to get a good night’s sleep, I certainly didn’t expect you to be headed to your cabins by 2100 hours.  I’m impressed.”  He laughed as Lee just crossed his arms and glared at him, and Chip muttered something under his breath Will wisely chose not to listen too carefully to, before continuing at a slightly more understandable volume.


“We were just doing a final checklist for tomorrow and needed to check some things with the Admiral.  Figured he’d be awake by now.  Actually,” Chip’s expression turned slightly puzzled, “we’re both a little surprised he’s still in his cabin.”  Lee quickly tapped something on the bulkhead, and it was Chip’s turn to cast a speculative look toward the CMO.  “Unless you’ve been shooting off that loaded syringe of yours again.”


Will shook his head, somewhat sadly.  “I’m afraid that your questions will have to wait until morning.  And despite your accusations, I had absolutely nothing to do with it.”  He hesitated before continuing.  The explanation wasn’t easy to say.  He knew it would hit Lee the hardest.  Seaview’s young Skipper, while not blind to the Admiral’s faults, still somewhat idolized him.  This would be a bit hard for Lee to take, and Will did his best to soften the facts.  “I think that Dr. Anderman’s stroke, and subsequent death, hit the Admiral harder than we all realized.  Maybe it pointed out a bit harshly what could happen to him if he continues to smoke and overwork himself.  I don’t know.  I’ll have to sit down with him and have a good long talk.”  He shook his head again.  “But not tonight.  Seems he decided,” and Will glanced around to make sure they were alone, lowering his voice, “to drink his dinner.” 


While Chip’s reaction was what he was expecting – wide-eyed disbelief – Lee’s wasn’t.  The Skipper’s expression turned as dark as his hair, and he loudly tapped out something very short.


“No,” Chip said, and Will wasn’t sure if it was Chip’s answer to Lee, or a translation of Lee’s comment.  Either way, it was Lee he looked at to answer.


“I’m sorry, Skipper, but that’s what happened.  The facts are all there.  There’s a half empty bottle on the desk and he’s disoriented, can’t focus, and pretty well out of it.”


Lee just continued to glare at him for a moment, then went barreling past him.  He entered the Admiral’s cabin without knocking and, despite his haste, quietly walked over to where Will had put the bottle.  He quickly noted the level of the contents, and made sure it was still the same bottle he’d seen earlier before turning.  Will and Chip had entered quietly behind him, and he rapidly wrote on his pad, There’s no more missing than when I was here a little while ago.  And even that’s not more than a couple fingers less than when I last had a drink with him.


“Then he started a whole new bottle,” Will offered, trying with the calmness of his own voice to calm down the now very agitated Lee.  “That would explain a few things, like how a man I’ve never seen drunk be that far gone on just half a bottle.”


Will watched frustration mixed with … something … cloud Lee’s face as he swiftly wrote, No.  Same bottle.  He’s not drunk.  Something’s wrong.


Will looked at Lee carefully after reading the terse note.  Lee’s expression now almost pleaded with Will to believe him.


“How can you be so sure, Skipper?”  Will wasn’t quite ready to give up.


Lee started to write something, but Chip interrupted.  “Doc,” the blond said quietly, and Will looked at him, “I don’t know how he knows either, but I think you’d better double-check the Admiral.”  Chip wasn’t looking at Will, but intently at Lee.  Will surrendered and walked over to the Admiral’s bunk.


* * * *


Two hours later Will tossed the sheet of paper the corpsman had just handed him onto the desk in his office, and walked out into the main part of Sick Bay.  “How did you know, Skipper?” he asked Lee, who was standing tensely, looking down at the still sleeping Admiral.  “The blood alcohol level says two drinks, tops.”


“Then what is wrong, Doc,” asked Chip, standing on the other side of the exam table on which Nelson lay.


Once Will admitted to himself that he’d taken the bottle at face value and not checked any further – for which he was severely kicking himself – he’d had Nelson brought down here and did a thorough examination.  Both senior officers had made the trip down as well.  Chip left briefly at one point to check the Control Room but had almost instantly returned.  Neither had interfered, just stood quietly at one side of the room.  But Will had still seen the tension stiffening both men’s shoulders.


“Not sure,” Will now admitted.  “I’m going to run a few more tests, and more extensive blood work.  For right now he’s resting comfortably.  Even his eyes aren’t as red as they were this afternoon.”  He looked at Lee.  “You haven’t answered my question, Skipper,” he chided mildly.


With head still lowered, Lee gave Jamie a quick flick of his eyes before returning his gaze to Nelson’s face.  No one else knew about his little code on the liquor bottles, and he’d really prefer to keep it that way.  He knew Chip would no doubt get a kick out of the game, especially when he found out that the slug was involved.  And even Jamie - who knew, and kept his own council about - so many of the men’s secrets, would no doubt enjoy the story.  But even so Lee was loath to share, and therefore possibly destroy, what had become his and Nelson’s private moments of companionship that Lee treasured so much.  Now Lee just gave Jamie another quick flick of his eyes, and shrugged his shoulders.


Will knew when he was licked.  “Okay, Skipper.  I’ll let you off the hook for now.  As long as you and your equally workaholic XO go crash for the night.”  At that, Lee’s head came up sharply.  “No!  You’re not staying here.  Period.  I told both of you I expected you to get some rest tonight.”


Chip was looking at him equally belligerently, but finally relaxed.  “Come on, Lee.  He’ll just whine until we leave.”


Lee wasn’t willing to surrender quite that easily, and pointed toward the mic housing on the wall.


“Don’t I always call you, Skipper?”  Will gave him a reassuring grin.


NO!  Lee’s firmly shaking head said all too clearly, and he gave Will a hard look.


Will crossed his arms.  “If it’s important, I call.  If it’s just you having to know every last little detail about what’s happening aboard your boat, to the detriment of your own rest…”  He shrugged his shoulders and gave Lee a smug little smile.


As Lee grabbed for his pen and clipboard, Chip grabbed Lee’s arm.  “Are you sure you want to tick Doc off?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.  He gave his friend a small smile as Lee let out a huge sigh and lowered his eyes.  “I don’t like it any more than you do, Lee,” Chip continued, so quietly that only Lee heard.  “Doc’s definitely getting pushy.  But there will be time to get even when we have a more level playing field.”


As the two younger men finally left, after giving the Admiral another glance, Will heaved a long sigh of his own.  Almost instantly there was an even heavier one behind him.  Turning, he saw John just poking his head out of Doc’s office door.  “Coward,” Will accused the corpsman good-naturedly.


“Yes, sir,” John admitted easily.  “Bad enough that the Skipper’s upset.  I can’t believe you just locked horns with Mr. Morton.”  John shuddered at the thought.


Will chuckled.  “Oh, I have no doubts that our illustrious XO will get his revenge.”  He gave John a wink.  “But he’ll wait until things calm down.”  His smile vanished.  “Are those the latest blood work reports?”


John looked down at the papers in his hand, almost as if he’d forgotten he’d been holding them.  “Sorry, Doc.  Yes,” and he handed them over.


“That’s okay.”  Will took them and started running down the results.  “Lets see if we can figure out with all our fancy equipment what ‘Doctor Crane’ recognized with just a glance.”  The look he and John shared was more grimace than grin, but the two bent their heads over the papers and started studying.


* * * *


By silent agreement the two command officers headed for the Control Room, giving everything a final glance before leaving the boat in the able hands of Lieutenants O’Brien and Keeter for the night.  Lee paused at the chart table before heading up the spiral stairs to Officers’ Country and sent a glance toward the aft hatch.


“Don’t even think about it, Lee,” Chip threatened him softly.  “You’re not off Doc’s hit list for your original little error in judgment.”  There was a definite growl in his voice as he added, “Not to mention mine.”


Lee sent him an instant scowl, but almost as instantly he dropped his eyes and gave Chip a small grin as he headed toward his cabin.


* * * *


Will had been staring at the blood work results so hard it was giving him a headache.  There was something…


“Doc,” John nudged him gently, “why don’t you go crash for awhile yourself.  You don’t look in much better shape than the two you chased out of here an hour ago.”


Will gave him an appraising look.  “Obviously I need to take lessons from the Exec on how to keep underlings in their place,” he grumbled, but finally gave the corpsman a small grin.  He was, however, still puzzling over the lab results as he laid the papers back on his desk.  He turned toward the door to the corridor, then turned back toward John.  “You’ve pretty much caught up on inputting all the Sick Bay data into the computer, right?”


John gave him a curious look, but nodded.  “Everything except for the last few days.”


“I’m more interested in further back.”


“How far, Doc?  I’ve still got some of the very early records to track down.  Stuff from the first year Seaview was in operation.”  Doc raised an eyebrow.  “Yeah, well, figured since we have crew still aboard from the beginning I might as well be complete, at least as far as they’re concerned.”


Will nodded.  “How is it searchable?  Just by patient?”


“So far.  What are you looking for, Doc?”


Will shrugged.  “A needle in a haystack that might not even be there.  I just have this nagging suspicion that I’ve looked at similar blood work results before, something with the same trace readings…oh, I don’t know…”  He sighed heavily, and gave John a little grin that was nonetheless devoid of humor.  “I’m just grasping at straws…”


“But what if you aren’t, Doc?  I mean, we’ve seen some pretty weird stuff over the years, you have to admit.  The Admiral, he’s resting comfortably?”  Will nodded.  “Then I can put in some time going through the computer, checking records and looking for any lab samples with similar readings.”


Will shook off the suggestion.  “No, don’t bother.  You’d have to do it case by case…just be wasting your time.”


“Actually, Doc, I might not.”  Will gave him a curious look, mostly because of the enthusiastic way John had made the comment.  “While I’m going through the files I can be making notes on different ways they can be sorted.  You know.  Illnesses, types of injuries, areas of the boat.  That sort of thing.  I can also be looking for other commonalities…like lab results, maybe.  I’m sure if I got together with Mr. Morton, we could devise a more search-friendly system.  He’s really good at figuring those kinds of things out, then writing a computer program to make it work.”


Will nodded.  Seaview’s XO was one of the most organized men he’d ever known.  One reason he was such a good Exec.  And with his background in computers…  “Just…”  Will hesitated, then gave John another small grin.  A genuine one, this time.  “Make sure you wait until after this cruise to broach the subject with Mr. Morton.  He has quite enough on his plate at the moment.”


John nodded vigorously.  “Aye, aye, sir.  Definitely.  Trying to keep the Skipper out of trouble.  And now with the Admiral laid up…”  He shrugged, then gave Will a sheepish look.  “Ah, that didn’t come out quite the way I meant it.  About the Skipper, I mean.”


Will chuckled.  “Perhaps not, but the truth nonetheless.”  He gave the corpsman another quick smile, walked into the main section of Sick Bay and checked his sleeping patient one more time, and finally headed toward his own bunk.  He opened Sick Bay’s door, only to find Anderman’s assistant, Shinera, apparently just reaching for the handle.  “Something I can help you with, Mr. Shinera?” he asked tiredly.  He grinned companionably as he realized he’d startled the big man.


“Ah, no,” Shinera hesitated, then seemed to get himself under control.  “Just thought I’d check on how Admiral Nelson was feeling.  Maybe run a few things past him about the beginning of the tests tomorrow.”


“I’m afraid that won’t be possible.  The Admiral’s sleeping and I don’t want him disturbed.”  Will recognized the harshness in his voice, brought on by his own frustrations, and again smiled.  “Perhaps in the morning…”  He let the thought trail off.


“Of course, Doctor.”  Shinera nodded and abruptly turned and walked back in the direction of his cabin.


“Strange man,” Will muttered to himself.  Another thought, however, materialized through his tired brain, and he turned back toward his office.  “John?”


“Yes, sir?”  The corpsman was already typing madly on the computer keyboard, but turned instantly toward the CMO.


“While you’re going through the files, also look for any references to anything that might have happened in this area of the ocean.”


“Sir?”  John gave him a totally puzzled look.


Will shrugged.  “Anderman made a crack one night at dinner, something about Seaview having been in this part of the ocean before.”


“We’ve been just about everywhere before,” John said, rolling his eyes.


Will nodded.  “Another haystack, I’m afraid.  Just…”


“I’ll keep an eye out, Doc.”  He grinned.  “Give the guys in the Control Room something else to think about instead of worrying about the Admiral, when I call up and ask for the gps coordinates of our destination.  Drive them a little nuts trying to figure out why that makes a difference to anyone down here.”


On that note, Will finally headed for bed.


John called the Conn with his slightly unusual request and Lt. O’Brien, his voice filled with obvious puzzlement, said he’d make a photocopy of that section of the navigation chart and send it down.  Once again intently focused on the computer, John still turned instantly at the slight noise coming from the other room a few minutes later and was surprised to find the Lieutenant himself standing just inside the door, print-out in hand, looking toward where Admiral Nelson was laying.


“Keeter just came up to check a couple panels.  Thought I’d take the opportunity to grab a cup of java, so brought this down as well.”  The explanation came out casually enough.  But John was well aware that either Cookie or his assistant kept a fresh carafe of coffee in the nose almost all the time.  And, he knew that the lieutenant knew that he knew.  Never the less, he just reached nonchalantly for the chart and nodded toward who he knew was the main reason for the visit.


“The OOM’s resting comfortably.  Enough so that I just got Doc to go crash.”


“Great.”  O’Brien finally smiled.  He glanced at the chart in John’s hand, then at John, and raised an eyebrow.


John just shrugged.  “Just a little research project.  Probably a wild goose chase, but it will help pass the hours.”


With a nod, and another quick glance toward the Admiral, O’Brien left.  John walked over and gave Nelson a quick check, then returned to the computer.


* * * *


Lee didn’t sleep well.  Given his druthers he probably wouldn’t have slept at all, spending the night parked next to Admiral Nelson’s bunk in Sick Bay.  Chip’s unsubtle reminder of his still somewhat tenuous status with the other senior officers kept him in his own bunk.  But instead of sleeping straight through the night, as was his habit, he awakened several times.  Each time it was to a feeling of discord – of thoughts that somewhere along the line, he was missing some very important piece of the puzzle that this whole cruise had become.  He’d lay awake, letting everything go through his mind but never coming up with any answers, until he’d finally fall back to sleep, only to wake up again shortly after and start the process all over again.  Finally, when he awakened just before 0500 he got up, showered, shaved and dressed as quietly as he could so as not to disturb his light-sleeping XO next door, and headed for a quick check on the Conn before continuing on to Sick Bay.  He needn’t have bothered trying to be quiet – just as he came out of his cabin door, Chip was exiting his own.  Their identical sheepish expressions and shrugged shoulders caused broad smiles and, without a word being spoken, they headed toward the spiral stairs.


Lt. Keeter glanced at his watch as the two came down into the Control Room but he kept his expression neutral.  Actually, he was a bit surprised that this was the first he’d seen of them all night, what with everything that had been happening.  But he calmly ran through the boat’s status with Mr. Morton, the Skipper listening attentively, before the two senior officers headed aft.  The Exec had indicated breakfast, but Keeter was fairly certain that their first stop would be Sick Bay.


When he’d first come aboard Seaview he’d had a few momentary concerns about the relationships aboard.  Navy to a fault, he’d never stayed on one boat long enough to make the kinds of friendships he found existed here, and wasn’t sure if it was such a good idea.  The Navy moved people around for a reason – so that relationships didn’t get in the way of performance, for one thing.  But it hadn’t taken him long to understand that, for whatever reason, on Seaview that wasn’t an issue.  In fact, if anything, the friendships between the top three officers bonded them into a fighting unit that nothing the world had so far thrown at them had made so much as a dent, let alone caused any kind of problem.  And the rest of the crew was almost that cohesive, bonded with each other, and by their total devotion to the three senior officers, and especially to Crane.  Keeter had just shaken his head, and thanked whatever lucky star had landed him in the best assignment he could ever hope to have.


Lee was just reaching for the handle to Sick Bay’s door when someone clearing his throat – rather loudly – stopped the motion, and caused both him and Chip to turn.  Doc was standing at the corner of the passageway, hands on hips.


“We were just going to make a quick check on the Admiral before hitting the Wardroom,” Chip explained.


Will looked at his watch, and Lee took a surreptitious glance at his own – 0540.  Normally he’d just be waking up.  Oops. 


Will gave both younger men a stern look.  “Suppose you let me do it first – without you two hovering over my shoulder,” he added emphatically.   He held up a hand as Chip started to say something.  “John would have called me instantly if there had been any change.  Since he didn’t, I’m going to assume that there’s no reason you two can’t go have a leisurely breakfast.”  He knew he was pushing it, and was somewhat surprised when both men turned and walked past him on the way to the Wardroom.  Waiting until they were beyond the next corner, Will finally let out the soft chuckle he’d been holding back.  “That’s two, Will,” he acknowledged softly.  “Last night and now this.  Have a feeling that’s about the end of their patience and my persuasiveness – at least for awhile,” and he finally entered Sick Bay.


His first glance was toward the still apparently sleeping Admiral.


“Just checked him, Doc,” came from the small office, and Will took the couple steps to the door, finding John staring at the computer screen.


“Have you been at that all night?”


The corpsman gave him a sheepish glance, nodding.  “Been checking the Admiral every half hour to forty-five minutes.  He was restless for a bit not too long after you left last night.  Almost called you.  But then he settled down again and has been sleeping quietly.”


“You haven’t tried to wake him?” Will asked, pouring himself a cup of coffee from the small pot he usually kept going in his office.  It wasn’t quite the powerful sludge Cookie served up first thing in the morning.  But one sip told him John had still made it plenty strong.  And probably several hours ago, he thought to himself as the bitter fluid went down his throat.


“Didn’t seem to be a reason, Doc.  His vitals stayed normal.  He’d flinch if I touched him too hard.  Since you didn’t say anything, either verbally or on his chart, I figured it was just best to let him sleep.” 


Will rubbed a hand over the back of his neck distractedly, then nodded toward the computer.  “Find anything?”


“Ah, sort of,” John answered, almost bashfully.  “Not sure if it was what you were thinking about, though.”  He handed Will a computer printout that it took the doctor a few minutes to decipher.  The words ‘Mercy General Hospital, Detroit’ finally sprang out at him, and he gave John an incredulous look.


“From that incident where the Skipper was all but paralyzed?” *


“Told you it didn’t make any sense.  But those are the first readings the hospital got.  Even when they re-did them only a few days later the residuals had already morphed into a whole different reading, and a lot weaker one because the drugs were already being washed out of the Skipper’s system.  But the first ones, the ones on that sheet that you got along with the rest of the hospital records….  Well, there are definite similarities.  Actually…”  He hesitated again, until Will looked up from the papers at him.  “If you compare that sheet to the toxicology report on Dr. Anderman, well…”  John gave him a worried look.  “The residuals match even closer than that does to the Admiral’s last one.”


“But that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”


“What doesn’t?” came from the doorway, and Will turned to find both Chip and Lee standing there, coffee mugs in hand.


Will scowled worse than he had been over the lab reports.  “Could have sworn I got rid of you two for awhile.”


“Cookie’s making blueberry pancakes and the batter wasn’t quite ready,” Chip answered.  Lee slapped the bulkhead and Chip got back on track.  “What doesn’t make sense?” he repeated, enunciating carefully and staring hard at Doc.


“Just chill for a few minutes,” Will snarled right back, and hurried over to check on Nelson.


Five minutes later he started to breathe easier, until then not even realizing he’d barely been breathing in the first place.  While still acting sleepy and somewhat disoriented, the Admiral had responded instantly to stimuli, and had roused enough to follow Will’s commands to move his arms and legs.  Will quickly drew another blood sample and sent John off to run it through the lab, tucked Nelson back under the covers, and finally turned to the two worried officers.


“I had John spend some time going back over some of the old lab results from previous cases,” he started his explanation.  “Something that I saw in the Admiral’s blood work was ringing little bells.”


“Yeah, so…”  The impatience in Chip’s voice was also written all too plainly on Lee’s face.  Despite his worry, Jamie almost smiled at the way Chip was so clearly articulating Lee’s concerns.  That ability to almost read each other’s minds had saved the boat on more than one occasion.  And he had to admit, it was sure a timesaver given Lee’s current condition.


“So,” Will sighed heavily, “what we were just discovering is that there are similarities – nothing concrete, mind you, just markers at this point – between Nelson’s blood samples, Dr. Anderman’s first ones, right after the stroke…”  He hesitated, knowing the explosion his next comment was going to cause.  “And the initial blood work results from the Skipper’s run-in with those guys in Detroit.”


The black looks that the other two men gave him, as well as each other, made him hurry on with his explanation.  “It has to be some weird sort of coincidence.  There’s no way it could be connected.  That’s why I was saying it doesn’t make any sense.”  He knew he wasn’t having much of an effect when Lee’s fist clenched.  “Don’t Hit!” Will commanded firmly, and was rewarded as Lee’s dangerous look changed to nothing more serious than a scowl, and Chip actually grinned – albeit briefly.  “Now go eat your breakfast.  I have a feeling I’m going to need all the strength, at least of character, that you two can provide to help me keep him,” and he nodded toward Nelson’s bunk, “from deciding he can go back to a full schedule just as soon as he’s totally awake.”  He realized his mistake as soon as he noticed Lee’s expression start to turn dark again.  “And maybe he’ll be able to – not saying otherwise at this point,” he said quickly, trying to defuse his temperamental, and worried, Skipper.


That had been something it had taken Will a little while to get used to.  The realization that Seaview’s way-too-young-looking Captain was nonetheless perfect for the position had come quickly.  A few of the submarine’s zanier missions had firmly sealed in the doctor’s mind just how knowledgeable, how emotionally stable, how totally under control Lee kept himself, and how far that went to keeping the crew calm and under control as well.  It was, therefore, a big surprise to Will the first time he was witness to a startling, but happily short-lived, example of Lee’s volatile temper.  It never lasted long; it was always self-directed – Lee never allowed himself to take his anger out on another person.  Even his occasional tirades at his, as far as he was concerned, over protective CMO were carried out under control and without vindictiveness.  But on several occasions Will had had to tape up a hand – and in one memorable case a foot – that had, in a moment of frustration, connected with a surface much harder than itself.  Hence his earlier comment about not hitting.  Will hid a slight grin as he watched Lee, and Chip as well, take deep breaths and give him a nod.  He did flinch when Lee snaked out a hand toward the doorframe.  But it quickly became evident that he was merely going to rap out a message of some sort to Chip.


When Lee finished, Chip turned to Doc.  “He just said he’s giving serious consideration to turning around and heading home.”


Will nodded.  “You won’t get an argument from me.  Him,” and he once again nodded toward Nelson, “may have a thing or two to say about it, however.”


Chip chuckled at Lee’s instantly tapped out response, accompanied by a decidedly determined expression.  “He says ‘let him’,” Chip translated for Doc.


“On your head be it,” Will responded.  “Now, be gone, both of you,” he added firmly, and smiled at their departing backs before returning to his own puzzle.


* * * *


The entire Control Room crew knew something was in the wind as soon as their two senior officers entered the aft hatch.  Lee strode purposively to the chart table instead of wandering past all the duty stations as he usually did first thing in the morning.  And while there was nothing unusual about Chip’s walking up to Keeter and getting the current status report verbally, the low conversation they had immediately afterward was definitely not the norm.  The two spoke for a couple minutes before both turned to Lee, who was quickly jotting notes on a clipboard.  Then Chip turned to the crew, not bothering with the mic.


“Men, the Admiral is enough under the weather that the Skipper has decided to abort this cruise and return home,” he sent a quick grin Lee’s way, “even though we both feel that Admiral Nelson isn’t going to be overly happy about this decision…”  There were quick smiles on all the men’s faces – just as Lee and Chip had planned it, to thwart the instant worry that would set in at the announcement of the Admiral’s illness.  “Lieutenant,” Chip continued to Keeter, “please lay in the course the Skipper is plotting.  I’m going to go inform our guest of the change in plans, then I’ll be back to take the Conn.”


“Aye, aye, sir,” Keeter responded instantly.  He looked more carefully at the notes Lee had written, and started giving the commands that would turn the submarine around as Chip headed up the spiral stairs.


Lee was leaning casually against the chart table, enjoying watching his well-trained crew maneuver the boat smoothly and efficiently, when steps on the stairs announced Chip’s return.  But he was totally unprepared for what happened next.


As Chip hit the bottom step he called out, “Helmsman, all stop,” and Lee turned instantly to glare at him, noting that Shinera had followed Chip down.  Lee ignored the big man for the moment as the flat of his hand smacked the top of the chart table, demanding an instant explanation from his XO for the change in his orders.  The answer came instead from Shinera as he stepped out from behind Chip, a .9 mm Beretta now visible in his right hand.  Chip mouthed a “sorry,” to his superior officer, and friend.


“What’s the meaning of this?” Lee demanded.  After all the days of non-use, his voice sounded rough and unsteady.  But it still crackled with rage in the sudden silence of the Control Room.


“Lee…” Chip started to admonish.  But an instant poke in the back from the gun’s muzzle stopped anything further from coming out.


At the word Lee had given his hand a flip to wave off what he knew was Chip’s concern for his speaking.  But his eyes never left Shinera’s.  “What’s going on?” he demanded again, his voice a bit more under control.


Shinera smiled; the first Lee had seen him do it, and it did nothing to ease the tension in the room.  “Why, Captain, exactly what’s been going on since I planned this whole operation.”  Gone were the clipped speech patterns of someone who had appeared to have learned English as a second language, and who used no more words than was actually necessary.  It was replaced by the expansive articulation of a man in total control of the situation.  “I’m just, as it turns out, going to have to play a more active role, a few hours earlier than I’d planned.  I hadn’t expected you to take matters into your own hands and return to port without the admiral’s okay.  No matter.”  He waved off that small problem with a flick of his left hand.  “First things first, however.  Tell your radioman,” the voice, while still conversational, now had an implicit order attached to it, “to turn off his equipment and come up front, next to Mr. Morton.”


Lee met the steeliness in Shinera’s gaze with that quality in his own, but raised his voice slightly.  “Sparks, shut down all but interboat communications and come forward.”


“I said the whole thing,” Shinera demanded.


“This is a big boat, Shinera, and we can’t control everything from here.  If there’s a problem we need to know about it instantly, or you could find yourself dead on the bottom.  Then where would all your plans go?”  With use, Lee’s voice was returning to its usual calm authoritativeness.  He could almost feel the consternation from the duty crew that he was using his voice, knowing that they all knew the consequences if he didn’t heal correctly.  But he had more pressing issues to deal with at the moment.


Shinera seemed to consider that for a moment, the gun remaining firmly planted in Chip’s back as he looked toward the radio shack.  Nothing more was said until Lee felt Sparks come to stand behind his left shoulder.


“As you ordered, sir,” the radioman said softly.


Lee almost imperceptibly nodded.  “What is it you want, Shinera?”


“All in good time, Captain.  Put the boat back on its original heading.  And no funny business, or your XO will pay the ultimate price.”  He gave the blond a shove in the back with the barrel of the gun to emphasize his point.


“Lt. Keeter,” Lee said softly, “I believe you have the Conn.”  His eyes never left Shinera’s face.


“Aye, aye, sir,” Keeter responded.  He reached for the navigation clipboard and gave orders to put the submarine back on its original heading before Lee had decided to turn around.  Lee did finally glance around the Conn.  While all the duty crew were stiff with anger and indignation – and worry, Lee was sure – they were all dutifully manning their equipment.  Lee knew that their attention was somewhat divided, wanting also to keep track of Shinera and what was happening.  Lee wasn’t going to quibble about the occasional quick glances they were taking from their stations toward the nose.  Given the circumstances, there were probably more hazards to watch out for inside the boat than out.


“You,” Shinera gestured with the weapon at Sparks as he pulled out a chair from the table in the nose, “sit here.”  The chair was turned so that Sparks sat facing the Conn, his back to the table.  Just then steps sounded on the spiral stairs and Lt. James hurried down, only to stop dead at the final turn when he realized things weren’t exactly as they were supposed to be.


“You’re late, Lieutenant,” Lee said sternly.  James jumped perceptibly at the sound of Lee’s voice, and finished walking down the stairs.


“Sorry, sir.  No excuse, sir,” he managed to get out nervously.  Actually he was nearly an hour early for his shift.  He liked to be all settled in before the watch officially changed at 0800.  But he wasn’t about to open his mouth unnecessarily until he knew more about what he’d landed in the middle of, and the automatic response to the quiet reprimand had seemed the safest bet.


Lee merely nodded, his expression a mild frown.  But inwardly he gave the young officer immense credit for quick thinking.  The instant Chris appeared, Lee had realized that within all too short a time “A” watch would start filtering in to the Conn.  From where it came Lee could never later be sure, but he suddenly got the idea that if he could plant in Shinera’s mind the idea that the day watch was already in place, that just might somehow lead the man to thinking he had more time to do whatever he was planning than was actually the case.  Lee prayed that the young lieutenant would continue to display the same vein of intelligence.


“It’s so hard to find good help these days, isn’t it, Captain?” Shinera smirked.  “Perhaps I should help you teach this one a few lessons.”  He nodded toward James, still standing at attention at the base of the stairs.


“Mr. Morton handles most disciplinary problems aboard,” Lee answered, almost casually.


“Ah.”  The soft drumming of fingers on the tabletop, where Chip was standing, interrupted the quiet.  Shinera immediately noticed.  “That thought appears to have suddenly made him nervous.”


“Not really,” Lee observed as good-naturedly as he could make himself appear.  “He always does that when he’s thinking.  We all tend to, for some reason.  I’m sure he’s just pondering possible discipline.”  Lee very carefully kept his face and body posture neutral.


Chip wasn’t nervous.  He was tapping out, over and over to make sure Lee noticed, Lee, Lee, Lee.  At Lee’s seemingly off-handed comment, the tempo changed.  You have a plan?


Lee wasn’t sure.  He’d noticed Sparks immediately pick up on the Morse.  His own hands were at his side, where they’d gone the instant he’d spotted Shinera’s weapon.  He needed to buy some time, to stall until something came to him.  “Will you at least explain what this,” he waved his right hand toward where Shinera stood, his gun still pointed at Chip, “is all about?”  He let his hand fall seemingly casually onto the chart table, nonchalantly fingering his graph pencil.


Once again Shinera smiled, and once again the look sent shivers up Lee’s spine.  “I was hoping Anderman’s big mouth hadn’t spoiled my little surprise.”  At Lee’s look of total puzzlement he continued.  “You really don’t remember being in the area of the supposed test drilling before?  Oh, say, not quite three years ago?


Lee’s answer was interrupted by the intercom.  “Sick Bay to the Conn.  Will you ask Capt. Crane to come down here, please?” came in Doc’s voice.  Lee started to reach for the mic.


“Be very careful, Captain,” Shinera warned.  “While they do say ‘the more, the merrier’, I think there’s quite enough people at this little party of mine.”


Lee looked at Keeter.  “Please send my regrets to the doctor, and tell him I’m a little busy right at the moment.”  He was pleased when Keeter instantly gave him a formal “Aye, aye, sir,” and repeated his message verbatim, clicking off the mic immediately afterward.  Good man.  Lee sent the lieutenant a wink that, with his head turned, he knew Shinera couldn’t see.  The almost imperceptible nod he got in return told him Keeter was, like James, following Lee’s lead.


Lee turned back to Shinera.  “Seaview’s been so many places.  What makes that location so special?”


“I thought surely you’d remember the spot where you tried to kill your precious Admiral Nelson.”


* * * *


Will was getting more confused by the minute, pondering the peculiarities, and similarities, of the various blood work results in front of him.  He’d just about thrown in the towel, choosing to wait until the current labs on Admiral Nelson were back before tackling the whole mess once again, when John sputtered something from where he sat, staring at the computer screen.  “What’s wrong, John?”


“You ain’t gonna believe this, Doc.”


“Believe what?”  He walked the couple steps it took to stand behind his corpsman, and looked at the computer screen himself.”


“We have been here before,” was all John said, and watched as Will digested what he was reading.  John knew exactly the point where the doctor figured it out, as he reached immediately for the mic.


They ended up looking at each other somewhat blankly when Keeter delivered Lee’s response.  Lee was rarely that formal with the doctor.  It especially didn’t make any sense, with Admiral Nelson a patient, that Lee wouldn’t want to know what was happening.  And both men had noticed Seaview turn, stop, then turn again.  “Wonder what that’s all about,” John finally said quietly.


“Not sure.  But I’m going to go find out.  You stay with the Admiral.  Frank should be here shortly.  If I’m not back by the time the newest labs are back, bring them up to me.”  He picked up the sheets of paper he’d so recently tossed down in disgust and headed forward, John’s “Aye, aye,” sounding at his back.


* * * *


“The Angler,” Lee barely breathed, as all the memories suddenly flooded back. **   “The doctor, the man responsible for the drug I was given, his name…”  Lee didn’t finish.


Shinera did it for him.  “Was Shinera.  My uncle.  Your Admiral killed him when he switched the water supply hose.”


“After he killed over 100 men aboard the Angler,” Lee practically yelled, then coughed as his throat objected to the abuse.


“Lee, you shouldn’t be talking,” Chip said carefully, very aware of the gun still trained on him.  “You’re going to permanently injure your throat.”


Lee had himself back under tight control by then, and he answered calmly.  “It isn’t going to make a difference.  He’s planning to kill us all anyway.”  He nodded toward Shinera.


“My, my, Captain,” Shinera said, almost amiably.  “Such a pessimist.”  He smiled his chilling smile again.  “I do have to admit that that thought did cross my mind.  But I actually came up with a much better idea.”  The measured look he gave Lee was even more chilling than the smile he’d been using.  “I was eventually given access to my uncle’s research notes.  They were retrieved once my government was notified of your interference.  One man lived long enough to get a message out.”


“Knew I should have taken out that whole island with a nuclear warhead,” Chip muttered.  The first chink in Shinera’s armor of control appeared as he angrily cold-cocked the blond with the pistol, sending Chip sprawling to the deck.  Into the sudden silence Lee became aware of a soft tapping, and traced it to Sparks.


Notified Security before I came forward, was being tapped out carefully.


Lee had instinctively blurted out “Chip,” as his friend went down and took a step forward, only to be waved back by the Beretta.  He continued to focus on the felled man even as his mind processed this new piece of information.  If the Master-At-Arms had been notified…  Oh please, Chief Hauck, be very careful, he silently pleaded with the MAA.  Lee had little fear for himself.  But Shinera was already using Chip and Sparks as shields.  Lee knew they’d be the first men down.  Lee set himself to do whatever it took to protect his men.


“I’ll live,” came groggily from the deck, interrupting Lee’s train of thought.


“It remains to be seen for how long,” Shinera muttered.


“So you’re after the Admiral.”  Lee tried to get Shinera’s focus back on himself.  He was somewhat baffled that the bits of Morse had yet to be picked up by the big man, but wasn’t one to look that particular gift horse in the mouth.  However, it came to him – almost unbidden – that he couldn’t remember ever using Morse when Shinera was around.  Even in the Wardroom he’d automatically used the clipboard.  “Thought you had a better idea than killing us all.  You won’t mind then if I have Seaman Kowalski,” he motioned toward the rating, manning the sonar station, “check my slightly impetuous Exec.  Ski’s had first aid training.”


Shinera seemed to ponder that suggestion for a moment, but eventually gave a flip of his left hand.  Taking that as a sign of acquiescence, Lee motioned Ski forward, at the same time telling Lt. James quietly to take over at sonar.  He started to reach down to open one of the storage areas under the chart table but was stopped by a growl from Shinera.  Lee just looked at him.  “There’s a first aid kit under here,” he explained.


“The seaman will retrieve it, and lay it open on the table in front of me,” Shinera ordered, and Lee backed up a step to allow Kowalski to comply.  Once Shinera had examined the contents, and confiscated the couple pairs of scissors he found, Kowalski was allowed to kneel down and check out his fallen XO.


Lee got back to distracting Shinera.  “You were saying?  About finding your uncle’s notes.”


Shinera nodded.  “But I quickly realized that while my uncle was on the right track with his experiments, he was taking the wrong tack.  Anger only begets more anger.  Sometimes that’s going to work, but in the long run there are too many ways it can be turned in the wrong direction or overcome by logic.  As in the case of you and Nelson.  By the way, what exactly happened to General Tau?”  Shinera seemed genuinely curious.  “He was never found.”


“The surveillance cameras didn’t catch him disappearing into the quicksand?”  Lee only had vague memories of what had happened on the island once he was fed Dr. Shinera’s anger-producing drug.  But he did remember all the cameras.  And Admiral Nelson had told him most of what had happened.  Lee suspected the Admiral of holding a few things back, to save Lee further embarrassment and trauma over what he had tried to do.


“Unfortunately, once the compound was contaminated and the remaining men turned on each other, almost everything was destroyed.”  Shinera shrugged.  “Apparently they deemed paper to be too insignificant to bother with, thankfully.  That’s why the reports and research notes survived.”  Once again the evil grin appeared.  “I’ve always found quicksand to be such an oxymoron, haven’t you, Captain?  It’s usually such a slow way to die.”


Lee wasn’t in the mood for that discussion.  “You’ve changed your mind about blaming the Admiral?” he asked instead.


“Oh, no.” Shinera responded promptly.  “Just found a better way to get even.”  He settled a hip on the back corner of the table.  Chip still hadn’t actually moved, and Lee shuddered slightly to realize that the gun was now trained on his friend’s head.


“Ski?” Lee asked softly.


The rating had quickly taken Chip’s pulse, then checked his eyes with a small flashlight.  “Seems to be just stunned, Skipper,” Kowalski answered promptly.  “His pulse is strong and steady, but he’s pretty well out of it.”


“Stay with him,” Lee ordered, but was immediately overruled.


“I don’t think so, Captain.”  Shinera motioned Ski back to his station.  Ski looked at Lee, who could only nod and watch as the rating closed the first aid kit, used it as a pillow for Chip’s head, and returned to his station.  James started to give him back his chair, but Lee stopped the motion by a clearing of his throat.


“You can use the practice,” Lee told the lieutenant, not unkindly, and Kowalski took up a position next to him.  While Lee had been talking to Shinera, when Ski first knelt next to Chip, Lee had noticed a very brief interchange between the two.  Chip had used a finger on the hand closest to his body, out of Shinera’s view, to tap out something silently to Kowalski, and Ski used the pretext of checking Chip’s carotid pulse to tap out something on Chip’s neck.  Lee had had to keep Shinera’s attention on himself and had just noticed the exchange, not the message itself.  But he felt a need to leave the rating free at this point to move quickly, if for no other reason than Kowalski was one of the more aggressive, fearless fighters on the boat.  


But first things first, and he got back to keeping Shinera’s attention on himself.  “How’s that?” Lee asked, returning to the topic of Shinera’s revenge on the Admiral.  Then almost immediately had the answer himself.  “You gave him something.”  Lee’s voice had turned hard again.  “You’re trying to destroy his mind.”


“The one thing that sets Nelson apart from most of the rest of the world.  His Nobel winning intelligence; now reduced to mush.  Rather fitting, don’t you thing?”  Shinera was obviously pleased with himself.


Lee was furious, and it manifested itself in the pencil in his hand being snapped in two.  The sound seemed to draw Lee back into some semblance of control.  “Dr. Anderman?” he asked.


Shinera shrugged.  “A slight miscalculation on my part.  I needed him, or rather his research, to get me aboard Seaview with minimal security clearances.  To do that I needed to control him.  Do you have any idea how frustrating it was to me, to go to all that work, then have you nearly miss the cruise?  I had to give Anderman a rather hastily revised formula of what I’d been using.”  He shrugged again.  “Obviously I need to do further studies.”


“You caused his stroke.”  It wasn’t a question.


“Either that, or he was headed for one anyway and I just hurried it along.  I suppose I’ll never know.”  Lee felt sick at the thought of Admiral Nelson spending the rest of his life as an indecisive shell of his former shelf.  He felt even sicker at Shinera’s next words.  “I won’t make the same mistake with you.  You messed up my research one time.  It won’t happen again.”


And Lee knew.  And watched Shinera grin as he realized Lee had put the pieces together.  “Bracken’s doctor,” came out so softly he wasn’t sure it had even come out at all.  This time both hands landed on the chart table, and it was no ruse that he needed them to keep himself from shaking so badly that his knees threatened to collapse.


* * * *


Will had built up a pretty good head of steam by the time he rounded the last corner before the aft hatch to the Control Room.  He was perfectly aware that it was about half and half worry and frustration:  worry for Admiral Nelson’s continued health, and frustration that he, the CMO, didn’t seem to be capable of doing anything to improve it.  But he was also aware that Captain Crane was a perfectly safe target for his frustrations, as he was for the Captain’s.  It got extremely loud at times, to the amusement of the rest of the crew.  But both men were comfortable with the arrangement, neither took it personally – at least most of the time – and each knew that they could use the other as the occasional pressure valve.  Right now Will was in definite need of letting off some steam.


His progress – and his train of thought – was halted immediately by finding three heavily armed crewmen standing just outside the hatch.  One of them was the MAA; the other two were members of his Security team, seamen Jackson and Monroe.  Chief Hauck left his two men and walked quietly back to where Will had stopped.


“Got a problem, Doc,” he said, and motioned Will back around the corner.  “That guy, Shinera, has a gun and is holding the Command crew hostage.”  At Will’s upraised eyebrows, Hauck just shrugged.  “Not sure.  Sparks alerted us to a problem, but then he was ordered to turn off all but the interboat com and go sit in the nose.  Mr. Morton’s there, too.  We can’t hear much of the conversation, but Mr. Morton’s on the deck.  Shinera whacked him on the head with the pistol a few minutes ago.”  Will made a move to go forward, but Hauck stopped him.  “Can’t let you go in there, Doc.” 


“Just try and stop me,” Will threatened darkly, but all it did was cause Hauck to give him a quick grin, before once again getting serious.


“The Skipper got permission for Ski to check out Mr. Morton.  Apparently he’s not too bad because Ski’s gone back to his station.  Right now, we don’t think the guy’s aware that anyone else on the boat knows there’s a problem.  We’d sort of like to keep it that way.”


“Then letting me barge in, on the pretext of speaking to the Skipper as I’d originally intended, is the perfect way to do that.”


Hauck couldn’t find fault with Will’s logic, but he also knew where his responsibilities – and priorities – lay.  “Sorry, Doc.  But you’re pretty much the last person aboard who we’d risk getting caught up in this mess.  Too many chances that we’ll need you later.”


Doc glared at the MAA but, not having a ready answer, finally dropped his defiant stance.  “Just keep me posted as best you can?” he asked.  At Hauck’s nod, he headed back the way he’d come.


* * * *


Lee was firmly convinced he’d just entered Hell.  At least his own personal version.  All the old memories of that fateful ONI mission to Detroit and the aftermath, leading to the mountainous chase that ended with Bracken’s death, hit Lee with a sickening thud in the pit of his stomach.  But after his initial shock, and Shinera’s obvious delight over it, he took a couple deep breaths and did the best he could to get himself back under control.  He glanced around the Conn, checking everyone else’s reaction to this new piece of information.  He knew that when he had first been brought home from Detroit the entire crew had been all set to form a lynch mob, if they’d only known who to go after.  Now he detected anger on every face his eyes touched.  Kowalski, always first to come to his Skipper’s defense, was looking positively murderous.  But Lee noticed something else: the rating was looking not toward Shinera, but at the big man’s feet.  A quick flick of eyes gave Lee a view of Chip’s finger tapping lightly on the deck.  Not wanting to give anything away to Shinera, Lee purposely didn’t try to figure out what message was being passed, and made sure he kept Shinera’s attention on himself.  He did, however, try a bit of flippancy to defuse the suddenly crackling atmosphere around him.  “You need to choose a better class of friends.”


Shinera chuckled.  “Bracken was an arrogant idiot, to be sure.  But he had his uses.”


“However did the two of you make connections?”  Lee didn’t particularly care, but he had to stall for time.  It had worked once before, on a foggy mountaintop.  And now, like then, he needed time to get himself prepared for whatever was about to happen.  A part of him – that part that ONI always seemed to be able to connect with – was also telling him that by getting Shinera to talk, he might make the man say something inadvertently that could help Naval Intelligence with ongoing investigations.


Shinera continued to rest a hip on the table but his gun never wavered from Chip’s head.  “A friend was involved in legitimate export business with Bracken’s father.  I ran into the two of them one day, quite by accident, and ended up having dinner with them.”  Shinera chuckled, and again Lee was struck by what an unpleasant sound it was.  “Something in Bracken’s manner set me to wandering about him, so I had him checked out.  Put him in touch with a couple other friends…”  He stopped and shrugged.  “They were doing a nice little business when all of a sudden the whole bunch of them – minus Bracken – were suddenly gone.  Off the map.  Just up and disappeared.  Nobody I talked to knew a thing.  Bracken was furious.”  Shinera grinned.


Lee continued to focus his attention on Shinera, trusting his well-trained crew, whatever else they were planning behind Shinera’s back, to man their stations faithfully as Seaview continued on toward the supposed drilling site.  “So I discovered,” he responded as casually as he could manage.


“Bracken had contacts in the Intelligence community…”


“Discovered that, too,” Lee grumbled, causing Shinera to laugh outright.


“He just about came unglued when he discovered that the person he blamed for getting him expelled from Annapolis was responsible for putting a sizeable dent in his operations.”


“Annapolis wasn’t my doing,” Lee disagreed.  “He managed that rather nicely all on his own.”


Shinera waved the hand unencumbered with a weapon.  “Like I said, I’d had him checked out.  However,” and his voice turned hard, “we got to comparing notes.  Wonder of wonders,” Shinera glared at Lee, “turns out his nemesis was one of mine as well!”


“Always happy to oblige,” Lee said lightly, and watched his needle hit home.  The barrel of Shinera’s gun changed direction momentarily, more toward Lee, before settling again on the blond head at his feet.  As Lee watched, a suddenly stiff Shinera got himself back under control.


“Yes, so obliging of you to walk right into our little trap.”


“Detroit.”  Lee sighed heavily.


“Precisely.  Bracken laid a few clues in the right places and, as he figured, you got the assignment.”  Shinera smiled smugly.


“But it didn’t quite turn out the way you’d planned, did it?”  Lee gave a small smile of his own.


Shinera glared at him.  “How far are we from our destination?” he demanded.


Lee didn’t bother checking himself.  “Lt. Keeter?” he asked softly.


“ETA four hours forty-five minutes, Skipper, at our present speed,” was the almost instant reply.


“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Lee said with much more ease than he was actually feeling,  “So, Shinera, what happens when we get there?”


Shinera didn’t answer immediately, but instead took the time to let his gaze wander around the Control Room.  “You have a remarkably well-trained crew, Crane.”


“Thank you.”  Lee wasn’t at all sure where this was going, but he tried to keep that fact out of both his voice and expression as once again he noticed what appeared to be covert communications passing amongst his crew – this time with Sparks as the instigator.


“I admit to a bit of envy,” Shinera went on.  “You give an order, and it gets carried out swiftly and efficiently.”


“A little unhappy with Bracken’s results?” Lee asked lightly.


Shinera leveled a hard look, as well as the gun barrel, in Lee’s direction.  “Not only does he mess up the assignment, he can’t even retrieve you, barely walking at the time, properly.  If you hadn’t killed him, I would have.”


It was Lee’s turn to shrug slightly.  “You have to take partial blame for the problem, since the drugs he used in Detroit didn’t have the desired effect.”


Shinera’s look hardened further, as well as his voice.  “If that incompetent idiot had administered them correctly you’d be dust by now.”  But suddenly the smile that wasn’t was back.  “However, that actually turns out to work in my favor.  This way, I get my revenge on Nelson as well.”  His triumphant expression stuck another knife in Lee’s gut and twisted.  And it didn’t get any better as Shinera continued.  “I also get you as my guinea pig.  Since you’ve proven so resilient, I have all sorts of interesting concoctions in mind to test on you.”  Shinera’s dazzling smile once again threatened to buckle Lee’s knees.


* * * *


Will’s mind was still on the accumulation of facts and assumptions he’d been hit with in the last half hour as he re-entered Sick Bay.  But he was immediately brought back to the present by finding John in gentle argument with an awake – and obviously agitated – Admiral.  “What’s going on here,” the CMO demanded, walking over and helping the corpsman push Nelson’s shoulders back down on the pillow.”  Both John and Nelson tried speaking at the same time, and Will closed his eyes as he commanded firmly, “Stop!”  He gave John a quick nod and the corpsman moved aside, letting Will sit on the edge of the bunk.  “Now, Admiral, quit badgering my corpsman,” he tried a teasing approach, at the same time trying to evaluate his patient.


Nelson pushed himself up on his elbows with a glint in his eye that Will was glad was usually directed in someone else’s direction.  He was, however, happy to see its return.  Much better than the befuddlement he’d been gearing himself up for.  “What am I doing in Sick Bay?” came with a menacing quality to Nelson’s voice, matching the fire in his eyes.


Will tried to keep a slight smile both on his face and in his voice.  “Because the last 24 hours have apparently been affecting you in ways neither of us realized…”  As Nelson tried to pass that off with a wave of his hand, Will added a bit more steel to his posture.  “Culminating in finding you passed out in your cabin last night,” he finished.


“What?” Nelson demanded, this time managing to sit up before Will could stop him.  “I don’t remember that.”


“Which is also, obviously, why you don’t remember being brought down here,” Will snapped back waspishly.  At the look Nelson shot him for that particular tone of voice, Will smiled softly.  “Just cool your heels for a couple minutes and I’ll fill you in.”


Nelson was still stiff with indignation but sat quietly – for the most part – while Will explained the drug connections, and assumptions that he’d made.  He thought Nelson was going to blow a gasket when he mentioned that Lee had planned to abort the mission because of Nelson’s apparent illness, and hurried on with his explanations of what he knew of the present goings on in the Control Room.  At that, Nelson did explode.


“Damn.  Why didn’t I put it together?  That incident after the Angler?  Shinera was the name of the guy who concocted the drugs Lee ingested.”  Will muttered something decidedly impolite, then had to again restrain Nelson from getting up.  In the face of one of Nelson’s most menacing glares, he raised a hand.


“Admiral, just give me a couple minutes.  Okay?  You spent part of yesterday uncertain, hesitant, and indecisive, culminating in what I originally took to be a drunken stupor.  We can assume that it was somehow caused by Shinera slipping you something…”


“But I’m fine now,” Nelson nearly shouted.


“And we can thank our lucky stars…” both men had to smile briefly at that small pun, “that the man obviously still can’t get his formulas right.  Although…” he paused, “you might not have gotten a complete dose.”  Nelson raised an eyebrow.  “As I was leaving here last night, Shinera was just trying to come in.  To check on you, he said.”


“Or to administer another dose of whatever he gave me.”  Nelson stopped as he noticed a decidedly uncomfortable expression cross the CMO’s face.


“If it hadn’t been for your Captain he’d have had easy access to you.”  When Nelson only raised an eyebrow, Will continued.  “I’m sorry, Admiral.  I took one look at the bottle on your desk, mentally chalked up your disorientation to a couple too many slugs from it to combat the absolutely rotten past couple days, and literally dumped you in bed.  If the Skipper hadn’t come totally unglued a few minutes later when I ran into him and told him how I’d found you and what I’d concluded, you’d have been completely at Shinera’s mercy.”  He raised an eyebrow himself as Nelson quickly covered a grin when he said ‘slugs’.  “I haven’t been able to get him to tell me how he knew I was so off base.”  He looked at Nelson expectantly.


But Nelson just waved him off.  “Right now we have more immediate problems.  Tell me specifically how I was acting last night.”  The two put their heads together and started forming a plan to get Seaview back under control.


* * * *


Lee took a couple deep breaths and then a quick glance around the Conn before once again facing Shinera.  “Just what happens when we reach your chosen destination?”


“Then, Captain, you and I will transfer by your Flying Sub to the submarine my people have waiting there.”


“Just like that,” Lee scoffed.  “You think I will just blithely go with you.” 


Shinera refused to be goaded.  “Actually, yes.  I have no doubts at all of your cooperation, once you understand the alternatives.”  His smile sent another chill down Lee’s spine.


“And they are?”  Lee hoped that he was the only one who noticed the note of uncertainty that had crept unbidden into those three words.


Apparently Shinera caught at least a bit of it, because his grin actually spread briefly to his eyes. “I have, over the last several days, distributed a number of incendiary devices around your submarine.  Positioned, I assure you, to quite effectively send Seaview to the bottom of the ocean.  Permanently!”  He let his gaze wander around the Conn before it settled back on Lee, and his grin turned even more menacing.  “Not at all how I would prefer this to end.  I want Nelson to be aware of what he’s lost.”  His look turned momentarily hard, before once again grinning.  “Besides, as I mentioned, I quite appreciate dedicated, well-trained, personnel.  My quarrel isn’t with your crew, Crane.”


“And if I cooperate?”  Lee could almost hear the collective sigh he knew swept quietly around the Conn as everyone present knew that Lee had just made the decision to once again put himself last.  He held in a grimace as, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Chip stiffen.  But he kept his focus on Shinera.


The big man’s grin had once again broadened.  “Once you and I are safely aboard the submarine I have waiting for us, I will radio back…I’m sure your Communications officer here will waste no time turning his equipment back on…”  He waved his free hand at Sparks, who turned slightly in Shinera’s direction.  “I will give him the location of the devices, and Seaview will be free to head home.”


It was Lee’s turn to grin.  “And what makes you think that once they disable the devices they won’t come after you?”


“Because, Crane, I am well aware of just how loyal your crew is to you.”


“All the more reason for them to be just a wee bit upset with you, don’t you think?”


“Your crew isn’t stupid, Crane.”  Shinera’s voice turned hard again.  “At the first sign of trouble you will be the first casualty.  While I would be somewhat unhappy to lose you, I’m not a fool.  As long as your crew does what they are told, they will at least know that you’re alive.  I also know how loyal you are to Nelson.  I also know how loyal everyone is to Nelson.  I’m sure that your crew will want to waste little time getting home, in hopes of finding a cure for your precious Admiral.”


Lee was just opening his mouth to respond when a commotion at the aft hatch drew his attention and he watched, stunned, as Admiral Nelson stumbled into the Control Room.


* * * *


Nelson knew he’d have only one chance to get this right.  He wasn’t even sure what ‘right’ was, but he’d cross that bridge when he came to it.  He’d quizzed Will while throwing on a Sick Bay robe, but the best description of his actions the previous evening was “stewed to the gills.”  He knew he’d let another small grin escape, remembering the CMO’s earlier comment about ‘one too many slugs from the bottle.’  While there was actually no reason to keep the explanation from Will, Nelson thought he understood Lee’s obvious reluctance to do so and, therefore, wouldn’t as well.


Chief Hauck hadn’t been idle in Will’s absence.  He’d had his men at the top of the spiral staircase drop a small camera and microphone just below the edge of the upper deck, where it could remain barely noticeable against the top of the stairs.  He quietly filled in the two older men on what had been happening, and the positions of all the players.  The doctor gave a momentary grumble at the fact that Lee was talking, but otherwise remained quiet.  As word of the devices Shinera had set came to light, Hauck was just preparing to set every available crewmember, by now awake and aware of the situation, to searching the boat.


“I do worry about Riley’s mindset, Admiral,” the MAA said with a small grin.  “He was standing here when Shinera mentioned the devices.  He had a decided gleam in his eye as he set off, already speculating on the first places to look.  Made me a bit uncomfortable, him being able to so easily think like a terrorist.”


Just then Hauck’s radio gave a soft beep and he answered it quietly, “Hauck.”


“Got one,” came Riley’s excited whisper.  “Inside the vent cover closest to the Circuitry Room.  Mickelson is disabling it.”


“Very good.  Carry on,” Hauck answered, then gave Nelson a speculative look.


“Just be very glad he’s on our side,” Nelson offered with a grin of his own, before getting serious again.  “You haven’t been able to decipher the messages you’ve realized were being passed back and forth by Morse?”


“Not really, sir.  We were focusing mostly on Shinera and the Skipper, and it was only by accident that we caught a piece of one Mr. Morton sent.  We’re not even sure who he was communicating with.  We think Sparks is in the loop, and Kowalski.  Possibly Lt. James.  We don’t know how many others.  We’re pretty sure the Skipper is aware that it’s happening but he’s been staying focused on Shinera, and making sure Shinera stays focused on him.  We don’t even think he’s spotted our equipment.”


“That would be a first,” Will muttered.  The other two looked at him quizzically and he continued.  “Something happening in the Control Room that he’s unaware of instantly.”  The statement caused momentary smiles from all of them.


“Chief, give me a pistol.”


“Are you sure, sir?  What if Shinera searches you?”


“It won’t get that far.  The first person I’ll encounter is Chief Sharkey, and I’ll pass the weapon to him.  At least that’s one more advantage for our side.”


“Aye, sir.  Jackson, give the Admiral your extra weapon.”  A small handgun was placed in Nelson’s hand and he quickly put it in the robe’s pocket.  “Although, the last thing we’d want is a shooting match in the Conn.”


“I’m sure Sharkey will be very careful where he aims it,” Nelson said dryly, and headed through the curtains that covered the aft hatch into the Control Room.


He was expecting a tense atmosphere as he purposely stumbled and staggered his way into the room, but the magnitude of it was literally palpable.  He felt that one more emotional spark – from anything – could ignite an inferno, and wondered for a brief second what the hidden microphone hadn’t picked up.  As he’d planned, his entrance brought an instant halt to whatever was going on, then instant reaction as Sharkey sputtered and reached for him.  Using the Chief’s body as a screen, he shoved the gun into one of the reaching hands before giving the startled man a quick wink and shoving him away, muttering nonsense as he continued an erratic course forward.  He was purposely not focusing his eyes on anything for more than a split second, but carefully taking in as much information as he could, including the fact that Sharkey, acting very nicely hesitant, walked forward a couple steps behind him.  Shinera appeared to be watching his performance with some amusement.  Not so Lee, who was openly shocked, and who met him alongside the periscope island, narrowly missing bowling into Kowalski to reach him.  Lee immediately halted Nelson’s progress, grasping him by both upper arms and holding him firm and steady, worry written plainly on his face.  As much as Nelson wanted to reassure his captain he dared not, this close to Shinera, risk showing his hand, and continued to play the part he’d elected for himself.  He unsteadily raised his head to look at the taller man, and gave him what he hoped Shinera would see as a drunken, drug-induced stare.


“Whatta you mean,” Nelson slurred out, “canshelling the mission.”  He half-heartedly struggled against Lee’s grip.


“Sir, you shouldn’t be here,” Lee tried to reason with him, all the while his mind in turmoil.  If the Control room entrances are indeed under guard, Nelson should not have been able to just amble in.  That means…  He gave Nelson a speculative look, knowing that, with his back to Shinera, the look wouldn’t be seen by anyone but crew.  Nelson’s expression didn’t change, but Lee thought that he recognized intenseness behind the otherwise slack features.


“It’s my boat, I can damn well be anywhere I wanna be,” Nelson growled.  “Answer me,” he demanded.  He again struggled to free himself, but dropped his eyes from Lee’s face and took a surreptitious look around.


“Problems, Captain?” came insultingly from the Nose.


Lee ignored the man and said loudly and slowly, as if he were actually speaking to someone whose senses were impaired, although he’d seen Nelson’s eyes dart around the Conn and was suddenly feeling a whole lot better, “Admiral, we are still on course for the drilling site.  ETA just over four hours.  Why don’t you sit down here,” and he pushed Nelson toward the steps on the periscope island.


But Nelson twisted free and continued his staggering walk forward, with now both Lee and Sharkey right behind.  Lee took a look at Shinera and was very pleased that he seemed to be totally buying the act.  The big man continued to sit casually with a hip on the table, a smile on his face.  Even the hand holding the gun seemed to relax slightly.


What happened next occurred so quickly that it was only when everyone sat down to put together the After Action Report that it all got sorted out.  Nelson had progressed as far as the chart table when Shinera’s gun started up, and Lee reached out as if to grab Nelson to keep him from going any further.  At the same time there was a shout – later identified as coming from Kowalski.  At the yell, Sparks’ arm came up and knocked Shinera’s arm further up and to the side, while at the same time Chip grabbed the metal first aid kit under his head and slammed it into Shinera’s knee.  Before Shinera could do more than give a startled yelp of surprise Sparks, Chip, and Kowalski were all on top of him.  Chip went for the gun hand and the gun went off, the bullet fortunately hitting the upper deck and doing no damage.  Even with Sparks and Kowalski on him, Shinera was strong enough to push Chip around and bring the gun back forward, toward where Lee and Nelson were standing by the chart table.  Lee had time to take only one step forward, protecting Nelson, before two more shots rang out.  Shinera’s did minimal damage to the top of the navigation computer.  Sharkey’s did maximum damage to Shinera.


At that point orders started flying in all directions to the point that Nelson almost, but not quite, couldn’t keep up.  Security personnel rushed in from both upstairs and aft hatch to secure Shinera.  As he was hauled away it was pretty obvious that Kowalski had expended a fair amount of frustration punching the big man’s face before Sharkey had finished him off.  Lee ordered Seaview halted and surfaced in case any of the bombs Shinera had set should go off before they were located.  Chip ordered Lt. Keeter to assist the crew searching the boat, and then had to explain to a puzzled Nelson Keeter’s earlier comments about having seen Shinera all over the boat.  Sparks scooted back to the radio shack, still shaking a hand.  Apparently Ski had some help, Nelson nodded to himself.  Lee ordered Kowalski back to Sonar to start a search for Shinera’s rogue submarine.  Everyone thought that they were probably still out of range, but Lee wasn’t taking any chances.


As order started to return to his Control Room, Lee finally took a deep breath and took stock.  The first thing he saw was Nelson, standing out of the way to one side of the room, quietly watching Lee regain control.  At first Lee didn’t understand why the Admiral was just standing there, and not in the middle of things himself.  Until, that is, he realized what, or rather who, Nelson was looking at.  Dr. Jamison had come in and was standing next to the periscope island, legs slightly apart, arms folded across his chest, staring daggers at all three members of the Command staff.  Lee shook his head slightly and sent Nelson a brief smile, knowing that they were thinking the same thing.  Nelson had already been a resident of Sick Bay before all this started, Chip had an as yet undiagnosed head injury – although he was functioning just fine, Lee had seen him showing symptoms of a raging headache – and Lee was issuing orders as if he’d never had any restrictions on using his voice.  Lee knew Jamie wouldn’t interfere as long as no one was actually in distress, and there was still any danger to Seaview.  After that, all bets were off!


* * * *


Three hours later Lee gave a few last orders to Lt. James and, as Seaview turned gracefully homeward, headed for Sick Bay.  Might as well get this over with, he thought with a wry grin at himself, walking through the once again calm and peaceful Conn.  Controlled chaos had continued to reign after Shinera’s body had been removed, as crewmen searched the entire boat from nose to screws for anything that wasn’t part of the submarine’s original equipment.  Admiral Nelson had been persuaded to return to Sick Bay fairly quickly so that Jamie could do another complete blood work study, but there was no doubt in either his or Lee’s minds that once again Shinera’s drugs had proven less than totally effective.  For which fact the entire boat was breathing a huge sigh of relief.


Another collective sigh was released as the last of the bombs was located and dismantled.  They were sure of the count when Shinera’s body was searched and a control unit for five detonators was found.  Besides the one outside Circuitry, Shinera had placed the devices just inside vent covers close to Reactor Control, Weaponry, and Missile Room.  The fifth had eluded everyone until Lee had a hunch and checked underneath the table in the Observation Nose.  Apparently Shinera had used Sparks as a shield while he secured the device there, totally unnoticed by anyone.  As Lee took apart the small device, he also kept a close eye on his XO, busy repairing the damage to the navigation computer.  The third time Chip had to stop and close his eyes against the pain in his head, Lee ordered him to Sick Bay.  From the look he got in return, Lee knew Chip would spare no effort in retaliation once they were no longer in their respective rolls of CO and XO.  But by then things were pretty much back in order and Chip had no ready argument against compliance.  That had been almost an hour ago, and now Lee found himself in somewhat the same circumstances.  Seaview was running smoothly, headed home, and he couldn’t come up with any more excuses to avoid the inevitable.


As he entered Sick Bay he was fairly unsurprised to find Admiral Nelson now dressed in a uniform.  Coffee cup in hand, the older man was leaning against the door to Jamie’s office, watching with some amusement as the doctor finessed an uncooperative Chip into a lower bunk.  At the glare Chip sent his way, Jamie looked up from tucking in the blankets and sent Lee a look of disbelief.


“You mean you actually showed up on your own, without my having to call Security?”


Before Lee could respond, Nelson interrupted.  “You know perfectly well that he’d come down to check on Chip and me.”  He grinned.  “Keeping him here – now that’s another matter entirely.”


“I’m not staying,” Lee grumbled firmly, causing both Nelson and Jamie to snort and grin broadly.


“I wasn’t planning on asking you to,” Jamie conceded easily.  “However, I do want to check your throat.  Have a seat,” and he motioned toward the exam table.


The exam was brief, the only one upset by the results being Chip, propped up against several pillows on the bunk, who complained bitterly that Jamie didn’t seem the least bit upset that Lee had busted orders and been talking all morning while he, Chip, barely got touched and was now stuck for the next twenty-four hours flat on his back.


“Actually,” the doctor admitted somewhat reluctantly, “I probably could have lifted the ban on talking a couple days ago, as long as the Skipper didn’t get too carried away.”  Jamie shrugged at Lee’s instant glare.  “I was just enjoying the peace and quiet.”  As Nelson choked on a swallow of coffee, Chip took one look at the storm brewing on Lee’s face and grimaced.  “That’s about to go down the tubes,” he said to no one in particular.


Before the storm could break, Doc held up his hand.  “Now admit it, Skipper.  There was nothing that happened, that would have been affected in any way, if you could have used your voice earlier.  And we both know just how likely it was that you wouldn’t have overdone it, don’t we?” he added with a scowl.


Lee didn’t answer, just gave Doc a disgruntled look as he slipped off the exam table, snagged a chair, and settled down next to Chip’s bunk, intending to unwind a bit visiting with his old friend.  Unfortunately he sat down somewhat heavily, and it was his turn to hold up a hand, cutting off both Chip and Jamie.  “I’m fine,” he growled, then softened his voice with a slight smile as he continued.  “Just too much morning after too little night.”


Chip relaxed back against the pillows, and Jamie nodded.  The doctor recognized the after effects of Lee’s adrenaline rush wearing off.  He suspected that the ‘crash’ was more mental than physical, brought on by having all the old, ugly memories brought back up, even if they did finally have an explanation for the initial attack.  He poured part of a mug of coffee, topped it off with a liberal measure from the bottle of brandy he kept in the bottom drawer of his desk, to an accompanying nod of approval from an amused Admiral, and walked over and handed it to Lee.  Lee’s nose told him what it was before his taste buds confirmed it, and he smiled gratefully after taking a long draw.


The grin reminded Jamie of his unanswered question.  “Ah, while I have the two of you in the same place,” he said, taking both Lee and Nelson into his gaze but still talking to Lee, “would you care to explain, now that things have calmed down, just why you knew the Admiral hadn’t had too much from his Scotch bottle last night?”


As Chip also gave him an expectant look, Lee turned to the Admiral and a slow, lazy, grin spread across both men’s faces.  Lee turned back to Jamie.  “No, actually, I wouldn’t,” he answered simply, almost shyly, and took another sip of the ‘doctored’ coffee.


* * * *




Eight days later Lee sat at his desk at NIMR, finishing up the last of the reports from Seaview’s latest cruise.  It was Friday afternoon and he leaned back in his chair, easing the tension in his shoulders that had reappeared while he once again worked through all the memories and emotions that had resurfaced.  A momentary grin crossed his face and he reached for the telephone, punching in a now familiar number.


“Radiwan and Bassett,” a pleasant feminine voice spoke in his ear.


“Hi,” Lee said just as pleasantly.  “Any chance Dr. Radiwan is available?  Commander Crane calling.”


There was a grin in the answer.  “She’s just getting ready to leave.  I’ll connect you.”  The grin spread to Lee’s face as well.


“Hey, sailor,” was the next thing he heard.


“Hey, yourself.  Got plans for the weekend?”


Becca laughed.  “Putting my feet up and doing as little as possible.  It’s been a bitch of a week.”


“Tell me about it.”  Lee let out a long sigh.  “What would you say if I invited myself up for a couple days?  Have a little story to tell you – one I think you might perhaps get a measure of satisfaction out of knowing the ending to, since you already know most of the beginning.”


“Humm, sounds intriguing.  I guess my feet will just have to wait a little longer.”


“Not necessarily,” Lee answered.  “See you in a few hours,” and he hung up, smiling.


The End ???



*   See my stories “DJ” and “There Will Be An Answer”

** See the Voyage ep “The Enemies”


 Morse translations courtesy of CGI Morse Code Translator