Diane Farnsworth Kachmar
and L. A. Carr
When you see the Southern Cross for the first time.
Then you understand now why you came this way.
'Cause the truth you might be running from is so small.
But it's as big as the promise, the promise of the coming day.
I'm sailing for tomorrow, my dreams are a dyin'
and my love is an anchor tied to you, tied with a silver chain.
I have my boat and all of her flags are a flyin'
She is all that I have left and Seaview is her name.
Think about how many times I have fallen.
Spirits are using me, other voices callin'.
What heaven brought you and me,
cannot be forgotten.
I have been around the world,
looking for that woman-girl.
Who knows love can endure.
And you know it will.
We cheated and we lied and we tested,
and we never failed to fail, it was the easiest thing to do.
You will survive being bested. Somebody fine will come along, make me forget about loving you, in the Southern Cross...
Authors Note: This is an alternate universe story. It is dedicated to Pat Ames, who while editing this a decade ago, never once said to me, "You can't do that."
This is story #2. It is one year after Deathwish. Mid-October 1980.
Some incidents appeared as short stories in The Seaview Sextant and The Clipper Trade Ship,
1985-1988. This story was first published as a one shot fanzine in 1994. Revised December
From their high altitude, the sea beneath the Flying Sub appeared smooth as glass. Admiral Harriman Nelson turned his gaze away from the front herculite view port back to the papers on his briefcase. Sightseeing wouldn't get his grant acceptance speech written.
"Coming up on our second course change," Lee Crane informed him from the pilot's chair.
Harry nodded. He smiled as the g-forces pushed him firmly back into the copilot's chair and his papers slid a few inches. About five degrees tighter than he would have flown it. His submarine captain had learned to fly the craft like he did everything else, all out. The small craft leveled off as he glanced over at Lee. Crane held the twin joy sticks with practiced ease, a contented grin on his face.
"We'll be over the Galapagos in less than an hour." Lee adjusted his throat mic. "Time to check in with Caracas." Harry nodded again, his eyes traveling over the instrument panel to the air speed indicator. Probably half an hour.
Lee noticed he was looking. Grinning sheepishly, he eased the throttle back slightly. "FS One calling Caracas station. Come in, Caracas."
"Caracas station," a lightly accented voice crackled from the speaker. "Go ahead, FS One."
"Requesting clearance to Santa Barbara. Vector two seven five."
"Granted. Santa Barbara would like an updated ETA."
"Still sixteen fifty."
"Roger, FS One. How's it looking out there?" The radio voice was wistful.
"Blue," Lee answered, deadpan.
Harry grinned as there was a momentary pause on the radio. "Thank you, FS One. We have a report of a squall line west of your position. Could you give us a visual confirmation, please?"
"Nothing visual. Radar shows storm activity at fifteen North, one-thirty West."
"Roger, FS One. Will relay. Talk you again at sixteen hundred."
"Affirmative. Sixteen hundred."
"FS One, out." Lee reached up and turned off his mic. "Jorge doesn't have a sense of humor today," Harry observed.
Lee grinned. "Too much time inside."
Nelson began searching in his briefcase for the names of the grant committee.
"I hope this meeting doesn't last long."
"They are mostly concerned about how we plan to use Seaview." Nelson smiled. "Isn't that the way it works? I land them and you implement them?"
"Yes, sir," Lee answered, resigned. "Will they understand what I'm briefing them on?"
"That's debatable, son." Harry chuckled softly. "You could keep your explanation simple."
"And leave out half our capabilities?"
"I know. They want reassurance that their money is going for important research."
"Our record shows them that," Lee replied, as the sub bounced slightly. His hands moved instinctively on the joy sticks, compensating. "If they'd look it up."
"We tell them what they want to hear for a few hours and then they give us a check." Nelson shrugged. "It will be worth it."
"Don't worry. I packed my smile."
"Any inspiration for your speech?"
Nelson shook his head. "Boring as the last one."
"Tell them about Doctor Reisner."
Harry rolled his eyes. "I don't think so. We want to keep them as paying clients."
Nelson went into his briefcase again, pulling out the name list. This wasn't his first acceptance speech. Harry was outlining his action plan for the grant, about three-quarters of the way through the speech, when they took an unexpected veer.
The words fled from his mind as his briefcase slid from his lap, his papers scattering all over the small craft. The g-force smashed him into the left armrest, knocking his breath away. Harry struggled back upright, gasping. Lee wouldn't fly like that.
Nelson's chair yawed drunkenly to the left again as the sub veered a second time, his harness straps digging painfully into his shoulders. He pushed himself away from the armrest. "Lee, what the--" Harry stopped as he turned toward Crane.
His Captain was fighting to maintain control of the joy sticks, his teeth clenched tightly together. The left joystick was fully forward. His harness was all that was keeping Lee in the pilot's chair.
Harry glanced down at his own controls. His left joy stick was forward as well. He swiftly closed his hand around it, trying to pull it back. The stick resisted and then he felt it move fractionally. He pulled harder and the stick came back a little further.
Suddenly, Lee fell back into the chair beside him, his joy stick snapping back with an audible crack. Harry felt his own tighten in his grip. He held it firmly, not allowing the joystick to move.
"What is it?"
"I don't know." Crane was breathless from his effort. "She suddenly veered off course. There's no lateral control and it feels like guidance went too."
"Not like any I've ever seen. We were fine, then-- Wham. Like we hit something, but nothing was there."
"I'll check the circuits."
Lee pushed his now useless joy stick forward. "I have no control. I can't keep her from veering again."
"Mine isn't broken, yet. You keep the nose up while I locate the trouble."
Harry didn't release his harness until Lee took control of the copilot's joy stick. Then he shrugged it aside and quickly vacated the chair so Crane could have it. He walked around the bottom hatch until he was at the main circuit panel. Nelson unlocked the service grille and dropped the panel open. Smoke wafted out into the small cabin. A quick glance was all he had time for before the sub lurched, veering left yet again. Harry staggered and quickly grabbed the boarding ladder for support, clinging to it as the craft shook wildly.
The sub veered a fourth time. Nelson swung around the ladder, then pulled himself back. The shaking was getting worse. He reached out, grabbing the open panel. Looking inside, he saw burnt out, charred circuits. Something had shorted them. He pulled on a blackened wire and it broke off in his hand. Harry probed deeper, looking for undamaged wiring.
Lee's warning made him jump back as he heard the hissing. Harry dropped to the deck, wrapping his arms around his head as the panel erupted in sparks. They showered over him. The sub sheered left again, this time at a ninety degree angle, rolling him into the ladder.
"Admiral?" Crane's worried voice brought his head up.
"I'm all right, son. Thanks."
"The fuel injection system just shut down." Lee's arms were shaking from the strain of holding onto the joy sticks.
Nelson scrambled to his feet. "How long?"
"We'll stay airborne another five minutes, ten if we're lucky."
"Can you land?"
"Where? Without the jets there's no way to keep her afloat." "The radio--"
"Went with guidance. I can't even get static."
"What's our current position?"
"Somewhere near five North, one-fifteen-thirty West."
Harry looked quickly out the front port. "Didn't Chip log some atolls around here?"
"At One-sixteen-twenty-eight, about two miles wide."
"Can you fly that far?"
"I'll try. Without a rudder, she won't land well."
"If you can get close us enough, we'll bail out."
"There's something over there." Lee jerked his chin toward the front port.
Harry looked swiftly. A flash of white appeared ahead of them. "Beats spending the night in a raft," Nelson said, smiling, as he reached under the rear bunk for the emergency parachutes. He pulled them out, tossing them by the bottom hatch.
"I'll lash the controls, so she'll stay nose up until we get clear. The wind's in our favor, at least. You'll have to hold her."
Harry came around the copilot's chair. He could barely hang on to the wildly vibrating joystick. Lee yanked off his tie. He quickly knotting the black fabric around the pilot's right armrest, the joy stick and finally around the copilot's left armrest. The stick bounced erratically against the fabric, but it held.
"Time to go." Nelson knelt by the boarding ladder, reaching for his parachute. "Maybe she'll reach the atoll."
"She'll tear apart on the coral."
"If she sinks, the planes won't spot her at all."
Lee nodded, joining him at the hatch.
Harry donned a parachute. He was buckling the straps closed when the sub turned upside down. He heard cloth ripping as Lee left his side and the deck tilted. Nelson crashed to his knees near the ladder, feeling himself slide. Rushing air filled the cabin as the hatch opened. Above him metal shrieked as the boarding ladder tore loose from the top brackets and smashed onto the deck beside him, barely missing his hand.
Harry felt a sudden hard push and he was floating free in a blue sky, the water sparkling beneath him. He pulled his rip cord. The silk blossomed above him, catching the wind, pulling him up. Nelson twisted in his harness looking for the Flying Sub, as he dropped toward the island. He was alone in the sky. Harry looked down. There she was, her flight growing more erratic by the second. C'mon, Lee, bail out!
The sub swept in, barely grazing the wave crests, then buried her nose into the water, plowing her way toward shore. She slammed into the reef, her nose caught and the sub began flipping over and over. She finally came to a jarring halt on the sandy beach, her herculite hull dented and splintered.
The sand came rushing up. Harry rolled awkwardly as he hit the ground and the chute dragged him several feet before he could free himself. Nelson threw his harness off and ran for the wreck.
Lee reached for his parachute and heard his tie rip. He dropped the pack, lunging for the joy stick. The sub veered, sending him sprawling into the copilot's chair. The g-force of the left turn slammed him into the far armrest, almost tumbling him over the other side.
Everything was sliding. Crane pulled free of the chair. He could see the water rushing up through the front port. Lee regained his footing, reaching for the hatch controls. He punched them swiftly. They responded, the hatch sliding open.
The inrush of air began to clear smoke from the small cabin as Crane braced himself against the console. The sub pitched and bucked beneath him and he could barely stay upright.
Lee pushed away, once again seeking his parachute. A tremolo screech of torn metal rose above the rushing air. He jerked his head up, as the boarding ladder tore away at the top brackets, careening toward the deck.
Crane lunged, losing his precarious balance, as he pushed Nelson away from the ladder. The Admiral was too busy sliding, to see it coming. As Lee fell, he saw Nelson disappear out the hatch in a welter of flailing legs.
The sub hopped as Lee tried to rise. The ladder came swinging back, smashing him to the deck before landing on top of him. The craft's straining engines faded and the deck became a red and yellow blur, with blackness overtaking it. Lee went limp. Let go. No, he made a promise. He had to try--- The roaring was all around him. Engines-- won't last much longer.
The roar abruptly stopped, leaving only the wind from the open hatch whistling over him. Crane's eyes fluttered open. He blinked and found himself looking at a ladder rung. Lee reached out, shaking his head to chase away the darkness. His hand bounced off the copilot's chair. I've got to get out of here.
His left leg was throbbing. Crane gritted his teeth, not letting himself give in to the pain and dizziness. The sub hopped again and the ladder slammed down on his leg. Lee cried out, seeking any handhold to pull himself free. His grasping hand found the copilot's left joy stick. Lee yanked down, trying to drag himself clear. The sub veered wildly to the left and the ladder shifted, crashing down beside him. The last bottom bracket gave way and the ladder slid across the deck. It hit the propulsion panel dead on. The craft lurched as the panel erupted into flame, gave a final shudder and then went nose down in a dive she would not pull out of.
The acceleration rolled Lee away the chair. He lost his grip on the joy stick. Fighting off his dizziness, Crane groped for his parachute, well aware the sub was about to crash. He yanked a life jacket out from under the copilot's chair, slinging it around his neck. The access panel tore loose from the air revitalizer, barely missing him as it smashed into the front ports. There was no time left to use his parachute.
Crane pushed away from the chair, getting his legs under him. He buckled the life jacket into place, braced his right leg firmly and lunged for the hatch rim. His fingers caught the edge and he dragged himself up the deck. Lee pulled himself over the opening and let go, tumbling out into the air.
He has a brief, spinning vision of the sub smashing into the waves, flipping over the reef and then Crane hit the water. Icy, wet darkness surrounded him. Instinctively, his hands yanked the pull cords to inflate the jacket. That stopped his downward plunge. Lee kicked hard to regain the surface.
His head fell back heavily onto the flotation collar, as he came up, gasping for air. Lee tried to raise his head. A breaking wave crashed over him, forcing him under again. Crane thrashed, trying to right himself. Another wave smashed down, driving him deeper, despite his inflating jacket. A third wave crashed on top of him, the roiling water rolling him over and over away from the surface and air. The curling wave dragged him over the reef with it, finally smashing apart against the coral.
Crane flipped over onto his back to breathe as the increasing buoyancy of his jacket finally overcame the motion of the waves and brought him up. His desperate thrashing fetched Lee up hard against the sand of the quickly shallowing bottom. The surf continued to roll in over his legs as Crane lay gasping and coughing up water, barely conscious of anything but his need to breathe. His coughing eased as Lee took in more and more air.
It was some time before he became aware his lower body was still awash in the waves. Lee forced himself crawl the last few feet to safety above the tide line before he collapsed in the sand.
Harry did not want to climb the side of the wrecked sub, knowing he'd find Lee's mangled body inside. Nelson pulled himself up to the open hatch, boosting himself over the rim. Then he gingerly lowered himself down inside. He tested the bulkhead and it held his weight. Harry released his grip on the hatch, letting himself slide down to where he could stand upright.
The interior smelled of burned circuitry. The instrument panels were all shorted. Twisted metal littered the floor. Nelson glanced swiftly around for Crane. The pilot chair was empty. "Lee?"
There was no answer. Crane bailed out after all. Harry forced his apprehension down. He knew too well the painful ache that ran through him as the sub crashed. He had felt it too many times this year.
Nelson's gaze swept over the damaged panels. They would not repair her. He turned back toward the hatch and saw a black pack strap. He knelt swiftly to the deck, pulling it out from under the wreckage. Oh, Christ. Lee's parachute. Harry drew in a sharp breath and began coughing. The cabin air was thick in his throat. Nelson sniffed suspiciously. It made him cough worse. Jet fuel. If it finds any live circuitry--
Harry reached quickly for the hatch coaming, his fingers encountering dampness. Damn, it's spreading. I need to get out of here. Without his parachute, there was no telling how many pieces Crane landed in.
Nelson grabbed up the parachute, pitching it out the hatchway. Then he opened the locker under the rear bunk for the spare blankets and first aid kit. He wrapped the kit inside, knotted them together and tossed the bundle out after the parachute. The last thing he went for was the emergency food supplies, lobbing them after the other items. Leaping for the hatch rim, Harry boosted himself up and out.
Nelson swung his legs over, sliding down the herculite side to the sand. Gaining his feet, he gathered up his salvaged supplies. From the outside, the hiss of the escaping jet fuel was even louder. He'd better find cover, fast. He slung the chute over his shoulder, gathering the rest into his arms. Harry was barely five hundred yards from the sub when a deafening roar sent him sprawling.
Lee suddenly realized he was lying almost face down in the sand. Pain came fast on the heels of his awareness. He pushed the fuzziness away and tried to lift his head. That made the pain worse. The sand began moving. Crane dropped prone again, drawing in deep, steadying breaths. The ache in his side flared, forcing him to take shallower ones. Lee closed his eyes as the sand started to spin.
The whirling slowly subsided. Lee cautiously opened his eyes again and the sand stayed still. He slowly drew his legs up. Every part of him ached. Blackness hovered at the edge of his vision, but he ignored it.
Lee fumbled the buckles open on his life jacket, wearily rolling over and out of it. His khaki trousers were torn open below his knees, caked with sand and blood. Great. Coral. The Admiral is going to love--
Crane tried to straighten and his side erupted into searing pain. He doubled over, pressing his hand to his ribs. That seemed to help. Lee slowly raised his head, looking up, then down, the beach for the Flying Sub. There was a burnt smell on the wind. He turned carefully. A plume of smoke rose from beyond the grove of palm trees. Fuel tanks went.
Lee ignored the pain any movement caused. He raised himself unsteadily to one knee. His right leg took his weight. When he tried to stand on his left leg, hot waves of agony shot through his calf. He swayed for a moment before he found his balance.
Crane gingerly tried his left leg again. It held him up as he took a shuffling step forward. He haltingly crossed the sand, through the grove of palm trees, toward the smoke. It billowed out the front of the wrecked sub as he approached.
The forward tank was a charred mass of blackened, fused herculite. He heard hissing. The aft tank was going. Lee turned, spotting a prone khaki clad figure in the sand, surrounded by a parachute pack and some blankets.
Crane staggered over, falling clumsily beside him, grabbing Nelson's shoulder to keep from falling over him as he shook him. "Admiral!"
Nelson lifted his head, dazed.
Lee shook him again. They shouldn't stay here. They were too close.
"Huh?" Nelson asked thickly.
The aft part of the sub went up in a black-red fireball, the concussion knocking Crane from his knees. Lee's last thought was to protect the Admiral as the darkness finally won.
Harry felt tugging, his head still ringing from the explosion. He raised his head. Suddenly, he was thrown back to the sand, something heavy landing on top of him. Thunder buffeted his ears as he fought to hang on to consciousness.
Everything turned black for a moment, and then his vision
cleared. Nelson ducked as a piece of hull struck the sand a bare
foot from his head. He squirmed, lifting his shoulders. Whatever was holding him down rolled off. Harry's searching hand found wet, sandy khaki. He rose to his knees, shaking his head to clear it.
Lee was lying beside him. His surprise became concern as Harry saw Crane's pant legs were torn and stained with blood. Damn, he bailed out beyond the reef.
Nelson started to pull up the khaki, to see how much damage had been done, but he withdrew his hand when Lee moaned and stirred. His eyes fluttered open.
Harry scrambled to his feet and then reached down to help Crane up. Lee struggled to raise himself onto one knee, his eyes glassy. Swaying, he managed to stay upright for about five seconds, before he fell over out of Harry's grasp.
Nelson quickly knelt down, sliding his arm under Lee's shoulder, lifting him. Crane tried again to get his feet under him. He finally managed to stand by leaning heavily on him. Harry took a few careful steps.
"Thanks," Lee gasped, as Nelson mostly carried him toward the palm grove.
Harry headed for the biggest palm. Reaching it, he gently lowered Crane to the sand. "Good a place to camp as any," he said, as Lee slumped against the tree.
"I'll get our supplies. Only take a minute."
"Aye, sir," Lee whispered, his eyes closing.
Harry ran back to the wreck site, hurriedly gathering up the chute, blankets, food and aid kit. He crossed the sand rapidly, placing the supplies down beside the palm tree. He then knelt down, reaching out for Crane's shoulder. "Lee?"
He did not respond. Nelson shook a little harder. "Don't leave me, son."
Lee suddenly jerked under his hand, his eyes opening. "Huh?" Then Crane gasped in pain, pressing a hand into his side. "Landed funny."
"Next time, use the parachute," Nelson suggested gruffly, fighting down his worry as he opened the first aid kit. Harry shrugged out of his black leather flying jacket, laying it aside. Lee dropped his head. "I tried to--"
Harry gripped Crane's shoulder. "I saw her crash. You wouldn't have survived had you stayed aboard, so you did the right thing." Nelson picked up one of the blankets. "Let's get this under you."
Lee drew his legs up slowly. Harry quickly spread out the blanket and Crane eased over onto it with relief. Nelson put one hand on the collar of Lee's flying jacket, helping Crane to sit up with the other. Lee shrugged the leather from his shoulders, then stiffened, gasping as Harry tugged down his sleeve.
"What's the matter?"
Lee eased his arm out from the sleeve. "I-- I got the wind... knocked out of me."
Harry gently pulled the flying jacket off. "Ditch the shirt, too." Nelson tossed Crane's bedraggled salt soaked jacket to the foot of the blanket.
Lee nodded, unfastening his buttons.
Harry took the wet shirt away, laying it on top of Lee's jacket. He reached over for the other blanket and draped it around Lee's now bare shoulders. "Wouldn't want you to catch pneumonia."
"You sound...like Jamie."
"I am the only Doc you have," Nelson answered. "Except Will knows what he's doing."
Lee touched his shoulder. "You'll do."
Nelson smiled. "I know."
Harry moved down to work on Lee's injured legs. He unlaced and removed his sodden oxfords and socks, using a sock to brush away the damp, clinging sand. He tried to be gentle, but Lee stiffened at his touch. The lacerations probably hurt more than Crane would ever admit. Using the damp sock, he removed more sand, pushing it off the blanket.
Nelson reached into his pocket for his jackknife. He put the blade into the seam of Lee's trousers. Pushing upward, he ripped the seam open. The khaki resisted, but he managed to open both trouser legs to the knee. Harry gingerly lifted away the bloody material, exposing the cuts.
"What's the damage?" Crane asked quietly.
"Pretty bad." Nelson reached for the box of baking soda in the aid kit. "Took the easy way in, didn't you?"
Lee glanced up at his sarcastic words. "I don't remember," he said softly. "I was dazed from the impact." Crane rubbed his hand across his forehead.
"You obviously made it into shore." Harry reached for the small bottle of distilled water in the aid kit, pouring the baking soda into it. Capping it, he shook it vigorously, and then poured some of the mixture into his hand. It needed more soda. He added it and then reached for a gauze pad. He tore it open, thoroughly saturating the pad with the paste. He smeared the paste on Lee's cuts. As he worked down, Nelson probed gently for broken bones. All he found was a large red-purple bruise on Crane's left calf. "You whacked something."
"The boarding ladder got me," Lee answered, his teeth clenched. "On my way out. Crane tried to shrug, but stopped, grimacing.
"Doesn't look broken." Odd, he had almost been hit by that ladder, but he fell out the hatch. No, he had been pushed out. Crane looking out for him. Again.
Harry took up another pad, wiping away any excess soda. No matter how much he yelled at him, Lee persisted in risking his life to save him. He couldn't make Crane understand that was the last thing they wanted him to do. Almost losing Lee for good last fall was something Nelson did not want to go through again. Lee wasn't one to express what he felt verbally, even though they had known each other for years. Much as he wished Lee wouldn't risk himself, Harry understood why Crane did.
Nelson pulled his clean handkerchief from his back pocket, wiping the soda from his hands. Nelson was glad Jamieson had insisted he learn emergency medicine, the same as anyone who applied for Flying Sub duty.
Harry rummaged under the bandage packs for the drug tray. Finding it, he lifted it out of the kit. The plastic pill cases had labels and a small typed leaflet lay beneath it. Nelson smiled. Will had left nothing to chance. He fished it out, scanning the sheet for the entry. Pyribenazamine. Two with water.
He lifted the bottle from the tray, and then went into Lee's chute pack for his water bottle. He glanced at Lee. His eyes had closed. Crane's breathing was ragged, his features pale.
Harry put his hand on Lee's shoulder. "Still with me, son?" he asked, giving Crane a gentle shake.
Lee opened his eyes, slowly bringing his head up. "Keep drifting... "
Nelson laid the bottle and medicine down, then reached out and shook Crane by both shoulders. "Lee."
"You need medicine."
Lee lifted his head, trying to focus on him. Harry moved closer, bracing him with his body. He shook out two pills and then lifted the water bottle from the blanket with his other hand. "Take these, okay?"
Lee nodded dully. He leaned into him, taking the pills from Harry's hand.
Nelson brought the water up, holding it while Lee drank. "That's it." He lowered the bottle and then moved Lee so he was leaning back on the palm tree.
Crane pressed a shaky hand to his forehead. "Head... hurts."
"Lie still, it will pass," Harry answered with an assurance he didn't feel. It sounded good. Lee should lie down, except he had to disinfect and bind his coral cuts. Nelson reached for a soap pad, tearing it open. He trickled some of the soda water onto it, then gently scrubbed down Lee's legs. He retrieved his damp handkerchief and knotted it around the neck of the distilled water to save as much as he could. He tore open another pad and lifted the antiseptic from the kit. He soaked the pad with antiseptic and applied it. Crane stiffened at that, uttering a low gasp of pain.
"Steady," Harry said quickly. "I'll be done in a minute." Lee gave a half nod that he understood. Nelson steeled himself to continue. He lifted the tube of hydrocortisone from the aid kit. He slathered the ointment on. Crane slowly relaxed as the drug numbed his pain. Harry reached quickly for the vaseline coated rolls. Lee's hands clenched the blanket ends as Nelson began wrapping the gauze around his legs. Harry silently cursed his clumsiness as his fingers fumbled with the unfamiliar wrapping. Finally, he tore and tied off the last end.
"That's it, son." he said with relief, rocking back on his heels. "Sorry I don't have Jamieson's touch." Nelson tucked the askew blanket back around Crane's shoulders.
"He'll get you for malpractice."
"I'll settle out of court," Harry answered quickly, going with Lee's attempt to reassure him. "Now, let's make you a clean bed."
He reached down the blanket for Crane's damp shirt and wrapped it around his newly bandaged legs to keep them from getting too sandy. Then he pulled over the chute pack. Opening the bottom, Harry began unrolling the silk. He felt Lee's hand on his arm.
"Let me help--" Crane swayed, nearly falling onto the pack.
Nelson grabbed him as he pitched forward. "What is it?" His worry returned as Lee slumped against him, shaking his head.
"Don't... know." Crane said raggedly, his eyes tightly closed. "Everything's... spinning."
Harry held him until his swaying subsided. Nelson raised one arm. "Lee. How many fingers?"
Crane forced his eyes open to look at the hand Nelson had in front of his face. He squinted, shaking his head. "Uh, two."
"That's right. Follow my finger." Harry moved his forefinger in the x pattern, watching Lee's eyes closely.
Crane moved his eyes to the left, then right and up and down. Lee's pupils looked normal size.
"How high was the sub when you bailed out?"
"I don't know." Lee shook his head. "Concussion?"
"You're asking me?" Nelson replied, spreading his hands. "You said you were dazed. Did you hit your head?"
Lee's hand rose to his forehead. "Trying to regain control something--" Crane winced as his fingertips brushed by his left ear.
Harry bent close, gently pushing Lee's dark hair aside. The bruise he found explained a lot. He quickly removed his hand as Lee winced again. "It got you."
"Here?" Lee raised his hand again, but jerked it away as he found the swollen area.
"Yes, there. Kind of tender, isn't--" Harry broke off as Crane slumped forward. Nelson caught him once again. "Steady, son." Harry held Lee until his eyes opened again, then helped him sit up.
"Thanks," Lee said breathlessly.
"Stay still. It's worse whenever you move."
Harry squeezed his hand. "It's not your fault. We'll manage. Somebody will call Air-Sea rescue."
"Aye, sir," Lee answered softly.
Nelson reached for the chute pack. He spread out the silk as he pulled it free, folding the ropes out of the way. He brushed the sand from the silk, patting it flat. Nelson extended his hand to Crane. Lee gingerly lifted his legs, leaving the shirt behind as he slid across. Harry saw his jaw clench as he hitched over.
He helped Lee settle prone before rewrapping the blanket around his shoulders. Pulling the rations kit out of the chute pack, he slid the pack gently under Crane's legs, elevating them. Lee burrowed down. Harry drew a layer of silk over him. He gathered up the now soggy bottom blanket, the damp shirt, jacket and socks and carried them over to some scrub palms at the edge of the grove. If he could get them dry before the sun went down, he'd use them later. Nelson shook out the sand, spread them out on the low bent trunks and then came back.
He knelt down. "Lee?"
"Sir?" Crane responded after a moment.
"I need to retrieve my chute pack before dark. You should be all right if you stay down."
Lee opened one eye. "I'm not planning on going anywhere." "I won't be long, son."
"Watch out for headhunters," Crane replied, his eye closing again.
"Right." Harry grinned, getting to his feet.
It took Nelson longer than he anticipated to recover his parachute. It had blown down the beach, until the dragging silk snagged in some rocks. Fortunately, the survival pack was intact, once he got it untangled. He wished the Flying Sub had fared as well. The craft was now little more than a burned out herculite shell. He would do a more thorough salvage search in the morning.
Harry quickened his footsteps, coming over the small rise, into the palm grove. "Well, I found it," he announced, coming up to the big palm.
This time Crane did not reply.
Nelson dropped to his knees beside Lee, concerned, but relaxed when he saw Lee was sprawled, head on his right arm, sound asleep. The same way he slept in Will's Sick Bay.
Harry pulled the parachute silk out the top of the pack and began folding it into another bed. It would be dark within the hour.
"Johnny?" Linda Allen tapped lightly on the half opened door, poking her head into the Institute Director's office. "Any word from Captain Crane yet?"
John Robinson looked up from his papers. "I told the radio room to notify you when they heard from them."
"They did, at two o'clock. I haven't heard anything since. Senator Evans wants to know when they will get in."
"Well, let's find out." Robinson reached for his phone, punching the extension. "Mike, John Robinson. Has FS One called in yet?" He paused. "Did Caracas say they were late for their check in?" Another pause. "Caracas hasn't called in?"
Linda could hear Mike explaining, but she couldn't make out the words.
"Call them. Try the Flying Sub, too." Robinson dropped the phone back into its cradle.
"What's up?" Linda shifted her folder from one arm to the other.
"Nothing from FS One. Caracas didn't relay their four o'clock check-in, either."
"Trouble?" Linda came into the office.
"Caracas not relaying their four o clock is odd. They should have contacted us as soon as the check-in was missed." Robinson sat for a moment and then pushed himself up out of the chair. "I need to call Caracas."
She followed him out the door and down an offshoot of the main corridor. The double doors opened into a large room. A massive multi-band radio transmitter and receiver took up most of the wall in front of her. A thin blonde man sat at the console, his hands resting on two separate dials, adjusting them as he spoke into his headset. "NIMR calling FS One. Come in, FS One."
He glanced up as Johnny closed the door behind them. "No luck, Mr. Robinson. I can't get an answer from either FS One or Caracas."
"You still can't raise Caracas?"
The blond man nodded.
Robinson thought for a moment. "How long has it been since you've had any contact?"
The radio man consulted the log beside him. "Two-ten. Caracas relaying the Flying Sub's check in."
"Two-ten." Johnny leaned over the radioman's shoulder to see the log for himself. "No relay at four."
Robinson reached for the telephone.
Linda took a seat in the nearest vacant chair. Her eyes traveled over the room. There were other unoccupied stations with blank screens, looked like radar, sonar--
"Johnny, would FS One be on our radar yet?" she asked quickly.
Robinson looked up from his furious dialing. "Radar." He turned to the blond radio man. "Mike, get Dan or Mark down here to bring that system up. FS One should be in range by now."
Mike nodded, reaching for the intercom.
Johnny brought his head up suddenly. "Yes, this is NIMR. I want to speak with Andre Moreau." He paused, looking over at her. "Bad connection."
His attention went back to the phone. "Yes, Andre. This is John Robinson. What's going on down there? We've been trying to reach you on the radio--" He stopped, listening intently.
"Everything? Radio-- radar--" John paused.
Linda could hear the lightly-accented voice coming from the phone.
"They came through fine at two, but not at four?" He smiled thinly. "Okay, so you were down. They were on time and on course before it hit you?" A heavy pause followed. "All right. Contact us by radio as soon as you come back up. Thanks, Andre. Goodbye."
"What is it?" Linda asked.
"Something fried their systems. Andre said it was a signal overload.
"And the Flying Sub?"
"On course before the incident occurred." Robinson dropped into the chair beside hers.
"What caused it?"
John shrugged. "Transmitted, they think. The power that would take--"
"So now what?"
"We wait. See if they fly in here. They could have run into a head wind," Johnny replied.
"I hope that's all it is." Linda didn't like the report from Caracas. If the signal overload had taken out Caracas, could it have affected the Flying Sub as well?
"So do I."
Dusk was becoming night when Harry dropped into a cross-legged position next to Lee's makeshift bed. Their camp was set up. Harry smiled wryly. Two parachutes weren't much of a camp.
He glanced skyward, watching the sun disappear behind the palm grove. Logically, he knew by the time Santa Barbara decided they were overdue, it would be too late to send out search planes. If only they had gotten off a mayday.
Harry glanced at his watch. They were overdue by now. Johnny would get it organized, only that wouldn't help Lee tonight. Nelson glanced down. Lee was still asleep. Harry hadn't tried to wake him, knowing Crane would insist on helping.
Harry wished he knew more. Lee's dizziness worried him. Crane could be showing symptoms of a serious complication and Nelson wouldn't know it. A concussion required a doctor's care, not his amateur knowledge.
Nelson wished again that Will was there. Jamieson would know what to do, but he was on Seaview, cruising a thousand miles to the south. Harry knew he could effectively treat the coral cuts, but he didn't want to have to handle a head injury. Nelson shoved his worry aside. It wouldn't help him remember Jamieson's lectures.
His boys had breezed through the class, never missing an opportunity for a bad joke or prank. Some of the knots they had used in bandage making Harry had never seen. Will was not able to get them undone, but proved that a scalpel would cut through most anything.
Looking down at Lee's pale face, he wished they were back in that lighthearted classroom. Nelson remembered telling Will, he didn't have the time. He even calculated odds for him, showing the Doctor how they ran in their favor, with only the random variable making a difference. Will had let him talk and still wouldn't excuse him. No one would fly without the course. Harry wished someone had been that insistent about them staying on the submarine. Today the random variable had won.
Nelson reached out, giving Lee a light shake. Crane shifted, drawing in on himself. Harry smiled, shaking him again.
Lee's eyes fluttered open. "S-sir?" he asked groggily.
Lee tried to push up on the silk.
Harry lifted his shoulders, helping him to sit up.
"A little." Crane shook his head, closing his eyes. "Didn't think I'd go out like that."
"Don't worry about it."
Lee raised a hand to his head, but stopped halfway there, remembering. "My head isn't pounding anymore."
"Good." Harry smiled. "Feel like eating?"
"You should have something, son."
Crane jerked his head up, giving him a sudden exasperated glare. "I'm not hungry!"
Harry drew back at his unexpected vehemence.
Lee's expression turned to dismay. He reached out and placed his hand on Nelson's knee. "I'm sorry. Jamie's always after me to eat. He can't understand that sometimes I don't want to."
Harry closed his hand over Lee's. "He's trying to get some weight back on you. You're way too thin."
"I know," Crane answered, resigned.
Nelson reached for the rations pack. He pulled out a tin of Spam. "I understand this is fattening." Harry offered it to Lee. "C-rations?" Crane made no move to take it.
"That's all we have. I'll fish tomorrow."
"You eat it. I never liked it."
Harry grinned, laying down the tin to open the rest of the pack. He placed crackers and a couple of chocolate bars beside Lee.
Crane picked up a bar and unwrapped it.
Harry passed him the water bottle. "You can have more," he urged, when Lee handed it back after a few swallows. "I haven't even opened mine."
"I'm fine, sir." Crane reached for the cracker pack. "I'll have more later. What's for dessert?"
"Want me to shake down a coconut?" Nelson glanced upward. "No, don't bother." Lee started to laugh and then pressed a hand into his side.
Harry picked up the tinned meat, twisting it open. He wiped his knife clean on the edge of Lee's blanket and began cutting the meat into slices. For now, he would play along and make light.
Nelson frowned at the Spam slices. He was hungry and he needed energy to look after Lee. He wasn't aware his dislike was showing, until he heard another chuckle.
"It's food," Harry retorted, picking up the wedges and reaching for the crackers.
"That's debatable. It reminded me of something."
"Oh?" Harry glanced over. Spam jokes?
"Your knife. Do you remember Chip asking you why you have a six inch blade on it?"
"Not really." Harry turned the knife over in his hand.
Lee smiled. "You told him it was in case you were ever stranded on a desert island."
Nelson laughed. "Oh, God. I didn't really say that, did I?"
Lee nodded. "I'm afraid so."
"I'll never hear the end of it."
"Maybe he won't remember."
"I doubt it."
Lee turned his eyes southward. "I wouldn't mind a little teasing from Chip right now."
"They'll come looking for us, son. Those senators won't appreciate being stood up."
Lee smiled faintly. "They won't start searching until daybreak."
"True. I figure it will be six before they start missing us in Santa Barbara. Unless Caracas told them we missed our check in. Caracas could think we skipped the four o'clock check because we were so close to home." Harry paused, realizing how grim their situation was. "We're a good hundred miles off our projected course, so they may believe we crashed into the sea. I'll make a beacon in the morning to get their attention."
"We'll be all right."
Nelson smiled. "Do you feel any better?"
"It only hurts when I move."
"Then don't move, son."
Lee raised his eyes, smiling. "And ruin my reputation as a lousy patient?"
"Why not? I'm a lousy doctor."
"You're doing fine." Lee reached out, closing his hand around Harry's arm.
Harry laid his hand over Lee's for a moment, acknowledging the encouragement. Then he reached up and placed the back of his hand against Crane's forehead. "Are you still dizzy?"
"No, Doctor." Lee pulled away abruptly, releasing Harry's arm.
Nelson dropped his hand. Caring for Lee was going to be touchier than he thought. Crane had been better lately about letting them help, but there were still times when he balked.
Lee shifted uncomfortably against the tree. "Look, you've done everything Jamieson would have. If I have a concussion, it will have to mend itself." Crane started to shrug and winced.
"Sorry," Nelson apologized. "I know you hate being injured. After last fall-- I can't-- I won't-- " Harry jumped slightly as Lee placed his hand back on his arm.
"I know," Crane said softly. "I promised I'd get better, didn't I?"
"You're still here, son, that's all that matters."
"You taught me doing something was always better than doing nothing."
Harry smiled. "That was a long time ago."
Lee looked over at him intently and then withdrew his hand. "Why would I forget?"
Harry reached down for the water bottle beside him, took a few swallows and then handed it over to Lee. Crane lifted it, drank some and gave it back.
"Had enough?" Harry gestured at the half-eaten cracker pack.
Lee nodded. "Save the rest for breakfast."
Harry rewrapped the package, stowing the crackers back in the pack. He lifted out a chocolate bar for himself and then put everything else back.
"What now, Doc?" Lee's bantering tone returned, indicating his acceptance of Nelson's new responsibility.
Harry threaded the straps on the chute pack closed.
"Well, Jamieson would tell you to--"
"--sleep, I know. He has a one track mind on the subject."
"I noticed." Harry grinned. "I should check your cuts again before the light is completely gone."
Lee pushed the silk off his gauze-wrapped legs.
Harry lifted the tattered khaki, undoing the tied ends on Lee's left leg. "I don't like the way they are swelling."
"Coral always swells."
"I'll have to loosen these."
"They don't hurt as much." Lee assured him as he worked on the wrappings.
Harry began adjusting the gauze on the other leg. "If it flares, you tell me."
Harry rocked back on his heels, reaching for the aid kit. He'd push his luck a little, now Lee had decided to cooperate. "What's wrong with your side, Captain?" He deliberately made his voice gruff.
Crane jerked his head up, surprised. "I didn't say anything about my side."
"You keep favoring it."
Lee dropped his head. "I was hoping it would go away," he answered quietly.
Nelson pushed the blanket away gently. "Did you hit something?"
"The water." Crane tried to shrug out of the blanket, grimacing in pain as he raised his shoulders.
"Let me do it." Harry doubled the blanket up over Lee's shoulders. "Stop aggravating it."
"Maybe," Nelson answered, feeling along Lee's upper ribs. They felt intact, no bulging edges. He continued to probe lower on the left side. Abruptly Lee drew back, gasping in pain.
Harry bent close in the fading light to examine the bruising on Crane's lower ribs. He laid his fingers lightly over it. "Easy, son. I have to find out if they are broken." Lee tensed as he ran his fingers along the bone edges, tracing the ribs, but Harry found no lumps or sharp ends. Shirtless, there was no hiding how thin Crane had become. No wonder Jamieson kept telling him to eat.
Nelson pushed his worry aside. There was nothing he could do about that now. The last five months had been better. It would take time, Jamieson had said and all the understanding and support they could give. It had been a bad year for all of them.
Harry took his hand away. "I don't feel anything broken. Are you having any trouble breathing?"
Lee shook his head. "Not really. It hurts more than anything else."
Nelson lifted the ace bandage roll out of the aid kit. "How about I wrap you and we see how you feel in the morning."
"Do I have a choice?"
Harry smiled. "No."
Crane carefully placed his hands on his knees. "If I have cracked my ribs, Jamie will raise hell if you don't do it."
Nelson unrolled the bandage, wrapping it around Lee's torso. It went around four times before he ran out. "Too tight?" he asked as he clamped it closed.
"No, that feels like Jamie's."
"You'd better lie down." Harry eased Lee back prone onto the silk. "I'd rather you didn't get dizzy, again." Harry tucked the blanket over him and then covered him with silk.
Crane looked up at him. "Can't we talk awhile? I'm not sleepy."
He repacked the aid kit and laid it aside. Nelson drew his legs up into a cross-legged position. "What do you want to talk about?"
"I wonder what Seaview's doing."
"Chip will collect specimens until dark. Then they will move on to the next sample area. That is, until Johnny tells him we're missing."
"He'll drop the grant and join the search. He'll worry."
Nelson smiled in reassurance. "They'll find us. We've been together too long to end the partnership now."
"Twenty-two years. Where did it go?"
Harry laughed softly. "You two were the best midshipmen I ever taught."
Lee dropped his eyes to the ground. "In a way--" he said softly. "You gave me a whole new life."
"After I taught you how to swim."
"That wasn't my fault," Lee replied quietly.
"No, but you took the blame anyway. I had to drag what happened out of the other two midshipmen."
Lee shrugged. "You know the code."
"Still stubborn, I see."
Lee glanced over at him. "Would you have me any different?" "No." Harry met his gaze, holding it for a long moment. Abruptly Crane smiled. "Those new MIRVS they want us to test. You know 16 of those will not fit into our missile room."
"We'll have to reconfigure."
"I like Martin's blueprint best, with our current design."
They debated the various proposals for almost an hour before Lee tired. Nelson dug him a slight hollow in the sand and then tucked the blanket around him after Crane settled in.
Harry sat, watching him sleep. Unbidden, memories of Annapolis came to mind-- the summer of 1958 and how his first meeting with Lee had almost been Crane's last...
Another freshman who was involved told him enough of what happened for Nelson to start dismissal proceedings and Lee had verified it. Harry didn't understand at first why Barnes had hazed Lee. Apparently Barnes had mistakenly chosen the younger, more slender Crane as an easy target. In their first confrontation, Lee had humiliated the bully by knowing the answer, so Barnes couldn't do what he planned. That had made him look foolish in front of the others. Barnes vowed to get even for that and quickly found a weakness. He had ambushed Lee and then told the others to throw Crane into the Diving Pool as a warning and for uniform demerits. None of them knew Lee hadn't been taught to swim yet or they wouldn't have done it.
Nelson had been heading to his quarters when the fight by the diving pool drew his attention. When one of the midshipmen broke away and dove into the pool, Harry noticed the third plebe, staring panic-stricken into the dark water. Coming up to the pool edge, Nelson addressed the remaining fighter. "What's going on here, mister?"
The young man's eyes traveled up and down him insolently and he did not assume proper stance. Harry mentally noted to remember this one. His name plate said Barnes.
Finally the midshipman spoke. "We were walking to the Hall. We saw another classmate up on the edge of the pool, walking along it, like a tightrope. When we yelled at him to get down, he lost his balance and fell in. When he didn't come up, Ken dove in after him." Barnes shrugged. "He must have hit his head or something."
Nelson brushed past him, kneeling by the pool edge. Beneath him, the first midshipman broke surface, gasping for air, as he brought his unconscious classmate up with him. Harry bent down to help. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the insolent plebe move behind the other one. Barnes gave his classmate's shoulder a firm squeeze, shaking his head. He'd deal with that later.
"Here. Give him to me." Harry lifted the waterlogged midshipman over the edge and laid him flat on the deck. Nelson shook him, but the young man remained limp in his grasp.
Nelson raised his head, giving the third midshipman a command glare. "Go get some help!"
The young man squirmed out of Barnes' grip and ran off toward Bancroft Hall. Harry tilted the plebe's head back and then put his ear on his chest. Heartbeat, but he wasn't breathing. Harry swiftly clamped his hand over the midshipman's nose, pinching the nostrils shut and placed his mouth over his. Nelson gave him four quick breaths and checked again. No response.
Nelson bent over him again, starting another series of four breaths. In the middle of the second breath, the young man's chest heaved. Harry pulled back in relief. They weren't too late. The midshipman began to cough, gasping. Nelson flipped him onto his side.
Harry heard the other midshipman boost himself up out of the pool. He turned as the young man knelt next to him, ready to assist. "He'll be all right. That was quick thinking, Mister--"
"Fourth Classman Kenneth Wielding, sir." The midshipman straightened.
"You saved his life."
"Yes, sir." Wielding shifted uncomfortably.
"Your classman hasn't made himself known."
Wielding's eyes went wide. "Fourth Classman David Barnes, sir."
"And this is?" Nelson gestured at the freshman in front of them, still struggling for breath.
"Fourth Classman Lee Crane, sir."
At that moment Crane's eyes fluttered open. They closed as more coughing shook his body, then the midshipman rolled onto his back, his eyes reopening. The young man tensed as he made out his stripes. He managed to raise himself slightly, before collapsing back onto the deck.
"Easy, son." Nelson reached out to keep the young man lying down. "Mr. Barnes says you lost your balance." Harry did not miss the venomous look Wielding gave Barnes.
Crane swallowed hard, trying to speak. He coughed a few times, swallowed again and then answered huskily. "Y-yes sir." He met Nelson's eyes squarely. "No excuse, sir," he added in proper form.
Harry had a pretty good idea what had happened. No one was disputing Barnes' version, per the Midshipman's Code. "You're very lucky, Mr. Crane. If your classmen hadn't happened by, you would have drowned. You should stay away from pool edges until you learn to swim."
Barnes stiffened at his guess. Nelson wished he could discipline the real culprit, but now wasn't the time.
"I'm scheduled for... the PT. It won't... happen again, sir." Crane's voice would not settle.
"See that it doesn't." Nelson looked straight at Barnes, but the midshipman maintained his innocent expression.
Harry reached for the pad and pen in his shirt pocket, rapidly scrawling an explanation. He offered the paper to Wielding. "Here, give this to the Midshipman Officer of the Watch when he asks about your uniform."
"Thank you, sir." Wielding's eyes shone with gratitude. "Get moving, mister. You'll be late for retreat."
"Yes, sir!" Wielding scrambled to his feet, saluting smartly. Nelson returned it, dismissing him. The midshipman took off for Bancroft Hall.
Barnes looked at him craftily, waiting until the last second to give him a sloppy salute. Harry almost didn't return it. He turned back to Crane, hearing Barnes walk off. It would be a pleasure to dismiss that one.
Lee was watching. He had both arms clasped around himself, trying not to shiver. He tried to sit up again as Harry's gaze fell on him, but still couldn't make it.
Nelson swiftly pulled off his uniform jacket. Lifting Crane from the deck, he enfolded him in it. Lee clutched the jacket, confused. When Harry moved next to him, the young man pulled away. Nelson touched the midshipman's shoulder lightly. "I don't bite, son," he said quietly. "Now, I want you to lean on me until you catch your breath."
Crane nodded and finally relaxed against him.
"Tell me again how you fell into that pool."
The midshipman looked over at him. "I lost my balance."
He knew the code well. "All right, I believe you. Have to, now we're friends."
The young man looked over at him, bewildered. "Is that allowed?"
"You're a captain."
Crane's eyes dropped to the deck. "Please, sir, don't single me out."
"You'll get no preferential treatment from me, mister. You'll get what you deserve."
"Then I'm honored, sir."
"Good." Harry smiled. "Now, Mr. Crane, since it's up to me to assign punishment--"
Lee drew his feet up under him, but Harry held him down. "Belay that. Let's see--" Harry grinned suddenly as the idea hit him. "I'm going to teach you how to swim."
"You can do that?"
"Considered yourself so ordered. Thursday after Yard Patrol drill."
Crane started to protest, but thought better of it. "Aye, sir."
Nelson got to his feet, extending a hand down. "Take it. You'll not get up otherwise." Bracing, he pulled Lee to his feet. "Now you're going to the Infirmary to have your lungs checked, then I'll square you missing retreat with the watch officer."
"Sir, you don't have to--"
"General order number one, son. Never argue with a senior officer, particularly one who's going to save you a load of demerits."
Lee started to pull off his jacket. "You'd better have this back."
"No, you keep it on. I'll expect you to lend me yours one day when you have stripes of your own."
Crane again looked confused, until he realized Nelson was teasing him. He smiled shyly. "Sir, can I ask a question?" "Sure."
"Why are you helping me?"
Nelson smiled. "I saved your life. That means I'm now responsible for it. Any complaints, mister?"
"Good." Nelson chuckled at his vehemence. "Let's keep it that way."
Lee suddenly swayed.
Harry caught him before he fell. "I'll carry you."
"No," Lee pushed his arm aside. "I'll make it on my own, sir."
Nelson saw the plebe's jaw tighten. He took hold of Crane's arm instead, holding him up until they were inside the Infirmary. That Thursday, Harry wasn't sure he'd even get Lee into the pool. He knew Crane would show up. When he arrived in day uniform, Nelson knew Lee would ask him for proper punishment.
"Sir, you have more important things to do. I'll march my quarters and wait for my PT class. "
"Do you want to learn, son?" Harry asked quietly.
Crane glanced at the water, shifting the duffle bag he carried nervously. "Yes, sir," he said, without conviction.
"You wouldn't be trying to get out of punishment?"
"Oh no, sir!"
From his horrified expression, Harry could tell that thought had never crossed Lee's mind.
Nelson gestured at the duffle bag. "Is that your gear?" "Yes, sir."
"Put it on. You've got sixty seconds, mister!" Harry chuckled as Lee ran to the locker room. "And hang up your uniform!" he yelled after him.
Lee returned promptly, slamming to attention. "Midshipman Fourth Class Crane, sir! Reporting for punishment as ordered. Harry returned his salute, smiling. "Very sharp, Mr. Crane."
Nelson crossed the deck to the ladder and went down the ladder into the waist deep water. Lee remained at the top, staring down at the water. His hand clenched around the rail suddenly as he turned pale and started to tremble.
After what had happened the other night, Harry expected that. Nelson closed his hand over the young man's and pried it loose from the rail. His eyes abruptly came back into focus as Lee started to pull away. Harry tightened his grip. "You can trust me, son." He tugged Crane closer to the edge. "Come on."
Lee took another step toward him. He looked down at Nelson, seeking something in his eyes. Harry stood still, waiting. Crane suddenly squared his shoulders, determination replacing his uncertainty. Lee forced himself down the ladder until he stood in the waist high water beside him.
Harry put his free hand on Lee's shoulder and then tried to pull his other hand loose. "Let go," he said quietly.
Crane gripped his hand even tighter for a second, and then abruptly released it. He eyed Nelson, then the water warily.
"Now, swimming is easy. The human body is very buoyant, once you've learned to use it. First, you need to float."
Lee looked at him in disbelief. "Float, sir?"
"Yes. You have to relax, son, or we're licked before we even start. I want you to lie back." Harry grasped Lee's shoulders with both hands. He could feel the young man's muscles tensed under his hands. "Relax. I got you." He tilted Lee, trying to position him. Crane went even more rigid as the water touched his back.
Harry tightened his grip. "I won't let you go under. If you keep stiffening up, you will sink. Now, let yourself go limp and lower your head."
Lee's right hand clamped onto his arm in almost a death grip. Nelson moved in beside him, extending that hand under Lee to support his back. He moved his free hand under Lee's head. He rocked Crane gently; getting him used having the water all around him. "Now, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Hold it for about 15 seconds and let it out, then take another one." Harry shifted his hand under the midshipman's head, letting it drop further into the water. "That's it, go with it."
Lee loosened up a little when he didn't sink, but he kept his vise-like hold on Harry's upper arm. Nelson continued to talk to him, knowing his voice was reassuring.
Lee didn't relax completely, but he refused to panic, although Harry could feel how agitated he was. Lee kept fighting down his fear and was completely disgusted he could not perform even this most rudimentary element.
Harry again explained the importance of relaxing. Once Lee understood not to fight the water, they made quicker progress. Harry soon had Crane floating with no other support than his tight grip on Nelson's arm. Putting his face into the water was a minor hurdle. His curiosity took care of getting his eyes open. Lee did whatever Harry showed him and tried to master the skills as fast as Harry explained them. Learning the kicks and how to stroke were harder, though Crane showed good coordination. A few more sessions and Lee would find his style.
"Okay, that's enough for today," Harry said, touching Crane's shoulder. "I'll give you another lesson on Saturday."
Lee stood up in the water, looking at him in disbelief. "You said you'd teach me today."
Nelson was amused. "It takes more than an hour to learn everything. A good swimmer learns first not to get over-tired."
"I can do it--" Lee cut himself off, his eyes downcast.
Harry wanted him fresh for that lesson, despite the young man's impatience. Crane's disappointment made him consider letting the young man try. Lee's failure would teach him a lesson all his carefulness could not. It could also undo everything he had accomplished today. He would let the midshipman decide. That would teach him something else.
"All right, Lee," he said quietly, moving away from Crane's side. "Go ahead and show me."
Nelson purposely gave him a strong push into deeper water and away from an easy reach back to him. Crane would have to do it on his own.
Lee started stroking, kicking as Harry had taught him, and moving out into the water. He got about five feet out when he discovered he needed to breathe. Lee threw his head up, quit stroking and immediately sank. Nelson waited a moment, to see if Crane would regain the surface, or if he'd panic. Lee thrashed for a moment and then Harry saw him flip over into the float position.
He pushed off, grabbing Lee as his head came up out of the water. "Not so easy, is it?" he said quietly, kicking hard to get them both back to the wall.
"No... sir," Lee gasped, his face red with humiliation.
"Coordination of stroke and breathing is the first technique we'll practice on Saturday." Nelson dropped Crane's arm. "Here, you can touch, now."
Lee stood, his hands clenched tightly at his sides. "I--" Crane raised his head and his hazel eyes locked onto Harry's as he drew himself up. "Please, sir, show me today."
"You want to do it that much, son?"
Lee nodded. Nelson glanced at his watch. He could spare another half hour. "All right, I'll show you, but that's all we're doing today."
"Thank you, sir."
As soon as Harry was sure Crane had the technique down, he ended the session. By Saturday he would be doing laps.
Nelson pulled himself up the ladder. Lee was an extremely apt pupil. Harry reached for his towel on the bleacher bench.
A sudden splash startled him. He could have sworn Crane was right behind him. Nelson dropped his towel, moving the edge. Then he stopped, watching in disbelief.
Driven by his earlier failure, Lee was trying to swim across the pool again. Lee's strokes were choppy, uncoordinated, but he was bashing his way through the water. C'mon, son, you can do it.
Lee reached mid-pool and Harry was sure he would make it the rest of the way. Then Lee missed a stroke and took in a mouthful of water instead of air.
Harry dove off the edge, going deep to come up underneath the young man as he sank. Mentally, Harry cursed himself for not showing Crane how to recover when that happened. There hadn't been time yet. Lee quit struggling as soon as Nelson grabbed him, but it took longer for him to stop coughing as Harry held him in chest carry, keeping Crane's head out of the water.
"I'm...sorry, sir," Crane gasped, next to his ear. "Must be getting...tired of...rescuing me."
"No. Don't apologize. We're almost back to the wall."
Lee raised his head. "Let me do it."
Nelson knew he should say no, but he couldn't. Nelson released the midshipman, giving Lee a light push away.
Crane struck out for the ladder. Nelson followed warily, but Lee didn't falter. He swam to the wall and then dropped his feet to the bottom of the pool, standing up. A delighted smile lit his face.
Nelson joined him. "It's almost retreat." Harry tried to make his voice command gruff, but couldn't stop grinning. "Dismissed, Mr. Crane. I'll log your punishment as fulfilled." He extended his hand. "If you want to learn more on Saturday, I've time available."
Lee looked at him, his eyes wide.
"Take it, son, you earned it."
A red flush crossed Lee's features as he clasped Harry's hand. "Thank you, sir. I will definitely be here Saturday."
Crane was still like that, always doing anything asked of him. Then suddenly, he'd look up and give Harry that smile, his eyes warm with affection.
Harry had been trying extra hard these last five months. They had all been affected by Cathy's death. He glanced down at Lee, asleep, and smiled. The quiet one, who could say more with a look than anyone else he knew. Lee had been at NIMR six years now. He could always be counted on to support of anything Harry wanted to do. In that time Crane had become the son Nelson hadn't known he wanted. Seaview had brought mentor and officer back together in an even stronger alliance than the one they are formed 22 years earlier.
Until last October. Harry finally understood the guilt that had driven Lee to take that Agency mission and how his pain, depression and failure made Crane turn away from his friends afterwards. Harry shook his head. Lee had survived that, too. Crane could make himself do almost anything, except ask for help. He hoped Lee understood now that he had friends who were willing to do whatever it took to help him with his grief.
Harry began unrolling his cuffed shirt sleeves. It was cooling off now the sun was down. A breeze had sprung up. He could hear it making Lee's shirt flap. Harry rose and went over to the palm trunks. The shirt and socks were dry, the jacket was useable, but he left the damp blanket. He brought the clothing back to Lee.
As he knelt down, Harry wondered if he should rouse him. If Lee had a concussion, he could slip away without warning. Harry forced his worry down. No need to start imagining complications.
Nelson laid his hand lightly on Lee's neck, counting his heartbeats. Steady and well within range. Crane moved and he quickly removed his hand.
Lee's eyes fluttered open. "Hmmmf?" he questioned sleepily. "You were so quiet. If you have a concussion--"
"You shouldn't let me sleep too long. I keep worrying you."
Nelson rested his hand on Lee's shoulder. "I'm supposed to worry about you."
Lee shifted his legs slightly. "I made a promise. Now I'm useless again."
Harry tightened his hand, squeezing gently. "You're alive, son. That's all I care about."
"Why do you always forgive me?" Crane asked quietly.
"I need you. Somebody has to keep me from blowing myself to kingdom come."
Lee smiled. "I'd go up with you."
"That's what makes me think twice." Harry lifted Lee's khaki shirt from the silk. "Here, it'll get colder later on."
Lee pushed aside the blanket and tried to sit up.
Nelson helped him do that. Then he held the shirt so Lee could get into it.
Crane buttoned his shirt closed.
Harry slid his Admiral's jacket up Lee's arms, easing it into place over the khaki shirt and then helped Crane lie back down on the silk. Harry knew Lee noticed he'd put the wrong jacket on him, but thankfully he did not say anything.
Harry lifted Lee's left foot slightly, gently pulling a sock over the gauze. Then he did the same to Lee's other foot. Nelson drew a layer of silk over Crane, placing the blanket on top of that.
"When do you plan to sleep?" Lee asked quietly.
"Two beds." Harry gestured at the other parachute.
"Do you intend to use it?"
Harry rocked back on his heels. "As soon as I get you squared away."
"I haven't felt dizzy in a while."
"Good." Harry began to pat down the silk on his bed. "You'll tell me if you're in pain, right?"
"Yes." Lee let his eyes close.
Harry pulled the silk over, trying to find the best position to block the night breeze from Crane. As he worked, he listened to Lee's breathing. He relaxed when it became slow and regular. Harry lay down on the makeshift bed, not feeling the least bit sleepy. He shifted, trying to get comfortable.
Another bivouac flashed into his mind suddenly. He and his brothers had taken Lee ice fishing. Crane didn't know anything about lures, or tactics, but he came home with the biggest fish. Harry's brothers shook their heads in disgust. He never regretted taking Lee home with him that first Annapolis winter. One more made no difference and his Mom loved having a new son to fuss over. A chess game had been the catalyst for the invitation. Harry laughed to himself. The game was more like a rout...
After lunch they had gone into the study and set up the board on the small marble table. Crane had taken white, as usual. He was studying the board intently.
Harry leaned back, content. No one avoided that trap, not without study of the gambit and he hadn't given Lee the book yet. He allowed Lee plenty of time to analyze his last move. The game would be over if Crane didn't.
He forced himself to relax as Lee's hand moved toward his rook. He had found the solution. Harry had been using harder, more complex moves, but Crane had shattered those defenses as well. This move was his ace. It hadn't failed him in fifteen years.
Looking at Lee's intent face, he had a feeling this time it would. If Crane could figure out this gambit without help, the young man really was as smart as Harry thought.
"Ready to give in?" Harry asked quietly, testing.
"No, sir." Lee studied the board a moment longer and then moved his rook.
"And bishop takes rook." Nelson made his move straight from the book. "You should have seen that, son." He lifted his hand from the piece. He waited. Did Lee know what he was doing, or was it a lucky guess?
"You can't do that, sir." Lee looked at him steadily across the table. "That will put you in check."
Nelson looked down at the board, frowning.
"There's no where else to go. Checkmate, sir."
Nelson tipped his king over. "Are you aware, Mr. Crane that it took fifteen years to master that move."
Lee stiffened at his command tone, but he met Nelson's stern gaze without flinching. "Yes, sir," he said quietly.
"Yes, sir, what, mister!" Harry growled.
"Yes, sir, I am aware I have ruined fifteen years of serious chess playing," Lee replied earnestly. "I'm sorry, sir."
Crane's reply was too much for Harry. He laughed.
Lee stared at him in confusion.
It was rare he caught Crane anymore, although Lee was constantly surprising him. Realizing he was being teased, Lee smiled.
Nelson glared at him with mock severity. "You violated general order number two. Again!"
"I know, sir, but if I hadn't won, you'd have yelled at me for not trying hard enough."
Harry shook his head. "Damned if you do and damned if you don't, eh, son."
"It's always our fault."
Nelson reached across the table, gripping Lee's shoulder. "C'mon, I'll fix you a sandwich. I see they are running you ragged again."
"You'll be violating general order number one in a minute." Nelson warned, with a grin.
"I know." Lee followed him into the kitchen and soon demolished two large sandwiches.
Harry grinned at the memory. Even then Lee could assess a situation and act accordingly...
Crane stirred restlessly beside him. Nelson sat up, throwing off his silk. Lee huddled down further into his bed. Harry reached out and drew more of the fabric up over Lee. Nelson wished he had made a fire. It was too dark now to start blundering around looking for palm fronds. He should try to sleep. Still on submarine time. Maybe a walk around the grove would help.
Nelson picked up Lee's salt stiff flying jacket, shrugging into it. The sleeves fell down over his wrists. He folded them over absently, working the leather into place with his shoulders.
He jammed his hands in the pockets and walked over to the next palm tree. A coconut lay in the sand. Harry picked it up. He shook it, but it made no sound and he let it drop. The breeze blew through the palms, making the fronds rattle. Nelson felt restless. He wanted to do something.
"Admiral?" Lee's sleepy voice made him turn back toward the big palm. "Something wrong?"
"No, son." Harry walked back over to the beds, dropping to his knees beside Crane. He caught Lee by the arm as he tried to sit up. "I was stretching my legs."
"Oh." Lee relaxed in his grip. "I thought you heard something."
"I wish I had."
"I'm not much company."
Harry released Lee's elbow. "I told you to stop worrying about that."
"Yes, sir," Lee responded wearily. Crane eased himself down, pain flickering across his face. Harry moved to help him, but Lee waved him off. "My legs are stiff."
Harry pulled the silk aside, lifting the khaki from the nearest bandaged leg. He pulled the knotted ends apart, unwrapping about three inches. The swelling had increased. He could feel it under his hand. Nelson swore silently to himself.
"How am I doing, Doc?" Lee's forced, cheerful tone didn't mask his pain entirely.
Nelson quickly rewrapped and tied off the bandage. "They're still swelling." Harry reached for the water bottle. "Here."
Lee took it from his hand and lifted it, drinking slowly. He handed it back, looking at Harry squarely. "You have any yet?"
"A little." Harry took a few swallows from the bottle, and then lowered it.
Lee relaxed back against the tree, unaware he had used his command glare.
Harry smiled. No wonder the crew jumped. "How's your head? Any more dizziness?"
"A little, above my eyes."
Harry raised his hand. "How many fingers?"
Lee squinted. "Three. My vision's fine. It's the rest of me that isn't."
Harry grinned at Lee's sarcasm. Crane's voice was clearer now and much more coherent. Nelson placed the capped bottle back in the pack, closing it up. When he turned back, Lee was staring up at the stars.
"Looking for Polaris?"
Lee laughed, pressing a hand to his side. "No. Do you want to find it?"
"No, thanks. Now if we were in Boston, I'd take you up on that."
"Bet it's beautiful there now, with all the leaves turning." Lee's voice went wistful. "We haven't been home since --" Crane shook his head. "It's been too long."
"I know. I miss it too."
"There's the Southern Cross, over there."
"It's bright tonight."
"How far to Boston?"
It took a moment to remember the formula. Harry hadn't done star navigation for years. That first Christmas, he had given Lee a sextant. It would help if he had it now. "I'd make it about fifteen hours."
"It's fourteen and a half. I'm glad you took me home with you."
"I knew you'd like my family." Nelson smiled, remembering the train rides home, their talks and chess games he didn't always win.
"What are you thinking about?" Crane's quiet voice brought him out of his reverie. Harry dropped his hand from Lee's shoulder.
Lee shifted his shoulders, repositioning himself. "I still have that sextant."
"Kind of an antique now, isn't it?"
"It still gives a good fix." Crane shrugged slightly. "I have no complaints."
Harry moved into a cross-legged position on the sand. "You should be sleeping."
"I'd rather talk. I wouldn't mind hearing one of your stories."
Harry laughed softly. "That will put you to sleep."
"That's what you want, isn't it?"
Harry glanced at Crane sharply and then shook his head. "Sometimes, I wonder why I put up with you."
"Habit?" Lee grinned mischievously.
"Okay, you asked for it."
Crane scrunched down, pushing some of the silk beneath his head as a pillow.
"In 1942 I was given my first command, a diesel P-T boat, based out of Espirtos San Marcos. I thought she was the best there was, until we ran into those Jap planes."
Chip Morton suddenly realized he was staring at the grid map on the chart table and not seeing anything. He shook his head. Get with it. He glanced down at his projected flight line, only half completed. He had plotted the last radio fix. They were aloft, in good shape at fourteen hundred. But they never showed up in Santa Barbara. They could have attempted contact with Caracas at sixteen hundred. There was no way of knowing with the radio equipment out. Hell of a time for a brownout.
Caracas was back on the air, but they couldn't raise the Flying Sub. All they received back was static. Chip bent over his map. They had disappeared somewhere around the Galapagos, given their last radio fix.
It was a lot of sea to cover. The planes would start searching at dawn. Chip's fist started to clench. He made it relax. There was no way to get the boat there any faster. Late tomorrow was the best Randy could do. Tonight, wherever they were, Lee and the Admiral would have to manage. If they were still alive.
Chip angrily dismissed that thought. There was no proof they were dead. No proof they were alive, either. If the Flying Sub sank-- Morton shook his head. He couldn't let his imagination take over. No thunderstorm storm activity in that area. They could survive the night in a raft.
Chip wouldn't believe they were dead. Fate wouldn't be that cruel to him. Three times this past year he had almost lost Lee, but somehow each time Crane had survived. Lee still grieved, but he had improved the last five months. Jamieson had been right about dragging Crane into every project they possibly could.
Chip could kick himself for not going to Will sooner. He should have gone after that night Lee went walking out into the sea. He should have realized then something was wrong. That incident had haunted his sleep for many nights afterward.
Even now, Morton didn't believe Lee had wanted to kill himself. It was a bad day with too many memories. Lee had been more drunk than Chip had ever seen him, well past the point where he knew what he was doing. Crane had promised him that night he wouldn't do it again. Lee would never go back on his word once he gave it.
Doc had finally managed last May to convince Crane to let them help him and now Lee was better, this had to happen. Hasn't he been through enough, damn it? Haven't we all? It's bad enough you took her, why do you have to have him, too?
Chip scrubbed his hand across his forehead, forcing his worry down. He reached for his pencil. Finish the flight line. Give the planes someplace to start. He entered their last reported position. The calculating gave him something else to think about. Running through the formulas, it was his routine. He found solace doing it.
It was what he did best. Lee decided where they would go and he made sure the boat made it there. Morton printed the coordinates on the grid map. Then he drew his circle. Somewhere in a thousand miles of ocean, they went down.
He wished Lee was there. Crane would know where to start. He'd calculate the wind drift, add the estimated speed of the Flying Sub and determine the heading. Then he'd work up an estimate of their position from the last contact. Lee would start searching there, extending outward along the flight line in sectors of one hundred miles each.
Chip began jotting down numbers. It took a moment to remember the Flying Sub's cruising speed. Crane flew her most of the time. Lee had an instinctive feel for the controls he couldn't begin to match. Morton continued figuring, feeling the faint tremor of Seaview's turbines beneath his feet. Randy had gone to flank speed. Morton closed his eyes as unbidden; the memory of the last Flying Sub crash came to mind. He and Lee had spent hours at this chart table, searching for the Admiral and Sharkey.
For a moment, he could feel Lee standing beside him. As he had on that long night, his hazel eyes clouded with worry, but still outwardly optimistic. Bucking him up with a soft hand on his shoulder, assuring him that 'they'd be okay.' They got lucky that time. Lee tried every possible search.
Chip smiled to himself. It had taken him nearly all that first summer to convince Lee that he really wanted to be his roommate. It was funny now, knowing Lee as he did, that he ever could have thought Crane didn't like him. Lee had turned out to be an excellent roommate, always pulled his share, but he was so quiet. He rarely talked, unless Chip started a conversation. That first gesture was so typical of Lee. He'd do anything to help a friend...
Chip wondered how he would remember everything they were throwing at him. The class work was fine, but seamanship was something else. In particular, knot tying and especially a Bowline.
Morton yanked his practice cord straight again. Make a loop, bring the end through the loop, around and back through-- it fouled even worse. He undid the tangled mess, cursing silently under his breath. He caught himself, glancing swiftly at his roommate. Lee was reading at the desk. Chip went back to his knot. He didn't want to disturb him.
School work had always been easy for Chip. He had his share of 'friends' who wanted him to do their homework for them. He'd learned to hide his intelligence by playing class clown. Lee was always reading something. Only once had he caught Crane away from his books. Chip had come in one morning after reveille to find Lee dressed. He was staring out the window into the inner courtyard. It was too early for Formation. He could tell his roommate's thoughts were far away. When he entered the room, Lee turned away from the window. Crane gave him his usual good morning smile and started squaring up his side of the room.
Lee let him be himself, content if he offered his company. What little free time they were given, Lee spent with Captain Nelson. Chip knew Lee was grateful the Captain had saved his life, but by the weekend, Chip preferred the company of his classmates to that of an officer. He wouldn't have minded if Lee came along, but he hesitated to ask.
Chip suddenly realized he knew very little about his roommate. Once again the knot refused to form under his fingers. Chip resisted his impulse to throw the cord at the wall. That wouldn't help. There had to be a logical way to approach this.
His navigation formulas always worked out, once the numbers were correct. Morton pulled the cord straight and tried again.
A light hand on his shoulder startled him. He glanced up quickly. Lee stood beside him, a half smile on his face. "Would you like some help with that?" he asked softly.
Chip glanced at his tangled cord, then at the earnest face of his roommate. Lee was serious. "You know how to tie this?"
"Uh, huh. I can't get it."
"May I?" Crane reached for the cord and untangled it. He twisted the rope deftly and the knot materialized in his hands. "That's it! How'd you do that?"
Lee pulled the cord straight again. "You put this through here, then come around like this, through here, then back around and you are done." Crane worked as he spoke and once again tied the knot. He yanked the cord straight, handing it back to him. "Here, now you try it."
Chip began again. He tried to follow Lee's explanation. Halfway through Crane stopped him.
"No, Chip, through here."
"Oh." Morton came back around and tied it off. This time the knot materialized. "I did it!" He glanced up at Lee, grinning.
Crane returned the grin.
"Now if I can only do this tomorrow." Chip looked at the tied cord, trying to memorize the twists.
Lee placed his hand on the cord. "Could I have it back for a moment, Chip?"
Chip released it. "Sure."
Lee undid the knot. He held up the cord, the two ends side by side. "I'll show you a little trick." Crane raised one end of the cord. "Imagine this is a rabbit," Lee raised the other end. "and this is a fox. The fox chases the rabbit into his hole. The rabbit runs out the back door, doubles back and goes back in the front door. He's snug in his hole while the fox is still sniffing around in vain out back." Again the knot materialized as Lee illustrated the story.
"That's great. Your instructor show you that?"
"No." Crane looked down at the cord. "Captain Nelson did. I couldn't tie it at first, either. It's an easy way to remember."
He had no further trouble with the knot and Chip found himself remembering that little story long after they both had left Annapolis...
Morton looked at the circled search area again. He wished Lee could help him with this one. He had to find them, somehow. Chip reached for his microphone. "Engine room."
"Stay at flank for another hour, then back off to three-quarters for two."
Chip clicked the mike. "Maneuvering."
Chip consulted his grid map. "Bring her to two-nine-four, steady as she goes."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Chip sat down on the chart table stool. All he could do now was wait. And maybe pray a little.
"After a while you got used to shell fire. Some of the men would jeer at the planes when they missed. I knew what would happen if we ever got hit. I did everything I knew to prevent that from happening. Those Japanese pilots were crafty. After having one ship shot out from under me, I wasn't keen to lose another." Nelson knew Lee was falling asleep, but he continued his tale nonetheless.
Crane had stayed awake longer than he expected, enjoying his stories of his first command. They had decommissioned the last PT boat while Lee was in Vietnam. The dash-and-run tactics they'd used in World War Two had no place in that action. Now, war was all buttons, missiles and computers. Crane didn't talk about his Vietnam service, although Harry knew he had commendations. Lee never bragged about anything he had accomplished.
Harry was telling about a deadly game of tag with a persistent Zero when Lee's eyes slid shut. A few moments later, he relaxed into the silk. Nelson waited a few more minutes, still talking to be sure. Crane's eyes stayed closed. Satisfied, Harry gently pulled the parachute silk higher, over Crane's shoulders.
Cathy had been the first to joke about the 'terribly efficient Captain Crane.' It had become a running gag. Her inflection said it all. Harry closed his eyes as a memory came welling up. Cathy, hands on hips, glaring at Lee in the foyer of his office, her green eyes snapping. Lee, standing easily, a crooked, amused smile on his face. This only made her madder. Cathy would have whacked Lee, if Harry hadn't come out when he did. She had a temper, that girl.
It had been a year since Cathy had been taken from them. Harry missed her quick tongue, her enthusiasm, always wanting to be in the middle of everything. Lee had taken her loss hard, but lately he had been better.
Nelson reached out, gently ruffling Crane's dark hair. We're with you, son. You don't have to face it alone. Harry laid the back of his palm against Lee's forehead. Warm, but not too warm. Maybe Lee wouldn't develop a fever. He lowered his hand, gently lifting Lee's wrist, feeling for Crane's pulse. It was steady. Lee hadn't had a dizzy spell since early evening. He did not need a concussion to complicate his other injuries.
Nelson shook his head, feeling sleepy. He glanced at his watch. It was almost midnight. In Santa Barbara he'd be getting ready for bed. He glanced at the chute spread beside Lee. Maybe he would lie down for a while. If Crane got restless, this close he'd hear him.
Nelson could stay up all night watching, but then he'd be useless in the morning. Lee could be feverish from the coral poisoning by then. If he fell asleep on watch, he might not rouse if Crane needed him. He would set his watch alarm for two hours for his next check.
Harry rubbed a hand through his hair. What would Will do? Nelson pulled the silk toward him, positioning it on the sand so his body blocked the slight northwest breeze. He glanced at Crane again. Still asleep. Nelson had a beacon to build in the morning to attract the planes that would be out with the dawn.
Harry laid down on the silk, pulling it over him. He set the alarm on his watch. Nelson closed his eyes, shifting on the silk, trying to burrow a hollow in the sand. Leather creaked. He was still wearing Lee's jacket. Harry shrugged it off, working more stiffness out of the leather by rolling it between his hands. Once it was pliable again, he draped the jacket over Lee's shoulders. He had silk. That would be enough.
Nelson eased back down on the parachute. He hoped he was half as much comfort to Lee as Crane was to him. Lee would smile and that acknowledgement of their friendship was better than any words ever could. Crane returned his affection with a fierce loyalty that had no equal. It wasn't easy for Harry to express his love for his son but he knew they belonged together, helping each other.
Nelson let his eyes slide shut, burrowing down into the silk. In a few moments he was asleep.
Lee awoke abruptly. For a moment, he wasn't sure where he was. He lifted his head and the ache in his side returned. He shifted on the sand, aware of throbbing in his stiff legs. Lee tried to pull himself up. Pain rippled up and down his legs.
Crane lay back on the sand, suddenly feeling lightheaded. He had been dreaming he was on Seaview. No, wait, that happened right after I came on board. Lee pressed his hand to his forehead. Why would I dream about that?
He pushed down the silk, feeling hot and sticky. His jacket fell to the sand beside him, the stripes gleaming dully in the starlight. Lee reached down to retrieve it. The wide epaulets of the admiral's flying jacket brushed the side of his face. Tucked me in after all.
Crane pulled his jacket to him, sitting up with an effort. He pressed a hand into his side, fighting down his pain. He looked around for the Admiral. He found the silk above him. Nelson was sound asleep. Kept his promise, too.
The Admiral looked exhausted. Lee suddenly realized how much more grey there was in his red hair. They called him old man, but Lee hadn't noticed how apt that nickname was becoming. He'd known the admiral for more than twenty years. That would make Nelson almost sixty. The Admiral showed no intention of slowing down. With the new grant--
Crane caught himself abruptly. They had missed the meeting and that could have lost them the grant, unless Johnny did some fast explaining. Linda was there. She would give the presentation.
Lee leaned to his left and slung his jacket awkwardly over Nelson. It would get chilly before dawn and he was already enough of a burden. Returning the favor, sir, now I do have stripes. A soft smile came to Lee's lips as he watched Nelson sleep. General order twenty-one was definitely in force. Chip had coined that one: Never wake a sleeping admiral, not unless you wanted to be breakfast. Crane grinned suddenly. It did help to bring a cup of coffee along.
It had been six good years together. Lee felt a sudden surge of affection for his mentor and friend. The Admiral had given him so much. His friendship, a place at NIMR and the best role model for what Lee wanted to do with his own future.
The Admiral never asked him for more than he was capable of. Understanding when he needed to be alone and yet always there if he wanted to talk. Nelson let him to make his own decisions and his own mistakes. Crane had made plenty this past year.
His friends had taken him back without question, after the mission. They kept telling him they cared. He didn't have to face the pain alone, although he tried to for several months, until the intervention.
Lee hadn't realized how deep depression could be, until he tried getting back to where he once was. Crane had concentrated on his job, learning to live with the pain. He would probably never be free of it, but now when it flared, he'd find Chip, or the Admiral. It was always less in their company and he could handle it without having to numb himself into oblivion with vodka. Cathy was dead. Blaming himself for it would never change that.
Lee closed his eyes at the memory of her laughing green eyes. Emerald eyes that glowed with a special fire for him. Four years, in command of Seaview, with her to come home to, he'd found his life at last. Quiet evenings with only a fire to warm them, her eyes aglow with passion, lying so soft beside him.
It wasn't good to remember times like that. Jamie refused to let him torture himself with guilt. Lee had responsibilities he could not shirk. He had promised not to let the Admiral or Chip down again. Part of him had died with her and for a while, Lee couldn't convince himself he wanted to go on. If Chip and Jamie hadn't been looking out for him, he would be dead. Nelson would not desert him, no matter what he did.
He hadn't done anything right since her death. Crane squeezed his eyes shut as the sudden, familiar ache of his grief flared once more. Fighting down his pain, Lee pulled Nelson's jacket closer around him and the epaulets brushed his cheek again. Crane reached up, his fingers tracing the four stars. There was something solid. Nelson kept insisting he owed the fourth star to him. Lee knew that the admiral had earned them, but Nelson had him promoted as well. He was only doing his job. Anyone who had served with the Admiral learned they had to. He'd been lucky to get his lesson early, when Nelson had been given command of his Youngster cruise his third summer at Annapolis...
Lee knew he should return to his bunk, but there was no rest there. The destroyer's motion was making him queasy. The walk had helped, until he reached the head. Seeing his classmates being sick made him seek relief elsewhere.
Crane climbed the companionway toward deck. Maybe outside he could look at the waves, calculate their speed and size and estimate the drop. Lying in his bunk, waiting for it-- the very thought made his stomach hop.
He'd hit amidships. Take a quick bearing. Arno wouldn't mind. Standing watch in a gale had to be tough. And unless it blew over by morning, he would be.
The ship lurched as Lee moved down the corridor, the motion getting worse. He heard metal clanging against something aft.
Lee wished was like Captain Nelson. He could sleep anywhere. It was something he would have to learn. When a ship was his responsibility, he would have no other choice.
Crane came out the hatch and was very nearly blown back inside. Spray was flying all over the deck. Lee grabbed the rail around the gun.
A middy in oilskins stood a few feet in front of him. His shoulders hunched miserably, as he stood in the slight protection afforded by the lee side of the emplacement. Lee glanced over the rail. A wall of water towered over them. He tightened his grip as the ship lurched under him.
One-- two-- three-- The ship reached the top of the wall and started down, twisting sideways. Seven-- eight-- nine-- ten. She bottomed out abruptly, smashing through a shallow trough. Water came splashing over the battened down gun. Lee ducked, but not quickly enough.
Crane shook his head, pushing his soaked hair back. He watched his friend shake out his oilskins, suppressing a smile as water puddled around the other midshipman's feet.
Lee pulled himself along the rail and grabbed Arno's monkeytail. He should have his own line rigged, but he wasn't staying long. He wouldn't let go.
He tapped Arno on the shoulder. His friend immediately slammed to attention, bringing his hand up in a salute.
"You do that very well," Lee yelled over the wind, grinning as Arno relaxed, realizing it was only him. "Expecting brass?"
"I thought you were the Officer of the Deck!" Arno palmed water from his face. "He should be the only one out in this."
"Sorry." Lee lifted his sleeve. "Only one stripe here. I can't sleep. Some storm, huh?"
"You can have it. Are you running messages?"
"No, I'm trying to get a handle this motion. Below, it's like waiting for the axe to fall. I want to know before something comes crashing down around my ears."
"Better than standing watch. I'll be a prune by morning." A clap of thunder startled them both. Arno grabbed the rail, wincing. Lee glanced skyward. Lightning flashed, illuminating the waves, giant grey-green walls that rose before them. The ship lurched again.
Crane glanced at his friend as Arno clung to the rail. He had closed his eyes, his teeth were clenched together and was shivering. Lee closed his hand over Arno's. "Motion getting to you?"
"A little. I'll get over it."
"Captain Nelson says we'll have our sea legs soon."
"Lee," Arno looked up at him suddenly. "Why aren't you ever afraid?"
"I am," Lee admitted. "That's why I came topside."
"How come you never show it?"
Lee smiled, removing his hand. "It doesn't help, plus it makes those under you lose confidence."
"I wish I was like you."
"No, I'm not. You don't foul up when you try."
"Neither do you. Everybody has their own pace. Don't let Tom rattle you."
"Lee, I--" Arno dropped his head. "I hate it when they razz me."
"Know what you're up against and then find a way to handle it. It makes no difference if it's Tom, or your station. Even if it is your first gale. It's my first one, too."
Arno glanced up, surprised. "You're kidding."
Lee shook his head. "I told you when we left port I'd never been on a destroyer before."
"Yeah, I remember, but you act like it's old hat."
"It's only wind and water." Lee gestured at the waves. "I'll admit there's a lot of it, but it's still only water."
"Only water--" Arno looked out over the rail.
Lee dropped his hand. "I'd better get below before I turn into a prune, too. Somebody'll miss me, sooner or later."
Arno shook himself again. "I have to get moving, make sure everything is still secure on this station."
Lee stepped back. "Try to stay dry."
"Yeah, right. 'Night, Lee."
Arno walked around the gun, as Lee turned to go back through the hatch. The ship lurched sideways, throwing him off balance. Lee grabbed for the hatch edge as the ship dropped beneath him. He held on tightly as the destroyer's bow continued down. A wall of water hit him, smashing him into the high door sill. Lee clung to the hatch edge, fighting the horrible, sucking pull of the water, until the crushing pressure lifted.
Lee remained bent over the sill, gasping, as the water ran off over the side. For a moment, he felt he would go over the side. Crane pushed away from the hatch and then quickly grabbed it again, as the ship climbed the side of the next wave.
Lee palmed water from his eyes, shoving his hair back. He was lucky he had been so close to the hatch, a few feet farther out and he'd be overboard by now.
Arno! Lee sat up abruptly, his eyes sweeping over the deck. It was empty, with an inch of water swirling on it. No sign of Arno, there was only a rope that went over the side of the ship. Rope-- Arno's monkeytail!
Lee scrambled to his feet and ran to the deck rail. He bent over it, following the rope downward until it disappeared beneath the churning waters.
The ship lurched as it crested the wave. Lightning flashed as Lee peered into the misty rain. A tangled mass of cordage, one of the safety nets broke surface, surrounding a black rubber object. The monkeytail disappeared into it. The ship started down again and Arno disappeared beneath the water.
Lee ran for the amidships rescue station. He hit the alarm claxon with one hand, as he grabbed the life ring and ropes with the other. The alarm blared as he ran back to the emplacement, almost sliding into it on the slick deck.
Crane quickly tied the ring rope around the stanchion. He dropped the ring over the side, to where he last saw Arno. Lee secured the other rope with three half hitches beneath it and then doubled it around his waist.
Yanking out his knife, he opened the blade and ducked under the rail. When the ship smashed into the next wave Lee let the water take him over the side. The water was icy and the ring nearly took his head off when he surfaced. Crane grabbed it and pushed it toward the tangled netting. Lee lunged, getting astraddle of the mass as it rose out of the water, shoving the ring at his messmate.
"Arno!" he yelled, pulling his friend's head up by the hair. "Take the ring!"
Williams managed to latch onto the ring with one hand.
"I'm going to cut you loose!" Crane thrust his knife into the cordage, barely having time to see his friend nod dully before the water engulfed them both. The water smashed over him, trying to tear him loose. Lee gripped tighter with his legs, still cutting.
The rope gave way under his knife. They rose abruptly above the water. He felt Williams trying to twist free. Lee traced the ropes wound around Arno's legs with his free hand.
The ship plunged, submerging them again. Lee kept cutting, trying to gauge their rise and fall. The water was driving them deeper and deeper with each wave, cordage swirling all around him.
Crane felt a sudden tug around his own waist and slashed savagely through another rope. Not yet. A third rope parted under his blade and Arno abruptly rolled free. The tangled cordage flipped, falling over on top of Lee and sending him tumbling down into the dark water. He had to find the surface. The netting surrounded him, dragging him down. Lee groped for Arno, but found nothing but water.
Crane almost lost his air as the rope around his waist jerked savagely upward. Lee felt himself rising. He kicked hard to clear the rope entangling his legs.
He thrashed sideways, trying to free himself as his head broke the surface. A wave swept over him, sending him tumbling under again. Another rough pull dragged him back to the surface, lifting him above the waves. Crane spun on the end of the rope, the ship looming directly in front of him. Lee tried to twist, fend off with his feet, but he was too close and he smashed into the steel side. Everything went grey and unfocused in numbing pain. He felt himself falling. The water rose to meet him and he crashed through it. It closed over him and he couldn't breathe. Everything went black.
Another vicious yank on his rope jarred him awake. He was spinning in cold, wet grayness. Someone latched onto his arm. Crane felt several other hands on him. Lee tried to get his legs under him, but they buckled. He was lowered onto the deck.
Crane forced his eyes open. He saw Arno, lying on the deck beside him in tattered oilskins, gasping. As he raised his head, Arno turned, reaching out to him. Lee tried to take his hand.
The sudden pain turned his vision black and he was falling.
He landed on something soft this time. A voice was calling him. Lee gritted his teeth, opening his eyes. A blurred face swam above him. Crane closed his eyes, shook his head and tried again. Slowly the face came into focus. Captain Nelson.
"Stay with me, son." Nelson tightened his grip.
"A--Aye sir," Lee answered.
A corner of the Captain's mouth twitched upward as their eyes met.
"He did it...to help me...sir." Arno gasped.
Nelson turned away, as the corpsman made Williams lie down on the deck again. "Saved your life, too. Now both of you are going to Sick Bay."
The Captain was lifting him up from the deck. Lee's head came to rest against something warm and solid. That was the last thing he remembered about that night...
Crane smiled, pulling Nelson's jacket tighter around him. It was embarrassing to wake up in Sick Bay the next morning and find his arm in a cast. One emblazoned in black marker with the number forty-two. He knew what Nelson meant, but there was no explaining it to his classmates. They thought it had to do with broken arms. They'd never believe the Captain had a sense of humor. Order forty-two was their private joke-- a figurative warning they used for many circumstances and occasions, by telling each other 'to watch out for ships in the night.' He would have to go make it literal.
Arno's gratitude had eased his frustration. Lee only needed one hand to play chess. He couldn't stand watch in a cast and sling, but Nelson found a solution. He made him his only messenger. The Captain sent him all over the ship. By the end of most days, he had been in and out of every department at least once. He had quickly learned how a destroyer was run, all the little nuances they had never discussed in command class. All Lee had to do was keep his eyes open and watch. Only much later did he realize what Nelson had given him.
The Captain was gruff and demanded clear reports and speedy delivery. Sometimes after eight bells, he'd call him to his cabin and ask how his arm was healing. Nelson would then answer any questions Lee had about what he had seen. He always reminded Crane before he dismissed him, that Lee wasn't getting any special treatment because of his injury. While it wasn't exactly punishment, most of his classmates saw only the amount of work he had to do in the position and not the benefit he had gained.
Lee glanced over to where Nelson lay sleeping. As long as he had known him, the Admiral had always said: Do it yourself. That's the only way you'll get anywhere. You'll earn it. Don't expect me to do it for you.
Except, Nelson had always been there to help him. Sometimes, it was only encouraging words when he needed them. Why Nelson had chosen him, Lee didn't know. Crane hoped the Admiral understood. He wasn't sure he could ever tell the man how much he loved him.
Lee pushed the silk down further. It was too warm. He shifted on the sand. His side protested. Maybe it would have been better not to bail out after all.
No, hr had promised five months ago he'd get better. Lee had to fight hard not to get depressed, but it happened far less often lately.
He couldn't do anything until dawn. Time to sleep, build up his strength. Lee pulled some silk into a bundle under his head. At least if he was asleep he wouldn't feel the itching under his leg bandages. Crane laid his head on the silk, closing his eyes, ignoring the feeling of spinning inside his head. With a little rest it would go away. He planned to be useful in the morning. The Admiral would not talk him out of helping. Lee smiled to himself. He could be stubborn, too. After a few moments, he drifted off.
Chip rolled over in his bunk, resisting the urge to look at the chronometer set in the bulkhead above his head. Dawn wouldn't come any sooner by looking at the readout every five minutes.
His worry kept sleep from coming. He had to be positive in front of the crew. Here, alone in his cabin, he knew the odds. There were so many variables. And one part of each variable was death. Chip shifted restlessly. He wanted to do something. If only, he wasn't a thousand miles out of range.
Morton sat up abruptly. He flipped aside the bed sheet and put his feet on the floor. Rising, he walked over to his wardrobe and quickly donned a clean uniform. He was knotting his tie out of habit when he caught himself. No need. Chip pulled the knot loose and took off the tie, hanging it back in the wardrobe. He pulled on his socks, quickly laced his oxfords and ran a comb through his blond hair. Then he headed for the radio shack.
He found Nick seated at the transmitter. Peatty smiled wryly, adjusting his dials. "San Diego is starting to stir. They're pre-flighting the planes now, waiting for first light. Want to talk to them?"
Chip waved the mike aside. "Maybe later, after they get all the planes away. Who's on graveyard at Santa Barbara?"
"Dan. Johnny and Mike plan to be back at sunrise. Dan monitored the Flying Sub frequency all night. No contact."
Chip laid his hand lightly on Sparks' shoulder. "It was a long shot. Thank him for trying next time you talk to him."
Nick turned sideways in the chair. "They had to replace everything before we got Caracas back on the air. Maybe the Flying Sub is still intact and only their radio transmitter is fried.
"Maybe." Chip did not want to dash Nick's hope.
Sparks clenched his hand around his earphones. "I feel so useless."
"I tried to sleep for a while, but I kept thinking about them out there. All alone, with no help."
Morton sighed. He felt the same frustration. "Pretty easy to get discouraged, isn't it?"
"It's a long time to be out of contact."
"Remember who we're talking about. If anyone can find a way to survive, they will."
"You're right." Nick slung his earphones back over his head as his transmitter beeped. He reached over and flipped on the speaker.
"I repeat, this is San Diego Naval Air Station. The first search plane is away. Do you read me, Seaview?"
"This is Seaview. We read you 4 by 4, San Diego."
"Roger, Seaview. We'll keep you posted."
"We'll be monitoring. Thanks. Seaview out."
Chip removed his hand. "Maybe now we'll find out something. How about you call for relief and we go have breakfast."
"I've already eaten. Cookie started early."
"It could be a long day."
Sparks looked up at him. Chip held his gaze and watched the comprehension dawn in Peatty's eyes. Nick knew the odds too.
Harry came awake suddenly and closed his eyes quickly as bright sunlight flashed into them. Daylight? He rolled over. Can't be morning already. Lee's jacket went tumbling off him to the sand as he raised his arm to look at his watch. He stared at it a moment, confused. He had draped it over Lee last night. Right after he set the alarm on his watch.
He glanced at his watch. It was oh seven hundred. He had set his alarm for earlier than that. Harry pushed in the set button. The digital readout changed to oh two hundred. He had slept through it. Damn. Nelson pushed his silk aside wearily and rolled his shoulders trying to ease the stiffness in his back and legs. I'm getting too old to spend the night sleeping on the beach.
His eyes fell on Lee's jacket again. It didn't get over here by itself. Crane had woken during the night. Harry kicked free of the silk, rolling over to kneel beside the other makeshift bed.
Lee was asleep now. Harry smiled. Curled up in his jacket, clutching the silk, Lee reminded him of the much too serious midshipman he had 'adopted' so many years ago.
Harry reached out and gently shook his Captain. His color was better this morning. "Lee?"
"Humph?" Crane muttered sleepily, trying to burrow further into the silk. Harry found the response encouraging. That usually happened. Nelson gently pushed back the tousled hair from Lee's forehead and felt warmth beneath his fingers. Harry laid the back of his palm against Lee's forehead.
Crane's eyes fluttered open, a little hazy at first. Then his eyes cleared, the green glints brighter than usual. Harry removed his hand, as Lee's eyes traveled up, feeling his touch.
"'Morning, son," he said cheerfully. "Feeling better?"
"I guess. Too warm last night."
"We're well south of Santa Barbara."
Lee pushed his silk down, wincing as he sat up. Nelson moved closer to help him, grasping his shoulder.
"Or I'm developing a fever."
Harry paused, wondering whether to argue Lee's point. "It's a little early--"
Lee gestured at his legs. "I've tangled with coral before." Nelson found himself caught by Crane's calm gaze, his eyes much too bright. "You want some aspirin, son?"
Lee relaxed, letting Nelson prop him up against the palm tree. "Can't hurt."
Harry reached into the aid kit, finding the right pill container. He shook out two tablets. He handed them to Crane with the water bottle. "Feel like some breakfast?" he asked, reaching for the chute pack.
"Maybe some crackers. My stomach can't take the thought of Spam."
"It can't be that inedible." Harry took the rations from the pack.
A faint smile tugged at the corner of Lee's mouth. "No worse than Mrs. Simpson's coffee with buttermilk."
Harry paused, glancing at Lee sharply. "How'd you know about that?"
"I have my sources."
Nelson unwrapped the cracker pack and handed it to Lee. "Had to be Morton."
Lee's smile deepened, as he pulled crackers from the pack. "Why do you always blame Chip?"
"Because he's usually guilty." Nelson laid a chocolate bar on the silk next to Lee and picked up the Spam tin.
"Is it because you can catch him?"
"The day I catch you--" Nelson lifted an accusing finger and then laughed. "I've known for years you talked him into most of those pranks."
"Me?" Lee looked at him innocently.
"Yes, you. Now, eat your breakfast."
Lee laughed softly. "I had nothing to do with your birthday surprise. If I had, they wouldn't have gotten it on board."
"I know that, son. I was thinking of Manila."
"Oh. It was a good idea at the time."
"Except everyone got carried away."
"Yeah, by the Shore Patrol." Lee grinned.
Harry laughed, though at the time he'd been pretty mad. Between the two of them, his boys kept him on his toes.
Lee finished off the open cracker pack, took a few more sips of water and handed the bottle back to Nelson.
He had to keep Lee's strength up. There were planes up by now; Johnny would have insisted on it. Harry finished the last of his cracker sandwich and crushed the empty Spam tin. He wrapped it in the cracker wrapper and stowed both back in the pack. He had to get started on that beacon right away. The sun had already been up an hour.
"Well, I'll go see if I can salvage anything from the Flying Sub." He picked up a chocolate bar to eat on the way.
"I'll come with you." Lee pushed himself up, using the tree.
"No, son. Walking will aggravate your cuts and raise your fever. Let me get the materials. I'll bring them back here and we'll work on them together."
"I want to help--"
"I know. I'm going to let you, but if Will were here, he wouldn't want you moving around." Nelson stood up. "It won't take long."
Linda knew they weren't expecting her to come in. She preferred to get bad news in person, rather than sitting home waiting for the phone to ring. She spent most of the night sorting out how she felt as sleep wouldn't come.
She had stayed late, helping Johnny, as he arranged for the search. They had talked with Chip on board Seaview. She could tell Robinson and Morton were worried more than they showed. As the evening wore on, Johnny talked more and more about what the loss of Nelson and Crane would do to the Institute.
She was a little surprised he confided in her. After almost a year, she was part of the team. Her contract was up for renewal and she was more than willing to stay on, only who would sign it--
Linda shook her head. That should be the least of her worries. NIMR wouldn't be the same place without the Captain and the Admiral.
The worried faces last night showed her how deep their
commitment was to Nelson. She didn't have much contact with him, but she had liked what she had seen. There had been a few times Nelson, Crane and Morton had gone into deep discussions of projects and forgotten she was there.
Linda pushed open the door to the radio room. Dan turned to see who she was. He smiled at her before going back to his dials. San Diego was on the air. Linda slid into the nearest chair to listen to their operations chatter. The search was underway, but the planes had miles to travel yet.
Johnny Robinson pushed through the door. He didn't look like he had much sleep, either. His eyes fell on her and he smiled. "Hi, old faithful."
She smiled back. "I like it here."
"We'll find a use for you."
He sat down next to Dan and reached for the radio log.
She leaned back in the chair. She had never blended into a place so well. Like she had always been here, yet she remembered her first meeting with Crane like it was yesterday...
Linda stacked the papers into the newly labeled manila folders. The Admiral had been very specific. The trip to Mare Island was a milk run. She needed to be ready with the grant when they returned. A deadline was nothing new, but the time to do her reports properly in was a wonderful way to start.
The Institute was much friendlier than she expected, with more emphasis on creativity than paperwork. She had expected a hassle over her diving certification, but it came back in no time. Ten days on the job and she already liked it here.
Today, she would meet her boss for the first time. She had heard of him. The Institute was often in the news, although she rarely paid much attention. After accepting the job, she had gone to the Public Library to learn some of their history. There was only one newspaper article on Crane specifically, about his being the youngest nuclear sub captain ever. That was ten years ago.
She would find out. Linda had watched the sub leave for Mare Island. No one else was out, but she wanted to see the sub. Seaview was beautiful in motion, sliding gracefully through the swells.
Linda heard voices in the other room. She sat down at the desk suddenly, pulling her folders close to hand.
A slim, dark haired man came through the office door, dressed in same the light brown uniform Commander Morton wore.
"Good morning, Miss Allen."
"Good morning, Captain." She rose quickly, taking his extended hand. "Did you have a nice...cruise?"
"Yes, she handled well." His handshake was warm and firm, without being overbearing. A good sign.
She dropped her hand to the folders. "The Admiral wanted a preliminary report on conditions and a tentative schedule for sample gathering done while you were away." She lifted the folders. "All subject to your approval."
He took the folders. While he was reading, she studied him for a moment. His uniform hung a little too loosely on his tall frame. She had admired Nelson's honesty at the interview. She'd seen news reports of their recent tragedy and knew why the position had suddenly opened. She had assured Nelson, she could work without being uncomfortable. They would never know how hard won that understanding was.
Crane shifted the papers from his right hand to his left. There was an awkward stiffness in his left arm that indicated a recent injury. She quickly dropped her gaze to the desk before he noticed.
Commander Morton had explained Crane had been on TDY with the government for a few weeks. Morton told her that happened occasionally and never when it was convenient for the work at NIMR, but--
There was more, but it was military and need to know, and she wasn't that level-- At first, Linda wasn't sure she wanted to get involved with that again, after what happened to Rob-- Getting her security clearance had reawakened her dislike, but she couldn't avoid military involvement forever. It was a good job, with so much potential.
Crane closed the folders. "You're right on top of it. Unless Mare Island needs more time, I see no reason not to approve your schedule."
"The Admiral gave me clear instructions."
"Yes, the Admiral," Crane answered in a thoughtful tone, his eyes going distant for the moment. Then he returned his gaze to her. "How many dives did you make?"
"Three. Your underwater unit is very professional."
"That's their job. How long have you been diving?"
"And your graduate work?"
"Good school up there."
"I liked it." Linda dropped her gaze to the desk. She needed to stop being so defensive. She brought her eyes up, waiting for him to comment.
To her surprise he smiled. "Good to see you have some loyalty. That's hard to find these days."
The smile made him look younger. As she met his eyes, she saw they were lighter brown than she expected, with flecks of green in them. Linda smiled back.
He laid her folders back on the desk, taking his pen from his shirt pocket. He made a mark on the first page of each of her reports. A stylized C.
"Send the conditions report to the Admiral's secretary-- You've met Maureen?"
"Then we'll need to start reserving time from the first week. You've had a briefing-- I mean, been showed how--"
"Commander Morton gave me an orientation. Before Seaview left for Mare Island."
"Then you know your way around."
"Yes, I'll get started."
"If you have any trouble, have them call me. I'll be here all morning clearing my desk."
Little had changed in the ensuing weeks. Linda worked her way through the grant, getting acquainted with other Institute areas and personnel. Morton had looked after her. She had liked his cheerful efficiency almost immediately. Crane would give her good, constructive comments on her reports, but she could tell he was doing it by rote. It was very hard, especially when other people went to such ridiculous lengths to avoid mentioning the Captain's dead wife.
Linda barely recognized the commissary when she arrived for the Christmas party. It was decorated to the rafters, with a huge blue spruce in the north corner of the room. The glass tree ornaments caught the light, turning it to rainbows. Someone stopped behind her. She turned.
"Like it?" Chip Morton gestured broadly. "I did it myself."
"Yeah, you and a full detail from the sub, no doubt."
"Shh!" Morton looked around quickly. "Don't give away all my secrets. I have a reputation to keep up."
She laughed. "I know."
"I thought Lee was with you."
She shook her head. "Phone call. I'm sure he'll be here shortly."
"Who was it?"
"Senator Michaels. He's checking on the grant."
Chip's eyes roved the room restlessly. "Maybe I should go rescue him."
She laid a restraining hand on Morton's arm. "Give him a minute. If he thinks you're hovering--"
"You noticed that. Makes it damn awkward, doesn't it?"
She shrugged. "Deaths do that. He knows you care."
"I wish I could do more."
She squeezed Chip's arm lightly. "You are helping."
Chip looked at her a long moment, then made a show of looking all around her head.
"Your radar is dead on."
She dropped her head, embarrassed. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't tell you--"
Chip reached up to squeeze her hand. "It's all right. You understand. Far better than some people here from day one."
She dropped her hand from his arm. "I knew someone in college. Her fiancé's plane was shot down over the Mekong Delta. You learn, especially what not to say."
"Yes, it's difficult."
"It'll get easier, with a little more time and distance."
"Yes, time-- supposed to heal everything." Chip's voice turned bitter.
At that moment, Crane came through the commissary door, with the Admiral.
"He's here," she said quietly.
"Can I get you a drink before I go?"
"No, I'm all right. Go ahead."
She watched him cross the room to where Nelson and Crane had taken seats. Crane might have suffered the deepest loss, but there were other wounded survivors here. Sharkey unloaded a tray of drinks onto Crane's table. She'd better find a place to sit.
John Robinson beckoned her over. They spent a lot of time together, getting the necessary arrangements and schedules made. Sue scooted over a chair to make room for her. They immediately dragged her into a discussion of the latest proposal, the pros and cons. It was fun, but after a while she felt she should get up and mingle more.
The commissary was filling rapidly. She found it more and more difficult to get around to the tables. She spotted Ralph over by the doorway. She was almost to his table when she had to stop short to avoid one of the servers.
Someone's back came up against hers suddenly and she heard the triumphant cry of 'Mistletoe!'
Linda looked up. So that's where it was. Oh, well.
The conversations around her suddenly trailed off into nervous shuffling and whispering. She turned around, realizing then who was behind her. Too late now. She forced herself to look directly into his eyes. The Captain looked as uncomfortable as she felt, but nothing could be done about the situation.
He looked deep into her eyes, asking. She lifted her hands, shrugging. The corner of his mouth turned up and then he reached out, taking her gently by the shoulders. Linda waited. Crane leaned down and pressed his lips lightly to her forehead, then released her.
A sigh rippled through the crowd. Then the conversations started again, much too loudly. She could see the Admiral coming up behind Crane. She turned away and walked over to Ralph's table. There wasn't anything else she could do.
They were glad to see her and immediately started talking all at once. She stayed with Ralph through dinner and after the band began to play. Then Johnny came over and wanted to dance.
There was a sudden commotion at the commissary door. Santa Claus appeared. He was too thin and rather tipsy. He lurched to a stop in front of Nelson, who regarded him with an amused expression.
"Have you been a good boy?" Santa asked.
Linda suppressed a giggle. It was Chip Morton.
"Of course." Nelson's indignant response made everyone laugh.
"Well, I'm out of subs, would you settle for a diving bell?" Morton began rummaging in his pack to produce one. Nelson raised a disbelieving eyebrow, which set everyone off again.
Chip pulled out his hand; and it was a small wrapped package. Nelson took it, grinning.
Santa then shouldered his pack and moved to the other side of the table, in front of Crane. He dumped the pack onto to the table. "Well, Captain, you're going to break the first law of the Navy and volunteer."
Crane rose from his chair. "They ended the draft in '73, you know."
Everyone laughed again. The Captain took his place next to Morton. Chip handed him a gift from out of the bag. Crane read off the name. One of the phone operators came up to get the gift.
"Hey, this one's cute. How about a kiss for Santa?"
She laughed. "Your beard's too itchy."
"So that's why he wanted to be Santa." A loud voice yelled from Linda's right.
"Uh, Santa--" Crane nudged Morton. "The presents."
The jokes continued to fly thick and fast until all the presents were distributed. Linda ended up with a bottle of her favorite perfume. The band began playing again. Ralph wanted to dance. When she returned to the table Chip was talking with Johnny.
"It will be worse if we exclude him. He's holding up all right."
"Better than I expected, but the carols-- Cathy was so involved with that."
"All the more reason not to change. Lee hates it when we treat him like he's going to fall apart." Chip looked up at her approach. "You have to go with it, like Linda did earlier." He gave her an approving smile. "Good move, letting him call it."
She shrugged. "He knows what they expect of him."
"Go find Stu Riley. I'll get Lee."
"Okay, meet you at the piano."
She watched Chip cross the room and say a few words to Crane. The Captain was absently stirring his drink. Then he got up and followed Morton over to the band.
She watched him take some music out of the piano bench and then sit down. She didn't know they were musicians. Johnny came back with a young blonde man. They were carrying three guitar cases. They pulled chairs into a half semicircle by the piano and began tuning their guitars.
Linda moved closer. She was learning something new all the time.
"Chip." Crane hit the note again. "Your E is flat."
"How do you know it's not your piano."
Crane played several bars of what sounded like an off color sea shanty, until Morton threw up his hands. "Okay, okay."
Johnny grinned, picking out a few more bars on his guitar. Riley smirked.
"That's not what they came for." Chip scowled. "Let's start with something easy, like "Jingle Bells."
It was fun singing. She turned when there was a stir among the tables to her left. The Admiral came over to the piano. He stood next to Crane and added his voice to the chorus.
The Captain looked up when he heard him. They exchanged a glance. The Admiral shrugged, smiling. After a moment, Crane returned the smile. Then his eyes went back to his music.
It was interesting to see this other side of her bosses as they sang carols for close to an hour. Then the party broke up. Ralph and Sue were ready to go and Linda glanced at the piano as she was leaving.
She saw Nelson put a gentle hand on the Captain's shoulder. "Let's go home, son," he said softly. Crane closed the piano lid. She glad the Captain had someone. Holidays could be especially tough...
His friends had been there for the Captain several times this year and she had seen Crane's sadness slowly lift over the months. Now those same friends were worried about him again.
"Linda?" Johnny voice broke into her reverie. "Could you find me the Flying Sub flight plan? Try the grey binder over there."
She stood and crossed to the log files. It wasn't good to think too much.
Harry dumped the metal onto the sand. Some of it was reflective, but the rest was barely useable. The fuel tanks had taken almost everything with them.
"Here, Lee. Start sorting and I'll bring another load." He came back to find all the reflective pieces in one pile and the electronic parts in another. Nelson laid down what he had next to Crane's efforts and then eased down into a cross legged position on the sand, sorting through the reflective fragments. None of them were very big. Harry put a few promising ones aside. He then turned to the circuit boards. As he looked through them, he heard Lee sorting through what he had brought.
Lee grimaced every once in awhile, if he inadvertently put pressure on his legs. Harry knew he wanted to help. If only they had something to work with. Nelson examined each of the electronic pieces in turn. Some of the circuits were still intact but without a power source--
He looked at Lee again. Crane was coiling wire he had pulled, into a loop around his hand. Whatever they made would have to be manual.
The beacon had to be first. Harry looked at his pile of reflective metal. There wasn't anything long enough to attach the pieces to, a palm frond would have to do.
"I'll be right back." Nelson rose and walked deeper into the palm grove, searching, until he found a downed frond of the right thickness. He dragged it back to their camp. He sat down with his knife and began striping the fronds off. Working down one side, then the other, he came up with a six foot length.
Harry reached for the biggest piece of reflective metal and tried it on the pole, twisting it toward the sun. The result was a small square flash. They would have to use several pieces tied together.
Nelson glanced at the coils of wire Lee had placed beside him. They were too short. Harry picked up his knife and handed it to Lee. "Splice together some 5 foot lengths for me, son."
Harry picked out three pieces to put together, searching for suitable holes to put the wire through. Some would need widening with his knife.
He looked up. Crane had stripped the wire and was braiding the copper together. For a moment, it reminded Harry of Annapolis and seamanship class. Lee had a knack for that. In fact, Lee had done well at everything at Annapolis...
Captain Harriman Nelson remained seated in the review stand and watched the white caps fly skyward. The class of nineteen sixty-two was history. His eyes roved over the ranks of white uniforms, looking for six stripes. He found Chip and Lee together. Morton was pummeling Crane on the back. Harry smiled. Surely the First Classman deserved more respect than that.
One and two. His 'boys' had done so well. Chip's parents
were so proud of him. Crane had been pleased when Harry said he'd stand for him. It had been interesting to finally meet Lee's mother. His own mother now considered Lee hers. Crane had made Boston his second home, since Lillian Crane invariably was out of the country whenever they had leave.
Now the graduation ceremony was over; it was time to find Lee and tell him. By the time Nelson reached the parade field, the class had almost completely broken up. He found Lee surrounded by the Morton clan, everyone talking at once. He caught Lee's eye and signaled. Then Mrs. Morton saw him.
"Oh, there you are, Captain. You must come too."
"Of course, ma'am." He nodded. It was easier to give in. "Look, Chip, you'll never make lunch if you don't get going," Lee interjected. His hint sent the whole mob to gathering up.
Chip and Lee shook hands firmly. "I'll see you tonight," Chip said before turning to his younger brother. "All right, Craig, let's go."
They watched the group traipse off toward the front gate. Nelson rolled his eyes.
Lee laughed. "Yes, they are a bit much, aren't they?"
Harry joined in his laughter. "A bit?" The parade field was almost empty. "You have a few minutes to take a walk around the Yard with me?"
"Of course, sir. I told Mom I'd meet her back at the hotel. I wanted to say goodbye to some of my instructors."
Lee fell in step beside him as he walked along the river. They had taken this walk together so many times. Out of habit Harry headed for Herndon's monument.
"Have your orders come through yet, Lee?"
"Yes, sir, Commander Beach wants me."
"That's a prime berth, since her conversion to nuclear power."
"You didn't have anything to do with that, did you?"
"No, enough brass was squabbling over you, without me getting into it."
Lee glanced over at him, surprised. "Why?"
Harry nudged him. "You're First Classman. That makes you special and hence very valuable."
"I did what they expected of me, sir."
"You achieved far more than that, Lee." Harry paused and turned. "I'm very proud of you, son."
Lee dropped his eyes to the ground, then raised them, looking at him, a soft glow coming into them. "Thank you, sir. That means everything to me, coming from you."
Nelson clapped him on the shoulder and smiled. "When do you ship out?"
"Next week. I won't be going to Boston this summer."
"No, I guess not." Harry pushed his left hand into his pocket. "I'm not going home this year, either."
"Why not, sir?"
"I've been given command of the sub school in New London." "Congratulations, sir. Then your work is done here."
"Yes, it's time to put those theories to field use."
"You'll make them work."
Nelson laughed. "I wish I had you on a Navy board. They don't like all my ideas."
"They must believe in you, or else they wouldn't have given you the command. That's normally a rear admiral's position.
"I know. They do try to keep some traditions in force."
Lee stopped, staring at him. "You mean--"
Nelson laughed. "I'm not sure they really wanted to, but yes, I'll get a promotion before I take over."
"That's wonderful, sir. You deserve it."
Harry shrugged. "Sometimes it's useful to play politics. Enough about me, it's your week. Did you enjoy it?"
"I guess. It's a little overwhelming."
Harry stopped and reached out, touching Lee lightly on the arm. "You done well here. I know you'll be an excellent officer." Crane shifted slightly on one foot, looking down. Nelson smiled. "No, I mean it. Have more faith in yourself."
Lee raised his head. "I know. I've learned so much." Crane scuffed the ground with his shoe. "You've always been here for me. Out there," Lee gestured toward the open bay, "it will be my decision, my responsibility."
"You'll make the right ones. Some men can be trained to command. You were born to do it, son."
"I had a great example to follow."
Harry grinned, releasing Lee's arm. "You've helped me, too." He looked up at Crane, his expression somber. "Much as I've known this was our last year together, I wish you could come to New London with me."
"Sir, if I had known--"
"No, that would be selfish and unfair to you. You have your own future. You have to go out and find it."
"I'll miss your help."
"And I'll miss yours, too. It has to be this way." Harry looked at Lee. "Would you do something for me, son?"
"Of course, sir, anything."
Harry pulled the small box from his pants pocket and handed it to Lee. "Would you take these and wear them for me? They've seen a World War, but I know you'll not disgrace them."
Lee fumbled for a moment with the top, and then the box sprang open. Two ensign bars gleamed in the velvet. Crane's eyes went wide as he took them in. The heavy gold had taken a better polish than Nelson could have hoped for.
"Yours?" Lee asked quietly, cradling the small box in his hand.
"Pinned by Edith in nineteen forty-one."
"It will be my privilege to wear them." Lee looked at the box for a long moment and then extended it to Harry. "Would you do me the honor, sir?"
Nelson took back the box as Lee came to attention.
Harry forced his fingers to be steady as he pinned the single bar to both sides of Lee's collar, fighting the tightness in his throat. Pinning was something he had not expected. Surely there was someone more important in Lee's life.
Lee stood at attention until he finished and returned his salute smartly. "Thank you for believing in me," he said softly. Nelson handed the small box back to Crane and they looked at each other a long moment. Then Harry stepped forward, took Lee by both arms and hugged him. After a moment, Lee relaxed and returned it. Then they abruptly broke apart.
Harry looked down trying to regain control. He could sense Lee doing the same. He cleared his throat. "So tell me, what do you plan to do with that sub of yours?"
"I'm sure my commanding officer will think of something."
Nelson laughed. He was going to miss Lee, more than any of the others. It was time to let him go.
Crane fell in step beside him. A few moments later, they reached the end of the walk. They stood silently together looking out over the bay. Behind them the bells began to chime. Out of habit, Lee turned to face the Chapel and then caught himself. A shy smile came to his lips. "Guess I won't be doing that anymore." His eyes went to the water again. "Four years."
"Time to start packing." Nelson clapped Crane on the shoulder. "I'll walk you back to the Hall and you can get started."
There was no one to see him off at the train station. Harry preferred it that way. The one person he wanted to see would only make it more difficult to go. He had exchanged his good-byes last night at the party. He hated leave-taking, especially when it was someone he loved.
Lee would do well. Ran the Brigade smartly with his midshipmen officers for nearly the whole year. Being First Classman had been a heavy responsibility, but Lee had thrived on it. He was a natural leader. He'd make his way, no question.
Harry turned as someone yelled his name. He spotted Crane leaping down the stairs to the platform.
"I was afraid I'd miss you," Lee explained rapidly. "I couldn't find anyone to give me a pass."
"You'd better not be AWOL, mister."
"No, sir. I found Captain Levitt walking off last night. He signed my pass."
Nelson laughed. Lee always treaded a very fine line between strict obedience and sheer good luck. Suddenly Harry was glad Crane had come. His strongest memories of his Annapolis years were of Lee.
The train whistle blew and the conductor began his run. "Board!"
Nelson thrust out his hand. "Goodbye, Lee. Take care of yourself."
"You too." Lee gripped his hand hard.
They looked at each other a moment. Then Harry pulled Lee toward him, embracing him roughly. "Do me proud, son," he said, huskily, releasing Crane.
"I will." Lee's eyes were bright as Harry turned away to climb into the coach. He turned back at the top of the stairs. Lee came to attention, giving him a smart salute. Nelson brought his own hand up, returning it. The train began moving. Lee dropped his stance. A shy smile came to his lips as he waved. Nelson raised his hand in farewell. Then he turned away into the coach...
"Here's your wire, Admiral." Lee extended three lengths toward him. His movement snapped Harry back to the present.
"Thanks." Nelson began threading the wire through the reflective pieces, tying them together. Then he wrapped the ends around the frond tightly. He checked the wires for tightness and twisted some more. Finally satisfied, he swung the frond toward the sun. He had to drop his eyes as the reflection bounced off the metal. That was more like it.
He put the frond post aside and got to his feet.
"You'll have to help me up," Lee shifted, getting his legs under him.
"No, you stay put."
"You can't dig and hold the frond up, too. It's a two man operation and I'm the only man you have."
"True." He walked over to Crane's side. "How do you want to do this?"
"Give me your arm."
Harry braced as Lee drew himself up.
Crane rose unsteadily, but once he got his legs under him, he gained his balance. Lee took a few steps. Harry went with him, until Crane dropped his arm.
"It hurts, but I'll manage."
Harry picked up the palm frond. "Then let's go."
He let Lee set the pace, following him down to the beach. Crane stopped about 20 feet above the tide line. Harry laid down the frond and extended his arm to Crane.
Lee took it, giving him a look of gratitude.
Crane lowered himself to the sand. Nelson moved to one side and began to dig into the soft sand. Lee sat quietly while he worked. At last the hole was deep enough.
"Let's try it now."
Crane reached for the frond and slid it over to him. Harry upended it into the hole. Lee reached out to hold it steady. Nelson filled the hole with sand, pushing it down.
When there was enough sand around the frond to hold it up, Harry twisted it to catch the morning sun. He waggled it back and forth to gauge the reflection. That was better. Then he checked the tension on the wires to make sure. Should work.
Then he filled in the rest of the sand. "Okay, let go. See if she stands," he directed Lee.
Crane released his grip on the frond. Harry used his shoe to further pack the sand until the frond was solidly in place.
"Well, we'll see how it goes. I'll have to adjust it as the day goes on to keep picking up the sun."
Crane looked up at him. "So what's our next chore?"
Harry extended his arm again. "Getting you back to camp."
Lee levered himself up from the sand. "I'm more stiff than anything else."
"Still you shouldn't push it."
As they walked back to the palm grove, Harry's mind went back to the electrical circuits he had salvaged. There had to be something useful in all that.
He got Lee settled back into his parachute silk and then sat down next to the circuit pile. At least it would pass the time until a plane flew over.
End of File #1