by Diane Farnsworth Kachmar

Kowalski had come on watch with the feeling it was going to be a bad day. First, Chief Sharkey had yelled at him. Having the Chief do that was nothing special; Sharkey liked to yell, even if it wasn't Ski's fault. But this time it had been his fault, and it was an error a boot would make, not a seasoned hand like himself.

Ski shook his head, and wondered again where his mind had been. It was an unfortunate movement, and water from his wet hair ran down his back. Get with it, he told himself savagely, damage control is no place for daydreaming...

Kowalski tightened his grip on the shoring timber. The sea quake had caught them unaware, the shock wave heeling them over into the rocks before they could compensate. The outer hull had held, but the resulting pressure had cracked the inner hull of the ballast tanks.

C'mon babe, hold together. Just a few more minutes 'til we get you chocked in place. He tried not to listen to the straining metal above his head. Think about something else. The bulkhead was the only thing between him and about a thousand gallons of water.

Disgusted with the turn his thoughts were taking, Kowalski gritted his teeth, and glanced over at Patterson. His buddy was pushing determinedly, while Sharkey held the chock in place for Crane. The Skipper swung the sledge quickly, hammering the chock home with sure strokes.

It would be over soon. Kowalski was glad, for the tremolo shriek in his ear warned this bulkhead was at its breaking point.

Five strokes, four, three...

The timber suddenly shifted sideways in his grip, twisting as the bulkhead bulged outward, and with a scream of tortured steel, ruptured along the rivet line. Off balance, Kowalski was swept from his feet as the water from the tank rushed in. He heard a shout from Sharkey as the water engulfed him.

Steady. Go with it. From long experience he knew better than to fight. He tucked his legs up and waited to hit the opposite bulkhead. He came up against something solid, and stuck for a moment. He flung out a hand, and it wrapped around the object. Square. Table leg. Good enough.

Ski reached up with his other hand, dropping his legs and kicking against the pull of the rushing water. His head broke the surface and Kowalski drew a welcome gasp of air. Kicking out with his legs, he grabbed for the edge of the table. The pull on him lessened, as Ski hoisted himself up and out of the water onto the table top. Close.

Shaking his hair out of his eyes, he saw a flash of blue go by the table. He lunged, grabbing for whoever it was, and got a hold on the jumpsuit, pulling him toward the table. Malone grabbed the edge as he came up, and Kowalski kept pulling until Boots was on the table as well.

"Thanks." Boots gasped, as soon as he could get his breath.

Ski looked quickly around the rapidly flooding lab. Patterson was on a table across from him, pulling Sharkey up out of the water. The chief's other arm hung limply at an odd angle, his face twisted in pain. One, two, three...

The Skipper. Kowalski was off the back side of the table, into a strong underwater stroke the minute the water closed over his head. Swimming parallel to the incoming stream, he knew he had to elude its grip long enough to find the Captain.

He cast out his hands in front of him and struck wood. Shoring timbers. Ski felt frantically along the wood, searching, and found something. Round, leather, laces. Shoe. He felt further, fighting the sting of the salt water in his eyes. Cloth. Pant leg. More wood.

Kowalski gave the timber a good shove. It didn't move. He shoved again. Nothing. He was getting lightheaded. Have to surface soon. He tried again. It wouldn't budge. Have to get help.

Kowalski let go and let himself rise. It took longer to get the surface this time. He threw his head back, gulped air, and yelled, "Pat!" in the general direction where he had last seen Patterson. He drew another deep breath, and dove down again.

He found the timber, and once again tried to move it. A blue blur came in beside him, and he felt questing fingers join his. He guided them onto the board and together they pushed. The plank shifted, rolling, then the current took it and it was gone.

Kowalski scrabbled for the shoe again, but found cloth instead. He grabbed a large handful and started upward, dragging Crane behind him.

A moment later they were floating on the surface. Kowalski drew in deep gasps of air, then turned to get a better grip on Crane.

Patterson was already there, his hand under Crane's chin, holding the Skipper's face out of the water.

"C'mon, Ski." Patterson kicked toward the hatch. "I told Boots not to wait too long."

The lab tables were empty as they thrashed their way over and through the first hatch, landing in knee-deep water.

Patterson gained his feet, and grabbed Crane's collar, dragging the Skipper across the room after him. Kowalski could see Boots waiting for them through the crack of the far hatch, Sharkey's concerned face behind him.

Boots yanked the hatch open as they approached and reached in for Crane. Ski caught Crane's trailing legs and helped them lift him up and over the ledge. Scrambling through, he turned and threw his weight on the door to hold it against the water, while Patterson twisted the hatch wheel closed. It finally clanked home, and Ski leaned against the bulkhead in relief.

"Christ!" he said to one in particular.

"Hey!" Sharkey glanced up at him, his good hand fumbling with Crane's shirt buttons. "Is he breathing?"

"Didn't have time to check," Patterson answered, his own breathing ragged.

Boots immediately put his hand under Crane's neck, and tilted his head backward. There was no response for a moment, then Crane's chest lifted, and he began to cough. Malone moved forward, bracing Crane with his knees and holding his head back. Kowalski dropped to the deck beside the Skipper. A moment later Patterson joined him.

"Can I help?" Ski asked.

Boots shook his head. "Get on the horn. Call Sickbay."

"I'll do it." Patterson pushed off the deck and headed for the intercom.

"Control room first," Sharkey ordered. "Then Sickbay."

"Right. Hatch secure and two stretchers, eh, Chief?" Patterson threw Ski a wink.

"Yeah, sure." Sharkey's bad temper was not helped by his broken arm. He shifted trying to get more comfortable, and grimaced in pain. Kowalski reached out, giving him an arm to steady against.

Sharkey cradled his broken arm against his side, then looked over to him. "You did good, kid."

"It happened so fast."

"Didn't it, though. Next time, tell me to duck."

"You wouldn't ... listen," Crane's soft, hoarse voice startled them all.

"Easy, Skipper." Boots relaxed his grip, letting Crane's head come forward slightly. "You took on a little water."

It took Crane a moment to focus on them. "Everyone . . . okay?" He looked them all over, his eyes narrowing on the Chief.

Sharkey started to shrug, but thought better of it.

"Busted?" Crane raised an unsteady hand to his own forehead.

"'Fraid so. Timber caught me as I fell."

"Me, too. I heard you yell, then it all went black."

"Ski pulled you out."

"Thanks, Kowalski." Crane turned to him, gratitude in his hazel eyes.

Kowalski felt the heat rising to his face. "It was no trouble, Skipper."

At that moment, the corridor door was hauled open, and Jamieson and his corpsmen came in. Kowalski moved back, as the Doctor knelt beside Crane, easing his head out of Malone's lap. He'd only be in the way now.

Ski quietly slipped out the door and headed for crews quarters for a dry jumpsuit. He was almost dressed, when the sub lurched. He grabbed the edge of his bunk, and listened intently, half afraid he'd hear rushing water again.

The deck moved under his feet and he knew that sensation. They were rising. Abruptly the pump station nearest his quarters became active and began it rhythmic clank, and was soon joined by others further down that side of the ship.

Ski sagged against the bunk in relief. The admiral had done it again. It would take the pumps some time to restore their buoyancy, but at least they had pumped out enough to get them off the bottom. He finished tying his sneakers, and headed aft to his pump station. Another hand would it make go all the faster, and in a few hours they probably could ring green across the board. Looked it wasn't going to be such a bad day after all.

The End