Author's note: This story takes place some time after the episode Day of Evil
Riley slapped butter on his toast in the crew's mess, "like wow, man, maybe now the Admiral'll finally hold off of leasing out Seaview for some of those weirdo's."
"Stu," Ski countered, " it's not like it's the Admiral's fault..."
"I know Ski, I feel sorry for him, really I do. Still, maybe he'll lessen up on takin' on some of those nuts again."
"Nah, never happen, surfer boy," Chief Sharkey said firmly, just having overheard the men as he'd entered the room, "if it needs explorin' or experimenting, it's a job for him, or rather us!"
Groans and guffaws answered the statement.
"Anyway," Sharkey continued," it's gonna be a beautiful morning!"
"Riley's only idea of a beautiful morning is a wave and a beach and a hot tube,"Ski grinned, "but not nessessarily in that order. Now give me a couple of minutes with a pretty girl, and I wouldn't care if we were in the middle of a hurricane."
"Very funny, Ski, so Chief, what's this all about?"
"Our guest is gone," Sharkey smirked. "He's finally aloft and way FAR away. Probably to another universe if the Skipper'll have his way!"
"No kidding?" Ski asked, pleased.
"No kidding. The Skipper aborted the mission a few minutes ago. Hustled that egghead onto the flying sub and had Mr. Morton get him outta here before he knew what hit ím. But," Sharkey reduced his voice to a low whisper, "watch your step, 'cause the Admiral, well, he and the Skipper are kinda' at odds about it… but the Skipper still got his own way in the end."
"Usually does, " Riley chuckled," you know, as much as I’m glad to get rid of the geek, like man, he was really weird, it can't be too good for the Admiral to find out he's been suckered into another mad scientist plot again."
"Yeah…Aghhhhh!!!" Patterson screeched, as he dropped his doughnut, "I thought we got all that goop scrubbed off the bulkheads days ago!!"
"We did! "Ski exclaimed, concerned, picking up the miscreant foodstuff, an edge of it with greenish fuzz showing, "I could have sworn we got rid of it all, there wasn't so much as a spot of all that scientist stuff left on the boat. We checked and double-checked and Doc even looked all over the boat with that super-magnifying thing the Admiral rigged up. We gotta tell the Skipper about this, fast! Uh, did you swallow any of it?" he gulped nervously.
"You're getting to sickbay!" Sharkey ordered," along with that crud, move it!"
Ski grabbed Patterson and darted out of the mess, followed by the Chief.
A 'woof' of air followed just outside.
"Ahhhgh! Sorry skipper," Ski tried to remove some of the trails of stale raspberry jelly and powdered sugar from Crane's shirt.
"That’s enough Ski, thanks, It’s okay," Crane said wearily, noticing the other assembling crewmen, aghast, at the hatch, " Am I interrupting something?"
The men quickly nodded in the negative and vanished back into the safety of the mess. The Captain had been plowed into before by innatentive crewmen with similar results, and it was not an experience any wanted repeated.
"Sorry Skipper," Ski started to explain, " I guess I wasn’t paying attention, I was in such a hurry to get this to sickbay…see that stuff?" He gingerly used a finger to lift off the small glop of green mush from Crane's shirt, "See sir, it's," he looked around, furtively, "moldy."
"Moldy?!" He could only hope there was no trace of the wild experiment left aboard.
"Yes sir, and Patterson swallowed some…"
"I'll take care about this mold business," Crane retrieved a handkerchief and removed the glop from Ski's finger and his shirt,"Come along Patterson."
"About time, Captain," Nelson pouted, some hours later in his cabin," I thought I said 1300 for our debriefing."
"Sorry, sir, there was a slight problem I had to attend to…actually," he grinned," I had a disagreement with a jelly doughnut…. it was moldy."
"Moldy!?? Oh, Lee spare me," Nelson groaned, "I’ve had all I care to of Dr. Wyman's accelerated growth experiments growing all over the walls… How moldy?" he asked, concerned. A generous wash of disinfectant had managed to scrub the sub but….
"Enough… I actually imagined my pocket was spouting nose hairs before I managed to wash it all out…" he chuckled. " But Doc says it's just a common ordinary everyday type mold, no trace of genetic engineering. Apparently Patterson swallowed some. Doc's giving him a complete examination, to be on the safe side. He's more concerned that it's related to the kind that makes Penicillin; he's allergic to it.
I've already arranged for a complete disinfectant scrub in dry-dock when we hit port. Wyman's goop may still be hiding in a few places, and, on pain of being fired out of a torpedo tube, I’m assured by Cookie that he will religiously check the expiration dates of his packaged foodstuffs from now on. And I've already complained to procurement."
"Used the cat-o-nine tails did you?"
"Skipper," O'brian's voice came over the PA, "the flying sub's berthing. Mr. Morton says he has some newspapers too, hot off the press."
"Very well, thank you Sparks."
"Well, then," Nelson pursed his lips, "mission accomplished, getting rid of my guest that is."
"That's for sure…"Lee said, lighthearted but suddenly frowned, ''Admiral…about my decision to abort… I know how much this experiment meant to you but …."
"I still think you could have waited," Nelson leaned back in his chair, sage like. "It was very rude getting him off the boat that way, " Nelson studied his frowning Captain. Crane could be so pigheaded at times,"I'm sorry, Lee, its just that he's a fellow scientist, and the experiments, even if they went bust, had such… possibilities…."
"Oh, I have no problem with accelerated-growth trials, genetic engineering tests, but, no wait, hear me out, "Lee sat on the edge of Nelson's desk, "We're used to experiments going bust or crazy, or even getting out of hand like this one did, but when Dr. Wyman himself went ballistic and blamed my crew for his failure of containment, I'm sorry Admiral, but I think I'm justified in wanting him off the boat. And the experiment was for all purposes over anyway. You yourself have admitted that, twice, if you remember, that Seaview was not really the place for such tests, preferred sea algae specimens on our doorstep or not."
It was the same argument they'd had in the observation nose a short while, Nelson sighed. Lee had been adamant, an immovable object. "I still think you were wrong, Lee. I know you had misgivings ever since you met him, you can't hide that sort of thing from me. But, it's unlike you to harbor unwarranted ill will toward anyone, and yet you allowed your command decisions to be swayed by your feelings." Nelson paused for effect," Why you dislike Wyman is beyond me. And could you come up with a valid reason? No." Nelson let the rebuke settle in, then continued, "And it was highly discourteous and it really wasn't your place to kick him off the boat. No, let me finish now. Seaview wasn't in danger. Your pride was, and you know it," he said firmly dissapointed, "Is that worth risking Seaview's reputation? Have you any idea how this will be viewed in Scientific circles? Your actions may even have compromised Seaview's future."
Crane stood, his feelings bruised, and spoke coolly, there had been something odd about Wyman. He'd sensed something about the man from the start. " I didn't allow my pride as you call it, to affect my judgment, as you seem to think. The experiment was a bust, my crew was grossly insulted and so was Seaview," he frowned, and said quietly, "You could have over-ridden my authority since you thought it had nothing to do with her safety, so, why didn't you?"
Nelson took a swig of rum before answering, "Because you're Seaview's Captain. I may not agree with you; but I've pointed out to you before that guests need to be treated with respect, regardless of personal feelings. But I couldn’t find it in myself to overrule the authority I'd placed in you. I think we've talked about this long enough, Lee. The matter is closed. I think it's best we don’t speak any more of it. Now, I have some notes to go over," Nelson began to leaf through them, effectively dismissing Crane.
"Admiral, I…" Lee was torn. Despite Nelson's head-on aim at his ego as a contributing factor, Lee knew his decision to de-boat Wyman had been the right one. But he also knew he'd hurt Nelson's feelings of propriety and perhaps had even risked their friendship.
"That will be all Captain," Nelson interrupted his thoughts.
"And Lee?" Nelson added, a knot in his throat, knowing he'd been right in his opposition to the Captain's decision. But he also knew he might have possibly have just lost his best friend, "after you welcome Morton back aboard, have him join us for a snack in the nose. I hear Cookie just finished making a new batch of brownies…but have Doc check them out first."
Lee grinned, inwardly relieved. While Nelson couldn't bring himself to say he was sorry, it was the next best thing. He only invited friends into the nose for a 'snack'. "Aye sir."
"Hmm," Ski laid down the front page of a tabloid Mr. Morton had brought aboard, and smirked, "It says here that Admiral Nelson caused a ruckus in Congress the other day."
"What?" Sharkey asked, for a few dreadful moments envisioning Mr. Pemm transporting them all around in time again. It hadn't been all that long ago.
"Yeah," Ski grinned, "only it's some Admiral A. Nelson. Senator actually. They don't really know what to call her. She's entitled to both names, among others."
It was a matter of some debate on the boat later as to Ski's actually volunteering to scrub the crew's head.
Meanwhile, half an ocean and a whole continent away, a man had just set the same tabloid down with a groan.
"What is it?" his wife asked, "you look unwell."
"Oh, nothing….let's go to bed."
But it was a restless sleep of bad memories~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Lieutenant!" the sound of a phone being slammed down followed the summons, and Lt. Julian Bakerman quickly opened the door with more than a little trepidation, despising his assignment to fetch and carry, for that was all an admiral's aide was good for, and everybody knew it.
"Captain Nelson," the Admiral said with undisguised disgust," will be arriving in a few days. Can't the Navy get it through its scatterbrained head that its not worth their time and effort to…you sick or something?"
"Oh, I'm fine, just fine…oh yes, your new aide will be arriving this morning."
"New aide? What new aide? I don't recall requesting a new aide!"
"My time is up..my orders…" Julian retrieved his stamped orders and handed them to the admiral. Everything was in order. He'd made damn sure of it too. Good thing he had a few friends with a bit of pull. Nobody liked working with this admiral.
"Oh…very well, er..uh…Julian is it? Good luck. Just send the new one in when he gets here…"
Closing the door behind him, Julian Bakerman sighed in sheer relief. Two more hours to go on his Reserve time, and he'd be free of the old cuss.
Nelson strapped himself in FS1. "I have to say I'm glad to get up to Boston this far ahead of schedule. I'll have time to visit Edith and even open up the old family monstrosity for some badly needed airing."
"Be sure to wear your nose plugs then," Lee laughed. "By the way, say hi to your sister for me. Perhaps she'd care to have lunch the next time we're nearby."
"I'll pass on the invite, but I very much doubt it, she hardly has a spare minute that isn't scheduled a year ahead of time."
"Skipper?" Kowalski asked, "do you want us to come back to Seaview after we drop the Admiral off, or do you want us to fly on ahead to the Institute?"
"Go ahead and take her into Santa Barbara, weather permitting. It's getting worse up there, Admiral. Unaccounted wind sheers, some twisters…. Any question about safety, choose another route or even abort the flight and land somewhere well out of it; I don't care if it's a cornfield. And that, sir, is an order." He had added the codicil lightly, but Nelson's eyes did not return the jest.
"Ski, I'll take the helm," Nelson said calmly. "The Captain is just doing his job, but FS1 has braved storms far worse than gullywashers like these."
Crane glanced at Riley in the seat behind Ski; took another look at the controls, and then back at Nelson, "Very well, Admiral. Ski, you're in command on the way back. Have a good flight," Crane climbed the steps up into the observation nose and gave the order to launch the flying sub. A real time saver, FS1 would have Nelson on the East Coast within a few hours. Not bad for launching in the middle of the Pacific.
Several hours later Seaview's captain had finally drifted off to his dreams, the well read tabloid a crumpled mess on his desk~~~~~~~~~~~~
It was raining and the lightening flashed against the chrome of his excuse of a motorcycle. Not the preferred transportation of an officer in the US Navy, but he'd managed to buy it cheap. Twice repaired, it still ran moderately well, when it was working, and sputtered loudly, its rider thoroughly splattered with mud and splashed with oily and dirty water, despite the rainwear.
Tally up another humiliation. He should be at sea, not acting as a 'go-fer' for some brass, and certainly not for all the world looking like an ice cream man or delivery boy! Ahh, there it was, his new assignment. Finally sheltering under the main gate's security station, he was curtly told where and how to shove his motorcycle.
The outer offices were spartan; spotless in the generic chrome and linoleum so beloved by the government and the lowest bidder. Finding a place to hang his rainwear, he thought for a moment that his underwear might be visible through the soaked uniform. He could almost feel the woven labels on his brief's elastic bands burning through his dress whites, as least he felt like they were, or were the embarrassed glances by some of the distaff clerks only matronly looks of compassion?
Reporting to the officer nearest the door of the Admiral's office, he wished he'd had time to freshen up a bit, at least to towel his hair down and run a comb through it. But he was late. He was practically shoved through the door by the lieutenant.
"Lee Crane, reporting as ordered…"he paused only for a fraction of a second as the Admiral emerged from a curtained alcove," ma'am!" he remained at attention.
"Well, well, well, look what the cat dragged in…" her gaze went to the boy's collar insignia. Anchors? Anchors?? " Midshipman Crane???" she asked, incredulous and aghast, " I get a mere middie as an aide?! Oh this is a bad dream or an outrageous practical joke! "
Crane was rather used to insults, they were standard at Annapolis, to toughen the men up, but he was no rookie. He called on his training and replied by the ingrained rote, "I assure the Admiral that the Admiral will find me qualified in every way to serve as the Admiral's aide."
"Did I give you permission to speak!?"
"Ma'am, no ma'am!" Boy it was hot in here.
"How old are you?" she circled around him, examining him, as if he were a recently discovered species of disgusting reptile.
"Old enough to fight and die for my country, ma'am." So what if he'd barely managed to squeak by the cut-off age when he entered Annapolis; he was sick and tired of being reminded that he was still legally a juvenile. A bunch of mumbo jumbo. If he was old enough to bleed in the line of duty, he should be considered an adult; be able to vote, drink, and enjoy himself like most of his classmates could when they were on shore leave.
"That's a stupid answer…tell me," the Admiral returned to sit at her generic metal desk, "is this some kind of punishment assignment?"
The Admiral laughed, " Well, it appears as though we're both in the woodshed! Oh, relax man, at ease, at ease…sit down… You're not quite legal yet are you?"
"No ma'am," Lee said disdainfully.
"Then how about some hot chocolate," she said sarcastically. She punched the conference phone, "Julian, before you go, bring in some cups of hot water and some cocoa mix," she smirked, " Don't forget the marshmallows. I know how much children love them… and some towels." She released the button, at looked at Lee's damp unruly curls, "overdue for a haircut aren't you sailor? You have got to do something about that…"
Midshipman Crane swallowed the warm brew a few moments later with relief, despite the circumstances. He was far more chilled than he cared to admit. Julian took the damp towel Lee had rubbed his hair with and wondered how long the boy would last…poor kid, he thought, as he finished clearing out the desk of his personal belongings, and fled within minutes.
"You'll reside on base at the Bachelor Officer's Quarters, it's not too far from here. You'll have to be at my beck and call, at immediate notice sometimes. I'll give you the afternoon to get settled in. We have a formal dinner to attend tonight for some visiting brass. Here," she tossed him Julian's discarded gold shoulder braid. " My regular aide is on emergency leave, Julian's a weekend wonder and is going back to his cushy job. Your orders are rather generic…" she read the official form. "Care to let me know why? No, never mind. Now then, I expect performance worthy of any commissioned officer. Very well. You may go now. Report back by 1900 hours. Dismissed."
"Aye aye sir! I mean, ma'am…I mean, Admiral Nelson." Lee was annoyed that he'd flubbed such an obvious response.
"Why Crane, that's one of the best compliments I've ever been given!"
It was just a room with a bathroom and kitchenette, and while clean enough for government standards, it had a lingering aroma of stale cigars and beer. Lee gratefully took up residence in sterile shower stall, and enjoyed the luxury of a long hot shower. Soon the long cold and wet ride was just a memory. He reveled in the pleasant clean smell of the ordinary soap, not at all that antiseptic yuck he'd been getting accustomed to, as he lathered himself again and again. When he emerged he used his toothpaste with vigor. Wonders of the modern age, such products, soap and toothpaste. He should have listened to his father and taken stock in such companies. He could have been rich…and miserable. The sea was his life and he knew it always would be.
He wondered about the committee meeting that Admiral Anne Nelson had fumed about over the cocoa…she hadn't said much, but he could tell she was mift. Nelson vs. Nelson. Crane was suddenly filled with dread. There had been quips and quotes about the two officers at each other's throats. And all over a little matter of the great Harriman Nelson's dream of a special unit for the Navy, and some new design of submarine he wanted developed.
Crane had only been aware of the great man's existence for a very short while in his 17 years; Nelson was a topic of casual debate at Annapolis, but Lee hadn't really decided one way or another about the scuttlebutt.
At the appointed hour, Crane reported for duty. Admiral Nelson gave him an appraising look, "Well, I suppose you'll do, even if you're not an officer," she grabbed her small shiny black regulation handbag, and preceded him to the waiting car, complete with driver. She had a little trouble maneuvering into the cramped vehicle, dress shoes and regulation black formal floor length gown. She complained about the design and the stupidity of separate uniform style dividing male and female officers.
Crane hopped into the front passenger seat, grateful to sit away from her. She exuded raw power. Raw bitchy power.
She seemed to know everybody as she mingled around, having ignored Lee near the hotel's entrance like an unwanted umbrella. Why had she even had demanded his presence? He certainly wasn't needed.
It was horrible music, he thought, the kind that plagued elevators. He noticed the chauffeurs' playing cards in an alcove and was about to seek refuge there, but no, he really didn't fit in. Technically, he should be saluting the few military drivers among them, for middies were lower than the rawest recruit of even one minute's enlistment.
He almost felt the gold braid encircling his arm to his shoulder burning like an emblazoned brand shouting 'kick me, kick me!'
There were a few Generals and Admirals milling about, but most of the guests were government officials. Some had brought their spouses and some had not. If there were any pretty girls here, they were few and far between.
His ears hurt. Was the live band too loud? Or was it that infection again. Lee soon sought refuge on the patio.
As the moonlight highlighted his new white uniform, quickly purchased at the BX, and deflating his wallet down to $5.79, he could see some sidelong glances coming from within the ballroom. He could see Admiral Anne Nelson gesturing about him and hear the guffaws from the crowd around her. He knew she was leading them all into laughing at him.
A gong sounded and broke his reverie, and the guests began to filter to the dining room while the band went on break. He took his cue and offered his arm to escort the Admiral to her chair. He'd been placed next to his boss. What a drudge this dinner was going to be. He winced at the fancy French foods as they were served. How he longed for an apple or a head of cauliflower or cabbage plucked fresh from his mother's garden…odd, he hadn't thought about home for awhile. Why now?
Wine was about to be poured into a goblet at his place but a familiar voice said "You'd better make it milk," Anne Nelson said scoffingly amid a few chuckles from some of the guests.
"So," a matron across from him asked, trying to be sweet, " how did you get such a good position as an Admiral's aide young man?"
"Punishment duty, no doubt, "Ann Nelson guffawed, "But I'm not sure if it's for him or me."
Laughter answered her quip.
"Oh dear," the matron pulled at her hair nervously," I ..Oh, well, never mind dear, I'm sure you'll do just fine…" she said to Lee and then abandoned it and began to talk to her neighbor, flustered.
"Now," Nelson said, "about this committee meeting coming up… I'd hoped to knock some sense into Captain Nelson before the meeting, however…"
The band played, after dinner drinks flowed, and the guests danced. It may have been a party but Crane was grateful to get away. Even if it was only to the men's' room. He splashed some cold water on his face and looked at his watch. How much longer was this ordeal going to last? He hadn't eaten much, and was hungry.
"That bad, son?" asked a damp full Commander, his kahki's moist from the rain. "I would have thought you'd be enjoying that bash in the ballroom…good food, I'm told, and I think I spied some Glen Livet being passed about," he said wistfully.
"Frankly, it's pretty boring…and…"
"That, my boy," the Commander made sure his dolphins were straight, "is one of the best descriptions of these social affairs…" He looked at the gold braid, " Admiral's aide?"
"Yes, sir," Lee replied dutifully, trying unsuccessfully to hide his disdain.
"Ahh. Not exactly your chosen career path?"
"No sir, I mean…"
"Relax, I'm not one of the gang in there…in fact, just have to present my compliments- to satisfy the red tape you know…then I can get back to my boat."
Yes, Lee thought, his eyes lighting up at first at the mention of a submarine, then suddenly downcast, lucky dog, just where I should be, too.
"What is it?" the Commander asked.
"Nothing sir, it's just…you're very fortunate. Not stuck emptying ash trays or filing papers for Admiral Nelson…I mean…well.."
The Commander laughed, "I have no doubt of it…so, you're with Nelson? Anne Nelson? The iron maiden?"
"Well, yes, I, uh…"
"What on earth did you do to get stuck with her? No, better not say, I don't want to be keelhauled for detaining you. You'd better get back on the floor before she misses you…she loves to dance."
"I have to dance with her??" Crane asked aghast.
"Sorry, boy, yes, I’m afraid so…it goes with the job…think of it as…hazardous duty."
Lee relaxed and laughed, then winced.
"You sure you're okay?"
"Oh, I'm fine, just an old w…injury."
Meanwhile in an antechamber, two people had sought refuge from the throng.
"Give the boy a break Anne," a gruff tuxedoed man puffed upon a cigar.
"I do not expect to be given wimps as my aides!"
"He's only a boy."
"He's a Midshipman in the United States Navy. That makes him a man and men do not get sick at the sight of food."
"He never said he was ill…no…I think it goes deeper than that…he looked as if it reminded him of something…"
"You asked for me to report." Crane interrupted as he entered the alcove and stood at attention.
"Well, I'll leave you to it Anne. See you in a week," the diplomat departed, casting a sad look at Crane.
"I'm waiting," Nelson demanded in a no nonsense command tone.
"I don't understand."
"How the hell could you even last a week at Annapolis let alone almost a year? No, don't answer. If you have an aversion to certain foods, in future you will let me know so I can arrange for a replacement to accompany me…you were as green as the Jell-O, for Pete's sake."
"I'm sorry, I didn't know what would be on the menu…I thought I'd gotten over it and…"
"Spare me the details….can you dance without stepping on my toes?"
"I can try to. I mean, I'll try not to."
"Remind me to bring my steel reinforced combat boots next time. Come along. We have to mingle. PR and all that."
She looked at him as he offered his arm, " well at least you look good in uniform," she taunted.
Lee filed the latest report away. The rain had finally stopped, and the morning's rainbow was really quite spectacular. Sunshine and fresh air filtered through the open window. He'd almost forgotten what it was, cooped up at the pris…
"Crane! Get in here!"
"Aye ma'am," he hurried into the admiral's office.
"Go to the public library and get me all the details you can on nutty Nelson's latest exposé's. Include all the dirt on his personal life too. That's Harriman Nelson. Commander Harriman Nelson. No relation, thank goodness…by the way, I've arranged for you to have dancing lessons. I've never been so humiliated."
"Yes maám," Crane withdrew.
"Reprieved?" a familiar voice asked. The Commander returned his attention to the bookshelves as he purused the shelves. A roly-poly bug traversed along one of them. The Commander picked it up, and opened a window to push the miscreant out onto a bush.
Lee laughed as he looked up from the long table. "On assignment actually… I'm supposed to scrape up dirt on Commander Nelson," he sighed, then flashed a Hollywood-type smile, "but there isn't any, I'm glad to say."
"I would have thought there was a lot of that lying about."
"It's just…well…the more I've heard, the more I've read, well, I don't think he's such a nut after all. And I'm stuck having to try to find something to discredit him, personally, if not his theories…It's not fair, "he sighed.
"No, no it's not. What's that?" The officer pulled a single sheet of paper from Crane's pile.
"Oh, that's Nelson's sub, sort of."
"I had no idea he wanted it to look like that…."
"Oh, he doesn't," Crane grinned," I'm not so sure about the water flow and the stabilizers, but tail fins sure would be classy. He wants windows too, did you know that? Wow. What a sub that would be…." he mused, "windows! But too much pressure and crack, it’s a voyage to the bottom of the sea. Maybe he's already figured out something…I sure can't."
"Tell me son, you ever think of submitting your ideas to him, or to the review board? They haven't convened yet."
"Yeah, sure, like they'd really listen to me…uh, you okay sir? You look tired."
"Actually, I am tired, a little. Takes a while to get my shore legs back and…."
"Excuse me," the elderly lady volunteer interrupted, and decided it was to the younger patron that her message was directed, yes, the one with the braid around his shoulder, as she'd been instructed. "You're being asked to, "she looked at the message, ''forgive me, son, 'to get off your ass and report back to Admiral Nelson."
"Duty calls…tell you the truth sir," Lee leaned over conspiratorially, " sometimes duty sucks…uh, I mean…"
"What was that son?" the Commander grinned," Blasted cold, can't hear a thing. May I keep this drawing?"
"Sure, he'll never know, his dream baby is secure from a snot nose like me." Crane flashed a smile and departed from view.
"What on earth is that?" The volunteer asked of the drawing.
"I'm not quite sure," he studied the drawing anew.
"And so, "Anne Nelson finished addressing the military review board, "again I say, these ideas of Nelson's, while we all agree have some value in science fiction, or motion pictures, are utterly ridiculous for the military. I put it to the review board, that we dismiss Commander Nelson's suggestions without going any further in wasting the taxpayers time and money, and report our decision to the congressional committee as disapproved."
"Spare us Harriman, we've heard it all before…frankly, we're tired of your constant grandstanding. Now, relax and take your shore leave or go back to Comsublant to supervise your boat's paint job."
"With all due respect, Admiral Nelson, you've hardly addressed my plans of the sub's capabilities and…."
"Harriman," the Admiral interrupted, " we've heard you, over and over and over again. The board will make its decision now…we will inform you of it. Wait outside please."
"Why bother? You've already made up everyone's mind," he rose and used the back exit, wishing for all the world that the door could slam instead of being mechanically controlled into a gentle shut.
Crane had heard it all though the cheap plywood walls, from his post just outside in the hall. Harriman Nelson had been defeated, it was a pity. And Lee hadn't even been able to meet the man.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"But Crane had no business treating me like unwanted garbage!" the communication crackled with static, " Kicked off the sub. It was more than humiliating. Everyone will be laughing at me."
"They already are. You complain too much. The primary mission has been accomplished, hasn't it? I'll finish up the minor details before you rejoin me."
The transmission ended, and the caller mused, Crane's action was an outright violation of Nelson's authority, the upstart. There had to be something he could do to vindicate himself with his colleagues…perhaps…a little entertainment?
"Any further word, Sparks?" Morton hovered over the radio, deeply concerned.
"No sir, The tracer just went ping…then, nothing. And air traffic control in Topeka confirms it…she just vanished from their radar. With all those storms and tornadoes in the area, well, searching on the ground is hard going sir. The state's search and rescue teams are already swamped with their own problems and…hold a sec…the Navy Department is on the line. They'd like to get a statement from the skipper."
"Captain Crane?" the image formed on the monitor." I'm Lt.Commander Juilian Bakerman; I've been assigned as your liaison with the information office. I'm sorry about all this, but I'm afraid we're going to have to ask you for a statement on the flying submarine. Appease the brass and press and all that."
"What can I say? The Flying Sub disappeared from radar, hasn't reported and is overdue to Boston. It could simply be an equipment glitch…tell them…just tell them that we have no comment pending further investigation."
"Very well, standard no comment. I'll meet you at NIMR when you dock. There are a few things we'll have to go over before the press conference."
"Press conference?? What is this? Look Bakerman, I know you're only following orders but …"
"Skipper?" Sparks voice called out.
"What is it Sparks?" Crane replied.
"We've got Test Center like you wanted for you on line one-alpha-baker."
"Very well, pipe them though to my cabin; Commander, if you'll excuse me I need to take this call."
"Very well Captain, I'll see you in port." Was it his imagination, or was there something a little bit familiar about Crane?
"Is it true, that the FAA," the morning news talk- show host asked," even the military, are growing increasingly doubtful about the flying sub? That they've just about given up? That even if they find wreckage, that Nelson may be dead? "
"I wouldn't know, seems understandable," Wyman answered, "There's only so much searching you can do before calling it quits. They haven't kept me informed. I suggest you speak to one of Nelson's representatives, I believe the submarine Seaview should be arriving at NIMR shortly. This is one time I doubt Nelson's gallant Captain will be able to anything."
"You were one of the last people to see the Admiral; was there any indication of a problem?"
"No physical problem that I could see, though, he was rather upset," he twisted his small ring in the light, its stone for an instant seemed to change to yellow before returning to it's base of emerald green.
"Upset? About what?"
"It's really not for me to say here…but he and the sub's Captain had had an argument. About me actually. The Captain wanted me off the sub, Nelson didn't. But the Captain won anyway."
"You were on the flying sub on your return, did you notice anything wrong with the craft? Why did the Captain want you to leave? Is it true that your experiments went crazy?"
"The experiments failed, yes, it happens; Nelson would be the first to tell you that. But the Captain kicked me off the boat for personal reasons. Too big for his britches, Crane; far too influential over the Admiral. If it were my sub, I wouldn't want an employee telling me what I could or couldn't do. Dreadful. And I certainly wouldn't a man like Crane dominating my sound judgment."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, all the while I was aboard I sensed… something. I've said enough already. "
"Thank you Dr. Wyman;" the host said, turning his attention to the viewers," we'll be going to Washington when we return…"
"Is all this really necessary?" the woman paced inside one of the Senate chambers.
"Annie, Annie, calm down," a colleague soothed as he read the report. "You're retired Navy. What do you think? If Nelson and Crane overstepped the line between superior and subordinate, well, Seaview's Reserve status is compromised, as is the military's. We need to know just what their relationship involved. We owe it to the taxpayers."
"And just what do you think it is? I've met Harriman Nelson on more than one occasion. Many years ago, I'll grant, but I’m telling you it's impossible the man could have ever been influenced by anyone, let alone a subordinate! He's just not made that way. He's made of steel or herculilte or even titanium… "
"But if this Crane has something over him, blackmail, perhaps or even, well….damn it, things…happen in tight cramped and isolated quarters, you know, and …"
"No, I do not know! And I think it's utter travesty on your part to blow a simple comment by some egghead way out of proportion and…"
"You ever see Crane?"
"Not that I remember."
"Here, look at this. Taken a few months ago at some picnic at Nelson's Institute. Strapping fellow. See the way Nelson's looking at him. Oh we know he's proud of his Captain, but perhaps, just perhaps, there's something else there….. Even you have to admit Crane's a very attractive man and…. "
Anne growled, "If this wasn't a serious matter, I'd slap your face for an insinuation like that, " she took the photo and looked at it," My God, it can't be!" she began to laugh.
"You're kidding!" the disbelieving voice came across loud and clear from the videophone in Crane's cabin.
"Just have her waiting when we dock," Crane demanded.
"And just who's going to fly her, if you don't mind me asking Captain."
"Where do you want us to send your body?"
"That's not in very good taste just now, Hawthorne," Crane replied coldly.
"Just want to change your mind for you, Lee. She'll be waiting. And good luck."
"Thanks. Any news?"
"No, Lee, no word at all."
Seaview had docked and Sharkey hesitated before taking his message to the nose. "Skipper, that Bakerman fella's waiting for you in the Admiral's office."
The Skipper was leafing through a thick flight manual, as Morton, across from him, read off the Prototype's pre-flight checklist.
"Thank you Chief," Crane replied absently,"Are we all tucked in?"
"Aye sir, all secured dockside, security watch's in place, and Mr. O'Brian's released the crew for shoreleave as per Mr. Morton's orders."
Crane made no reply, again absorbed in the manual.
"…uh…,"Sharkey leaned down and whispered to the XO, "Are ya really gonna let him go? "
Morton looked up at the Chief. No words were necessary.
"I'm sorry…"Lola offered Commander Bakerman a cup of coffee, in Nelson's outer office, "you'll just have to wait."
"I may be a weekend wonder, lady, but even I know it doesn't take this long for a Captain to turn in his report after docking his boat."
"Where are you going?"
"To the sub pen! "
" I'm sorry, you'll have to have an escort. "
"Good grief…look, lady, I'm here on official business and don't like being treated like a interfering busybody."
"Busybody you're not, "she tried to make light of it, concerned herself," interfering, perhaps, but that will be up to Captain Crane."
"At this time," the TV reporter said, just outside the main gate of NIMR, "there is still no word from the famed Nelson Institute about their missing flying sub. As you know, the great Admiral Nelson was aboard along with two crewmen when it was reported from Seaview that they had lost contact. The assumption of most authorities is that the craft may have veered into one of the storms in the Midwest. The FAA says it's doubtful if they would have been able to survive if pulled into a tornado."
"What about the accusations," asked the studio's anchor," by Dr. Wyman that the Admiral was in a distressed emotional state and unable to adequately pilot the craft?"
"We tried to speak to Dr. Wyman again, but he's refusing all further comments."
"Has the submarine docked yet?"
"One of our sky-team copters reported that she docked a short time ago…."
"Turn it off," the President ordered. "Well?"
"I'll get to NIMR and supervise things. " the Commander of Comsubpac answered from the videophone, a lump in his throat. His old friend Harriman…gone.
"Consider yourself drafted Starke," the President said, "I'll inform NIMR that until further notice their sub is in the Navy and you're Acting Commander. As a Reserve unit, there should be no argument… "
"On the contrary," Starke laughed, "I'm sure there will be…Crane and his crew can be rather…obstinate. Who will run it eventually?"
"You'll have to check with their paperwork. Nelson must have made provisions. Starke," the President paused," do you think there's any truth to Wyman's allegations, about Crane and Nelson, improprieties?"
"Nonsense, Mr. President, I'd stake my reputation on it."
"All set Test Center?" Crane asked from his seat. It was cold, hard and metal. Damned uncomfortable.
"Very well, begin the check list."
"Sir?" Sharkey asked of Morton, as he stood dockside, frowning. "You just can't let him go off in that thing by himself! Can't you get one of the original test pilots or something? Maybe even Mr. Hawthorne. He flys."
"I'm sorry Chief. It would take too long and the Captain doesn't want any volunteers. Besides, there's only room for one pilot in FLUB."
"Do they gotta call it that??" Sharkey was distraught. First the Admiral, and some of his own knotheads got themselves lost and now the Skipper was going after them in that contraption just offshore? The weird flying-prototype thing that made Nelson completely redesign his vision into the flying sub?
"Chief, get a hold of yourself. That's its name… I don't like this either. If you want to help, go on over to test control center and assist. I'll be there shortly."
"Aye sir, but…"
Sharkey was interrupted as the sound of revving engines came from the little craft. Sputtering water bubbled around it as it bounced atop the waves as it gained speed and eventual lift-off.
"God speed, Lee," Chip said, almost prayerfully as it vanished from site. As he finally turned to head to the office, he saw just about all hands had gathered to watch as well. He could see that all were glum. Scared, that was a better word for it. So was he.
It would take several hours to get to Santa Barbara from Hawaii, and Jiggs Starke, for the first time in career as a submariner, wished he was an aviator. He could have flown piggyback in one of the two-seater fighter jets and been in Harriman's office by now, official business and all that, but he had absolutely no knowledge of flying, and he wouldn’t hinder a pilot in an emergency. So, he leaned back, or tried to, in the tail section of the airline. Cramped, blasted economy section. No wonder Harriman always traveled first class. But then, Harry was retired, rich, and could do as he liked. Or at least, had, Starke thought morosely. Ground teams had found nothing as of yet. Nobody actually knew if he'd crashed at all. Thank goodness, the weather over the Pacific was peaceful. It was only the continental US that was experiencing flight cancellations due to inclement and unstable weather patterns.
"Well, Commander Bakerman, " Morton tried to soothe yet more ruffled feathers, as Patterson carried some files to Angie's desk. "You just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm sorry you'll be late back to your regular job, but you have your orders same as ours. Until further notice we're all in the active Navy and Starke is in command. Now, if you'll excuse me…"
"By Presidential order," the reporter stood just outside the bustling airport, "custody of NIMR and all it's properties have been given over to the US Navy as an interim measure, allowed a Reserve Unit. Admiral Starke, the commanding officer of Comsubpac, that's Command Submarines Pacific, has been made acting Commander. I'm sure we'd all like to know, Admrial, what's going to happen now."
"Well," Starke handed his briefcase to the NIMR driver, "until probate, I'll be supervising things here. Harriman and I go a long way back. I'm sure he'd want his properties in capable hands. As heartbroken as we all are, the institute and the submarine will continue their work."
"Speaking of the Seaview, we'd like to have a few words from her master. We were unable to get through the switchboard…."
"Of course, I'll arrange it for you," Starke motioned to the driver to use the carphone. Instead, he began to speak to the Admiral, just out of TV-range.
"He what??!?" Starke exclaimed.
"I'm sorry, sir, I thought they'd told you," the driver said apologetically.
"Hmph. It appears," Starke pouted to the newsteams, "that the Captain has taken a mothballed prototype off to search for the flying sub himself."
"But all search and rescue teams have given up! Apparently this Crane disagrees. Why weren't you aware of his actions? Hadn't the Captain been informed of the Navy takeover? Doesn't he have to follow chain of command like any business? And just what is this prototype?"
"If you'll excuse me, " Starke wondered if he looked as foolish as he felt. Harry was a goner, that was sadly certain enough, but this PR blunder…he'd have to have a little talk with Crane. Scratch that. A big talk.
"Sir?" the driver brought Starke out of his woolgathering, and he quickly entered the car and was driven away from the crowd.
"Flub to Test Center, come in please," Crane's voice came through somewhat garbled with static.
"Test Center here Skipper," Sharkey had grabbed the mike, "Anything yet?"
"No, Chief, not a sign. Sonar's working well, infrared and radar too…but a lot of storms have been popping up out of nowhere and the signals are a bit screwy and…wait a sec…My Lord! There are some folks stuck in their car smack in the middle of a tree! It's bad down there…get FLUB's coordinates to Search and Rescue, there may be a lot more people down there that need help…middle of nowhere…I'm going to see what I can do…"
"Aye sir," Sharkey tried to sound encouraging, as though the Skipper was off on a picnic or something, but in his heart he knew finding the Admiral was a lost cause, and now, well, people needed help, and right now.
"This is damn awkward, Morton," Julian drank his zillionth cup of coffee.
"Is your job all you can think of at a time like this?" Chip asked, tired and very irritated. Lee had been searching for over 27 hours now, Starke was due to arrive any moment, most of the female secretaries were whimpering and crying, and Nelson….
"Three men are presumed dead, another's at risk, and every search and rescue team's got it's hands full in tornado alley, and all you seem to care about is getting back to some some stupid accounting firm??"
"I…I'm sorry Morton…I guess I, oh hell," Bakerman sat down wearily. "Chip, may I call you Chip? It's not easy being on reserve status. I'd forgotten…duty and all that…I apologize. Worse than being an Admiral's aide, a reservist's time is. I was one once. Long ago…oh, I'm no sailor, administration is my forte'. Give me statistics and I'll show you debits, profit margins, and how to save a small fortune on restricting the excessive use of toilet paper."
Both men couldn't help laughing. It was good to have a brief respite from the strain.
"If you polish that deck any harder, you'll wear it away," O'Brian offered gently as he saw Patterson clean Admiral Nelson's cabin.
"I know, sir, but I don't want a speck of dirt or glop or anything to spoil the Admiral's homecoming…any word sir?"
"No, not yet. Pat, look, the Skipper's kinda got his hands full just now…."
"Yeah, yeah, I know, but I'm still not budging till the Skipper's back and we his word, one way or another."
"Very well, Pat…look, why don't you take a break when you're done here, and join Mr. Morton and myself in the Admiral's office. Starke should be here any minute and I know Morton would appreciate some support when he blows in."
"No problem sir. I'll be there shortly."
O'Brian felt sorry for Pat. Of all hands, he and the Chief were the epitomes of never say die…but they all knew…the flying sub was a lost cause…Pat actually looked ill. Hardly surprising due the circumstances, but he really did…perhaps he'd better have a talk with Doc. Morton was pretty much occupied right now to notice.
"No," Dr Wyman leaned back in the plush chair, it was very comfortable. These talk shows spared no expense. "Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Nelson and Crane did anything improper, but look at the facts. If you were the boss, the owner actually, of a multi billion dollar submarine, nobody knows how much it actually costs to maintain, and you wanted your invited guest to remain aboard, would you allow your employee to kick him off the boat? Just what kind of hold did Crane have over Nelson anyway, may he rest in peace. No matter what the gallant Captain apparently thinks, I still say it's rather fruitless to think the Admiral might still be alive…as for our discussion, just what other things, important national or international matters did Crane override Nelson on? And why?Yes, I'd say it needs investigation. And soon. Crane could be a risk to world security. It's feasible. In cheap fiction the man above suspicion can often be the villain. Why not in real life? Get a public investigation going. The Navy is probably keeping it under wraps, but they do tend to protect their own, even their beloved reservists. I say get it all over and done with."
"And you still think Nelson was psychologically impaired when he took off in the flying submarine?"
"I've no doubt of it. He had been very angry earlier. And of course there were other things."
"Can you elaborate?"
"Well, I'd be rather blindfolded not to have noticed. They way they ran the sub. Not exactly Navy if you ask me."
"But Seaview isn't regular Navy. She's never claimed to be."
"She's not supposed to be a private yacht either. Rum, Whiskey, some of it Nelson's own lable! Who knows what else went on aboard. I saw Nelson drink on on more than one occasion. I was there. And he was so damn adamant about some species of fish for his aquariums, I wonder just who's money was paying for his little hobby; his investors or his own?" He leaned forward, conspiratorially," Seaview is always off on some oceanographic cruise, sometimes they're classified. How convenient … I wouldn't want my hard-earned money for research tossed away for some damn fish for Nelson to play with …And they didn't even supervise my experiments well enough to keep it under control. I'd like to know how she even gets the contracts she does. Now if it were my sub…"
"Get me Crane!" Starke stormed into Nelson's outer sanctum.
"Welcome to NIMR, Admiral Starke," Morton, O ' Brian, and Bakerman saluted, as Patterson stood by stiffly.
"Abort the formalities for now Morton, how long's he been up there?"
"About 34 hours now, sir," Chip replied.
"What's he think he's made of, superglue? Get him. Pipe him into my office," Starke shoved Nelson's inner-office door open, brooking no argument. He knew these Institute men well enough now to know his takeover would not exactly be welcome. Necessary, acquiesced to, but not welcomed. He hesitated prior to sitting in Harriman's chair. But duty called; he sat down, and familiarized himself with the vast carved and marbleized affair Nelson called a desk. Far too many nooks and crannies and drawers. Locked drawers. He pressed the intercom. At least it was standard. "Ahoy," he paused," secretary, in here, now." It was curt, but he didn't know the name. Secretary would have to do for the moment.
Angie looked at Chip and Chip returned the questioning glance with his own, then nodded. She took her cue and a deep breath, grabbed her steno pad and opened the office door.
"My name is Angie, Admiral, I'm Admiral Nelson's administrative assistant."
"You're still a secretary, or are you ashamed of the term? Now look here, I need Harry's keys to all these drawers. And the combination to the institute safes and any other secured items. I'm in charge now and have the clearance. Morton!" he yelled, "hurry it up with Crane will you! And what the blazes do you want?" he asked of the man who'd followed the girl.
"Lt. Commander Bakerman, sir, I need to know what my job is."
"You don't know?"
"I'm a reservist sent by the information office, and the takeover orders were rather unexplanitory in my case."
"Well, since you don't have a regular job with NIMR, you can consider yourself my aide…now, help the girl get the keys…and find the organizational charts."
"In a last ditch effort," the TV reporter said quietly," in a prototype craft called FLUB, piloted by Commander Lee Crane, the Captain of the Seaview, a desperate search had been underway to locate the missing Flying Sub, but his efforts have been postponed as Flub continues to help search and rescue teams in the areas affected by those terrible storms. Several stranded victims actually thought the craft was a flying saucer, you remember there were reports of UFO's recently.. Crane and the vehicle has become a Godsend in this tragedy, as it can fly, float, and even submerge. A real help in the many flash floods. He's been at it for more than 38 hours now.... "
"You won't do anybody any good if you smash up!" Starke's voice bellowed across the static, "Even your doctor is pacing about, pestering anyone who will listen, that you must be near the point of exhaustion; abort your damn flight and return to base, on the double!"
"Flub to Test Center, sorry, I didn't copy that last transmission. Making another sweep. Flub out." So what if he was disobeying orders. Necessary disobedience. Something Admiral Nelson would understand.
"So," Anne Nelson chuckled, "rather convenient don't you think Mr. President? That Crane's communications went bust just as Starke ordered him back? Old Jiggs must be sputtering like a bad engine."
"You don't buy it then."
" I'd be an idiot if I did, no offense sir."
"Tell me more about this Crane. You seem to be surprisingly soft on his disobedience, all of a sudden. That's not the iron maiden I know. "
"Not the one he knew either! It's a long story."
Starke opened yet another sealed envelope full of an odd assortment of paperwork. Good grief, Harriman, what else do you have going on? What on earth?
A small drawing of a submarine, clearly the work of an amateur. She looked vaguely familiar. Perhaps one of Harry's preliminary sketches of Seaview. No windows, no manta bow, but the tail fins were pronounced.
Stuffing the drawing back into the envelope, he took absently tooked at another item. Top Secret? Well, he had presidential authorization now. It was dated a long time ago…
FROM THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT
TO: NELSON, CAPT.,SSN NAUTILUS
RE: ENSIGN CRANE, LEE, B.
THE MISSING INFORMATION YOU REQUESTED ON CRANE'S SERVICE RECORD IS CLASSIFIED AS TOP SECRET. YOU WILL NOT PURSUE IT. SUFFICE IT HERE THAT THE SAID OFFICE CONFIRMS CRANE WAS ABOARD SANDAB.
Sandab?Undue influence?There was a growing ache in the pit of his stomach. Grabbing one envelope after another he leafed through the documents, trying to glean more info, but to no avail. All he had were patents, poems, and various keys to various compartments of the desk. Poems? What was that all about? He had no choice. He gritted his teeth and called for the administrative assistant.
She was a sorry sight, the Sandab. The rusting hulk had been brought to Annapolis as a history lesson prior to her destination to the auction block. Most of her non-essentials had been skeletized, but she still maintained some seaworthiness and decorum.
"Hey, look at me, Lee, "one of Crane's pals spun around with the periscope.
"Knock it off Bob, we're supposed to be studying."
"You can study all you want, I'm gonna have fun."
Crane rolled his eyes heavenward and continued to take notes as he stopped at one station after another. Poor old thing, she was really showing her age. But the idea of being scrapped for metal or turned into a restaurant prop or something irked him. That was the rumor. Some rich guy wanted to bid on her and turn her into a fast food joint! She deserved better than that, even if she was green with slime and stagnant with rust.~~~~
Crane woke with a start. He must have fallen asleep at the controls. Good fortune had smiled on him yet again before he'd spiraled to his death. It was also fortuitous that he'd not been snapped into a tornado, which were still popping up and plaguing the area. For a piece of junk, as Nelson had called Flub, she was a pretty good little aircraft. Sub-space worthy too, if he remembered Nelson's blueprints correctly. Lee resumed his attention to his search for victims and hopefully the Admiral as well.
"So the combination changes daily?" Starke asked, incredulous.
"The Admiral invented it," Angie explained," The plans should be in here someplace," she leafed through the envelopes. "Lee's insisted on better security…here it is, the one marked Open Sesame," she began to sniffle,"Nelson had a wonderful sense of humor…"
"Get a hold of yourself! This is a Navy outfit now."
"I'm not in the navy! And I'll cry if I want to!" she fled.
"What's that all about?" Bakerman entered the office.
"Women! So damned emotional. Look here, this is supposed to be a combination. Any ideas?"
"Oh," Julian brightened up; "I've seen a few of these. The owners use these things to remind them of other words and those words are then coded into numerical sequence. Hence the combination and…are you ill sir?"
"Not as much as Crane will be when I get my hands on him. Any word?"
"I see. Well, he can't stay up there forever. Pipe me through to Test center."
"So, Lee, "Morton said quietly on the private line, "you're calling it quits on the Admiral?"
"God knows I don't want to, Chip, but…"Lee fought back the lump in his throat. "I don't think I have a choice. There's no sign. Not in the air, not on the ground. They may be right about it after all, and well, I keep finding people scattered all over the place that need my help right now..."
"Very well, Lee. We know you tried your best…we'll be waiting for you. "
"Ladies and gentlemen," the TV team reported, "we're live from NIMR, Admiral Starke is taking the podium…"
Starke cleared his throat. "As you know, NIMR had high hopes in the search and rescue of Admiral Nelson and team aboard the flying sub." He'd known all along it was hopeless, but these blasted reporters…" It is with deep regret that the flying sub must be presumed lost with all hands. The men in question were as follows; Admiral Harriman Nelson, Seamen Thomas Kowalski, and Stuart Riley. That is all," he concluded wearily and departed the podium, ignoring any questions by the press.
"I had a feeling you were behind all this," Nelson spat bitterly. He was in a bare, highly polished and completely mirrored room.
"What a pleasure to meet you again too, my dear Admiral…I must say you could show a little gratitude. You would have tumbled to your death if I hadn't intervened when you stumbled into my vortex."
"My crew? The flying sub?"
"Safe and sound, I assure you, see?"
With a wave of his hand, the man smirked as the holographic image showed Ski and Riley, each suspended in mid air, arms outstretched.
"The little vehicle, flying sub you call it, well, unfortunately when or if it's found, well, it will simply confirm everyone's belief in your most hideous end."
Nelson glared, pondering several thoughts at once. He suddenly interrupted the alien's smirk, "I thought you were recalled to your planet."
"Didn't go," he smirked.
"To face reprimands, no doubt. So they actually gave you a second chance?" Nelson remembered the alien's superiors had been upset that he, Nelson, had thwarted their takeover plans. But this time, the alien seemed to have a cast of furtiveness, unlike his former bravado. The alien had even adopted some of Nelson's little mannerisms.
"Blast it, do you have to look like me!?" Nelson said, exasperated.
"Why, don't you like my appearance? I did my best to look just like you, just as before Harriman, I may call you Harriman mayn't I?"
"Don't act polite for me you devil!"
"As you wish," he quickly transformed into a horrific image. "An image from one of your, what do you call them, horror movies?"
"Stop it! Stop playing games! What is this all about!"
"That, is for me to know. Now, I must ask you to excuse me, I have pressing things to attend to," he commented politely as Nelson found himself suddenly suspended in midair, arms outstretched, and blacked out.
"You've busted orders for the last time mister!" Starke raged at Crane. Lee was tired, sweaty, dirty, hungry and in need of a shave. He'd only just docked the Flub when summoned to Starke's office and obvious wrath.
"What would you have had me done? There were people drowning, trapped under collapsed buildings, even! I can't believe you'd be so callous!"
"I'm not speaking of that, I’m speaking of your insubordination! Your 'can't hear you' crap!" Starke frowned at Crane's apparent distaste of his very presence. "You've put me in a quandary, Crane. If I were a civilian I'd fire you. As it is I've requested the Navy pursue an official reprimand at least, but you listen, mister, and you listen good, because you're not on your damn Flub or Seaview now. Until probate, you're back in the Navy, and you will obey the rules. Now, Dr. Wyman's made some allegations about you and Harriman."
"Allegations? What kind of allegations?"
"Don't play the innocent with me Crane, I want some answers. And I want them now," he said with deathly quiet as he leaned back in Nelson's chair.
"Excuse me," Angie's voice came through the intercom, "but Doctor Jamison wants to see Lee…Captain Crane right away."
"We're busy," Starke replied, irritated, into the device," and I told you I didn't want to be disturbed. Where did you train, girl? A correspondence school?"
"I'm sorry," Doc entered the office without waiting, "but when it concerns the Captain, Admiral Nelson gave me full leeway to interupt," he ignored Starke's utter outrage, " I’m sorry Skipper, I must insist on examining you."
Crane hadn't taken his eyes off Starke, and simply motioned Jamison aside, "I'm okay Doc. Admiral, I suggest you keep your uninformed and rude comments to yourself." He pressed the intercom button, " Ignore him Angie. Doc, wait outside, you may have to administer first aid to Mr. Starke."
"Who the blazes do you think you are?" Starke rose and yelled, as Crane motioned Doc to leave, despite Jamison's hesitation. Lee was worn out and this brewing confrontation was not going to do him any good. But Doc also knew from Crane's no-nonsense tone not to interfere. At least not yet. He backed out of the office and shut the door.
Crane leaned over Nelson's desk…"Don't you ever say anything like that again to Angie or Lola, or Tish, or Katie or any other of the office staff or I swear you'll regret it."
"You're threatening me?? May I remind you that you're in the Navy and and…"
"Will you listen to yourself ?!?"Crane spat. "You're supposed to be a friend of Harriman Nelson's! Why are you acting like his enemy, hurting people he cared for, deeply? If he were here right now, he'd have you on the floor for speaking to Angie like that! You don't give a damn about anyone! Not even Nelson! Or the Institute or anything else! Just yourself! You're just the same; you haven't changed at all! I don't know how you got this…this appointment" Lee glared," but if you think for one second that you can replace Harriman Nelson…."
"All right, all right! Settle down! "Starke grabbed Crane's arms. Crane must be on the verge of an emotional and physical collapse, Starke thought. He'd better tone things down, at least for awhile. "Look, Captain, I'm not trying to replace Harry as you seem to think…but even you have to admit the institute needs…somebody to man the helm so to speak…. " he let go of Lee. "I still think the secretary…oh never mind, I can see I'm speaking to a brick wall… Crane," he sank back into Nelson's chair," You know damn well I'd be within my rights to recommend a general court- martial for your behavior, however…. It's out of respect for Harry that I'll bow to your chief medical officer waiting to examine you before I take official action…go on, get out of here."
"Aye," Crane answered, then added, "sir."
Jiggs Starke could not for the life of him dechiper if the codicil had been one of embedded rote due a superior officer, or one of sheer spite.
~~"Well, you bid on her?" Bob asked Lee as the plebes finally collapsed in a heap after enduring yet another obstacle course on the academy grounds.
"I wish…you know, she's a nice little girl."
"Lee, I hate to burst your bubble, but these glorified cigar tubes are not sexy pin ups for you to drool over."
"You'll never be a submariner."
"Quit yer gabbin, you two!"a drill chief chastised," just to make sure you follow orders about not gabbin in the future, another run through! Move it! Move it! All of you!"
"Ah, have a heart, Chief!" Bob pleaded.
"It was my fault, sir," Crane interjected.
"I don't care who's fault it was, move it!"
"Skipper? Lee?" Doc asked breaking Lee's daydream.
"What you need is a good night sleep, a couple of them if possible…there, that does it…falling asleep sitting in a chair…even you have to admit that is not a good sign."
"Point taken," he yawned," and confirmed it appears…I'll get to my apartm…what?"
"No, you're not going to drive in your condition, and you're not going to your beloved boat either." Doc picked up the phone and spoke softly into it, then returned his attention to his clipboard. "I've arranged for you to bunk out in one of the Med Center suites. And don't look like that, they're not that bad. You'll be off in dreamland so you wont' even notice the sterile surroundings and…"
It was a matter of some conjecture around NIMR as to why a cot was brought into the examination room instead of moving the patient into a Med Suite after all, but Doc was adamant and stood guard, relieved just to have seen Crane fall asleep. And he was going to make sure Lee would stay asleep as long as nature intended, without any kind of disturbance at all. Starke's summons could wait.
SUBJ: MISSING SUB
BETWEEN THE HOURS OF 0230 AND 0500, THE DECOMMISSIONED WW2 SUBMARINE SANDAB DISAPPEARED FROM HER DOCK AT THE NAVAL ACADEMY.
WHILE SHE IS DUE FOR THE AUCTION BLOCK THE ACADEMY AGREES WITH TV REPORTS THAT THIS IS HARDLY WHAT YOU MEAN BY (SUB- UP- FOR- GRABS) ON YOUR PROGRAM.
THERE IS AN UNCONFIRMED RUMOR THAT A SHE WAS SEEN HEADED TOWARD BLUE WATER AT ABOUT 0400.
A COMPLETE INVESTIGATION IS UNDERWAY AS TO HER THEFT, OR DRIFT, AS THE CASE MAY PROVE.
Starke grimaced. He remembered the Sandab. A joy ride by some middies. And it seemed that Crane had been one of them. Why on earth would Harriman be keeping an old communicae like that? Nelson had a lot of old memos and clippings. From unusual spottings of sea monsters to the latest in Wall Street info. Another official looking document caught his eye…
FROM: THE WHITE HOUSE
THE SANDAB AFFAIR IS BEING INVESTIGATED AND DEALT WITH FROM THIS OFFICE ONLY. MAINTAIN THE MIDSHIPMEN IN QUESTION ON THE ROLLS FOR THE TIME BEING, NO DISCIPLINARY ACTION ON YOUR PART IS TO BE TAKEN UNTIL FURTHER ORDERS.
Odder and odder. If he remembered correctly, the midshipmen were let off with a warning and placed at the bottom of their class. What had this to do with Harry? He shuffled through even more items, including some faded letters…
You just can't do it. You'd be laughed out of office. Have you any idea of how foolish you'd look if the press ever got wind of the whole truth?Let it go. I'm sure incentives can be arranged for the boys, especially Crane, to forget the whole incident, as we all should. Or you may want to take more permanent action, which I highly recommend.
Smitty?Starke suddenly recalled a Sam Smithers who'd been Secretary of State. Curioser and curiouser. Another letter was in the pile, yellowed and stained with some red blotches…the handwriting was all too familiar. Starke pursed his lips, Now we may be getting somewhere…
Dear Mom and Dad,
I'm writing to let you know Leavenworth is really not all as gruesome as you 'd think. I don't hurt too badly anymore. I wish I could tell you what happened but I'm afraid they've classified it all so I can't.
I can tell you that they're probably going to court martial me and kick me out of the Academy for taking Sandab out without permission, but some guys from ONI, that's a branch of the Navy said I shouldn't worry and might have a career opportunity with them. But they're probably just saying that cause they feel sorry for me. I get such looks of dopey sympathy,even from the guards, I just hate it.
I don't know if this letter will even get to you. They said I could write but I have a bad feeling about it. Well, at least Sandab was a lady for a day and…
Sorry, ignore that…well, they're coming to give me the third degree again. Why don't they believe me? I told them the truth about the whole thing, I can't even count how many times now. I've even had truth serum and polygraphs but they just won't quit badgering me.
I still don't think I really did anything that wrong, except, okay maybe a little something, but nothing for them all to get so upset over. I hope I can tell you all about it one day, but I kind of doubt it.
I Love you both,
PS. The guard dogs here are weird . They whimper whenever they see me. Drives the guards nuts. I get a chuckle out of that! I bet they think they think I'm an alien from outer space or something. Maybe I'm just one of the pack! Hah hah. And also wha~ `/
Not to be delivered. By order of the Secretary of Defense.
So, the boy's letter had been confiscated, and before he'd even had a chance to finish it. Well, by gum, Jiggs Starke pondered, if it looked like Crane's handwriting, it probably was. And now Jiggs had authority he intended to use.
"But why?" Lee asked Patterson, just outside Nelson's cabin.
"I don't know Skipper. He just said not to let anyone in the Admiral's cabin. Something about security or something. He really didn't elaborate….I…I'm sorry Skipper. About everything…. Skipper? Do …do you think they suffered? I mean…do you think it was quick?"
"Until we find any wreckage, there's no way to tell," Admiral Starke approached and interrupted the men. "They probably lost consciousness before impact though and."
"Admiral," Lee interrupted the unwelcome image, "may I ask why Admiral Nelson's cabin is sealed?"
"Security Crane, standard operating procedures. You're aware of protocol or have you forgotten. I can show you the presidential order if you wish."
"That won't be necessary," he replied, stung by Starke's indifferent tone, "Carry on Pat."
"Aye Skipper, Sir!" Ski replied with respect. It was all he could do to show the upstart Starke who was really boss of Seaview and the institute.
"Lee? Are you okay?" a gentle voice asked in the gentle drizzle.
"Oh, hi Chip," Lee turned from his perch on a few rocks overlooking NIMR's beach front property."Yeah..I guess…it's just so…so unfair."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"I…he…he was one in a million..."he replied.
Lee seemed so lost. Morton took a careful breath, and broached the subject, "It's okay to let go, you know."
"I said I'm okay."
Chip held his tongue and gave Crane a pat on the shoulder before leaving Lee to unshed tears.
"But the storms were not intentional, Admiral," the alien stressed," Just an unfortunate side effect."
Nelson ran a hand through his hair," confused, but glad to be free of restraint. He hadn't remembered anything since he'd blacked out. Maybe even days had passed. "You actually want me to think you're sympathetic? People died down there! You're sorry about it? All the while you continue with with your invasion plans? It doesn't make any sense!"
"I knew I should have kept you restrained."
"I can't really go anywhere, now, can I?" Nelson stared out at the earth below. He'd seen satellite photos for sure, but he'd not been prepared for the actual view of Earth from the spacecraft.
"That would be an advancement in your evolution wouldn't it."
"I told you I don't accept Darwin…you're enjoying toying with me, like a cat…. Why?"
"What makes you think I'm not one of the horrid little furballs?" the alien taunted.
"Are you sure ?" Crane asked, adamant, of the man sitting alone at the nearly vacated Test Center control room.
"I can run the print-out with or without the graphics again if you want Captain."
"No, that's not necessary. Look, Bob, don’t say a word about this to anyone yet. Understand?"
"Trust me on this."
"With my life."
"Oh, there you are Skipper," Sharkey waylaid Crane, "Admiral Starke gave me these arrangements for the… memorial," he had a lump in his throat.
"What did you say?"
"I said cancel it! Starke, all of them, are a bit premature. Come on, we need one of the Admiral's star charts…"
Far above, alone, hovering above the planet, the alien watched with some concern. He hadn't counted on this.
"Patterson, that's your name isn't it?" Starke continued his investigation," I need to ask you something…do you think Admiral Nelson was emotional when he took the flying sub up? "
"He was pissed off at the Skipper, but no sir. He never allowed personal feelings affect him as far as the boat was concerned…" Pat felt sick.
"You 're a good man sailor, but don't let your loyalty sway you. This could get very messy before it's done….that's all , dismissed."
Starke waited till the seaman had departed before making a note on the list of Seaview's compliment. Of all those interviewed so far, all had stood up for Crane and Nelson. But all had also confirmed that Nelson had been angry. This was no damn good at all.
The lone figure was furtive in the moonlight, little that there was. Few guards were posted by the lone submarine.
She seemed so forlorn. At one time the pride of the fleet, a combat veteran, and now…nothing but scrap metal or a cheap prop for a food joint, if the guy won the auction. If she could only prove to them all she was more than that…museum property perhaps or maybe training sub…
"Lee! What are you doing here!" Bob Hawthorne hissed.
"Good grief, you scared the shit out of me, sneaking behind me like that!" Lee whispered back with anger.
"You should talk! Or do you like accumulating demerits? Come on, we gotta get back before they find we're missing."
"There're only a couple of guys on watch," Lee mused, "and the few old salts to steer her aren't even aboard…"
"Lee, if you're thinking what I think you're thinking…"
" Lady for a Day, that was the title of that old movie last night wasn't it? When they spruced up that old woman, Apple Annie was her name wasn't it? Well, why not Sandab? She deserves a place in the sun…figuratively. And we can prove it."
"I'm going aboard."
"You realize I'll have to testify against you at your court-martial?" Bob hissed.
"You can't possibly think you can take her out by yourself??"
"Don't intend to, you're here aren't you," Lee grinned, " and I’m not stealing her, just …borrowing her for a bit," he signaled a penlight into the darkness. "Once the Navy sees how well she can do, they'll change their minds about the auction and maybe turn her into a training sub. They're having some war games out there…"
"Are you out of your mind? She's an antiquated rust bucket! And she's been decomissioned, for Pete's sake! And there's no way you're going to join in the war games and…"
"Relax, will you. I didn't say we'd join them…just tag along and observe…or something…."
Four other camouflaged men joined him. Lee grinned at his roomate," coming along?"
"You ever sell used cars? Lead the way."
Lee awoke from his doze. Odd that he'd been having so many dreams about something that happened so long ago. Must be eyestrain. All those dots and codes and logarithms on all the charts cluttering his desk ashore.
"Lee?" Chip approached, "it's all over the grounds that you aborted the memorial…"
"No, I’m not nuts, here, look at this…remember that alien the Admiral and I told you about? The one that looked just like us when it wanted to? When Patterson and I damped the reactor by hand? Well, this weird blip was seen shortly before it arrived…and…this …this configuration, see here on the radar…it's just like it, and happened just before the storms started up. Chip, don't you see, these storms are caused by the aliens, and there are those UFO reports…"
"That was Flub people saw, and its not the first time we've seen weird weather patterns…."
"No Chip, I don't buy it. I think the alien's got him. The same one, perhaps. I don't know how, but think about it…there's no trace, not even a screw found of the flying sub…she was hijacked."
"Lee, I think you've been through enough strain."
"I know, I know it's a long shot, and I may be out of my mind, but…I don't know….I just have a feeling, Chip."
"Starke'll lock you in the psycho ward! I may too!"
"Let him, and I'll give you the key myself," Lee's eyes pleaded with Morton, "after we check this out."
It took all of Morton's self control not to call Doc or send Lee home to his mother for a badly needed rest, but Lee had had feelings before, a sixth sense the crew called it, which sometimes, just sometimes, actually paid off. "Okay Lee, we'll keep it hushed up from the old windbag. What do you want us to do?"
Apparently Harry was a hoarder. Starke couldn’t believe all the scientific journals he'd accumulated over the years. Piles of them, stacked all over the floor of his bedroom. A stickler for tidiness at sea, his small cottage on NIMR property was a haven for errant dust bunnies and domestic disarray. Strange, why would a man of great wealth and resources have a one-bedroom home without so much as a cleaning service, instead of more comfortable accommodations? But then, he was hardly ever here.
With a sigh, Jiggs noticed some old photo albums and began to leaf through them. Nothing much. A few pictures of his early life, one of his mother, looked just like her, Harriman did. Most of the photos were of Edith, though. From babyhood to a posh boarding school in Switzerland, to her social debut and further gala activities, they seemed to trace his sister's entire life.
She'd been delayed in coming to California, and Jiggs was glad of it. He couldn’t abide whimpering females. He was tired of all the feminine tears all over the place. Why didn’t Harry employ real aides like in the regular Navy?
"Jigger? Jiggs?" a woman's voice interrupted his thoughts. "They told me at the gate you might be here. I took the liberty of entering without knocking."
"Anne! Well, this is a pleasant surprise! " Worst thing the Navy ever did, allowing women in uniform or in congress, Starke thoughts came unbidden causing him to flush. "Forgive me, Senator. I'll always think of you as one of us."
"You're excused. So this is Harriman's place?"
"Yes, I've been going through a few things."
"No doubt in preparation for the inquiry?"
"What do you know about that?"
"Enough that merit's my being here," she sat in a dusty chair, "this place is disgusting! The first thing you do is fire his cleaning service!"
"Ahh. Well, Jigger, back to the point, actually I was drafted. I'm the chairman of the investigation committee .As you know, we need to find out if there were improprieties and weed them out. Any luck so far? "
"Nothing but even more questions. Harry's got some old memos, some of them deal with Crane." Jiggs pulled a small pile from his briefcase, "There's also a letter Crane sent to his parents, from Leavenworth, of all places. It was never delivered. And there's something about that Sandab sub. Something odd about it…perhaps we don't know the whole story. But nobody knows anything about it, not even ONI."
"That department would say anything to cover its own ass," she guffawed, "I think I can fill you in on some of this. Come on, let's go to the office. Arrange for Crane to meet us."
"Of course Annie, I mean Admiral, I mean Senator..."
"You haven't changed a bit Jiggs!" she slapped him on the back as they left for the office.
"Okay Chip," Lee said, pulling on his flight jacket," you have the conn, any problems- I hijacked both Seaview and Flub, understood?"
"You really think Starke'd believe that?"
"No, but you'll have to say something. And I'd rather you had command of Seaview, as I'm probably never going to be allowed aboard her again."
"Not if the crew or I have anything to do with it. They're all here, every last one of them. No call -up even had to be even sent out."
"One day we'll have to market Seaview's grapevine, "Lee grinned, "very well, Chip, I'll meet you at the rendevoux. Bob'll be able to keep you abreast of things from Test Center…oh, and have Doc check out Patterson. He really looks sick to me."
"Very well, Lee, good luck."
"What the blazes is taking so long?" Starke shouted into the office intercom," Crane should have been here thirty minutes ago!"
"He knows his duty Jigger," Anne said," he'll be here."
"I'm sorry sir," Angie's voice came across the air, "I can't imagine what's taking him so long."
"Very well, thank you Angie."
Just outside Nelson's office, Angie toasted a paper cup of water with Lola. On an active monitor they watched the waves slap against the deserted dock where Seaview should have been. They'd already lost sight of Flub as she'd risen up into the stratosphere. And now Seaview had departed from view as well.
"Sir," Sharkey asked of Morton, deep in thought in Seaview's nose.
"Yes, what is it Chief?"
"Uh, Flub sir, you really think it's gonna work? I mean way up there…she's not a spacecraft sir, and…"
"I'd say you just answered your own question Chief. All we can do is get to the coordinates and wait."
"We don't even know for sure if there is a spaceship or even just where it is if there is one or if it even nabbed the Admiral. I just hope the Skip's right about this… "Sharkey pleaded.
"He thinks he is," Morton answered gently. "Satisfied?"
"Aye sir!" Chief Sharkey forced himself to have a little faith. But he knew, they all did, that it was probably a wild goose chase and they could very probably be loosing the Skipper too.
"You should have told me!!" Starke shouted at Bob Hawthorne, while the small group of secretaries, guards, institute and support staff hovered in the background. Those not aboard Seaview on her secret mission had quickly assembled at Test Center for Crane's plan.
"It might be a good idea, Jiggs," Anne Nelson mused.
"It's totally ridiculous, bordering on cheap science fiction and fairy tales!"
"Jigger, we need to talk…"
"Outright insubordination and deception."
"I'm sorry sir," Angie spoke for the office staff, "but we didn't want you to stop him."
"Stop him? I should have thrown him the brig when he first set foot on the property! Of all the idiotic and assinine.."words failed him. Angered, rather wounded at being left out of things, Jiggs Starke began to understand Harriman's loyalty to his upstart Skipper. Did everyone at NIMR know about this? "Well, "he pursed his lips, "there's nothing we can do now…so, explain all this scientific mumbo jumbo to me again…"he asked of ground control, the term sticking in his throat. Crane was going to get himself killed and then what? "And get me the Seaview. And tell Morton I know all about their little stunt."
Lee Crane began to regret his decision. Flub was not designed to break through Earth's atmosphere. She had almost shaken apart. His deep dive suit had done well as a mockup spacesuit, but was damned uncomfortable. Pen and clipboard floated beside him as he began the scans for any type of spacecraft. He didn't have time to appreciate the view.
"Odd," Anne Nelson sipped her coffee, as she leafed through Jigg's documents, the two of them having returned to the comfort of Nelson's office." Some aspects of the Sandab affair are still classified; these must have fallen through the cracks, how, I have no idea. ..Harriman didn't even know Crane at the time. You realize I don't have all the details, but it all began when Sandab was decommissioned and put on the block…"
The scans from Flub were proving less than fruitful. "Well," Lee's hopes were diminishing. "So far all I've picked up weather and communications satellites, a couple of derelict space-stations, some clumps of space debris, urine I think, still frozen which hasn't fallen back into the atmosphere to burn up, bits of chipped paint, small bits of rock from the look of it, and goodness knows what else floating around up here…I'm going to a higher orbit…"
"I wouldn't advise it Lee," Bob intervened, "you need to be close enough to the stratosphere in case of an emergency…"
"It's got to be up here someplace!"
"We can't see anything from down here, you can't see anything from up there. Lee~"
"It must have some kind of masking devise..Something to make it invisible to our equipment, to our field of vision…wait a minute…vision….maybe we've been going about this the wrong way…Chip, are you on?"
"Right here Lee!" Morton answered from Seaview, nearly at the planned coordinates.
"I'm going to fire a couple of lazer blasts in a spin pattern. If it hits something, you may be able to pick it up."
"Tie me in," the voice demanded, "Crane? It's me, Starke, and I'd like to tan your hide and order you back down here at once, but I know you wouldn’t obey me anyway…I've got NASA tied in with us…all their equipment is on."
"I..I don’t know what to say. Thank you Admiral."
"I want to find Harry just as much as you, and if this cockamamie idea of yours does prove a spacecraft, we need to know about it. Carry on."
"Aye sir! Okay, Bob, Chip, here we go."
For the last few hours the middies had put the antiquated rust bucket through her paces, in an effort to reach the area of the Naval war maneuvers. Her repeated attempt for speed was disappointing and she'd broken down twice, leaked in a few non-essential areas, and Lee was growing embarrassed in his stupid attempt to show her off.
"Forget it Lee," Bob joined the greasy Crane up in the conning tower, for a breath of air. "She's past it."
"I guess so, I had such hopes…"
"Yeah, I know…wow, would you look at that!"
"Just a falling star.."
"If that's a falling star, I'm an octopus! "he handed Crane his binoculars.
"It's changed course! "
In moments the object splashed into the depths. Both boys looked at each other, incredulous.
"It didn't splash down that far away," Lee mused. "I've never seen a UFO before, if it is one…let's find out more about it…."
"We're in no shape for it Lee, you've said so yourself.'
"We can still limp can't we, and we have to report it, and we have diving gear aboard…"
"Four scuba tanks, no suits…and it's still night and it's dark down there and Lee~"
Bob gave up his argument. It was hopeless to object to Crane's enthusiasm and soon he and his crewmates inched the old sub toward the only estimated coordinates.
"Ohhh, where am I? Lee asked as he woke, and stood,"his head pounding from the dream. Not exactly a memory but there was something strange about this one…."What happened….Admiral!!!"
The 'Admiral' just smirked and waved his hand. A holographic image formed in mid-air…
"Flub! Flub! Come in Skipper, come in!" Chip yelled from Seaview….
Another image formed….
"Flub! Lee! Come in Lee, come in!" Bob yelled into his Test Center console.
"Crane! Answer!" Jiggs grabbed the microphone.
"It…it just …disappeared from our trackers," Anne Nelson whispered.
"Just like the flying sub," Bob said, dejected.
Both images dissolved…
"It appears your colleauges are concerned about you, Captain."
"Admiral, what's going on…what…"he paused. Nelson was gloating. Gloating? Nelson waved his hand and yet another image formed. Some kind of clear tubes. They turned toward him.
Lee gasped. The real Admiral Nelson, Ski and Riley were balled up in fetal position, encased in clear tubes. They looked dead.
"Your deduction of alien intervention was worthy of your, who is that fictious sleuth, Sherlock Holmes? Yes, it is me again Captain. I so enjoyed my visit to Seaview. But I tire of this image. Would you prefer a cat or a dog or a mouse? As I explained to your Admiral, I can't abide the fuzzballs but you earthlings find them engaging little creatures, and their illusion uses so much less energy."
"You…you murderer! "
"Murder? I assure you that your superior and subordinates are quite well. Suspended, if you like, between one second and another."
"Why?" Lee asked, though he found to his amazement, not really surprised.
"You pride yourself on deductive reasoning, you tell me."
Lee was thinking hard, "the storms…. You're here to try to destroy us again somehow of course. But why kidnap the Admiral, my men? Me?"
"Kidnap? Kidnap you miserable worthless earthlings? You grieve me! I saved you all from a most hideous end Captain. The flying sub would have exploded with your superior inside it, and your own vehicle's lazers would have been magnified back to you a thousand times. You would have fried. Hmm. Perhaps I should have let you. Crisp fried earthling, Centaurs might enjoy a new culinary creation…. Almost makes my mouth water as well, though you're a bit on the lean side, I so enjoy a little fat."
"Stop it!" Lee spat as he tried to grip the alien. Crane immediately found himself gasping with pain, suspended in midair, arms painfully outstretched, held in an invisible grip
"Enough! You tire me and I have things to do, just a minor restraint, Captain, to keep you out of trouble, you understand, until we finish our discussion."
"And then, the details grow hazy," Anne relayed. She and Jiggs were just about the only people in the main office. Not one employee had uttered any word of defeat. As far as they were concerned the Skipper was still circling Earth, chasing the alien that had abducted the Admiral and their shipmates. Starke was glad of Anne's presence, and listened with interest to more about the supposedly insignificant Sandab affair so long ago.
"The boys only had diving gear for two men, two tanks each, and were going to draw lots, but Crane and Hawthorne were told in no uncertain terms that they saw it first so they could make the dive. It was dawn when the boat approached the area, and absolutely nothing registered on the equipment. Crane ordered Sandab to make contact with the fleet and to stay where she was. Hawthorne didn't really want to, but decided to tag along with Crane, as he was responsible for bringing attention to the damn thing…. So the two made their dive, and then all their troubles began….."
Lee and Bob had been swimming in the depths with two old flashlights, which did little to illuminate the situation. They were grateful dawn had filtered into the depths. They hadnt' had any luck and were about to go back to the sub when found themselves face to face with an diver, who had suddenly appeared from the inky blackness. There were no bubbles. The diving gear was not of any that Crane recognized. It seemed completely watertight. The man didn't appear to have a face under the dark interiors of his helmet. Arms up in surrender, the boys were were herded toward a suddenly visible craft. It was unlike anything they had ever seen.
After they were aboard, the captor removed his helmet and glared for a moment, his ring flashed in the brilliant light,"You, and you. What….are… you doing here?"
"You speak English!" Bob exclaimed, while Crane noticed that it was very good English too, though with an accent he couldn't place. They could be in very deep trouble.
"We thought you were in trouble or something," Lee said cautiously, "and we came to see if you needed any help."
"You are lying,"he menaced, "I have been tracking your submerging boat for a… long time. You are spies!"
"Well," the middie pouted, as he pulled on the short metallic fabric tunic in the small chamber, his own clothes in a wet heap on the floor, "he could have at least thanked us for coming to see if they needed help. For a minute I thought he was gonna throw us back into the sea without our tanks."
"He still may," Lee replied as he examined the small cell. It had no visible seams between the bulkhead and deck. Only the hatch appeared normal. "It may not be a UFO at all. It's awfully small, maybe an experimental spacecraft…but it's not one of ours, I'm convinced of it."
"But then which? He speaks English Lee…so…British? Australian?"
"I'm not sure, but I don't think so…its almost too good for a native. He could be a red. "
"You've been watching too much television…Okay, for the sake of argument, it's one of the reds. Or maybe even what we thought it was, a UFO from outer space. What do we do?"
"Name, rank, number, if they ask…nothing else…but we have to find out more about it and…"
Everything went black.
Crane awoke with a start. Disoriented, he found himself unrestrained, floating in the weightlessness. Bob was beginning to come around as well.
"Lee, what the hey happened? "
"I don't know. I guess we passed out…"
"Well, if we're floating around like this, I'd say we're in orbit."
"Oh, man, I don't feel so well."
Suddenly the boys fell to the deck, heavily.
"You must forgive my manners, gentlemen," the haughty voice echoed in the chamber," a gravitized field, for your puny anatomical systems. Just so you know escape is fruitless, look here."
A porthole for want of a better word, opened, and the middies stared in awe of the earth far far below as it turned in outer space.
"Who are you?" Crane asked of the voice.
"Translation fails, but for want a better name, you may call be Nigel."
"Crane, Lee, Midshipman Fourth Class, United States Naval Academy."
Nigel grunted,"I know who you are, do you think we are stupid? "the voice asked, haughty.
"Where's Sandab, where are the rest of our crew?"
"Your precious submerging boat is where you left her, your friends confused and very scared that you two have been eaten by sharks, so overdue in getting back to them and completely lost on sonar contact."
Something about his phrasing grated on Lee's mind.
"This is no top secret aircraft is it?"Lee was thinking hard and made a decision, "You're from another planet, aren't you," Lee said, coolly, "What's the matter, afraid to make contact with us directly?"
"My dear boy, one of the first rules of interplanetary travel is secrecy. It was a quirk of fate that brought you to me, perhaps even saving me a great deal of time and trouble. "
"What does he mean by that Lee?" Bob asked nervously.
"Well?" Lee shouted into the air," What do you mean by that?"
The voice laughed and began to echo. Soon the pitch was painful to the boy's ears and they suddenly found themselves separated from each other.
Lee surmised he'd blacked out again, for just as suddenly he found he'd been stripped; odd probes had been implanted in various places about his body, including his head. His vision was blurry, machinery and flashing lights surrounding him just outside the dark green Jell-O type glop he was encased in, immobile. The odd thing was that he was breathing this foul smelling and even worse tasting goo in what could only be described as a specimen tank. A strange illegible squeal was interspersed with what sounded like a voice, and there was even laughter. "Bob? "Crane shouted, "Bob?"
"Communication with your companion is fruitless," the voice said. "He is in another examination pod. Now, I have some more questions for you."
"You haven't asked me any questions," Crane said defiantly, trying to hide his fear.
"Be still," suddenly every pore in his body was stretched taut. "Your conscious mind has not recognized them, but your subconscious brain has."
Lee was unceremoniously and magically dumped into the former holding cell, shivering with fear as much as the temperature. Traces of green gel still coated his body and some had dried in his hair. He was covered in deep bruises from the probes and his head pounded and his ears ached more than any infection. The hastily donned tunic which had been floating in mid air gave off instant warmth the moment he put it on.
"You okay?" he asked of his friend Bob, glad and relieved to see him there, as he slid to the deck, exhausted. " I feel like a punching bag but I don't remember being punched. Weird too, this this, piece of clothing floating, and we're not. Do you remember anything it asked?"
"What?" Bob replied, aghast, "he asked us stuff?"
"The voice said they were asking us questions that only our subconscious state could answer. I have the brain capacity of an onion, did you know that? He meant it too. Seems he thinks plants can talk. I'm not sure, but I think he's the only one here."
"Some sort of joke or physiological warfare. Lee? I think I remember hearing something UFO abductions…they dissect humans in some cases…."
"We have to find out just what he's doing here."
"You don't think he's just curious?"
"Do you?" Lee asked.
"You are very suspicious Crane." The voice answered instead.
"Part of my future job description. Answer the question."
"You are also not in a position to make demands earthling."
Lee screamed with pain as a purple flash of light jolted into him, again and again. Hawthorne desperately reached out toward him but was stopped by an invisible barrier.
"Specimens must be restrained for their own protection and punished for disobedience."
Lee was suddenly dropped to the deck, limp.
"Think about it boys."
"Lee? Lee?" Bob choaked, the barrier had vanished, and he hovered over Crane. Some of Lee's tunic looked melted and glass-like strips were embedded in his skin. Blood and ooze wept from masses of deep ugly bruises, some of them almost black. "He's bleeding!"
"Minor bleeding, he is not hemorrhaging," the voice corrected,"This time."
"Lee? You okay?"
"I..Ohhh," Lee groaned, "I'll live, I think. What the hell was that? It felt like a red hot claw ripping out my insides."
"It looked like lightening or veined lazers or something…kinda hard to describe it Lee.."
Laughter echoed through the cell.
"Stop it!" Lee yelled. "Stop it! Bully! Coward! Afraid even to show yourself! Afraid of onion brains?"
"Enough, boy," the voice ordered. Suddenly the two were in a small chamber filled with blinking lights that hurt their eyes and shrill noises from sophisticated panel arrays that hurt their ears even more. Earth was visible below from a wide viewport. A vast and comfortable mid air chair turned, Nigel grinning.
"It can't be!" Bob exclaimed.
"Come on pal," Lee said coldly to the chair's occupant," you can do better than that! You're not the President."
"What makes you think I'm not?"
"Lee, " Bob whispered. "It looks like him, it sounds like him…"
Crane remained silent.
"You," the chair's occupant addressd Bob, "you annoy me," he said with distaste. Immediately Hawthorne vanished into thin air.
"What have you done with him?"
"He is quite safe."
"Well, Nigel?" Lee asked, after regaining what was left of his depleated composure.
"Who are you really and what are you doing here?"
"Crane, you intrigue me, so much the leader," the President mocked, "See how you weigh and evaluate information. How proud you stand despite your pain, how defiant…that will change of course after our conditioning… techniques. After all, we wouldn't want a specimen to bite visitors to the… zoo. Think of the insurance rates…" he paused suddenly as his emerald ring flashed yellow. This time something clicked in Crane's mind.
"You're' a robot aren't you? "
"Robot is a primitive term. I am an artificial intelligence unit."
"Your ring- it's part of your link to your creator it isn't it? "
"Why do you ask?"
Lee stretched out his arms in a helpless gesture; "I only have the brain capacity of an onion. You tell me. "
"Naked ape that you are, I don't trust you."
"Very well, Crane, I suppose it can do no harm. I am capable of illusionary appearances as my creator is. It is convenient in expeditions to primitive worlds to blend in, as well as physiological experimentation for the specimen files. You were both fooled for a time, and your companion is hesitant to trust your instincts."
"Oh, you'd be surprised what he really thinks. So," Lee asked as he tried to 'case the joint', "why are you here?"
"Economics. It's expensive to travel all the way to another world and find it a wasted trip. A probe such as this relays information, and I can accomplish many tasks should my creator order it."
"What kind of tasks?" Lee began to pace about, casting quick glances at the maze of controls he couldn’t possibly fathom. He also noticed Nigel's eyes. Rather good fakes, but fakes nonetheless. Perhaps…just perhaps…
"Simply, to add more species to my creator's collection of zoological specimens."
"You can't expect me to believe he sent this ship all the way here to collect butterflies," Lee spat, "why are you really here?"
"As a naval cadet you're aware of the need to reconnoiter, but I assure you, this probe was only requested to collect ocean species of your water planet. For some odd reason, mellifluous creatures seem to fascinate my creator, even a few scientists. No plans had been made to capture primitive ape-like creatures as yourself. You should be grateful. Should my creator and his colleagues decide to inhabit your world, remaining life on Earth, as you know it would be horribly mutated from our induced atmosphere. All native lifeforms including primates would soon become extinct. So, you would have an edge, so to speak on your fellow earthlings.
While I myself find your species distasteful, my creator welcomes any addition to his collection that brings income to his zoo. I must admit, I find your befuddled minds interesting. Perhaps I may just collect a few more humans, male and female, as heard animals….yes, there are some possibilities here. Your brains are pitiful but you are capable of the more mundane, tedious tasks that I would rather not attend to myself and yes… you may even be tasty." The ring flashed, the alien laughed, eyes flashing in response. Bob suddenly emerged from the hatch and a small metal dot just as suddenly appeared in Nigel's hand.
Hawthorne was standing, unmoving, just staring, vacant, a glowing green dot on his left temple.
"What have you done to him?!" Lee screamed.
"His memories have been cleansed, erased of all but his primal instincts, I believe you call it. He is now a docile specimen, I may even teach him a few tricks for my creator's amusement. To sit, stand, fetch and carry. Yes it has been a very satisfying day."
"You didn't have to do this! There are other ways to…to…enslave us," Lee practically whimpered in submission.
"Too troublesome, and too dangerous, I’m sure you'll agree. His humanity as you envision it has been saved on what do you call it, a disk? Such a primitive contraption. Even so, should my master require his mind," he showed off the dot in his hand" all I have to do is put it back in." He placed the dot in a pocket, and smirked. "Now, while it has been educational meeting you boys in your natural state, I have all the information I need for my creator. It's your turn to be cleansed of your memories. Say goodbye to your feeble brain, for you will never have one again, unless my creator wills it."
There had to be a way out of this mess, Lee was desperate, there had to be!
"I…I need a drink…Please, water. Even the condemned are given water before they're executed," he yelled.
"Oh, very well, you earthlings are more trouble than you're worth," a container of water suddenly appeared in Crane's hand. Lee sipped from the large container as he inched closer to 'Nigel', then suddenly lashed some of the water smack into Nigel's eyes.
The robot's hands groped for them as sparks flew from their corners, his motions less and less animated.
Crane tore the ring from Nigel's finger and smashed it repeatedly on the wall. "I'll show you trouble!" Lee raged as he began trying to smash the consoles as well, and pouring remaining water on them. Alarms rang. Lights flickered. The spaceship seemed to wobble and veered downward toward Earth. Gravity failed. Nigel seemed to be catatonic. Lee fingered out the small dot from the pocket that held Hawthorne's brain, eased out the robot's burnt eyeballs, grabbed Bob and ran/flew from the chamber, his heart racing. He suddenly heard squealing, then, of all things, laughter.
"You are a stupid species, Crane," a metallic voice said "surely you've heard of backup. My creator envisioned the need for it. There's no place for you to go, now is there? The spacecraft is in an uncontrolled descent towards your planet will disintegrate or explode upon impact. A pity. Indeed. You could have been quite profitable as a specimen, as it is…but as they say, there's no accounting for taste. "
"Shut up you windbag!" Lee swam through the air, pulling Bob toward what he thought might be the direction of the hatch they'd first entered the small spaceship, but he had no real idea. Dead end after dead end, he finally found what he thought was the hatch's inner chamber and steadying himself tried to figure out what to do next. The small green light on Bob's temple flashed in Morse code…s..o..s.L.e.e.
"Bob???Can you hear me? Can you understand?"
"y.o.u. t.o.l.d. h.i.m."
Lee didn't know whether to laugh in sheer relief or kiss his friend in a final act of humanity before they died on impact with the atmosphere or the surface of the sea.
"h.e. i. s. l.y.i.n.g…n.o. e.x.p.l.o.s.i.o.n. n.o .i.m.p.a.c.t. t.r.u.s.t. m.e."
"Are you sure!?" Lee asked desperatly, but did not wait for an answer, Bob would have to explain later, "Okay, look, as soon as we hit, we get out of here. We can do it, we'll buddy breathe if we have to, then blow the thing up, understood?"
"I don’t know, I'm thinking this stuff up as I go along."
"p.u.t. d.o.t. o.n g.r.e.e.n. .l.i.g.h.t."
"And that," Anne said, "is about it, I'm afraid. Crane claimed that the craft eased into the sea as if it were made of an absorbing sponge. He and Hawthorne cracked the hatch easily enough and swam to the surface, but when they were found, they were over a hundred miles away from where they said it had crashed. They were adamant it had crashed around Dawson's Reef. They recognized the underwater statue set up in tribute to the old shipwreck. But they didn't know how they managed to drift so far away. They demanded the Navy search for it and blow the thing up."
"They demanded? And this story is all for real?"
"Well, since nothing was ever found, it's all academic. And there were doubts on both sides. Even the boys began to wonder if they'd been hallucinating. But both were dehydrated and surprisingly anemic. Serums and polygraphs bore out they actually believed what had happened."
"Easy enough to prove with that brain dot."
"Not really, just before they hit the water, Crane had been able to place the dot into the green light's slight indentation. And bingo, it all dissolved and he was good as new and convinced Crane that he'd sensed the lie of an explosion, he couldn't explain it…medical mystery."
"Their story is outrageous."
"Perhaps, however, the fabric of their tunics was unlike anything on we know of, And there were melted shraps of the stuff embedded in Crane's skin, even into his muscle, which had to be surgically removed. The samples were sent to some lab…and he had been hurt, by means unknown. That's in the official medical report. That's all I know, Jiggs. I'm surprised I managed to wheedle out that much. I was simply investigating one of my many aides. Somebody must have goofed in Special Services. Crane said nothing of it all to me, though it would have saved him some ridicule from me that's for sure, or maybe even more, I'm not sure."
"Crane was your aide?"
"Yes, poor boy," she laughed, "He was a midshipman, so what was I to think? I thought he was assigned to me as a punishment tour. Come to find out it was simply to keep him away from meddling eyes at the Academy. The other boys had been sent away as well, separating them from each other and from meddling eyes for their own protection. Special Services was conducting it's own investigation and the boys had been told to clam up.
I was too, when they learned I knew too much, privilege of rank, I suppose that I only got a slap on the wrist. Crane was transferred and I never saw or heard of him again, till now. Believe me Jigger, I had no idea he and Captain Crane were one in the same.
And while I did a bit more checking into the Nelson / Crane matter, I found out more. The Navy didn't want further leaks, rumors had begun to circulate. Reports about having been abducted by an alien's robot from outer space, well, it would have caused panic. So…to be on the safe side, all the boys were advised to accept voluntary experimental memory erasure, though I imagine it may have taken some persuading. But it worked. None of them remembered anything about a flying saucer. Only that they'd taken a joy ride on Sandab and had been ordered back to the academy, and had been on various punishment tours. Disgraced, shamed, along with some faked memories implanted into their subconscious for safekeeping to hide the erasure. And it appears they never remembered the UFO.
As for Sandab herself, well, you must remember, it was all over the news, that the academy middies pooled their resources and managed to scrape up a whopping $1570 to bid at the auction? There was a lot of interest in the affair at the time.Well, an unknown bidder topped it easily, but it wasn't the restaurateur they'd feared…in a few months, and somewhat refurbished, she was donated to the academy by the anonymous winner. Even the Navy didn't know who it was, they still don't ."
"And Nelson's interest in the matter?"
"Aside from the general story about Sandab, he'd heard the rumor of a spaceship too, evidently before the hush became official. My sources say he was probably interested in the design aspects of such a craft. Some years later Ensign Crane was assigned to his boat, and Harry must have asked him about it. Certainly Crane had no idea what he was talking about. He must have thought Crane was either hiding something or a damn fool."
"And the doting looks in the photo?"
"Merely those of a proud friend, from I can see. They're close friends, Jiggs, as you're aware. But there's nothing more that, that I can find. There's no law against it. But the department is antsy when accusations of impropriety are made. I'm afraid it's not over yet."
A clear tube closed around him, and Lee took one last look at his fellow companions similarly encased. He had been barren in his attempts to flee the alien's grasp and steeled his mind against the sure darkness to come…
"Skipper!" Riley's voice exclaimed, "is that you?"
"Riley? Where are you? I can't move, I can't see anything but black…"
"Yeah, weird isn't' it?" Ski interupted, "the Admiral's here too."
"Lee!" Nelson called out, "You okay?""
"Other than trying to figure out if I'm still alive, not very. Our friend still has plans to destroy the Earth…"
"When did it happen?" Sharkey asked Mr. Morton.
"Apparently Dr. Wyman was murdered three weeks before he joined us. They just found his body yesterday and forensics has confirmed it. Senator Nelson is checking into it."
"Sir, we've been waiting here an awful long time, the crew is beginning to worry."
"The Skipper told us to rendevoux and we're going to be here when he and the Admiral and Ski and Riley return, okay?"
"You…you really believe that sir?"
"I have to…"
"So," Nelson explained "it's feasible that while our bodies are suspended in the holding tubes, we can still communicate at a subconscious levels; I doubt our alien friend understands the concept. Any ideas on how to get of this mess and save our world Lee? I'm open to all suggestions."
"He mentioned infiltration, any idea on how many spaceships will be attacking Earth? "
"There aren't any. It's the mold spores, Lee. You know how devastating they can be, multiply too rapidly to be quelled easily….but that's not the real threat. Our scrubs did nothing. Apparently their anatomical structure was invisible to our equipment. At maturity, they emit a gas that feeds oxygen, and alters it. It's not unlike a virus. The alien was quite proud of it. Once exposed, humans would become vegetative, easily enslaved. Their plan is to irradiate the earth as well, and use earthlings as slave labor there and on their own planet, and in some private zoo, among other things…"
"Oh my God!" Long hidden memories came back in a rush. Of course! Could it be the very same creator that had sent Nigel? Or even a robot himself? And Patterson…
"Admiral," Lee hurriedly continued, " Patterson ate some of that stuff, and Seaview, she's spreading it through the seas…how long does it take to become active? Is there a cure? How do we stop it?"
"I don't think seawater is a carrier. Air is, we are. So is anyone who came in contact with it, even Wyman. Lee…if even one spore was released into the atmosphere, Earth may really be doomed this time."
"Look, sir, I'm not sure, I…I'd forgotten about something, a long time ago…no wonder I was having those damn dreams, anyway…and I may really off the mark here, but if I'm right, there may be something we can do…if we can figure it out how…"
"So he just sits there, unaware of anyone and anything," Doc shook his head.
"Okay Doc," Morton replied in sickbay, "Let me see him."
Patterson was just sitting, staring into space. Chip was concerned. Pat wasn't actually physically sick. Doc's tests had proved it, except…"Pat? Pat can you hear me? Can you see me?" Morton ordered.
The crewman made no response.
"Take care of him Doc," Morton said hopelessly. "It's odd, but he looks almost like he's waiting for something."
"Any word on Flub and the Skipper?" Doc changed the subject. Morton had enough on his mind than to worry about this too.
"No, Doc. Nothing. "
"You realize we may be ordered back to the base any time by Starke, or the president."
"I know…it's surprising, they've both been more cooperative now that we're here than I'd expected. NASA can't find a trace of flub…Doc, I don't want to , but I think Lee's gone," he said quietly, "they all are,"Chip finally, finally accepted what everyone believed.
"You think he's the same one?" Nelson asked, incredulous at Crane's revelation.
"I don’t know,"Lee said exasperated at his lack of conviction,"it could be, maybe another robot, another alien, I'm still groping at straws here, but I have a feeling about this…."
"And a very good one too, Crane,"the familiar voice said, and all three men suddenly found themselves in a tangled heap on the floor in the control room. "I was waiting for you to figure it all out."
Crane and Riley helped Nelson to his feet, they were all very wobbly on their legs. Riley was staring at the vista of the earth below.
"It is myself, Crane, Nigel's creator. You may call me Nigel as well. Such a good name. I must say, I had not associated the midshipman with the Captain, a most grievous oversight on my part."
"Will you please not look like me!"
"Why, boy, why ever not…but…I bow to your request…"he assumed the form of a Centaur.
Lee groaned. This was worse than he thought. Visions of himself being served on a lunch platter badgered his mind. But this was not the time or place to succumb to the inevitable. Perhaps he had an ace up his sleeve,"You infected one of my crewmen on Seaview. I want to talk to him. You have the technology don't you?" Crane wormed for information.
"Ahh yes, the Patterson fellow…I did a bang up job did I not, your entire submarine, infected with my little spores. And no one even knows they're still aboard or how to kill them. So simple too. Even one second of black light and the genetic alteration is rendered helpless. And there is no black light aboard a submarine,"he laughed. My robot has assumed another form from Wyman now…sending me needed imput as to when your planet shall be completely consumed."
"Black light?" Nelson asked, both he and Crane aghast at the simplicity.
"Don’t berate yourself, Admiral, a mind such as yours is used to the complicated, But be assured, your entire crew will be enslaved as Patterson is. His enslavement was simply quicker due the ingestion, but once the airborne spores have grown to maturity, you'll all be mine!" Nigel inserted his ring into a console."You may speak, Crane, it is time to set the world to panic."
"Pat? Patterson?"Crane called out.
"Skipper…"the voice was monotone.
"I want you to tell me where I am."
Nigel laughed, "you mean you don't know?"
"Precisely where I am,"Crane then addressed Nigel, "if he's really enslaved to you he should know. You've been awfully arrogant. Prove it."
There was a squeal, Nigel's ring flashed, still held by the alien in the depression, "Oh very well."
"Patterson,"Crane ordered," tell Mr. Morton where we are…tell him to confirm our location."
"You are an odd species indeed, "Nigel taunted.
"If we're all going to be your slaves, your zoo specimens, what does it matter to you?"
"Chip!"Doc called from sickbay."Something's happening down here..Patterson is quoting off vectors and sectors and all kinds of stuff and says you must confirm…it's like he's a receiver or something.!"
"Lee!"Chip ran to sickbay.
Morton stood, his hand on the open mike as Patterson relayed the calculations of the spaceship.
Hawthorne's voice came over the tie in, "it's way too big for Flub…"
"Talk to me Lee!" Chip ordered of Patterson, seeing, hoping that somehow he was right.
"ANT" Patterson replied mechanically,"A.N.T… bleached …no illumination…stop …boat…do…globe…do."
"What nonsense is this?" Nigel asked.
"I have to prove he hears me first don't I? I haven't heard him."
"It makes no sense these stupid words…what are you up to?"
Crane found himself restrained in mid air with his companions as Nigel began to check his computers, muttering.
"It makes no sense, Morton,"Starke had been quickly added to the communication link."You can't believe that's Crane talking to you."
"You have other ideas, now's the time!" Hawthorne replied.
"Shut up!"Chip yelled," I'm trying to think here…ant..ant…Antonym! ..bleached, what's the opposite of bleach? Stained, grubby, dark..and no illumination….light! Light, unbleached light??"
"Black light!" Hawthorne replied after a moment. "But…"
"On the boat….he wants us to give the boat a shot of black light!"
"Are you two out of your minds?"Starke asked.
" I just do what the Skipper says!"
"Does he mean outside or inside?"Hawthorne asked, "and how…"
"The lab! The Admiral's got to have something in the lab!"
"Globe, Chip,"Bob said, terrified."He means the Earth too! NASA, you there?"
"Roger, but we don't know what good it will do…we're getting a shuttle ready with sub-sattelites we can aim black light down to Earth, God, I wish we knew why….we're taking Crane's word for it…"
"Don't you worry about Crane's word,"Anne intervened,"just do it. And fast, I've informed the President…all available aircraft are being fitted with black light units and are scrambling…"
"You do have the brain of an oinion,"Nigel released the men from the restraints, "however, the Centaurs delight in novel cuisine…but no, this is not my true form either…"
"Quit playin'around!"Ski yelled, as he helped steady his Captain. The Skipper looked sick.
"Yes," Nelson mused, a sudden thought occurring to him,"You seem to delight in playing…toying with us…perhaps you're not what you claim to be at all."
Nigel suddenly changed form into the image of Gerhart Krueger, complete with appropriate mannerisms,"And you Admiral, are not what you appear to be either. You are a mass of atoms are you not, yet you appear solid."
"Then show yourself," Nelson quipped, "surely you're not afraid of us."
Kreuger gloated and changed into a voluptuous woman, with red hair and heels and tight fitting dress leaving little to one's imagination."Afraid? Of what,"she spat."As for my true form, none of your business, earthling, dahling. By the way, tickets have already been sold for your appearance in the zoo."
"Oh stop it, you spoiled brat!"Crane spat. "Show yourself! Or are you a scaredy kat? Scaredy kat," Lee taunted, urging Ski and Riley to join in.
"Skipper,"Ski hissed while the men taunted,"what the hell are we doin'?"
"Buying time,"Crane replied just as faintly to Ski as he continued to 'scaredy kat' the ailen with an increasingly bullying tone.
"Stop it!" the redhead dissolved into a bug eyed monster with tentacles for appendages.
"Oh come on…."Lee taunted…"that's stupid. I've had enough of his…do what you want. I don't give a damn."
"You're nothing but stupid ants anyway…crawling around that dustball you call home," he formed into the image of a popular pest control person.
"Then you know even ants defend their home." Crane saw the ring blinking…Nigel had said he wasn’t robot…but perhaps, just perhaps….and if he didn't know he was…
An alarm rang out. "What have you done?"Nigel screamed.
"Well, Morton?"Starke asked via the line feed,"any more word from Crane?"
"Not exactly, but Patterson said some really weird things until he suddenly stopped and snapped out of this thing, he's completely normal, confused though. I've got Sparks putting it into a print out…very jumbled…something about ants and a scared cat."
"Morton, if Crane meant real ants and not ANTs…"
"Look, sir, Lee's message came through loud and clear…this…this is different."
"He could be hallucinating."
"I still think we did the right thing, sir. The sub, the whole earth's been coated with black light from all those fighters and the sattelites…and the shuttle is picking up something…they just can't figure out what it is or exactly where, the signals keep changing…it's Lee I just know it is."
"But not Flub.'"
"No sir, not on Flub."
"Well, Nigel?"Crane asked as the alien sat down, dejected.
"You deceived me, Crane. You must have used a code contacting your crewman. My robot has confirmed the spores have been completely erradicated, even in Patterson,"he flicked a switch and a crackle sounded then stopped,"The robot has been destroyed for it's failure. But all is not lost, I still have my specimens, do I not. You remember what I can do to specimens, don’t you Crane? And centaurs are always hungry."
"Skipper?"Riley asked, as nervous as Ski. Crane waved them off.
"I assure you, Crane,"Nigel assumed the form of Hitler,"that you will be served up alive and raw to them."
"Then be sure to give them plenty of bicarb for I have no intention of being eaten without a fight."
"I believe you Crane! But you are still vanquished. And Earth will be too, in the near future. It's inevitable."
"By a robot? I don’t think so,"he smirked.
"Robot? I told you I am no robot."
"Aren't you? Look at your ring."
"The primary communication device is not restricted to robots,"he answered snidely."It is merely a convenience."
"Prove it, then, take it off."
"Oh you stupid earthling!"he removed the ring and tossed it to the deck. "See? I am quite real."
Crane nodded imperceptibly to Ski, who retrieved the ring.
"Point taken, however,"Crane sauntered toward him, "are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure!"
"Why are you so afraid to show yourself for what you really are?"Nelson prodded, beginning to understand what Crane was trying to do,"you said you're not afraid of us, what's the harm?"
"Why are you so determined to see me in my true form?"
"Curiosity. It's a human trait, I'm afraid."
"But if you're scared…"Lee taunted.
"I fear nothing!"he raged then laughed,"you know, it's been so long I don’t even remember my true form, I have been to so many worlds…very well, to satisfy your inquisitiveness prior to your conditioning for my zoo."
Nigel changed into a humanoid, heavily viened, with webbed fingers, and three eyes on stalks."Satisfied ?"
"Actually,"Lee walked around the alien,"how do we believe you, after all, we haven't seen under your skin. I guess I'll just have to go on thinking you're just another illusion. What a pity. Unless, perhaps a skin prick? A momentary puncture of the skin. If I see fluid from a living creature I'll be convinced you're not a robot."
"Is that all? Here, I'll do it myself," a scalpel suddenly appeared in his hand,"I've done many a disscetion,"he punctured his forearm.
"I don’t'see anyting,"Lee taunted.
"Neither do I,"Nelson chimed in.
"And it didn’t'hurt him either.."Ski added, edging closer.
"Maybe he is a robot."Riley put his two cents worth in.
"I…"Nigel deepened the wound, nothing happened."
"You seem confused Nigel,"Nelson said, "you're not aware of your own anatomy?"
"Perhaps I can help,"Nelson pulled back some skin before Nigel could react. The men grabbed and held him prisoner but were quickly on the deck, in a tangled heap again.
Wires and circuits blinked from the Nigel's torn skin. Nigel stared at it.
"So, you are a robot,"Crane said, "nothing but somebody's idea of a handy slave..what's the matter, can't think for yourself? Of course not, you don't have a brain. You're nothing but a bunch of electrical impulses aren't you, aren't you??
An alarm rang out. Lights blinked. A noise like an intermittent squeal sputtered in the chamber. A signal of some sort.The ring Ski was holding was getting hot and he dropped it.
"Don't listen to it, Nigel,"Crane picked it up, wrapping it in a handkerchief,"It's from your creator isn't it, wanting to order you what to do.…you know, you can be free, on Earth," let us go, come with us…"
"I…I…I…."Nigel began to smoke and jerk, and suddenly drooped and was still.
"Jackpot!"Crane let out a hoop of joy.
"Lee," Nelson said in earnest," I hate to interrupt your revelry, but just how do we get out of here before the real owner arrives?"
As if in answer Lee turned the ring in his hand, "There has to be a frequency on this thing. And if I'm right, the space shuttle could be up here someplace..let's hitch a ride"
"Sirs!" Sparks'voice came through the communications link,"I got a bunch of mumbo jumbo coming from those coordinates like I've never heard before but I can't figure it out!
"Pipe it here,"a NASA coordinator replied.
"Gobblygoop,"Starke added, "damn it, why don't they say something!'
"Shuttle here,"our sensors are picking a bogey at the coordinates you sent us…we can't see anything, but the radiation spectrum is going wild…we'll be in the area soon."
"Copy that,"Chip ordered, having assumed control of the situation,"don’t use your lazers..repeat don't use your lazers. That's how we lost Crane."
"Man I wish that squeel'd quit! It's like it's having a tantrum or something,"Riley said, his ears tired as he continued to use both metallic tapping and his voice to try to contact Earth or the shuttle or anyone, as Crane kept turning the ring in the small device the robot had used to contact Patterson, hoping Sparks would be listening for a signal. Of course, it might not work at all.
"I'd be more afraid when it stops. They may have a remote destruct signal,"Nelson replied, "the mathematics on these consoles are unlike anything I've seen, or even comprehend…..I wish I had my notebook…no Lee, nothing on how to pilot the craft…"
"Forget it,"Crane answered,"Ski, check the ship for any kind of escape pod…if they'd even bothered to fit her out with one..Admiral, why not go with him and see if you find where the oxygen supply is stored. It's not going to last forever, and the airlock, surely it has one, and maybe a cabin… he might have kept a log or something…it won't be in English but…"
"SS. N. Se. view to spa.. hip…SSRN seaview to spaceship, is that you Skipper? Come in, come in…"
"Eyyahgh!"Riely exclaimed with his equally joyous companions.
"Keep that thing where it is, "Lee removed his hand from the ring, firmly embedded in the console…"Seaview? This is Crane. Do you copy?"
The spaceship's occupants could hear the relieved crewmen on the boat so far below on the planet.
"We copy, Lee, "Morton's voice came over the air,"you okay?"
"So far…ask Bob if he has any idea on how to pilot a spaceship, she's in one piece but we can't read the language."
"Spaceship? We? You found them??"
"Right here. I'd let you speak to them, but we're a bit busy right now…"with a nod , Ski and Nelson picked up their pace to do the Captain's bidding.
"Seaview?"a different voice added," This is the space shuttle, confirm location of spaceship."
"You have a tie in Chip?" Lee asked.
"Sure do, NASA, their emergency shuttle, Air Force department, Navy department, the President and Admirals Starke and Nelson on on the tie-in. That's Anne Nelson. Starke says you know her."
"Good job Chip. So, shuttle, care to give us a lift?"
"Glad to ,we're not too far from your reported location, but you should be visible and you're not. And docking may be incompatible.Over.."
"We'll think of something."
"Roger that spaceship."
"For the time being, call us Flying Sub 2."
"Roger,"the commander of the emergency shuttle chuckled. Despite the banter, he knew they were still in the woods. In the thickest part actually.
"Ladies and gentlemen,"the reporter said in front of NIMR," we have been told that Flub, on another attempt, has found Admiral Nelson and team alive but is experiencing technical difficulties…we'll keep you informed as information comes in."
"Well, that's it then," Riley said, tired as Crane and Nelson conferred a little distance away.
"Give ém a chance ,"Ski replied, concerned as well. The shuttle was about a thousand yards away but was blind to the craft by vision and by equipment. Only Seaview's monitoring of the continual communications signals gave the shuttle the spaceship's location. Comparisons of the measurements made of the airlock had shown they were not compatible. There was no escape pod, and nobody could figure out the math or drawings on the control panels, not even the Admiral…we're gonna die up here, Ski thought.
"You might as well admit it Lee,"Nelson said wearily,"You've done a great job of things but you have to face it, we're stranded, and by the time another shuttle arrives with a jury rigged hatch to fit ours, we may all be dead. "
"But we don’t'know that for sure, perhaps the thing makes its own oxygen.And maybe Flub or FS1 are close by.…"
"I doubt it, and when Nigel shut down, Lee, other systems may have known it. The owner certainly does. He could conceivably shut us down or even blow us up."
"What? And loose his zoo specimens? Well, Admiral, as I see it we have two options, no, three, but you're not going to like them and I don't even know if any of them will work."
"We contact the owner and pretend to be Nigel and ask instructions on how to set the ship down, well, it could work, if we knew their language and frequency;or we place ourselves into the stasis tubes while we wait for a new shuttle to come and retrieve us,we'd have to figure that out too; Or, we pilot the thing home ourselves."
"Those aren't options at all Lee, they're suicide. We don't even know how anything works!"
"Told you you wouldn’t like it."Lee frowned, then suddenly grinned."Of course! I can't believe how stupid I am! NASA must be laughing at us! Admiral…just because we can't dock with the shuttle doesn't mean we can't take a space walk!"
"So,"Starke said wearily,"one of the shuttle crew just floats out there, trailing some spare suits till he hits the damn thing with his helmet, right?"
"That’s about the size of it sir,"Crane relayed via the link."Only he'll be using a prod of some sort to tap the hull; we'll tap back when he's at the right spot."
"And just how do you open the thing?"
"We haven't figured that out yet sir."
Sharkey was on the verge of pulling out his hair,"Uh, sir, Mr Morton?"
"Yes Chief, what is it," Morton was on the verge of doing the same.
"Uh, if and I mean if they can't figure out how to work the airlock, then what do they do?"
"Your guess is as good as mine, keep an eye on Sparks. He's vital in this, the spaceship keeps veering slightly…coffee, a shot from Doc, something, anything to keep him alert."
"FS2 to Seaview, this is Kowalski,"the voice said. "No change, they still can't figure out the controls of the airlock.."
"How are things otherwise?"Morton asked.
"Well, we're all kinda tired sir..the Skipper looks ready to drop."
"There has to be some order to all this …"Nelson examined the odd shapes of inlays just outside the airlock. "Most of the these inlays are green…green…your said your first experience you were encased in green goop, his ring's green too isn't it. Other colors yellow, red, and blue."
"But we don’t'know what they do, push a wrong one and we could blow the hatch and explode."
"We're going to have to risk it, it was your idea if you remember…green's my choice. Pretty universal for go…" he poised his hand over the green inlay.
"Admrial,wait…" Lee mused," the ring flashed yellow when it signaled Nigel…maybe it's yellow. Hell, I don't know, we may have to toss for it."
"What about that famous gut feeling of yours?"
"It seems to have abandoned me ."
"Hmm. Any light turn on when we made contact with Seaview?"
"No, no light at all."
"What color are most of the blinking lights in the control room?"
"That’s no help…you have a coin?"
"You mean they have no idea at all?"the President asked Starke on a separate line.
"None. They were going to toss for it, but decided to take a vote. They told the shuttle to move and keep their man inside in case they explode. They're also afraid the owner might also destroy them by remote control."
"Well, sirs,"Ski gulped. All had voted except him. "I'd say yellow, no offense Admiral, but it kinda makes sense."
"None, taken,"Nelson patted him on the shoulder..well then it's two for yellow, one for red and one for green. We have to do better than that gentlemen. Either we live together or we die together. We need better odds…again."
"Admiral, you decide,"Lee said.
"No, Lee, this is too important. Your vote Captain.'
"And I choose green…an even split…"he sighed. "Now if there were a purple inlay."'
"Wait a minute!"Lee said,excited,"blue and red, blue and red make purple…what if it's a combination code?"
"Purple,"Nelson pondered,"most of the lights are purple…flashing lights, that means they're on….purple is my choice, the blue and red inlay pressed at the same time. The green and yellow must be the opposite."
"Go for it sir,"Ski said.
"Got my vote,"Riley added.
"What are we waiting for,"Nelson said,"Riley, go man the signal…God be with us."
"Uh, Seaview?"Riely called. He had been ordered to maintain the signal. And as much as he wanted to be there, in the thick of it, with the Skipper and Admrial at the airlock, he had his orders. Ski joined him, knowing he'd only be in the officers' way.
"Seaview," Riley continued on the link,"we've made our decision. They're at the airlock now…"
"Understood, Riley,"Morton's voice came through with controlled discipline. His pulse was pounding. He'd never be able to breathe again.
The moments passed by…no one on the link spoke…
"Ready Lee?"Nelson poised his hand over the two different inlays.
"As I'll ever be."
"Lee, for what it's worth, thank you for being my friend."
"Same here Harry,"it was the first time he'd used the man's given name, and maybe the last. A fitting thing to do if they were to die here.
With a push, Nelson pressed the inlays.
The silence down below was horrific. The President held his breath, Starke held his, even Seaview seemed to be in a state of stasis herself as she awaited word.
"There it is!" the shuttle commander exploded on the airwave. "We see the airlock. Its open…I ..I can see them behind an inner porthole! They're jumping up and down. Its weird, I don’t see anything else…this is some masking devise that ship has…our man has left the shuttle and is taking a suit over now….can't do it all at one time, we have to keep some suits onboard in case of a problem or none of us will get home…"
"I can't believe it," the shuttle lieutenant stood in awe as he assisted Riley to don the space suit." A real spaceship from outer space."
"Well, a spaceship is helping us isn't it? Your ship? It all depends on your point of view."
"There you go, "the astronaut made sure a clasp was secure on Riley's helmet,"all set."
Nelson punched the two inlays and the inner hatch opened. "See you aboard."
"Aye sir,"Riely answered, nervous. He was glad the astronaut was going to escort him, even with the leash from the shuttle stuck on the outer hull of the spaceship with duct tape.
Nelson's touch again closed the inner door, a moment passed, and the outer door opened.
Nelson stood, watching from his porthole as Riley and the astronaut disappeared from view.
"The President wants to talk to you again,"Crane approached."I'll stand by, have Ski come on down, will you?"
"I just wish we could study all this…"
"I don’t think you'll be able to convince him. They're thinking of blowing it up.You'd better hurry, our bus conductor is coming back."
"But Mr. President,"Nelson urged, "think of the science, the research!"
"I know how you feel, but didn’t you yourself say the real owners might send out another ship? They sent that one, and it wasn't friendly. If we destroy it, perhaps they'll take it as a warning and leave us alone."
"There's no guarantee what they'll do." His ears ached from the ongoing squeal.
"Then we'd better get cracking in setting up some planetary defenses. "
"All right all right…you're acting in our best interest, but…I wonder if we shouldn’t try to make contact…real contact with the owner. "
"Harry…they were going to put you in a zoo and eat Crane."
"You win," he replied, stifling a laugh; if the situation weren't so serious the comment would be funny. "How are you going to destroy it? "
"Seaview asked for dibs on a nuclear missile. You think she can handle it?"
"Is the spaceship in her firing range?"
"She is," the President answered simply.
"As soon as we're safely aboard the shuttle and out of range, have her fire at will."
"I'm sorry Harry, but it's the only way…"
"I know…but think of the possibilities for study…"
"Admiral?"Crane interrupted from behind, "Ski's away, youré next."
"You go ahead, Lee."
"Sorry sir, my prerogative. After all, this is Flying Sub Two. All done Mr President?"
"We'll see you all when the shuttle lands…by the way, this entire matter is a hush, understood?"
"Aye sir, "Crane answered."Admrial?"Lee nudged the man away from the console and soon followed him down to the airlock, but not without first taking a last look at Nigel. "And to think I actually liked robot movies as a kid."
Lee waited by the airlock as Nelson floated toward the shuttle. It seemed like ages, the waiting for the astronaut to come back , cmon, hurry it up . He couldn't get out of here fast enough and was relieved when his space buddy and suit arrived. He had just checked his helmet when then the squealing stopped."Come on we got to get out of here, tell Seaview to lock on the ship!"
Crane had just entered the shuttle with the astronaut when its commander confirmed that Seaview had locked on target.
The shuttle commander engaged thrusters and then its emergency jet engines.Within minutes she was half a revolution away from the spaceship and descending into the earth's atmosphere.
Almost as suddenly Seaview fired her missile which made contact.
"Contact!"Nasa relayed over the link. "The spaceship has been destroyed."
Cheers and sighs of relief echoed all over the link and aboard Seaview.
"Uh, sir?"Sharkey asked Morton. "What if they come back to get us..I mean…"
"We'll just have to wait and see, set a course for home, Mr. O'Brian."
"I still wish I could have investigated more, "Nelson leaned back in a makeshift seat aboard the shuttle,"Think of the skill, the ..what's that?"
"Alas poor Nigel, I knew him well, "Lee mocked Hamlet and handed Nelson one of Nigel's eyeballs, turning it over to reveal the minidots and microcsopic connections,"maybe you can find out a few things from these, the other eyballs are in my pockets,"he handed Nelson the ring."They should have more other robotic eyeballs someplace if I remember correctly, but those memories are still a bit jumbled."
"You realize they'll probably confiscate these, as well. "
"Ah, but you have connections, sir."
Nelson laughed, joined by Crane, who was more relieved than he cared to admit. For the past few days he'd never been so scared in his life.
"Well, Riley," Nelson asked, as he saw the boy studying the view of soft blue sky from the small window, "was all this as exciting as riding a hot tube?"
"Yes sir, but not nearly as safe."
A few days later, debriefed, examined, and released from protective incarceration, Seaview's command officers and crewmen returned to NIMR. This time, there was no experimental memory erasure. Just an official reminder to all involved that their experience was classified top secret.
Julian Bakerman had been offered a permanent post with the institute, which he surprised himself by accepting, and was in a good mood along with all the jubilant bantering going on now. Punch was being served in Nelson's outer office, and everyone was in a party mood.
Seaview had docked just a few hours before, and most of the crew were milling around Admiral Nelson's outer office, the corridors and even down to the ground floor, waiting for the closed doors to open to greet their Captain and Admiral. Only Morton had been allowed into the inner sanctum with the brass. Riley and Ski had already rejoined their shipmates with ribald jokes and ice cold beer.
Crane and Nelson were tying up various loose ends when Nelson complained." But it's not fair Jiggs!"
"No, it's not, but as far as the world is concerned, you bailed out, and were unconscious in a cornfield. Flub found you through heat sensors and returned you to the medical center. Wyman's impostor simply made up tales to discredit you for personal gain."
"Sounds okay to me Admrial," Crane said, "I'll trust my crew not to say anything."
"That's not what I meant…if it hadn't been for you…"
"Just doing my job Admrial," Lee noticed Morton answer a red phone.
"No, no you weren't," Nelson said quietly,"It was above and beyond duty Lee."
"Way above and beyond, Admrial," Anne Nelson butted in.
The small group was laughing at the pun as Morton interrupted, "Lee, the President's Special Services Department wants to know more about those dreams of yours…it seems they weren't completely satisfied with the debriefing."
Lee groaned. He'd been though enough. "Tell them…tell them the only dream baby they'll get their hands on is this," he handed Chip the old drawing.
Morton was confused but Lee grinned as he escorted his exec out into the waiting crowd and said, "it's a long story… "
The moonlight glimmered just outside Anne Nelson's office. She'd returned to Washington several hours ago, the past days a blur in her busy mind, and had gone home to bed. A briefcase lay in her safe, closed and locked.
It had taken some doing but with her influence an elite banking firm had released the requested information. It had arrived at NIMR just as the shuttle was landing in Florida and she had quickly relegated it to one of several soon to be forgotten and misfiled papers, if she had anything to do with it, not that it mattered one iota.
It lay unseen and silent, the canceled check. It was for half a million dollars and made out to the AAA Auction House for the purchase of one (1) submarine, US, diesel; a submarine named Sandab.
It was signed-Cdr. Harriman Nelson, USN.
*Lady For A Day, MGM/UA
*Hamlet, William Shakespere
*Jell-O, Kraft Foods, Inc.
*Any similarity of AAA Auction House and any real company by the same name is purely coincidental, as is the name Sandab to any real sub.