For Every Action…

By R. L. Keller


Admiral Harriman Nelson entered the aft hatch to the Control Room of his giant submarine, Seaview, his head bent over a fist full of computer printouts.  They were on their way home from Antarctica after taking in a team of researchers to replace the ones already there studying a very large colony of Emperor penguins, and also taking in fresh supplies.  They were supposed to also be bringing out the old team, but circumstances had intervened.


There had been an accident while they were making the personnel exchange and Seaview had lost a crewman.*  Everyone had been saddened but each man knew that they had a job to do, and the cruise had continued.  The exiting team had elected, since arrangements had been made to fly the crewman’s body back home, to return that way as well.  Seaview was going to continue around the continent to complete some research of Nelson’s, and this would get the researchers back sooner to families they’d not seen for three months.


Nelson looked up as he neared the chart table and glanced around before cocking a raised eyebrow at Seaview’s Executive Officer, Lt. Cdr. Charles ‘Chip’ Morton.  The blond nodded upward.  “Again?” Nelson asked.


“Still,” Chip muttered.  While his voice held a bit of disgust, he sent the Admiral a small smile.


“Wondered why we were still on the surface,” Nelson admitted, also glancing upward toward the conning tower.  “I gather that you haven’t tried talking him down.”


Chip shook his head.  “But if Jamie doesn’t yank his leash in the next five minutes I’ll hit the dive alarm.”  His grin broadened.


Nelson frowned.  “I thought Doc released him for full duty.”  The object of their conversation, Seaview’s captain, Cdr. Lee Crane, had been slightly injured – more battered and bruised than anything – in the accident that had killed the crewman.  Seaview’s CMO, Dr. Will Jamison, had done his best to keep the workaholic young man on at least semi-limited duty to let his body mend.


“Don’t think he’d be too happy to find out Lee’s topside in minus 30 degree weather.”


“Please tell me that he at least has a foul weather coat on.”


“Complete with fur-lined hood.”  Chip grinned again.  “Kowalski was on look-out duty and made Lee take his coat before he’d leave him up there.”


Nelson nodded.  “And Doc’s going to find out Lee’s up there how?”  While Will would occasionally come up to the Nose to read if things were quiet in Sick Bay, for the most part he chose to stay down in his own domain.


Chip smirked.  “Chief Sharkey disappeared about five minutes ago.”  He glanced sheepishly at Nelson.  “Sort of figured that’s why you came forward.”


It was Nelson’s turn to grin.  Seaview’s new COB didn’t like abnormalities on his boat.  Lee had been extremely upset at the crewman’s loss.  His friends had finally gotten him over the worst of it, but Lee was still being more quiet than usual and it was upsetting Sharkey’s well-ordered routines.


“Just got off the horn,” he explained.  A Dr. Compton from Scripps Institute has been doing some research with a team off the Galapagos Islands.  Something to do with sharks in the area.  Anyway, the head of her unit at Scripps just called and asked if we could pick her up.  The team tagged half a dozen specimens.  While the rest of them stay and finish their research in the area, we get to pick up Compton and follow sharks.”


Chip shrugged.  “Can’t be any worse than counting seals.”  The instant the slightly irreverent comment was out of his mouth Chip turned a stricken look on his boss.  “Oops.  Sorry, sir,” he mumbled.


Nelson just laughed.  His XO may be a stickler for detail, but counting wildlife was not big on Chip’s list of pleasant cruises.  However, anything he might have said was interrupted by footsteps on the spiral stairs.  They turned out to belong to Will Jamison, and Nelson’s grin broadened.  “Looks like I’d better take a shot at talking Lee down from his self-imposed exile.”  He sent Chip a wink.  “If I’m not back in three minutes you have my permission to hit the alarm.”


Chip nodded.  “Sounds like a plan, sir.  I’m a little tired of wallowing on the surface.”


Nelson looked out Seaview’s unique front windows, at the same time sending Doc a grin as Will poured himself a cup of coffee from the carafe Cookie kept in the Observation Nose.  “And I was thinking how nice and smooth the waters are today.”  While the sea was actually calm, the submarine wasn’t as smooth as she would be underneath the gentle swells.  Chip grumbled something too low for Nelson to hear, causing the Admiral to nonetheless nod.  He had the distinct feeling that Chip’s dislike of less than calm waters had nothing to do with external conditions. 


Nelson laid his papers on the chart table and headed for the ladder that led to the tower.  He had to bury a grin as, turning around, he found Chief Sharkey standing by the ladder holding a heavy hooded coat.  Thanking the COB, he slipped it on and headed up.


Nelson’s first sight of Seaview’s captain was not reassuring.  He expected to be glared at, Lee easily hearing the sound of the watertight hatch opening and turning to see who was interrupting his solitude.  Instead, two sensations hit Nelson instantly – the intense cold, and the disparaging droop in Lee’s shoulders as he continued to face away from the hatch.  Squaring his own shoulders Nelson finished climbing, closed the hatch behind him with a solid clunk, and faced Lee, who had still not turned.


“Care to let me in on what you find so fascinating out there?” Nelson asked firmly.


Lee didn’t bother turning even then.  “Just contemplating nature’s vast desolation and emptiness, sir.”


Nelson was pleased that, despite the disconcerting comment, Lee’s voice was firm and under control.  He took the two steps that placed him next to Lee’s right shoulder.  “Yet even in such hostile conditions there’s life,” he observed.  “Nature adapting itself to survive.”  Out of the corner of his eye he caught the faint twitch of Lee’s lips, and laid a hand gently on the younger man’s shoulder.


“Chip or Jamie?” Lee asked, humor in his voice.


“Sharkey,” Nelson replied, and grinned as Lee finally turned toward him.  “Although the afore-mentioned duo, I’m sure, weren’t far behind.”


Lee shook his head almost sadly, and turned back toward earth’s most uninviting continent.  “Not like I haven’t given you all enough reason lately,” he admitted.


“You’ve lost men under your command before, Lee,” Nelson said softly, his hand giving Lee’s shoulder a slight squeeze.


Lee nodded.  “Yes, sir.  In conflicts, or crisis situations.  This was just…stupid!”  The last word was said with vehemence, and Nelson saw Lee’s hands clench inside their heavy gloves.  He took a deep breath, hesitating slightly before answering.


“Nature,” he finally said softly, and was relieved to see Lee’s hands relax.


“Do you ever get used to its unfairness?”


“If I ever get tired of its infinite variations it will be time to retire.”  Again he saw Lee’s lips twitch.


“Guess I don’t have to worry about having a job for the next forty years or so, then.”


Nelson cuffed his shoulder lightly.  “Only if you tick off your XO any more than he already is for making him stay on the surface longer than absolutely necessary.”


Lee chuckled softly.  “And Chip was the one who was so dead-set against submarines when we first entered Annapolis.  Sure changed his tune.”


“For which I will be eternally grateful.”


“Me, too,” Lee admitted, and sent Nelson a grin.


“We’d better get back down there before he decides to dive anyway.”  He was pleased that Lee chose to chuckle at that joke.  Well, Nelson admitted, mostly a joke.  Seaview’s Exec did, on occasion, reveal an absolutely wicked streak.  “Besides, I need to talk to you.  We’ve got a small job to do before we get home.”


Lee instantly turned a frown on his boss, his voice firm as he started an objection.  “It’s already been a long cruise, sir.  The men are tired…”  He’d no doubt have continued in that vein if Nelson hadn’t stopped him with an upraised hand.


“Easy, Lee.  Just a little pick-up and delivery job.  Well, and a little observation of a different variety of nature along the way.  Nothing strenuous, and nothing that will slow us down for more than a week or so.”


While the expression on Lee’s face continued to register disapproval, his voice held resignation to the fact when he asked, “Where and when, sir?”


Nelson carefully didn’t smile.  Lee was very used to Seaview’s sudden changes of cruise parameters due to any number of reasons – not the least of which was Nelson’s own research projects.  But rather than answer, he pointed toward the hatch.  “What say we continue this conversation below?  It’s cold up here.”


Lee shrugged.  “I was kind of enjoying it.  But if you insist…”  He sent his boss an innocent grin.  Nelson snorted in reply, and Lee reached to open the hatch.


* * * *


Eight days later found Lee once again in the conning tower.  However, this time the temperature had traversed the dial to almost uncomfortably hot.  And he had company outside of Seaview’s constant-temperatured interior – Chip was topside as well.  Seaview lay stationary just off the coast of one of the Galapagos Islands, Santa Cruz.  Lee and Chip had watched a heavily loaded zodiac come out from the research station there.  Crewmen were on hand at the boarding hatch to take command of the equipment transfer, and Admiral Nelson was there to welcome aboard the researcher, Dr. Compton.  The brief biography that Lee had been shown listed her as mid-thirties, a specialist in sharks in general but with a focus on whale sharks.


Nelson had explained, as he was briefing both Lee and Chip over cups of hot coffee in the nose once he’d finessed Lee down from the tower and Chip had dived the boat, that because whale sharks often hung around areas where there were other sharks, to research one you had to know something about the other varieties as well.  Will was still sitting close by, listening, and questioned what other types were likely to be in the area.  The boat’s CMO didn’t like surprises.


“Hammerheads, for the most part,” Nelson answered.  “Non-aggressive, more curious than anything.”  He shrugged.  “The occasional Great White shark.”


“Oh, goody.”  Will was the resident cynic.


Nelson just chuckled at him.  “The whale sharks, while huge, are totally safe.  Well…”  He chuckled again and gave the other three a bit of a bashful smile.  “Was swimming with one once and accidentally got smacked with its tail fin.”  He grimaced.  “Not something that I’d recommend.”  His grin brightened at the ones he received from Lee and Chip, and the groan that the bad joke elicited from Will.  “What divers will have to watch out for are the Galapagos sharks, a variety of Grey reef shark.  They’re usually not a problem, eating bottom-dwelling squid, fish, and octopus.  But they can be dangerous if cornered.”


“I thought, from what you said earlier,” Chip asked Nelson, “that we’d just be chasing already tagged specimens – that the diving was all done.”


“Not quite.  It’s my understanding that, while we will be following them as well as doing some observations from here in the nose, Dr. Compton will still be wanting to do more dives if we run into any so far unidentified specimens.”


“Okay,” Chip acknowledged.  He gave Lee’s shoulder a little shove.  “Behave yourself out there and don’t be trying to bring home a new pet.”  It was acknowledged by all hands aboard the submarine that if there was diving to be done, Lee would go out on as many as he could.  Lee had, at the time, just sent his friend a glare while Nelson and Will buried chortles in their coffee mugs – with limited success.  Both knew that Chip was still trying to josh Lee out of his doldrums.


Now, Lee returned the little shove.  “Any objections to bringing that pet home?” he asked with an innocent smile.  Dr. Compton turned out to be tall and slender, with shoulder-length rich brown hair that glistened in the bright equatorial sun.  And even obviously without make-up on, wasn’t at all hard to look at.


Chip gave a low whistle.  “You may have to fight me for her,” he observed with an admiring quality to his voice.  Both men grinned.  They continued to watch until the doctor’s gear was below, Nelson had escorted their guest through the hatch, and the zodiac had headed back to the island, before going down themselves.  Seaview needed to be maneuvered to the vicinity of Galapagos’ two most northerly islands, Wolf and Darwin, where most of Dr. Compton’s research was being conducted.


Lee was standing back, watching young Lt. Chris James give the orders to shift the giant submarine while Chip went back to see that the new equipment was properly stowed, when footsteps on the circular stairway leading down from Officers’ Country, as well as the guest cabins, announced the arrival in the nose of Nelson with the scientist.  Lee sent both a quick smile before returning his attention to the young lieutenant.  James was very new to the boat but was already proving to be a quick learner, and an asset to the team.  In the background he could hear Nelson explaining some of Seaview’s more interesting idiosyncrasies to Dr. Compton as the two watched out her herculite windows.


Lee saw Seaview’s senior helmsman, Layton, hesitate half a second before responding to a minor course correction Chris called for as the submarine moved at dead slow away from shallow water among the Galapagos archipelago.  Lee said nothing although he knew what was about to happen.  Chris had only over-corrected by maybe a degree but Seaview very gently brushed a bit of reef, the feel and the sound evident in the Control Room.  As a stricken look came over the young lieutenant’s face Lee winked at Layton who, as one of Seaview’s original crewmen, knew her almost as well as anyone aboard.  From where Lee was standing he could see the fathometer, as could Layton.  Lee suspected the helmsman of having fudged James’ course just enough that, instead of smacking the reef solidly, had managed the slight rub that he knew would cause no damage, but be a valuable lesson to Seaview’s most junior officer.  Lee glanced ever so briefly at the navigation chart and issued his own course correction.  He was gently pointing out to Lt. James where he’d made his minor mistake when Chip reappeared. 


“That’s dinner at Visconti’s you owe me for scratching the paint,” he told Lee firmly as he walked up to the chart table.


Lee heard Nelson snort, but before he could defend himself Lt. James piped up.  “Oh, no, sir.  It was my error.”


“Just a little one,” Lee told both.  “No harm done.”  He looked at James.  “And I’m quite certain that it won’t happen again.”  There was firmness in his voice but a softening sparkle in his eyes.


“It better well not,” Chip grumbled.  He made sure that James didn’t see the wink that he sent Lee, and Lee had to quickly squash the grin that formed as Admiral Nelson called his name.  He hesitated only a moment as Chip quickly scanned the charts, determined what had happened, and then let Lt. James continue under his watchful eye.  Lee nodded to both, sent Layton another wink, and turned toward his boss.


“Dr. M. L. Compton,” Nelson made the formal introductions, “Seaview’s captain, Commander Lee Crane.”


“A pleasure, Doctor,” Lee responded amiably.


She merely nodded back, reaching up with her right hand to flip that side of her hair behind her ear before turning back to Nelson.  “I assumed that the other officer who just came in must be the captain.  He certainly seemed more concerned about the condition of your ship.”


Lee started to frown, and opened his mouth to reply, but Nelson cut him off.  “Oh, don’t let that little scene bother you, Doctor.  Just a little training session.  Lee had everything under control.  Just as he will see that Seaview is kept positioned correctly for your research.”  The mild reproach in his voice was obviously not lost on the doctor.


“Sorry,” she apologized.  “I’ve just heard such wonderful things about Seaview, and I’m not on board half an hour and we run into something.”  She tried a smile.  Lee wasn’t impressed by it, but relaxed nonetheless.


“Lt. James is fairly new on board.  He’s still learning what Seaview is capable of.  As big as she is, it’s easy to forgot how maneuverable she can be.”


“How long will it take us to get to Wolf Island?  You seem to be going very slow.”


Behind her back Nelson carefully covered a grin as Lee visibly took a deep breath.  “As soon as we’re away from these shoals we can move more freely.  ETA 1130 hours.”


“I’ll need to set up my tracking equipment.  Admiral Nelson suggested using his lab, but after seeing this space,” she waved her hand around the Nose, “this will be perfect.  I can actually see what the equipment is telling me and I’ll be able to give you orders more easily.”


Lee knew that he stiffened, more a reaction to her easy assumption that he’d be taking orders from her than having her in the Nose.  It actually made sense, considering her research.  As he realized that he could simply close the crash doors and cut her off from the Control Room, he also realized that she was waiting impatiently for an answer, and starting to turn toward Nelson when none was forthcoming from Lee.


“As long as your equipment doesn’t interfere with our navigation,” Lee told her somewhat stiffly, “I see no reason not to set it up here.”  He turned and looked at Chip.  “Mr. Morton, will you see that Dr. Compton’s tracking equipment is set up here in the nose?”


“Aye, aye, sir,” came Chip’s instant response.


Lee turned back to the visitor.  “Everything should be ready by the time we reach Wolf Island.”  Not waiting for a response, he turned on his heel and returned to the Conn, hitting the button to close the crash doors as he went.  Once they were closed he let out a huff of air.  When he looked at Chip, the blond was grinning broadly.


“I could swear, when I looked at the calendar, we were still several weeks from the Fourth of July festivities.  Looks like we’re going to start the fireworks early.”


“And I could swear that I just gave you an order, Mister,” Lee said with a growl in his voice as he reached for a pencil on the chart table.  But the fact that he couldn’t control his lips twitching took the sting out of his words, and Chip headed aft still smiling softly.


On the other side of the doors Admiral Nelson was having much the same problem as his captain.  The scientist turned to him from watching the doors close.  “Now how am I supposed to give him orders?” she asked Nelson.


The Admiral worked hard to control his expression.  “Dr. Compton, visiting scientists do not order Seaview’s Captain to do anything.”  He said it mildly, but she once again read the disapproval.


“Oops.  Guess I didn’t phrase that very well, did I?”


“No, you didn’t,” Nelson told her dryly.


“I’m so used to ordering around the chase boats…”  She sent Nelson a sheepish smile.


Nelson finally chuckled softly.  “Trust me.  Referring to Seaview as a chase boat won’t make you points with any of the crew.  Particularly her Skipper.”  She nodded sheepishly, and Nelson took pity on her.  “But don’t dwell on it.  Cdr. Crane certainly won’t.”  He chuckled.  “Because he focuses on the logistics of a cruise instead of the ongoing research, he’s had a fair amount of practice ignoring visitors to the boat.”  He emphasized the last word – again not lost on the doctor.


But she just gave him a speculative look.  “I’m not sure if I like that or not.”  She matched Nelson’s earlier tone for dryness.


Nelson chuckled openly.  “Never doubt for an instant that he respects what you do.  Just remember that he has different priorities.  While you are responsible for your research, he’s responsible for this entire boat, and everyone in it.”  He gave the woman a firm look.  “And he takes his responsibilities extremely seriously.”


“Understood,” the doctor acquiesced.


* * * *


By 1800 hours Lee had gotten over his momentary snit.  A lot of it had to do with Admiral Nelson bringing in a tracking unit that he’d calibrated with the one Dr. Compton was using, and setting it up at the sonar station.  It relieved any constant need for the researcher to relay information to the Conn.  Chip was still taking the lead in keeping Lee’s mind in the present and not dwelling on past occurrences, and sent Lee snide little smiles as they searched the doctor’s specific target area for the animal she wanted to find, a whale shark that she’d nicknamed ‘Big Bertha’.  They were impressive beasts.  The largest fish in the world, whale sharks could easily reach lengths in excess of 40 feet, with girths at their widest point up to 23 feet.  Some estimates went as high as fifty feet or better in length.  They were, for the most part, solitary creatures, seen occasionally in groups if the food supply happened to be abundant.  They kept almost exclusively to tropical waters and, while having teeth, fed on plankton, krill, and small squid or vertebrates they trapped on gill rakers as they passed water drawn through their huge mouths and out their gill arches.


So far ‘Bertha’ was proving elusive.  While females tended to stick closer to one area than males, there was no guarantee that she hadn’t wandered off while feeding.  That was one of the reasons Dr. Compton was doing her research – to ascertain that, once one did move away for whatever reason, she’d come back to her ‘home’ range.


As Chip prepared to turn the Conn over to Lt. James so that he and Lee could head for dinner, Lee walked forward and finally opened the crash doors about ¾ of the way.  Dr. Compton’s equipment had been set up on the port side of the nose, just behind the windows.  Lee took a bit of satisfaction in watching the woman jump as the doors unexpectedly opened.  He knew that he allowed a grin to show when she turned and frowned at him.


“Dinnertime, Doctor,” Lee told her amiably.


She shook her head.  “Not hungry,” she muttered, and turned back to her equipment.


Lee shrugged, turned as well, and walked back to the chart table just as Chip officially gave James the Conn.  Lt. O’Brien had also entered the Conn, just to make sure that James didn’t get either himself or Seaview into any trouble while the senior officers were absent.  Chip raised an eyebrow at Lee.  “She’s not hungry,” Lee answered the unspoken question.


“Oh goody.  Another person on the boat who doesn’t care whether or not they eat.  Cookie will be thrilled.”  O’Brien carefully smothered a snort but Chip’s grumbling only caused Lee to grin, and the two headed aft.


Lee had to explain again when Admiral Nelson walked into the Wardroom, followed closely by Will Jamison.  Nelson started to frown before Chip jumped in with a “And he even opened the crash doors,” which earned him a kick under the table from Lee.


Nelson gave both younger men a fond smile.  It had been a rough last few weeks.  For everyone on board Seaview, but especially for her captain.  To see Lee even this close to normal with the hijinks that tended to go on between the two old friends was extremely welcome.


“Cookie?” Lee turned toward Seaview’s back-up Nuclear Reactor technician – and premier chef.  “Could you fix a tray and take it forward to the nose?  I don’t believe that Dr. Compton had any lunch, either.”  Cookie frowned at the special request but turned back toward the Galley.


Doc shook his head.  “The Skipper concerned about someone not eating?  What’s wrong with this picture?”  Nelson snorted, Chip nearly choked on the bite of food that he’d just taken, and Lee gave the doctor a glaring look that had sent many a man running for his life.  Will, as usual, just got a smug look on his face and turned to fix his own plate.


Seaview’s CMO was pretty much immune from Lee’s occasional ill humor.  It had not come without a period of ups and downs between the two very strong-willed men.  And there still occurred the occasional shouting match.  But Lee had slowly come to respect Will’s expertise, and allow Will past the walls that he’d built up over the years against medical personnel – a reaction to too many times having them place limits on Lee that he felt were unreasonable and unfounded.  He’d eventually just tuned them out and ignored any that got in his face.  For Will it had taken time to learn the balance point between making sure that Lee was in good enough condition to perform his job, and acknowledging that Lee sometimes had to ignore his own infirmities if it meant the successful completion of his duties as Seaview’s skipper.  While a truce of sorts had finally been reached, it didn’t keep the two from moments of extreme stubbornness and temper.  And solutions to individual situations sometimes had to be arbitrated by Admiral Nelson.  But for the most part, the two actually got along just fine despite their outward bickering.


On this evening gentle humor prevailed through the entire meal, a breather from the depressed attitudes of the last few weeks.  Cookie returned from the Nose apparently unscathed so it was somewhat of a surprise when, as Lee was pouring himself another cup of coffee after finishing his meal, Lt. James’ voice sounded over the intercom.


“Skipper, could you come to the Conn?  Ah, now, sir?”


Lee raised both eyebrows at Chip as he reached for the com.  “This is the Skipper.  What’s wrong, Lieutenant?”


“Ah, it’s Dr. Compton, sir.  She’s…ah…very unhappy.”  At the nervousness in the young man’s voice, the other three raised eyebrows as well.


“Be right there,” Lee acknowledged, put down his coffee mug with a wistful sigh, and headed forward.  Chip was right behind him, and it didn’t surprise Lee at all to discover that both Nelson and Doc came as well.


They could all hear the problem even before they entered the aft hatch to the Conn.  Lee figured that it was probably a good thing that he didn’t understand what language the scientist was speaking.  But there was no doubt about the intent of the soliloquy.  Unhappy is definitely an understatement he thought to himself, and walked a little faster.  He still glanced at all the stations out of habit, but none of the crew seemed unduly concerned about anything from their own equipment so Lee continued on into the Nose.




“Finners!” she cut him off with a snarl.


“Excuse me?”


She pointed out Seaview’s front windows.  The submarine was passing slowly along the bottom between Wolf and Darwin Islands.  Walking the rest of the way forward, Lee saw several hammerhead shark carcasses lying on the ocean floor being fed on by a whole school of Galapagos sharks.  He turned toward the obviously distraught scientist as the other three men entered the nose.


“Finners,” Dr. Compton said again, this time a little more under control.  “They catch the sharks, cut off the fins to sell, mostly to Asian markets, and dump the bodies back into the water for the other sharks to dispose of and cover the evidence.”


“But that’s illegal…”  Chip realized the stupidity of the comment and cut it off.


“Very,” Nelson told him disgustedly.  “Unfortunately, it’s also very lucrative to the people doing it, and very hard to stop.  The Galapagos have only a few patrol boats.  It’s a little easier to stop the middlemen on the mainland once they buy the fins from the fishermen.  But not much.”


“On top of that,” Dr. Compton took over, “while it’s illegal here in the archipelago, it’s legal on the coast.  If they don’t get caught red-handed…” everyone cringed slightly at that bad joke, “they can claim that they caught the sharks in open water.”


Lee reached for the nearest com.  “Sonar, any surface boats in the area?”


“Aye, sir,” Kowalski answered immediately.  “We’re almost directly under two fishing boats.”


“Fishing boats, my …eye,” Dr. Compton spat out, judiciously correcting the term she rather obviously wanted to use.


A decidedly evil look crossed Lee’s face.  “Mr. Morton, suppose we blow all ballast and give our ‘friends’ topside something else to think about.”  The same menacing smile came over the XO’s face as he spun on his heel and started issuing commands.


The boat was instantly surrounded by a mass of air bubbles.  They weren’t all that deep, and could only imagine how the disturbance was being perceived on the surface.  But even Will had a decidedly pleased look on his face.  After about twenty seconds Lee called to stop the blow, and had Chip bring the boat to periscope depth.  Everyone followed him into the Conn to check on the results via the periscope.  Lee’s face held a decided smirk after taking a look topside.


“That should hold them off.”  He shrugged, and the smirk turned a good deal less smug as he hit the button that dropped the instrument back down.  “For a few days, anyway.  Sorry, Doctor,” he looked at the scientist.


She took a deep breath.  “Every little bit helps, I guess.”  She turned and went back into the Nose.


Lee turned to Nelson and asked quietly.  “Think that’s what’s happened to ‘Bertha?’  We can’t find her because the finners got her?”


“Unfortunately, Lee, that’s all too possible.  Whale sharks, being so slow and docile, are easy targets for the blackards.  Pretty much their only enemies.”  One fist hit the other palm with a resounding smack.


* * * *


They got lucky.  Or, more correctly, ‘Big Bertha’ did.  Both Dr. Compton’s tracking unit and the one Admiral Nelson had set up in the Control Room picked up her signal about 2030 hours.  Chip suspected that he wasn’t the only one in the Conn to release a quiet sigh of relief.  He’d caught the looks a few of the crewmen had surreptitiously cast towards Lee as he silently paced the Conn, getting quieter and more morose as the evening wore on, ever since their encounter with the finners.


The whole boat had rallied around and did what they could to get Lee out of the funk that he’d fallen into after young Seaman Yager’s accidental death.  Chip buried a smile as he thought back on how careful the crew had been to not let Lee catch on to the little things everyone tried to do to raise their Skipper’s spirits.  If Lee ever realizes how much the whole crew tries to look after him…  Some of the grin broke through as he gave the commands to ease Seaview toward where the tracker said that they’d find the whale shark.  Lee didn’t take well to anyone ‘Mother Henning’ him.  Over the years he had developed a tolerance for Chip’s gentle – and sometimes not so gentle – haranguing.  After watching Lee build up walls against the medical profession, it was with heartfelt gratitude that Chip had watched Will Jamison slowly gain Lee’s confidence to the point that the CMO could also prod Lee without the danger of simply being ignored.  Chip’s grin expanded.  He had a feeling that Will wasn’t one to be ignored, no matter the situation.  The shouting matches that erupted between CMO and CO, and even sometimes between CMO and Admiral, went a long way toward cementing Will’s status both on board Seaview and at NIMR’s Med Bay Health Center.


Lee, who had been hanging over Daystrom’s shoulder at Sonar watching the blip on the tracking unit get stronger and closer, turned abruptly and headed for the Nose.  Chip didn’t get his grin under control fast enough, and Lee stopped and sent him a raised eyebrow.


“Just glad that I don’t have to listen to another tirade from Dr. Compton,” Chip lied through his teeth, his face an innocent mask.  “What language was she sputtering in, anyway?” he asked, trying to distract Lee from pinning him down about what he’d really been thinking.


“Portuguese, I think,” Lee answered.  He had a feeling that Chip was up to something.  Almost the only time that Chip got that particular expression on his face, it usually boded no good for Lee.  But he let it drop as there was a triumphant shout from the Nose.  The outside lights had been turned on as soon as the sun went down, and Lee now walked forward to take a look out the front windows.


Just off the bow, and slightly below Seaview, a huge form swam lazily at an angle away to starboard.  As he watched the creature, Seaview came to dead slow and swung in behind.  With the slight distortion of looking through herculite and water it was a little difficult to make an accurate measurement.  But Lee estimated the shark at roughly 35 feet in length.  She showed the usual coloration of mostly gray, the sides a checkerboard of pale yellow spots and stripes.  The belly was a pale gray.  Having done a bit of reading on the species in the last few days Lee knew that the patterned body was unique to each shark and, like Gray whale tail fluke coloration patterns, was used as a system to identify individual animals.  In this case there was little doubt which shark this one was.  At the base of the forward of her two dorsal fins was a small ribbon streamer marking the location of her transmitter.  Despite that, he still watched as Dr. Compton confirmed the identification by checking a folder of pictures and diagrams, comparing markings.  ‘Bertha’ seemed totally unconcerned to have a giant submarine dogging her path and continued to swim nonchalantly in the direction of Darwin Island.  Lee turned and raised an eyebrow at the researcher.


Dr. Compton flipped the right side of her hair behind her ear in what Lee was beginning to recognize as an unconscious habit, and sighed heavily.  “Looks like she went off to the west to feed and is on her way back to familiar waters.  It was what I’d hoped…”  She didn’t finish the thought.


“So, what’s on the agenda now?”  She’d dropped her gaze back to her notebook, and Lee took her silence to mean that she was just formulating a plan.  When she looked up again and continued to look out the windows, Lee cleared his throat loudly.  She glanced his way casually, again giving her hair a flip.  At Lee’s once again raised eyebrow she finally spoke.  “I’m sorry.  Did you say something?”


Oh, please.  Another researcher totally engrossed in their own thoughts to the exclusion of everything – and everyone – else, Lee thought to himself, but nonetheless sent her a small smile.  “Just asked what’s next,” he said succinctly, but not unpleasantly.


“For tonight, I breathe a whole lot easier than I have since she disappeared four days ago,” the doctor told him with a tired smile.  “Tomorrow I’d like to scout north of Darwin Island.  My research has been limited by the range of the zodiacs, and I want to make a cast wider afield and see if I can find and identify any sharks in that area.”  This time she kept her attention on him, awaiting his response.


“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Lee told her amiably.  “I’ll have Mr. O’Brien meander in that direction overnight, and we can make a couple lazy sweeps through the area tomorrow.”


“Perfect.  If we find any I’ll want to dive with them to take photographs for identification purposes, and get measurements.”


“No more tagging?”


She shook her head.  “The team will be leaving in three weeks, and we won’t have a chance to get back for probably another year.  It’s even possible that we won’t come back here.  There are regular sightings around Ningaloo Reef off Western Australia so we may spend some time there.  Mostly we’re just trying to identify as many individual whale sharks as possible.  We only tagged a few so that we could track their movements while we were here.”


Lee started to reply but steps on the spiral stairs distracted him, and Admiral Nelson joined them as they continued to follow ‘Bertha’.  “Our missing whale shark, I presume,” he said with a soft smile.


Before Lee could do more than nod he was once more interrupted.  “Admiral, we’ve found her,” Dr. Compton said happily.  “Thankfully she’s apparently just been off feeding.”


Oh goody, Lee thought to himself as he just sent Nelson a shrug.  She’s one of those who like to repeat everything in response to what’s been said to her.


Nelson sent both Lee and the doctor a slightly broader smile.  “So I see,” he answered softly.  Lee got the distinct impression that Nelson knew exactly what he’d been thinking, and sent a bit of a sheepish look back.  It was one of Lee’s little pet peeves, and Nelson was all too aware of it.  Lee hadn’t noticed her doing it until now.  But then, he hadn’t really had that much interaction with her, either.  Lee decided that his time would be better served in the Conn, and left the two scientists to whatever they chose to talk about.


“All’s well in whale sharkdom, I presume?”  Chip sent him a smirk as Lee walked up to the chart table.


“So it would seem,” Lee answered.  He sent a glance around the Conn, so much of an automatic action that he didn’t consciously realize he did it, and then reached for the charts of the area north of the archipelago.  He explained to Chip as he scanned the chart what Dr. Compton had in mind for the next day, and between the two they plotted out a projected search pattern.  They would need to go slowly, letting Sonar and spotters in the Nose scan the waters ahead of them for the animals since sharks didn’t call like whales did, and were not easily picked up by the hydrophones.  There was a possibility of running into one or more of the other tagged animals.  But Lee figured that Dr. Compton could keep an eye on her own equipment for that, and let the Conn know if they found any.


When Lee returned to the Control Room through the aft hatch from a ‘walkaboat’ just before 2200 hours – what the crew called the casual walkthroughs that he was apt to do at any hour of the day or night, but most often during Seaview’s evenings – he caught Admiral Nelson coming in from the Nose through the now only partially opened doors, a mildly disgusted look on his face.   Now what’s she done? he muttered to himself, and met Nelson at the chart table with an upraised eyebrow.


The Admiral’s expression changed to a slight smile.  “Just tried to get Dr. Compton to let one of the crew monitor her equipment overnight.  She seems to think that she can stay up 24/7 and do it herself.”


“Must come with being a scientist,” Lee answered, looking at his workaholic boss with a totally innocent expression.   Lt. O’Brien, who had the Conn, didn’t get a bubble of laughter smothered fast enough and quickly turned away, not seeing the glare that Nelson sent his way.  Nelson turned it on Lee, who went even more cherubic, until Nelson finally snorted.


“A bit of the kettle calling the pot black, Commander,” he grumbled.


Lee’s expression broke into a sheepish grin.  “Aye, sir,” he chuckled.


Nelson gave him a gentle backhand.  “Lieutenant,” he addressed O’Brien, who turned instantly back to the other two, his face once more under control.


“Yes, sir?”


“You appear to have everything under control for the night.  Any reason you can see for your Skipper not getting a good night’s sleep?”


Caught directly in the middle of Nelson’s grin and Lee’s frown, there was a brief moment of hesitation on O’Brien’s part.  But he quickly shook his head.  “No, sir,” he answered, not looking at Lee.  


“Good.  Then, Commander,” Nelson sent Lee a purposeful look, “suppose we both toddle off to our bunks.”  He suddenly grinned broadly.  “If nothing else, we’ll surprise everyone else by getting a full night’s sleep – for a change.”


Lee returned the grin.  Nelson wasn’t often this whimsical in front of the crew; he tended to reserve such comments for private conversations, or in the Wardroom.  Lee wasn’t stupid.  He knew that, what with the previous weeks’ happenings, it was just Nelson’s way of doing what most everyone else had been doing – trying to get the boat, and especially her Skipper, back to a more normally relaxed atmosphere.  Lee also saw that, despite the casual mood to the conversation, there was a decidedly purposeful glint in Nelson’s eye.  At other times, being basically ordered to stand down would have instantly raised his ire.  But tonight, having just finished checking that his boat was settled into her normal nighttime routines, he was willing to go along with the gentle order.  After one small errand.


“I’ll just take a quick shot at getting Dr. Compton to crash as well.”  An exasperated look quickly crossed Nelson’s face, and Lee smiled.  “Not that I think I’ll be any more persuasive than you, sir,” he hurriedly added.


“Harrumph,” Nelson muttered.  He sent Lee a hard look.


“Ten minutes,” Lee told him, then smiled sheepishly.  “Maybe fifteen.”


Nelson couldn’t help himself.  As O’Brien once again had to turn away from his superior officers’ antics Nelson grinned, shook his head, and walked off.  Lee waited until he’d exited the aft hatch before turning and heading forward.


Dr. Compton was sitting at her console, headphones on and watching the telemetry screen as she turned dials, adjusting for the different frequencies assigned to different animals.  Lee figured that he’d startled her enough for one day and walked casually up to the front windows on the starboard side, as far away from her as he could.  Once she’d spotted him, he moved closer.  “Anything?” he asked conversationally, and turned and sat on the window ledge facing her.  She just shook her head.  “Do you actually expect to find any in this area?”


She shrugged, slipping the headset off her ears and letting it lay around her neck.  “No real way to know where they are going to show up.  Two animals we tagged are males, and they have a broader range than the females.”


“You’ve been at that steady ever since you came aboard.”  Lee tried to keep his voice calm and friendly.  He had a trump card to play that apparently Nelson hadn’t, and had a feeling that she would go ballistic when he sprung it on her.  So, he tried to lead up to it as casually as possible.  “It’s a fairly simple tracking unit.  There are half a dozen men on board who could easily handle it.”  She was already starting to shake her head, but Lee just kept talking.  “If you stay up all night you won’t be allowed to dive tomorrow if we do find any more of your friends.”


Lee decided that he’d suggest to Chip that the researcher give him lessons in glare production.  While Seaview’s XO could create absolute mayhem among the crew, scattering them like puff balls in a hurricane without ever saying a word, his best didn’t hold a candle to the one being directed at Lee from Dr. Compton.  It was a struggle but he maintained his composure and continued to look at her openly and calmly.  “Seaview regs,” he continued.  “No one – not even me,” and he sent her a half-bashful smile, “dives if they’ve not had proper downtime beforehand.”  So, that was fudging.  But just a little bit.  In emergencies the rules were stretched by necessity.  Lee was firmly of the opinion that tracking whale sharks didn’t fit under that heading.  He continued to sit quietly, accepting the look for what it was – extreme displeasure at having to comply against her wishes to someone else’s ideas.  Lee was all too familiar with the feeling.  But he’d learned – for the most part, anyway – when it was strategically advantageous to back off.


It took the doctor long enough to apparently reach the same conclusion that Lee was beginning to wonder if she was ever going to, and started formulating a plan for handling Chip’s and Nelson’s reactions the following day if he did have to use that excuse to restrict her dives.  He didn’t even want to consider what Jamie would say – that poor doctor had butted heads with Lee so many times already over what was and wasn’t ‘proper rest’ that his comments would in all likelihood not be repeatable in polite company.  And from one of the most even-tempered men it had ever been Lee’s privilege to work with.


That thought made his lips twitch, and he grinned ever so softly before he could get himself under control.  It was enough, however, to cause Dr. Compton to actually growl.  Lee quickly held up his hand.  “Sorry, Doctor.  Just thinking back to a few instances I’ve had to listen to the same argument used against me.”  He frowned.  “It’s the pits,” he grumbled with honesty, before giving himself a shake.  “Doesn’t mean that it’s not a correct call.”  He looked at her openly.  “We’ve got a terrific record on board Seaview.”  A brief flash of pain hit Lee as the memory of seeing Seaman Yager’s body pushed its way into his mind.  He immediately willed it away and continued.  “We don’t take the crew’s safety lightly.”


“I’m not crew,” Dr. Compton muttered.


“Same difference.  You’re on board, you obey the regs.”  He watched as she closed her eyes and took a deep breath.  When she opened them her expression was a good deal less menacing.


“Who would be manning my equipment?”  It was an order, but Lee chose not to push that issue since he’d apparently won the round.


He reached for the nearest mic.  “Mr. O’Brien, please check the Duty Roster.  I need Seamen Patterson and Blake released from their regular duty so that they can monitor Dr. Compton’s equipment starting at 2200 hours through 0800 hours for as long as she’s aboard.”


There was the briefest of pauses.  “Shouldn’t be a problem, Skipper.”


“Good.  Could you call them both forward so that she can go over everything she wants them to do?”


“Aye, aye, sir,” came promptly back, and almost immediately the call went out over the all-boat com.


Lee sat quietly, but it wasn’t a long wait.  Patterson slipped through the still mostly closed crash doors just as Blake, normally assigned to one of the DC teams but who was also thoroughly cross trained on Sonar – thanks to Lee’s emphasis on multi-tasked crewmen – scurried down the spiral stairs.  As the senior of the two Pat offered a soft, “As you requested, sir,” as he and Blake came to a stop.


Lee remained where he was, sitting on the window ledge, as Dr. Compton gave the two rather overly detailed – at least it seemed so to Lee – instructions for how to use her tracking unit, and what kind of notes that she wanted kept.  Lee had suspected as much and had therefore chosen crewmen who were the calmest, and the least likely to take offense at the doctor’s somewhat over-dramatics.  But he rose when she started demanding that each man repeat her instructions back to her.


“Doctor, I chose these men because they are highly skilled.  I assure you that they understood you the first time,” he said with the slightest bit of stiffness in his voice.  “If they do have a question they have only to look back over your own notes to see the way you want the information recorded.”  Patterson had remained passive during Dr. Compton’s tedious instructions, but Blake noticeably let out a long breath and flicked his Skipper a grateful look.  “Pat, you and Blake decide how you want to set up your watches.  Doctor, may I escort you to your cabin?”


“I think I remember the way,” the scientist muttered.  Giving her hair a flip she headed for the spiral staircase.  Lee waited until she was safely away, and the two seamen had decided that Pat would take the first five hours while Blake would handle the last five, before turning on his heel and re-entering the Conn, opening the crash doors wide as he passed the control button.  He went over O’Brien’s revised Duty Roster, added the details for Patterson and Blake, and was about to head for another walk-through of the boat, just to help him relax after the mini-confrontation, when more steps sounded on the stairs and Admiral Nelson appeared.  He stayed at the bottom of the staircase and Lee walked over to him.


“Care to tell me how you managed to pry Dr. Compton away from her equipment after I failed so miserably?”  A glint in the Admiral’s eyes was somewhat softened by the touch of humor in his voice.


Lee sent his boss a sheepish grin.  “I cheated,” he told Nelson softly.


“That would explain the slamming of her cabin door loud enough to be heard three corridors away.”  Nelson’s expression turned firm.  “And you find that an acceptable leadership style, Commander?”


Lee shrugged noting that, despite the seeming reprimand, Nelson couldn’t keep himself from a slight grin.  “Doesn’t seem to have caused any problems so far, sir,” Lee told him.


Nelson finally chuckled openly, and shook his head.  “And what is it going to take to get you to stand down as well?  Could have sworn you told me that you were going to head in that direction, and here you are.”  He was still smiling, but Lee took note that the glint was back in his eyes.


“Just headed to walk through the boat one last time, sir,” he answered.  “Then I’ll crash.”


“Oh, I think she can survive one night without you personally tucking her in.”


Lee ever so briefly frowned, but surrendered with a long sigh.  “Yes, sir,” he acquiesced, and the two headed amiably up the stairs.


* * * *


Lee surprised himself and actually slept fairly well.  It no doubt had something to do with Chip poking his nose in Lee’s door right after he got there, demanding to know why Dr. Compton had tried to rip her cabin door off of its hinges, she’d slammed it so hard.  Chip teased Lee that he hadn’t heard a door slammed that hard from anyone other than Lee.  Lee’s instant glare only increased Chip’s grin, and he broke into open laughter when Lee sheepishly explained what he’d done.  Chip applauded Lee’s choice of crewmen to work with the scientist, and headed back to his own cabin leaving Lee in a much more relaxed frame of mind than he’d been only a few minutes before.  He changed and hit his bunk, sending silent thanks to whatever guardian angel had been watching over him to have sent him such an exceptional friend as Chip had been for so many years.


Even though it was barely 0630 hours when Lee came down the spiral stairs the following morning he wasn’t at all surprised to find Dr. Compton already in the nose, her head bent over the notes Patterson and Blake had kept during the night.  “Do they meet with your approval, Doctor?”  Lee was surprised at the grumble in his voice, and sent her a smile when she looked at him.


She sent a sheepish one back.  “Actually, their handwriting is much more legible than mine,” she admitted.


Lee just grinned and continued on to the chart table, where Chip was glancing at O’Brien’s and Keeter’s status reports for Seaview’s night.  “How many times did she come down during the night?” Lee asked Keeter quietly. 


The lieutenant answered just as softly.  “Came down about five minutes ago, and as far as I know that’s the first since Bob said that you chased her out.”


A small grin hit Chip’s face as he continued to scan the reports, but he quickly got himself under control.  “All’s well here, Skipper,” he said lightly.  “Time for breakfast.  I’m hungry.”


“You’re always hungry,” Lee grumbled, but he grinned as Keeter unsuccessfully cut off a snort.  Lee briefly held up a hand, and turned back to the Nose.  “Doctor,” he called softly, “join us for breakfast?”  Lee saw her lips move in a mutter, and Blake’s shoulders shake in silent laughter.  But she dropped the report, sighed, and headed in his direction.


“Ah yes, once again the old Crane charm has them following him anywhere.”  Chip said it so softly that only the three at the chart table could have heard it.  And Lee realized, when he turned to glare at Chip, that Lee’s torso had shielded Dr. Compton from even seeing that the blond had said anything.


“Lt. Keeter,” Lee said, although glaring menacingly at Chip.


“Sir?” came the instant response.


“Have any hankering to make XO a little faster than you’d originally planned?”


Chip’s easy grin turned instantly hard.  “Watch it, junior,” he threatened, still very quietly.  But the grin returned as Lee started chuckling.  Keeter, somewhat caught in the middle, finally decided that a smile wouldn’t get him in trouble, especially as Lee sent him a fond look and ever so briefly laid a hand on his shoulder.  At that point Dr. Compton arrived at the table.  The men got themselves back under control and Lee headed aft, Dr. Compton in tow.  Chip sent Keeter one extremely brief glare before he, too, relaxed into a grin and headed after the other two, his smile broadening as he watched Lee send a quick scan over each station as he passed through the Conn.  He didn’t think that Lee was even aware that he was doing it; it was so much a part of Lee’s…  Chip started to call it ‘command style’ but stopped himself.  No, it’s not that at all, he told himself silently.  It’s just Lee being Lee.  He listened quietly as Lee visited amiably with Dr. Compton on the walk back to the Wardroom, and allowed a silent sigh to escape.  It was good to see his friend once more relaxed and natural, after so many weeks of being far too quiet and down on himself.  Chip much preferred this Lee.  Even though it looks like I’m going to have my hands full coaxing the Doctor out of Lee’s grasp and out on a date when we get home.


The smile that thought put on Chip’s face lasted all the way to the Wardroom and through the door, where they ran into both Admiral Nelson and Dr. Jamison.  He saw Lee send a broad grin the CMO’s way that Jamie totally didn’t understand, but Chip did.  He had a pretty good idea of what Jamie’s reaction would be if – or more probably when – he found out what Lee had done to outsmart Dr. Compton’s bid to remain in the Nose all night.  Those two, Chip chuckled to himself.  Thank heavens the Admiral finally found a CMO who can ‘handle’ Lee, even if he does tend to do it at a decibel level equal to a jackhammer.  He didn’t get that chuckle buried, and instantly had four sets of eyes turn his direction.  “Ah, breakfast,” he covered his momentary slip.  “My favorite time of day.”


“Better fill your plate fast, Doctor,” Lee told Dr. Compton.  “Once Chip hits the line there won’t be much left.”


“Now, Skipper.”  Cookie rolled his eyes at Lee.  “You know I’d never let anybody go hungry around here.”  He sent the XO a quick look.  “But I have to admit that Mr. Morton does make it difficult once in awhile.”  That got chuckles out of everyone except Chip.  As the blond sent Cookie a momentary glare Lee punched him lightly on the shoulder, and Chip finally grinned as well.


Nelson sent Will a wink as they turned to dish up their plates.  Both had been extremely worried about their sometimes overly sensitive captain.  Lee was one of the most competent men it had ever been their privilege to serve with.  But both men had also seen him take responsibility for anything that went wrong around him, to the occasional detriment of his own peace of mind.  The two older men had shared many a cup of coffee – as well as a few hits on Nelson’s personal stash of scotch – during the week following Yager’s death, trying to figure out a way to get Lee out of his funk.  As the days wore on, and Lee fell deeper and deeper into his self-imposed depression, Chip’s suggestion of using a sledgehammer on him started sounding better and better.


Happily they hadn’t had to resort to that, although whatever Will had loaded into the syringe he’d used on Lee had something of the same reaction.  When Lee reappeared almost 36 hours later he had himself much more under control, although he’d still been quieter than usual.  To see him now, back to the gentle needling between CO and XO that so often accompanied a quiet cruise, had both older men breathing a good deal easier.


Will smiled as he motioned Dr. Compton ahead of him in line for Cookie’s always-ample selections.  She’d gotten an odd look on her face as she’d kept looking from face to face during the command staff’s little hijinks.  “Don’t pay too much attention to those two,” he indicated Lee and Chip.  “They’ve known each other since they entered Annapolis, and are more like brothers than some actual brothers I know.”  His grin broadened.  “It tends to get a bit thick in here occasionally.”  He chuckled openly.  “But don’t worry about it.  There’s never any doubt that they both know the difference between work and horseplay.”


“Guess I’ll have to take your word for that.”  Her voice held a hint of indecisiveness.  “A most unusual crew.”


“It works,” Will told her confidently.


As everyone selected what they wanted for breakfast, Lee and Chip settled in their usual spots on one side of the front table.  The Admiral and Will sat on the other side, with Dr. Compton between them.  The conversation was light, and centered on the day’s possible activities.  Neither spotters, sonar, nor tracking units had run across any whale sharks during Seaview’s overnight amble north.  Dr. Compton wasn’t too concerned.  Lee thought about saying something along the lines of it being opportune that she hadn’t wasted the night at her equipment but wisely kept his mouth shut.  Not so Admiral Nelson, who voiced the comment with a decided sparkle in his eyes.


“S’pose so,” came the mumbled response as she rather viciously stabbed a sausage link.  Lee quickly ducked his head and purposely focused on his own plate.  A soft snicker from his left told him that Chip wasn’t quite as successful at keeping a straight face and Lee sent a well aimed, albeit soft, kick his XO’s way.  Chip sent him a quick grin, but lowered his eyes to his own plate as well.


Will had picked up a fork full of scrambled eggs, but it came to a stop still several inches from his mouth as he sent a look across the table.  But it was to Nelson that he addressed his comment.  “I gather I’m missing something here,” he said dryly.


Nelson’s eyes were still sparkling as he watched the two younger men.  “Nothing major, Will,” Nelson told him.  “Dr. Compton had her heart set on working through the night, not realizing that we have competent crewmen to help cover her equipment.”  There was a soft growl from the scientist, causing Nelson’s smile to broaden.  “Just took a bit of straightening out.”


“Good,” Will grumbled with feeling.  “We have quite enough workaholics around here as it is; we don’t need any more.”  He sent a particularly knowing look across the table as he finally took the bite of eggs.


The look didn’t go unnoticed by Dr. Compton and she, too, looked speculatively at Lee and Chip.  But it was Nelson who spoke.  “Doctor,” he addressed her, “now that the nights are covered, will you also want your equipment monitored during the times you might be out diving?”


“I wouldn’t want to take any more of your crew’s time,” came the waspish reply.


Lee frowned, but his response was controlled.  “Not a problem, Doctor.  Assuming that any diving you want to do will be during the days…”  He sent a quick glare Chip’s way as the blond’s shoulders shook with silent laughter.  “Depending on the timing of the dives, either Patterson or Blake can handle an extra hour or two.”


“I agree,” Nelson added.  “It’s not exactly stressful duty.”  Lee sent a kick Chip’s direction as the blond’s shoulders once more moved slightly, but this time Chip moved his legs even faster and Lee missed.  Will chuckled softly, looking at no one in particular.


Dr. Compton sent him a curious glance before looking at Nelson.  “Whatever works.”  She sighed heavily.  “I really don’t mean to be a problem, Admiral.  It’s just…  I’m a bit frustrated that I had to leave early from this assignment.”


Nelson nodded.  “Dr. Harris wasn’t specific when he called to see if we could pick you up…”  He sent her a raised eyebrow, inviting an explanation.


She didn’t totally oblige.  “It became necessary for me to return home sooner than planned.  Because you and Seaview were available I’m at least able to complete a bit more of what I need.”


“The rest of your team can’t pick up the slack?” Lee asked.


“Not really.  The teams are put together so that, while we have common interests, each member focuses on a different aspect of the larger project.  Asking any of them to cover my research would mean that they have to give up some of their own.  I can’t do that.  I’m grateful that you were available.”


“Happy            to oblige,” Nelson told her, with a grin across the table.  “I’ve always had a fondness for whale sharks.”


She nodded.  “So docile and gentle.  Most people hear the word ‘shark’ and they freak out.  And yet, even the Great Whites aren’t hard to get along with as long as you don’t get stupid.”


Nelson smiled.  “Their territory.  You just have to learn to play by their rules.”         


“If it’s all the same,” Chip said, “I’ll just find a different playground.”


“Ah, the ever cautious XO,” Lee teased him.  “Just look at how much you miss because of that attitude.”


“You mean, like the inside of Sick Bay?” Chip asked him innocently, causing both Nelson and Will to laugh.


Lee sent his friend a quick glare, before it changed to a smirk.  “Actually, I was thinking more about some fabulous underwater scenery.”


“Most of which I can see from the Observation Nose,” Chip told him firmly.


“Here, here,” Will chimed in, causing the other three men to laugh.


Nelson took pity on Dr. Compton’s puzzled look.  “Dr. Jamison is a firm believer that the only safe way to be underwater is in a submarine,” he explained.


“No way, Doctor,” she turned and told Will.  “Nothing beats the exhilaration of actually touching nature, not just observing it.”


“Amen,” Lee and Nelson said together, and both smiled.


“On that I have to agree,” Chip acquiesced.  “Dolphins, sea lions, otters, sea horses, and such.  Nice, innocent diving companions.”


“And what were you saying to that wolf eel I saw you talking to the last time we were diving off the Washington State coast?” Lee asked him.  “And that 10-foot long octopus.  Not to mention the killer whales…”


Chip’s fork landing hard on the table stopped Lee’s questions, but caused the two older men to burst out laughing.  Even Dr. Compton smiled.  “I was just doing what I always do,” Chip snarled.  “Watching your back by convincing all of them that you’d make a lousy snack, you’re so skinny.”


Nelson and Will both lost it and guffawed openly.  Even Lee had to grin at Chip’s use of the ‘XO looking after his Skipper’ line, and his grin broadened as Chip also smiled.  But it only took a moment for Lee’s grin to turn into a frown – if only for the sake of keeping up the old complaint.  “I’m not skinny,” he mock-growled.  Then his grin returned.  “Have to keep myself in fighting trim to make sure I’m up for all the craziness the Admiral gets Seaview into.”  He sent Nelson an open look.  It was Nelson’s turn to frown, but he couldn’t keep the sparkle out of his eyes.


Will turned to Dr. Compton.  “As I said before, ignore them all,” he advised. 


“A little hard, when they’re the ones who are supposed to be in charge,” she admitted with skepticism.


Will chuckled.  “It’s not usually this bad, I assure you.”  He sent a look around the table as his fellow officers finally settled down.  “And never fear – Seaview always manages to get home in one piece.”  He realized his mistake as a pained look briefly crossed Lee’s face and he abruptly stood up, his meal only partially eaten.  No one said a word, focusing on their own meals as he took his tray back to the window into the Galley, refilled his coffee mug, and left.  “Rats,” Will muttered, so low that the others almost didn’t hear him.


“Don’t beat yourself up over it, Will,” Nelson told him almost as softly.


“I don’t understand,” Dr. Compton said.


Nelson shook his head.  “No reason you should,” he admitted.  “While Lee always gets Seaview home safely, he’s just upset that not all of the crew could be as lucky.”  He sighed heavily.  “We lost a man on the earlier part of this cruise.  Through no fault of Lee’s,” he hurried on.  “Just…”  He wasn’t quite sure how to explain.


“Lee takes his responsibilities to both boat and crew extremely seriously,” Chip made the attempt.


“It was just an unfortunate accident, but the Skipper took it badly,” Will helped.  “He was finally starting to accept that, and I had to go and open my big fat mouth.”  It was Will’s turn to smack his fork down on the table.


“Easy, Jamie,” Chip told him.


“Lee would be the first to tell you, pussy-footing around the incident doesn’t help,” Nelson added.


“I know,” Will admitted with a sigh.


“He’ll be back under control by the time I get to the Conn,” Chip predicted as he hurried to finish his meal.


“Sirs?” the men were addressed by Cookie.


“Here it comes,” Chip muttered, stuffing the last of his eggs in his mouth.


“What is it, Cookie?” Nelson asked, already knowing the answer.


“Is the Skipper alright?  I mean, he didn’t finish his breakfast, and I didn’t hear him get a call that he was needed somewhere else…”  He hesitated as the other three men got slightly pained looks on their faces.  Especially Will.


“My fault,” Will told the temperamental chef.  “Said something that I shouldn’t have.”


“Could you maybe, sir, not do it again?  He’s just back to eating good.”


Nelson chuckled softly at the man’s proprietary attitude toward his captain’s eating habits.  “It wasn’t on purpose, Cookie.”


“What are you planning for lunch, Cookie?” Chip asked with a grin of his own.


“Was just going to make soup and sandwiches.  Maybe I should come up with something a little more substantial.”


“Works for me,” Chip told him happily.  Nelson and Will grinned, but Cookie walked away still shaking his head.


Everyone felt Seaview come to a halt and slowly start to rise.  “Back to work,” Chip quipped, and headed out.


“If we’ve run into more finners…”  Dr. Compton didn’t finish the thought as she, too, stood and turned to leave.


Chip stopped in his tracks and looked at Nelson.  “Permission to torpedo them, sir?” he asked.  But a grin ruined any seriousness to the question.


Nelson answered in kind.  “Probably a little drastic, no matter the provocation.”  He sent a sympathetic look Dr. Compton’s way.  “But you and Lee are free to use your own initiative.”  Chip’s grin turned positively evil as he left the Wardroom.  Nelson’s grin turned speculative.  “That might have been a mistake,” he told no one in particular.  But he and Will followed the other two forward.


It turned out that Seaview had spotted boats on the surface, but merely dive boats from a couple of local tourist companies.  Lee had chosen to surface well away from them, to let them know that Seaview was in the area without scaring them half to death as well as ruin the divers’ pleasure.  Chip’s prediction that Lee would once more have himself well in hand proved correct, although Chip spent several minutes expounding on various methods of discouraging any future finners they might run into, until Nelson and Will nearly couldn’t contain their laughter at the antics.  Even Dr. Compton was smiling before Lee crossed his arms over his chest and glared at his second-in-command.


“Are you quite through?” he growled.  Both men were perfectly aware that the other knew what Chip had been up to – merely deflecting a bit more of Lee’s self-doubt over Yager’s death.


“I suppose so,” Chip admitted, letting a large grin escape. 


Lee finally chuckled himself, shook his head, and looked at Dr. Compton.  “Do the sport divers create a problem for you, Doctor?”


“Actually, no.  They usually come out for two or three days at a time, depending on the company and the size of their boats.  These two in particular are great to work with.  Mind you, I’m sure that they report finners and other problems mainly because it ultimately affects their businesses.  But hey, whatever works.”  Everyone nodded.  “Might be a good idea if I give them a call, just to be polite.”


“This way, Doctor,” and Nelson took her back to the radio shack.


The waters were calm, but once Dr. Compton had spoken with the captains of both tourist boats Lee once again dove Seaview, although they remained in the area.  Dr. Compton explained that any sudden movements – from anything – had a tendency to spook the gentle Hammerhead sharks, as well as other residents of the area: fishes, sea turtles, and the like.  It was decided that, as time constraints weren’t a major issue, Seaview would remain stationary for at least a few hours and see what developed.  Lee’s eyes started to sparkle at the thought of diving in the lush tropical waters, and Nelson and Chip shared a grin behind his back.


So it was to no one’s surprise that 0945 hours saw he, Dr. Compton, and several lookouts suiting up in the Missile Room.  They were using only light wetsuits in the nearly 80 degree waters, with short-sleeved tops and no leggings.  Lee and Chip shared a private grin as Chip stood by watching the divers gear up – Dr. Compton was even easier to look at in the swimsuit she wore under the wetsuit.


Chip walked over to the dive controls.  “Com check,” he spoke into the mic, and had to bury a snicker as Dr. Compton nearly jumped out of her skin.  “Oops.  Sorry, Doctor.  Should have warned you that our gear has communications links.”


The scientist gave herself a shake.  “Actually, I noticed the lack of a mouthpiece and the larger faceplate.  Just assumed that they were a different style than I’m used to and didn’t pay them any attention.”


“Speak normally if you need anything.  The other divers can hear you, as you can hear them.  We also monitor all dive communications both here and in the Control Room.”


She looked at Lee.  “Don’t give a person a lot of privacy, do you?”  It wasn’t said with reproach, and she sent him a bit of a smile along with it.


He smiled back.  “We don’t always dive in such peaceful places,” he answered.  “A little forewarning tends to be a good thing sometimes.”  She nodded and the five divers headed out.


Lee instantly gave himself over to the underwater world that he so loved.  Black coral reefs were alive with schools of multicolored fishes in infinite varieties – some only seen in the Galapagos Archipelago.  Bright orange seahorses nearly eight inches long stood out from the reefs they lived in.  He grinned as playful sea lions swam by, checking him out.  A couple of green sea turtles made a brief appearance.  At one point he glanced around, finding Dr. Compton intent on watching some squid move along the bottom.  The three lookouts were about 20 feet overhead, fairly motionless, but each watching a different direction.


“Incoming,” one of them said quietly, and Lee looked up to see several Hammerhead sharks approaching.  Dr. Compton also spotted them, and all five divers remained still.  Lee had swum with the odd-looking fish before.  He knew them to be more curious than anything, and easily startled.  As about 30 of the 10-foot long beasts started to gather there was just a moment of unease on Lee’s part.  But just as quickly as they came they were gone again, and Lee went back to exploring the sea life-rich area.  Within a few minutes more Hammerheads appeared, and Lee enjoyed watching their easy grace.


Another ten minutes or so went by when suddenly Lee noticed that all of the small fishes he’d been enjoying watching scattered.  At the same time, Henderson spoke softly.  “Starboard, Skipper,” and Lee looked to his right.  Coming straight at him, but slightly overhead, was a whale shark.  He looked as big as a bus, coming in head-on to Lee.  Around his huge mouth, big enough to have swallowed at least three divers, swam half a dozen remoras.  Lee grinned, not intimidated.


“Oh…” came through his earpiece.


“Friend of yours, Doctor?” he asked.  “No tags that I can see.”  No answer was immediately forthcoming but Lee watched the scientist swim toward the giant, snapping several pictures.


As they both swam closer to the shark she finally spoke.  “Quick, grab the end of this tape so I can get an accurate measurement.”  It was an order, but Lee just smiled to himself and obliged.  He was quite used to a certain admiral’s one-tracked utterances when he had a project occupying his mind.  Lee took the end of the measuring tape and drifted aft while Dr. Compton stayed close to the massive head.  The whale shark seemed totally uninterested in their close presence and continued to swim nonchalantly to wherever he happened to be heading.


“He’s beautiful,” Lee said, out loud but mostly to himself.


“No pets,” Chip said in his ear.  “He won’t fit in any of the Admiral’s specimen tanks.”


“Bummer,” Lee sighed.


“Eesh,” came in Dr. Compton’s disgusted voice, and both Chip and Lee chuckled.


“At his tail fin, Doctor.” Lee announced.  He was mindful of the giant’s seemingly gentle movements, remembering Nelson’s story of getting accidentally smacked.


“Just over 42 feet,” Dr. Compton said, as if to herself.  “Can you get around him?”  That was definitely directed at Lee.


“Where, exactly,” Lee asked.


“Directly in front of the first dorsal fin.  As he swims, the fin not only keeps the tape measure in a stable position but that’s pretty much his widest part.”


“It’s a good thing he’s not sensitive about his weight,” Lee observed, and heard a soft groan that he assumed was Dr. Compton’s reaction to his flippancy.  Lee swam back toward her and then eased around the giant fish, trailing the tape until he met back up with her right over the shark’s back.  Putting their hands together, he read right at 23 feet before he dropped his end of the tape.  It slipped off as the whale shark went on his way, totally oblivious to what had been going on around him.


“Skipper,” came softly once more, and he looked up.  Several Hammerheads were making another appearance.  “No, Skipper.  Down.”  Lee looked where the spotters were indicating.


He and Dr. Compton were swimming in about 80 feet of fairly clear water at that point, having followed the whale shark a ways out from the reef as they took their measurements.  Lee estimated that he was maybe 30 feet from the bottom.  As he looked below he saw several silvery shapes appearing from deeper out.  “Galapagos sharks,” he identified the shapes, although he was fairly sure everyone else knew what they were as well.  As he watched, they continued to appear from the shadows until there were perhaps 50 between he and the seafloor. 


“Doctor, the playground seems to be getting a bit crowded,” he wisecracked.  “Think that it’s time to go home.”  When the expected grumble wasn’t forthcoming he looked around to where he’d last seen her.  Instead of hanging quietly in the water, as Lee was doing, she was headed back toward the reef in the direction that the sharks were traveling.   “Doctor?” he called again a bit louder.  Again she ignored him.  “Terrific,” he muttered.  “All this needs is a few Great Whites to make an appearance.”  He gave a kick and headed in her direction.  The sudden movement startled the Hammerheads and they instantly disappeared.  The reef sharks apparently had more important business on their prehistoric brains.  Or none of them happened to spot him.  Either way, it took Lee only a minute to catch up with Dr. Compton and touch her leg, startling her badly.


“What are you doing?” she yelled at Lee, glaring at him through her mask.


“Trying to get your attention,” Lee told her mildly, refusing to be goaded.  He’d had far too much experience with Nelson’s single-minded focus on a project.  “Is there a problem with your communications system?  I can hear you just fine.”


Her stiff posture relaxed.  “Sorry.  It seems to be working fine.  Guess I just didn’t hear you.”


“Not smart in a place like this – not paying attention to your spotters.”


“Something obviously had the Galapagos sharks on the move.  I wanted to see what it was.”


“And you had Hammerheads overhead.  If they were all on a blood-scent, it wouldn’t be real wise ending up in the middle of a feeding frenzy.”


She looked around.  “I don’t see any Hammerheads,” she told him sarcastically.


“My point exactly,” he answered in kind, before sighing heavily.  “Now that it appears to be not so crowded shall we go see what started the commotion?”


She sent him another glare that he ignored, and continued her swim toward where the Galapagos sharks had headed.  Lee followed behind, and the three spotters maintained a position about 20 feet overhead.


Lee had always been fascinated by the feeding habits of marine species.  On land it was easy to understand how sight, sound, and smell could lead a hunter to its prey.  Underwater, those same senses had to adapt.  How they knew, Lee wasn’t sure.  But ‘something’ had alerted the sharks to a large school of squid on the move, and the dinner bell had obviously been rung.  All five divers hung back, well away from the show, and watched as the sharks made a significant dent in the squid’s numbers before getting their fill and wandering off to whatever and wherever else they chose.  They’d no more left than the whale shark wandered back into the area.  Dr. Compton sent Lee a bit of a triumphant grin as they watched the giant take in huge quantities of water now cloudy with squid bits left over from the smaller sharks’ lunch, straining the water through its gill rakers and out through five large pairs of gills.  The remoras, careful not to get sucked into the mouth easily five feet across, were making short work of any bits of squid that came within range as the shark sucked up the nutrient-rich waters.


“Nice vacuum cleaner,” Lee observed dryly.  Dr. Compton rather obviously heard that, from the glare she briefly sent him before returning to her observations.  With the divers once more fairly still in the water, Hammerheads wandered back into the area.  Preferring to feed on rays, fish, and smaller sharks, they weren’t interested in the remaining squid.  Lee figured that this general area was either part of their normal cruising pattern, or they were simply curious to check out the strange creatures – namely the divers.  Because of their unusually shaped heads and relatively gentle nature they were a major draw for the tourists who yearly flocked to the Galapagos for its diverse, and in some cases unique, flora and fauna.


All too soon, with tanks running low on air, it was time to return to Seaview.  Lee wondered how much trouble it would be to get Dr. Compton to comply.  But with a brief look at her own dive gauge she reluctantly headed back to where Seaview patiently waited.  Lee just shook his head as she practically ripped off her equipment and headed to record the notes she’d been taking on a waterproof device.  As Chief Sharkey started to reprimand her for her careless treatment of the dive gear, Lee stopped him.


“It probably wouldn’t do any good, Chief,” he said, a bit of humor in his voice.  “Dedicated scientist, in capital letters.”


“If she always treats her gear that carelessly she’s going to be ‘dead dedicated scientist’,” the COB complained.


“Agreed,” Lee told him.  “Oh, and would you go over her communications set-up carefully? While I could hear her, she seemed to have an occasional problem hearing me.”


“So I heard on the dive monitor.  Are you sure that it was the equipment?  Sir,” he added, not quite an afterthought.


Lee chuckled openly as he very carefully stowed his gear, set the tanks in the rack to be re-charged, and started getting dressed.  Chief Francis E. Sharkey was a recent addition to the boat’s roster, replacing the original COB, Chief Curley Jones.  The crew was still feeling their way through the change, and not everyone was thrilled with the new Chief.  Lee found him extremely knowledgeable, dedicated to running a tight boat, and he got along with the majority of the crew.  Who he did tick off on occasion were the junior officers, who discovered early on that Sharkey tended to listen to any orders they gave him and then take care of matters his own way.  He was never outright insubordinate.  He just had his own way of doing things.  Lee had few issues with the man as, no matter the methods, the outcome was a smoothly running submarine.  Sharkey was totally devoted to the Admiral, under whom he had served before.  Chip muttered occasionally about the somewhat eclectic solutions Sharkey came up with to particular issues, but Lee would just remind him that if it worked, who cared.


Lee felt Seaview begin to move as he finished dressing, and knew that Chip had her back on the search pattern they’d plotted the night before.  All captains came to rely on their Executive Officers to keep things running smoothly.  Chip was not only a terrific XO he was also an exceptional friend, a bonus to the pressure cooker cruises Lee found himself in the middle of all too often aboard Seaview.  Lee smiled softly as he headed forward, feeling the submarine’s smoothly controlled power through the gentle vibrations under his feet.  He wasn’t sure what he’d done right in his life, to find himself in the best possible job that he could have ever wished for.  He was just grateful that he had.


Lee spotted Admiral Nelson in the Observation Nose talking with Dr. Compton when he entered the aft hatch of the Conn.  Nelson noticed him as well, smiled, and motioned him forward.  Lee still took the time to glance at all the duty stations as well as raise an eyebrow at Chip on his way past the chart table.  The blond just grinned and gave him a thumbs up as Lt. James issued the occasional command to the helm, so Lee finished his amble into the Nose.


“I understand that you had an interesting and productive dive,” Nelson told him as Dr. Compton turned and sat down at her monitoring equipment.


“Dr. Compton seemed pleased,” Lee answered back mildly as the two of them moved back toward the Conn, stopping at the bottom of the spiral stairs.  Nelson raised an eyebrow at Lee’s less than enthusiastic response, and Lee finally smiled.  “Its amazing out there, sir.  Beautiful, breathtaking…”  His grin broadened.  “And a little scary all at the same time.”


It was Nelson’s turn to grin.  “When we’re growing up all we ever hear is how terrible sharks are, how bloodthirsty, how single-minded they are about eating everything in sight.”


Lee nodded.  “Even now, when I know better, it was a little spooky swimming with a school of Hammerheads above and reef sharks below.  We won’t even mention how easily I’d have fit inside the mouth of that whale shark.”  His grin turned positively sheepish.  Nelson chuckled openly and backhanded him lightly on the shoulder.  “I mean, I’ve swam with Gray whales and Humpbacks.  Way bigger than this guy,” Lee continued.  “But just the fact that he’s a shark…”  He shrugged, but was stopped from saying anything more by the intercom.


“Chief Sharkey to Captain Crane.” 


Lee reached for the nearest mic.  “Go ahead, Chief,” he said, back in full command mode.


“I could find absolutely nothing wrong with the Doctor’s communication equipment, sir.  It appears to be functioning correctly.  I also checked yours, just to be sure.  Same results.”


Lee sighed heavily.  “Thanks, Chief.  Carry on.”


“Aye, aye, sir,” and the com went dead.


Nelson sent another raised eyebrow Lee’s way.  “We seemed to have a problem during the dive,” Lee explained.  “There were times when Dr. Compton couldn’t hear me.”


“Did it create problems?”


Lee carefully controlled his expressions.  “She can be very single-minded, sir.”


A slow, easy grin spread across Nelson’s face.  “Remind you of anyone in particular, Commander?”


“I don’t know what you mean, sir,” Lee answered, maintaining a straight face.


Nelson chuckled.  “Of course not.  Forgive me for asking.”  He sent Lee a very knowing look, turned, and headed up the stairs.  Lee took a deep breath and went back to the chart table.


* * * *


Chip Morton was a happy man.  Well, relatively speaking at least, considering everything that had happened over the last several weeks.  His stressed out best friend had spent a relaxing morning diving, an activity almost guaranteed to put him in a better frame of mind.  Young Lt. James was proving to be a great addition to the boat’s command staff.  Oh, he was still quite green and had a lot to learn.  But he was bright, got along well with the other juniors, and had a naturally easy way with the rest of the crew.  He even got along with the new COB, something that was proving difficult for some of the other junior officers.


And best of all, after an interrupted breakfast - a meal Lee just couldn’t afford to miss right now, no matter how much he insisted that he wasn’t skinny – Lee had tucked into Cookie’s lunch of braised beef tips in an herb gravy, poured over noodles, with an appetite that almost matched Chip’s own.  Chip had trouble keeping the grin off of his face as the two sat eating.


It didn’t help at all that Nelson and Doc walked into the Wardroom halfway through the meal, and Will’s face lit up at the sight of Lee stuffing a large forkful of the flavorful mixture into his mouth.  Cookie’s face had split into a wide grin the instant he’d spotted how much Lee had piled on his plate, but at least he’d gone back into the Galley where the unusual expression wouldn’t draw attention.


Luckily, Will got his face back under semi-control before Lee realized he’d become the center of attention.  Unluckily, Admiral Nelson chose to comment anyway.  “Lunch must be especially good today,” he said to Will as the two older men turned to fill their own plates, but still loud enough for the two younger ones to easily hear him.


Will nodded, his eyes sparkling.  “Either that, or our Captain worked up an appetite chasing sharks this morning.”


Chip couldn’t contain himself any longer.  “Actually, Jamie, it was Lee making sure that he wasn’t the reason behind the sharks losing their appetite.  They’d spit him out the instant they got their teeth into his scrawny hide.  And you know how Lee hates to harm defenseless animals.”


“Lt. Commanders don’t come under the heading of defenseless,” Lee muttered, and the only thing that stopped him from whapping his friend upside the head was Nelson’s open laughter.  Lee gave him a look that was half offended, half sheepish, and went back to polishing off his lunch.


Nelson decided that it might be a wise idea to change the subject.  No Dr. Compton – again?”


Both Lee and Chip shrugged, but as Lee once more had his mouth full it was Chip who answered.  “Seems she couldn’t stand being away from her equipment that long.  Higgins took a plate up to her.”


“It’s almost like…” Lee started, and then hesitated.  Three expectant expressions met his, and he shrugged again.  “I just get this feeling that she’s trying to pack as much research as she can into these next few days.  Almost like it’s her last shot – like she won’t get another chance.”


“She’s mentioned going on with her team next year,” Nelson said as he sat down opposite his young captain.


“It’s not so much what she’s said as a feeling I get…”  He hesitated again.


“More than just dedicated scientist on the trail of something big?” Nelson asked innocently.  Well, his expression was benign enough, but the other three heard the teasing tone behind it as he focused on Lee.


Lee touched his napkin to his lips, mostly to smother the instant grin Nelson’s little jab elicited before he answered with mock sternness.  “I learned to put up with that attitude long ago, sir.”


At that point both Chip and Will totally surrendered, and laughed out loud.  They’d all locked horns with Nelson when he was so totally focused on his research that he’d have died if his body didn’t know how to breathe on its own.  Even Nelson laughed as Lee finally grinned.


“Care for seconds, Skipper?”  Cookie poked his head through the connecting door from the Galley.


“Actually, yes, thank you Cookie.  Just a bit more, please.  I seem to have worked up an appetite this morning.”


“That’s what happens when you have to swim fast enough not to become shark food,” Chip teased him.


“You just got through explaining that they’d spit me out,” Lee grumbled, before getting an even more disgusted look on his face.  “Actually I did just fine.  It was swimming after Dr. Compton when she didn’t hear me or the spotters.”


“Problems?” Will asked.


“Not really,” Lee admitted.  “I thought that there might have been something wrong with her equipment but Chief Sharkey couldn’t find anything.”  He sent his CMO a shrug.  “Mostly just frustrating,” he admitted.  “She was so focused on where the reef sharks were headed that she didn’t have a clue the Hammerheads were overhead.”  Chip started to say something, but Lee cut him off.  “Yeah, I know.  The Hammerheads shouldn’t be a problem.  They’re not that aggressive.  But what if it had been a Great White?  She could have swam right into him and never realized that he was there.”


“If it had been a female Great White there would have been no problem,” Chip deadpanned.  “We all know female anythings head straight for you.”


As Nelson and Will smothered laughter – unsuccessfully – into their coffee mugs, Lee slowly put down his fork and glared at his best friend.  Chip’s expression went even more innocent and Lee surrendered.  He was rarely a match for Chip’s warped sense of humor.  Sighing heavily, Lee once more picked up his fork.  It wasn’t until then that he noticed Cookie was glaring at Chip – probably from his smart aleck comment having interrupted Lee’s eating.  Lee sent the chef a grin as he forked in another mouthful of the pasta mixture.  That seemed to smooth Cookie’s obviously ruffled feathers and he headed back for the Galley.


Light conversation continued between the four men until they’d all finished eating.  Nelson was just about to head for his lab, Will to Sick Bay, and Lee and Chip back to the Conn, when once more Lt. James came over the intercom.  Conn to Skipper.”  This time, at least, there was no sign of panic in his voice.


“Now what’s she done?” Lee nonetheless muttered as he rose and grabbed the mic.  “I’m in the Wardroom, Lieutenant,” he answered, his command voice now in place.


“We’ve spotted another whale shark, sir.”


“Male or female?” Chip wanted to know, before Lee glared him into silence.  He did catch the wink exchanged between Admiral and CMO as they both headed out the door, continuing to grin.


Lee just shook his head.  “I’ll be right there,” he told the young lieutenant.  “I know that you studied how Mr. Morton set Seaview to follow the first one.  I’ll expect you to be in the same position by the time I get there,” and he sent his own wink Chip’s way.


“Aye, aye, sir,” James acknowledged.  “Conn out.”


“I think we’ve got us a good one,” Lee told Chip as they both headed for the door.


“As long as I don’t let you mess him up too badly,” Chip sniped back.  “Look what you let him do yesterday.”  They were the only two in the Wardroom, and Cookie wasn’t in sight, so Lee smacked the blond upside the head and they both headed forward laughing.


Lt. James didn’t disappoint either of them.  Chip stopped at the chart table to officially take command of the watch.  Everything was in perfect order.  Lee, after just a glance, continued on through the half-open crash doors into the Nose, his first sight the huge tail fin of a whale shark.  “Another friend of yours, Doctor?” he asked the researcher.  She was flipping back and forth through her picture book.


“I’m not sure,” she admitted.  “He’s similar to M-19…”  Her voice trailed off as she flipped back a couple pages, trying to match markings with the animal in front of them.


“Family member, perhaps?” Lee asked.  “Do similar markings follow familial lines?”


She frowned at him a moment, and then went back to her notes.  “That’s never been mentioned in any of the research,” she admitted.  “And since they tend to be solitary animals it would be hard to prove…”  Again her voice trailed off.


“So this could be Big Brother coming through on a visit.”  Lee knew that he was being a bit whimsical but he was still feeling the after-effects of the lighthearted conversation at lunch.


“Time for another dive,” she announced, ignoring the comment.


“Let your lunch settle,” he said firmly, having noticed the empty plate.  “He doesn’t appear to be in any great hurry.  And we can go a good deal faster than he can.”


She sent him a disgusted look at that.  “The more time we waste following him the further out of the search area we get, and the less of it we’ll eventually have time to get to.”  She picked up her underwater recording gear and headed out.


Lee shook his head and grabbed her arm as she tried to walk past him.  The glare he got for the action would have melted steel at 50 paces and he released her, but still somewhat blocked her path.  “We’re not on a strict timetable, Doctor.  It’s not like we have only X number of hours to complete the mission.  You have plenty of time to complete your research before we leave the area and head home.  And,” he added a bit more firmly, “we’ll do it safely.”


“You don’t understand,” she started to complain.


“Then why don’t you explain,” he cut her off.


Instead she just closed her eyes a moment, took a deep breath, and then looked at Lee with a much more relaxed expression on her face.  “You’re right, of course.  I apologize for my abruptness.”  Lee just shrugged and sent her a soft smile.  “Will you be diving with me again?” she asked.


Lee had to instantly council his face to stop from grinning broadly – the tone of the Doctor’s voice left little doubt as to what she wanted the answer to be.  “Actually,” Lee told her once he felt that he could control his own voice, “I thought perhaps Chip might enjoy the dive.”  He saw Chip perk up at the comment, said loudly enough on purpose for the blond to hear.  “He doesn’t get nearly the chance to dive that I do.”


“That’s ‘cause you hog them all,” Chip said, walking forward.  Lee just chuckled.  “I’ll be ready to head out in about 45 minutes,” Chip told the Doctor.


Lee saw her take another deep breath but all she said was, “That sounds about perfect,” and she turned back to the windows, grabbing up her notebook and starting to make a visual record.


Lee hung around the Conn, watching Lt. James maneuver Seaview to shadow the meandering whale shark until both he and Chip were comfortable that the young man had things well in hand.  They then headed for the Missile Room so that Chip could get ready.  Chief Sharkey had been alerted so a watchdog team was already assembled and suited up.  Dr. Compton showed up just as Chip was slipping on his tanks, and it only took her a moment to do so as well.  Lee saw them off safely and returned to the Control Room.


He was casually monitoring the dive communications as he wandered around the Conn visiting with the men at the various stations when one of the watch divers, Henderson, called out in a half-panic, “Great White, incoming.”  Lee immediately went forward to watch out the windows.  All the divers were holding station, eyes glued to the 20-foot long killer who was actually just meandering along, himself.


“Leave him alone,” came in Dr. Compton’s ordered tones.  “He’s just curious.  If he gets too close, reach out and tap him on the nose with your hand.”


“What?” was shouted at her by all of the other divers, as well as being echoed in the Conn.


“Chill,” she told everyone.  “It’s an accepted approach.  We’ve done it lots of times, as long as the White isn’t being aggressive.”


“Sounds like a good way to lose an arm,” Chip was heard muttering.


“Trust me.  My team and I are old hands at this,” the scientist replied in a bored voice.  “Cdr. Morton, I need your help with the last measurement.”


Lee was just picking up the mic to call the whole bunch of them back in – he didn’t care what Dr. Compton was assuring them; his men didn’t swim around with Great Whites for no other reason than to scratch some scientist’s personal itch – when Nelson’s voice stopped him.  “It has actually been proven to work, Lee,” he said, walking up behind Lee, obviously having heard the present situation.  “Mind you, I wouldn’t want to make a habit of it, or try it in the middle of a feeding frenzy.  But I’ve read several reports of it being quite effective in these kinds of simple encounters.”


“I still don’t want my men out there,” Lee insisted.


“Just give it a chance, Lee.  Dr. Compton is much more familiar with diving in these waters, around this accumulation of fish, than we are.”


“Harrumph,” Lee did his best Nelson impression, at which the Admiral grinned.  But all Lee said over the mic was, “Stay on your toes out there.”


“Aye, aye, sir,” came back instantly.


Lee double-clicked the mic.  “Sharkey?”


“Here, Skipper.”


“The first sign of trouble, I want the divers in – no matter what Dr. Compton says,” Lee ordered.


“Aye, sir,” came back promptly, although Lee could hear just the trace of hesitancy in the COB’s voice.


“Don’t worry, Chief.  She’ll come in, even if I have to go out and drag her in.  And if she wants to yell, she can do it at me,” he added.  “She has no cause to be griping at crewmen who are merely following my order.” 


As Nelson smiled, Sharkey gave a crisp “Aye, aye, sir.”  Lee hung the mic back on its clip, and raised a questioning eyebrow at the Admiral.


Nelson tried to cover his smile but without much success.  “I don’t think that I remember to tell you often enough, Lee,” he attempted to explain the expression, “how well you handle Command.”


Lee just shrugged.  “Thank you, sir,” he said, somewhat self-consciously.


It caused Nelson’s smile to broaden.  “Didn’t mean to embarrass you, lad.  It’s just a pleasure to watch you work.”  He glanced at his watch.  “And speaking of work…”  He sent Lee a quick grin and headed up the spiral stairs.


Lee just shook his head.  Sometimes the Admiral said the strangest things.  While he appreciated that Nelson thought him doing a good job running the boat, it was the timing that Lee wasn’t overly sure of.  And that smile…  Oh well, he thought to himself, sometimes its better not to totally understand Admiral Nelson.


Lee went back to focusing on what he could see out of Seaview’s front windows, and listening to the dive communications.  Happily, the Great White seemed more interested in just swimming lazily around, watching what the strangers were doing in his domain, than actively trying to have any of them for an afternoon snack.  Lee was still relieved when Dr. Compton completed her examination of the whale shark and the divers came back inside.  Lee didn’t go down to the Missile Room, merely called down to see if Dr. Compton wanted to continue following the giant or going on with the grid pattern search.  When she chose the latter, saying that she thought she had everything that she needed from this one, Lee stood back and watched Lt. James put Seaview back on the charted course.


Chip appeared not too long afterward.  Once he’d satisfied himself that the young lieutenant wasn’t heading them for Australia – not that he doubted Lee wouldn’t already have caught that and corrected the problem, but just because – he walked forward into the Nose with Lee and they both poured themselves a cup of coffee.


“Enjoy yourself?” Lee asked innocently.  Chip just grinned at him.  “They really are incredible beasts, aren’t they?”


“And the rest of the scenery wasn’t too shabby, either,” Chip said dreamily.


“If you like big teeth,” Lee said dryly.


“I wasn’t talking about the Great White,” Chip grumbled, and Lee openly chuckled.  They were interrupted as the object of Chip’s reverie scurried down the spiral stairs.  “We’re back on your search pattern, Doctor,” Chip told her brightly.


She didn’t say anything; just headed straight for her tracking equipment.  As soon as she was satisfied that it was operational she turned to Chip.  “When will we be back on the search grid?” she asked in a demanding voice.


Lee carefully controlled his expression and focused on Chip, not daring to look at her for fear of frowning.  Chip wasn’t quite as tactful.  “I just told you that we already were,” he said, slowly and carefully.


“Oh.  Sorry.  Didn’t hear you.”  She slipped her headset over her ears, effectively dismissing both men.


“Still want to take her home for a pet?” Lee asked Chip very softly, his face turned away from her.


“Harrumph.”  It was Chip’s turn to do his Nelson impression, and they walked back into the Conn.


* * * *


“What’s wrong, Jamie?”


Seaview’s CMO choked on a swallow of coffee and looked across the Wardroom table.  “I do believe that’s usually my line, Skipper,” he half-grumbled.


Lee smiled.  “You just don’t usually look that worried unless there’s a stubborn case in Sick Bay.  And as far as I know, I haven’t done anything too bad lately.”  That caused Will to snort and send his CO a grin.


The two men were dawdling over dinner.  Surprisingly, Lee hadn’t had any trouble talking Dr. Compton into leaving her equipment long enough for the meal.  She and Admiral Nelson had gotten into a discussion of ‘swimming with sharks’ strategies, had finished eating fairly quickly, and had headed for Nelson’s lab so that the Admiral could show her some of the research he’d gathered over the years on effective yet non-biohazardous shark repellants.  Chip had returned to the Conn shortly after.  Seaview was headed into an area of shallow shoals with deeper open areas between – a great place for shark hunting but not particularly healthy for Seaview’s paint job.  Normally Lee would have gone with him but he’d seen Chip eyeing the last piece of cherry pie Cookie had set out and, just to be ornery, had decided he’d have seconds – much to Cookie’s delight. 


Will frequently lingered over a meal, reading medical journals or just casually observing the crew around him.  Part of his job, as well as a personal ongoing research project, had to do with how small confined groups of people managed to function and maintain a healthy working environment.  Submarines sure fit that category.  So far he’d been impressed with how well Seaview’s crew worked together.  There were several obvious reasons.  The mostly research vessel didn’t usually deploy for months at a time like most Navy ships and subs.  Compared to other submersibles Seaview, with her much larger size, didn’t confine men into the same kind of cramped conditions that could breed a pressure cooker-like atmosphere.


And, Will was quick to admit, a great deal of the success Seaview maintained had to do with the Command staff.  No matter the position aboard, potential crewmen were required to go through several interviews even after they cleared a security check, to screen out any obvious problems.  If they made it through those, the final two interviews were with the XO and CO.  Chip, especially, was tough to get past.  He had a wonderful knack for reading people, and very few problematic applicants got past him.


Lee was also extremely adept at judging applicants, but he came at it from a slightly different direction.  Will figured, although he’d never sat down and talked to Lee about it, that Lee probably assumed that once a prospective employee made it as far as him it was a safe bet that the person would make an acceptable member of the crew.  Lee chose to concentrate on what the person considered important, and on what he wanted to get out of his time at NIMR.  Once underway, when his duties allowed, Lee spent a part of each day wandering around the boat visiting with the crew.  His flair for drawing others out, encouraging them to talk about their lives, family, ambitions, and such went a long way to bonding Seaview’s crew into a unit that understood they could count on each other in any situation.  No one was left out; no emotional wounds were allowed to fester to the point of causing serious problems.


Will buried a smile behind his coffee mug.  Of course, when the situation is reversed and Lee’s the one in need of a little emotional support, he tends to get miffed at his friends ‘mother-henning’ him, as he refers to it.  Oh well, he told himself, and let Lee see some of the smile, just because he knew Lee would take it as part of the normal sparring that went on between the two.


But he also realized that Lee was expecting an answer to his earlier question.  “Just thinking about Dr. Compton,” he finally replied, then hurried on as Lee started to put down his fork with still half of the piece of pie uneaten.  “Nothing wrong, Skipper.  She just seems…”  Will wasn’t quite sure how to finish the thought.


But Lee seemed to be on the same wavelength – a knack that Will had noted on all too frequent an occasion.  “She seems…not so much preoccupied,” he admitted.  “More like there’s something going on that she’s not admitting to.”


Will nodded.  “That’s what I couldn’t quite put into words,” he admitted.  He buried another smile as Lee went back to eating the pie.  Cookie’s frown as Lee had started to put down the fork had obviously been noted.  “It’s not the simple single-focus that we deal with sometimes with Admiral Nelson.”


“Simple?” Lee asked with a grin as he stuffed in another bite of pie.


“Perhaps I should rephrase that,” Will admitted, and grinned as well.  “I don’t get the feeling that there’s a problem,” he continued, as he was only too aware that Lee worried when there were matters around him that could potentially cause trouble.  “She’s just…”  He still wasn’t sure what he was trying to say.


“Same here,” Lee mumbled around the last bite of pie.  When he’d swallowed, and polished off the last of his coffee as well, he stood.  “She just puts us all a little off-kilter and we don’t quite know what to do about it.”


Will sent him a speculative look.  “You know, Skipper, if you ever want to give up NIMR you’d make a great counselor.  You read people so well.”


Lee glared at him, mock though both men knew that it was.  “Not very likely, Doctor,” he muttered darkly.  But he couldn’t hold it in the face of Will’s instant chuckling and he headed out with a smile on his face.


It took a bit for Will to realize that Cookie had come back into the Wardroom, a worried look on his face.  “What’s wrong, Cookie?  You should be ecstatic.  It’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen the Skipper pack away that much food at one time.  Even if it was just a prank to keep the XO from getting the last of the pie.”


“Oh, I always put an extra piece back for Mr. Morton,” Cookie admitted.  “Cherry is his favorite.  He’ll be down about 2030 hours for it.”  Will laughed outright.  Seaview’s chef had a reputation for being a real hard case.  But Will knew that he took very good care of everyone aboard, and the officers in particular.  Of course, it was also a good thing to keep the Exec on your side, and the occasional special extras were an excellent way to do it.  “I was just wondering, sir…  You don’t actually think that the Skipper would ever leave, do you?”  There was genuine worry in the cook’s voice.


“Only in a body bag,” Will said before he could stop himself, and he and Cookie both shuddered at that thought.  There had been a time or two when that outcome almost came to pass.  Will hurried on to more pleasant thoughts.  “Not to worry, Cookie.  There isn’t anyone else who could put up with this boat’s craziness.  He’s perfectly aware of how needed he is here, and would never in a million years think of leaving us to the whims of others.”


“He does do a really good job of taking care of us,” Cookie admitted.


“Just as we do everything we can to take care of him,” Will said.  “So long as we don’t get caught,” he added.  Both men grinned, and headed back to their respective duties.


But as Sick Bay was happily quiet at the moment, Will decided that his duty for the next couple of hours would be to take a book up to the Observation Nose.  Will had always thought that an absolutely wonderful name for that part of the boat, but for a totally different reason than everyone else.  From there he could ostensibly read, while getting a feeling for Seaview’s pulse – the atmosphere in the Control Room.  This evening it had the added bonus of letting him quietly observe Dr. Compton.  As he’d admitted to Lee, ‘something’ about her set his inner senses to quivering.


As he came down the spiral stairs, poured himself a cup of coffee, and settled into a chair, his back to the starboard bulkhead so he could see both into the Conn and out the front windows, all was quiet.  Dr. Compton barely registered his presence before returning her concentration to her equipment.  Lee and Chip, standing at the chart table, sent him inquisitive glances.  He just smiled, showed them his book, and took a seat.  He saw CO and XO say something to each other, and both grinned.  Those two, Will muttered one of his stock phrases to himself, and sent a grin back.  Such a close friendship between senior officers might not work in a lot of military situations.  In fact, it was one of the reasons officers were rotated every 18 months or so.  But on Seaview it flourished.  Both young men were better for the other’s presence.  They supported each other, grounded each other, and Seaview and her crew reaped the benefits.


As Will opened his book – this evening’s selection an older novel by Dick Francis called Straight that he decided to re-read as he enjoyed the author so much – he saw Lee head out the aft hatch.  He suspected that Lee was off on one of his evening tours of the boat, and smiled.  While Seaview’s Skipper was likely to show up in any part of the boat, at any time of day or night, Will could count on the fingers of one hand the times Lee had ever shown his face in Sick Bay without a member of his crew being incarcerated there.  He supposed that he could take it personally, as Lee wasn’t checking the boat for problems as much as he was just strolling around, visiting with the crew.  Of course Will saw him frequently in the Wardroom, and the corpsmen said that they visited with him in the Crew’s Mess where he stopped in for coffee once in awhile.  Humm, Will suddenly thought, between the Wardroom, Crew’s Mess, and the carafe Cookie keeps here in the Nose, maybe I’d better start watching the Skipper’s caffeine intake.  Of course, and he half-grinned, that would go over like a lead balloon.  His grin spread.  But when has that ever stopped me?


He looked up to find Nelson standing next to him – his woolgathering had covered the Admiral’s approach.  “And just what are you plotting?” Nelson asked with a grumble in his voice.  Will gave him his best “who, me?” look, and Nelson snorted.  “Don’t even try,” he ordered, but a soft smile spread across his face as he poured his own mug of coffee and sat down on the window ledge.  “That look might fool the younger men.”


Will grinned.  “Nah.  Doesn’t work on them, either,” he admitted.  Both men chuckled, but Nelson raised an eyebrow, inviting an explanation.


Somehow Will didn’t think admitting that he was considering starting to monitor intake of Cookie’s patent brew would go over too well with the one person aboard who drank even more of the stuff than Lee.  So he just sent a smug little grin back.  Usually that look would convince the recipient that it might not be such a good idea finding out what caused Will to send it and the conversation would be dropped.  It worked this time as well.  Nelson did send him one more quick speculative glance, but then smiled and gave a small nod.  “Nice to have things so peaceful around here.”


“Amen to that,” Will answered, adamantly but quietly.  Both men were well aware of how easily conversations in the Nose carried back to the Conn.  Not that either cared all that much if they were overheard.  But too much noise interfered with the Duty Crew possibly missing something on their instrumentation so conversations tended, for the most part, to be kept to low tones.  “Hopefully it will stay that way.”  He sighed heavily.  “Sure would be nice for a change.”


Nelson nodded and took a sip of coffee.  He ignored the quick flick of humor that crossed Will’s face – it was obvious that Will wasn’t going to share whatever was causing his jovial mood.  Nelson just acknowledged to himself that it was good to see his CMO this relaxed as well as the rest of the boat.


They were interrupted as Dr. Compton’s concentration on her equipment went suddenly from relaxed to acute, at the same time Lancaster on Sonar alerted Chip.  “Doctor?” Nelson sent the scientist a raised eyebrow.  When he was totally ignored, Chip supplied the answer.


“One of the tagged sharks,” he told Nelson, and softly gave the necessary orders to bring Seaview in behind the giant.  Outside lights, which had been only about half-lit, were brought on full.  Nelson stood and watched with Will and it was only moments before the whale shark came gradually into view as Seaview slowed, coming in behind to follow as she had the others.


“Impressive,” Will told his boss.


“Sure you don’t want to go out and pet him?”  Neither man had heard Lee come in to stand right behind them.


Nelson chuckled as Will gave Lee an emphatic “No!”  He added an only slightly more civilized “Thank you, anyway,” to which Lee’s smile broadened considerably.


“Ah, come on, Jamie,” Chip teased him, coming forward.  Nelson took a quick look into the Conn and saw that Lt. O’Brien had taken over the watch.  “He’s just an overgrown sea otter at heart.  All cute and cuddly.”  He laughed outright as whatever Will’s response to that was muttered unintelligibly into his coffee mug.


Lee walked closer to Dr. Compton, waiting until she looked up before speaking.  “How do you want to handle this, Doctor?” he asked.


“Could we follow him for awhile?  Maybe 30-40 minutes?  I just want to get a fix on what he’s up to, if anything, before we go back to the search grid.”


“Not a problem.  Just let Lt. O’Brien,” and Lee nodded toward the Conn, “or one of us know,” and a nod went toward where Nelson, Will, and Chip were, “when you’re ready to move on.”  His only answer was a flip of the scientist’s hair as she went back to studying her notes.  He glanced into the Conn and got a nod from O’Brien that he’d heard the instructions, before walking back to the other three in time to hear Chip’s next wisecrack.


“Bummer.  No time to go out and play.  Guess you’ll just have to wait for the next one, Doc.”


Before Will could respond with more than a fierce frown, another large form entered the light around Seaview’s nose.  “Still want to go out and play?” Lee asked his XO as they watched a Great White wander past the window, seemingly checking them out.


“Spoilsport,” Chip told the shark, and headed back into the Conn.  The others, including Will, chuckled softly.


“Which reminds me,” Nelson said, turning to Lee.  “I looked up a couple of the reports detailing handling a non-combative Great White.  While they talked more along the lines of using an implement of some sort instead of your hand – like, maybe the butt end of a spear gun – to tap the shark’s nose and get him to turn away, they still documented its effectiveness.”  He grinned.  “I laid them on your desk on the way down.”


Lee frowned as Nelson was talking, but he lowered his eyes fractionally.  “Thank you, sir.”  His expression turned suddenly mischievous.  “I’ll be sure to pass them on to Chip, and have him give them to Jamie when he’s done.”


“Sounds like a plan,” Nelson said, trying with limited success to keep his own humor under control.  Will set his now-empty coffee mug on the table none too gently and opened his book, ignoring them both.  Nelson chuckled and headed back up the spiral staircase.  Lee ever so briefly laid a hand on Will’s shoulder before heading back to whatever he’d been up to when he’d felt Seaview slow.


* * * *


The search pattern Lee and Chip had plotted turned out to be extremely productive.  Seaview ran across two more whale sharks during Seaview’s night.  One was ‘Big Bertha’.  The other was tagged as well so Patterson and Blake merely made notes and didn’t bother Dr. Compton.  She was a bit miffed at that when she discovered it the next morning.  At least Lee thought so.  But she kept any grumbling she might have felt like uttering to herself and quietly accompanied Lee and Chip to the Wardroom for breakfast.


They’d barely put two bites of food in their mouths when Lt. Keeter called down that they’d found another one – this one untagged.  Dr. Compton threw down her fork and went forward immediately.  Lee sighed, told Chip to finish his breakfast, and followed her only a bit more slowly.  The shark turned out to be another new one to her research and she insisted, since she’d not actually eaten a meal, on an immediate dive to take pictures and measurements.  Lee considered arguing, decided that it wasn’t worth the effort, and went with her.  He really did love diving – especially in waters as warm and abundantly populated with wildlife as this area was.


But they’d barely measured what turned out to be an apparently adolescent female – on the smallish side anyway, at just under 30 feet in length – when the spotters announced company.  A large school of Galapagos sharks were making an appearance, as well as a fairly significant number of Hammerheads.  Their swimming seemed more purposeful to Lee than on the other dives.  Kowalski, one of this morning’s spotters, mentioned having seen a large school of rockfish off to the divers’ right, where the sharks were headed.  Lee called a halt to activity as apparently the breakfast bell had been rung.  Several of the Galapagos sharks buzzed the spotters and Lee decided that, discretion being the better part of not becoming fish food, the dive needed to be terminated.


Dr. Compton disagreed – loudly.  Complaining bitterly that they were all perfectly safe as long as no one got stupid, she ignored Lee’s order to retreat carefully back to Seaview and use the submarine as an observation post.  Instead, she continued to follow the whale shark, snapping pictures and taking notes.  When Lee ordered her, in his best Command voice, to return to Seaview, she told him snidely that if he was afraid, to take his men and go; that she’d be back when she was finished.


Hearing the exchange, everyone in both the Missile Room and the Conn practically held their breath.  Most of them could count on one hand the number of times they’d heard that particular tone in their CO’s voice.  Anyone who was smart went out of their way to make sure that they didn’t!  While all were perfectly aware that Lee had a temper, he so rarely lost it with his crew.  Most discipline on board was left in the Exec’s all too capable hands.  Those in the Conn had the added discomfort of watching Chip physically shudder at Lee’s order for Dr. Compton to get her six back to Seaview – NOW!  Her irreverent reply to go blow it out his ear, heard all too clearly by everyone, had Chip reaching for the mic and calling Admiral Nelson to the Conn.


Lee wanted nothing so much right at that point than to grab Dr. Compton, shake her until her teeth rattled, and kick her backside all the way back to the sub.  His years of experience diving kept him from anything quite so brash.  While the Hammerheads might scurry away at sudden movement the reef sharks, if they were actively on the hunt, would react just the opposite.  He took a long breath to get himself back under control as best he could, and headed silently and carefully in the scientist’s direction.


She saw him coming and apparently assumed that he’d acquiesced to her wishes.  She was therefore surprised when he grabbed her arm none too gently.  “I told you,” he growled, biting his tongue to remain at least semi-civil, “to get back to the boat.  This dive is over.”


Unfortunately, Lee could almost have predicted what happened next.  Dr. Compton screamed angrily, struggling against Lee’s grip on her arm as he tried to pull her back towards where Seaview laid waiting.  Kowalski swam smoothly but as rapidly as he could down to help out.  But he hadn’t yet reached the pair when the scientist’s frantic gestures caught the attention of the reef sharks.


Fortunately just the tail end of the pack and not the whole group.  Lee figured that Compton was so focused on her anger at Lee that she didn’t realize that half a dozen or so of the sleek reef sharks zipped up to see what the commotion was all about.  He twisted to put his body between the sharks and the scientist and almost instantly felt one bump his leg. 


His relief that it was only a bump was short-lived.  As the first shark turned sharply away it was followed in by the rest.  Lee felt the pinch of a quick bite on the back of his left calf at the same time there was another, slightly harder, nibble on the back of his right shoulder.  He figured it was finding a shark inches from her face that finally caused Compton to quit struggling.  Kowalski arrived at the same time, with the other two lookouts only a few feet behind.  Lee almost smiled to himself despite his anger at Compton for starting the whole mess in the first place as the three lookouts positioned themselves facing outward, with Lee and the doctor in the center, and ever so gently discouraged the sharks from any further snacking on their skipper by poking them away with the ends of their spear guns.  It would have been so easy for one of them to have nailed one of the attacking sharks.  But they’d used their heads and not put any further blood in the water.  Lee decided that he couldn’t be hurt all that badly, as easily as the group gave up their attack and headed off to join the rest now that the extra divers had taken all the fun out of their hunt.


Dr. Compton remained silent as she snatched up her record-taking equipment, thankfully attached to her diving belt by cords.  It was just as well.  As angry as Lee was at that moment he would have made her leave it where it fell.  He finally realized, now that everything had calmed down, that both Chief Sharkey and Admiral Nelson were yelling at the dive party, trying to find out what was going on.  He figured that it was Nelson’s frustrated tone that had the three lookouts waiting for Lee to answer, perfectly aware that their Skipper was one of the few people they knew of who could and would stand up to the volcanic-tempered Admiral.  Lee merely responded that everything was under control and that they were on their way in.  He did, finally, smile as Kowalski had enough nerve to ask the Chief to have one of the corpsmen meet them in the Missile Room.  By asking for a corpsman and not Doc, it would tell everyone aboard that while there were injuries, they were minor.  The two bites were stinging badly from the salt water, but Lee still didn’t think that they were anything to worry about.


Apparently those aboard Seaview had a different opinion.  Not only was Jamie waiting when the hatch door was opened, but Chip and Nelson were there as well.  Lee sighed heavily.  They’d all have to wait until he got done giving Dr. Compton a piece or three of his mind about what had just happened.


But several things occurred all at once, disrupting Lee’s plans.  Dr. Compton had been unbuckling her scuba harness even as the last of the water drained out of the dive chamber, and the hatch barely started to open before she shoved against it, nearly bowling over Chief Sharkey in the process.  Practically throwing her gear on the deck she stormed up to Nelson and started yelling.


“Of all the stupid, irresponsible stunts to pull on a dive…”


Nelson cut off her tirade in a voice even louder and angrier.  “I’m so glad that you are admitting your mistakes, Doctor.”  He glared at her.  “It will save me the trouble of pointing them out!”  He glanced at her diving gear.  “Not to mention the disgusting habit you have of carelessly tossing your diving gear around.  I’m surprised that you haven’t drowned long ago, with your ignorance of the simplest of safety regulations.”


The instant the yelling had started everyone else, including Lee, had gone totally silent.  The seamen present started looking for a convenient hole to crawl into.  Lee had just stood still until Chip took one arm and Will the other, and sat him down on the nearest bench.  Chip unbuckled Lee’s gear as Will started a cursory exam.  Chief Sharkey, after closing the hatch once all the divers had exited, glared at Dr. Compton’s back as he reached to pick up her discarded gear.


“Doctor,” Nelson continued loudly just as Compton was taking a deep breath before continuing her outburst, “you will go to your cabin, and stay there until told otherwise.  Mr. Morton.”


“Sir?” Chip answered instantly, straightening from continuing to help Lee off with his scuba gear.


“Set a course for home, and have Dr. Compton’s equipment removed from the Observation Nose and stowed.  We’re done here.”


“Admiral,” Compton all but screamed over the top of Chip’s “Aye, aye, sir.”


“You were given an order, Doctor,” Nelson glared at her as he spat that out.  “You will either obey, or we will turn around and dump you and your gear back on Santa Cruz Island with your team as unceremoniously as you just dumped your diving gear on the deck, and you can find your own way home.”


Lee was just deciding that maybe he’d better get between the two combatants before things got any more out of control when Dr. Compton abruptly stomped out of the Missile Room, Nelson’s continuing glare all but scorching her back.  Lee nonetheless brushed Will’s hand off his shoulder and started to stand up, but was stopped by Will slamming his hand down on Lee’s other shoulder at the same time Nelson turned the high-velocity glare on Lee.


“You,” Nelson pointed at finger at him, “will report to Sick Bay.”


“Yes, sir,” Lee answered, his eyes slightly lowered.  Will removed his hand and Lee stood up, finally acknowledging that the shark bites were still stinging badly.  In the heat of the confrontation he’d all but forgotten them.  The one on his leg, which he could see, was barely weeping blood from a couple small punctures.  Somewhere along the line Will had placed an eight-inch square of gauze over the bite on Lee’s shoulder so he had no idea of how bad that one was.  He headed for the hatch out of the Missile Room, expecting Will to be right behind him.  Instead Frank, the senior corpsman, appeared seemingly out of nowhere and the two made their way in silence to Lee’s least favorite part of his otherwise beloved boat.


The glare, only slightly softened, stayed on Nelson’s face until Lee had left the room.  When he turned back to Seaview’s CMO he had himself almost back under control.  Will sent him half a smile.  “He’s fine, Admiral.  I’ll be lucky to slow him down long enough to put a couple stitches in his shoulder.”


“Harrumph,” Nelson growled, and stomped out.  Will just smiled, gave his head a small shake, and headed after his corpsman.


Lee was stretched out on the exam table in the middle of Sick Bay, laying on his stomach letting Will clean the bite marks on his shoulder, when he heard the corridor door open.  “Man, that was one stupid shark,” Chip quipped cheerfully, walking up to Lee on the side of the gurney opposite the doctor.


Lee glanced at Will.  “I know I’m going to regret this.”   He turned and looked at Chip.  “And what led you to that conclusion, Mr. Morton?”


Chip’s grin spread.  “Just look at the evidence.  He got one taste of you, spit you out, and still came back for another munch, not realizing the first time that there isn’t enough of you to make it worth the effort.”


As Will chuckled at the horseplay, Lee shook his head and laid it back on his crossed forearms.  “Two different sharks,” he mumbled.


“Ah.”  Chip’s voice held triumph.  “That explains it.  Had to have been a female who left that love bite on your leg.”


“Status Report,” Lee ordered harshly, never moving.


Chip winked at a struggling-not-to-laugh Jamie, but had his own voice under control.  “Course laid in for Santa Barbara, speed set at normal cruising, lights are green across the board, and Chief Sharkey has a detail dismantling Dr. Compton’s equipment.”  His only reply was something muttered too low for either of the others to understand.  “Sir?” Chip sent him a formal request for clarification.


Lee lifted his head, but his “never mind,” ended in a yell of pain as Will pressed an antiseptic-soaked pad on the shoulder wound.  Lee sent a glare the doctor’s direction.


“Skipper, I don’t know where that shark has been eating lately but I can be pretty sure that it wasn’t haute cuisine in a fancy restaurant.  Nor has he bothered to brush his teeth in the recent past.  Not only am I going to do everything in my power to disinfect what I can see, I’m going to give you a shot of long-lasting antibiotics in your six and put you on a ten-day course in pill form.  Which you will take,” he added firmly, as Lee seemed ready to argue.  Lee surrendered and put his head back down on his forearms.


“Where’s the Admiral?”  Both Chip and Will heard the almost hesitant way Lee asked the question, and raised mirror-imaged eyebrows. 


But Chip answered promptly.  “In his lab, as far as I know.”


“You’d better get back to the Conn.  Just in case…”  Lee didn’t finish the thought.


“Now Lee,” Chip returned to his teasing voice, but his expression stayed somewhat worried.  “Lt. James is going to think we can’t trust him to do a simple thing like stay on course.”


“I double-check you all the time and it doesn’t seem to cause you any trouble.”  Both Chip and Will grinned at that more normal-sounding comment.


“Yeah, but I just ignore you,” Chip smarted back.  “Chris still takes things a little too seriously.”


Lee turned and sent his XO one of his better Command glares.  “He’s an intelligent man,” Lee said firmly.  “Always a useful talent for an officer.”


Chip straightened to Attention.  “Yes, sir,” he said with a smart salute.


Lee put his head back down with a mumbled grumble, but Chip saw the beginnings of a grin form and gave Will a quick thumb’s up before leaving.


“Can’t you hurry up, Jamie?” was Lee’s next complaint.  “You’re taking forever for a couple of insignificant little nibbles.”


“Which, if not treated correctly, will turn into major septicemia,” Will grumbled right back.  “Chill, Skipper,” he continued in a softer voice.  “I’ll have you out of here in time for lunch.  I haven’t forgotten that you basically missed breakfast.”


“Swell,” Lee muttered, barely audible.  “Not really hungry,” came out with a little more volume.


“Not a problem, Skipper,” Will told him lightly.  “I can always tuck you into one of those bunks over there for four hours and start an IV.”  That earned the expected glare.  But Lee relaxed as Will ignored it and went on cleaning the injury.  He controlled the smile that was threatening to escape and quickly but carefully finished treating the injuries, covered both with medicated bandages, and gave Lee the shot he’d mentioned.  As Lee sat up, Will handed him a small paper cup with several pills in it and a glass of water.  Lee just glared at him, not reaching for either, and Will let the grin appear.  “I repeat, Skipper.  Chill.”  The grin broadened slightly as Lee frowned and ever so slightly lowered his eyes, but still watched the doctor’s face.  “Two are different antibiotics from the shot.  The ones I want you on for awhile, just to cover as many bases as possible.  You’re almost as bad as your XO for having weird reactions to things.”  Lee’s frown deepened but he didn’t say anything.  “The third is a mild painkiller.”


“I don’t need that,” Lee said instantly, his head popping back up as his glare increased.


“You’ll think not when the adrenaline rush you’re still living on wears off.”  Will gave Lee a look filled with caring concern.  “Skipper, it will do nothing more than take the edge off.  I promise.”


Lee gave him a long look but, as Jamie rarely outright lied to him, and especially under these seemingly innocuous circumstances, Lee quickly downed the pills.


“Thank you,” Will told him, and pointed to a chair by the door.  “Chip brought you a fresh set of clothes.  Both of those bandages will survive a quick shower.”  He sent Lee a grin.  “By the time that you’re dressed Cookie should have lunch ready.”  Lee just shook his head, but sent his CMO a soft smile as he grabbed the clothes and turned toward the head at the end of Sick Bay.


With Will nowhere in the vicinity when Lee emerged from cleaning up, he ignored the doctor’s prescription of food and instead went in search of Admiral Nelson.  He’d had a serious talk with himself, letting the hot water wash away his anger at Dr. Compton as well as the salt water residue.  He still thought that he’d been right in wanting to end the dive, but he admitted that he’d handled the confrontation badly.  Nelson’s anger needed to be directed at him, not Dr. Compton.  Lee knew that he couldn’t change the Admiral’s decision to stop the research project and head for home, but he was hoping to make the trip a little more pleasant for the scientist than being confined to quarters.  Since Chip had mentioned the lab, that was Lee’s first stop.  Nelson had his head glued to a microscope when Lee entered so he stood quietly waiting to be acknowledged.


Nelson heard someone come in but was still trying to get his own temper back under control.  He and Chip had stood in the Control Room earlier, listening to the exchange between the divers.  Nelson understood Lee’s decision to abort the dive and was thoroughly disgusted by Dr. Compton’s refusal to comply.  Once he’d unloaded on her he’d retreated to his lab to cool off.  Chip had poked his nose in long enough to report that Seaview was headed home per orders, and that he’d just checked Sick Bay and Lee’s injuries were indeed fairly minor.  Nelson had just grunted, and Chip had promptly withdrawn.


Seconds turned into a minute, and still whoever had dared enter his domain was quiet.  Nelson sighed heavily and almost reluctantly looked up.  He had to quickly control his expression as Lee stood before him almost at Attention, acting more like the underage plebe he’d been when Nelson first met him than Seaview’s ultra-competent captain.  “Did Will release you, or did you escape?” he asked, the half-smile he couldn’t control easing the harshness of his tone.


It wasn’t lost on Lee.  “Released,” he answered with a small grin of his own, before once more going serious.  “I came to apologize, sir,” he said quietly.


“Whatever for?” Nelson thundered and stood up.  “That woman…”  He was so angry he just sputtered rather than finish the thought in less than diplomatic terms.


Lee finished it for him.  “Was just concentrating on her job.  If I hadn’t instigated the confrontation, probably nothing would have happened.”


“Bosh,” Nelson uttered gruffly, and brushed off the comment with a wave of his hand.


“No, sir,” Lee insisted.  But softly, in deference to Nelson’s continued anger.  “The sharks were ignoring us for the most part, and continuing on to wherever they were going.  I should have just left things alone.”


Nelson leveled a long look at his captain.  “Lee,” he finally said, back under control, “you were doing exactly what you always do – assessing the situation, balancing the possible dangers against the necessity of the mission, and deciding on a judicious retreat.  There was nothing wrong with your logic.”


“I chose to err on the side of being overly cautious when it wasn’t needed.  I was wrong, sir.”


Nelson sent Lee another long look, sighed, and settled a hip on the corner of his workbench.  “And why do you think that was?”




“One of the qualities that makes you an excellent sub driver is the ability to quickly recognize potential problems, and act to limit or negate those problems.  While I have not always been overly pleased about a few of your decisions…”  Nelson sent Lee a hard look, which Lee met head on.  Both men thought back on the times Lee had locked horns with Nelson over various cruise parameters.  Lee had never been afraid to stand up for what he believed.  And in his mind, crew safety was paramount.  “I have nonetheless respected your decisions,” Nelson continued.  “Why are you questioning yourself now?  Especially when that woman has been a thorn in your side since she very first came aboard.”


“That’s just the point, sir.  I think I let her penchant for causing trouble get in the way of logic.”


Nelson shrugged.  “I’m all for letting the punishment fit the crime.  What it comes down to is, her inability to follow orders.  Apparently she gets away with it around her team members.  It does not go over well here.”  The last sentence was punctuated with a hand slapping down on the workbench.


“No, sir,” Lee acquiesced softly.


They were interrupted by the all-boat intercom.  “Skipper,” came in Chip’s clear command voice, “your presence is requested in the Wardroom.”


A quick glare at the com speaker caused Lee to miss Nelson’s own glare at the interrupting piece of equipment, and he ducked his head slightly as he looked again at his boss.  “Jamie’s doing,” he muttered.


“Another member of the crew who takes his responsibilities seriously,” Nelson told him.


“Yes, sir,” Lee admitted with a sigh.


Nelson stood and laid a hand briefly on Lee’s shoulder.  “We’d better go or he’ll whine.”


“Yes, sir,” Lee repeated, this time with a smile.


Will gave some thought as to why both Admiral Nelson and Lee sent him suspiciously snide glances as they walked into the Wardroom together before sharing a private smile.  But he didn’t let it bother him.  However it had happened, Nelson was apparently over his temper tantrum, and Lee appeared to be putting a sufficient amount of food on his plate to at least partially make up for the missed breakfast.  Now, if he’ll just eat all of it, Will muttered quietly into his coffee mug, already seated at the table.  But he needn’t have worried.  As was often the case, Chip spent the meal gently needling his CO and friend, which Lee took easily and even dished a bit back.  Nelson for the most part remained quiet, only doing a bit of mumbling into his own coffee mug when Lee asked Cookie to send a tray to Dr. Compton’s cabin.  Will did bury a grin when Seaview’s temperamental chef didn’t even bat an eyelash at the change of the scientist’s location from Observation Nose to her cabin.  Hard to keep a secret on a submarine – especially when most of the conversation precipitating the change had been delivered in enough decibels to nearly rattle torpedoes in their racks.


As often happened, Will dawdled over his meal.  Unless he was needed in Sick Bay he enjoyed the quiet chatter of a relaxed crew.  The junior officers took their cue from Lee and Chip for the most part.  When they were in a bantering mood, the juniors often were as well.  Because the CMO wasn’t actually in the chain of command no one felt threatened kibitzing in his presence.  While he and Nelson often spent time together, everyone knew that Will kept his own council about bits of information he might pick up unless it could effect the smooth running of the boat.


Tonight Nelson dawdled as well.  Will had taken note of his near silence during the meal.  But as Chip and Lee kept them entertained, Will didn’t question his boss.  There were only a couple other juniors in the room and they were at the far table, engaged in deciding where they were going on their three weeks’ leave once Seaview got home.  When CO and XO headed for the Conn, Will pointed a quizzical eyebrow at Nelson who, unusual for him, also seemed in no hurry to leave.  Nelson just sighed heavily, and Will frowned.  “That’s far too recognizable a symptom – especially since I’m usually the one doing it.  What’s Lee done now?”


Nelson snorted, but it turned into a grimace.  “He’s already taking the blame for this morning’s incident.”


“So?  What’s new about that?  He takes responsibility for everything that happens around him.”


Nelson didn’t say anything for a bit, seemingly concentrating on his coffee.  “He was just in my lab,” he said finally.


Will nodded.  “Figured that’s where he headed when he left Sick Bay.  He asked, when Chip brought him a fresh uniform, if he knew where you were.”


Nelson sent Will a quick grin.  “I asked him if he’d escaped.”


Will returned it.  “Minor bite on the leg.  The one on the shoulder took a couple of stitches.  I’ll have to watch him for infection.”


Nelson nodded again.  “Chip told me.”  He sent Will another quick grin.  “Poked his nose in the lab door, gave me the update, and left as rapidly as protocol allowed.”


“Still in a bit of a snit, were you?” Will asked with a grin of his own.  “The Skipper didn’t look noticeably scorched when you two walked in.”


“Didn’t have the heart,” Nelson admitted.  “He looked so miserable, feeling like he’d caused that whole mess this morning…”  Nelson’s voice trailed off as he struggled to get himself back under control again when the diving incident all came crashing back.


“Humm,” Will observed.  “Or has he just learned how to calm you down from one of your moods?”


Nelson paused for half a second, and then sent one of his better glares the doctor’s way.  Will just chuckled into his coffee mug.  “Hadn’t thought about it that way,” Nelson finally admitted.  He paused another couple of breath’s lengths.  “Think I’m going to have to keep a better eye on that young man,” he finally grumbled.  Will’s chuckles just became louder.


* * * *


By 1630 hours Lee was having to be extremely careful not to let Chip realize how he was stiffening up.  The blond would start harassing him to go lay down and Lee wasn’t about to do that.  He knew only too well that that would just make things worse; as long as he kept moving he could keep the stiffness from settling in any further.


He’d spent the first hour after lunch in the Conn, watching his crew and enjoying their almost effortless but nonetheless extremely competent handling of the giant submarine.  Admiral Nelson had wandered through shortly after lunch, giving Lee a speculative look before continuing on.  Lee had just raised a quizzical eyebrow and momentarily interrupted his conversation with the helmsman, Layton, about some continuing education classes in navigation.  But Nelson had, after the briefest of pauses, just continued through the Conn and up the spiral stairs.  Lee exchanged a shrug of shoulders with Chip, and continued his conversation.  It was when he moved across to the Magnometer station and a few minutes’ conversation with Drury about the rating’s oldest daughter’s latest dance recital that he began to feel his shoulders and back complaining.  A walk through the boat, while it stretched his legs, did nothing for the rest of him.  The boat was headed home, all was quiet, and there wasn’t anything to just ‘help’ his crew finish working on so he went almost reluctantly back to the Conn.  And, back under the eagle eyes of his XO.


Chip was doing his best to keep a straight face.  He knew perfectly well what Lee was up to when he’d left to go on one of his ‘walkaboats.’  He also wasn’t surprised when Lee was gone such a relatively short time.  The slightly unhappy expression on Lee’s face as he came back in through the aft hatch was immediately covered up, but the glimpse Chip got of it was almost his undoing.  He busied himself with the charts of the next portion of the cruise as Lee slowly made his way forward, stopping along the way to have brief conversations with Chief Sharkey, posted as usual close to the hatch, Lindsey on Hydrophone, and Daystrom on Sonar.  When he finally made it as far as the chart table, Chip once more had himself under control.


He knew perfectly well that asking Lee to just surrender to the inevitable and go lay down was hopeless.  But as Lt. James, in his capacity as second Weapons officer, was using the quiet time to work with Lt. Savitch to further his knowledge of Seaview’s small arms lockers, Chip decided that a little gentle ribbing might be in order.  Savitch had requested shore duty after this cruise was over.  His parents were getting up there in years and were not in the best of health.  Lee and Chip had talked a bit about who was going to replace him.  Chip wasn’t sure if James was ready for the first position.  He had a lot on his plate already, being so new to the boat, and assigned to Watch duties.  Lee had countered with giving Chris the position but with Chief Hauck as his second.  It made a lot of sense since Hauck was Seaview’s Master-At-Arms, and very familiar with the armament aboard.  Something else to be straightened out while Seaview was in port.


“That was a short trip,” Chip told his CO as Lee finally wandered up to the chart table.  “Nobody to help fix anything?”


Lee’s instant frown went just as quickly sheepish, and he shook his head.  “Everything running smoothly,” he admitted.


“Bummer,” Chip teased him, and Lee finally smiled softly.  “Not even any paperwork to do?”  Lee just shook his head.  Not so much because there wasn’t any but because it would mean sitting down, and he still wasn’t ready for that.  “That’s got to be a first.”  Lee was always complaining about how much more of the stuff there seemed to be with NIMR than with the regular Navy.


“Where’s Chris?” Lee asked, changing the subject.  Chip explained and Lee nodded.  A slight, private grin crossed his face as he thought back on what had happened to require the hiring of a new junior officer for Seaview.


It wasn’t all that long ago that they’d finally managed to get rid of Lt. Bishop, Seaview’s second officer under her original captain, John Phillips.  Lee knew that there had been problems with the man from letters that Chip had written to him after Seaview was launched.  Once Lee took over after Phillips’ untimely death, the issues quickly became even more evident.  He had, however, merely kept a close watch.  At least at first.


Bishop was a competent enough officer but a strict disciplinarian, and not at all suited to Lee’s more laid-back style.  Unfortunately, Nelson was loyal to anyone who could do their jobs and refused to see the discord that the man’s unyielding attitude created within the seamen as well as the other juniors.  Chip, while wanting frequently to smack Bishop in the chops, was fairly good at keeping him in line now that the man couldn’t go running to Phillips any time he wanted.  Phillips, like Nelson, had chosen to overlook the man’s shortcomings in the tact department because he was, all things considered, a good officer.


Lee’s private grin threatened to get the better of him, and he used it to tease his best friend.  He put a stern look on his face as well as in his voice.  “You behave yourself around Lt. James,” he ordered.  “We need to keep this one.”


“Me,” Chip all but yelped, and then had to send a glare around the Conn to squelch a few instant chuckles from the duty crew.  While the two officers had been talking quietly, the crew knew from Chip’s reaction that their skipper had just needled his old friend about something.  “You’re the one,” Chip continued in a much more under control voice but with the glare now directed at Lee, “who kept talking to Bishop about ways to advance his career.  Leaving bulletins on his desk about new Navy ship rotations, assigning him extra duties aboard Seaview…”


“I wanted to make sure that he had a thorough working knowledge of as many of the different duty assignments as I could,” Lee cut Chip off, defending himself with a hurt expression on his face.  His eyes, however, gave his merriment away.  “He’s a good man.”  He hesitated just a moment, and then smiled.  “Just not for Seaview.”


Chip nodded.  “I’ll give you that one.”


The pair worked in amiable silence for awhile.  Chip was still puttering with the charts, checking for any potential trouble spots on the journey home.  If there was one thing Chip hated, it was surprises on a cruise that could have been avoided by diligence to one’s duties.  Lee puttered for awhile with the Duty Roster.  Now that Patterson and Blake were no longer needed by Dr. Compton they could be inserted once more into the general rotation.  It was something that Chip normally would have done.  But as he hadn’t gotten around to it just yet, Lee was perfectly happy sharing the job.


Lt. James came back at 1730 hours.  Lee had a hard time controlling his expression as he flipped through the status reports for the last couple of days, just because it gave him something to do.  Chip immediately started, in his best XO voice, pointing out to the young lieutenant a couple of areas where Seaview would have to maneuver carefully to avoid potential problems, as well as the latest weather report which was showing a squall line about to dissect Seaview’s course.  As Chip started to wind down, Lee turned toward them.


“Mind you keep Seaview smooth and steady, Lieutenant.”  He sent a quick flick of a smile Chip’s way before once more addressing James.  “The XO gets seasick far too easily.”


“Aye, aye, sir,” Lt. James answered carefully.  He hesitated as Chip sent Lee one of his better Command glares.  Lee openly grinned, and reached out to gently backhand Chip’s shoulder.  James finally relaxed, realizing that the two old friends were just bantering with each other.  But he nonetheless started seriously studying the charts as CO and XO headed for an early dinner.


* * * *


Cookie was not a happy man.  Seaview’s slightly altered cruise parameters had left him short of a few staples.  He hadn’t bothered to mention it when they stopped at the Galapagos Islands.  It would have been fairly easy to stock up on a few things, but he hadn’t at that time considered it a problem.  Late that morning, as he started planning one of the Skipper’s favorites for dinner, he realized that he was short a couple of ingredients and had to improvise.  Exchanging chicken for the pork loin that he usually used wasn’t too bad.  But adding rutabagas when there wasn’t enough carrots changed the flavor of the mixture that resembled a shepherd’s pie, a thick stew topped with mashed potatoes.  To make amends – not that the Skipper would complain, but just because - he’d had Higgins, his assistant, whip up a molten chocolate pudding cake for dessert.  Things were running late, and he practically snarled when Will came through the door at 1740 hours.


Recognizing the mood, even if he didn’t know the cause, Will chose to head straight for the coffee urn and ignore the fact that the evening meal wasn’t already laid out.  He’d only taken a couple sips when he heard Cookie mutter fiercely about something.  He knew he was risking a tirade, but asked anyway.  “What’s up, Cookie?”


A pan clattered in the sink as Cookie gave it a toss, but he answered after a deep breath.  “Just realized that I didn’t fix a tray for that woman researcher.”  Another pan hit the sink.  “And neither of us have the time to go hauling it up there.”


“I’ll take it up for you,” Will offered.  If nothing else it would be a convenient way to get out of the Wardroom for a few minutes.  Cookie didn’t say anything, just send him a nod.  But Higgins gave him a quick look of relief as he scurried around the galley.


There was no answer when Will knocked on Dr. Compton’s cabin door.  He waited a few seconds, thinking that she might be in the head, and knocked a bit louder.  She better not have left the cabin without permission, Will muttered to himself.  He admitted that someone may have released her from being exiled, but somehow that didn’t seem likely.  At least not yet.  He knocked a third time, still got no answer, and tried the door.  It wasn’t locked, and Will opened it and stepped inside.


He’d no more than noticed the scientist, sitting cross-legged on the bunk with her back against the bulkhead, when she opened her eyes and saw him, giving a slight squeal before getting herself under control.  “Sorry, Doctor,” she immediately apologized, and shifted to sit on the edge of the bunk.  “I didn’t hear you.”


Will nodded, and turned to set the tray of food on the small desk set against the far bulkhead.  A thought hit him, and he turned and looked at her with a firm expression on his face.  “You didn’t hear me, did you?” he asked, putting special emphasis into the question.  She obviously heard that but didn’t answer, merely dropping her eyes a bit.  Will crossed his arms across his chest.  “That’s what’s been causing some of the problems?”  She still didn’t answer.  “Obviously it’s not a constant issue.”


“Comes and goes,” she admitted.  She took a deep breath and finally looked at him directly.  “Lately it’s been more going than coming.”  She tried a small smile, but it died rapidly in the face of Will’s frown.


“You shouldn’t have been diving at all,” he growled.


She bounced to her feet.  “Don’t you think that I know that?” she told him indignantly, before once more backing down.  “But I wanted to complete this project.  I needed to.”  Her look implored Will to understand.


“Explains a few things,” Will told her gruffly.  He wasn’t quite ready to forgive her for possibly putting not only herself but her fellow divers in jeopardy by the omission.  But he relaxed enough to rest a hip on the desk.  “I gather you’ve so far been able to hide it from everyone.”  She nodded.  “Otosclerosis?”


Again she nodded.  “A form of it, anyway.”


“The accepted theory is that it’s hereditary.  People who have seen your background reports never suspected anything?”


She almost growled her answer.  “Apparently I’m one of the weird ones where it shows up out of the blue.  No one in my family has it – at least back the three generations I’ve been able to research.”


“Rough,” Will commiserated.


“I went to off-campus doctors to keep anyone from finding out.  I knew that I was going to have to have surgery but I wanted to complete this set of projects first.”  She sighed heavily.  “At that point it still wasn’t too bad.  But it became apparent right after we got to the Galapagos that it was taking a rather dramatic turn for the worse.  That’s when I contacted my director about needing to get home sooner than expected.  He has no idea why I was so excited when he told me about Seaview.  It meant that maybe, just maybe, everything I’d already done wouldn’t be wasted.”  She looked down again.  “I may never have another chance.”


“Because the surgery could leave you permanently disabled.”  Will tried his best to keep up with current medical information.  Sometimes the best laid plans or, in this case, surgery, backfired and left the patient worse off then before.


“Bingo,” she said disgustedly, before turning an imploring look on Will.  “Please don’t tell the others.”


“Why?  Admiral Nelson can’t get much angrier at you than he already is.”  He let that sink in just a moment before continuing.  “On the other hand, Commander Crane has assumed responsibility.  At least for this morning’s incident.  It might be wiser to leave well enough alone.”  Will shuddered at what Nelson’s reaction would be to this new piece of information.


Compton gave him a puzzled look.  “Why would Crane do that?  I mean, the Admiral made it plain to everyone who he blamed for what happened today.”


It was Will’s turn to sigh heavily.  But all he said was, “Eat your dinner.  I’ll have to think about what, if anything, I tell the others,” and he headed back to the Wardroom deep in thought.


On the one hand, knowing what he did now, telling the others would hopefully convince Lee that what had happened wasn’t his fault, thus relieving him of the guilt he’d dumped on himself.  On the other hand, making the knowledge public at this time would no doubt cause Dr. Compton heat from the entire crew for as long as she was aboard.  As they were still several days from home, Will wasn’t looking forward to the decidedly uncomfortable atmosphere that would almost certainly create.  It wouldn’t do anyone, least of all the senior officers, any good whatsoever.  Therefore, by the time he once again entered the Wardroom he’d decided to keep silent.  But only until Dr. Compton was no longer around.  Once they’d gotten rid of her he’d tell Lee what he’d discovered.  The story would no doubt get out eventually.  But by then the source of the problem would no longer be within range and the expected anger should die a rapid death.


When he re-entered the Wardroom, Lee and Chip were just starting to fill their plates.  Cookie was apologizing for dinner not being up to his usual standards.  Chip took a quick bite and told him that it tasted just fine.  Lee just laughed and told the temperamental chef that he was sure that anything he fixed would be wonderful.  Admiral Nelson walked in right behind Will, and the two older men shared a smile.  Lee was a veritable genius at smoothing ruffled feathers among his crew, thus keeping a smoothly running boat


But as light banter between all four men continued through the meal, Will’s eagle eyes noticed the less than fluid movements his CO was trying so hard to conceal.  He struggled, somewhat unsuccessfully, to contain his mirth at the oh-so-typical actions.  It had taken Will only a few days around the young man to discover that Lee simply chose to ignore anything short of imminent death – and the jury was still out on that one – that would keep Lee from less than total performance of his duties.  When the others noticed his amusement Will just shrugged.  “Nothing important,” he told them, and the light chatter continued.


He got the expected quick glare from Lee as they all finished eating and he asked Lee to come down to Sick Bay for a few minutes so that he could check the injuries.  Lee’s instant “They’re fine,” was followed immediately by a snort from Nelson.  Chip almost got a snicker buried.  Lee ducked his head but still managed to send the blond a fierce glare before reluctantly following Will out the door.


Once in Sick Bay, Will started taking a few things that he needed from a cabinet while Lee unbuttoned his shirt and shrugged it off.  Or, rather, tried to.  By that time his shoulders had stiffened badly, and he sent Will a disgusted look when Will turned, saw the problem, and grabbed the shirt collar at the back and helped slide it off Lee’s arms.  “Let’s see.  What would Chip say about now, Skipper?”  Will sent his least cooperative patient a fond smile.  “That’s what happens when you play with opponents bigger than yourself?”


Lee sent him a copy of the glare he’d sent Chip a few minutes previous, but turned and lay face down on the exam table.  “Or something equally smart-aleck,” he mumbled, his forehead resting on his crossed arms.


Will chuckled.  “Relax, Skipper.  We’re headed home, the boat’s quiet, the crew calm.  Well,” he hesitated, “Admiral Nelson needs to take a few deep breaths.”  He chuckled lightly.   “But nothing new there.  Brace yourself, Skipper.  I’m going to rub some Mineral Ice across your shoulders and on the back of your neck.  You know the drill – it will be cold at first, but it will warm quickly and help those muscles relax.”  Lee gave an abbreviated nod, and did nothing more than clench his fists when the pain-relieving gel was applied.


Will was silent for a bit, massaging the jelly-like ointment into tense muscles and tendons, being very careful to keep it away from the bite marks.  As he felt the tension beginning to relax he said offhandedly, “You know, Skipper, I’ve been thinking.”


“Should I break out a fire extinguisher?  You working that brain so hard and all,” Lee grumbled, but his shoulders shook briefly with silent laughter.


Will got his revenge by slapping a glob of the cold gel halfway down Lee’s spine, and had the satisfaction of hearing Lee suck in a hard breath.  But his fingers were gentle as he started to spread it around and rub it in.  “With everything so quiet,” he finally continued, “I was wondering what the chances were of maybe having you fly Dr. Compton home in the Admiral’s new toy.”  Seaview had just recently had renovations done, which included a berth under the nose for Nelson’s latest invention, a small yellow craft that was part submersible and part airplane.  Will didn’t even pretend to understand its mechanics.  He did know that Lee had taken to it with an enthusiasm most everyone aboard had never seen in the serious young man.  “I’d suggest Admiral Nelson do it but I don’t think putting those two in such a small confined space, unsupervised, would be a good idea.”


“And you don’t think I’d toss her out in the middle of the ocean and forget where?” Lee spat out.


Will smiled.  “No, I don’t,” he answered honestly.  “You might be tempted,” he admitted.  “But you have too much respect for life to carry it out.”  His only answer was something mumbled too low for Will to make out, and he wasn’t foolhardy enough to ask Lee to repeat it.  “Having her aboard is only going to be a constant reminder to the crew of what happened.  Not to mention that a few extra days off wouldn’t do you any harm, either.”


“I could use the time to maybe get a head start on all the paperwork that I’m sure has been building up in my office,” Lee offered.


“Not what I had in mind,” Will muttered, and again Lee’s shoulders moved slightly under his hands.


There was silence for a bit while Will continued to work the gel into knotted and hard muscles.  “I gather that you haven’t mentioned this to Admiral Nelson?” Lee asked.


“Nope,” Will admitted.  “And since you and he are the only people who know how to operate that thing…”


Lee gave a quick nod.  “Hopefully that will change soon.  Chip needs to be certified.  And the Admiral wants Chief Sharkey to be as well.  I’m thinking Kowalski and at least two or three others, for backup.”  Will grinned.  Lee’s emphasis on cross training of personnel was very popular with the crew.  “You about done?”  That came out as a definite complaint, and Will’s grin spread.


“Almost, Skipper.  Just relax.”  But he hurried up just a bit.  Lee gave him another glare when Will handed him several pills.  Will just crossed his arms and sent it right back, and Lee reluctantly downed them before reaching for his shirt.  Will happily noted to himself that the younger man’s movements were much less stilted.  The gel was only a stopgap.  But he was becoming all too familiar with the fact that an uncomfortable Skipper didn’t sleep well.  The gel would radiate heat for several hours, by which time, with a little luck, Lee would be ready to settle down for the night.


Will was sitting at his desk about half an hour later, sipping coffee and catching up on some medical journals he’d not yet gotten around to reading, when the door from the corridor was thrown open and Admiral Nelson unceremoniously stalked in.  “Something I can help you with, Admiral?” he asked amiably.


Nelson’s expression stayed threatening.  “You can tell me why I should expend any more NIMR time and resources on that…that…woman,” he finally spat out.


Will didn’t immediately answer.  Instead, he reached behind him for another mug, filled it about two thirds full of coffee from the small pot that he kept going in his office, and topped it off with a bit of brandy from the bottle in his bottom desk drawer.  He set it on the other side of the desk, and waited until Nelson sat down and took a long swallow first.  “For precisely the reason that you just exhibited, Admiral,” he said firmly.  “The sooner she’s off Seaview, the sooner everyone will calm down.”  He leveled a particularly stern look at Nelson when he said ‘everyone’.


“Harrumph,” Nelson muttered, but continued to work on the ‘doctored’ coffee.


“I gather the Skipper didn’t entirely explain my suggestion.”


Nelson drained the mug, and finally softened both his expression and voice.  “Don’t think that I gave him the chance,” he admitted.


“More?” Will asked, nodding to the mug.


Nelson took a deep breath, but finally shook his head.  “I’d better go unruffle some feathers.  Not Lee’s,” he quickly admitted.  “He was his usual philosophical self.”


Will grinned.  “Let me guess.  Our calm, cool, and collected XO got a little steamed?”


Nelson nodded.  “Didn’t say anything, of course.”


“Heaven forbid,” Will agreed.


“But he really doesn’t take kindly to anybody yelling at who he considers his little brother.”  Both men shared a quick chuckle at that description of Seaview’s command team.


“Unless it’s him doing the yelling,” Will qualified.  They shared another chuckle before Nelson stood and left.


* * * *


Lee glanced around as he climbed down the access ladder the next morning into Seaview’s newest addition, the Flying Sub.  Admiral Nelson had apparently been puttering with the unusually designed craft for several years, but hadn’t done much about it.  Lee had spotted the designs on Nelson’s desk one day shortly after taking command of Seaview, as he waited for the Admiral to return from a meeting.  He’d been intrigued by the little craft, and encouraged Nelson to continue working on it.


Right now her interior didn’t look anything like the designs.  She was packed with all of Dr. Compton’s equipment, stowed and secured for travel.  It didn’t leave a lot of room in the already small craft.  But all the instrumentation, and the area around the two cockpit chairs, was free of clutter.  Lee gave himself a mental reminder to commend Chief Sharkey on how well everything was arranged.


He was just finishing up the pre-flight checklist when footsteps on the ladder announced Dr. Compton’s arrival.  He’d left informing her of the change of plans to Chip the night before, while he did a final walk-through of the boat before hitting his rack.  Chip had told him over breakfast that she’d just nodded when he’d told her to report to the Nose at 0930 hours.  She hesitated at the bottom of the ladder, and Lee indicated the co-pilot’s chair as he got up and secured the ladder into its in-flight position.  Silently he showed her how to adjust her flight harness.  She seemed even less disposed to conversation than Lee was, although in Lee’s case it was just because he was concentrating on everything that needed to be checked before the little craft could be safely launched.  He was also still a little ticked off at Jamie for getting in a parting shot – literally – before he’d let Lee out of his sight for the four days it would take Seaview to get home, and was being careful not to take his snit with his CMO out on Compton.


He got a bit of personal satisfaction when FS1 dropped out of her belly hatch and headed for the surface, and again when he launched her into the air, as the scientist clenched the arms of the chair in a death grip.  But he grinned when Compton started to practically giggle with enthusiasm as it became apparent what the little craft could do.


Once he reached cruising speed Lee put the craft on Auto Pilot and unbuckled his harness.  Thoughts of coffee had him searching through the gear for the pack Sharkey told him Cookie had supplied.  It wasn’t immediately evident, and Lee spent a bit wondering where the COB would have considered a convenient place to stow it.


Just as his eye spotted it tucked at the end of the small bunk he felt the craft’s stabilizers bobble a scant half-inch.  He quickly grabbed the pack and returned to his seat, dropping the pack between he and Dr. Compton.  The look she gave him said all too plainly that she’d felt the slight hiccup as well.  “Sorry,” he told her.  “FS1 is quite new.  We’re still getting the bugs worked out.”  She just shook her head.


Lee grinned to himself as he spent a couple minutes flipping switches and checking gauges.  Once he was fairly sure that nothing serious was wrong, he nodded toward the pack.  “Should be coffee in there,” he told her.  She took the hint, pulled out the thermos and two cups, and poured.


As she handed one to him she asked, “Sandwich?”


Lee shook his head.  “Not right now, thanks.  It’s roughly a five-hour flight.  Depends on the headwinds.  I’ll probably have one before we get home.”  She just nodded, and there was silence between them.


“Where will you be dropping me?” she asked several minutes later.


“San Diego Naval Base…if that’s okay.  We’ll dive about five nautical miles out and come in underwater.”  He patted FS1’s instrument dash.  “She’s not quite ready for public viewing.”  Lee sent her another grin.  “When I call in for clearance I’ll request a driver and vehicle to get you home.”




Once again there was silence between them.  Lee absentmindedly sipped his coffee, reaching out occasionally to adjust a dial or check a switch, enjoying the smooth ride in the little yellow craft.  A soft private smile spread across his face.  Nothing on the early designs Lee had seen designated a color scheme.  Nor did Lee ever give it a thought, just assuming that she would be the normal dark gray of most underwater vessels.  Seeing the finished machine for the first time, painted bright yellow with tiny blue trim on the top of the fins, he’d been speechless.  He’d simply stood there, staring, while Nelson chuckled.  Finally, Lee had managed to utter one word – “Why?”  Nelson had laughed outright, slapped him on the shoulder and said, “Why not?”


He still had a soft smile on his face as he reached to check a gauge in the center of the panel.  His shoulder twinged just enough to make him flinch and the smile changed to a frown.  He almost subconsciously glanced at Dr. Compton before getting himself back under control, and saw a small frown on her face as well.  Taking a moment to compose himself by sipping his coffee, he said quietly, “I need to apologize.”


But at the same time he spoke, so did she.  “I’m sorry about yesterday.”


There followed the usual, awkward momentary silence.  Lee finally shook his head sadly and tried again.  “I just wanted to say I’m sorry for causing yesterday’s…ah…incident.”  He sent her a shy, sideways look.


“You had lots of help,” came out in a grumble.  As Lee started to frown her expression turned sheepish.  “Most of it from me.”  As Lee would have interrupted, she raised a hand.  “Please, Commander.  I’m perfectly aware that I’ve been…difficult.”  Lee carefully controlled his expression.  “I guess…”  She paused a bit, and Lee didn’t interrupt her.  “I do know better,” she tried to defend herself.  “About the equipment and stuff…”  Again her voice trailed off.  She was looking down, but finally raised her head to meet Lee’s eyes.  “I have a lot of things going on right now.  I guess that I just lost perspective.”  The smile she tried was half grimace.  “Really good practice for a researcher, huh?”


The smile Lee sent back wasn’t much better.  “You didn’t catch us at our best, either.  The tail end of a long cruise; we’d lost a man – were still feeling the effects of that and just wanted to get home,” he admitted.


“And instead, you get stuck with an overly focused scientist so hell-bent on her research that she forgot the bare minimum of common sense.”


It was Lee’s turn to lower his eyes.  “I wouldn’t go quite that far.”


“Admiral Nelson certainly didn’t have any problems pointing out my shortcomings.”  There was defiance back in her voice.


Lee clenched the fist that wasn’t holding the coffee mug, but almost instantly relaxed it.  “The Admiral…”  He took a deep breath.  “Look…I don’t want to argue with you all the way home.  Okay?  Mistakes were made.  On both sides.” 


There was silence again for a bit.  Mention of the Admiral sent Lee’s thoughts back over his aborted conversation with Nelson the previous day in Nelson’s lab.  “I think…” he started, and then paused to organize the random images going through his brain.  “Doctor…” he tried again, before a pained expression hit his face.  He sent her a look that was half speculation, half embarrassment.  “Look.  Do you have an actual name I can call you?  I have enough trouble with regular doctors.  One in particular,” he grumbled.  “And your ‘d’ is only a ‘ph’.”


She sent a sheepish look of her own over the top of the coffee mug.  “My friends call me Sandi,” she told him with a heavy sigh.


Lee raised an eyebrow.  “How do you get that out of the initials M.L.?”


“Myrtle Lysandra,” she muttered almost too softly for Lee to hear.  “Named after my two grandmothers.”




She nodded.  “My parents are both very soft-spoken people.  When the grandparents told them that they needed to name their first child after them neither Mom or Dad had the guts to argue.”  Her look momentarily brightened.  “It could have been worse.  If I’d been a boy I’d be Herman Ludwig.”


“Guess I got off easy,” Lee told her with a small grin.  “I was named after family as well.  Lee is my Mom’s maiden name, and Benjamin my Dad’s first.”  He reached carefully down for the thermos and poured them both more coffee before continuing.  “Anyway, what I wanted to say was, I think I was taking out my frustrations at being unable to stop the accident that cost us a crewman by being over-protective of you.  I didn’t think that I was…”  His voice trailed off.  “But the more I think about it…”  He shrugged.


“And when I finally slowed down yesterday – well, got slowed down,” and a grumble entered her voice before she gave herself a slight shake, “I realized that you weren’t doing anything much beyond common sense.”  She sent him a frown.  “I still think that we would have been fine yesterday.”  As Lee opened his mouth to reply she cut him off.  “But, you could just as easily have been right,” she admitted.  “You’d think that, as often as I was reminded,” she sent him a quick hard look, “that I was subject to a different set of rules than I’m used to, that I’d have found a better way of dealing with the problem than blowing you off.”  She cringed slightly.  “I just don’t take being slowed down well.”  Her expression by that time had turned somewhat sheepish.


Lee grinned.  “Gee, I never would have noticed.”  His grin broadened ever so slightly as she glared at him.  “On the other hand, you did give the crew something to talk about.”


“Sorry about that.”  Her voice and expression softened again.


Lee shrugged – carefully.  “Definitely gave everyone something else to think about other than the first part of this cruise.”  He filled the next few moments finishing his coffee and looking thoughtfully out the front windows.  “Not totally a bad thing,” he finally added.


“Thank you – I think.”  She sent him a speculative look.


Lee finally grinned broadly.  Somehow, he didn’t think that anyone else aboard Seaview would think that their minor detour on the way home from Antarctica was a good thing.  Twenty-four hours earlier, Lee would have been on their side as well.  Just maybe, perhaps, I’ve learned a valuable lesson not to let one incident color another.


He shook his head softly at that thought as he took back control of FS1 from the autopilot.  He knew himself far too well to think that he’d no longer be troubled by incidents that he knew he should have handled better.  And he could already hear Chip’s disbelief that this trip had been any kind of learning experience.  Humm – think I’ll save myself that lecture and keep that thought to myself when Seaview gets home.  But he knew that he did need to finish the conversation that Admiral Nelson had started in his lab.  Once again his mentor, his friend, his…  Lee never did totally know how to describe his relationship with the man who had been so influential in his life.  Nelson had been able to see through one of his own infamous temper tantrums and center on the crux of Lee’s actions.  That, or he and Jamie got their heads together.  Would explain a few looks Doc’s given me the last few days.


But his speculative frown turned almost instantly sheepish.  It was actually a good feeling, being surrounded by people who cared about him as much as his ‘family’ at NIMR did.  So they ‘mother-henned’ him on occasion.  He guessed he could handle that – up to a point, anyway.  Better if he’d quit giving them reasons to do it.  Something to work on, he told himself, and settled a little more comfortably in FS1’s pilot chair for the rest of the trip home.




As he felt Seaview slow in preparation for entering the channel from open water into her underground lair at NIMR, Will Jamison picked up the small bag he carried between his two ‘homes’, the submarine and NIMR’s Med Bay Health Center.  He’d had second thoughts after Cdr. Crane left Seaview, knowing how easily the young man ‘forgot’ to take medications.  He wandered forward to the Observation Nose, prepared to debark as soon as Seaview docked and track Lee down immediately to make sure that the shark bites were healing correctly.


He had ended up keeping quiet about Dr. Compton’s medical condition.  The instant Lee had radioed in that he’d arrived home, the entire crew had seemed to release a long sigh of relief.  Will saw no need in any further stirring up of the issue.  He was even contemplating not telling Lee; it all depended on what kind of mood he found his CO in.  He had no intention of bringing up the just-completed cruise if Lee had put the distasteful aspects of it behind him.


Even as Chip issued the orders to maneuver Seaview into her berth, he grinned as Will came down the spiral stairs and nodded toward the windows.  “You won’t have a problem finding him,” he said with humor before returning his concentration to the job at hand.  When Will looked he saw Lee standing on the dock, watching the giant submarine ease into position.  She was barely snugged against the dock before Will saw Lee head for the boarding hatch so he just settled a hip on the corner of the table and waited for his patient to come to him, the irony of that thought putting a broad smile on his face.


“Where’s the saucer of cream?” came in Admiral Nelson’s voice.  Will cocked a quizzical eyebrow.  “You’re smirking,” Nelson explained.


Will chuckled, but all he did was shake his head.  While he might thoroughly enjoy the moment, he wasn’t about to embarrass Lee by explaining in front of the whole Duty Crew.  As he merely sent Nelson a smug grin, the reason scurried down the boarding ladder.


“Sir, you needn’t break your neck,” Chip told Lee formally, his blue eyes sparkling despite the growl in his voice.  “I’m perfectly capable of settling your precious lady into her berth.”


“I know,” Lee assured him.  “But four days with just you in command, I figured that I’d better check and see how many crewmen suffered nervous breakdowns.”


Nelson’s snort of humor was barely louder than Will’s, which effectively stopped Chip’s retort.  At least momentarily.  Both older men had no doubt that Chip would get his revenge.


But Will frowned as Lee tried to bury a yawn.  “Commander,” he growled, using Lee’s formal rank as a sign of his displeasure, “I better not find out you’ve spent the entire last four days working.”


Chip cut off Lee’s response.  “Don’t worry, Jamie.  If he’s managed a way to keep you from finding out, there’s still my sources.”  Lee’s instant frown at Will transformed into a glare at Chip.


“Lee?”  Nelson brought everyone back to the important point of the conversation.  They were all too aware of how Lee could focus on work to the detriment of eating and sleeping.


“I’m fine,” Lee growled before he could stop himself.  Eyes ever so briefly lowered before he looked openly at his boss.  “I drove down to San Diego yesterday to check on a friend in hospital, and ended up getting back a bit late.  But I was in bed by midnight,” he hurriedly added, with a challenging expression on his face and a crossing of arms across his chest.


“Who?” Chip asked.  “Anyone I know?”


Lee sent a quick glance Will’s direction, accompanied by an equally quick smile, before answering.  “You’ve met – sort of.”  The grin broadened.  “But no, you don’t know her.”


“Her?” Chip instantly pounced.


“Chill,” Lee ordered.  “I want to check the status reports for your trip home,” and he effectively closed the conversation by walking to where they were kept.


From Lee’s quick glance his way Will knew exactly who Lee had gone to see, and didn’t get his grin under control fast enough to keep Nelson from seeing it.  “I gather you know what – or rather who – he’s referring to?”  Nelson’s voice was a growl, but kept very low so as not to be overheard.


Will responded just as quietly.  “Not totally,” he fudged.  Both older men watched Lee’s easy, flowing movements as he reached for the current reports and started going over them as Chip finished getting Seaview settled.  “I’m just pleased that he’s apparently healing just fine.”  Nelson raised an eyebrow as Will prepared to head out.  “Oh, I’ll track him down later,” he admitted, and Nelson nodded.  “But for now, it’s pretty obvious that he has things under control.”



*see Cobwebs by R. L. Keller