"I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
It was the third time today that she had dropped things in the sickbay of the aircraft carrier. The patients were getting a little tense having her nearby.
"Lt. Copper," the doctor called in a firm but gentle tone. "May I see you in my office a moment?"
She looked at him and could feel the tears rising in her eyes but desperately held them back. "Ye... yes sir. I... I'll just pick this up first."
As she began to reach for the bowl and swabs he interrupted her. "No. Michells. Would you take care of that please? I want to have a word with Copper."
The medic nodded and immediately went to take care of the minor mess.
When Copper had made it into the chief physician's office she thought she would be in for a dressing down by her superior. He closed the door behind her and took his place behind his desk. Indicating a chair he beckoned her to seat herself. Clasping both hands together he studied her closely. "Now then," he began in a quiet non intimidating tone. "Why don't you tell me what's got you so uptight?"
She was prepared for a stern talking to. The soothing inquiry startled her and much to her own dismay she burst into tears.
Dr. Baines sighed and leaned back. He pulled a box of tissues from a drawer in his desk and gave her a moment to compose herself.
"I'm sorry," she blubbered. "I'm really sorry."
"Quit saying that. I know you are. I want to know why your so tense. We're barely out of port and you've gone to pieces."
"I know. I'm sorry." Oh god. I said it again. She looked at him with horror spreading over her face. "Oh. I'm sorry."
Baines smiled at the apology.
The expression on his face and her sudden feelings of stupidity broke her nervous tension and she started to laugh.
"That's an improvement," he said. Now maybe he could get to the bottom of things. "Okay now. Let's have it."
Copper took a big breath. "I'm sorry," and she held up her hand to quell any interruption. "I feel like I'm in over my head. I haven't been an RN for very long and I've never been at sea before let alone on something so huge. I haven't got my bearings totally yet and it takes me to long to find where I'm going. I'm trying. Really trying. I promise I'll do better. Honestly."
The crooked smile still on Dr. Baines face showed that he was a touch amused by her story. He remembered feeling a bit the same way when he first came aboard and he had been a seasoned navel officer. "Don't let it bother you. You will get the hang of things. It will come easier if you relax a little."
"I'm just so scared of making a fool of myself. I don't want to disappoint anyone." She lowered her eye a little embarrassed to admit, "I've been practicing running from my quarters and back but I keep getting lost."
Baines laughed out loud.
"I haven't even seen the sky since we left. I couldn't find my way to an observation area."
"All right then. Come with me."
She looked a little scared. "What... where?" and she stood up following his movements to the door.
"Let's take a walk. You could use the fresh air."
Having no idea where they were going she obediently kept pace with the Dr. She did her best to remember the route they were taking and he pointed out landmarks to help her remember. Four or five minutes later and several floors up they entered an open ended room lined with a rail and completely exposed to the outside ocean view.
"Oh my," she said lost for words. She went to the rail and looked out to the sky stretching to the ends of the ocean's surface on the horizon. She breathed deeply and realized just how closed in she had been feeling.
"Oh. Look down there." Copper pointed at the log slender submarine lying along side the carrier. "What's going on?"
Baines looked down and saw a sight he hadn't seen in years. The pride of the NIMR. Submarine Seaview. "Uh... oh... It looks like their being restocked or something. Submarines have limited room for supplies. With the nuclear engines now-a-days they can run for years without surfacing but food storage is another matter. They could be transferring equipment of some kind too. You never know."
They both watched as a cargo net full of crates and boxes slid across the gap between the two vessels. Several men in blue and red coveralls guided the delivery into place. A short man with dark hair in a tan colored uniform could be heard making loud comments but at this distance it wasn't clear. On the rear deck a large hatchway was open to the sky and every once in a while some platform rose to be loaded and lowered down again.
On the conning tower another man in an officers uniform leaned on the edge and surveyed the progress. He was also short with dark hair but was younger than the man on the deck. Baines recalled that face and it still didn't look much older than the one he remembered.
Copper and Baines both stood watching the activity. Each fascinated for their own reasons. Neither spoke for quite some time.
After a couple minutes silence between the two they both noticed a tall slender man in tan uniform with cap appear from the deck door of the conning tower. Baines could recognize the man easily. He pointed as he told Copper, "That's Captain Crane. Youngest man to command a submarine in or out of the navy."
"You know him?" she asked not sure if he meant personally or by reputation.
"I used to serve on that submarine."
"Really. What happened?" she asked with keen interest. "Why did you leave?"
He still hated to talk about it. Therapy had helped but voicing it out loud was hard to do. He paused a little as he pushed himself to say it. "There... there was an... accident. The hull was breached... and we lost several men. Flooding took us to the bottom and there was no way to repair the damage."
"Oh my god," she barely whispered in sympathy. "You sank?"
"Yes," he said with the pain evident in his face. He continued. "We were running out of air. Our only hope of rescue was the diving bell under repair in New London. I had seriously injured patients to care for and, thankfully, they survived but afterwards I just couldn't go back. I couldn't... no... can't face the feeling of being trapped under the water again."
"I can't say I blame you. I'm not sure I would have been able to either." The vessel gently bobbing on the ocean swell off the port side of the aircraft carrier took on a whole new look to it. "What did they say? You know. When you left."
"Admiral Nelson is a good man to work for. He wanted me to come back. Gave me time to get some counseling. It was my choice and in the end I told him to replace me. I went back into the active service and I've been assigned here ever since. I don't mind being on top of the water." He let out a little nervous chuckle.
Smiling she let out a little nervous laugh herself. "I don't feel so bad now. I'm sorry for laughing." She covered her mouth to try and stifle the snickering.
For the first time he didn't mind the thought of someone else laughing at his fears too. In a friendly way he patted her shoulder and said as they gazed out at the Seaview, "Everyone is afraid of something. The fools are the ones who won't admit it." He looked down at the Seaview again. He still felt the pride at having served aboard her and he felt the tinge of sadness that he couldn't go back. He nudged Copper gently with an elbow and leaned over slightly. "Let's just keep our secrets between us, okay?"
She smiled back. "Sure Doc."
"Come on Copper. Let's get back to the salt mines."
At ease for the first time in days she said, "I'm right with you boss."
They left the Seaview behind and went back to work.