The Plot Thickens
By Carol Foss & J. Lynn
They'd been at it for weeks now, Nelson and Wyatt. Seaview was in dry-dock, and hands had been dismissed for shore leave long ago. The two scientists had practically lived in the famed Nelson Institute's sophisticated laboratories before Wyatt had to return to Colorado.
Nelson and his dear friend, Dr. Sherman Wyatt, had been 'happy as clams', deeply involved in Watt's newly created chemical additive, the X-24, that, if successful, could revolutionize ordinary fuels, including cesium and plutonium, as electricity had wood, by increasing potency but completely neutralizing toxic side effects of radiation and fossil fuels to persons and to the atmosphere itself.
It had been in all the news. Businesses and power companies were vying with each other for the rights to be the 'first on the block' with the find of the century. But it was to the US government that Nelson had been contracted for the actual trial runs. Nelson, usually skeptical about such miracle finds, was equally enthusiastic. But Lee Crane was not.
"I'm telling you, Lee," Nelson expounded with sheer delight at dinner in the nearly deserted institute cafeteria, " it's been tested by the government for toxicity, combustion, etcetera, etcetera, and there is no apparent danger! We combine this additive to our cesium pellets and not only will get more power, we'll not even leave a trace of radioactivity from the boat, why, we won't even need protective clothing in the reactor room! Think of it Lee! Cancer patients won't have to endure needless suffering from radiation sickness, we can fuel cars, planes, spaceships even, without polluting anything, and for a fraction of the amount of fuel! It's marvelous! I can't see why you're being so wary about it. You're usually the one who tosses caution out the door, even for a governmental contract like this one," Nelson grinned.
"I'm sorry, sir, but it just doesn't add up…it seems to good to be true….you really trust Wyatt's invention that much?"
"I know he's an old friend sir, a Nobel Prize winner, and all that, but…I'm sorry sir, I just can't credit all…this…."
"Apparently you don't trust me either," Nelson replied bitterly, then suddenly, with authority, " contact me when Seaview has been certified from dry dock." With that he rose and departed, not looking back.
With a heavy sigh of self-recrimination, Lee trudged to his office at the institute to check on the endless details that were part of Seaview's command.
"We've got everything stowed, Skipper," Chief Sharkey reported topside, " except that whatchmacallit the admiral wants to put in himself…uh, just what is it?"
"The conversion chamber for the X-24 additive."
"X-24?! That fancy wonder stuff!!?" Sharkey exclaimed, excited.
"That's right, Chief, " Nelson suddenly appeared, " Seaview is going to lend a hand to the government and make history, though her Captain isn't at all keen on the idea," Nelson grinned at Lee. "Chief, give me a hand, will you?"
"Aye, sir," Sharkey replied, and followed Nelson into the boat, only a little uneasy at the apparently congenial but noticeable difference of opinion between his two command officers.
"Oh no…" Crane read the message just delivered by special courier.
"Any reply sir?"
"No, wait. I don’t know…take a seat," he indicated the observation nose.
Crane usually got a kick out of the oohs and ahhhs when visitors first saw the transparent windows in the bow of the submarine, but this time he barely heard the young man's gasp of astonishment as Lee walked through the deserted control room to the nether chambers.
"Uh, you guys actually go underwater in this thing?" the courier asked of the security guard assigned to him.
"All the time. Nervous?"
"Not unless you spring a leak..cheeze, I knew Seaview had a window but I never expected anything like this…it's like, outa' Jules Verne!"
"Yeah, " the security guard sat, " we kinda like it too, only we call it Nelson's porch! Just one problem though."
"The mermaids keep bumping into us!"
Both men laughed, and began to chat as they waited for the captain to return.
"Excuse me, Chief-give us a moment, will you?" Crane entered an outer chamber of the reactor room.
"Well?" Nelson asked, giving the screw a final twist.
"It's about Dr. Wyatt, sir…there's been… an accident…he was killed in a head-on collision…instantly …I'm sorry sir…I know how close you were."
"I…I'm sorry to hear that…he and I …."
"I know…I'll arrange for the flying sub to take you to Colorado…would you like me to come along?" Lee added softly.
"That won't be necessary," Nelson said quietly, " thank you Lee…there, it's all installed. Put everything on hold until I get back. "
" Lee?" Chip peeked into the Captain's Cabin, " I knocked, but I guess you were to engrossed in your reports. "
"Oh, Chip, c'mon in…any word on the Admiral's return yet?"
"He'll be staying with Wyatt's family for a few days after the funeral…but he did say our orders haven't changed. "
"I thought they wouldn't."
"Chip, I don't care if this X-24 has an okay from the President herself, I'm…nervous about it….it's just too…easy!"
"We've seen wonderful discoveries come about before Lee, without any problems."
"I know all that, but…it just doesn't seem… valid."
"A feeling Lee?"
"Call it superstition, sceptism, I don't know…. I don't like this, Chip…if Seaview has to go through this…well, I'd rather have a volunteer crew, arrange it will you?"
"Nelson may not agree."
"Perhaps not, but this is one area I do have carte blanche."
"Okay, skipper," Chip winked, " you're the boss."
The command staff and senior members of Seaview's crew clustered around the just returned Admiral, offering condolences as he entered the conference room and called the meeting to order. Everyone noticed how drawn and tired he looked, but knew better than to say anything.
"Thank you gentlemen. Now," he motioned them to sit at the large conference table just down the hall from his office, "as you know, Wyatt's additive needs to be confirmed as viable for any commercial and military use, so Seaview will be, in effect, the very vehicle to prove it…now, the conversion unit has already been installed. It will only need one person for monitoring, to make any minor adjustments if needed; to insure the rate of conversion is compounded correctly…child's play really. Any questions?"
"Actually, sir, " Crane asked, "no matter how many times I review this," he placed the heavy bound report on the table," this compound calibration has me concerned. If the energy output is increased at such a rate, can we really cope with it? What if it gets out of hand? Can Seaview take the strain? What about…."
"Well, Captain," Nelson interrupted, " I'm sure you'll just have to see to it that she does," Nelson grinned, " it's really quite simple, like the compound interest at the bank, it doubles itself at specific times, no problem if we pay attention to it. As for any difficulties, all we have to do is pull the plug…."
"You look tired, Admiral," Lee escorted him to his office ashore, " how did things go?"
"It…really shook me up, Lee…Wyatt's the same age as me, I hadn't realized…"
"It was a car crash, age has nothing to do with it…"
"Lee, the police say he may have had slow reaction times…"
"That's ridiculous! Do they know what happened?"
"Not really. The roads were slick, he lost control, and couldn't compensate…the car flipped over ten times, Lee…."
"Thunderstorms and slick roads cause accidents all the time…"
"Yes, yes, I know all that, but…seeing his widow, his grandchildren, and…we were all so happy, just the other day before…and suddenly, he's gone…."
"It happens to us all sooner or later," Lee sighed softly, " but it doesn't make it any easier to accept…I...know there's nothing I can say or do, but…I want you to know…."
"Thanks, Lee, I know," Nelson patted him on the shoulder, "I guess I've been a bit maudlin, but his life, all his works in progress suddenly stopped…it's…unsettling…he had so much more life to offer…it …makes me realize how much I've not done yet…Lee, if I have one thing left of value to offer mankind, it's proving Wyatt's invention…for his memory, yes, but for also for humanity."
"Then we'll just have to give it our best shot."
"Good morning Skipper, " Ski entered the captain's cabin and sat a tray on Crane's desk. "Cookie said to bring you some hot 'joe', and first pick of the doughnuts."
"He's getting to be like Jaimie," Lee emerged from the small cubicle, freshly showered, shaved and buttoning his shirt, which Kowalski noticed still hung looser than it should have. "He's after me to gain a bit of weight again," Crane continued, " lets' see…hmmm. Plain, jelly, glazed, chocolate…I'm sure they're all good, but …I'm really not hungry Ski."
"He's bound to fuss if you don't have anything."
"How about just a plain old poached egg?"
"You read his mind, sir, " Ski removed a metal lid from a small plate with a flourish. "The last fresh egg aboard till we hit port," he grinned.
"That's more like it…tell cookie 'mission accomplished' and take the doughnuts to Morton…I have no idea where he puts it all, and add a few more for the rest of the watch in the control room…I'll be along after I finish going through these reports.…"
"The Admiral get off okay?"
"Yeah, he's at the sea lab getting ready for us…he's gonna monitor our first test run?"
"Just one of a zillion steps in the process…Ski…thank you for volunteering to monitor the conversion unit for phase one, but I've decided to do the babysitting myself this time."
"Is this a dangerous mission, skipper? Mr. Morton didn't say, but he usually doesn't ask for volunteers for a cruise unless there's a risk."
"All the previous X-24 tests have flying colors for safety, but …yellow alert status I think, for the actual tests, at least 'unofficially', pass it on, okay Ski?"
"Aye sir, you can count on me."
Everything was going according to plan. Crane sat by the conversion unit as the test dragged on and on. So far everything was as just as easy and as simple as Nelson had tried to convince him. Seaview handled herself beautifully as she sailed over water, under water, fast, slow and a myriad of other maneuvering details. So I am a stick in the mud, Lee chuckled to himself as the sub yet again criss-crossed over, near, and around the sea lab, increasing in power output and speed, while the radioactivity decreased…it was really amazing. Chalk up another one to the boss, Lee checked off the new level on the clipboard. At a girl, baby mine, he grinned at the mute walls of the boat, then at himself, for his ever increasing devotion to his best girl. It was his last thought before the inner bulkhead cracked and sent scrapnel flying.
"Skipper??Skipper?" Chief Sharkey shouted, with panic in his voice.
"Ohhh. What…what happened?" Lee tried to rise from the deck, but found he was held down firmly by Kowalski. "Ski, let me up…I'm okay..really."
"You sure skipper?" Sharkey asked, concerned." You got blood on you. On your head and here, and there too," he pointed to a few places on Crane's shoulder, abdomen, and side, "And you were covered in metal debris. That bulkhead cracked, looks like it actually exploded all over you… some of the struts even fell on top of you…weird that the boat didn't feel anything…"
"Well, I seem to be okay now," he mopped some of the rivulets of blood from his head,"just a few scratches, that's all," he gave lie to the words as he pressed his stomach and side to stanch the seeping red ooze staining his shirt, " is the test still running?"
"Huh, check it out Ski" Sharkey ordered, "we were just passing by and saw you all laid out on the deck, dead like."
"It's still on skipper…," Ski said.
"Good, " Lee rose, slipping on the mass of broken metal, "it's vital that we let this phase finish to see if…."
"But…uh, you will let Doc…" Sharkey helped steady Crane.
"Later, Chief, later. I'm fine, really…get a repair team started. And a clean-up crew."
"Aye sir, uh…."
"I'm fine. Bring me a clean uniform will you Chief? I need to hang around till the phase is completed. And bring me some iodine and cotton gauze from my shaving kit."
Nelson had returned to Seaview in a good mood, so far the tests were giving credence to Wyatt's chemical. A personal, if posthumous, triumph. Old friend, you'll be remembered into eternity, Nelson mused.
"Well, Chip," Nelson returned his attention to the control room, " we made history…now, for phase two…where's Lee?"
"I thought he…well, it appears as though he's not really not interested in this after all…I could have sworn he'd changed his mind…well, never mind… let's get on with preparations for phase two."
Nelson was satisfied with the phase one results and was about to begin the next trial, when Crane approached him.
"You could at least have made an appearance, Lee, " Nelson pouted," where the hell have you been?"
"I'd like to call it off Admiral."
"Here, look at this, " Lee held open his hand. In his palm were bent screws, twisted bits and shards of metal debris.
"During phase one, an interior bulkhead cracked. Repairs have been made, but I must tell you, even though engineering claims it was due to some defective plates and screws on our part, I still think we'd be flirting with danger if we proceed to the maximum output required for the tests."
"No sir," Lee lied. It wouldn't serve to upset Nelson, he hadn't been thatbadly hurt."We need more hull testing ashore, then, when I'm reasonably convinced that stress factures won't happen at these levels, we can resume the runs and…."
"It seems to me that you've already made up your mind it's going to fail. If you're so gung ho about this, I'll check with engineering and the area myself, if that's what it will take to satisfy you… Well? "
"I see… You don't exactly trust my judgement in this case, then, do you?"
"Of course I do," Crane replied, unable to hide his hesitancy," but this is too new, too unproven..too…".
"You never used to be so damn doubtful of my ability to think," Nelson stalked off.
"Chip," Nelson entered the control room some hours later, Crane following, "I'd like you to supervise phase two tomorrow. It seems our captain still has reservations about continuing the tests…unwarranted reasons, isn't that right, Captain? Engineering and I concur there was only a minor correlation to our little bulkhead problem, which was due to Crane's own incorrect adjustments. Kowalski can monitor the conversion chamber next time."
"No!" Crane spouted," He's not familiar with it, I am."
"Ski can handle it alright, a child can handle it, but evidently a captain can't…damn it Lee, it was your fault the hull cracked! You didn't adjust the fine line pressure correctly! You botched the controls!"
"I did not! It was textbook! Something's wrong!"
"The printouts don't say that…"Nelson put his hands on his hips, reflective, "You've wanted this mission to fail, right from the beginning," Nelson pouted, his passion rising, not really meaning his words, but he was too angry to Lee's betrayal of Wyatt to be reasonable now. "We are under governmental contract and we're not going abandon this mission on an emotional whim, or on any action on your part to sicken the tests."
"You can't mean that," Lee whispered in response to the accusation," It's no secret I've thought this whole wonder-chem. is flawed somehow, but I'd never…never sabotage it…."
"Wyatt is-was a genius! Who are you to think his invention is flawed! The most gifted scientist on the globe, the most noble, decent friend I ever had…. Who are you, a mere sub jockey, to question him? I thought I knew you better, Lee."
"Admiral, I know how hard it's been for you to take his loss, but…."
"Science has nothing to do with feelings….I think I'm the best judge of his remarkable brainchild, not you. But, if you still can't handle that….perhaps you would prefer going back to the Navy where all you have to do is think 'by the numbers', like in a child's painting!"
Nelson was immediately sorry for his words, but found he could not, or would not apologize, and watched his crushing words reflected in Lee's eyes, as Crane quietly gave Morton the conn and departed the room.
"Uh, Skipper?" Sharkey peeked into the captain's cabin, it's door slightly open as usual. " I brought you some grub, Cookie said you hadn't eaten…."
"Oh, thanks, Chief," Lee replied, grateful that Sharkey had turned to sneeze. The turn had shielded him from view when he'd winced from his growing discomfort.
"What'd the doc say?"
"I'm okay. Just a bit stiff. Is everything set for tomorrow?"
"Yes sir, bright and early for 0800…but…"
"Well, Ski's a little nervous. The Admiral's gone over everything with him, but…"
"He'll be fine Chief. Just tell him…never mind, ask him to come by, will you…I'll make sure he understands everything. Oh, and have the temperature controls checked, it's rather warm in here."
Kowalski was grateful for his Captain's help, and stood his watch at the conversion unit for this test with more confidence than Nelson had inspired. By now all hands knew about the little altercation in the control room, and while Kowalski respected the Admiral above anyone on earth, he also cared about his Skipper with a depth not exactly given to just any ordinary Captain. Ski could only imagine how hurtful Nelson's words must have felt to him. Oh, Crane had his faults, most officers did, and a few weaknesses too, Kowalski supposed, but it was hard not to like the guy just the same. There was possessiveness too, that Ski had over him. The whole crew did. And they were mad at the Admiral for hurting him. Even if the weapons had only been barbed words.
"Yes, Madam President," Nelson answered on the private videophone in his cabin, " the secondary tests went without a hitch, Wyatt's grand invention is almost on the way home…yes. Something for the history books," he smiled, " yes, I'd be happy to give an interview…, yes, thank you, ma'am." The link closed and Nelson took an old picture of he and Wyatt from a fishing trip years ago, and grinned, " Well, you did it…a beginning of a new age," he sighed in contentment, and left for the heart of the boat.
"Well," Nelson entered the control room," the President is very pleased. Start up phase three."
"Belay that," Lee interrupted, " Admiral, I'm still not sure of…."
"Blast it Lee! How many times must we go through this? The secondary phase went without a hitch, everything's fine!"
"The tests were limited in duration, and remember, the repairs are only temporary…."
"You just don't trust me, do you?" Nelson asked quietly, dangerously.
"It's still an unnecessary risk and…."Lee tried not to wince as he spoke, blast, it was hurting more and more to breathe. Damn bruising. Boy it's hot in here, he brushed the beads of perspiration from his forehead. He'd have to have a word with Sharkey. Engineering should have fixed the temperature problem ages ago.
"Commander Morton," fumed Nelson, " you have the conn. Mr. Crane, you're relieved," Nelson turned and marched into the observation nose.
"That's unfair Admiral, " Lee started after him, took a sudden breath of air, winced, and changed his mind. Returning to Morton, he whispered, "if anything, anything shows out of the ordinary, stop the test, acting captain or not."
"Morton!" Nelson roared, " Mr. Crane has no authority. You will disregard his suggestion…may I remind you, despite my age, that my hearing is in no way impaired and that I am perfectly capable of knowing if a problem warrants aborting the test. Mr. Crane is just leaving, isn't that right Mr. Crane, …or shall I call the Master At Arms to escort you to your cabin, or to the brig if you'd prefer."
It was a difficult situation for Lee. Why was Harry so-so adamant for the damn tests to go on? They'd scrubbed government contract missions before…for less of a reason than his, why was Harry so… so...determined? For a few moments, the observant crewmen thought he might just call Nelson's bluff, to call the MAA, but finally Crane moved off, and into the corridor.
The next two days were agonizingly slow for the crew of Seaview as the phases went through their paces, with no apparent problems. Nelson had just returned to the sea lab for further monitoring. Crane's misgivings were indeed simply that, after all, everyone was thinking.
Even Crane had to admit that the tests were running fine…weren't they? It was only a little quiver. Unnoticed by most, but to Lee it screamed alert. He used the mike to contact the control room but was abruptly told to clam up by Nelson on the interlink. It was expected, Lee was told in no uncertain terms. It was indicated in Wyatt's notes as a distinct possibility. Hadn't Crane read the blasted reports? While appropriately scolded over the airwaves like an errant schoolboy, Crane still didn't have to like his boat's distress, even if she only mildly protested. In fact, he decided to check on Kowalski, authorized or not, busy at the conversion unit.
"Everything okay Ski?" he peeked in.
"Oh, hi Skipper, yeah, working like a charm…uh, you okay Skip? You look kinda flushed…"
"Just this accursed heat…I'm surprised engineering hasn't found the problem yet…" he felt dizzy, " I had… them …" his throat was constricting,"… look into it… but…I…I…"
"Skipper?" asked Ski, suddenly alongside him, concerned as Crane suddenly gasped violently. "Skipper? Skipper!"
"Sorry… Ski, just…" he gasped, " a bit… nauseous…excuse me… I'll g…."
"Skipper!! " Kowalski yelled ,and grabbed the mike, "Doc! Doc! CV room! Hurry!" he raced to Crane, " Skipper! Skipper? Can you hear me??"
"Of all the idiotic…why didn't you report the Captain had been hurt all this time!!?" Morton yelled at stricken Kowalski, still in shock.
"He told us not to," Sharkey intervened, worry etched on his face, as a crewman finished cleaning up the small pools of bloody globs of vomit and phlegm on the deck and departed, looking back, concern written on his face.
"He'd wanted to finish," Sharkey continued, a lump in his throat, " finish that first test. He said he'd see the doc…and later, he…well, I guess he didn't really say exactly that he had, but he sort of implied it! I sure am sorry Mr. Morton, I shoulda' known better…he really seemed okay…."
"Very well, back to work, all of you. Kowalski, you up to it?" he asked,
"Huh?" Ski broke out of his reverie, " yes sir, right away," he said without enthusiasm.
Morton checked the controls on the conversion unit and glanced at the now spotless deck. He hadn't had time to contact Nelson, who was bound to know something was up and would need a report of Lee's collapse.
"Chip," Nelson replied after Morton had contacted him, " when you're ready, we'll begin the phase all over again…we need uninterrupted data….I know Lee collapsed," he said to soothe Morton's ruffled feelings, " but this data is imperative…."
"Aye sir," Morton replied obediently, but not at all in peace with the idea. How could anything be more important than Lee?
"Man," Kowalski dunked his sandwich into his soup; "it's like the Admiral doesn't even give a damn…the Skipper! His own best friend even! I never would have thought it. Not ever," he pushed the soup away, it was too red. Like the little pools of the Skipper's blood on the deck.
"Any word yet?" Patterson stood as Sharkey entered the crew's mess.
"Nah," Sharkey sat wearily, " Jaimie's kicking everybody out of there, everybody but him and Frank… they're gettin' him all laid out with tubes runnin' in and out of him, all over him, and …they were getting," he gulped, " scalpels and things…"
"Attention all hands," the PA blared, " this is Morton, phase three will begin in ten minutes."
"Man…you'd think he woulda' complained," Riley added to the grumbles of discontent.
The latest phase test demanded Nelson's presence aboard and if he was concerned about Commander Crane, he didn't show it to the crew…they'd only be distracted, he mused, they'd be thinking only about their Captain instead of their posts…this phase was vital to Wyatt's tests, and Lee himself, well, he'd been hurt dozens of times and always came through fine, he'd have demanded the tests go ahead as planned, if he hadn't had that cockamamie idea about a flaw. Lee knew how important the tests were, really he did, Nelson tried to convince himself. Lee couldn't be at all as bad as Chip seemed to think…damn the blasted tests! Damn the President! Damn the Presidents' orders just in, to continue at in spite of everything!! The hours passed uneventfully, and the phase was finally competed. Nelson took a break and retired to his cabin to make yet another report to Washington. He gave orders not to be disturbed.
"Commander Morton? Will you please come to sick bay…" Doc Jamison's formal and somber voice reberverated through the boat.
"I don't like the sound of that," Sharkey said, as grunts and nods of his shipmates
concurred." C'mon," he led the group toward sick bay.
"Chip, I can't promise anything..." Jaimie said soberly, discarding a blood-splattered surgical gown, and pulling on a clean new dry one, while his corpsman Frank was still working on the patient," apparently he's been feverish and hemorrhaging all this time. The battering from the bulkhead supports only bruised him and cracked two ribs, but pieces of chipped bone, debris and shrapnel from the explosion have done terrible damage…" he lowered his eyes, almost afraid to speak, then rose his head and spoke directly to the acting captain," Chip, he has internal lacerations including a real beaut to his liver, and more pieces of this shit," he indicated the metal bowl containing various bloody bits of twisted metal fragments, "perforated his right lung and upper GI tract. His head and shoulder wounds are relatively minor, except for the concussion he didn't bother to tell anyone about, he didn't tell anyone how badly he was hurt…and now….. He should have seen me right away…he has massive areas of inflammation, and frankly, Chip, it's very very serious…I even have him on Liquid-Air via the pulmonary artery. "
"Chip…I called you here as current master of the boat to report to you officially that…we could … we very probably will..loose him."
"He…he didn't even mention…" Morton was pale.
"He may have only thought he was terribly sore, badly bruised, he's been badly hurt before without complications, "Jaimie returned to the patient, "…but all the while he walked about or moved around, the bits of bone and scrapnel that he hadn't seen or picked out, or had been closed over by the clotted blood and tissue, were cutting and tearing into him deeper…finally his body objected and hence the collapse…I need to do some more extensive repairs, but I want a smooth ride. I've almost used up the emergency supply of AB negative, there may be a few men aboard with it, but you may have to call out for some…"
At that moment Crane moaned and thrashed about wildly. Jaimie raced to his side and he, Frank, and Chip forcibly restrained him. Some of the temporary surgical staples were buckling. He was wildly incoherent, mumbling in gasping breaths, then calling out for his mother not to scold him, then screaming at Krueger to go away, then asking for pizza take out. He had no visible recognition of either Chip or Jamison.
"How long has he been like this!?" Chip asked, confused, as Jaime tightened restraining straps on his arms and chest to keep him reasonably still.
"He's been in and out of delirium like this ever since his temperature reached 104. It's nearly 105 now. It's very dangerous. Frank, more of those wet sponges… that's better… get that ventilator prepped… Liquid Air may not be enough."
It was then that Doc noticed the ashen faced crewmen eavesdropping at the doorway.
"Doc, he's not gonna…he's not gonna…"Sharkey asked.
"It's a very serious, now, please, give us some room…."
The small group was motioned out by Morton, who remained behind to speak with Doc in hushed tones, then hurried to the control room and bumped into Nelson who had just entered the area himself.
"Chip," the government's asked for a full demonstration of the Wyatt additive once trials are completed, and we can, lets' see, here, we may be able to begin the demonstration next Wednesday."
"Admiral, haven't you any regard for Lee left at all?" Chip asked bitterly. "Lee's barely clinging to life!!!He was hurt, badly, did you forget ??He was so anxious to see it through, for you, for you, that he didn't even bother to see Doc. He's been hemorrhaging, damnit!!!" Chip screamed. "His liver's ripped, his GI track is torn, and he's delirious with fever! Doc called me to tell me we'll probably loose him! Don't you give a damn anymore!!!??"
"But he can't be that bad!!" Nelson exclaimed, concerned, "he was fine just hours ago!!!"
"Bad!!!!? Admiral, he's probably going to die!!! " Morton took a few breaths then picked up the mike, " Attention all hands. This is the acting ca…this is the Exec. The Skipper is in serious condition…Sparks," Chip continued, as he turned to face the ashen faces of the men, " contact any vessel you can, the Navy, the Institute… We need type AB negative blood. We only have three men aboard with it and one of them is the Skipper. We, can, however, use type O blood. We have a supply aboard. It's not the best for him, Doc doesn't really want to use it, but we may have to. The sick bay alcove will take any donations as well, just in case. Helm, keep her as steady as you can, Doc wants a smooth ride. O'Brian, take us home," Chip waited for Nelson to confirm his decision to abort, and added, after Nelson nodded in the affirmative," Sparks, also tell the Institute to have an ambulance standing by…."
The rest of his words were lost to Nelson as he had already ascended the spiral steps and begun to race toward sick bay.
Nelson's heart was pounding, and not just from the unused-to exertion. His heart lurched as he saw Lee, drenched in sweat, being prepared for further surgery. Lee seemed to be awake, but was babbling incoherently. He looked so…so…frail; his hair curling into ringlets from the sweat and frequent sponging of his forehead by Frank as Jaimie applied yet again the heavy yellow antiseptic over his stapled abdomen. Drops of blood peeped from former incisions. Nelson felt faint. Was that a whispered scream?he wondered, as Lee cried out in pain, barely audible.
"I don't need you here now, Admiral," Doc acknowledged Nelson's presence, "we're going inside again…you're just in the way," Jaimie ordered.
"Please, just for a moment…"
"No, get out. Now. Alright, Frank…did you adjust the dosage? With that fever and concussion we still don't want to knock him out completely…."
Nelson moaned, and ignored the Chief Medical Officer's demands and came forward, taking a sponge of coolant, " Lee? Lee?" Nelson mopped his brow, as Jaimie ignored him and deftly re-opened the incisions. " It'll be alright Lee," Nelson continued, praying it would be. If Lee noticed Nelson's ministrations, or the medical team's, he gave no sign of it. He was in his own little world, babbling about Santa Claus, Martians, and Thorton the Wonder Dog. About sailboats, tigers, and what he wanted for his 8th birthday.
"Here," Jaimie insisted to Nelson, " if you're going to insist on staying here, at least put on a mask and dunk your hands in this," he offered Nelson a bowl of the strong smelling disinfectant, "don't worry, he doesn't feel a thing…Frank, we need to get that ventilator down his trachea as soon as…."
Nelson had every intention of helping. But as Jaimie probed and began to do some more finely detailed work on Lee's organs, the next thing Nelson knew, he was face down on the deck. He could see by their shoes, that neither Jamison nor Frank had moved from their positions.
"Sorry Admiral, you fainted, can you get up on your own?"
"I'm sorry Jaimie, I'm sorry…I can make it up…I just can't…I can't…" Nelson had risen and backed away to keep himself from falling across Crane if he fainted again.
Lee was still babbling, the sweat rolling down his face as he sang the 'happy birthday' song to himself in a small voice, inserted with a few elementary times-tables. Frank finally finished prepping the ventilator unit. As Lee turned his head yet again, he seemed to look at Nelson…
Nelson held his breath as he waited for him to speak.
"Mom?" Lee whispered.
Not waiting any further, Frank pulled Crane's head straight and back and inserted the horrible tube against Lee's strangled and outraged cries as he gagged against the intrusion.
Nelson gasped and fled. Trembling outside of sick bay's door, he banged his fist against the wall, tormented with grief.
"Anything yet?" Kowalski asked Smitty as he sat down to a snack in the crew's mess.
"No…they're still at it. If we'd only made the Admiral listen to the Skipper in the first place, none of this woulda' happened!"
"Yeah, I suppose, but… we all take risks on Seaview…."
"Well the Skipper didn't like it, this Wyatt stuff to begin with, and he's usually right on the button when he gets a gut feeling…the Admiral shoulda' done what the Skipper wanted and run more tests ashore before we even set sail.."
"Look, we can't change what's happened, we were under orders. The Admiral didn't intend for the bulkhead to explode."
"If he hadn't been so stubborn, it wouldn't have! All his spouting off about the print-out that it was the Skipper's fault…it wasn't…the Skipper said so, and I'd take his word over any sassed up Admiral, even Nelson…"
"Now look, " Kowalski rose, "the Admiral's fault or not, it was an accident…let it rest Smitty. We all feel pretty badly about this."
"Yeah, so why didn't you notify the XO right away?"
"Because the Skipper told us not to! Would you have busted his orders? "
"No… no," Smitty calmed down, " no I guess not…but shit , Ski…."
"Yeah, I know. I know.…"
It was late and Kowalski decided the Doc and corpsman were probably taking turns watching over Crane. There had been no announcement, but rumor had it Frank had gone to the Wardroom for some food, his scrubs removed. He'd said nothing. To anyone. He ate in silence, but the blood that had dried in his normally immaculate hair spoke volumes. The corpsman was not an officer, but no-body objected. The Wardroom was closer to sick bay and the rules were often bent out of convenience. So, surgery was over with. At least that was the rumor. But probably wasn't good enough. Ski had to know.
It was quiet in sick bay except for the beeps of various pieces of equipment hooked up to the patient. But something was different. A large horrible looking tube jutted out of Crane's mouth, his head was tilted far back, his eyes staring at the ceiling. An earie whooshing sound reverberated throughout the chamber. A single pristine white mantle was draped over the gurney's frames, leaving only Crane's head visible. The chrome gurney and deck had been scrubbed clean. There was no mattress. Crane looked dead. No, he couldn't be, the beeps kept beeping. The IV's kept dripping…. It still wasn't good enough. Ski crept into sickbay, wondering why Doc wasn't there, watching over his patient, until he saw Jamison on the private phone.
"Yes, Chip," Jaimie said, sotto voice, " you'd better inform Mrs. Crane now…I'm sorry."
"No!" Ski whispered.
"Kowalski, what are you doing here?" Jamison whispered back.
"He, he's dead!"
"Dead? Where did you get a notion like that?" Jaime asked gently, " Oh, wait a moment…the call…Ski, he's not dead…but… he's in grave danger, a lot will depend on the next few hours, on nature and his own stubbornness. Here, I'll show you."
Kowalski allowed himself to be steered to the patient. Crane was still looking straight up, his eyeballs twitching.
"Why…why is he like that?" Ski whispered.
"He's dreaming…look…" Doc closed the eyelids. It was easier to see his eyeballs moving about, "see that, that's REM sleep. Just with his eyes open…it happens now and then."
"She needs to be… prepared … Chip's family will be contacting her. They'll probably fly her out. I've got some specialists enlisted for him."
"More extensive tests than what I can give him here, up to date computer imaging, possible brain scans, that sort of thing, to be on the safe side."
"But he's gonna…."
"You can tell the… no, I'll inform the crew that he's out of surgery and I've upgraded his condition to serious. "
"He'll be on the old fashioned ventilator for a while…the Liquid Air is working supplying oxygen, but it's difficult enough for him to breathe properly because of the other internal injuries, not to mention the pain, but we can't sedate him as heavily as we'd like."
"Doc…" Ski was terrified with the news.
"I'll do whatever I can, Ski, but…you'd better prepare yourself …physical injuries aside, the pyrexia…the fever… could possibly have affected his cerebral abilities…or worse…"
"Oh, doc…"Ski leaned against the wall for support, " not the skipper…not the skipper…." Kowalski moaned as he envisioned his captain bereft of all cognitive functions.
"Ski, I'd prefer it if you wouldn't say anything about this possibility just yet…will you do that for me? For him?"
"I'd do anything for him, Doc, anything…I won't say nothin' till you say so."
Although the atmosphere aboard was not nearly as depressing as it had been, due to Jamison's announcement of the captain 'improving', the Admiral couldn't help noticing the distinct air of, almost…controlled hostility… toward him. It seemed as if they were observing strict formality to avoid talking with him. Maybe he was imaging things….
"Chip, estimate of arrival."
"Four hours, sir."
No, he hadn't imagined it.
"I never would have thought it," O'Brian commented under his breath at his watch station as Nelson walked past," As if nothing's happened."
"Doesn't give a shit, " Sparks whispered back.
"And the Skipper likes him!" Ron added in the undercurrent.
While Chip took care of docking procedures, Jaimie sought out Nelson, deep in thought in his cabin. "Admiral," Jaimie approached, " this is important…I don't want anything to upset Lee. He can't take the strain… too much exertion can cause new or renewed bleeding. He's going to need all his strength and the support of his friends… even if he can't remember them…Can I count on you not to agitate him in any way?"
"I'll be good, I promise, " Nelson said in earnest." But you don't know if…"
"No, we won't know the state of his mind for awhile."
"When can I see him?"
"Well, he's not really up to it this soon…but…" Jaime fiddled with a few switches on the monitor screen.
The view was not encouraging. Frank was hovering over the nude patient, who's' legs were mildly thrashing about, in contrast to his firmly restrained upper body. The corpsman was swabbing cranes' incisions, sponging the powerful smelling antiseptic all over his body, checking his eyes, scalp, and the various monitors and IV hook ups. The ventilator was still in place. Lee was definitely agitated about something and pointed downward, and pounded the gurney with his fist in anger. He was trying to talk, but only grunts escaped his throat.
"Sorry Skipper, " Frank tried to make light of it, "I know it's awful undignified, but the 'Foley' stays put…Doc's orders…we'll take it out soon enough...catheters are a real pain I know, now calm down. You're not supposed to get upset…."
It was impossible to tell what was aggravating the patient so much, as Lee continued to point and pound. The corpsman continued in his best bedside manner, "you're going to be fine…we're taking you to the general hospital in town. They've got a fancy VIP suite all set up for you…here, now that you're all cleaned up, let's get this nice hospital garb on you…don't want to shock the local gals senseless now do we…they're not used to sailors in the buff…there, all finished," he spread a sheet and blanket over the patient…"Ready for moving day …your Mom might be coming did you know? So you gotta look your best…you know how Mom's are…."
Lee banged on the gurney with severe force and pointed again. Could it be that the Skipper was pointing to the sickbay door and not to the Foley?
"The door? Is that what's bothering you Skipper?"
Lee weakly nodded in the affirmative.
"You want me to close it?" the answer was no. "Open it?" Again, the negative nod. Frank continued, " You want somebody?"
At last, Lee nodded yes.
Crane nodded no, and held up his index finger.
"Uh, one..okay, one what?"
Lee nodded no, and pointed to himself with two fingers, which was difficult to do as his arms were bound just as tightly slightly below his elbows.
"Two. Okay, you're two, is that what you mean?"
Lee relaxed. He was getting through.
"One, you want number one…the Admiral!!"
Lee relaxed in sheer relief.
"Come with me," Jamison relented, picking up the mike, " sickbay, the admiral and I will be right down."
In Sick Bay Jaimie and Nelson paused at the doorway as if Lee could break.
Before Nelson took two steps, Crane looked his way and stretched out what he could of an arm. Nelson raced to him and took his hand. It was a gentle squeeze but it told both that all the bitter words between them were forgotten. Nelson would have liked more time just to be there, offering silent support, he really didn't know what to say…finally the words came. "Lee…I'm sorry…I blame myself totally for your injuries. I'm aborting Wyatt's tests, contrary to orders or not."
Lee only managed a slight head toss of a vehement 'no', and patted Nelson's hand, then wrote an imaginary 'no' on his palm. 'I was… wrong', Lee spelled out on Nelson's hand. He wanted to spell more, but Nelson noted that even this effort wearied him greatly.
"We'll talk more later, Lee, Jaimie is he all set?" relief in his voice that Lee knew him after all. The boat had docked and everything was ready to lift Crane topside from the loading dock in the missile room….
It was grumbled by most, that of almost every hand seeing Crane off through the loading hatch, Nelson wasn't there to bid him farewell. They had no way of knowing that Nelson felt his presence would only serve to embarrass the both of them, for he knew he'd be become far too overcome with emotion at Lee's helplessness as the patient was hauled topside with a winch.
Two days passed, and by now most of the crew had departed for shore leave, but each had visited their Skipper in his new accommodations. His room had been quickly cluttered with cards, centerfolds were taped to the ceiling, much to the disgust of the predominately female nursing staff, so Crane could see them without effort. Words weren't necessary for him to thank his crew, his eyes had said it all, as the ventilator helped him to breathe.
"Skipper?" Jamie lightly tapped the patient a day later, " You have company."
Lee's eyes fluttered open and he stifled a yawn…"a pretty nurse- this time?" a wishful raspy voice asked. The ventilator had only just been removed an hour previously. The Liquid Air IV was still meddlesome, but it gave his lungs needed oxygen through his artery. A recent medical development, Liquid Air had saved countless lives of those who could not breathe satisfactorily on their own.
"Hardly," Nelson laughed, relieved, as he came into Crane's view.
"Admiral" Lee spoke in a hoarse faint voice edged in pain…"you…look awful…what happened? You've been gone awhile… Seaview???" he suddenly asked, worried.
"Seaview's just fine. Fine," he patted Lee's arm quickly, ever so lightly. " She has a clean bill of health…how are you?"
"Doc …says I aged him… twenty years…I don't… remember…" he yawned, " sorry. The Wyatt tests…we have…to finish…"
Nelson was uneasy with the question, "I've informed Washington I've decided to give it up. They can get another boat to do the honors."
"I was stupid not …to… believe you," Lee spoke not quite earnestly, but apologetic, " suddenly noting nelson's words, " give it up??".
" Lee, you had every right to be concerned, I was just being stubborn not giving your feelings any credence…putting you at risk like that…and…engineering could be wrong."
"But I was… wrong, I'm sorry. You can't give it up…it's…contract…it's important…"
"Now, stop that…if I'd only…next time you're hurt, you're not allowed to order anyone to keep it to themselves…I'm supposed to be the stubborn one, not you…."
"So Doc… tells me, about the… bleeding that is…it didn't feel… like I was bleeding…but it sure hurts now, even …to breathe" he couldn’t help yawning." Harry, please…think about…it."
"Wait till I tell you what you called me in your delirium, "Nelson tried to smile, ignoring the plea, the image of Crane's delirium still real in his mind of Lee, so weak, so pale, " Now, why don't you go back to sleep. When you wake up, perhaps there'll be that pretty nurse you want."
"I…might just," he yawned again, "take you up on that…wake me… when she..reports for… duty….Admiral? Please…are you sure? Washington …can destroy …you…Seaview….my fault…my fault…"a single tear rolled down his face.
Nelson was going to reply to that but Crane had already fallen asleep.
"But Nelson! You can't bust orders to complete the Wyatt viability tests! We only allowed you to return to your base because of the medical emergency, " Congressman Baker complained over the inter-phone line, as Nelson swung his arms about pacing his office, " Seaview's already done the preliminaries…satisfactory tests, your report says, so why the hell not finish the job? "
"It's also," Nelson said vehemently, " says in the report that we suffered an interior stress fracture…which seriously injured the Captain and…"
"It was his own fault! You said so, right here in the preliminary report from engineering…."
"I'm not so sure Tom, Lee had a bad feeling about this from the start…."
"A feeling?? Harry, are you a scientist or a harebrain?"
"That's uncalled for …as a scientist I'd be foolish not to consider Crane's instincts regarding Seaview."
"You disregarded them aboard! Rumor has it you even took his command away because you thought he was nuts…I know he's hurt, Harry, but you do realize, don't you, that your sudden devotion to your Captain may cause a few raised eyebrows…and busting orders about this Wyatt development- you could loose your Reserve status for this, you know."
"Blast my Reserve Status! And Seaview's! And for your information, my feelings for Crane are nothing to be ashamed of!!"
"No, no, of course not, forgive me, it's just…Harry, we need this to work…the planet needs it to work…with the X-24 we can stop pollution and get our air back. Clean air…we're a dying planet Harry…we're so used to modern energy sources now, we can't live without them, but we're digging our own graves by using them…the X-24 can save us…but it has to begin soon…You said so yourself when you presented the Wyatt discovery to us in the first place! Oh, sure we could draft another boat, but Harry, we still need you…and if Seaview can give it the official okay, it will save valuable time and we and the rest of the world can get started right away! Now… are you sure you don't want to continue…?"
"Very well, you win…on the condition that the run still be considered experimental, and that I will abort it if there's a hint of danger. Satisfied?"
"I'll have to be then, won't I…oh, sorry about your Captain. I hear he's had some major setbacks…".
"He… he was doing well, then suddenly, he…I'm waiting for the medial report now…."
"You'll have time for that charting mission you scheduled previously. A week or two you thought…I'd take it if I were you….it'll take your minds off Crane. I'll be arriving for the tests to begin again when you get back…"
"I still say it was that blasted thingamajig!" shouted Smitty, polishing the mini-sub. " I don't care what the maritime inspectors said! It was the Admirals' little experiment that hurt the Skipper!"
"Pipe down, you want Nelson in here!" Ski warned.
The charting mission had gone according to schedule, but this, coupled with their Captain in the hospital, had added a few more coals on the already overheated furnace of discontent.
"Knock it off!" Sharkey called from the diving hatch as he checked a mark on the clipboard.
"But you heard what he'd said to the Skipper!" Smitty insisted.
"Yeah yeah, but the Skipper can take it, unlike you bozos! Back to work! We'll be docked in an hour." Sharkey was all business, but he too, was upset. The Admiral should have said something, anything in the last two weeks, by now about the Captain, even to offer the crew a few words of encouragement about him, but Nelson had gone about his business, keeping quiet, subdued, and to his schedule.
"So we're off tomorrow morning to do a new trial run…Are you sure you're okay Lee?" Chip asked.
"I'm fine," Lee said weakly, a deep furrow in his brow.."are you? I hear that it was a rough charting mission."
"What? It went off without a hitch."
"You know what I mean."
"That's some grapevine, Skipper, okay, I'll admit there's been some tension aboard…but hey, it's hard for the men to forget you're in the hospital…."
"You're the Skipper, Chip…just so you don't get too used to it, " Lee made light of it, "and I'm fine…just tired…now, what's really going on…they've been to see me, just about everyone of them, and all of them are hiding something…."
"Well…this is only rumor Lee, and what I've noticed myself, but…"
Chip began to explain about the frequent bickering between crewmen, the small whispered 'asides' as Nelson would enter a room, and the piling up requests for transfers back to the active Navy.
"That's enough Chip,' Jamison interrupted, as he checked PB and pulse, "I'm sorry Skipper, but you need to rest now."
"I have to see the admiral…"
"Sorry, no…now, let me check that problem area," Jaimie pulled Lee's hospital gown up over his abdomen as he gently probed the purple swollen misshapen masses. "You were very fortunate not to have killed yourself…next time you decide to take a stroll, you get permission, understand? Trying to get up like that by yourself, you destroyed some of my handiwork and nearly bled to death before we could get to you." He continued to probe.
"How many times are you going to scold me?"
"As many times as I have to, to get through your thick skull. I've aged twenty years in a few weeks!" he pulled the gown back down over the offensive view and tucked him in with an added blanket. "Here, drink this," he demanded.
"More medicine. Now drink… good."
"Chip, the Admiral…" Lee insisted.
"I'll ask him to come right away," Morton promised.
"You'll see no one till I say so," Doc ordered, " you're going to take a nap now."
"I'm not sleepy!"
"I don't care…just close your eyes and pretend to sleep if you have too. You're going to rest…say goodbye to Chip."
"I think you're outvoted, buddy, " Chip grinned.
"Good by Chip, see you later..." he yawned, " you must be using magic on me Jaimie..I could have sworn….that I wasn’t sleep..y…" Lee dozed off.
"Good," Jaimie said, satisfied.
"Jaimie?" Chip took him aside, deeply concerned. Lee looked terrible. His eyes were sunken, the lids tinged with blue
"Don't worry, he'll only sleep for a little while…just something to help him get started…Chip," Jaimie said, suddenly somber, .."it was close when…I don't think he really realizes how much…we don't know how long he was lying on the floor after he passed out…he nearly bled to death. he just can't admit he's hurt…Chip…he's having a hard time fighting the infection…not to mention the cures….he went into anaphylactic shock with the penicillin. He wasn't allergic to it before…but now…thank God for Adrenaline. We have to be very careful with any medication…we gave him a wide scope blood allergy test afterwards so it doesn't happen again. Chip, I have to tell you, …its bad. I'm staying here. Frank will remain on Seaview…Lee's immune system just can't cope. I've already told the Admiral. "
"Skipper?" Sharkey waited a moment then tried again, " uh, Skipper?"
"Mmm…uh…huh….oh, sorry, must have dozed off...been doing that a lot lately…Chief," Lee gave Sharkey a huge smile.
"Skipper, "Sharkey returned the grin, " you feeling better?
"I wanted to speak to you Chief…please," Lee indicated the chair close to his bedside.
Sharkey noticed with concern that Crane's eyes were sunken, his face had an unearthly cast to it, and his hands actually seemed bony . He hadn't even raised his head from the pillow. He looked even thinner than normal and quite sick. Only two IV's remained in place, one for saline, and a new IV for nourishment while his gastrointestinal tract healed.
"Chief, I need the crew to work with the Admiral, not just for him…I hear there've been…problems."
"How'd you know about tha…"
"Just tell me," Lee demanded quietly.
"Uh..well….it's just…Skipper, the guys and me, well, if it hadn't been for that stupid X-24 none of this woulda' happened and …and the Admiral shoulda listened to you…."
"It was a simple adjustment problem…my own fault."
"Your fault??! No sir!! It's the Admiral's fault! He shoula' made sure everything was honkey dokey before we took her out… you did everything by the book.…"
"Chief…calm down…yes , I did, at least I thought I did, but maybe I didn't…Chief…look at me."
Sharkey had stood in his rage, and now sat back down, awaiting his captain's displeasure.
"Francis…I've never called you Francis have I," Crane's voice was weak, " that's what experiments are about…things can happen…nobody's to blame…"his voice was shallow, like air.
"He…he said bad things about you…he made fun of you during the Wyatt stuff…and now, he didn't even mention you, not once in the last two weeks…"
"And we don't like it, not one damn bit! "
"Is that why there are so many transfer requests in my in-box?"
"Uh, well, the guys..well, it's just hard seeing him treat you like that…and…."
"Chief," Lee weakly replied, " all transfers are denied….now look. The tests… were satisfactory…engineering confirms the problem had to be mine, now, is there any valid reason why Admiral… Nelson should be held responsible for my error? No? good…we see eye to eye then…the government's asked us to complete the x-24 trials to the satisfaction for its viability..and we're going to do that, aren't we Chief," it was not a question.
"I don't like it either…but we need to find what we..what I missed the first time that caused the problem…we need a crew working with the admiral, together, not against him…will you do this for me Chief? will the crew?" Lee pleaded without command, but with entreaty.
"Aye aye sir!" Sharkey said, but not knowing how in the world he could pull it off.
It was 0330. Kowalski trod the hospital corridors, despite having been told in no uncertain terms that Crane's room was off limits outside of visiting hours. Crane may be sleeping but there was no way Kowalski was going to shove off without checking on him first. He stopped beside the open door and heard voices. God knew he didn't want to eavesdrop, but he couldn't help himself, and peered in.
Lee was lying on his side facing away from him, leaning forward as a nurse scolded him.
"You know you can't handle solid foods yet, " the nurse held Crane as he vomited. "Don't you glare at me..I know all about your finagling a candy bar from the orderly…there, steady now…it's all right…" she comforted him, as he retched violently yet again as she held the wastebasket for him. Setting it down, she took a clean damp washcloth and wiped his face.
"There are… some things I can… do myself," he complained.
"Sorry, here, lie back now…that's it…how…" but just as quickly she held him forward through another bout of sickness and pressed a call button. "there there, it'll be okay…." She furrowed her brow, as she seemed to examine the basket's contents in the dim bedside light, still keeping it steady.
The doctor on duty brushed past Ski, only giving him a questioning glance.
"What seems to be the…heavens…" he examined the bucket…"any pain?" he asked concerned.
"No," the patient was adamant.
"Uh, " Ski interrupted, " Skipper? You sure?"
"Oh shi..I feel lousy, satisfied?" he asked Ski.
"Who are you?" the nurse asked.
"Kowalski…he's my Skipper…he…uh…well….he doesn't always let on when he's hurting. Sorry Skipper, but that's the truth, and they're only trying to help you…."
"I know… doctor Kowalski," Lee was noticeably flushed, wet with sweat. "Sorry Ski, " then he faced the duty doctor," I won't do it again. Satisfied?"
"I'm not sure it was something you ate…" he raised Lee's chin, turning his head sideways, examining it," attending physician?" he asked the nurse.
"Call him…." He pulled up Crane's gown and prodded several areas of Lee's abdomen as the nurse pressed the pager button. "Hot to the touch…swollen…temperature?"
The nurse inserted an ear thermoscan as she answered, " he's had abdominal inflammation almost from the beginning…but he hasn't been vomiting till now…96.2."
"That's odd," the duty doctor said," flushed, perspiring, but…."
"Uh, sir…"Kowalski interrupted, " Doc says when the Skipper's sick his temperature usually goes down..and…that's what he says….everybody aboard knows it…."
"Don't you have a boat to report to?" Lee asked, not at all pleased that Ski was revealing so many personal details.
"Not for a few hours," Ski sat down, unbidden beside Crane…" how you feeling, really, Skip?"
"I'm fine. Now go on, can't have Seaview leave without her best sonar tech now can I?" Crane tried to smile. But it was a forced smile, and Ski knew it. The Skipper was hurting. Bad.
"Yeah, well I still think it's a bad idea," Ski pouted. "Official orders or not…we don't have to like it."
"Settle down, all of ya', " Sharkey sat down in the crew's lounge. "Now here's the scoop, we been ordered by the President to continue all this Wyatt crap…Look, I know none of us want ta' be here..not with the Skipper all busted up…but that's orders, like it or not….and for your information, you knotheads, the Skipper himself asked me to tell you guys to knock off the grumbling and get to work!"
"Yeah sure Chief, like he really said that," Riley piped up.
"Okay, let me rephrase it, he said, and I quote, " I need the crew to work with the Admiral, not against him," and then he said " will you do that for me Chief, will the crew?" he asked that, he didn't order it…so what's it gonna be…we do this for the Skipper or do we disappoint him?"
"Okay okay, chief. We'll be good, for him," Ski said.
Grunts of affirmation followed.
"But we don't have to like it," he whispered loud enough for all to hear after Sharkey left.
To say that Seaview was a troubled boat was an understatement. For all their good intentions, it was impossible for her crew to forget how Nelson had seemed uncaring the last few weeks and still was. Increasingly distant, it didn't matter that Nelson was technically absolved by all the bigwigs and the specialists in marine design and the scientists. It didn't matter that the Skipper had in effect absolved him as well. Seaview's crew only knew that these stupid tests had hurt their Captain, the Captain hadn't wanted them in the first place, and that Nelson hadn't cared.
Commander Morton was the only glue that seemed to hold the boat together as she plowed her way under the waves to the designated start point. They would not begin the tests till they picked up the Congressman in Hawaii.
Admiral Jiggs Starke, the top of command the US submarine pacific fleet, stood before the wide window in his office and contemplated the spectacular sunset. Considered a 'brass tacks' admiral, and a few other choice descriptions, he mused, little did anyone know that he always managed to try to contemplate nature at least once a month, just for the hell of it. To keep in touch with something bigger than himself.
"A call for you Admiral…" Lt. Commander Joe Jackson approached him, " the Santa Barbara General Hospital."
"Santa Barbara?? Oh, not another confounded plea for money…once on a computer list, there's no end to it…tell em I gave at the office."
Jackson began to do as he was told, but in toned down and well-trained diplomacy…. He was suddenly silent as he listened to the other end…" Lee! What are you doing th….uh, yes, he's here…I….alright Lee, hang on…"
"Sir, " Jackson interrupted Strake's contemplation again, " Lee…Commander Crane is on the line, from the hospital…"
"Hospital? Surely he's out of there by now…I'll take it in here…."
Jackson wanted to stay, Lee was a good friend. He'd heard Lee had been injured but little else, but an Admiral's aide had no choice in the matter. He did what the Admiral demanded, closed the door and stepped into the outer office out of sight, and hearing.
The viewphone came on, and Starke found himself looking at a caricature of the man he knew as captain of the Seaview. Lee was gaunt, his eyes haunted, his skin pasty, propped up in the hospital bed to face the videophone. My God, he looks terrible!
"Admiral?" Lee asked, in a horse whisper.
"Commander…I…heard you were injured… I.."
"I need," Lee interrupted, " you to…do me a…favor."
Concerned over Crane's condition, he leaned forward, " just ask Commander, I know I owe you one."
"I want…you to…help Admiral Nelson…with…the mission…the Wyatt tests…."
"I'm sure he can handle them without my 'help'," he tried to make a joke. Nelson, what the hell happened to him? He looks like death's door!
"He…needs help…he needs you to…help him…win back the crew's…respect. There've been…problems…" Lee almost whispered. " By the…time…I'm out of …here…it'll be..too late.…"
"Problems? What problems?" he asked forcefully, then taking note of Crane's withered condition he added quietly," tell me what happened, son."
He saw Lee's sheer relief at his acquiescence, and continued, " Take your time and tell me all about it."
"Chief, pipe the Congressman aboard," ordered Morton, as Congressman Baker waltzed aboard as if he owned the sub, followed by Admiral Starke.
"Now, that's more like it Morton!" Starke returned the snappy salute given by the surprised officer, " Only next time, tell your men that whistle was adequate for a congressman, but a bit short for a full admiral."
"Uh, Admiral…what are you doing here…sir." Chip asked, uneasily. Starke had been a bone of contention when he'd been aboard before. Especially to Lee.
"I've been drafted!" he laughed. "Where's the old sea-dog?" he looked about for Nelson.
"I'll call him for you, sir…would you care to take a seat?" Chip motioned to the observation nose.
"No, I don't think so…well, I know where my cabin will be, better have one of your men show Bellyaching Baker here to his…I'll find Harriman myself…take us out Morton."
"But…" Morton remembered the rules of military courtesy, " begging the Admiral's pardon, but I must clear this with Admiral Nelson."
"I'm the ranking admiral aboard, by one year."
"Yes, sir, however this is Admiral Nelson's boat and he has the papers to prove it…sir."Chip knew he was treading on dangerous ground but he wasn't about to hand over any authority to Jiggs Starke off all people, unless Nelson said to.
After about a century Starke slapped Chip on the shoulder, and said, "Good one Morton!" then meandered down the control room to exit to the corridor.
Was it possible? Chip was taken aback, could Starke have taken leave of his senses? Was he actually nice to someone???Someone cleared his throat.
"Oh, sorry, sir, Chief, escort Congressman Baker to his quarters…better make it guest cabin C. I'm sorry sir, we weren't expecting Admiral Starke."
"Never mind, in congress we expect the unexpected. Occupational hazard."
An unusual 'shave and a haircut' knock at Nelson's cabin door was hardly normal, but before Nelson could apply his 'scowl' for such frivolity, the door opened and Jiggs Starke loomed before him.
"Jiggs!" Nelson rose, delighted.
"Harry, you old sea-dog!" They embraced in a gusty shoulder-slapping hello.
"Well, " Nelson indicated a seat, " what brings you here…I thought you'd have been glad to see the back of us!"
"I was drafted!" he smiled, " here are my orders…"
Nelson took the paper, and glanced at the single typed line…and read aloud…"to lend technical and manpower support … Jiggs, this is outrageous, " Nelson laughed, " I don't need any technical support..in fact you'd be the last person I'd recommend for it!" he smiled. " This has to be a typo…or a practical joke."
"It was decided by one of the President's chief naval advisors… you look tired Harry, perhaps I could really help if you'd let me…oh come on…I'd really like to …especially with the project of the century."
"Did you set this up?"
"Who me??Harriman….I knew nothing about this till yesterday…don't worry, I learned my lesson…to quote- 'the Seaview is not a navy ship Admiral'. Crane said that…by the way, I'm sorry to hear about his injuries."
"Yes," Nelson replied with sorrow, " rather badly hurt I'm afraid…Morton will be in command on this cruise."
"Too bad..too bad…oh, not about Morton, I'm sure he'll stack up just fine…I mean…Crane's a good man harry…I'm sure he'll be alright."
"I hope so Jiggs," Nelson said softly, I dearly hope so."
"You're kidding!" Ski exclaimed, " he did what??"
"Scouts' honor, Ski," Smitty replied as the two meandered out of the gym. " There was Morton pondering over some fancy math stuff, and Starke finds a mistake! Tells Morton he'd never be good at statistics! And Morton laughs! Man, I didn't know what to think, till Morton says, "Okay, I'll change my horse to….let's see…'wolfrun'," then he starts laughing again. They were betting on horses! I never thought I'd hear laughter aboard again…"
"And from such a source! Admiral Starke! Skipper nearly dunked him overboard last time…"
"Yeah, " Smitty said, reflective, "I wonder how he's doing…Mr. Morton started up the cruise really gloomy. He was the last of us to see him…."
"Yeah…I wish they'd given us a update."
"Sailor, is that," Starke glared, "any way to dress?"
"It's regulation sir, " O'Brian answered nervously.
"Where's your tie? Didn't anyone teach you that at Annapolis?"
"I was never at Annapolis sir….uh… ties aren't required on Seaview sir. I'll go get one right away if you like, sir."
"Officer's Candidate School?"
"No sir, ROTC."
"ROTC? Where? Stanford? Yale? Harvard?"
"Port Orange Community College, actually sir, with a transfer to Florida State."
"Liberal Arts sir."
"Liberal Arts?? Not engineering? Mathematics?"
"I..," O'Brian ran a finger around his collar, " I took the required courses sir, " he said apologetically. "And I did well at Sub School."
"I see…very well Lieutenant…get to your post. Forget the tie…this time."
"Yes sir, right away sir. Thank you sir." Naval reserve officer or not, and one of Nelson's own, he felt duly chastened, and fled..much to the amusement of Starke.
Oh if felt good to lord it over the up and coming upstarts…but suddenly he remembered Crane and the young man's plea for Starke to bring the men together and to save his boat. Suddenly humbled, Starke began his plans to help Nelson and his crew repair their relationship.
"Now men, " Starke called into the mike, " you've all been through this before but the Navy wishes you do it again…Admiral Nelson will be monitoring the conversion unit for the phase one test but needs a volunteer to help him out…he says that Comman..Captain crane was positive he hadn't omitted any adjustments…so he want's a second pair of eyes to watch for any problems…."
There was no answer to the call. Starke pretended the mike wasn't functioning, and repeated himself for Nelson's benefit…to no avail. Nelson avoided eye contact with his men, but his shoulders hung down. It was worse than being whipped. How long would they blame him for the explosion? How long would he?
Finally, and to his surprise, Sharkey suddenly piped up from near the radio shack, " I will, sir, there's a problem in the PA, Sparks is working on it," he nudged Sparks, " ain't' ya Sparks?"
"Yeah chief, I'm sure it's just a glitch," he said loudly enough for all to hear.
But Jiggs knew. Nelson knew, they all knew, there was no glitch.
"Thank you chief," Nelson said as the men settled themselves in the CV room. " The charts show the exact times and rates of calibration, and these knobs here will allow us to make the necessary adjustments if needed…Lee swears he saw no screw up, so…we have to keep a sharp eye out…"
"Yes sir." Sharkey answered non-comitedly.
"Do you hate me much for this…for this experiment, for Lee's accident?"
There was a pause before Sharkey was about to speak.
"Never mind Chief," Nelson waved his hand, I hate myself too, he thought." Let's begin."
It was flawless. One test led to another and another and another. Like automons the crew performed their duties for Nelson. Maybe the experiment worked now, but it wouldn't bring back their Skipper from harm. Besides, Nelson had probably rigged it work this time. He probably knew all along there was a problem, but wouldn't admit it. He probably found the problem during the inspection and fixed it without telling anyone…he didn't care about the Skipper…it was his fault. His fault. The whispering continued….. Nelson groaned and woke. The dream was more realistic than Nelson cared to admit. The men had been whispering, they had cast glowering looks at him, they had stepped aside for him and managed to turn their faces from him without being too obvious..Nelson had heard some of the comments. There was shipwide bickering about anything and everything, including Nelson's hurting the Captain. It was impossible not to be aware of them. An enclosed space like a sub made listening all too easy. And then three days ago…the letters the Navy chopper had flown out for him alone, haunting messages. Lee kidneys- were failing.
Kowalski's watch was finally over. He was looking forward to a late night snack and decided to take a short cut through officer's country. He didn't often enter the 'sancroscant' territory. Officers were notorious for their own 'space'. So what if one of them caught him. It didn't matter anymore. Nothing mattered anymore.
He stopped as he heard something from Nelson's cabin. Nah, the old man would be in bed. But there it was again…odd…maybe the old guy was in trouble…maybe he should check… he was a shipmate after all.
Ski knocked. Again he tried. Slowly he opened the unlocked door and peeked in.
Nelson was in his pj's , sitting at his desk, head in his hands, empty rum bottle beside him. The old man took to the family rum or brandy now and then, but …Admiral Nelson drunk? Or was he? What the….Nelson…was sobbing.
"Sir?" Ski asked, concerned. "Are you okay Admiral?"
Nelson looked up, eyes red with lack of sleep and tears, " I'll never be okay again for as long as I live," he said wearily, with a drunken slur"…go on, get out..leave me alone…."
Ski was turned to comply but a letter drifted to the floor and he bent to pick it up. He was almost at the door. Nelson didn't notice him at all anymore. Nelson was holding onto a framed picture of the three of them, himself, Morton and Crane.
Ski was forgotten and he used the inattention to smooth the message. He knew it was probably one of the letters the navy chopper had sent, but he had to see……..
Santa Barbara General Hospital
This is prob. the last time I can write, my hands are getting kind of shakey. Jaimie says its not unusual. But it's a damned nuisance. It's hard to even pee by myself, and damn embarrassing.
I hope everything is going well for you. I know how much you wanted to scrub the mission, but you have to finish it, for the world. I'm Counting on you.
It's awful hard being stuck here while my baby is out for a swim without me. Tell Chip he's a first rate captain and I'm glad he's incommand. I've written to him as well, but he'll have to wait till you get back cause it got sent by regular mail instead of the chopper the navy's going to send out. He may have to be in command longer than he'd like. Hah hah. Seriously, he'll have to get used to the idea. So will you I think.
It doesn't hurt as much now, but it's hard to breathe and I'm so tired all the time. It feels a bit like ants crawling all around inside me and having a picnic on my insides, Jaimie doesn't want to say for sure, but he's been hinting at the respirator again. Doesn't he know how hard it is to pick up girls without being able to talk?
Right now I'm looking at all those cards and centerfolds onthe ceiling, and I can't help feeling how very fortunate I am to have known such wonderful and kind hearted shipmates.
For a long time I thought the most wonderful thing in the world was being offered command of Seaview, but I now know that it is really having you as a friend. I might not have a chance to tell you again and I just wanted you to know.
Jaimie doesn't say, but I know he doesn't really have much hope for me. A lot of things aren't working right anymore, and it's difficult to think sometimes. If I do kick the bucket, just remember that I'll be first in line to greet you upstairs when it's your turn, but I hope that's not going to be for a very long long time.
Just take care of my boat. Talk to her sometimes, tap her on the bulkhead now and then. She likes it.
Please don't let on to the men that I may be in an urn when they see me again. They can be stubborn and hot-headed, a lot like you I think, so you must be contagious. If they knew, they'd only want to abort the mision, especially Chip, and we just can't do that.
It's not your fault Harry ,about the explosion. It just happened. I'm sorry I was so stupid about it all. I should have known better.
Well, they're taking me to dialysis now, so I've been asked to finish up. That's a polite way they use to order me about.
Always remember, I am and forever will be your friend. (and partner, enemy, little brother, blood brother~ remember thatmission? Those are your words, sort of) you still want to bash my head in? hah hah.
Harry, please, what ever happens, remember, it's not your fault~
May the road rise up to greet you and God grant you peace. Goodbye Harry.
Kowalski tightened his hand on the letter, feeling utter despair wash over him and glanced back at Nelson, lightly stroking the picture, and crying out in hoarse whispers, "Lee..Lee…Lee…"
Ski instinctively moved toward Nelson and saw the other message in Doc's bold red hand. ….
Both Kidneys have failed completely. While we are doing everything in our power to save Lee, with the other complications and organ failures Imust tell you sir, that it is only a matter of time. Lee knows. He puts on a brave face and even jokes about it. He is far more concerned for you and Seaview.
Kowalski, stunned by the three revelations returned Crane's letter to the desk and retreated softly, instinctively wanting to reach out to Nelson to comfort him, but also knowing to let Nelson grieve in peace.
"Kowalski!" Sharkey yelled," watch it, kid, you nearly got me with that coffee, get your mind off of the dames! As if we didn't have enough trouble with the brass aboard. You're mind's been a bzillion miles away lately. Well, what 'dya have to say?"
"Chief…" Ski could barely talk.
"Hey Ski, what's up," Smity asked as he sat down," you look sick…old Starke chew you out or something?"
"Nothing," Ski stood. " I wish you all'd just quit pestering me!" he yelled.
"Hey, " Smitty grabbed his arm," don't you talk to me like that, understood!"
"Leave me alone!" Ski retorted, pushing Smitty away.
"Now, that's more like it Harriman," Jiggs gave a satisfied grin. "Even Bellyacher here can't complain. Time's just flown."
"Admiral Starke, I'd appreciate it if you would quit calling me 'bellyacher'. Admiral Nelson, these tests are going so well, I almost feel I should cancel the rest of them and report to Washington for the official go-ahead to the Transportation Department"
'Thank you," Nelson replied without emotion. "Of course we'll continue the trials to completion. If you'll excuse me, I'd like to rest."
"Of course Harriman," Jiggs said, " oh, by the way, you didn't even notice my acquiescence to Seaview's unique dress code."
Jiggs flopped his collar about and grinned. Nelson didn't see it.
"O'Brian!" Jiggs called out.
"Sir!" the lieutenant snapped to.
"I decided to follow Seaview's uniform standards but Nelson here doesn't seem to recognize it. Why don't you tell him."
"What is it O'brian,"Starke laughed," cat got your tongue, you were pretty good with it before..."
"It's just that…uh," O'Brian looked to Nelson then to Starke, then back to Nelson, " I uh, explained to Admiral Starke here that, uh, ties aren't required, Sir."
Nelson noticed the open collar and absent tie and forced a grin, but he just wasn't in the mood to laugh or even applaud Jigg's apparent effort to be less formal. Lee was dying and he couldn't even tell anyone or be there to say goodbye. Nodding to the men, he retired.
"What's eating him?" Baker asked.
" I'll see if I can find out later..Now back to these reports…"
Starke jaunted around the corridor on his way to Nelson's cabin when a sailor literally flew out of the Crew's mess smack into him. No sooner than they'd managed to unscramble themselves another followed.
Unused to being assaulted by flying crewmen, Starke rose to his full height and bellowed, "What's this!!?"
Ignored, as the crewmen dashed back into the mess, he followed. No amount of ordering 'attention!' got any results. Humiliated and angry, he called on the mike,"'Morton, get down here, crew's mess, on the double!"
At the sound of Morton's name, the fighting stopped. With growing awareness, especially of the blackening eye forming on the Admiral, Starke was finally visible.
Morton was there in what seemed like seconds. The conscious men snapped to attention, the others lay about in tangled heaps.
"What happened,"Morton ordered.
Silence answered him.
"Admiral Starke are you okay?"
"Yes, I think so."
"You'd better to sick bay please anyway sir, that eye's a beaut….I'll take care of things here."
"You'd better! I expect a full report and these hooligans on report and punished
immediately!" he huffed off.
"Well?" Morton leaned against the bulkhead, waiting.
Morton stood straight, " very well, get cleaned up, all of you. Take the…wounded to sick bay. Police up the area, Chief I want to see you . Now. My cabin. Understood? As if we didn't have enough trouble.…"
'Aye ayes' and 'yes sirs' followed.
"Well, Chief?" Morton demanded.
"It just got outta hand…it was a little argument, that's all, not even really an argument actually, just some words and …well…"
"Who started it."
"That depends sir."
"On your point of view sir."
"Who threw the first punch??!!"
"I'm sorry Jiggs," Nelson padded about in sick bay as Frank finished stitching Starke's eyebrow. " I can assure you it will not happen again."
"It had better not! Morton! Report!" he shouted as Chip entered sickbay.
"May I talk to you Admiral?" Chip asked.
"Damint of course, that's why you're here isn't it?" Starke shouted.
"I meant Admiral Nelson sir."
"Chip, what is it…"Nelson asked, aware that something different was bothering him, and let him aside.
"The fight began because Kowalski had something on his mind…the men kept teasing him. Things got out of hand…simple personality conflict.…"
"What could Kowalski possibly have on his mind that could erupt into a fight??!" Starke interrupted.
"Captain Crane," Chip said quietly then looked at Nelson, and continued, " Ski saw the letter you got from Lee…and the one from Jaimie. He said you were drunk and weeping. He didn't want to tell me, he hadn't told anyone, because of what Lee had asked of you, but I made him….Lee's going to die, isn't he Admiral?"
"Yes…dear God, yes." Nelson leaned over the sickbay examination gurney in
utter despair. "It's hopeless."
"And you've known all this time and didn't say anything?"
"He didn't want me to… he wanted to tests to go forward…he didn't want to worry anyone…he…" Nelson swallowed, " he didn't want to worry the crew…you…me, anyone…these damn tests!!! If only…if only I'd never forced it on him…if only…."
"Harriman," Jiggs steadied Nelson, " it was an accident. Lee told me that much…he also told me something else long ago…remember? ' There are always possibilities'…Crane said that Harry, perhaps…."
"No Jiggs, not this time…."
"Ski, I'm askin' you again," Smitty demanded, "what did Mr. Morton say when you told him what happened? What's he gonna do to us?"
"He didn't say…look, I'm sorry I busted your chops, okay? I just…."
"You just couldn't take it could you Ski-c'mon, you never used to be so antsy. What's botherin' you anyway…honest Ski, something is…you know you can talk to me, to any of us…."
"You had a funny way of showing it."
"Yeah, " Smitty laughed, " so we're a bunch of knotheads just like the Chief thinks…too bad old Starke is on the warpath…Ski? Are we gonna loose our jobs? I mean, well, I know I kinda put in for a transfer, but…now…well, the Navy don't exactly like guys on report by four star Amirals…hell, I miss the Skipper. He'd of had us all out of the woodshed by now…or at least gone to bat for us."
"After he'd make sure you spent a good long time scrubbing out heads, ballast tanks and other disgusting jobs," Sharkey interjected, holding a mop and a bucket. "So, Mr. Morton said he'd just have to delegate that himself. Here, both of you. You can start with swabbing the decks. He'll be inspecting your work himself…man, you guys are getting off easy."
"No kidding chief? Admiral Starke's not gonna keel haul us?"
"Not yet anyway…get to work, all of you."
"Ski, they call you Ski don't they," Starke approached Kowalski who was on his hands and knees polishing the chrome plating on the open galley door. "A moment of your time. My cabin."
"Uh oh," Patterson said under his breath from his post scrubbing the galley deck, " he's in for it now."
"Mr.…captain Morton," Starke sat at his desk, " told me about the letters…have you told anyone?"
"No sir…the Skipper doesn't-didn't want anyone to know…."
"I thought so…good job sailor… if it makes you feel any better, I'm sorry about this situation too. Crane's a good man…a shame to loose him…as a fellow officer and as a human being…very well, you're dismissed, and sailor, I'm sure Crane'd be happy about your loyalty."
"Will you tell me when..when…."
"I'll inform you… if it hasn't already happened... But you alone."
"Aye sir. I understand…it's just so hard sir. The Skipper, well, he's…special…like family almost, it's almost like he's part of Seaview, he draws his life from her…and without him…well…the boat's just a empty hulk…everybody knows it. I'm sorry we got into a brawl sir…it won't happen again."
With a nod, Kowalski departed, and Starke leaned back in his chair, pondering the words….
"Jiggs, what on earth are you doing?" Baker asked.
"I forgot something. Relax, I have Morton's permission. I'll be back presently. Well, Chief, ready for your passenger?"
"Yes sir," Sharkey pulled on his flight jacket.
"I still think you could have had a Navy chopper deliver what ever it is you forgot." Baker quipped.
"And waste taxpayer's money? Nonsense," he winked and ducked into the flying sub's hatch.
"Wait here," Starke ordered as he ascended the flying sub's latter topside. They'd made good time to Santa Barbara.
"Uh, sir, I thought you left your stuff in Pearl Harbor…what are we doing here?"
"Classified. Just wait. Besides it's rather late."
"Aye sir," Sharkey replied, "uh, can I maybe use the time to go ashore a bit? After all it's the Institute and maybe I can get some decent grub."
"Very well, but don't go far."
"Sharkey!" Miss Angie as the crew called her, stood up relieved ,from amongst most of the institute staff milling about in the main reception room. "Is the Admiral with you?" she asked anxiously.
"Uh, no…what…the Skipper?" he whispered.
"Oh, Sharkey," she collapsed in tears. " He's in a coma! Jaimie says…he says…" she burst into a new paroxysm of anguish, supported by many colleagues in equal distress.
The corridor was quiet as Sharkey nearly tiptoed to the Skipper's room. It was past normal visiting hours, but he'd managed to obtain the number of the new room they'd moved him to from the Institute personnel, full of all sorts of equipment and stuff to keep him alive, they'd said.
Sharkey paused in front of the open door, and was about to enter when he heard voices.
It was dark inside, lit only by a small table lamp. A smallish woman was seated at Lee's side, her head was bent holding his hand and she was praying. On the other side stood Starke, holding his cap in his hands, not wishing to intrude.
She looked up, only seeing Starke. She looked so much like Crane, Starke knew instantly that this must be his mother.
"Excuse me," he said gently, " I'm a ..friend of Cra..of Lee's. May I stay awhile?"
"Of course…I …you're …Nelson?"
"No, no, I'm not Harry."
"I wish he could be here. Lee…Lee often spoke of him… before…before… I'll leave you alone."
"Please don't ma'am.."
"I'll be alright…" she kissed Lee on the cheek and rose, " take as much time as you need, I'll be in the chapel…but…."
"I'll have them tell you when I've finished…talking to him."
"You must be a man of great faith…I talk to him too. They think I’m crazy. They've doomed him, even Jamison, but I haven't… haven't…." her eyes welled with tears.
For a moment or two, he held her against his shoulder and let her cry. The only other sound in the room was the respirator and the many beeps of the monitors. After containing herself, she nodded to him and departed. Sharkey , still watching from the corridor, quickly stepped aside not wanting to be seen hovering and let her pass. With a lump in his throat Sharkey turned , still unseen, to watch Starke sit down next to Crane.
"Crane, it's me -Starke…now listen to me Crane. I did my best. But it's no good. Your boat needs you. Your crew, Nelson…I can't get them to work together. Nelson's in a real pickle. He needs you to get better or Seaview will never be the same again. He'll never be the same again. He's drowning, Crane. He needs you. He…he loves you I think, though he won't admit it. Too damn stubborn, but you know that already.You have to meet this head on, man, you have to live, and not just in dream land or wherever you are, Crane, listen to me, Harry's in trouble. Your boat's in trouble. Your men are lost without you. Oh, Morton does his job, they all do, even the boat does, but it's not the same. They need you . They're fighting like cats and dogs against each other, against Harriman. They all need you. C'mon now, Crane," Starke held his hand," you're a fighter. We all know you are, The Wyatt trials are going well, but Seaview's a doomed boat without you. She needs her focus back. That's you Crane. I know you're tired. I know you're hurting. I know you want to go 'upstairs', as you called it, but you can't yet. And your mother. She needs you too. She's been here at your side, do you remember? Listen to me.You can't let her down. You can't let Seaview down. You can't let Harry down.
I know you 're not exactly navy Crane, you told me that often enough, but you are Reserve so I'm ordering you to fight this thing! Do you hear me Lee.…"
Sharkey couldn't take it anymore, as Starke continued and the ventilation machine made the only response, he hunted down the chapel.
It was a typical hospital chapel, arranged for the comfort of all faiths, someplace quiet to reflect, to cry and to pray. Softly lighted, Sharkey quickly found Mrs. Crane from amoungst the few souls there and sat down next to her.
"Uh, Mrs. Crane?"
She looked up at him and he was startled for a moment. It was the Skipper's eyes he saw, and it unnerved him.
"I, uh, I'm Sharkey and I just wanted.…"
"Sharkey! Francis E. Sharkey…you're the chief of the boat…Seaview? She's Here?"
"No ma'am, I flew Admiral Starke over…Seaview can't get here yet."
"Story of my life…Lee often had to cancel plans because he was off somewhere…he always regretted that when it happened…you don't look anything like I imagined."
"Uh, he told you about me?"
"I know the names of everyone aboard…don't worry. He never revealed personal matters. But he did tell me how proud he was of you. And Ski, I think was the name, and Riley, and Patterson, and oh, everyone…he said he'd never known any shipmates quite like you."
" I don't know whether to take that as good or bad," Sharkey tried to make light of it.
"Look," she pulled a small wallet from her purse and opened it. " he's carried this since the day the picture was taken…off of some island he said. I think it has everyone, well, almost everyone aboard in it."
It was a spoof picture made while crossing the equator for the umpteenth time and all hands had, as usual, posed in costumes and party garb. It was a small photo and it was impossible to distinguish anyone on the Seaview's deck, but Sharkey remembered the event. Kowalski had crossed the equator more than anyone afloat and was given the honor of playing King Neptune this time. Sharkey had been dressed as a crab, a 'perfect description', according to Ski. He could just make out the giant red claws in the photo.
"I don't think he would have kept it if he didn't care, Mr. Sharkey."
"Oh, uh, Chief, actually, or just plain Sharkey, I don't rate a Mr."
"I'm glad you're here…"she paused, " They think he may die tonight... I wanted his friends to be here and..."she started to cry again.
"We're all rootin' for him, ma'am. God knows."
"Yes, " she calmed down. " God knows…."
"C'mon, I think Starke should be finished by now," he offered his arm to escort her back to her dying son.
"So, I have you to thank for his eye, " Starke was trying to interject some lightheartedness into his urgings, " and…" he stopped suddenly, as Sharkey escorted Mrs. Crane back . "What are you doing here Sharkey?" he whispered as if it would bother the patient.
"Same as you, sir." Sharkey held his ground.
"Lee, " Mrs. Crane sat and took hold of her son's hand again, " look, one of your crew is here, Sharkey, say something to Lee."
The Chief bent over and with an approving nod by both Mrs. Crane and Starke, he took Crane's hand, not quite believing what he was doing, " uh, it's me Skipper…Admiral Starke had me fly him out…uh, you gotta get better, Skipper…we're countin' on you…Seaview just ain't the same without you…we need you back.."
"That's right Crane, " Starke took Lee's other hand, " we need you…fight it man, show your mettle. For us, for Harry, for Seaview."
Mrs. Crane kissed Lee, " do as they say, Lee, for God's sake do as they say!" she wept.
"Nelson," Baker leaned back in the hard chair in the observation nose, " that is quite a sunrise! Do you surface often?"
"No, not usually. But I…just needed to. " Lee had always enjoyed the rare sunrise surfacings Seaview had. And by now….
"Not too many sub drivers can get away with that," he laughed, " a distinct advantage I suppose in owning your own submarine. By the way, old Stickler Starke sure is taking his sweet time picking up whatever it was he left behind…I'm glad we were able to do some work without him…oh..what's this…."
"Excuse me sir," Kowalski approached nelson, " a message from Mrs. Wyatt."
"Thank you ski, "
"Any time sir, " Ski nodded and went to plug in the coffee pot at the nearby outlet.
"What's got into him I wonder," Baker mused, " I hate to say it, Harriman, but your whole crew's been rather unfriendly, that's the first time anyone's shown any affability."
Doc Jamison wearily plodded to Crane's room. Exhausted not only by his almost round- the- clock ministrations, but also by the sheer mental weariness, he expected this morning to be no different, and in fact, quite worse. He'd left the three of the visitors alone last night, as they pleaded, prayed and urged his patient to live. There was nothing he could do, so he'd allowed himself the respite of a few restless winks, while keeping his pager active. Several comatose patients had benefited from vocal encouragement's, but most had not. He'd expected to be summoned before daylight to the inevitable flat line, but it hadn't come. Lee had survived to another day.
Putting on his 'grin and bear it' façade, he entered the room and gasped in surprise.
Starke was leaning over the bed rail, snoring, his arm supporting his head. Sharkey was leaning against Mrs. Crane, sound asleep, as she was, her hands in Lee's hair, her face against his. But Lee eyes were open, in wide awake amusement despite the ventilator, and he weakly gave a mock salute, as Jaimie suddenly remembered himself and hurried over.
"Lee?" he whispered, " are you really with us?" he started to poke and prod,and examine the patient, and the monitors."This is impossible…"
Crane reached for his hand and squeezed it. Then he let go and managed to touch his mother's face ever so gently. Jaimie could see the effort was exhausting, and scolded him, " that's enough now. You stay still. You're not out of the woods yet..." he bumped into Starke, who woke with a snort.
"Hmmf? What? Oh, sawbones, it's about time you showed up, and…what are you grinning about…" he then saw Lee looking at him. "Crane? You…"
"He seems to be aware and some of these readings show a marked improvement. Not a miracle cure, but…he's better than he was…remarkable really."
"That right Crane?" Starke asked, as his voice roused Sharkey, who was greeted to the sight of his Skipper motioning both men to clam up or they'd wake his mother. At least that's what Sharkey thought he meant as he put a finger to each of their mouths in a 'shhh' pantomime, then indicating her still asleep against his pillow.
"Doc, Doc," Sharkey asked excited…"
"I don't know anything for sure yet, but there are improvements…but he needs to be kept quiet, I've told him that, and…what is it Skipper," Jamison allowed his hand to be grabbed by the patient.
Lee spelled out, " will you quit gabbing?" he indicated his mother yet again.
"Oh, yes, of course…" Jamison replied in a whisper, " gentlemen, I think our captain doesn't want his mother disturbed…why don't you both go get some coffee or something while I examine him…don't worry Skipper, I'll be very quiet."
Lee nodded his head in reluctant agreement then raised a thumbs up sign for Sharkey and Starke. Both men visibly relaxed, and departed the room.
Sharkey leaned against the outer wall and slid down to sit on the floor. Stunned, too drained with emotion to say anything, he just sat. Within moments Starke had joined him. Stunned silence turned into grins of happiness as they heard Jamison begin whispering as he puttered about his apparently not altogether cooperative patient.
"C'mon Chief, Let's get some coffee," Jiggs struggled to rise.
"Man, I could use something a bit stronger than that!"
"So could I Chief, so could I," he laughed.
"About time you two got back," Baker complained as Sharkey and Starke emerged from the flying sub "…we were about to send out a search party…what…Jiggs! You're soused!"
"I uh, I…"
"Oh, no sir," Sharkey came to the rescue, " it's not what you think, " he hiccuped, " A vodka truck smashed into a wall and it splattered all over us."
"I see, well, Captain Morton is furious, and ranking admiral or not Starke, you still have to answer to him!"
"I'd be, " Starke grinned, "delighted…" he wobbled up the spiral steps followed by the equally unbalanced Sharkey as the crewmen present watched in amazement and began to buzz about with whispered comments until O'Brian ordered them to get their eyes back on the job.
"Sharkey! Why didn't you keep in radio contact!" Morton shouted, angry from his desk in the captain's cabin. He had been forced occupy the cabin out of necessity, but he hadn't been able to remove any of Lee's things. He'd never be able to, he knew.
"Lay off Morton, I take full," he hiccuped " responsibilitiiiiiie." Jiggs slurred.
"Oh you do , do you…Admiral, you had no right! Seaview is not your boat, and there are rules…."
"What's the matter Chip," Nelson entered the cabin, I heard you all the way down the hall."
"Harriman, old man," Starke shook his hand vigorously, " the Chipper here's been chewing me out. For a civi boat, you sure have a lot of rules…."he winked.
"They're drunk. Both of them." Chip said, his anger only slightly cooling.
"Did you get what you needed, Jiggs?" Nelson asked.
"Huh? Oh, definitely old boy,definitely.…"
"Sharkey, are you alright?" Nelson asked.
"I'm grrrr-ate, sirrr."
"Get them both to bed, Chip. We won't be able to find anything out till they sober up and…."
"Admiral," Sparks voice came over the PA, " message for you from Santa Barbara…videolink."
"Very well Sparks," Nelson answered after a pause, " pipe it into Cra..into the captain's cabin." This was it. The news he'd been dreading. It wasn't right. Especially with Starke and Sharkey wearing stupid leers. He turned it on, motioning Chip to remain. The drunkards could stay where they were.
There was nothing on the screen yet. He could hear Jaimie's voice in the background, and some rustling, but nothing could prepare him for the close up sight of a heavy black scrawl on a yellow legal pad which said simply, 'Hi Admiral'. The view then changed to reveal Lee, only slightly propped up, still on the respirator, but holding the pad, his eyes still sunken but bright. Jaimie turned the viewer to himself, and refocusing the view, said, " he came out of the coma early this morning, with noticealbe improvements. Oh, he's going to be a good boy and rest, he's still in serious condition, but I have to tell you Admiral, that my hair has stopped turning white, what's left of it..isn't that right Skipper?" he chuckled, and turned the viewer back to Lee who was finishing scrawling something new with the thick black marker.
'Seaview?' it said.
"Skipper, will you get your mind off your precious boat for a minute," Jaimie scolded, exasperated, "it's all he can think of, Seaview this, Seaview that.…"
A new message quickly appeared. 'I was asking the Admiral, not you.'
Someone else had entered Lee's room. And she quickly appeared on the screen. "Oh, is this that fancy smanchy videophone you kept on and on about.…"
Lee hastily scrawled, 'my mom'
"Mrs. Crane. How nice to meet you. I'm Harriman Nelson.
"Admiral Nelson," she turned to face Lee, " the big cheese himself ?"
'MOM!'Lee's scrawl indicated acute embarrassment.
"Well he is, dear…now, Admiral, I just wanted to thank you all for your help. Angie and all the girls, in fact, everyone at the Institute has gone out of their way to make me comfortable…though, I wonder sometimes just how comfortable they intend to make my son. Really, it's been like a harem in here all morning once the news leaked out. Though they try to assure me they're all just friends…don't look at me like that Lee, I know your reputation…and its about time you got serious with at least one of them! "
Lee rolled his eyes heavenward. She'd pester him about this topic till blue in the face. Quickly he scribbled more.'I am-her name is Seaview' he winked at Nelson and Chip on the viewer.
"Lee! Really…Admiral, Chip, please, can't you talk some sense into him…I'd like to be a grandmother while I can still enjoy it."
'OK', he scrawled, 'tell the girls to take a number and to get in line.' He smirked as he held the pad up for all to see.
"Lee!" she scolded, then, 'tsk tsked', and bent over her son," you little tease you, now really Lee, when you're all better, I expect to hear about some serious dating..understood?"
'I long to obey' he wrote.
Jamison intervened, " I think we need to let him rest now, I do believe our patient will be removed from the ventilator soon… what's that Skipper?"
Lee held up the new message, 'instrument of torture'.
"I stand corrected, we may be able to remove the 'instrument of torture' as the Skipper so succinctly put it, in a few days, maybe even sooner if he does what his doctor says, and rests when he's supposed to."
"Lee, " Nelson used his command tone, " you do what he tells you, and that's an order."
'Aw, do I have to?' the message said wistfully.
"Absolutely," Nelson urged. "Now, we'd better sign off or Jaimie just might disconnect us himself. Take care of yourself Lee…we miss you," he added gently.
'Pat her bulkhead!' the message commanded.
"Okay Lee, Okay, " Nelson laughed, " signing off."
It was decided by Nelson and the men who knew, to keep mum about just how near to death Crane had come. Morton had made the simple announcement of 'great improvement'. If the crew had any inkling, it was thought, that he'd almost died, the boat would be a pressure cooker. They still blamed their admiral, Nelson knew, but it didn't matter any more. Lee was recovering. Let the little asides' and comments continue unabated. Let the men defect to the active Navy if they wanted, Lee was alive and that was all that mattered. To Nelson.
To his shipmates in the know, however, there was a big difference between blame and accusation. And while they knew it would serve no purpose to let the men know Crane's condition, which was technically worse than when he'd been removed to the hospital in the first place, they tried in various ways to lessen the attitude of the 'his fault' demeanor against Nelson. But as Lee had said, his shipmates were a stubborn lot and bitterness remained.
Starke was in the observation nose. It was evening, and the only light from the depths was from the Seaview's headlamp and the various neon creatures who made their own electrical displays. The tests were almost complete, and Starke knew that he had not accomplished his mission to help Nelson with his crew. He leaned against the transparent windows, suddenly noticing his hand against one of the metal support beams. He grinned at the mere thought. Could he? Should he really? With a hesitant glance to make sure no one saw him, he tapped the support and said quietly , " Uh, now look here, I don't normally do this sort of thing, but...your Skipper said you liked it, so uh, hell what do I say? What does Crane say to you? He misses you you know… he'll be back…so don't worry. Uh," he patted it again, " good girl."
With a sigh of sheer relief of accomplishing at least much, he turned and gaped. The entire control room crew had seen it all, mouths open in amazement. Blast and damnation! He had a reputation to keep and now it was busted! Patting the Seaview, talking to her…they'd toss him in the loony bin! Unless..had Crane meant it all as a practical joke? For a moment it seemed to be a remote possibility. But no, Crane had been in dead earnest. Bet they never laughed at him when he did it. Gathering up what shreds of self dignity he had left, Starke ascended the spiral steps. It was only at the top when he heard the amused chuckles turning into giggles and relieved laughter, that he didn't care. The men were laughing. Something they hadn't done for a long long while.
"Well Jamsion, how's the patient," Starke adjusted the videofeed in his cabin. It had been days since the last communication.
"Sleeping like a baby, and without the help of medication , lullabies, or the torture device," Jamison grinned and continued, " He's doing much better. Still weak, still only in fair condtion, but I think I can say witout hestiation that he's out of immediate danger."
"Well, that's a relief! Does Harriman know?"
"I haven't spoken to him yet, I wanted to give him a full report…you seem a bit on edge. Is there a problem?"
"Jaimie, I let Crane down. I let them all down…" and he began to tell the doctor all about the Captain's request to bring the men together.
"I'm not surprised," Jaimie said with a sigh, " probably the only thing in common between the crew and Nelson right now is their concern for the Captain."
"Say that again," Starke demanded.
"Uh, I said…."
"I know what you said,and I think I have an idea. Now, listen to this…"
The crew's mess was busy in that cookie had decided to prepare pancakes, and Admiral Starke just 'happened' to stroll by with Nelson, who'd he convinced to come along this way with him toward the Wardroom.
"It's tough Harry," Starke spoke just loudly enough be heard the length of the corridor, as he paused conveniently near the mess, " he was doing so much better, but he's languishing. He's so damn concerned about Seaview, it's sapping his strength. But they won't release him. Blast it! They just can't get it through their little pea brains that he'd do far better here. It's not that he's in grave danger any more and…"
"They're sure of that," Nelson mused, " that he's out of danger?"
"Why yes, Harriman…but he's still too weak to be left on his own…so they're convinced he needs to stay cooped up at 'General'…Harriman!" Starke feigned surprise in his supposition, and hoped Harry wouldn't see through it, " oh, no, now, you're not thinking what I think you're thinking…Jamison will have your hide! We're still in the testing phases and …Harriman…I know you only want to help the boy, but bringing him here…sneaking him out…that's kidnapping ,Harriman !"
"If " Nelson rose to the bait, "he's out of danger, why the hell not?? It'll be good for him. " Nelson asked, excited with the possibility." He lives and breathes Seaview, you know that surely.…"
"Even if I agreed with you, theoretically… think of the details, the need for secrecy, the.…"
"Will you shut up! I'm trying to think!"
"Kidnapping is a federal offense Harriman," Starke pretended to warn, adding fuel to the fire.
"He needs her, Jiggs, and hell or high water he's going to have her! Or my name isn't Harriman Horatio Nelson!"
"Horatio? Your middle name is Horatio? A uh, relative of yours perhaps?" Starke changed the subject to be less obvious, and leaned against the bulkhead.
"Perhaps…Jiggs, you've got to help me."
"Me?? Oh no Harriman, this is way out of your ball league. Maybe you're willing to go to jail for the rest of your life for him but I'm not!" This is getting good. Maybe I should have been an actor….
"I'd go to hell for him!!" Nelson shouted, " Now quit bellyaching and help me formulate a plan…Lee means everything to me Jiggs, " Nelson said earnestly, quietly, "more than my life, more than Seaview…he…he's my brother, son, friend, I can't explain it. Now, we have to keep this little plot to ourselves…come with me…I have a little computer hacking to do to General Hospital. Chip would be better at this, but I…."
"Either help me or clam up! This is Lee we're talking about!"
"I think I'm going to regret this," Starke fibbed, and guided Nelson down the corridor and away from prying ears. If they only knew, he smirked.
"Hurry up will you," Starke boomed, as he pretended to cast a furtive glance over his shoulder as Nelson used the keyboard of the Sick Bay computer.
"Will you shut up!" Nelson hissed, "you want the whole crew to hear you?"
That's the general idea, Harry old pal. "Sorry, how are you doing?"
"I've got to get to the schedule sheets, so we'll know when nobody is really paying much attention because of the shift changes…let's see, visiting hours, yes, best to do it then, when nobody sees anything unusual…."
"You're really enjoying this."
"I'm bringing him home," Nelson grinned, " what do you think?"
"Uh, Harry, there's one slight problem we may have difficulty with."
"Lee's mother. She's bound to notice a missing son. Make a scene. Get hysterical."
"Blast. I forgot all about her… doggoned nuisance…we'll just have to kidnap her too…now lets see…."
"Mr. Morton," Nelson meandered through the control room, " Starke and I have to return for something we left behind. Have the flying sub prepped will you?"
"Right away sir, will you want a pilot?"
"No, I'll take the controls, will do me good…we'll postpone the rest of the trials until we return with the… package. "
"Admiral sir, " Sparks called out, " a message from you sir. On the video monitor."
Nelson moved toward the large screen as Chip adjusted the controls. Angie as at her desk, with a small school type notebook in front of her. " Admiral, Mrs. Wyatt just sent some notes of her husband's that had been overlooked in the automobile accident. She said they could be important so that I should read them over to you."
"They can wait. We're postponing the rest of the tests while Starke and I see to urgent business elsewhere that just came up.…"
"Now wait a moment, Nelson, " Baker interrupted, " we've had enough delays with this whole shebang, and.…"
"Excuse me sirs, but, " Angie interrupted, " she said they could be very important to the trials. Something about a phase one interlock malfunction. And after.…"
"Phase one handled just fine, so…" Baker replied, irritated.
"The second time," Nelson interjected," not the first..go ahead, what does it say."
"Well, sir, It's hard to understand so you'll forgive me if I do it incorrectly, but, " she bent to read, " I've been informed by my mathematicians at the lab that at precisely 5.7920.3469 cycle units into the phasing of the beginning of the," she turned the handwritten page, " conversion process, a reverse calibration error occurred, burning out the correct path, forcing the incorrect calibration. While not serious, and easily corrected by loading program A-27B3 into the main frame, there is a remote possibility of a pressure imbalance. I must advise Harry of this right away to avoid any stress fractures while testing at sea." She closed the notebook. "That's all there is sir."
"Do we have the whatever it was, she said, to fix it?" Baker asked.
"All the software was included in his kit…Lee was right along," Nelson spoke with conviction.
"Well, all we have to do is put that whatchamacalit in the unit and start it up all over again," Baker said with enthusiasm.
Unsolicited groans answered his comment.
"Your men don't seem too enthusiastic, Nelson."
"You wouldn't be either…we were hoping to be done with the thing…very well… Kowalski?" Nelson asked.
"Sir," he asked from his console.
"I have business I must attend to soon and will be off the boat…will you be able to load the software and monitor the phase one trial again without me aboard?"
Ski's hesitation showed.
"I'll get someone else, " Nelson said gently.
"No sir it's not that…it's just…it's just…" he looked at Sharkey.
"You're gonna need him to help you pick up the package sir. You know, the package sir? "he winked.
"I think I'm missing something here," Nelson dragged a hand through his hair, " I just finished telling Morton that I don't need a pilot…."
"But it's a heavy package sir," Smitty contributed from his post at the diving planes, " you're both strong men but the package is kinda'…delicate."
"Yeah, " Riley added from the hydraphones, " and moving it without damaging it could be kinda hard… ya know, especially as it's got to go past all those people in the way."
"Nelson, what the hell are they on about? Just what is this baggage that's so blasted vital? Is it so top secret? Can't you have the Navy send it out? Or the CIA ?"
"I’m afraid not. It's up to us…why don't you go relax and have a cup of coffee…." Nelson watched in satisfaction as the congressman took the hint and departed in a huff, deprived of what he had assumed would be his own privileged info.
It was a tense two seconds as the crewmen watched Nelson and wondered if they'd overstepped the line.
"You know… you all know about it," Nelson spoke in quiet surprise as he faced the crew.
"Uh, well, " Sharkey , shuffled his feet, " You were overheard outside of the crew's mess…it got around…it's a good idea Admiral. No one's let on to Baker.…"
"Yeah," Smitty piped up, " I mean, we don't want a congressman to stop us from committing a federal offense."
There was laughter.
"We already got some gear stowed aboard the flying sub," Sharkey said, "Ski and me and…"
"You've got this all planned out..." Nelson stared at his men in amazement.
"Well, sir, we may not be any good at strategy, but we do know a thing or two about distracting the dames while you can sneak the Skipper out of there."
Guffaws and smirks went around the room.
"All we need is for you to tell us just how we're gonna do this." Sharkey added.
Nelson laughed, in gratitude and sheer relief. At least he was being…tolerated. " There is the problem of Mrs. Crane. I don't know quite how we're going to go about it. She could be most cooperative, or positively hysterical.…"
"Yeah, but," Smitty added, " we already spruced up guest cabin B for her anyway. Extra pillows and everything."
"What about Jamison?" Nelson added, " He's not going to be very cooperative about us stealing his patient."
"You leave Jaimie to me, Harry."
Nelson pulled out a chair at the long table in the nose, "Now, let's put the boat on ice and have a council of war…."
It was a sunny day. A gentle breeze wafted through the main entrance doors of the hospital. Inside it smelled of old paint and antiseptic. Jamison looked at his watch yet again. The cryptic message from Starke had been adequate if not very informative. It simply said, 'It's on'.
He decided to make his 'rounds'. Even though he had but one patient, he'd made a welcome presence at 'general' after Lee's improvements, and was often granted the distinct privilege of 'assisting ' in the obstetrics waiting room where he'd been so good in calming the expectant fathers and bickering in-laws awaiting the precious events. Lee really didn't need him in particular now, other medics could easily handle necessary treatments Lee still required. Jamison decided this was as good a place as any to be conveniently out of the way for the kidnap plot to work. He'd already secretly and officially released Crane from the hospital, except for the paperwork, but he could sign the documents as soon as Lee was off the grounds.
The Administrator had laughed out loud when the Chief Medical Officer of Seaview had revealed the hatching plot for the benefit of the patient's boss, rather than the patient, but had agreed to it most amicably. He knew all about these Seaview men, their unique and enviable camaraderie. He couldn't help feeling that Crane was a very lucky man. It was decided not to inform Mrs. Crane until after the fait'acompli, or she could spill the beans.
At the last moment, Starke was inconveniently ill, and unable to accompany Nelson's team, chuckling to himself that Crewmen had quickly drawn lots for the privilege of springing the Skipper, and now held a second lottery to fill in the gap left by Starke's intestinal complaint.
Nelson, on the other hand, was beginning to have second thoughts. What if Lee didn't want to go? That was nonsense, he was informed by his officers and crew, besides, the Skipper didn't always know what was best for him. The kidnapping was on.
Nelson and Sharkey strolled along through the lobby, while Ski, Smitty and Patterson made a show of delivering 'birthday balloons' at the service entrance, thus able to have the ample van revved and waiting. Looking for all the world like ordinary people, the men stopped to look at the signs plastered about for direction arrows to the gift shop, the various departments, and the information desk. Nelson was studying the signs and directions to the various areas of the hospital.
"May I help you?" piped up an elderly lady volunteer, startling the men from their reconnoitering.
"Oh, yes, actually, "Sharkey replied, " we'd like to see the…" he remembered, " the… maternity ward."
"Oh, and which one of you is the lucky father?"
"I am," both answered in unison, surprised at themselves.
"Oh, a happy group of fellow fathers. Lamaze group?"
"Uh, yes, " Nelson answered, a bit peeved. He hadn't quite expected this situation. He realized that the maternity ward was adjacent to the supply elevator, but why the devil had Sharkey jumped in with this stupid scenario?
"My, my, my, you must be very proud, " the woman chattered as she took in Sharkey's dreadful Hawaiian shirt and sockless shoes. Expectant fathers were so…attractive.
" I do hope this won't be a difficult birth, you know it can be, for an middle aged woman…of course…a handsome man like you, perhaps you robbed the cradle so to speak…" she smiled.
"May/December," Nelson interjected with a wink, " caused a real scandal, randy old devil," he leered.
"And you?" the woman asked, as she motioned the men to follow.
"Uh," Nelson tried to find the words,but couldn’t.
"He's nervous, " Sharkey interjected, " twins."
"My my my!"
"Well, here we are. Just take this elevator to the next wing over. 3rd floor. There's coffee and doughnuts while you wait to help your wives to deliver their little bundles. Congratulations…" she waved as she deserted them for more people to pester.
As the elevator doors closed, Nelson glared at Sharkey, "the only little bundle I'm waiting to deliver is Lee. Sharkey, this isn't working out…what if that 'greeter' had decided to pop us into the delivery room!"
"Well, it's worked so far, hasn't it?"
The elevator doors opened and the men milled about in the corridor.
"Now, remember Sharkey," Nelson ordered, "find Mrs. Crane. Convince her that 'she's tired, she looks like she could use a rest, she needs a break in the coffee shop, that sort of thing', You've been on leave and haven't seen anyone from Seaview. There's Smitty now. Pat should be along shortly. Ski should have the van 'acting up' awhile so they won't get suspicious. Give us some time to get Crane out and down to the elevator, then grab her and shove her in the van after us. "
"Uh sir, what if she doesn't want to go?"
"Why Chief, you're an 'attractive man', as we've just been informed. Of course she'd be happy to have coffee with you," he winked.
"Admiral?!" Lee exclaimed in delighted surprise, as Nelson entered his room." I thought you weren't due back till next month!" he was suddenly somber, " what's wrong??"
"Nothing's wrong, quiet down, you want everyone to hear us?" Nelson started pulling the folded wheelchair into position. "here, put this on," he tossed Lee the robe hanging on the hook.
"What's going on? You look positively…furtive."
"We're busting you out of here."
"We know you're languishing for lack of Seaview, despite all the medical mumbo jumbo to the contrary, idiots, wanting you to stay here for 'continued observation', so to Seaview you're going…hurry, this isn't exactly a discharge. "
"Admiral, how's it going," Smitty's whispered voice pried into the conversation, " we have to hurry, some nurses are coming this way.
"Here, " Nelson and Smitty helped the still very weak patient into the chair.
"Admiral, I never thought you'd aide and abet jumping ship…but I'm all for it..let's get out of here. Wait…uh…"
"Don't worry. We'll leave your mother a note."
Smitty and the just arrived Patterson put on their best non-chalant looks as they hurriedly wheeled the patient down the short corridor to an elevator, while Nelson had been sidetracked by a patient who recognized the great man. With a nod, he remained behind to humor the man and secure an alibi.
Nobody gave they kidnappers a glance. However, just as the elevator door was closing, Mrs. Crane emerged from the restroom, opposite, and stopped short as she spied her son, apparently out for an unused-to stroll. She couldn't quite tell if his look was one of shocked surprise as he glimpsed her, or one of utter amusement as the doors obscured him from view.
Stunned for only a moment she was torn between following or returning to his room to wait. She was just about to press the down button, when Sharkey, out of breath, waved her down.
"Mrs. Crane, there you are, I've been lookin' all over for you. They said you were in the snack bar but I couldn't find you."
"Sharkey, I…Lee just went down the elevator with two men," she said, confused and pressed the button.
"Oh, hey, well you know the Skipper has friends all over the place…or they was medics or somethin'."
"They weren't wearing lab coats, or scrub suits…there weren't any plans for any tests…I'm going after him to see what's going on, maybe I'm paranoid but something doesn't seem right about this...surely he'd want to introduce me to his friends, or...look, Sharkey, call Jaimie, alert the nurse's station..." The elevator door popped open. "Sharkey…I know Lee's never spoken about it but…he was with ONI for a while and ….bad people have tried to kill him on occasion since…maybe…he's been… kidnapped." She whispered, pale, as she pondered the possibilities.
"I'm goin' with you," he took her arm, rather more forcefully than he wanted and pushed her into the elevator.
"Sharkey!" she exclaimed as the elevator rode downwards. "what's the matter with you, we need to alert the staff!"
"Yeah, yeah, I'll take care of it…here we are," he pulled her down the corridor while she protested by trying to pull away," look," he explained, " if they took him, they'd go this way.…"
With that, and thinking they were trying to rescue her son, she allowed Sharkey to take the lead in their pursuit. She was about to tell an intern in the hall, when Sharkey pretended to slip.
"Look, I'll tell the Docs, you go out to the service exit. I'll be right with you," he ordered.
To his relief she took the bait and hurried down.
"Sharkey?!" the friendly voice of Jamison reverberated down the corridor. "what are you doing here? Has Seaview docked?"
"Uh, no sir, I uh, I uh.…"
Jamison waited patiently for an answer. Any answer. Jamison needed to be seen as the enemy by all hands for this ruse to work well.
"A pal of mine had an accident and I got leave to see him," Sharkey answered, hurriedly, running the words together, red faced. Damn and blast it all, he thought to himself, he had to deliver Mrs. Crane, those bozos Smitty and Pat would probably botch it, and now Jaimie corners him!
"Oh, perhaps I can join in one of your famous poker games…that is why you're wearing your lucky shirt?"
"Uh, yeah, yeah, nothin' like the old card game to take your mind offa your problems," Sharkey edged himself away from Jamison.
"I could use a boy's night out…they've got me in attendance in maternity…what's his room number?"
"Uh, I don't know yet," he nervously looked toward the exit doors, " I just got here, look, I left the car runnin'…see yah.." Sharkey fled.
The hospital administrator emerged from the staff lounge, " is everything going according to plan?"
"Better than expected, " Jaimie grinned, " though, I hate to think of what I'll face when word of this little plot gets out," he laughed.
"If it gets out," the administrator winked," here's Crane's official discharge,signed,sealed and delivered, along with medical reports, etcetera."
"Goodbye, thanks for everything…I have a rendezvous with Seaview to make a little later, but first I think I'll go into town and placate the ladies of the Institute. No doubt they're still worried about the 'no visitor's allowed' status on their lad gallant."
"And their competition," the administrator indicated two very pretty RN's who'd been assigned to Crane.
Mrs. Crane was standing on a loading platform, concerned, confused. She was about to hurry back inside when Sharkey ran into her, "over there…" he indicated a van, " they saw him taken over there…."
Both Sharkey and Mrs. Crane ran toward it. It didn't matter to her if they were terrorists, her son was in trouble, and Sharkey was with her. He grabbed the handle of the door and was treated to the sight of a rotwiler dog on the lunge. "Wrong van!" he yelled as he slammed the door shut…just noticing Ski frantically waving toward him from two slots over.
"Over there!" Sharkey pulled Lee's mother to the identical model of the escape van. Without allowing her to reply he pushed her up and into the vehicle while Ski pulled her in. Immediately the van sped out of the parking lot.
"You- you- you …Terrorists! Let go of my son!!!" she yelled as she pounded her fists on Kowalski.
"Mom," Lee spoke calmly from his wheelchair, " it's alright."
"Would you care to make the introductions, Lee," Nelson asked calmly from the driver's seat, " or shall I?" he asked, as Mrs. Crane looked at Nelson, then Sharkey, who looked at his feet in embarrassment, and at the other terrorists in turn who said nothing.
"I believe we met on the videolink," the Admiral spoke calmly, as Lee tried desperately to stifle a laugh, " Patterson is sitting shotgun, that's Kowalski you decked, Smitty, and I believe you know Chief Sharkey and your son."
She was at a loss for words, and Lee couldn't help bubbling over in laughter, soon followed by his captors.
"Ahh," Lee held his side, " that hurts a bit," he laughed some more, " but I can't help it…" he bubbled with glee, all the more.
His mother sat in silence, and let his merriment carry him away. It was music to her ears.
"Are you quite finished?" she asked trying to be properly mift, as he tried to catch his breath as his colleagues in crime tried to stifle their own sniggers.
"You sir," she indicated Nelson, " could have at least have included me in your little plot."
"Would you have cooperated?" he asked.
She took a moment to ponder, " no, I suppose I wouldn't have… but I still don't see much difference between Santa Barbara General and the Institute Medical Center."
"Who said anything about taking him to the Intstitute…we're taking him to Seaview..you too, I'm afraid. I can't have Lee's mother telling Jamison that we sprung his prize patient right from under his nose."
"He still needs medical care."
"Ah, yes. And he'll have it. Aboard."
"You certainly seem sure of yourself, Admiral."
"I am, Mrs. Crane. I most definielty am," he replied, satisfied with Lee's eyes sparkling in silent agreement.
Starke was pacing about in the control room, while he kept glancing at his watch. "Any word yet?" he asked O'Brian.
"No sir. Not a peep…we locked Mr. Baker in his cabin as you suggested, sir, but he's liable to be angry when we let him out."
"Angry? Hah! He'll be furious!" he said rather proudly as the crew sniggered in agreement. Oh it was good. The entire crew was behind Nelson as he had "risked it all " to retrieve their Captain from his enslavement at the hospital. So far the mission was a success. But it wasn't over yet.
"Well," Morton approached, " I've dispatched to Washington the latest Wyatt test results. Only one more to go, and we can declare it a success."
"Morton, I want to thank you…you've been every bit the officer I'd expect Harriman to employ. No, I mean it as a compliment. You are efficient, dedicated, and dependable. I'll even put it in writing at our court martial..." he grinned.
"Thank you sir," Chip replied with a smile, " I think we could use all the help we can get!
"Mr. Morton," Sparks called out, " the flying sub has sent her homing beacon. She's coming in."
"Any other word?" Morton asked.
"Hmm," Chip mused, " I hope this worked. For all we know, Lee could still be hostage in the hospital…prepare to dock the flying sub."
It was with baited breath that the crew of Seaview awaited the berthing of FS1. Those members not on watch crammed themselves in the corridor leading to the control room, or tuned the boat-wide view monitors to the control room setting, something not done on a regular basis, but allowed by Morton this time.
Ski was the first man out, and his wide grin said it all. Cheers of greeting and accomplishment greeted this look and wafted all through the boat as their captain was helped up into the mother ship and quickly settled into one of the old lounger chairs placed in the nose just for this event. It was immediately apparent that he was very weak, and the noise quickly settled down.
Mrs. Crane followed her son, and it was a nervous Chip Morton who officially greeted her.
"I suppose you had something to do with this too, Chip."
"Never mind," she glanced about at all the men at their stations,"…you're all about as transparent as …as these windows…."
"I take full responsibility, Mrs. Crane, my crew had no choice."Nelson interupted, allowing Sharkey to dock the hatch.
"Sure they didn't…I can see your plotters for what they are, and don't you laugh at me, Lee Crane, I don't care if you are tickled pink by busting out of the hospital. I still don't like the idea."
"I assure you, he'll be well taken care of," Jiggs butted in.
"He'd better be…now, where is this medical officer you assured me would be here?"
"Oh, here he is now," Nelson said, "Frank, give him a once over..and Chip, order lunch. I don't know about any of my partners in crime, but I'm famished."
"You're a doctor?" Mrs. Crane asked of Frank. She could tell the difference between an officer's uniform and the ratings.
"No…I'm a medical corpsman…easy here Skipper, lets take a look…" he nodded to Morton who motioned to the group to leave Crane in Frank's capable hands and closed the accordion doors for a little privacy. Nelson remained behind with the two men.
Mrs. Crane stood her ground, hands on hips and pestered Morton again, "Chip, you allowed Lee to be brought here and you don't even have a licensed physician standing by…" she was interrupted by the accordion doors opening, and was about to continue her indignation when Lee forestalled her.
"Well, Mom, " Lee interrupted, "how do you like her?" his eyes sparkled.
"Is this cigar tube all you can think about?? There's not even a doctor aboard!"
"Even Jaime gave me over to nurses and corpsmen for most of my treatments now...besides...I'll take my chances with Frank."
The corpsman beamed with unspoken gratitude.
"Now Mom," Lee added, "how about joining me for lunch here in the nose…it may be reconstituted or from a can, but you can't argue with the view!" he turned toward the windows.
"I'll ague with anything or anyone I like! You're impossible, do you know that!" she practically stomped toward him, turned his chair a bit more to face the windows, and pulled up a straight backed chair to sit next to his recliner.
It was with some difficulty that Starke couldn't help comparing Mrs. Crane to Nelson. Both stubborn, both argumentative, and both deeply concerned about their boy. He noticed Lee reach out a hand and touch the transparent window. He waited to see just what Crane would say to Seaview, but Lee was silent and removed his hand quickly.
"Private message Crane?" Starke called over, " I spoke to your boat, but she just ignored me."
"Ahh, well sir, " Lee grinned, " that's because you don't know how to kiss her."
"Kiss her!!!Kss her??? You’ve got to be kidding!"
"She likes it…would I lie to you?" Lee put on his most innocent face. It was impossible for Starke to know if Crane was serious or not.
Aboard there were congratulations among the crewmen for a job well done, and the whole boat was in a party mood.
Meanwhile, lunch was plentiful and very satisfying to the small group in the observation nose. Starke stretched and suddenly remembered something. " Baker!"
Morton almost turned green, and excused himself.
"What's the matter?" Crane asked Nelson.
"Oh, well, just a small oversight…you just rest here, Lee. Mrs. Crane, enjoy the view," Nelson followed Morton to face the congressional music.
"Admiral Starke, what's this all about?" Crane asked.
"Nothing for you to worry about, as Morton would say, 'ahh, the joys of delegation'," he laughed. "seriously, Captain…it's just that we.. uh,….we locked Congressman Baker in his cabin while we…uh…transferred you…couldn't have our little plot 'discovered' before it was accomplished now could we? Federal offense and all that…."
Nelson traversed the boat to Baker's cabin with more than a little trepidation. His entire future could be at stake. Blast! Why had Starke insisted on putting the man on ice, so to speak? Crewmen offered concerned faces and 'good luck's to Nelson, as word of the impending doom rushed through the vessel. The Admiral was in big trouble. All for the sake of the Skipper.
If they'd seen the scrambled message Baker was grinning about they needn't have bothered to be worried. Delivered just after the flying sub had departed on her mission, Baker had been reliably informed by Jamison of the entire plot. Delighted at his 'part' in in, Baker had offered Jamison his full cooperation in ' playing the irate VIP'. It would certainly add to a cooperative crew and of Nelson's image of martyrdom.
Lee was in no mood to laugh off his rescue anymore. This was serious. You just didn't toss a congressman into his cabin and lock him in, no matter if it was to bring him back to Seaview.
Lee shoved his food aside as Starke tried to make light of the situation.
"Enough!" Lee spoke with exasperation," Now listen to me Admiral Starke. Nelson, Seaview even , could be fried by this! You can't just…Mr. Baker!" Lee tried to rise, as Baker stomped down the spiral steps followed by Nelson, but was held back by his mother. " Mr. Baker, I…I'm sorry…I had no idea…."
Nelson looked pale.
"So," Baker pretended to glare, for the benefit of all, " you're the man this entire crew went to bat for at their own expense…I must say Captain, that Nelson here is facing serious charges. We may just have to confiscate this vessel. Before you object, may I remind you that she was granted Reserve status as a condition of government contracts…I'm quite within my rights to advise congress to pull the plug on Nelson here, and this submarine."
"Sir, " Lee tried quiet diplomacy.
"Lee, wait," Nelson intervened, " Mr. Baker, speaking for myself and I think for my crew, we'd do it again…."
'Aye ayes', and 'hear hears', and 'that's right's, and 'you tell him Admrial's bounced off the walls by the crewmen privileged enough to be in the control room with 'front row seats'. The Admiral was heroic and they were right behind him.
"Mr. Baker, " Crane continued, " please. Maybe their actions were a bit…hasty…but their motives were good…look, Seaview's put herself at risk more times than you can know. A lot of her missions were classified, even from you…couldn't you give her another chance? I'm sure it won't happen again…" he took a breath, and contritely added, " I could have objected to being rescued, and this never would have happened, but I didn't," he almost whispered, " I wanted to come home… I'm as much to blame for this kidnapping plot as they," then he added ,"as for locking you in your cabin, well, what can I say…will you accept my apologies on behalf of my officers and crew and let it go this time?"
"Crane, you ever consider joining the diplomatic corps? Either you're a born diplomat or a con artist…oh very well. Keep your blasted submarine Nelson. I know when I'm outmaneuvered."
Cheers reverberated through the boat and 'cookie' eased his way through the growing crowd of backslapping and applause.
"Ah c'mon skipper, I made this special for you…"he pushed the plate of chicken salad sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies back closer to Crane.
"He's right dear," Mrs. Crane encouraged, " you could use a little nourishment."
"I think you're outmaneuvered yourself, Lee," Nelson laughed as Cookie and Lee's Mom saw to Crane's Epicurean needs.
"Well, Lee," Nelson relaxed, as the last of the foodstuffs had been cleared away, " you asked about the Wyatt trials…."
Nelson began to discuss the results of the almost completed runs, and the 6th sense Lee must have had in finding flaw with the experiment that was vindicated by Wyatt's notes themselves. As much as Lee tried to be interested, as Harriman Nelson expounded excitedly about the whole shebang, Nelson was amused to see Lee's eyes getting heavy as continued to describe the technical details and benefits to mankind. Motioning for Sharkey in the control room while he continued to speak a bit more softly, he asked for a blanket and while declaring the Wyatt additive as a marvel , tucked the blanket around Crane, who was sound asleep.
"I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one you put to sleep with all your scientific mumbo jumbo," Jiggs whispered.
"Remind me to tell Jaimie about alternative insomnia cures," Nelson grinned..." C'mon, let's get back to work. We have that one last trial to complete."
"You go ahead Harry, I'd like to sit here for awhile…don't worry, I won't wake him. Mrs. Crane would make me walk the plank. By the way, where is she?"
"The last I saw of her, she was comparing recipes with cookie…something about canned cherry pie…seems Lee kind of likes them…."
Both men laughed quietly as Nelson went to the control room to resume the last of the Wyatt runs and Starke to sit quietly and ponder…things.
Lee stretched as he awoke to the soft hum of Seaview enveloping him with her presence. The water swirled about the windows in twilight beauty. He kissed his finger and touched the window, "thank you old girl, for bringing me home, for bringing us all home, yet again," he practically whispered.
"Ah," Starke interrupted, " so that's how you kiss her!"
Lee turned to Starke, standing, hands on hips in a greatly amused smile, while his crewmen tried to hide their equally pleased grins.
"It doesn't hurt," he chuckled in embarrassment, " besides," he added with a knowing leer, " like I said, she likes it."
Guffaws of acknowledgement greeted his ears, and while he'd made this explanation in jest, he was acutely aware that only once before had he been caught out in his private intimacies with Seaview. He'd have to be more careful in future.
"If you can drag yourself away from your lady fair, Skipper," a familiar voice boomed, " I'd like to give you a brief examination."
Busted! "Doc! What are you doing here?"
"My job," he pressed a button to close the accordion doors. " I arrived a few hours ago. If you'll give us a few moments Admiral?"
"Of course," Starke ascended the spiral steps.
"Uh, look, Jaimie, I'm really okay, I…"
"Relax skipper," Doc began his examination, " odd, I have some documents I think you may be interested in…"
After Jaimie had finally finished his poking and prodding and had put away his stethoscope, he nodded to Lee to open the offered envelope, and waited.
"Official release…wait a moment…Jaimie, this is dated…"he looked up and saw the secretive smirk on his chief medical officer's face.
"Am I correct in assuming you had something to do with a certain kidnap plot?"
"Who me?" Jaimie sat and began to make explanations as Lee listened with growing admiration of Starke, Jaimie, Nelson and his crew.
"But, Lee," Doc warned, " we should really keep this between you, me, and Starke…we don't want to undo the thing.. the crew is all for Nelson now and , besides, you will recover far better and faster aboard. You've already improved since being aboard. Now, my prescription is for you to simply lounge around. No duty, no undue roaming the ship, sorry, boat…in other words, you are on medical shore leave, even if you're aboard…I mean it Lee, and I have over a hundred souls I can draft to insure you take it easy."
"As long as I get to enjoy the view, I won't complain…within reason, that is."
Jamison checked his watch. " For now,though, it's bedtime."
"Bedtime? I just woke up!"
"Bedtime," Jaimie picked up a mike, " Mr. Morton, would you be so kind as to send Frank and one of our illustrious commando's to escort the Skipper to his cabin? He's going to bed now."
"I don't need to…"Lee's voice unknowingly came over the open mike.
"You said you wouldn't complain."
"Can't I just stay here?" Lee asked in a combination of exasperation and whistfulness.
"You could, but I'd sleep a lot better if I knew you were safely tucked in your cabin away from interfering with the present command."
"Jaimie! You know I'd never interfere with Chip's authority!"
"No, but you'd wheedle your way into checking on sonar, hydrophones, diving planes, and goodness knows what else on this submarine that tickles your fancy…now, do I tie you to a stretcher or would you be a good captain and allow your men to take you to your cabin in a far more dignified manner, like a wheelchair."
"I can walk, you know, a bit wobbly but," he stopped as he saw the doctor's 'immovable object mode', "you know what?"
"You're more of a mother hen than my own mother!"
"I heard that Lee," Mrs. Crane emerged from the opening accordion doors, holding up a mike,
"You left this on…come on, I'll sit with you awhile."
"Just so you don't read me bedtime stories!" he grinned.
"Lee! Don't be silly…I wouldn't dream of it…I have here a new article of Admiral Nelson's, he said you'd enjoy it…just the thing for bed time reading, it's in something called 'Journal of Ichthyology', something about a 'pleasiarsous' or something like that…he said you'd understand it."
Lee groaned to himself. He'd never had the heart to tell Nelson, that while scientists enjoyed his many literary works, they were so boooorrrrrrring. He steeled himself to the inevitable as Frank and Kowalski pushed and pulled their wheelchaired Captain through the boat to his destination.
"Well, it's about time," Mrs. Crane kissed Lee on the cheek as he awakened, some 14 hours later.
"Mmm. That was a good sleep….what time is it?"
"2 o'clock in the afternoon, at least in California time…though I understand it may be something else here…do you need Frank or the doctor to help you up and…."
"I'm fine…uh, call Jaimie and I'll prove it to him. I'm sick of being treated like an invalid."
"You are, and no amount of complaining is going to change the fact that you still need care…I'll go get you something to eat."
"Mom," Lee outstretched his hand, " I know I complain a lot, but…thanks."
"Don’t be silly, " she gave him a sweet maternal smile, and left him to doze a minute or two while waiting for the doctor.
"Admiral Starke," Lee leaned on Chip's arm, " may I speak to you?"
"Certainly Crane, certainly! please…" he helped Morton to arrange Lee, now garbed in jeans and a loose flannel shirt, into the recliner in the nose. " I see you've either busted Doc's orders or you've been upgraded a notch."
"Upgraded! Thanks Chip…"
"Any time Skipper," Morton retreated to allow them some space. He knew that tone of voice. Lee wanted to speak to Starke in comparative privacy and dutifully closed the doors dividing the control room from the observation nose.
"Admiral Starke, Jaimie told me all you've done. For Nelson, for Seaview, and for me…I'd like to thank you."
"Nonsense Crane, I was only following orders."
"I don't understand.…"
"Didn't you ask me to look after your boat? Nelson? Your crew? I must say it was a hell of a lot harder than I thought it would be…" he fuddled with his tie," blasted neckwear, ought to be removed from the uniform code! " he took it off, " though since I'm still aboard.…"
"Why don't you stay aboard till we dock, Admiral…I'm sure Seaview would like it."
"Well, son, maybe she wouldn't mind, but I doubt if Harriman would! We don't exactly see eye to eye on how things should be run…."
"Nonsense, Jiggs, " Nelson descended the steps, " you're far more new navy than you realize. In fact…I have the proof."
Nelson handed Starke a single sheet of paper, the Naval Reserves' official roster of officers and crew of Seaview. One Jiggs Starke, Admiral was listed on Seaview's roster.
"Must be somebody's idea of a practical joke, Harry, or just because of my own official orders."
"You know, Jiggs, I'd be very interested to know just who requested you to be drafted in the first place…an important advisor to the President you said…"he mused…"you wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you Lee?"
Crane was grateful his Mediterranean complexion rarely revealed a flush of acknowledgement.
"Or this?" Nelson wafted the roster in front of him…"Well, I'm waiting."
"I think the jig is up, sir," Lee sighed to Starke.
"Hah Hah! Jigg is up!! Good one Crane!" Starke laughed.
Nelson was still waiting.
"I…I, " Lee took a breath, " I asked Admiral Starke to look after Seaview. I was concerned about…things…and I thought that…" Lee decided to just come out with it, "well, I put him on that roster this morning out of gratitude and.…"
"Ahh," Nelson interrupted, " now, let me see…I don't suppose that the plot thickens a bit more? Jiggs?"
"Harriman! How can you even think such a thing!"
"Totally in the dark sir. Honest. At least about…"
"You never could keep the truth from me, Lee. Out with it, both of you.…"
"So, it's simply a case of mission accomplished , Harriman," Starke concluded his explanations, "Crane was in the dark about it till Jaimie let on, and it has done him good…you can see the difference. And…while I'm on the hot seat, I'll admit that this whole thing's been good for me too…I used to think that you allowed too much freedom aboard, but now I know that your men take their responsibilities seriously, and that Crane here, is the one to thank for it. They know highly he regards them, you, this vessel, far more than himself, and that he believes in them. They're devoted to him because of this, and try to live up to his ideals."
"Well, they certainly know he needs them to look after him, since he refuses to himself!"
"I'm not that bad, sir." Crane said in response to the chuckles of his superiors.
"No, but it's close!" Nelson said, adding, " you know Captain, now that our mission is completed, correction, both our missions, I think we'll take the scenic route home."
"The scenic route?" Lee asked.
"Exactly. By request of all members of the crew, to quote one of the spokesmen, "it ain't often the Skip gets to just sit and look outta' the windows, couldn't we just sort of cruise home, leisurely like…."
"Surely they'd rather have shore leave Admiral," Lee expounded.
"Well, that's what I thought, so we did the only thing we could in the circumstance…we took a vote…here it is."
"But…" Lee was at a loss for words.
"That's right, Lee, it's unanimous. The scenic route it is, right about here, " he showed Crane the proposed route with hand-drawn latitudes and longitudes.
"Just promise me one thing Lee, if you do see another mermaid, close the crash doors and just ignore her?"
Crane gave him a huge smile and nodded assent.
"Mermaid, captain?" Jiggs asked.
"It's a long story Jiggs, " Nelson propped himself on the edge of the table, " unbelievable actually, except for the fact that we have it all on security tape…you know…the more I think about it, the more I'd like to re-explore the area…perhaps we should investigate further…think of the scientific advancements, benefits for mankind…we didn't have time for that then, but now…Lee? Lee?"
Lee's eyes were closed, his face taut with trying to stifle his amusement. Nelson wouldn't, couldn't ever change…the scientist in him would never let go…one giggle led to another and soon Crane was carried away in laughter. " Next time," Lee took hold of Nelson's arm, " I'll just take pictures of her and ask the Cousteau group do the introductions."
"I take it there were… problems?" Jiggs asked.
Nelson snorted, " Jiggs, let me tell you the story…."
There was even more merriment aboard when Jamison announced that Crane was officially removed from the sick list and placed on 'supervised' care only, not that it was much different. But it sounded good and gave 'completion' to the crew's success in the kidnap plot and the healing of their captain.
Only the four of them knew the truth, Jamison, Starke, Nelson, and Crane. Certainly Chip would be let in on it, and perhaps Frank, but not until after the crew had been dismissed from the boat. As acting captain, Morton's attitude would affect the men to easily, so it was best to wait, and while Frank was about as close to a preacher in not revealing secrets, as Jamison was, it wouldn't do to risk upsetting the apple cart, so to speak.
Cookie had outdone himself in the food department and Mrs. Crane had really made his day when she'd announced how impressed she was with his handiwork. He must really publish his recipes.
Frank was talking about going to medical school, and Crane offered a letter of recommendation to a University, while Jamison was counting his grey hairs and cheerfully complaining to his Captain that he, Crane, was the cause of them.
Sharkey was complaining about his knotheads and bozos, while Smitty, Ski, Patterson and Riley in particular let the familiar phrases wash over them without batting their respective eyelashes. Everything was back to normal.
Except perhaps for one thing. As Admiral Starke made his good-bye's when Seaview docked, it was noticed, with pleasure, that he'd actually saluted Morton and Crane, uncovered , or 'capless' before they had saluted him, and would wonders never cease, he had discarded his tie, claiming he was going to try to talk some sense into the navy about old fashioned and half-baked ideas of the uniform codes.
Baker had departed some time ago on the flying sub, and hardly a soul had noticed, which was a shame, because he was really a good 'Joe', Jamison and Starke knew.
"Well Lee," Chip approached Crane in the nose," that's it then…all hands dismissed, and gone on shore leave…your Mom's waiting for you in the limo to take you to the airport and home to New England for a spell, and the Admiral is happy in his lab ashore…what is it Lee?"
"Chip," Lee paused. It was so hard…so hard to put it all into words…"I just can't believe how fortunate I am…you risked it all, all of you…for me…I…."
"Lee, we've been through this…can't you get it through that thick skull of yours that you're important to us?"
"But why? I just don't deserve it…."
"Lee," Chip raised Crane's chin, " if you can't understand it, just accept it…if not for our sakes, for Seaview's?"
"Aye aye sir," Lee grinned, " besides, if she accepts it, I suppose I'd better…."
"Lee…" Chip asked as they ascended the ladder topside, " what do you really say to her, in private?"
"Wouldn't you like to know," he smirked.
The boat was empty now. The security guards were posted topside and along the dock. Despite his position as acting captain, Chip insisted upon Crane having the courtesy of being the last man off and used the opportunity to say a few words to Mrs. Crane. He never saw Lee pat the conning tower as was Lee's ritual, nor heard Crane's three words of private assurance to the submarine. Saluting the flag aft, Lee descended the gangplank, took his leave of Chip, who waved him off, and contemplated…life.