Thanks go to Kate for tirelessly and enthusiastically correcting my work once again, and without whose help I wouldn’t have made my dues on time.
By Sea Spinner
Captain Lee Crane shrugged carefully out of his shirt. His shoulder still pulled a bit after being
shot on his last mission in Peru, but the injury was healing well*. Dressed in only his bathing trunks, he sat
down on the silvery moonlit beach and stared up at the stars. The Admiral, Chip and Jamie had managed to pry him out of Seaview
and onto a forced island retreat in the
Behind him the jungle-shrouded resort was unusually rowdy. Tonight there was a talent competition, and Lee had narrowly managed to escape before a well-meaning couple and their daughter roped him into performing an ABBA song with them. He sighed, nothing was further from his mind than taking part in the show. The sound of small waves breaking against the shoreline caught his attention and indicated a sudden shift in the tidal motion. Before his very eyes an underwater seamount breached the surface and continued to rise until it towered above the water, blocking out the moonlight. It was almost as if Poseidon himself had speared his trident into the ocean and left it wedged there. The three prongs of rock were connected to a horizontal ledge where another long, tall, jagged piece of rock rose from the middle like a handle.
Eventually the waves died down and the sea was as calm as before. Lee got up and was about to return to the resort to alert someone, when he noticed a flickering light in the junction between the prongs. Curiosity got the better of him as he judged the distance from shore to the rock. It looked to be about five hundred yards, but it was difficult to tell in the dark. He was fit, but the last few weeks had taken it out of him. With barely a second thought, he got up and walked into the warm tropical water. Without a care for his safety he began swimming out to the monolith which seemed to grow larger with each stroke. Just as he was beginning to tire, his fingers brushed the rough rock of the outside prong.
Now that he was out there, Lee wondered just how he was going to ascend the rugged formation. Before he had a chance to search for an easy route, he noticed a set of handholds set deep into the rock. He put his hands into the first set and found that they extended down below the water line for his feet.
About halfway up he felt fatigue take hold and nearly slipped from his precarious position back into the water. Looking down, he was glad that he didn’t fall. The water appeared to be too far below for anything other than a bone breaking landing. Finally he made the top of the prong and fell exhausted onto the hard rock ledge, clutching his injured side. Once his breathing returned to normal he dragged himself to his feet and looked around. The ledge appeared to run along the length of the prongs. Lee made his way along the slippery rock until the light from the junction lit his way. The eeriness of what was happening suddenly struck him as he approached the light, which now appeared to be set into a cave. A woman sat warming her hands against the glowing fire.
“Who are you?”
The ethereal beauty smiled and stepped close to him, her hand falling lightly onto his shoulder. “I am Poseidon’s daughter, Despoena.”
Lee felt a brief burning sensation where their skin met. It was quickly replaced by a complete lack of pain where the bullet wound had been. He looked down, stunned, and gently removed her hand. The scarring was gone and the wound looked to be completely healed.
“What…what did you do?”
Her aquamarine eyes glistened in the firelight. “You were hurt.”
“Am I dreaming?” he asked, half to himself.
“Please, sit down.”
She took his arm, guiding him towards two large boulders beside the fire. When they were seated she took his hand in hers. “’I have watched over you since you were hurt on the submarine.” Her eyes suddenly turned a turbulent dark blue. “I felt your pain, but could do nothing. Later, when you fell from the ship you were dying. I had seen the kind lady on the island. I decided to take you there to the beach. I knew she would look after you.”
Lee understood now. It had been several months since he’d been injured on board the Dak Ho, but each and every day since he wondered how he’d made it to the beach. There was a vague yet elusive memory that remained just out of reach. Now, finally, the memory of her touch, and flowing, almost transparent hair, came back to him.
“But…if you saved me, why couldn’t you heal me the first time?”
Her face fell as small droplets of water began to cascade from all over her body. “You were almost dead. I only had the strength to avert your journey to the darkness.”
Lee quickly realized that the moisture that dropped from her pores was tears. He squeezed her hand. “Don’t be sad, you did manage to save my life.”
“I did not think it was enough. You were so still and cold.” The tears stopped as suddenly as they had started. “And you need your strength for the journey you will take.”
“What journey?” asked Lee, confused.
Despoena looked back towards the fire. “Evil works against you. There is one within who wishes you harm.”
“I cannot say, but you must guard yourself against him. He bears the mark of the slaves as worn by the Greeks.” She drew the shape of a triangle amongst the ashes.
Lee ran his hand over his face. “Why are you helping me? How can you help me? I didn’t even think you existed.”
“Your mortal time means nothing to me.” Laughing softly, she brought her small hand up to his cheek. “Stay with me, even for one night.”
He felt her soft, warm flesh against his and almost said yes, but his sense of duty held him back. “I’m sorry, I can’t. I need to get back to my submarine now that you’ve healed my injuries, especially if they’re in danger.”
She looked deeply into his eyes. “I understand. I knew you were that type of man before I helped you. One day perhaps you will stand at my side.”
As Lee was about to say his goodbyes, she flung her head around to stare back at the resort. “They are here,” she said, fear turning her eyes almost purple.
“The ones who seek to kill you – they all bear the mark I spoke of.” She clutched at his arm. “You must leave here with me.”
Lee heard shouts. Screams and gunfire replaced the music and laughter. “I can’t leave these people to their death. I must help them.”
Despoena composed herself. “Yes, I expect you will do just that, but there are too many of them.”
Lee thought for a moment. “Can you bring my submarine here…let them know I need their help?”
The fear came back. “I only meant to watch over you. I should never have made you aware of my presence.”
“Will you be in some sort of trouble?”
“Yes, but I will do as you ask. I cannot save your life only to see you die,” she replied softly.
“Why did you save my life?”
“Please, do not ask me that. Just be content that someone wishes me to see that no harm comes to you and to keep you safe. Someone I owe a great debt to.”
Lee heard more shouting.
“Go, Lee. I will bring your friends to you.”
She dived from the rocky ledge into the water below as the massive rock formation began to slide back into the water. Lee waited until the ledge was almost submerged and dived off. He quickly swam back to the island and made his way stealthily towards the resort.
Watching from the safety of the tropical forest he saw four gunmen standing guard over the partygoers. The fifth was pointing a gun towards one of the young female staff members.
“Where’s Lee Crane? I know he’s on this island.”
Lee’s temper flared as he watched the teenager start to cry. He couldn’t stand by and watch her be killed, yet if he showed himself he knew all of them would die. He calculated that the Seaview would only be a few hours away if that, carrying out a scientific mission. It was time for a diversion. Without any weapons he was defenseless, but he would lead them a merry chase across the island and make do with what he could find along the way.
He stood up and shouted to the men. “If you want me you’ll have to catch me.” Then he took off at a sprint, not giving them any time to threaten their prisoners.
Admiral Harriman Nelson stood in the nose of the Seaview, savoring the view of the rising
sun across the
“Good Morning, Admiral,” greeted the XO, Chip Morton.
“Chip, I didn’t think your watch started for another two hours?”
“Same thing as you, Sir. Nothing like seeing the sunrise in these parts, especially after that volcanic eruption scattered ash through the atmosphere.” Chip turned to watch the startling shades of scarlet and purple as the sun nudged the horizon.
Nelson nodded. “Very true.”
Each of them was lost deep in thought until they both saw a woman riding a killer whale.
“Uh, Admiral, do you see that or am I going mad?”
Nelson took in a gulp of air. “If you’re going mad, so am I. Mister O’Brien, crack the top hatch.”
Nelson and Chip climbed onto the deck to find they weren’t mad. “I see it but I don’t believe it,” muttered the XO.
The woman leapt agilely from the back of the killer whale, landing on the deck of the submarine only a few feet away from the two men.
Nelson gave her a bemused look. “Welcome aboard, I think. I’m Admiral Harriman Nelson. This is Lieutenant Commander Chip Morton.”
“Your Captain needs you. There is no time to spare.”
Chip took a step forwards. “Is he still on the island?”
Her eyes turned purple. “Yes. He is in great danger. The men who wish him dead hunt for him. Please, hurry.”
Before Nelson could say anything else, she’d dived gracefully from the submarine and was nowhere to be seen. “Chip…”
“Already on it, Admiral,” replied Chip, hurrying back towards the hatch.
Nelson took one more look at the ocean, and not seeing the woman again, followed the XO below as the orders to dive and prepare the FS1 reached his ears. Trust Lee, he thought ruefully. Only his Captain could find trouble in a tropical paradise. He knew Lee was only partially recovered from his experiences in Peru. There was no telling what type of resistance he would encounter on the island until they arrived.
The voices behind him were slowly dying out but Lee had no intention of stopping. He knew that without Despoena’s healing touch he would have been in serious trouble by now. The sun had long since passed the horizon and he figured it was about ten hundred hours. Rising up in front of him was a rocky peak, but at the base the tropical growth would hide him. When he’d first arrived on the island he’d taken a boat ride around the island and noticed a small cave on the other side of his current position. If he could make it to the cave he would be able to wait until the Seaview arrived.
Reaching the base of the peak, Lee circled around until he found the small aperture he was searching for. On closer inspection he realized it wouldn’t be a good option for holing up. It was narrow, but very shallow. There was a good chance he would be spotted hiding in it and there was no other way out. He continued to circle the peak and began his ascent on the opposite side to his pursuers.
“Up there!” came a shout.
While he’d been surveying the cave, some of the men had circled around to the other side of the island, effectively cutting him off. He re-traced his steps and headed down on a different angle, slipping and sliding, the rocks and vegetation cutting into his bare skin. In his hurry to get back to the resort he hadn’t bothered to put any other clothing over his board shorts. He was now strongly questioning his haste. It was no longer a matter of waiting for his crew, but how to take out the attackers before they could corner him.
Lee looked around for any objects he could use as weapons but only managed to find a tree branch and a few baseball-sized rocks. The branch was too brittle to be of any use, but another idea came to mind. He tore off a piece of palm frond and placed the rock into it, fashioning it into a crude slingshot. Even in the tight situation he was in, Lee could see the amusing side of what he was doing. Of all the high powered weapons and technology he had access to normally, the best he could come up with right now was something so basic that legend told it was used B.C.
He quickly found an outcrop that afforded enough cover and lay in wait. As he suspected, the men were spread out enough that he should be able to pick them off one by one. With no gunshot to warn them, it might work – provided he hadn’t lost his touch with a slingshot.
The Admiral, Chip, Curley and Kowalski emerged from the water in their scuba gear, careful to use the rocky part of the shoreline to cover their arrival. Ditching their gear, they set off to find Lee.
As they approached the resort, Nelson was surprised to find that rescuing his Captain would be the least of their problems. Lee was trying unsuccessfully to extricate himself from a group of women, while two of the resort staff stood guard over five bound men.
Lee’s pleading eyes met his, and Nelson coughed to stifle a laugh at the Captain’s expense. He had no doubt that Lee had disarmed and bundled the men up on his own and was now something of a hero to the women, young and old, on the island.
“I see our assistance wasn’t needed this time,” said Nelson, a smile still tugging at his lips.
Lee looked pointedly at one teenage girl who had managed to hook her arms around his neck. “I think it’s time I left, Admiral, and yes, your assistance would be gratefully welcomed,” he growled.
Chip smirked as Lee tried to drag himself away from his admirers. “Maybe you should stay for a bit longer, looks like you’re something of a hero.”
“Maybe you’d like to stay in my place,” he replied, finally managing to put some distance between himself and the crowd.
“Oh, no.” Chip raised his hands. “I think it’s time we left. Got your gear together?”
Lee reached down and hoisted his bag in the air. “Let’s go.”
Nelson took out his radio. “Nelson to Riley, surface the FS1 and bring a raft ashore. We’ll be having guests.”
“Aye, Sir,” came the response.
“Let’s get them down to the beach. You can fill me in on the way,” ordered Nelson.
Once onboard, Lee had a shower and submitted unwillingly to Jamie’s examination. After deciding that none of his injuries required more than band-aids and antiseptic, he was released to take a shower. It had taken some fancy footwork trying to get out of answering the Doctor’s questions about his missing scar. In the end he’d had to tell the tale, steaming because Jamie made him explain what happened twice before he would allow Lee to leave sick bay.
Lee found the Admiral, Chip and Jamie in the observation nose, waiting for him. “Sir, Chip.”
“Ah, Lee, sit down. Coffee?”
“Thank you, Sir.”
Nelson handed him a cup and sat across from him. “Now, we’ve sent details of the prisoners to ONI for processing. I’m hoping it won’t be long before they get back to us.” His eyes glistened with humor. “Perhaps you’d care to explain the events on the island.”
Lee took a sip of his coffee, savoring the flavor after his experience at the resort.
“You weren’t able to get any information from the prisoners?” asked Nelson.
“No, Sir. They wouldn’t speak at all.”
He continued to outline the events as best he could, then sat back while Nelson, Chip and Jamie threw disbelieving looks at each other.
“Which part don’t you believe?” he asked testily.
Chip answered him, his voice innocent. “The part where you weren’t interested in all those women swarming around you.”
Nelson snorted and Jamie covered his mouth strategically with his hand as Lee glared at his friend.
“It all sounds so incredible,” Nelson broke in. “If Chip and I hadn’t seen Despoena riding a killer whale I’d seriously think about having Jamie medicate you.
”Believe me when I say that I wondered about my sanity more than a couple of times during the night.”
“Did she tell you why she was there and reached out to you specifically?” asked Nelson.
Lee sat back, thumbing the cup thoughtfully. “I’m not sure I know. She appeared from nowhere while I was on the beach. We spoke for a while…when I was shot on the Dak Ho**, I didn’t tell you, but I couldn’t remember getting to the beach. Now I know why. Despoena saved me and took me ashore. All she would say was that she owed someone a great debt and the person had asked her to look over me and keep me safe.”
“Hmm, it certainly is a puzzle.”
“Did she say anything else, Lee?” asked Chip.
“Yes, she told me that our saboteur wore the ‘brand of a slave’.” Lee turned to the Doctor. “Jamie, what did you find when you examined them?”
“All five of them had the mark you told me to look for. It was burned into their back at the top of their right shoulder.”
Lee rubbed the back of his neck. “If one of the crew had this mark when they signed on, it should be in their medical records. Only problem is if they were turned after joining the boat, it wouldn’t be recorded.”
“Not only that, Lee. We automatically assumed, possibly wrongly, that the People’s Republic was behind all this. Now it seems we have a new enemy.”
“But who?” asked Chip. “I’ve never heard of these brands before.”
“It’s an ancient Greek custom,” said Jamie. “It signifies that the person is a slave and owned by someone.”
“Or in this case, an organization,” mused Lee.
“We have to figure out who or what is behind it. I’ll have
“They have to have some type of connection with the People’s Republic,” said Jamie.
“I am inclined to agree, Doctor, but for the moment we’ll have to work with the information we are sure of. You start going through your records to look for the identifying mark. Inform me as soon as you have something.” Nelson looked to the other two men. “Lee, I’ll see you in my cabin in ten minutes.”
Lee and Chip stood as Nelson and Jamie left the nose. “I still don’t understand how Despoena fits into all of this,” said Chip.
“Neither do I. There’s something nagging me, but I can’t put my finger on it.”
Before they could discuss it any further, Nelson’s voice came over the intercom requesting the two men and Kowalski join him in his cabin.
Lee stared at the information Nelson had given him, the blood draining from his face. “I didn’t see any of these markings when I was in Atlantis.”***
Kowalski moved uncomfortably in his chair. “I did, Sir. It was on one of the guards in the salt mine.”
He looked closely at his Captain and could see the memories were unpleasant. Only he knew exactly what had gone on during their imprisonment in Atlantis. The Skipper had only confided in him out of necessity, and he’d kept that confidence even though Doctor Jamieson had pressured him to tell him everything.
“Lee, I’m sorry, it looks like Valentina’s escaped.”
Lee snapped the folder closed. It was deafening in the silence. Kowalski couldn’t say anything without giving too much away, but even the XO had gone quiet.
“Why weren’t we informed immediately, Sir?” asked Lee.
“According to ONI a clerical error meant that the information was prevented from being distributed through the usual alert channels.”
“Lee, we don’t even know for sure if it’s her,” said Chip.
“It has to be, who else would it be?”
“I have to agree with the Skipper, Sir. She swore she’d get revenge on him,” agreed Kowalski. “She’s crazy.”
“For the moment we need to sit tight until we find out where she is.” Nelson took the folder and locked it away in his drawer. “Chip, set a course for the Marianas Trench.”
“Aye, Sir,” he replied, making a beeline out the door.
Lee and Kowalski made to rise when Nelson stopped them. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to speak with the both of you alone.”
Uh-oh, thought Ski, now we’re going to get the third degree. One look at the Skipper’s face told him that he thought the same thing.
Nelson put the pen he’d been holding down on the desk. “Lee, I know this is difficult for you, but I need to know everything that happened while you were in Atlantis.”
Kowalski watched as the Captain’s eyes became hard. “You already know, Admiral.”
Nelson’s steely gaze fell onto the senior rating. “Kowalski, I expect you’ll give me the same answer?”
Ski swallowed, looked at Captain Crane and nodded. “Yes, Sir.”
The Admiral shook his head as irritation flashed through his eyes. “Very well, Commander, you’re relieved of all duties until further notice.”
Lee shot to his feet. “Why, Admiral?”
“For one, until you choose to provide me with an accurate report about your incarceration.” Nelson tapped the folder with his fingers. “Secondly, if…and I do mean if… it is Valentina, you’re going to be her number one target. I don’t want to place any more stress on you than you’ve already suffered over the last two months.”
“I’m fine, Admiral. Doctor Jamieson’s cleared me for active duty. My injuries are superficial and my bullet wound has completely healed, as I’m sure you’ve been apprised,” he added stubbornly. “You have no reason to stop me from performing my daily duties.”
“I have another mission for you and Kowalski.”
Ski watched as the Captain struggled to maintain his normal tight control over his emotions.
“What’s that, Sir?”
“I’d like you to personally visit Atlantis and let the Atlantean people know of the threat.”
“They have the new radio setup. There’s no need for us to physically pass them the message,” he pointed out.
Nelson continued as if Lee hadn’t even spoken. “Kowalski, have the Chimaera ready for launch in thirty minutes.”
“Uh, yes, Sir.”
“Dismissed, Ski. I’d like to speak with Commander Crane for a moment longer.”
“Just for your information, the reason you’re taking the submersible is that all communications with Atlantis have failed. Nobody has heard from them for almost a week.”
Ski nodded and left the cabin.
Nelson waited for a moment after the door had closed. “I’m not going to let this go, Lee.”
“Sir, please don’t ask me for what I can’t give,” Lee pleaded, upset that it had come to this.
“If it’s really that serious, maybe you should speak to someone. Someone professional,” suggested Nelson.
Lee could tell that Nelson was becoming impatient with his refusal to share everything that had taken place in Atlantis. It wasn’t that he was hiding anything – much – he just didn’t feel comfortable regurgitating the experience to his mentor and boss. It was different with Kowalski. At least he’d been there and suffered along with him. He’d seen what Valentina was like and what she’d put Lee through. He supposed it was the shared experience that had developed their superior-subordinate relationship into an unlikely friendship.
“I want you to see Doctor Jamieson. I’d like him to give you another medical.”
“I’m fine,” insisted Lee. “If everyone would just back off this subject…”
“What?” growled Nelson. “It would go away? Be reasonable, Lee. Until you talk about it you won’t get over it.”
“Talk about it.”
Nelson looked at him suspiciously. “With whom?”
Lee shook his head. Nelson had expertly snared him in his trap, and now he would probably get Kowalski into trouble. He was caught between a rock and a hard place.
“Uh-huh,” said Nelson. “I suspected as much. Did you make him lie for you in his report?”
“No, Sir,” he replied indignantly. “He wasn’t with me when…when I was separated from the others. He has no, uh, evidence of what happened during those periods.”
The Admiral frowned. “Very
well. Regardless, you’ll submit to
another medical when you leave here, otherwise I’ll have you shipped back to
Lee pursed his lips. “Yes, Sir.”
Lee stepped inside his cabin, closed the door and leaned back against it. His head throbbed with pain. The last thing he imagined was that Valentina would escape and launch some type of vendetta against him and the Seaview. Admittedly, he had no doubt that she was mentally unstable. He’d seen that from the very moment she’d taken them prisoner. A shudder echoed through his body with the thought of what she’d done to him and the other men. There was no telling what trouble she could cause if she’d formed an alliance with the People’s Republic.
He made his way to the head and splashed his face with cold water. The Admiral had demanded an explanation for the gaps in his version of the report he’d written after leaving Atlantis. He’d refused, and now Nelson had not only relieved him of his command, he’d ordered him to report to sick bay for another medical to assess his fitness for duty. The hostile argument that took place after Ski had left still irked him – Nelson had given him no quarter.
Frustration shot through him – even after all these months, Valentina was still getting to him in one way or another. The medical with Jamie hadn’t gone down very well, either. The doctor had been impatient and heavy-handed with him, clearly he’d lost his sympathetic bedside manner the moment he’d seen the Lee’s expression when he walked through the door.
Lee had just dried his face and packed a small bag when there was a knock at the door. “Enter,” he snapped.
Kowalski’s head came around the corner of the door. “The Chimaera’s ready, Sir.”
Lee was about to leave when Kowalski stepped aside to allow Admiral Nelson to enter his cabin.
“There’s been a change of plan, Lee. We’ve been ordered by COMSUBPAC to rendezvous
with a helicopter off the coast of
“Do we have any further information, Admiral?” asked Lee.
“Only that our guests will be Australian Special Air
Services soldiers from Butterworth, the Australian base in
“Why’s that, Sir?” asked Kowalski.
“Two of the team sustained injuries on their last mission and they haven’t had time to ship in replacements. Lee, you and Kowalski will board the vessel with them. We’ll be providing you with a backup team if you need it.” Nelson rolled the chart up. “You’ll be fully briefed once the SAS are onboard.”
“Yes, Sir. Does this mean you’re re-instating my command?” asked Lee hopefully.
“No, I want the complete details of what happened in Atlantis. Once you provide me with your altered report, then I will consider re-instating you, Commander.” Nelson moved his scrutiny to Kowalski. “Unless you are willing to fill in the gaps, Kowalski?”
“I don’t have any further information to give apart from what was in my initial report, Sir.”
“Very well, you’re relieved from all duties until after this as well, Kowalski. Both of you get some rest,” said Nelson, looking disappointed.
“Admiral…” Lee began.
Nelson stopped where he was. “Yes?”
Lee hesitated, hearing the irritation in his voice, and stopped himself from saying anything further. There would be time enough for that after the mission. “Nothing, Sir.”
He watched as Nelson turned his back and left his cabin. “Get some rest, Ski. I’ll send someone to get you once the SAS are on board.”
“Oh, one more thing. Doctor Jamieson found no reference to any markings like the ones on the prisoners’ backs in the medical records. Whoever the spy is, he must have been turned after he was employed by the Institute.”
Lee closed the door behind Kowalski and sighed. He owed Nelson an explanation but it was going to be difficult. What had happened when he was a prisoner there wasn’t something he had ever wanted to think about again. It was by far the worst and most humiliating experience he’d suffered at the hands of another human being. At least broken bones and bullet wounds healed eventually. Rubbing a hand over his weary eyes, he lay down on his bed, hoping for the sleep that would never come.
Lee and Kowalski sat in the observation nose, listening as Captain Richard Paterson outlined the mission and handed out a schematic of the ship they were going to board.
“Your second team, along with your doctor, will board after us in the event they are needed,” he finished. “Are there any questions?”
“No, I think you’ve covered everything, Captain Paterson. Kowalski and I will meet you in the missile room in thirty minutes.”
“Very well, Captain.”
Lee looked hesitantly at Nelson. “It’s Commander Crane.”
“Commander Crane has been relieved of his duties pending this mission,” explained Nelson, saving Lee from having to give the SAS man the messy details.
“I see,” he said, clearly still confused. “Well, Commander Crane, thirty minutes it is.”
Nelson handed Lee a webbing belt before he left the room. “Inside this belt, just here,” he indicated a small button near the buckle. “Is a signal button. If you encounter any problems, just press it and we’ll be there.”
“Aye, Sir,” Lee replied, then left the room to follow Kowalski to the missile room.
Lee and Kowalski entered the escape hatch first, along with
two of the SAS team. Once the rest of
their complement had arrived, they swam towards the stationary cargo ship. Using hand signals,
Lee waited until the last SAS man had started up the ladder before following him. His senses went on high alert as soon as he’d hauled himself over the deck rail. The ship was completely deserted on the main deck.
“Commander, we’ll stick with the plan. You, Kowalski and Robbins circle around the bridge and make your way down below. The rest of us will search the bridge and cabins.”
“Understood, but be careful, I don’t like the looks of this.”
Lee watched as he and his men disappeared into the near darkness and indicated for Kowalski and Robbins to follow him. The bottom of the bridge structure was also deserted. He couldn’t see any signs of life. They made their way down below to the hold. He stepped through a hatch into darkness when glaring flood lamps snapped on, catching them like prey in a spotlight.
“So, Captain, have you returned for another lesson?”
Lee didn’t need to see who it was that spoke, her voice had been enough. He spun around to face Valentina. “How did you escape?”
She gave a haughty laugh. “Why, Captain, you know that a lady never reveals her secrets.”
“Valentina, you are not a lady by any stretch of my imagination.”
“And you need to be taught some more manners,” she spat angrily.
“Skipper, look,” said Kowalski quietly, nodding to one side.
“Oh, this just gets better and better,” groaned Lee as he watched General Ling of the People’s Republic make an entrance.
Ling stopped beside Valentina and caught her hand, raising it to her mouth to place a kiss on the back of it. “You do get around, don’t you, Captain Crane? I must say that to begin with, I thought this idea was ludicrous, that you would never fall into such a simple trap. It seems, my dear Valentina, that I was wrong.”
“What now?” asked Lee.
The General smiled. “Now, I’m going to leave you in Valentina’s nurturing care while I kill the rest of your team. When I return, we’ll leave for the People’s Republic. This time you won’t get away.”
“Stop!” cried Valentina, moving closer. “Well, well, if it isn’t the other Seaview man from Atlantis. I want him kept alive, too.”
Lee pressed the small button on the inside of his webbed belt. It would be the signal Nelson, Chip and the others were waiting for.
Ling circled Lee. “I just want to know one thing, Captain. How did the Seaview rescue you without the electromagnetic wave generator sending off a pulse?”
The Captain shrugged. “I guess your workmanship’s not that great, Ling.”
Ling struck him angrily across his jaw, knocking him back against Kowalski. “I have a cold, windowless cell waiting for you in my country. One from which the only escape is death. Your death could come quickly or slowly – it could come now if you are not careful. You would do well to remember that.”
“I don’t think we should be in any hurry to kill the good Captain,” said Valentina, eyeing him voraciously. “He has many wonderful attributes.”
“You stay the hell away from me, Valentina. I’d rather be locked in a cell with the devil than be in the same room as you.”
“Goes for me, too,” snapped Kowalski.
“I would rather kill him slowly now,” threatened Ling. “At least I would know he was no longer a threat.”
“No, I want him alive,” she argued.
Ling turned on her. “It’s not for you to decide.”
“I gave you all the information you wanted from my spy. You promised him to me.”
“My government isn’t satisfied with that. They want to be sure that he’s not a threat – one way, or another.” He lifted his lips in a smirk. “We waited until we knew you were the closest vessel able to insert an SAS unit. Then we made the distress call,” bragged Ling, raising his pistol. “Now I can repay you for sinking my submarine.”
As Ling pulled the trigger, Kowalski shoved one of the guards aside and threw himself in front of Lee.
“No, Ski!” shouted Lee, the sound of the gunshot ringing in his ears.
At that moment Nelson and the men from Seaview stormed into the hold. All hell broke loose as heavy fighting ensued, but Lee knelt beside Kowalski, completely oblivious to the mayhem. He staunched the flow of blood from a wound high up on Ski’s chest then checked his pulse.
“Dammit, Ski, what were you thinking?” muttered Lee.
Despite the chaos, Jamie ended up beside him, tending to Kowalski.
“Ling shot him,” he said, still shocked that Ski had taken a bullet for him.
“Put pressure here,” ordered Jamie, replacing Lee’s hand with a thick wad of gauze. “We need to get him back to the boat as soon as possible.”
Jamie wrapped a bandage around Kowalski’s chest and Lee lifted his hand away as the gauze was secured in place.
“Will he be alright?”
“I don’t know, Captain, I think it might have clipped his right lung. If it has, he’ll need surgery.”
Lee looked up to see Valentina disappearing up the steps and stood up. “Jamie, take care of him.”
He ran out of the hold, noticing that one of the SAS men had already taken care of Ling. Lee quickly began gaining ground on Valentina as he took the steps two at a time.
“Valentina!” he yelled, emerging behind her on the uppermost deck.
She turned to face him, a pistol in her hand. “I should have known you were trouble the first time I saw you. I will make you regret what you did to me.” She raised the pistol and took aim at his leg. “Will it be your leg or your arm first, your choice, Captain?”
“I see you haven’t mellowed any since your imprisonment,” he said grimly.
She snarled something unintelligible and readied for a shot. An unexpected wave rocked the ship, then Valentina’s jaw dropped open as she stared into the space behind him. Turning slowly, he was glad he didn’t have a heart condition, considering the amount of twists and turns the evening had brought.
Behind him, Despoena rose up on the crest of a wave that seemed to hover at the level of the deck.
She glared at Valentina. “This time you will come with me. There will be no mercy.”
Valentina backed away from her until she couldn’t go any further.
“You have defiled the name of Atlantis, and my father, Poseidon. He entrusted the civilization to you, and you have left it in ruins,” Despoena accused coldly.
Lee met her eyes and saw them turn a dark maroon color with the memory of the time they’d shared together.
When she spoke again, her voice was heavy with sadness. “Valentina hurt many mortals, including you, in her lust for power.”
Valentina turned her gun towards Despoena. “I’ll never go back to
“Stop!” cried Lee, but before she could fire a shot, a finger of water flew up, ensnared her in its watery tendrils and disappeared beneath the waves.
Despoena stepped onto the deck and stood before Lee. “It is so good to see you again, but I must go, my work here is done. I will continue to protect you when I can.”
Lee took her by the shoulders before she could leap back onto the wave. “Please, tell me who sent you.”
“I see no harm. You will not see her again. Adrienne sent me. She and I have been friends for many centuries. You were unable to contact Atlantis because we have moved the remaining Atlanteans to a secret location.”
“Please, tell her I…I love her.” He clenched his jaw against his emotions. “I just…”
Despoena’s eyes lit up and her hand smoothed back his unruly black curls. “She understands, Lee and sends her love also. I am sorry, but it was not meant to be.”
“What will happen to Valentina?”
“She has already paid her price. She will never bother you again.”
“Thank you.” He took her hand and helped her step back onto the wave, as bizarre as it all seemed.
“Farewell, Lee. I can see why Adrienne loves you so much.”
In the blink of an eye, she was gone, and he was left alone on the deck, still wondering if it had been a dream.
“Commander Crane, are you alright?”
Lee stood up as Kowalski was moved to a stretcher and readied for transfer to the Seaview. Captain Paterson stood by his side, patiently waiting for a reply to his question.
“I’m sorry, yes. How are your men?”
“I wouldn’t worry about Valentina,” said Lee, glad that he could be certain she would never bother them again. “She won’t give us any more trouble.”
“There is one thing,”
“What? Where is he?”
“Thank you. If you’ll excuse me, Captain, I’ve got some things I need to clear up.”
“Of course, we’ll assist you where we can. I appreciate your Admiral’s offer of a lift back to Malaysia.”
“It’s the least we can do.”
Lee strode over to where Patterson and Curley were holding one of their own captive. “Who is it?”
“Lieutenant Caldwell, Sir,” replied Curley, almost apologetically, stepping aside so the Captain could see the face of the man they had arrested.
Lee started. The
officer had been part of the crew for the last three years. He pulled
“You knocked back my promotion to Lieutenant Commander. I deserved it. I worked so hard towards it.” His eyes became wild. “My wife left me because I didn’t get it – left me for a full Commander. That was your fault. I was glad Ling made you suffer, I only wish I’d been there to see it.”
“Curley, take him back to the Seaview and lock him in the brig. I’ll deal with him later.”
“Aye, aye, Sir, with pleasure.”
Lee massaged the knotted muscles in his neck. As if the night hadn’t been bad enough.
“You weren’t responsible, Lee,” said Chip, stepping through a hatchway. “I gave you the recommendations for holding his promotion back, you only acted on them.”
“No, it was the right call. Your instincts were correct, Chip.”
Chip rested a hand against his friend’s back. “Why don’t you go back with Curley? We’ve just about finished mopping up here, and I know you’re itching to check up on Kowalski.”
“Yes, I am. He stepped in front of me just as Ling pulled the trigger,” said Lee, troubled.
Chip nodded. “So I heard. It was a brave act.”
“I think I will go back. Where’s the Admiral? Is he still mad at me?”
“He’s up top on deck. I don’t think he was ever angry with you. Disappointed maybe that you couldn’t open up to him.”
Lee took one last look around him and was satisfied that he could leave the vessel in Captain Paterson’s capable hands. This time when he took the steps it was at a much slower pace. At the top he knew Nelson would be expecting answers, and this time he would provide him with them, no matter the cost. A part of him knew that the Admiral would understand. He half expected Despoena to rise from the waves again when he arrived on deck, and was almost disappointed when she didn’t.
Nelson was standing still, leaning over the railing, apparently lost in thought.
“Sir, do you have a moment? I have some things I’d like to discuss with you.”
“It’s about time, lad,” he replied. “Let’s get it over with, so we can head home.”
“Yes, Sir.” Lee took one last look at the ocean and started talking softly, finally emptying the pain he’d held onto for so long.
Kowalski slowly opened his eyes. It took him a while to focus, but he figured he was in sickbay on board the Seaview. What he hadn’t expected to see was Captain Crane sitting in a chair next to his bunk, asleep. From the raised eyebrows of the two SAS men in the other bunks, he figured that the Skipper had been there for some time, causing a spectacle for those who didn’t know how the Seaview operated. He dully realized even then, how unusual it was for the Skipper to spend a vigil beside anyone’s side except the command crew. He shifted to make himself more comfortable, but the pain brought a rush of air to his lungs.
“Ski, you’re awake,” said Lee, instantly alert. “How do you feel?”
“Not too bad, Sir. How long have I been here?”
Lee looked at his watch. “About fourteen hours. I thought I’d keep an eye on you for a while and see how you were doing. Jamie said it was touch and go for a while.”
“What about Ling and Valentina?” he managed before a coughing fit had pain shooting through his chest.
The Captain laid a hand on his good shoulder. “Take it easy, Ski. You’ve been through surgery. You need to rest.”
Kowalski watched as he looked at him thoughtfully through his long lashes.
“What is it, Skipper?”
“Why did you take Ling’s bullet for me?”
“Well, I figured the two of them had hurt you bad enough already for a lifetime,” he said angrily. “I didn’t want them to do it again. Seaview needs you, Skipper. You’re the best thing that ever happened to this crew and the boat. I didn’t want someone else taking your place.”
Lee nodded. “I don’t think I can ever repay you for what you did.”
Kowalski felt color heat his cheeks. “Anyone would have done it, Sir.”
“Maybe, but it wasn’t anyone, it was you. Thank you,” Lee said solemnly, but added with a smile. “Don’t make a habit of it. Understood?”
Ski laughed, regretting it instantly. “Yes, Sir.”
Lee stood up. “Now I know you’re out of the woods I’d better head back to the control room.”
“The Admiral put you back in command?” he asked, his eyelids drooping heavily as sleep beckoned to him.
“Yes, and you don’t have to worry about him putting any more pressure on you for information about Atlantis. We sorted that out last night.”
Ski felt relieved. “That’s great, Skipper. I’m glad.”
“In the end it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it would be,” he admitted.
“Things never are, Sir,” he said quietly as Lee left the sick bay.
**A Burden Shared