Shore Leave

By Carol Foss

It was a splendid day. Crisp. Clear. Ideal for a sail. Commander  Lee Crane settled comfortably at the tiller of the small rented sailboat and tried to enjoy it. He'd already used two and a half weeks of his month long shore leave. Most of it, diving and sailing and just lounging around on the beaches of the Bimini Island Group of the Bahamas. The views were spectacular. Especially of the female variety.
But it was no good. Frankly, he was bored. And jealous. The only girl he was really interested in just now was Admiral Nelson's private submarine, Seaview.
Nelson had had to order him to take the vacation! Not that Lee felt he needed one. But as  the waves splashed alongside the tiny craft and dolphins played nearby, he realized he really did need it. Anyone who couldn't enjoy this had to be crazy. Or simply worn out.
The dolphins changed course and began to leap about. It was almost as if they wanted him to follow. But the sea was getting a bit too choppy for this  toy, and Lee turned the craft back towards land.

Admiral Harriman Nelson paced the deck in Seaview's observation nose. It was hard to relax. Even here, as the turquoise sea cast a lovely glow through the transparent windows. He always came here to relax. But it was no damn good.
He'd lent out Seaview as the impartial observation/command center for the ongoing war games. Frankly, he needed to keep up Seaview's reputation. There hadn't been too many requests for her services lately. His civilian research vessel was also a Naval Reserve one, called upon more times than he could count for help in especially tricky situations.
As Seaview hadn't been invited to participate in the games, he'd volunteered her. Even if it was only as an observation post. Quite frankly, he'd rather be fishing than playing host to rank-happy brass and sourpuss congressmen, along for the ride.

Nelson glared at his old friend, and closed the automatic accordion doors, sealing off the adjoining control room. Turning, he went to the sidebar, poured out two drinks, sipped his once, and handed the other to Stark. Oh, great! Lee chided himself, as another huge wave smashed over him for the umpteenth time. It was hard enough to keep this excuse of  a boat from capsizing, and this storm! It just came out of nowhere! Lee was enough of a pro to have checked the weather, so just what was this monster storm doing here anyway? Nelson would know. Probably already did. Nelson knew just about everything in the scientific venu. That's what Seaview was all about, usually, anyway. Too bad Nelson didn't know where he was, or surely he would have tried to warn him.
Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Lee knew better than to take out a craft without a compass. But heck, it was only going to be a three-hour cruise. A three- hour cruise? Who am I, Gilligan? Lee thought sourly. Taking the ropes in his teeth, Lee tried to find his emergency personnel tracker. Blast! He must have left it at the hotel. The new device made emergency recalls so much easier and even had an emergency locator button. But, so anxious had Nelson been for Lee to relax on his vacation, and had personally threatened keelhauling if Lee even tested it in misguided duty, so that Crane had ignored the little device, squashed somewhere in his duffle bag back at the hotel.
What about the coast guard? Surely, they'd be checking on things, Fourth of July weekend or not. But he'd rented the boat for the duration and it wasn't due back at the main island depot for another two weeks. As for the hotel, his bill had been paid in full with specific instructions for the maid to simply ignore the room. Lee was too much of a professional sailor to want someone else to make up his bunk or scrub out his toilet. So he'd armed himself with a pile of towels and thus had pretty much guaranteed that no one would notice his absence.
So why had he acted the fool? He was no amateur. But he sure had behaved  like one. The lightening kept exploding all around him as the waves became even fiercer. Spectacular, he thought ironically as the crackles lit up the blackness of the night. Even if it does end  up barbecuing my boat. Drowned or incinerated. What a way to go.
Crane heard, rather than saw, the lightening bolt that ripped his craft into shredded fiberglass, and it's wooden mast into shrapnel like spikes. Something struck him with a force that seared into him as he was plunged into the sea. The current dragged at him. Pulling him. Almost  like hands tugging him downward, while rock and coral tore at his skin. He felt his lungs give up and his senses flee as he fell into oblivion.

As Nelson, Stark, and a few other senior officers chatted over old times as they dined in the Officer's Club at the sub base,  their reverie was interrupted by Chief Sharkey, obviously disturbed, who approached Nelson.


It hurt to breathe. His body seemed to be on fire. Lee tried to remember. He thought he remembered being dragged under and torn along jutting rock and coral, but even he couldn't breathe underwater and must have quickly succumbed. How was it then that he was alive, here in this coral grotto of some sort?
The tiny cavern was unbelievably beautiful. The skeleton coral and ancient lava seemed to sparkle as the aqua water lapped softly against the wide ledge. The rainbow like colors bathed the place with a fantasy like glow. Like something out of Disney, he thought. No, scratch that. Disney wouldn't allow the stench. The combination of  rust, rot, and stagnant seawater didn't make for an ideal atmosphere. And if this were a simple air pocket under the sea, he could be in real trouble.
After a brief examination of his wounds, he decided, that apart from the gash in his side, from which he plucked sharp slivers of fiberglass and wood,  his scrapes and bruises were relatively  minor. As he explored, he learned the pool wasn't deep. It led into a tunnel. But to his dismay it was below the water's surface. Somewhat translucent, he decided to risk it.  The tunnel seemed to go on forever. As he swam, he had to give up and go back before his lungs burst. In the minute or so he'd been gone from the grotto, the water level had already risen. Dragging himself up out of the pool, gasping for breath, he escaped back to the relative safely of the ledge.  For a moment he thought he heard a giggle, but as he turned his head, all he could hear was ringing in his ears. Suddely weary, pain began to overwhelm him and he sank into an exhausted sleep.

This is no damn good! Nelson thought bitterly, as he tried to maneuver the flying sub yet again, over, under, and through the storm. Strong as this little craft was, it was no match for this monstrosity of nature. While he'd risk his craft and himself in the search for Crane, what good would that do if the flying sub were utterly destroyed in the process?  It was already beginning to crack up. He'd have to figure something else out.
He certainly wouldn't have a problem with volunteers! They'd all volunteered, every last man of Seaview and the Institute, to help find the skipper. He hadn't even asked them to. What a team! Seaview would be here soon to join him. She  was almost cleared through the Panama Canal. It wouldn't be too long before he could dock with the mother ship instead of the abandoned  base of operations he'd already set up in the islands. He and Chief Sharkey were the only two souls left  in the entire area. The storm was growing in an  intensity beyond belief.  Still offshore, it now seemed to the naked eye to be almost sideways. Even weather satellites and trained meteorologists couldn't figure it out. But it was feared that if it did come anywhere near land, any object left standing would be about as stable  as bathroom tissue! Why didn't he check out this storm sooner. But he'd only thought it was a simple little hurricane on the other side of the continent. Why hadn't anyone told him it was more than a class 4 storm and behaving strangely?
Once Seaview was here, they could still conduct under- the -surface scans, a lot of good that'll do, Nelson thought sourly. Crane was probably dead and his corpse floating on the surface or deep in the depths. If there's anything left of him, that is, Nelson shuddered, as he saw yet another shark fin, and he aimed the craft in its descent to his island base.

Fwap! This time the sound woke Lee with a spray of water that tingled like fire on his skin. The dolphin soon disappeared into the larger cavern Lee had found. Thanks to the dolphins he'd seen another underwater tunnel, only this one had a little air on top and led into this vast cave. Forcing himself up, he found he had a new gash of his scalp. Probably from that last faint. Not that it hurt like the wound in his side or the deep coral cuts on his skin. Coral poisoning made his skin burn like fire. Or did he have a fever from infection. It was hard to know.
The new cavern had been a dead end, and air pocket or not, and couldn't sustain him forever.  Every bone ached. Every pore seemed to have been twisted inside out. He had to brace himself as the vertigo came upon him again. But clutching the jagged coral and rock, he followed the dolphin in a desperate hope of finding something, someway, out of his undersea prison.

There was silence in the control room as Chip simply nodded. Hopeless. That word wasn't even in Lee's vocabulary.  Or Nelson's. Until now.

Lee knew he couldn't hold out much longer. Oh, he'd found other hidden caverns, and even a few more pools of water. But he also knew the fish he'd managed to catch with his hands survived only at the lower depths. Water was a problem. He'd found a little moisture on the cavern's rocks, and though he'd used what was left of his bright Hawaiian shirt to filter the  fluids he found trapped in the rocky indentures, it had a rusty, salty taste which made it difficult to drink without spitting or vomiting it out.
It looked like the sea intruded the caverns frequently and if he tried to swim through the water tunnel, he'd be drowned by the time he got to the surface. And that storm! He could only hope and pray that someone might find him. That's  a laugh. The air was worse. He'd even begun to have hallucinations. Ghostly things, hallucinations were. Voices, even. They taunted him with their laughter. They plagued him with their songs of incredible beauty, and lyrics of gibberish. His fever wasn't that bad, was it? Get a hold of yourself, or you'll be begging Kreuger to come back! The thought of his past experience as the plaything of Captain Krueger's ghost brought Lee back to the present situation.
A new cavern was lit by the same iridescent glow as the others, but seemed brighter somehow. Squinting, he noticed the huge boulder. Almost crystalline. Resting a hand against it, he thought he saw a city through the glassy rock. Hallucination or not, he was shivering now. What difference would the cold make if he was going to die down here, all alone and forgotten. Stepping back, he stumbled and fell, but was caught by two hands. Familiar hands. Like the hands of the dreadful men fish of a ghastly experiment, or of an amphibian he'd rather not remember. Too weary to argue, fight, or even try to determine if this was a hallucination too, he thought he felt a gentle pat on his shoulder as he collapsed.

Oh boy, he hasn't even hit the hay yet. Sharkey worried. Sharkey didn't really know what to do. But he knew what was wrong. He'd have to be blind not to. Nelson was turning red, but Sharkey knew he had no choice now but to continue. Nelson looked down and Sharkey knew he'd overstepped the line. He waited for the admiral's impending  rage and immediate dismissal.  Why, Nelson was trembling, Sharkey realized, and without any further comment, helped the worn out old  man to bed, and was glad to see him fall asleep almost immediately.

Lee awoke to the feel of a cool, wet something softly patting his forehead. His blurry gaze soon cleared and he suddenly  heard the sound of a splash. His imagination was playing tricks on him again. Strange, he felt better. Where the hell was he? Then he remembered. The city. The city behind the boulder. But what about the creature...Oh, Lee get a hold of yourself, He told himself. Try as he might, he couldn't remember moving the great rock or even entering this cavern. Maybe I'm dead and this is some kind of nightmare. No, scratch that. He was very much alive, judging from the hunger and pain he felt. But he wasn't as thirsty any more. Very odd, that.
He let his eyes wander over the city. Almost Grecian in appearance, it was a hodgepodge of crumbled ruin and preserved antiquity. Calcifications, coral, rock, and lava mixed with the ancient clay and stone buildings. But some of the city looked as if taken out of someone's imaginary  picture book of ancient Pompeii.
Despite his pain, he began to explore the place. Some of the buildings looked as if they were made yesterday. There was even a bakery, but as he tried to examine a loaf of round bread on a shop counter, it crumbled into dust. Oh, this was an archeologist's dream. If it was real. If all of this were real and not a dream.
There were shops, coins, plates, and goblets. Even a jug or two of wine, long ago evaporated into nothingness. But there were no bodies. Not even one skeleton. The place seemed to have been suddenly deserted, so many things seemed to have been left in place.
There even appeared to be some graffiti! For a good time see..Lee stopped himself from reading the ancient Greek. He wasn't going to debase himself by reading this! And, he'd  noticed,  there was quite a bit  it around. In fact, many of the mosaics  on the pavements and in the walls, while exquisite in color and design, were almost lewd. They'd even put the legendary mermaids into one.
How could they have even considered placing such lovely creatures  into such a setting! Lee thought angrily. He knew all about mermaids! They were wonderful creatures! His own mermaid had helped him find a bomb that could have destroyed a great deal of life on the planet. Okay, so she'd mesmerized him first. But he shouldn't have captured her, and had soon released her. As it stood, only he and Nelson knew the myth was real.
As Lee continued to explore the deserted city, he tried not to think what  some archeologist of the future would think of his own bones. Unless this city held some clue for escape. Fat chance, Lee mused, as his explorations turned into a methodical search for a way out.

The diving bell had been made ready and it was with disgust at his own inability to make the guidance mini-jets stronger, that Nelson decided the bell could not be manned. He had no idea if his plans would even work. Transmissions from the bell might not even get through to Seaview and who knew where this bell could end up.

It was getting to hard to go on. Contaminated water and decreasing oxygen was getting to him, maybe even the depth. Lee was too much of a professional to dismiss his increasing giddiness to just fever and his injuries. He'd rechecked his wounds on occasion, and to his eye, they looked insignificant, even if they were still painful. It was odd, but he actually  missed his mother hen of a doctor on Seaview. He'd always given Jamison a hard time as a patient. If he ever got out of here, he'd be the ideal patient and never fuss again. Oh boy, I must be loosing it, he chuckled as he thought of actually doing what Jamie said in sickbay.
Sliding down to sit against a wall, he began to wonder about Seaview and her crew. Would they have to break in a new captain or would command be given to Chip? Chip already had the ability, and the respect of the crew was apparent. Surely, Nelson wouldn't humiliate Morton by getting a outsider? Already he missed his beloved Seaview. Already he missed his friends. Did  they miss him? What about his mother? Would she be okay? Thoughts began to plague him, of the things he should have said and things he should have done but didn't. Of all of the 'what if's' that had occurred to him in life.
As he brooded, pondered, and began to philosophize about life itself, he grinned at the children playing in the square.They were singing, laughing and utterly charming. Lee couldn't help but to smile at the way one little girl seemed to take over. Children? He raced forward to grab the girl as her fillagree necklace flashed in his eyes.  But she continued to play, as if he wasn't even there. He grabbed her shoulders but fell flat on his face through the hollow image.
Another damn illusion! He exclaimed bitterly to himself, as the town square seemed to fill up with people. Men, women, children, dogs, cats, all going about their daily lives in the city. Shopping, eating, drinking, and oblivious to him. Oh, this was too cruel.  If he was going to die, he'd rather just get on   with it, than suffer this agony. He couldn't join in. He couldn't share. All he could do was watch, as the hallucination unfolded before his eyes.
This was an ancient city of his own imagination and to top it off, he even saw intertwining canals of water, amphibians and mermaids laughing and playing with the villagers! Oh, Lee, get a grip. Just shut your eyes and then what?
The cruelest of all hallucinations, the gorgeous mermaid was suddenly beside him, half in the water canal, half out of it, offering him a shell of water and seaweed while the amphibian next to her seemed to be encouraging him to take it.
Oh, she couldn't be the same one, could she? The luscious creature that he'd taken aboard Seaview and her amphibian friend? What was it anyway, her father, brother, pet even?The sunlight caused the water on her hair and eyelashes to glimmer as the birds sang. Sunlight? Birds? Sky? Oh, Lee, you've had it
He tried to clear his mind, but try as he might, the scene remained the same, even more so. Everyone was so alive and active. And now, even real to the touch. As he allowed the theme song from the Twilight Zone to dance through his mind, he figured if he was dying, he might as well enjoy it, and collapsed into the fantasy, taking the food and drink greedily. The seaweed   was surprisingly refreshing, and the water tasted like alpine water from Switzerland. He had nothing to loose. Refusing to give up the thought of escape, even in this world of make believe, he continued his explorations, until he gasped at the sight of a  jewel encrusted building. Opals, emeralds, and diamonds glittered in the walls.
He stood, mesmerized, as he'd never seen anything quite so fantastic. Suddenly the mermaid screeched, accosted by a villager. But nobody cared.  The villagers simply watched as the brute tried to drag her away.
Consumed with fury, Lee tried to pull the man away as the amphibian was held back forcibly by the villagers. The brute was huge and hairy, in fact, a ridiculous ultra Hollywood version of a gladiator. Lee knew he was outgunned, so to speak, but he plunged into the fray and then all hell broke loose.

The diving bell was transmitting properly, but Nelson paced with growing impatience, despite the rocking sub. The data was proving to be enlightening but not encouraging. And Seaview herself was groaning herself under the strain of the mingling currents tugging at her hull. The sea wasn't supposed to be this disturbed at such a depth.

The control room was a bit too quiet for Nelson's taste as he moved forward. The men seemed anxious. They'd been in worse fixes than this. What the hell's the matter? He was just about to voice his thoughts, when, there, through the observation nose, he saw it. What they all saw. A twisted, shattered piece of wreckage. Hard words, necessary words. But unheeded just the same, as Morton's diving team began to explore the site.

Lee groaned  on the marble pavement as the villagers laughed and pointed and prodded his limp figure. Thoroughly disgusted with himself for his lack of prowess in the fight, Lee dragged himself up to see what had happened. The gladiator had evidently  tired of his pursuit of the mermaid and was now in a jubilant mood with his companions over their easy  victory over the stupid stranger.
The amphibian helped to steady the very wobbly Crane, and while the mermaid swam alongside in the intertwining canals, they entered the jeweled building.
If Lee had thought the exterior was magnificent, he found the interior spectacular. Gold, diamond, and jeweled mosaics covered the walls, the floors, and even the bottom of the inside rectangular pool which was an offshoot of the canal. Everything seemed so well ordered, so precise. City Hall? Lee thought sourly. As the amphibian helped him to sit down,  Lee noticed most  of the mosaics here included mermaids.

She appeared to understand but sang from her throat, as did the amphibian. It was as though she could sing a melody but without words, or at least any language as he knew language to be. It was very strange. And very haunting. She seemed to understand . Both seemed to smile as if they understood and motioned him to lie down and sleep. He could use some, even though he'd lost all track of time. But first he let his eyes explore the chamber. Pictures. Pictures everywhere. Water. Water everywhere and not a drop to drink. Pictures. Pictures everywhere and lots of them are was hypnotic.

He didn't know how long he'd been asleep this time, as the sound of children's voices woke him. Running exuberantly as their ball bounced into the chamber, they almost danced as they followed it  into the chamber. It  plunged  into the pool. But there was no  splash. It simply disappeared, as they did. Lee shuddered. He'd gotten so wrapped up in his vision that he'd forgotten all this wasn't even real! His eyes wandered over the empty chamber and the pictures that surrounded him. Closing his eyes in weariness, he refused to open them, even as soft hands stroked his hair. He would not die like a child in the world of pretend.


Lee tried not to dream. He was sick of dreams. He wanted to die or watch his body shrivel up and starve. If his hallucinations had been disturbing, his dreams had been  worse. Brought on, he supposed, by lack of pure water and all the all the pictures he'd seen. Pictures of mermaids. Pictures of mermaids in the moonlight.
He'd even dreamed of taking Melody in his arms, kissing her passionately and indulging in hidden desires.
Deeply ashamed of his dream, he started to slap himself in an effort to stay awake and fled the chamber. The ghost city taunted him as he tried to find a way out. Even an attempt to try the underwater tunnel  to the sea would be better than this. Let me drown. Anything but this nightmare of illusion. An eel swam by  in one of the canals and Lee decided to follow, but not without first scooping up an ancient coin from a ledge. Even if by some miracle, he could get out alive, he wanted proof that at least the city was real.


The lava was thicker over here, bulging out over the canal, but not exactly stopping it. If the fish had managed to swim under it, so could he.  Lee had never been claustrophobic, but he felt so now. Angry, desperate, he clawed his way at the rock blocking part of the canal.  It wouldn't budge an inch. Kicking it, tears welling in his eyes, he watched as the eel seemed to tease him by it's ability to enter and exit the opening at will. Maybe there wasn't even a cavern on the other side, maybe it was just a pile of rock, but he didn't care. He just had to get out of the city.
Finally, some pieces of rock broke off, and then some more, and finally  Lee managed to squeeze his way through the small opening, gasping for breath from his exertion and limited oxygen. Then he saw it.
Bodies. Hundreds of bodies. Frozen in time, like plaster casts, they were a tangle of twisted agonies, their faces still pleading for escape, though centuries dead. Buried alive.  Like me.
 Lee remembered the mud casts of people made when Vesuvius exploded and buried them in volcanic ash. The discovery of the Pompeii casts had made headlines. So, a volcano had taken these souls as well.
 As he brushed past one child, it crumbled into dust and bone, leaving only the familiar filagree necklace. And the strong Lee Crane, sat down, and  buried his head  in his hands, and let the tears flow,  for this child, for all of them, and for himself.
Suddenly, a sound of unbelievable and terrifying power reverberated throughout the cavern. Wave after wave, tremors shook the place. Should he stay here, or go back? Just as he was about to go back, a wall of water forced the rocks behind him to break off, forcibly pushing him along with them as it purged forth. Gasping for air, he tried to keep from being pulled under and just as he thought he'd be smashed against the roof of the cavern, another wall burst, sending the swirling torrents into a rage of power. He actually clung to a rock as it was pushed onward through an endless  maze of rocky tunnels, ancient sewers, and coral. Suddenly, again, it was as though hands dragged  him, through the violent wake.

The sudden silence was unnerving. The commander continued. Very quickly the monitor tied in to the Dover Hospital, and after a detour via the OR and storage room, it settled on  Crane's room. She quickly gave him the spoon, but it fell just as quickly  from his banagded hand while the jello glopped on his chest. Lee shot her a glare that would normally scare the pants off his crew, but they were tickled pink to see it now.  Lee tried to sit up as if to get out of bed, trying not yelp in pain. ' Tsk tsk tsk'ing', as she breifly treated  the small ooze of blood seeping from an abdominal wound, she stood, hands on her hips. The returning doctor handed her the clipboard as he examined the impatient patient. He prodded and poked while Lee tried vainly to cover his discomfort. The nurse held the clipboard and the corners of her mouth turned up in amusement as she read the clipboard's documents. Nelson held his breath. All hands held theirs, as they waited for the explosion. For if the captain hated anything worse than jello, it was rice pudding.
Pulling the sheets over his head, Lee moaned. "Oh go away and let me die in peace. " Crane began to chuckle. It soon became a  good, healthy, lighthearted laugh, with Lee ignoring the added pain it   caused. Lee's laugher soon subsided, but it was still glowing  in his eyes. The monitor quickly jumped to the cafeteria and made a antother detour to the maternity ward. "Thank you Major Briker. That will be all for now."Nelson stated as he turned off the console, and sat down wearily on the periscope island, while the cheers and backslapping throughout the ship echoed and reechoed for a long time. Nelson began to chuckle It was decided not to move Crane for another two days. And while he fussed and fumed and generally plauged the hospital staff  it was encouraging to see him in otherwise good spirits. Both laughed as Nelson demanded Crane sit in the officially mandated wheelchair. Just like she was, Lee whispered to himself.  

It wasn't long after  the captain had been safely stowed aboard, and tucked away safe and sound in his cabin, that Nelson heard Jamison arguing with Lee  behind the closed door. Poor Jamie. The ongoing battle was probably over something trivial but Nelson knew Crane would probably win out in the end. He usually did.

The Seaview soon began her descent offshore of the cliffs of Dover, and as Nelson swung the periscope around for a last look at the rock lined beach, he stopped suddenly. It can't  be! Can  it?
As if she had seen him, the mermaid plunged into the sea and despite his searching sweep of the powerful instrument, she had disappeared... into obscurity, once again.