Somebody Else's Dream
By Carol Foss
Author's Note: This is a dark tale and has some graphic visual imagery.
The gravesite was deserted now, except for the lone man bundled up against the wind, and the two men standing a little way off, waiting for him to depart. It was cold, the snow was getting deeper and they wanted him to go so they could get the job done, and go home. One of the men pretended to cough, hoping it would give a gentle hint.
"Go ahead," the man said hoarsely.
"Will you just do it!"
"Most mourners don’t like this part."
"We didn’t like any of it! Damn it, he was…he was…"
"I’m sorry mister, I didn’t mean it like that. Look, it’s freezing out here.You can come back and see it when the job’s finished."
"No. I’m staying. Now, cover the grave."
"I still can’t believe it," Chief Sharkey shook his head in the hired conference room,"Ma’am, I just…I just don’t know what to say."
"Thank you, all of you.I’m glad you were able to attend my son's funeral, Seaview's usually so busy….where’s the Admiral?"
"I think he had some unfinished business, I'll find out for you," Sharkey lied, and quickly approached Commander Morton, out of earshot. "Where's the Admiral? It's been over an hour."
"He’s still at the cemetery."
"Maybe somebody should…"
"No. He wanted some time alone. He'll be here soon enough."
"Why?" Nelson asked softly, after the workmen had finished and departed. He stared at the mound of freshly piled earth, the snow beginning to mask it. The floral tributes surrounding the grave had already been masked with a powdery whiteness. "Why, God why?" he shouted, stray tears mixing with the melting snowflakes on his face.
Lee Crane had been more than a simple colleague, and now he was gone, nothing but a decaying corpse. The great Admiral shuddered at the thought. Crane had had no fear of death, and had even joked about being nothing more than future compost when faced with death on one of his many special assignments and his life aboard Seaview, but the reality of it, now, with Lee suddenly in his grave, made Nelson sick.
It was getting late, but he wanted to stay; to somehow let Lee know he didn't want to leave him all alone here, in the cold dark earth, deserted by his family, friends and the world of the living. Another shiver took Nelson, and he knew he couldn't stay out here much longer or he'd drop to his knees and sob like a child. He'd been drained of most of his tears for almost a week now, but the pain of his loss was still more overwhelming than he could bear now as he'd forced himself to witness the dirt being shoveled over the vault in which Lee's coffin lay. "Goodbye Lee," he said with a lump in his throat as he took one last look, and trudged toward the last remaining car of the funeral cortege and took the short trip to the hotel for the funeral reception and the reading of the will.
"Well, glad to see that we're all here now, now, "the lawyer opened the official looking document. "So let's get started," he began to read.....
"By the reading of this piece of paper, it's a sure bet that I'm dead, at least I hope so or we'll all be in for a big surprise.
1. All my worldly goods I leave to my mother. What can I say Mom, I don't know if my life was taken in the line of duty or what, but I'm deeply deeply sorry to leave you. I know we've had our disagreements over the years, especially about Seaview, Submarines in general and ONI, but no matter how I died, remember that I have always loved you. You were my tower of strength and the refuge for the tears of my childhood; you were my joy and my happiness and still are. And while I'm not the son of your body, you will always be the mother of my heart.
2. I'd like Admiral Nelson to have my ring. It's not worth much but it's really the only tangible thing I have left. Admiral, your friendship has meant more to me than you can realize, even if there were times you'd have liked to stuff me in a torpedo tube! And believe me there were times I wanted to keelhaul you as well! ' Friend, Enemy, Partner, Rival, Blood Brother, Big Brother'; these were the things you said in jest on one of our more exciting adventures, but no truer words were spoken. So when you chance to glance at the ring, I hope you can remember me as a living breathing 'pain in the ass' , instead of food for worms. That's what it all boils down to, in the end, for all of us. I was just hoping it wouldn't happen yet.
3. I leave my Hawaiian Tiki statue to Chip Morton. You always joked about it looking a bit like a virility god, now's your chance to add some luster to your already glowing reputation. I would have liked to have seen you marry one of your harem of girlfriends. You'll find command a bit lonely and it would be nice for you to have someone to come home to. I know that's not official, and it's not really my deiscion, but if anyone deserves it, it's you. You've been one top-notch exec, more deserving of recognition than I ever gave you. I know I took you granted most of the time, but I shouldn't have and am so sorry I never took the time to tell you. I couldn't have been in command of such a fine boat without you and you've been a good friend, even when sometimes I didn't deserve one, as you well know.
4. To all of my shipmates, officers and crew alike; A few words, no, don't groan, allow the 'old man' to get something off his chest, especially now. Of all the vessels I've ever served on, none have meant as much to me as Seaview. I'm so proud of her and you I could just burst; you are the finest men I have ever had the privilege to serve with. Take good care of Seaview for me, pat her bulkhead now and then and let her know how much I'm going to miss her. She's been my life really. I can't explain it. All I know is that she means the world to me and I'm glad I'll be leaving her in all of your capable hands.
5. To Chief Francis Sharkey; It wasn't easy for you replace Chief Jones, but you've done a splendid job of it, and I want you to make sure that whatever Captain replaces me, be it Morton or another if the Navy goes against my or Nelson's wishes, that the transition goes smoothly.
6. To Lt. Cdr. ' Doc' Jamison; Well, I guess I've finally gone and done it. I hope it wasn't too much of a mess, and want you to know that if anything's salvageable after organ donation that you can give any remaining leftovers to medical research- depending on my mother's wishes. She'll probably will want to bury me somewhat intact, but if she agrees, who knows, maybe it'll be my skeleton hanging from your Medical school, and you can give my bones a tug now and then when you have your alumni meetings.
I know I always gave you a hard time, but it wasn't personal. I just hate sickbay. If my death happened aboard Seaview, I'm sure you did your best to save my life. Be sure I won't hold it against you and I promise not to come back and haunt you.
7. To Crewman Patterson; You've been a pillar of loyalty and service even in the many adverse situations we often found ourselves in, and I'm recommending a long overdue promotion to NCO status.
8. To Crewman Kowalski; You are the glue that holds this boat together. We've certainly had our share of animosity, especially when I pulled that stupid stunt sneaking aboard my new assignment and punched you out. I can't believe I actually took it upon myself, an upstart of sorts, to test security like that, but I was young and arrogant, and oh, so Navy. But that's no excuse and if I never apologized I do now.
In spite of our differences at times, you have always shown your mettle, loyalty, and an innate sense of leadership regarding your shipmates and Seaview. I'm recommending you for Officer Candidate School. Before you groan that it's a fate worse than death, I want you to know you'd make a fine officer, and I'd really like you to consider it, if not for me, then for my 'best girl'.
9. Well, I guess that's about it, I have a couple of private letters for some of you that the lawyers will deliver personally; things that are hard to say. I actually haven't finished writing them yet, but I want to get this will thing done ASAP and notarized especially after that last mission.
A lot of you have often said that my 'guardian angles' are bucking for transfers, so, if I'm dead, they probably got them. We never know when our number is up, and I don't' want to leave anyone in the lurch. It may be that this version of my last will and testament will never surface, and that we'll all live on to ripe old ages, but at least I can rest easy now knowing that things are taken care of as of this date.
As much as I'd have liked to be buried at sea, the idea of my remains being eaten by sharks and fishes and in turn maybe being served as sushi at a restaurant, kind of made me agree with my mother to be buried ashore if she doesn't want what's left of me to be donated to science. I know I could just sign myself away, but this is one decision about my life I want her to be able to make without any interference from me. She has agreed to organ donation, so at least my death will help prolong or perhaps even save a life or two and for that I'm very grateful that at least my death will do something useful.
I wish there were a place at NIMR overlooking the sea for burial, but I'll leave my disposal to my mother and if she actually wants what's left of me to be buried, she can have me placed in the small family plot in Cape Cod. Kind of like going home I guess.
And so I leave the only remaining part of myself that can't be corrupted into moldy dust, into the capable hands of our Creator, and God willing, I'll greet each and every one of you 'upstairs' at the time of His choosing.
May the road rise up to greet you,
May the Lord watch over and keep you,
May the Lord protect you,
And grant you Peace.
Lee B. Crane
"Well, that's it, " the lawyer said, "any questions, and I'll be available for the next half hour or so," he turned to the sidetable, laden with some finger foods, and a small bar.
"Oh, man," Patterson brushed away some moisture from his eyes.
"Damn, Pat, why'd he have to go an die..." Ski quickly stopped as Mrs. Crane approached.
"I'm sorry boys, I couldn't help overhearing. I know it must be as hard for you as for me...but look at it this way, here, " she took out some official looking file photos from her purse. "This little girl has a new liver, this boy who was blind has his sight now, this woman won't have to be on dialysis again, and this man has a new heart....there are more...So you see, Lee's really not dead...he's...he's..." she lost it then and began to sob.
Supported by Ski and Pat, she was escorted to one of the wing chairs by the window. Alerted by the sudden silence in the room in response to her tears, Morton came over and nodded to the men to give them some space. He sat down next to her and reached for her hand.
"I want you to know that we'll do anything we can to help."
"What can you do, bring him back from the dead?"
"I'm sorry Chipper, do you mind if I call you that? I'm sorry, I'm just..."
"It's all right."
"No...no, it's not. Lee wouldn't like me to take it out on any of his friends."
The two just sat for a while, silent, as each drew strength from just holding hands.
"The Admiral's taking it very hard," she finally said with a bit more composure as she watched the man move about drinking absently, heavily. From the looks of it, he'd already consumed far more than was advisable.
"Lee was like a son to him, if you have to get right down to it," Chip said softly. He'd been there, with Nelson when the news had come. He hadn't been the same since. Nobody had really. Lee had beaten the odds so many times, it was with disbelief that this time, it was actually and irrefutably official.
"Yes, they were very close, I could tell whenever Lee spoke of him. I guess I should give this to him now," she pulled out a small baggie from her purse, but the seal hadn't kept and an object spilled out onto the floor.
Chip retrieved it, and was about to hand it back when she gasped. She hadn't noticed at the time it had been given to her by the police, but Lee's ring was covered in dried blood. "I'll clean it up," Chip said.
"No, I don't' think so," Nelson stood before them, and Chip reverently handed it over. " I want them to remember what they did to him."
"We don't even know what happened," Chip said, "except it was an accident Admiral."
"Well I'm going to find out, come hell or high water, I'll find those hit and run drivers and when I'm finished with them they'll wish they were never born!"
"Admiral please," Mrs. Crane said, "let the police handle it."
"Probably drunk teenagers, they had no business drinking. No business driving drunk and ....now they're probably out there again, getting soused!They surely murdered Lee as..."
"We don't know that sir," Morton said. "Lee's car swerved and smashed into that wall. It could have been a slip of the foot, a lapse in concentration...."
"Do you believe that? That it was Lee's fault?"
"I don't want to, but..."
"How dare you!"
"Admiral, "Doc Jamison approached, "may I see you a moment."
"Take your hands off me, I'm all right!"
"It's hard on all of us, but he's right, we don't know all the facts. "
"Facts? Facts? Lee's dead!" he cluchted the ring tighter. "That's the only fact that matters.There's no punishment severe enough to fit the crime. None!" Nelson almost began to whimper, the alcohol was taking its one toll on the tired out man.
"I'll take him to the hotel, Chip,"Doc said.
"No, please, "Mrs. Crane stood, "He can stay with me tonight. I don't really think he should be alone just now."
Lee's room was rather musty with disuse, and Mrs. Crane quickly put some sheets on the bed as Doc and Morton helped Nelson to bed.
"I can stay if you like," Doc said. "He'll be all right, but ..."
"Thank you, but I'm sure you have other things to do. I'll call you if there's any need..."she furrowed her brows, "Commander Jamison, Lee...well....he didn't feel anything did he? The police said he didn't but...they may have just said that for my benefit...I know you'll tell me the truth..."
"It was instantaneous. He couldn't have felt any pain at all."
"Oh, I'm so glad....he...he always said he'd rather go quickly."
"Remember," Morton said, " if you need anything, anything at all..."
"Thank you. It's getting nasty out there, if you want to get back to the hotel or the sub, you'd better get a move on. I'll be all right. I'll call in the morning when the Admiral's ready to leave."
It was an uneasy sleep for Doc Jamison. While Crane's life had been taken quickly, he wasn't really sure if it had been all that quick. He might have felt some of the crushing impact on the car, reducing it an unrecognizable maze of metal and debris. But as his mind reviewed the autopsy report, he was at last able to rest his mind that it must have only taken minutes for Lee to die, if not seconds and soon he was asleep as Morton lay wide awake in the other bed in their hotel room.
Chip couldn't sleep at all. Lee's mother seemed so vulnerable, so lost. He promised himself he'd look after her as if he were her own son.
Crane's mother twisted and turned and finally turned the light back on. She clutched the small photo off the bedside table. It was her favorite picture. It had been taken the very day Lee had decided to become a submarine Captain. He was 8 years old. She wept until exhaustion took her into a light sleep.
Nelson's nightmare played on and on. He stared at the still form lying on the city morgue's gurney. Lee's eyes were open, what was left of his skin turning blue as the horrific bruises, burns, blood, and crushed bones cried out for vengeance. Nelson watched the autopsy and organ harvesting until the bitter end willing himself not be sick.. But as they lifted Crane's swollen brain from his skull, he vomited, and awoke to the bile in his throat. Thank God, it was only a dream, he thought. Only a dream.
Must have been from some of the details Doc told me about the autopsy report . Nelson's mind was simply envisioning what may have been, behind the closed doors of the small general hospital in Lee's hometown.
Where was he? The last thing he remembered was a strong arm pushing him down into something warm and soft.
"Admiral?" a woman's soft voice called as she rapped on the door. "Admiral, are you all right? I heard groaning."
The door gently opened.
"Mrs. Crane....I'm sorry, I...how did I get here?" he rubbed his head.
She turned on the light. He was a sorry sight, disheveled, eyes red and watery. He looked like she felt. " Chip and Commander Jamison brought you here. My idea actually. I'm sorry if it startled you."
"Oh, uh, I guess I was a little soused."
"I just didn't have it in my heart to send you to a lonely hotel room. "
"I don't think that would have made much difference, but thank you....perhaps I should go back now.."
"You're in no condition to do much of anything, I really must insist you stay."
"Thank you. I..." he ran a hand through his hair. "All our science, all our advances, and there's not one damn thing we could do for him, nothing, " he whispered.
"But there is Admiral," she sat on the edge of the bed, "we can go on. If not for ourselves, then for him. Why not come on downstairs for something hot to drink....I don't think either of us is going to be able to sleep well tonight."
"That's her, Seaview, " the man pointed from the Cape Cod beach. "They had to anchor her out further than they'd like. Not everyday a submarine comes to visit. You'll be taking command when she docks at the Navy base in Norfolk."
"I'd like to take command now."
"I'm sure you would, but not quite yet. Come along, we have a lot yet to do."
"I'd like to meet his family."
"Plenty of time for that later, Commander."
"But Tom," Nelson complained on the Crane phone later that morning," yes, but...I see, but...oh very well, have him report when we dock."
"Problems?"Mrs. Crane asked.
"Lee wanted Chip to take command, so did I...but the Navy's gotten itself involved and apparently has decided for us."
"But don't you have any say in it? She's your submarine."
"Oh she's mine all right, but if I want to keep her Naval Reserve status I have to bow to higher authority at times. And they want somebody else. They're insisting, actually. I have to tell you though, that no matter who their golden boy is, nobody, not even Chip, can replace Lee, as her Captain or as a friend."
"Thank you Admiral."
"Well, I don't like it, "Ski complained, as he finished mopping the deck in the aft crew quarters. Seaview had just the short trip to Norfolk, and it had been a somber cruise. "I mean, we were all set and ready for Mr. Morton to take the reigns, and wham, the Navy buts in!"
"Yeah, the Admiral's really pissed too," Patterson added. "The only person who's not kinda upset is Morton!"
"Well, you know he's always been happier to be the XO, I think he may've agreed to take command cause the skipper wanted it, and now...."
"Quit your gabbin' and get to your stations," Chief Sharkey said from the hatchway, "The new Captain's comin' aboard and we're going to pipe him aboard as if he owns the place."
"As Captain, he does Chief, sort of anyway," said Patterson.
Admiral Conte came down the hatch first to the ruffles and flourishes from the boson's whistle, and extended hand from Nelson.
"Welcome aboard Tom," Nelson said.
A new flourish whistled and the lean kakhi clad legs practically jumped from the ladder to the deck.
All hands gasped in astonishment.
"Men," Conte spoke, "may I introduce you to Captain Crane. No,"he laughed, " he's no ghost, and technically he's not Lee Crane, at least not the Lee Crane you knew. This is an experimental prototype Robo-clone. Robo-clone X24 to be precise. But to all intensive purposes he is Crane. It's a new procedure Harriman, fascinating, and...."
"What do you think you're doing? A ...a ...robot?"
"Robot-Clone, there's a difference."
"I won't have it Tom."
"You have no choice."
"Harriman, look. Robotics, cloning experiments, cyborgenetics have advanced substantially in the last few years, and now with organisol..."
"Organisol. It's so close to human organic matter that it can function exactly as whatever organ we want it to. Think of the advances in medical science. Organ replacements, and so on. In this case, it's a synthetic brain. Inject it with DNA, and voilla, you have a clone of whoever you want, but in this prototype, it has an almost invincible robotic body.Why this robo-clone will match, perhaps even surpass Lee Crane as a submarine Captain and.... "
"Get yourself and your robot off my boat before I throw you off!"
"Do that and you'll loose Seaview...Look, Harry, it's only for this one mission, a shakedown cruise, for testing. If this succeeds it could revolutionize medical and naval science. So, you'd better consider yourself and Seaview drafted to the Navy this trip. Presidential authorization. I'd have thought at least you'd be interested. Seaview can have her Captain and you can have your friend back. Why it'll be as if Crane never died."
"I guess in a way I am, but think of it Harriman...one day , who knows..."
"You can't just grow a duplicate Captain. He'd have to be taught, experienced...."
"Ahh, but he has been! Everything that Crane was, everything he knew was electro-magnetically transferred from his own brain into the organisol. Don't look at me like that, you knew there was no hope for him, he was going to die anyway, or be a vegetable for the rest of his life.He wasn't completely brain dead, yet.
I'll admit we weren't sure just how many of Lee's brain functions were still retrievable, but Dr. Tonia managed to pull it off. I don't know all the technical mumbo jumbo, but apparently there were enough residual electroimpulses that Tonia managed to glean and translate into readable signals for X24's synthetic brain. Then we used Crane's DNA for cloning. So not only his thoughts and memories live on, but also his very essence. The proof of it stands before you. This is Lee Crane. If it eases you mind, he's been completely tested for command ability. He rates his dolphins. Captain, you have your orders. Prepare to get underway."
"Now wait a minute!"Nelson shouted.
"You have your orders. Or would you like me to pull rank on you, and confiscate Seaview?"
"You tell your superiors that I take this assignment and their Captain under protest and if even one thing goes wrong your heads will roll."
"Understood, but nothing will go wrong. Captain Crane's in command."
"Oh man, like wierdsville," Riley groaned as he sat in the crew's mess. "First I have to get used to the idea of the skipper bein' dead, and now I gotta' get used to him being alive."
"But he's not alive!" Ski flung a spoon down, "it's a robot for Pete's sake. A damn robot!"
"Well, I don't know," Patterson pondered, "I mean, what if that Admiral Conte is right, that it's a clone..."
"Shut up, Pat, the skipper's dead!"
"Okay okay, he's dead, but when you think about it...maybe he's not."
"One more word and I'll..."
"I told you not to call me that!"
"Knock it off," Riley said, "both of you. It's not Ski's fault the skipper wanted him to go to officer school, he hasn't has he, Pat? And you, Ski, Pat's entitled to his own opinion, just like you are."
Kowalski stood up and banged his fist into the bulkhead, "It's just...it's just..."
"Yeah, "Patterson laid a hand on Ski's shoulder, "I know. I miss him too."
"If you'll follow me," Sharkey said as the two men walked down the corridor.
"I know the way Chief."
"Uh, yeah, of course..Captain."
"You don't have to let it stick in your throat Sharkey," the Captain faced the man, "whether you like it or not, I expect to be treated exactly as you would your former Captain.I hope I make myself clear."
"Aye sir, permission to return to the control room?"
"It's a simple charting mission," Nelson handed the Captain a printout in his cabin.
"I'd have thought they'd want something a little more exciting," the robo-clone sat on the edge of Nelson's desk, "what is it, what's wrong?"
"Uh..nothing," Nelson covered, ashen. Lee had usually taken the same perch when discussing mission details. And why did they have to make him look so damn identical?
"We should be in this sector in about four hours."
"Good, keep me posted Captain."
"My name's Lee."
Nelson rose and flung a pencil down on the desk and began to pace.
"Have I said something wrong?"
"Have you....no,"Nelson looked at the confusion in the robo-clone's eyes. Blast, they looked so real. "Your name's not Lee. You're Robo-clone X-24, do you understand that?"
"I'm a Robo-Clone X-24 prototype, yes, but my name is Lee Crane."
"To Admiral Conte and his team of scientists perhaps, but not to me, or my crew."
"Even between friends like you and me?"
"I'm not your friend!"
"You may return to your duties."
"Aye sir," the robo-clone turned, "I'm sorry sir."
The Captain stood a little way off, his arms folded, leaning against the windows of the observation nose as O'Brian plotted the course. Those crewmen on watch snuck glances his way in morbid curiosity. This robot even echoed some of the skipper's mannerisms. It didn't help that it was late and Seaview's spotlight splashed off of some of the bubbles in the dark depths. This was spooky.
"Here's the report, Captain," O'Brian forced himself to use the word.
"Thank you," the Captain returned to control, and signed the clipboard.
"Will there be anything else sir?"
"No, you have the conn, goodnight."
But the Captain didn't return to his cabin, he had no need of sleep, he had no need to recharge like previous experiments. So he did what Crane would do, and toured the boat. Inspecting, observing, and occasionally speaking with some of his crew. But that was the problem. They were all of them, Crane's crew. Not his. And none of them would let him forget it.
"You wanted to see me Captain?" Kowalski asked as he stood at attention in the cabin the next morning.
"At ease. Please, sit down."
"I'd rather stand."
"Kowalski, I realize there will have to be a period of adjustment, but I expect the obedience and respect due this vessel's Captain, is that understood?"
"Very well, now, tell me about Crane."
"But...you know all about him..."
"I have his thoughts, and memories; education,training, and skills, but...I want to know what was he like."
"What he was like?"
"Yes, from your point of view."
"Uh, look, " Ski rose, "I don't think this is a good idea and..."
"Sit down and answer me."
"Is that an order sir?"
"No," the Captain sighed, "no. Dismissed."
"Well, I'm sure he's just trying blend in more," Morton said. "It can't be all that easy for him too you know. But if it makes you feel better, I'll have a word with the Admiral."
"Thank you sir," Ski answered relieved, and took his watch.
"What was all that about?" Nelson approached Morton at the plot table.
"Apparently our clone isn't quite the complete Crane he's supposed to be. Seems he's been asking some of the crew what Lee was like."
"But he'd know Lee's personality inside and out."
"That's what Ski thought, so he didn't cooperate."
"The Captain simply dismissed him, nothing more."
"I see. Where is Cra...the Captain now?"
"Inspecting the ballast tanks. Admiral, has he seemed, well, broody?"
"How can a robot be broody?"
"That's what I'd like to know."
"Outstanding work, Patterson, "the Captain said as he emerged from the tank, wet and grimy, and wiping his hands on a handkerchief.
"Thank you cap..skipper," Patterson grinned and motioned to the team to dog the hatch.
"Seems as though you've made a conquest," Nelson said as he watched.
"I don't understand."
"With me Le...Captain."
The two walked the short distance to another section.
"I understand you're been asking questions....about Lee. Why?"
"A Captain needs to know everything aboard his vessel."
"If you're his clone, why do you even need to ask?"
"Why do you hate me Admiral? I didn't ask to be created. But as I was, I intend to do the best job I can. I need to know everything about Crane, especially why the men respect him so much."
Nelson snorted, "You really take the cake do you know that? As Captain you already have all the respect you deserve."
"But it's not respect that I want. I want...to be your friend, Lee. Real."
"Real? You're not Lee, you never will be. You're a damn robot, you have no soul. Can't you get that through your thick skull!"
"Even I have a right to a soul Admiral," the Captain said bitterly, "even if I have to borrow it. Excuse me, I need to get cleaned up," he walked off.
"Lee I..."Nelson started to say but stopped himself in time. It wouldn't do to make the robo-clone into something he, no, it wasn't. It was an X-24, that was all.
"Has it been of any help?" the Captain asked as he picked up the Tiki in Morton's cabin a few days later.
"Not that I can tell, but then I haven't exactly had the time ashore to notice. So, Captain, what brings you to me?"
"Why do they all hate me?" the Captain sat on Morton's bunk, "especially him, Nelson."
"Hate you? He doesn't hate you."
"Could have fooled me.Just about everyone aboard does. Even you resent me."
"Look, Le.. I mean Captain, it's just that...well, I guess we just feel that you're trying to replace Crane."
"But I was created to be him, for Seaview, for her crew, for Nelson, for..."
"No, you don't understand....you can't just expect to walk aboard expect us treat you as if nothing's happened. Lee Crane died. You may look like him, you may even act like him at times, you may even have some of his thoughts, but you have to face the fact that you're not really him, and you're not human."
"But I was created from his brain impulses, his DNA. I'm a genetic copy of Crane, at least my brain is. I am Crane."
"No," Morton said gently, "think about it. See this, "Morton indicated his laptop computer. "It's got zillions of electromagnetic impulses. It does what I tell it, and it responds...but is it alive?"
"I'm not stupid, Chip. Of course it's not alive. It's a machine."
"Well what?"the Captain stood up, angry, looking at Chip like a wounded puppy. "You think I'm a machine?"
"Aren't you?"Morton laid a hand on the Captain's shoulder, "Lee's brain waves were sent to your synthetic organisol , and electronically processed. Just like a telephone message or a radio wave, or this laptop here. The only difference between you and this machine here is your synthetic brain and Lee's DNA giving you some of his characteristics and personality. I know you're creating some of your own mental processes as you mature but...it's artificial. I know you want to be human, but no amount of wishing is going to make it so."
"Then that's all I am to everyone, an instrument, a mere thing?"
"Captain, look, I think one of the problems is that you're trying too hard to be Lee. Why not be yourself."
"But I am Lee Crane, at least I..." he began to pace about, "I feel it, in here," he indicated his heart.
"That's the organisol talking. And your brain is up here, "Chip knocked on the Captain's skull," However, you are the Captain of Seaview, so how about getting back to business and keeping us on our toes."
The Captain turned to leave then stopped, "Lee was very lucky to have a friend like you."
"I know he was," Morton laughed.
"Thank you Chip. See you on the bridge."
"Well, from what you've told me, I guess you could call it a Pinnocio complex," Doc told Morton as they sat together in the Wardroom."Unfortunately there's no Blue Fairy to grant him his wish to be a real boy."
"Kind of sad actually. And he's a good enough Captain so far. Some of the crew are beginning to call him skipper."
"But surely that's just standard practice..."
"On most boats, but this is not most boats. I thought nobody aboard would ever call any new Captain that, not even me. It belonged to Lee, as far as the crew's concerned."
"You like him, don't you."
"Yes, I know it's crazy, but I like the man, if you can call him that."
"Be careful Chip, machines can break down, and nobody knows about that orgianisol substance. It's not been tested enough at all. As far as I know this is the only successful synthetic organ that's actually succeeded beyond the lab. Your life may depend on remembering that."
"I know all that, still, "Chip sighed, "it's not easy for him. How would you feel, to wake up one day and find you're nothing but somebody's else's dream."
As the day's went on, the crew settled into a familiar rut, obeying orders without really giving the mission details much thought. The Captain might be a robo-clone but he got the job done. Nelson simply tried to ignore him.
"This sector's finished, Admiral," the Captain said as he sat on the observation nose's small window ledge, "it won't be long before the mission is over."
"Skipper?" Patterson called from his console, "Can you take a look at this?"
"Right away, Pat," the Captain joined him at his station, taking the headset, "how long have you been getting this reading?"
"Just a couple of seconds."
"Chip, prepare for some heavy turbulence.We're in for some bad road."
"What do you think you're doing, give me that!" Nelson grabbed the headset from Crane, and listened, frowning. "Belay that order!We're well out of it."
"Admiral, the thermal layer is streaming and may cause some minor damage."
"And I assure you it won't. What are you trying to do? Or are you anxious to replace me as well as Crane?"
"I don't have time to argue and as Captain of this vessel this is my decision to make and mine alone. Mr. Morton, I gave you an order."
Morton hesitated as he looked at Nelson's scowl.
"Do I have to repeat myself mister?" Crane demanded of his XO.
Chip was stuck smack in the middle of this power play. Nelson was his boss, but the Captain was still the Captain. The Captain won out. "All hands, prepare to secure all stations for turbulence," Morton spoke into the mike.
"You may think you have some form of intelligence that your creators robbed from Crane," Nelson said, "but you're no more than a bundle of wires and micromush!"
"Think whatever you like, but in the meantime, shut up sir and let me do my job."
"How dare you!"Nelson struck the Captain on the face, hard. If things had been tense before, now you could hear a pin drop.
"Mr. Morton,"the Captain continued, "will you please have the Admiral escorted to his cabin.We're in for a bumpy ride and I don't want him hurt or in the way. Now Mr. Morton. If it upsets you, remember we're under Navy rules and regulations. My order stands."
"That won't be necessary," Nelson said as he and stomped off toward the hatch.
"All stations reporting secure for turbulen...."Sharkey's voice came through the PA as the boat was suddenly buffeted back and forth. Nelson fell, hitting his head against a console.
"Ow!" Nelson complained in Sick Bay.
"Hold still," Doc countered.
"Oh, that's why you're bleeding and need stitches."
"Doc?" the Captain peered around the door. "Is he okay?"
"He'll live. There, all finished. Any headaches or nausea let me know."
"Well, Captain, have you come to celebrate your victory over we mere humans?"Nelson asked bitterly.
"I've come, sir, to report that we've sustained no damage and that we're proceeding to our next coordinates as planned. And for your information, if being human means being a selfish opinionated bully like you, I want no part of it," he turned and slammed the door shut .
"What's with him?" Doc asked, confused.
After a moment, Nelson's frown of absolute fury softened slightly, "Growing pains?"
"In," the Captain said from his cabin to the knock on the door.
"Captain," Nelson said formally as he entered.
"Admiral," the Captain finished reading a report and looked up from his desk. "What can I do for you sir."
Nelson leaned over the desk, menacing, "I may be an opinionated bully, but Seaview is my boat and if you ever speak to me like that again I'll strip your wires, tear out your damn organisol brain, and throw you off the sub myself!"
"If I embarrassed you in front of Commander Jamison, I'm sorry. I spoke in the heat of the moment, but you can't deny it was all true."
Nelson began to pace about, "You're impossible!" he leaned against the door, "as for the other matter.... the thermal layer, I admit I was mistaken and apologize."
"Permission to speak freely?"
"You're not sorry. Not really. You just want to salve your conscience. You've been on my back ever since we left port. The only reason you're here now is because you were wrong. You can't stand that, can you Admiral? You just can't take it that somebody like me can be right. That somebody like me can be in command and have the respect of the crew. That somebody like me can be as real or as close to real as can be. That somebody like me can be a twin or a copy of somebody else. That I'm him, Crane. That I'm for want of a better word, alive. That's it isn't it. Well don't worry about it. I'm not human, remember! I have no feelings to bruise!"
"My name is Captain. Nothing more, nothing less. Now if you'll excuse me I have a lot to do."
"I deserved that," Nelson sighed, "look, how a bout a truce. I'll admit I haven't given all this much of a chance. I'm willing to start over. At least we can try to be civil to one another, like friends..."
"Friends? I can't have friends. I'm incapable of friendship. I'm a damn robo-clone or can't you get that through your thick skull? Is there anything else Admiral?"
"NO damn it! Nothing," Nelson stalked out, bumping into Sharkey,"Be careful, he bites."
"I'm not sure," Dr. Tonia's assistant rubbed his eyes, as he read the printout of the remote neuron transmission,"what about that apparent temper tantrum?"
"Call it proof that the process works. He's growing, maturing, thinking, completely on his own now. He doesn't have to rely solely on Crane's memories or DNA for his personality.This is a triumph of science. Our robo-clones will revolutionize the world."
"I was there," Sharkey whispered over his mashed potatoes, "just outside the corridor. I didn't mean to listen, honest. "
"But the Admiral and Crane had words now and then, you know,"O'Brian said.
"Yeah, I know, that's another thing. He's getting more and more like the skipper. No matter what either of 'em say...and...well, maybe I'm nuts, but he sounded like his feelings were hurt. Bad."
"Robots don't have feelings."
"Yeah, well this one does. Remember, he's only a robot as far as his body is concerned, his brain's well, okay,it's that synthetic stuff all right, but it's the Skipper's DNA ain't it... So maybe he, well, maybe he does have a soul, sort of."
"You're groping at straws, Chief," O'Brian rose, and carried his tray to the counter. "We just want the skipper to be alive so much that we're seeing more into all of this and..."
"Chief," the Captain suddenly interrupted, as he entered the wardroom, "When you're done in here, I need you to check the circuitry room, you skipped it on the last inspection. And Chief, as I have no soul, please stop wasting time discussing me with your shipmates. The mission will be over soon, and you'll no longer have to ponder the philosophical opinions about my humanity or lack of it. No,I wasn't eavesdropping, I simply have better than normal acoustic ability and heard you as I was walking by," he turned and left.
"See what I mean?" Sharkey whispered, "he's upset."
"I'm sorry, " Kowalski said, as he shuffled his feet nervously. The Captain flicked off some the thin noodles from his soaked uniform as Ski's mug rolled in the corridor, the hot chicken noodle soup decorating the deck.
"It was an accident, honest. I didn't mean to bump into you like that.I didn't even see you as I came around the corner."
"It's all right Ski, I'm sure you didn't mean to short circuit me, besides I'm self contained, fluids don't affect me adversely."
"What the blazes!"Sharkey yelled as he came on the scene. "Ski, you knothead!"
"It's all right Chief," the Captain said, " besides it was my fault."
"Yes, I wasn't paying attention and had my nose in this report. I'm afraid I didn't see Kowalski and bam."
"You'd better get that cleaned up Ski, before someone slips on it."
"No kidding?" Riley said. " The skip went to bat for you, even when it was your fault. Like wow. Just like the real skipper."
"Yeah...you know...maybe he is a little bit real, after all."
"How's it going Harry?" Admiral Conte asked from the videophone."It's almost over and we're getting antzy here. Has our robo-clone been up to snuff?"
"Well, actually, technically, he's an unqualified success as a Captain except...."
"I'd have preferred a simple robot ."
"But we made him Crane's clone..."
"He's Crane's clone all right, there's no doubt about that, but...damn it, does he have to be so..so..Lee?"
Nelson ran a hand through his hair. "We...we're not getting along together very well."
"Oh, the crew is, now, most of them anyway. It's ' the skipper this, the skipper that'...it's as if the've forgotten the real Lee and..."
"You resent him."
"I guess you could call it that. It's not his fault, not really I guess. It's just hard for me to like him, to accept him, when he acts just like Lee. He even busts my orders and does just what the Captain's supposed to do! Just like Lee. And then, when he talks back to me..."
"So what's the problem Harry. We made him Lee's Clone because we wanted you to be happy with him."
"I don't want to forget the real one..I won't forget the real one."
"Well, it won't be a problem for you much longer. He'll be off your hands soon."
"What will happen to him?"
"I'm not really sure. Dr. Tobia wants to make a few more prototypes before production. I suppose he'll be recycled."
"And his brain?"
"Simply melted down, and re-stimulated with someone else's patterns and DNA. Unless of course if the Navy wants him. Or Tobia could sell it to some rich woman for the bedroom. Just joking Harry, though..I suppose it's possible. Tobia did make him an anatomically correct."
"What is it Harry?"
"I don't know...this is all so...confusing."
"Well, "the Captain said as he signed the log in the control room," That's it then, Chip. The mission is completed. Radio the Navy and get confirmation that we're back to civilian status. Then let's go home."
"I..uh..I just wanted you to know...you did just fine."
"Thanks...I'll be in my cabin if you need me."
The Captain sat at his desk, leaning forward, his head in his hands apparently staring at nothing in particular.
"Hmm? What is it Ski?"
"Uh, the flying sub's ready. The Admiral says whenever you're ready."
"Thank you Ski, I'll be right there," he rose "Do you think the Admiral would mind if I kept this?" he showed Kowalski a small framed picture of Seaview.
"No problem. We all have 'em."
"Well, goodbye Lee,"Morton shook the Captain's hand as Ski cracked the flying sub's hatch. "I hope we meet again."
"Rather doubtful, but I hope so too Chip. And thanks, for everything."
"Has Morton taken command?"Nelson approached.
"I just wanted to say...if I had been able to choose for myself anyone to be a clone of, it would have been Crane. He was a very lucky man to have all of this...all of you..."
"Even if I'm a selfish opinionated bully?"Nelson said without malice but without mirth either.
"Especially so," the Captain said, trying to make light of it, and then was somber as he took a final look at the sub, "Permission to depart the boat."
"Permission granted,"Nelson said, and the robot-clone entered the flying sub and was soon aloft..
Water gently splished against Seaview's hull as she lay docked at Norfolk while Nelson attended the formal debriefing.
"Then the only problem was that X24 was too much like Crane?" the SECNAV asked.
"Yes Mr. Secretary," Admiral Conte said.
"Well, I'd say then that we go back to simple robotic experiments."
"But that would completely negate what a robo-clone is!" Dr. Tobia stressed. "The whole idea is for more humanity, more..."
"Just because Admiral Nelson resented the thing personally, doesn't mean it didn't work. Even Nelson said the captain did his job. Isn't that what the Navy wants?" The president asked."I'd say the experiment is proven."
"I'm not sure,"the SECNAV said, "it could be opening up a Pandora's box of problems."
"Possibly, that's why I'm recommending further studies, further experiments, not the actual line production of military robo-clones for us to purchase. What Dr. Tobia does for the private market will be his own affair, but he won't be allowed to use anyone with a military or secure background for the harvesting of electroimpulses or DNA for that venue, is that agreed Dr. Tobia? That would be a substantial security risk."
"I also want it understood that if the Crane robo-clone is no longer needed, or if the Navy decides not to use it after all for one of it's boats, that it will be destroyed."
"Now, wait a miniute,"Dr. Tobia said, "it cost over 12 million dollars to produce, you can't expect me to toss it out with the garbage!
"Well," the SECNAV said," I for one wouldn't recommend it for command of any of my boats."
"Why?" Nelson said. "As Seaview's Captain, even you have to agree he'd be..."
"Can it Nelson. You said yourself, he was simply too much to handle."
"Personally, and it was my problem, not his. I think he'd be a valuable addition to the fleet and.."
"If you're so damn convinced of it's value, why the hell don't you just buy it and use it for Seaview. I wouldn't object," the SECNAV said.
"It's an idea Nelson, "the president said, "what about it?"
"I...I...sold!"Nelson surprised himself with his decision. But he didn't have to like the Captain to recognise it's value, really he didn't.
"What's the matter with you?" Sharkey asked Kowalski as they played checkers." Your mind ain't where it's supposed to be."
"I don't know...he really liked being here you know...he even took a picture of Seaview with him."
"Will you quit harpin on the skipper? He's gone."
"Yeah, yeah, I know....but still.."
"Excuse me, sir,"the voice on the squak interrupted the debriefing, "Admiral Nelson, Seaview reports receiving an odd signal, your emergency band.I'll pipe them through..."
"Sir? Admiral?" Sparks voice came over " We got a weird signal .I'm not sure but I think it said something about a glen.It seemed like it was interrupted."
"Glen? That's odd. I don't know about any Glen in our codes. Did you get a fix?"
"No sir. "
"Keep monitoring and try to track it down."
As the security guard finally resumed his rounds, the Captain snuck his way to the radio, and resignalled Seaview. He had to get through, somehow. His remote verbal neurons were still being monitored, these blasted keyed entries were a nightmare. He was no typist and Morse was too outdated and too well known. Tobia would destroy him if he found out. But he had no choice.
"You've done it Doctor!"the assitant helped the doctor off with his jacket.
"I need to make a copy of X24 before we deliver it to Nelson. Use the simple transfer protocol between it and the X25. I have to go see to our prime donor...."
Dr. Tobia put on a sterile white lab coat as he entered the lab. The donor lay on a simple gurney. His head was shaved and IV's and tubes protruded from various places.
"Well, well, well, it seems as though you're no longer as invincible as you thought. You've been surpassed. Improved on."
The donor made no response, or couldn't.
"I have to go make another copy of you, from X24 this time. A copy of a copy. But the People's Republic won't know the difference. Of course, I'll have to modify it somewhat and override its national loyalty. Simple enough, mere programming before DNA congealment. But I'll be back soon, and we'll begin regular production in earnest. I know it makes no sense, speaking to a comatose man, but then, I'm only human. Something I doubt your clone could understand...."he laughed. "Who would have believed it. Nelson's going to pay me far more for a copy of you than what you could ever be worth as the original!"
"Admiral, I'm glad you're back," Doc said urgently, 'I wasn't sure at first, but now... we have a problem.A big problem. I was checking on the progress of Lee's organ donations. I wanted to make a list for Mrs. Crane...hers wasn't complete and she wanted to know about everyone her son helped. I was able to get into the records via Chip's computer. That's when I noticed it. I don't know why I didn't ask to see the charts to begin with. I simply assumed..."
"Will you speak English?"
"None of the recipient patients received anything of Lee's. They couldn't have. They'd have rejected the organs and even died. They were incompatible with his bio-make up."
"Could it be a mistake?"
"Possibly, but all of them? Admiral...I want to find out just who's in that grave, because I'm beginning to wonder if it's Lee Crane at all."
Nelson's frown deepened." Then..."
"Somebody had to get Lee's DNA and brain impulses somehow..."
"Sir!"Sparks ran to Nelson, "I got something! I've decoded it..."
Code Lee Glenn. Crane alive. Help me. Code Lee Glenn. Crane alive. Help Me. Help me..Hel...
"The skipper!"Sharkey said excited.
"Lee Glenn?" Morton asked.
"Covert name!" Nelson replied, hurridly, "Lee and I used it on one of our earlier assignments. Sparks, did you get a fix?"
Nelson took the slip of paper and looked up. "The Tobia Labs."
"Get away from there!" Tobia tried to pull the robo-clone from the radio console.It took the security team more than a few minutes to hold him fast.
"Stop it! Control Compliance Alpha!"
"No...n....." he collapsed.
"Did it get a message out?"
"No doubt about it. To Seaview."
"Take him to the lab. Damn. It won't complete rebooting for over an hour, and it knows too much. We'll have to destroy it. The Peoples Republic doesn't tolerate failure and Nelson may already be on his way."
"But what about their robo-clone? They paid a lot of money."
"We can make it there, and they'd rather have the real Crane anyway."
The robo-clone awoke to an unusual heaviness. What had happened? He wasn't sure. He was secured to a wall of circuits. Yes, he remembered now. He was to be copied for the new X25. But then why was Crane, the human Lee Crane, being prepped for something. Then he saw it, Tobia's assistant securing him and placing him in a sterile metal crate, labeled LIVE SPECIMEN.
"Hurry up!" Tobia yelled. "Get him to the jet bug."
"No!" X24 yelled. But no voice obeyed him. He was mute, his body paralyzed. Utterly useless. There had to be a way to stop this insanity, there had to be.
Sirens interupted his musings. Thank God, the cops.
"Let's go!"Tobia yelled as he helped haul Crane away through a secret passage to the hidden hangar.
"Wait, the clone!"the assistant ran to the wall of circuitry, and grabbed the clone's eyeball, twisting it out , wires dragging, and plugging it into a socket. Then he rejoined Tobia with their LIVE SPECIMEN. Within minutes the hangar slid open and the jetbug was away.
"Damn!" the police Chief yelled, and radioed for back up. "What the hell is that?"
"Looks like a variation of the flying sub," Admiral Conte said.
"I've got an aerial squad on the way, and the FAA's got a tag. Navy's on the way too. We'd better go in, and see what's what."
"Unbelievable...." the cop said as they hurriedly inspected the facility. "Holy cow, would you look at that!"
"Captain!" Sharkey raced to the robo-clone..."Captain? Admiral, something's wrong with him, he can't move or speak"
Nelson quickly examined the circuitry board. "Unplug that eyeball, and put it back in place, quick!"
A few sparks flew and the robo-clone fell in a heap.
"I'm not sure, some kind of meltdown timer, but I think we were in time."
"Adddd....adddd," the robo-clone tried to speak.
"Easy," Nelson ordered.
"Crane...save Crane....they want him. People's ...Re..Repu..."
"Sharkey, contact the SECNAV. Crane's on that vehicle."
"Well, the Peoples Republic can't allow him to enter their air space now, not without revealing their involvement. They've already informed Tobia they'll shoot him down if he even comes close. Other countries report they sent the same message.Our planes are right on his tail. He's risking collision. He's being herded toward one of our flattops."
"It's Tobia, "Sparks said, and turned on the speaker.
"This is Nelson."
"I'll make a deal with you. No charges and Crane lives. Otherwise I kill him right now. I'll push him out of this jetbug to a crushing splattering mess below."
"Very well, we're landing."
"You can't be serious,"Conte whispered to Nelson as the transmission broke off.
"We've got to get to Crane, then we can arrest Tobia."
"Well?" Nelson asked. He'd gone to Sick Bay immediately after having arrived on the carrier in the flying sub.
"He's in a coma," the CMO said, "We can't do anything. And there appears to be small drilled hole in his skull..."
"Welcome aboard Nelson," Tobia looked up as he sat in a chair next to Crane, "you still alive X24? Remind me to take better security precautions regarding my software. He's quite comatose Admiral. Now, we need to have a little talk, you and me...I want 50 million dollars in gold, or I blow Crane's brains out. Ask X24. He knows I can."
"Captain?" Nelson asked.
"He's not kidding."
"That's right. A simple device hidden on my person to remotely activate the mirco-implant in Crane's brain to kabloom. A side function should I decide to destroy him. Normally it simply keeps him comotose. I wouldn't try to find it. Without the proper coding sequence the devise will send a charge of such voltage as to render you helpless, or worse, in the case of a robotic. I believe I've said enough. Your turn."
"What kind of a madman are you?"
"A very rich one."
"Am I correct in assuming you caused the acciddent?"
"Naturally, how else could I get Crane to volunteer, though he needed some persuading. Amazing what a semi truck can do. Just as we expected, he pulled over, but before he knew what happened, we shot him with a stun gun. He never knew what happened. We pulled him from the vehicle, put in our own man, and then had the semi ram it into the wall. Frightful sight."
"Your own man?"
"A John Doe we stole from a university medical school and put in Crane's car before we totalled it. Don't worry, they've lots of them."
Meanwhile the robo-clone had inched his way toward Crane. "I've never seen him up close."
"No tricks, X24."
"No tricks, my word as a robo-clone."
"Very well, but I've got my eye on you."
Nelson was confused, first the robo-clone had tried to help Crane, now he was morbidly interested. Suddenly X24 lurched toward Tobia, and in a short battle including probing hands, finally settled on the watchband. It snapped and he grabbed it.
"Hit the deck!" he yelled to everyone. "You owe me Crane!" he pressed the non-code and rained sparks and melted metal into Tobia and onto the deck, and he was no more.
As the wounded Tobia was escorted by medics to the isolation ward, and X24's remains were removed, Crane suddenly awoke, if disoriented."Where am I? What happened?"
"Lee! Are you all right?"
"I...I don't know. I'm kind of fuzzy...last thing I remember I was trying to outdrive a mad truck...."
"So,"Nelson sat in the observation nose, " the implant in your brain keeping you comatose was neutralized as well when the Captain...I mean X24 destroyed the devise, but it annihilated him in the process. I think he knew that it would."
"It's all still so hard to believe," Lee said. "Why me?"
"Why not? Tobia wanted a suitable subject. You were just lucky I guess. Oh, we've already contacted your mother, she'll be here soon. Not every day someone is welcomed back from the dead. You're in for some homecoming."
Lee laughed a little as he scratched his bald head, a small metal plate covering the pinprink hole in his skull. Then he was somber, "From all you've told me, I think I would have liked to have met my robo-clone. In effect, he saved my life. Or lack of it. Though I can't really remember being in the coma. As for the People's Republic, well...that would have been even worse than death, at least to me.... You know, Doc said he had a Pinnocio complex, that he wanted to be me."
"What's sobering Lee, is that in spite of all of my opinions to the contrary, I think that perhaps, he was the real Lee Crane, after all. One of them at least."