By R. L. Keller
Lee B. Crane, Commander, USN, walked wearily through the door of the cabin he’d been assigned to less than 12 days ago, closed it behind him, and practically fell onto the bunk. He was exhausted, not to mention cold. And, now that he’d actually let himself admit it and the adrenaline rush of the last few hours was wearing off, in a fair amount of pain. Walking out onto the pack ice close to the North Pole and shoving around blocks of the stuff after an explosion nearly buried the snow-cat he and three others needed to get back to the sub he was currently commanding – not to mention being tossed around like a rag doll when, once he was back aboard, the sub was hit by ice blocks broken loose after a double blast of earthquake plus explosive charge – hadn’t at all helped ribs that were still feeling the effects of ‘whatever creature that was’ he’d tangled with on a dive several days ago. He wiggled around, trying to find a more comfortable position, but never really accomplished it. He knew that he should probably report to the doctor on board, just to make sure that there wasn’t anything seriously damaged. But, after all the other times he’d been injured on the job, he had a pretty good idea of when his body was telling him that he needed help and when he just needed a little rest. And right now, with his body telling him the latter, he just wanted to be left alone.
His mind still too full of the just-completed assignment to allow him to sleep, he let his eyes wander around the cabin. He wasn’t overly comfortable in here. Oh, the bunk was one of the nicest he’d ever slept in – what little he’d slept since coming aboard. That wasn’t the problem. The cabin belonged to the captain of the submarine, and he was forced to admit that, for the moment at least, that was him. The problem stemmed from the fact that the room was filled with the belongings of the previous captain. There’d been no time to remove them, or even properly pack them away. Lee supposed that now, with things calmed down and the sub headed home, one of the crew should be assigned to the task, in preparation for whoever took the position permanently. That wouldn’t be him. Once they reached the sub’s homeport – or even faster if the Navy so chose – Lee would be on his way back to his own command. Unless the Navy has other plans, that is, and I get sent out on another ‘Temporary Additional Duty’ before I can even blink. Wouldn’t be the first time. He sighed heavily and wondered if maybe he shouldn’t send a message to ComSubPac requesting an immediate lift-out. He knew that the crew would be happy to see him gone. He hadn’t made himself liked a whole lot in the last week and a half. But there had been specific reasons for his actions and, at least for the most part, he didn’t regret what he’d done.
Lee frowned at that thought. There was at least one person he was going to have to explain himself to. Well, two, really, he acknowledged. Unfortunately, the mental discomfort that came with the knowledge caused him to turn slightly, and a small groan escaped as another physical discomfort was revealed. He also realized that he didn’t seem to be warming up any, although the cabin temperature was normal. He reached for the spare blanket at the foot of the bunk, finding an assortment of other aches and pains as he pulled it over himself and lay back down. Better not let Chip find out how bad I’m hurting, Lee muttered to himself grumpily, then was forced to smile. But the smile almost immediately turned into a frown as everything that had happened the last eleven days played through his brain.
As Lee stepped off the chopper he knew he was landing in the middle of a minefield; a powder keg of a critical mission coupled with unpredictably volatile emotions. He didn’t yet know all of the details. But he knew that he had at least a few parts of the puzzle that even the men who had given him the partial briefing didn’t have. Those were the pieces that were causing the most apprehension on his part. But the mission came first – always. He squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, and headed for whatever destiny held.
Less than twenty-four hours ago he’d been plucked off the
submarine Sea Horse, the youngest man ever to command a fast attack sub – or
any sub, for that matter - and been taken as rapidly as transport could be
arranged to ComSubPac Headquarters in San Diego. It had happened before. His crew was somewhat used to their
ridiculously young skipper disappearing for short lengths of time. Lee knew that they worried about him when he
was gone – he tended to, all too often, come back somewhat the worse for wear. But his XO was an accomplished sub-driver
himself, and Lee knew that the boat and her crew were in good hands during his
absence. Upon arrival at the base in
Subtle hints had been dropped during the abbreviated briefing that Lee had been chosen for this job not only for his sub driver skills but also for his extensive ONI training. He was being sent to the sub because her own captain had just been killed in an attempt to stop the mission and security was a critical issue. Lee could feel for the sub’s crew – he had a pretty good idea of how his own crew would react to news of his death, ordered to leave on a mission and accept a new captain aboard without proper time to mourn the old one. Lee decided that his best tactic was to immediately go on the offensive with his temporary new crew. It went very much against his normally laid-back command style; but if he could get them angry enough at him, he figured that they’d stay more focused on completing the mission and getting rid of him as rapidly as possible and less on their own grief. The plan had its drawbacks, but Lee didn’t figure to be around long enough to have to deal with the eventual flack. Once the mission was over he’d head back to his own sub and crew, and let whoever was given permanent command deal with establishing a relationship. In the meantime, he could handle the expected fallout for the short time he’d been told that he had to complete the assignment.
First order of business – make his presence known in such a way as to totally tick off the crew. And he had a pretty good idea of how to do it. His new crew was only semi-military. The submarine was primarily a research vessel. While the junior officers and XO were all Navy men now serving in the Reserves, many of the crew were civilians chosen as much for their technical skills as anything else. While the sub was, Lee knew, run under military command style, Lee also knew that a certain amount of latitude was allowed aboard. Lee figured that if he went totally by-the-book military on them, the officers and crew would respond with instant obedience – and instant dislike. It didn’t bode well for a comfortable cruise, but for eleven days Lee could deal with it. Better that than failure to complete the mission because the crew was giving more attention to mourning the old skipper than obeying the new one.
The chopper dropped Lee at the local airport and he grabbed a taxi for the short drive to his destination – The Nelson Institute of Marine Research. The driver let him out at the front gate, and Lee presented his papers to the Security guard on duty. The guard pointed him in the direction of the sub pen, and then basically ignored him. It was nearly 2200 hours and quite dark, with only a sliver of moon in the clear sky. With a black trench coat covering his uniform, Lee melted into the darkness almost immediately. This being primarily an oceanographic research facility, Lee figured that once inside the boundary security he’d not have too much difficulty making his way aboard the submarine. A surprise entrance would be the first step in his plan.
More of his inside knowledge came to the forefront at this
point, and the barest hint of a smile touched his lips and added a momentary
sparkle to his eyes. He stashed his flight
bag in a conveniently hidden corner behind some pallets and contemplated his
next moves. He was sure that the men
he’d spoken with at ComSubPac were aware that Lee knew Admiral Harriman Nelson,
the founder of this Institute and designer/builder/owner of the submarine
Seaview that Lee was about to board.
Then Captain Nelson had been an occasional lecturer at
Lee wasn’t so sure that the men at ComSubPac knew of Lee’s
other connection to the boat. Her
Executive Officer, Lt. Cdr. Charles P. Morton, had been Lee’s roommate for
their entire four years at the
Not that many years after Lee had served aboard the Nautilus he’d heard that Nelson had been promoted to Admiral. After the Nautilus, Nelson was assigned to Naval Sea Systems Command. He’d gone rather quickly from Vice Commander as RADM to Director of Nuclear Propulsion to Commander of NAVSEASYSCOM in a period of just over three years, picking up a star with each move. The story went that by the time he made COMNAVSEASTSCOM, he’d become extremely discontented with being too out of the research end of things, and had almost immediately ‘retired’ to build his Institute and the futuristic submarine that he’d talked about at the Academy. Lee had always known that Nelson was an independently wealthy man. But it soon became apparent that Nelson’s wealth had been grossly under-reported, and both the Institute and Seaview were quickly completed. Lee had heard rumors, some of them repeated maliciously in Lee’s presence because of his known connection to Nelson, that the Admiral had ‘gone off his rocker’, that “Nelson’s Folly would never survive her first cruise because the design was too unwieldy and unworkable.” Lee was privately excited and delighted when Nelson had proven all of his doubters wrong. Not only did the Institute thrive, but Seaview proved to be the most remarkable sub ever built. She could not only go as fast as the sleekest attack sub, but also maneuver just as easily even with her much greater size. And her fantastic design and the materials used to build her allowed her to dive much deeper than any other sub in the world.
Lee had never seen Seaview, nor had any personal contact with Nelson after the Nautilus. His ‘inside information’, literally and figuratively, came from Chip. Nelson had handpicked Chip, snagging him away from the Navy and into the Reserves, to serve as Seaview’s XO even before she was finished being built. Lee had been absolutely thrilled when Chip told him of the career move. Lee knew, and obviously so did Nelson, that Chip had the necessary organizational skills, the military discipline, and tactical skills to be a superb XO. When they got together, Chip was always somewhat cautious about what he told Lee concerning Seaview’s missions, but Lee had been able to, at least partially, read between the lines. While Seaview was primarily a private research sub, Chip had quietly alluded to the fact that Seaview ‘got borrowed’ on occasion by the Department of Defense. They had originally demanded that Seaview be crewed by active duty personnel. Nelson had insisted that at most he would agree to the crew being members of the Selected Reserves. The ability to involuntarily recall the crew to active duty when necessary, while allowing Nelson control over the selection of personnel and NIMR personnel policies, had resulted in a compromise that satisfied both parties. Mostly. Lee had ‘heard a few things’ over the years that Nelson wasn’t overly keen on bureaucratic interference, and that was one of the main reasons that he’d retired.
Something Lee had gleaned from Chip’s descriptions was a general layout of the Institute grounds and sub pen. Keeping to the shadows, Lee moved quietly through the darkness toward the pen. Seaview wasn’t in evidence topside so Lee assumed that she was in the underground berth Chip had told him about. He easily avoided all the crewmen he encountered scurrying to accomplish their own chores. Lee detected a sagging of the occasional shoulder, and knew that they’d already been apprized of their Captain’s death. He made it through the entrance without being noticed and started down cautiously, but all was quiet until he entered the underground chamber. There were a few more seamen present as well as two guards at the entrance hatch to the now visible submarine. As he hid behind some crates and waited for an opportunity to slip through the hatch, a frown touched his face. Here’s where the fun begins, he muttered unhappily to himself. Chip, hope you can forgive me for what I’m about to do.
Lee knew, the instant that he’d been told where he was to
report, that one of his biggest challenges in this whole assignment was going
to be his former roomie. While Chip had
been circumspect about his cruises aboard Seaview, Lee had been even more so
about what kept him hopping. While both
Nelson and Chip were aware that Lee had been involved with ONI, the Navy’s
intelligence agency, since shortly after graduating
Lee knew what was behind Chip’s reactions – from their first days of friendship Chip had taken the slightly younger Lee on as just another of his siblings, and cared deeply about what happened to him. Fiercely independent Lee had balked at the treatment, and it had led to many a heated discussion between the two. But it never destroyed the bonds of friendship that only grew stronger because of the caring each felt for the other. Lee had allowed Chip to think that he was giving up ONI, so that Chip wouldn’t be so worried about him all the time.
Now that little fib was about to blow up in his face. Coupled with rather abruptly becoming his ‘big brother’s commanding officer – at least for this mission – it was totally possible that Chip would find out that Lee had never left ONI. Talk about a minefield. Lee shuddered and got himself back on track. He had a pretty good idea of how Chip would react to Lee’s proposed ‘hard and fast, by-the-book’ command for this mission – he’d go stone-faced, hide his feelings behind the inscrutable mask that he had an absolute knack for producing in moments of stress, but still be the totally proper XO. Lee decided that he’d just have to keep Chip at arm’s length for the next eleven days and deal with the fallout later. Right now he had a critical mission to complete. As the few crewmen moving around in the underground cavern momentarily disappeared and a gap appeared between the two guards, Lee slipped out of his hiding place and inside the boarding hatch. The interior of the sub was in subdued light, and Lee continued on down the ladder into the Control Room.
That’s where his plans hit a snag – he was spotted and accosted by three seamen and the COB. He was secretly pleased that Admiral Nelson hadn’t totally allowed security to get lax, as Lee’s easy entry onto the boat seemed to indicate. But immediately Lee went into his act. After letting Chief Jones see his papers, he blustered at all four men about how easy it was for him to get aboard, practically yelled that it better not happen again while he was in command, and generally made himself obnoxious. He sent one of the seamen – the one whom Lee had punched in the jaw before his crewmates could get Lee contained – off to get the bag he’d stashed, dismissed the other two with a wave of his hand, and started questioning Chief Jones about the boat’s current status. In short order he knew that while only a skeleton crew was actually aboard at the moment, the XO and other officers were due to arrive within two hours after hastily being recalled from leave. The rest of the crew should be in shortly after that, and Nelson was expected by 0500 hours. Lee nodded, never taking the scowl off his face. They waited until the seaman – Lee finally learned that his name was Kowalski – came back with his bag. Lee could see the Chief’s disapproval of Lee’s gruff manner written all too plainly on the man’s craggy face, and had to work even harder at keeping himself from ruining his chosen performance by relaxing. He took the bag, if not impolitely, at least with just the barest of nods, told Chief Jones to show him where he could stow his gear, and then demanded a tour of the boat. Chip had verbally described a lot of it, but Seaview was so much larger than any sub Lee had ever seen, and held her share of interesting surprises. The Missile Room, for example. Chip had mentioned that most dives started and ended there, and most of the dive equipment was stored there. Lee knew that Seaview was equipped with both fore and aft torpedoes. Chip had conveniently left out the missile silos, having managed to gloss over where that part of the sub got its name.
“Chip,” Lee murmured softly, shivering from the cold that didn’t want to leave his body. He tried to wrap the blanket more tightly around him, and had to smother a moan when a few more aches and pains made an appearance. Lee didn’t remember having that many muscles in his body, let alone all of them hurting at the same time. He concentrated on ignoring them as well as the cold, and thought back to an even more uncomfortable moment.
Lee and the COB had just made it back to the Control Room, after the brief walk-through of the boat, when steps on the ladder announced someone’s arrival. An officer, by the khaki pant legs that came into view, and Lee knew instantly, even before the blond head came into view, that it was Chip. Whether it had been the knife-edge creases in the uniform pants, something familiar in the build, or just Lee’s sixth sense, he wasn’t sure. But he stiffened instantly, put a glare on his face, and waited as Chief Jones made the introduction.
Lee wasn’t overly proud of himself, but somehow he pulled it off. He had a feeling that the Chief knew something was weird, because the expression on Chip’s face as he hit the bottom of the ladder and turned went from bland, almost grumpy – probably from having his leave shortened – to the beginnings of a broad grin when he realized who was standing there, and instantly to puzzlement as Lee made no acknowledgement of knowing him and waited for the COB to made the introduction. I’m gonna pay for that one, Lee told himself as he brusquely returned Chip’s almost hesitant salute. He didn’t totally remember later what he’d said to Chip, but it revolved around the fact that Lee wanted to meet the rest of the officers as soon as they were all aboard, and instantly turned to the chart table. One of the few things he had been told was that Seaview’s destination was in the general vicinity of the North Pole. Chip needed to work around the table as well, coordinating crew arrivals among other things, but Lee did his best to ignore him and began to plot out a general course north. Chip did what Lee had predicted – went totally military, and only spoke to Lee if Lee spoke first, as Lee needed to ask questions concerning Seaview’s general speeds and dive depths. They both knew that Lee already pretty well knew these details from other conversations that the two men had had. But as the new skipper aboard, it was also SOP for Lee to ask the XO. Chip never once broke the stony way in which he responded, and Lee knew that he didn’t dare, either. Once the guards were down, all bets were off as far as Lee’s original plans went. He wondered if he could at least tell Chip what he was doing, and why, but hesitated. While all Navy boats and ships ran on their captain’s orders, most crews Lee had ever served with got their bearings from the XO. He was the buffer between them and the Captain. If Lee allowed Chip to see through the subterfuge, the crew might as well. And there would go all of Lee’s plans to keep them mad at him – the outsider – and only him.
Once all of the JOs had reported, Lee had Chip order them to the Observation Nose. Lee went down immediately and spent the couple of minutes it took the rest to appear, looking out Seaview’s most unique feature – her herculite windows. Lee hadn’t seen them before, although Chip had described them. Lee decided Chip hadn’t done them justice, and let a small grin appear until he heard the first footsteps sound on the spiral stairs. He finally turned and surveyed the group. Chip had told him that, with one exception, they were all very good JOs. Because Chip had previously singled him out, it was to Lt. Bishop that Lee spoke directly after sweeping his eyes over the group. He was brief, and brusque, telling them that he was sorry that they’d lost their skipper but that they had a job to do, and that he expected them to carry out their duties with no less attention to detail than they had afforded Capt. Phillips. He admitted that he did not yet have full details of the mission, that Admiral Nelson would brief him as soon as possible, and that he’d pass on at that time what he could. He warned them that the mission was a critical one, and no less than their best would be tolerated. He then ordered them to their stations, and told them to be prepared to sail the instant Admiral Nelson was aboard. Lee steeled himself inwardly, and looked at Chip directly. “I’m going to my cabin. Notify me the instant that the Admiral clears the front gates,” he ordered curtly, and made his escape.
Thankfully, it wasn’t a long wait, as uncomfortable as he was in the cabin still filled with his predecessor’s personal things. Lee did poke around in desk drawers and on shelves, looking for work-related information and reports, studiously avoiding or instantly putting back anything that wasn’t. He actually found quite a bit, and busied himself memorizing everything he could until Chip’s extremely correct intercom call that Admiral Nelson was arriving. Lee told him to grab his cover and meet him outside the boarding hatch to welcome the Admiral aboard.
That had gone over like a lead balloon, Lee admitted. Once more a groan escaped as he tucked the blanket in more closely around him. He figured that he should just surrender and lay down under the regular blanket and spread. But that would mean actually getting up, with all the anticipated pains making another appearance. Deciding he’d be fine, he stayed where he was.
Lee couldn’t hold back the grin that spread over his face
at seeing Nelson again. The Admiral
returned it, although somewhat distractedly.
The introduction to Dr. Fred Wilson was less successful. Not long before,
The next several hours slid rapidly through Lee’s mind. He dwelled for a bit over his first private meeting with Nelson after all the years. Lee was still somewhat annoyed with the sailor, Kowalski, although a brief smile crossed his lips. That one, Lee acknowledged silently, bears some watching. He’s obviously not afraid to speak his mind, at least in private. Lee remembered how the man had none too subtly, a couple of hours later when Lee went to ‘his’ cabin to freshen up after getting Seaview out of her pen and headed north, jammed home the fact that the crew wasn’t overly thrilled how Lee had challenged the Admiral’s authority by the way he’d tried to sneak aboard. Lee had let it pass, knowing that by ignoring the comment he’d just be laying further bricks in his foundation of ‘tough captain’, and not concerned that he’d have to tear up any part of it since he’d be leaving once this mission was over. What he hadn’t ignored was the seaman’s a tad bit more subtle statement that Nelson hadn’t liked it either and was waiting for him in the Observation Nose. Lee had mildly rebuffed the man for getting his own licks in before spitting out what he’d come to tell Lee. Wonder how he managed to appoint himself messenger so he could deliver his little jab instead of Nelson just picking up the intercom? Lee had let it slide at the time, more concerned with the meeting with Nelson and finally – he hoped – finding out why the heck this mission was so important that it got Lee hauled off his own sub.
Lee hit the bottom of the spiral stairs feeling like a
first year middie late for a class. The
smallish room was filled with several JOs, most of them gathered around a table
as Lee arrived, listening attentively to whatever Nelson was telling them. Nelson dismissed everyone else with a wave of
his hand and turned to Lee, a stern expression on his face. Lee was ready for the small chastisement he
got for his unorthodox entry to the sub.
He wasn’t totally prepared when Nelson teased him about not getting very
far, and Lee finally relaxed and let a wide grin appear. But Nelson was quickly back to business, and
the two made their way to Nelson’s cabin where Lee finally heard the entire
story about the mission. Lee’s instant
reaction was shock – not only from the magnitude of what could happen to the
world’s coastlines from the killer tidal waves Nelson told him about, but also
from the realization that the only thing that stood in the way of the
destruction was Seaview. As rapidly as
he was assimilating that information, he was running through his mind what to
tell the crew. He was a bit miffed to
have Nelson order him to tell them nothing, although he understood the need for
secrecy so as not to allow the world in general to get any inkling to the
potential disaster brewing by an inadvertently repeated statement to family or
friend stateside. It briefly crossed
Lee’s mind that Nelson must not have much faith in his ability to limit his
crew’s outside connections, but he kept that thought to himself. The thought was immediately replaced with
concern over how well the crew would be able to keep their minds on their jobs
whilst worrying about their family and friends, and had that thought confirmed
by Nelson’s next words. Keeping the
mission details under wraps would inadvertently, Lee realized, help him
maintain his distance with the rest of the crew, and another thought flitted
through Lee’s brain. Could Nelson have
realized what Lee was up to, by remaining aloof from the crew, and even Chip,
and be merely helping the illusion along?
As Lee headed back to the
Chip, Lee breathed softly again. He had some serious fences to mend
there. And knowing Chip, he won’t
make it easy, after what I pulled. He
thought for a second. On the other
hand… He wondered if perhaps Nelson
hadn’t said something to Chip. Always
considering that my assumptions are correct and the Admiral did have an inkling
into my tactics. After the first few
days, once the action really started, Chip had been far less openly hostile. Of course, it could have just been Chip
being the perfect XO that he is, Lee nodded carefully to himself. When they’d been attacked by the plane and
depth charged, Chip had handled the problems, and the crew, in totally under
control fashion. And once Lee had
returned from the diving trip to find the sonar mast the all-too-close blasts
had displaced, Chip was right there to help him out of his gear as he struggled
somewhat after the encounter with whatever sea creature had decided that Lee
looked like lunch. Lee hadn’t realized
it until later, since he’d been too busy biting his tongue over Wilson’s
triumphantly bringing the missing mast aboard and practically shoving it under
Lee’s nose, proclaiming that he’d been the only reason it was retrieved successfully. Lee had been the one who had actually found
it, not that it mattered an ant’s antler to Lee who did. But the other two divers had been a little
busy extricating Lee from the creature, and all
Lee shrugged his shoulders, decided that he might not want
to try that again for awhile, and snuggled down a bit more under the
blanket. “That jerk,
Right after the initial attack all of the Control Room crew turned to Lee, a combination of concern and puzzlement written far too plainly across their collective faces. Nelson, suddenly standing right behind him, told him softly that he’d have to tell them ‘something’. Lee kept it simple, merely stating that Seaview was on a vital mission of ‘top secret’ status, and he was putting the boat on War Alert until further notice. He was instantly aware of, despite a heightened sense of anxiety among the crew, also a heightened attention to detail concerning their stations. Lee hid a smile. Rather obviously this crew took their jobs seriously, and understood the magnitude of Lee’s comments like well-trained sailors instead of the rag-tag science geeks his briefing at ComSubPac had hinted at. Lee had been pretty sure that Nelson wouldn’t have allowed that kind of attitude to prevail aboard his boat – and especially not after seeing first hand the kind of armament she carried.
But Lee hadn’t had time to dwell on that thought as first the mast had to be recovered and reattached, and then almost instantly Seaview had been attacked by the unknown sub. Behind his mask of military discipline Lee marveled at the crew’s handling of the boat – and themselves – during the crisis. Lee put another notch in his growing list of Nelson’s achievements and mentally drafted up commendations for the crew.
There followed a few days of relative calm while Seaview
traveled to her ultimate destination.
Lee was able to spend more and more time in the Control Room without
fear of dropping his clipped attitude.
Chip remained guarded around him, but had lost his hard look and was
more relaxed. Lee didn’t take any
chances, however, and continued to treat everyone with nothing more than
military correctness. He purposely chose
to eat his meals at odd times so as not to run into Chip. He saw very little of Nelson as the Admiral
stayed pretty much holed up with Dr. Wilson.
When he did run into the two of them,
Lee knew that he got antsy and the crew picked up on it as they searched under the polar cap for clear water to surface the boat. He almost let his guard down when an opening in the pack ice finally appeared, relatively close to where Wilson needed to set his explosive charge to counterbalance the effects of the one Mother Nature was about to set off. Once again he admired Nelson’s crew for their professionalism in getting Wilson and his equipment onto the ice pack, and held back a grin as Wilson claimed Seaview was expendable just as long as the mission succeeded, and Nelson adamantly state that she indeed was not!
She almost was anyway.
Nelson and Wilson had just coordinated readings from the first of the
two expected earthquakes when a plane appeared out of nowhere. It flew right over Seaview, but dropped its
charges on Dr. Wilson. Seaview had been
unable to stop the attack; her missile firing systems were still under repair
from the previous encounter. Radio
contact was sketchy, but
Lee wouldn’t hear of it.
He wasn’t about to leave personnel behind, no matter his personal
feelings toward one of them, and insisted to Nelson that he was going out to
rescue them. Nelson was just as
insistent that he wasn’t, but Lee didn’t back down. He and Chief Jones bundled up in Arctic gear
and headed out to where
Lee knew that they were late.
Ahead of them, through the snowstorm, a huge fireball filled the sky. No one on the cat said anything but Lee had his suspicions that the plane had reappeared, and this time Seaview’s firing controls were in working order. Scratch one enemy plane, he told himself silently. And scratch us, he admitted, as he realized that Seaview would have been required to dive almost immediately afterward to be safe.
But, twenty minutes later, there she was! Waiting for them. Lee had never been so overjoyed to see
anything in his life – save maybe the time his mother was overdue from a trip when
Lee was about twelve, and she’d finally showed up none the worse for wear. Lee scrambled back aboard and willing hands
from the boat helped. Leaving the cat
behind, he hurried to the
Which led to Lee’s present condition. He’d hung around long enough to make sure Seaview and her crew had survived intact before realizing that all of his pent up emotions were about to overflow. Not wanting to be seen falling totally apart, he’d left Seaview in Chip’s capable hands and headed to his quarters. But it seemed that his reprieve was going to be short-lived as a knock sounded on his door. He called out “just a minute”, threw off the blanket and stood up, suppressing a few more moans as he did so. He made sure that his uniform was straight before saying firmly, “Come.” He had no idea who it could be – he’d been pretty much left alone the entire trip when in the captain’s cabin, and had done nothing to try and change that. But the frown he plastered on his face softened as Admiral Nelson walked unhurriedly into the cabin and came to a stop next to the desk.
“You disappeared in a hurry after the excitement was over,” Nelson said. There was nothing accusatory in the tone of voice, and his face held a faint grin.
Lee took a carefully controlled deep breath before answering, still standing next to the bunk. “You have a superbly trained crew, Admiral. They didn’t need me hanging around telling them how to get home.” He dropped his eyes momentarily, before continuing. “Pretty sure they’ll be glad to see the back of me as fast as they can.”
Nelson chuckled. “I rather doubt that you made as many enemies this trip as you think you did, Lee. The crew knows a good officer from a bad one, and they’re fully aware, as am I, of what a tough job you had to do, and how well you did it. Despite what you might have put them through in the process.”
“Thank you, sir. Still…” Lee hesitated, trying to find the right words. “They are a good crew, sir. One of the best it has been my pleasure to serve with. But they need to finally have the chance to mourn Capt. Phillips and get the bad taste out of their mouths over what this trip has cost. They won’t be able to do that until I’m gone.”
“A bad taste you purposely put there, I’m thinking,” Nelson said with a broadening grin, and Lee was forced to nod.
“Seemed the best way, sir,” he admitted.
“Perhaps.” Nelson nodded, the grin still prominent.
“I should go check on Malone and Wilson,” Lee changed the subject.
“They’re both going to be fine,” Nelson waved off the suggestion, and then looked behind Lee. Lee followed his eyes to the blanket. “A bit tired, lad?” Nelson asked gently. “It has been a trying day. Especially for you.”
“I’m fine, sir,” Lee assured him immediately. That had always been his standard answer to anything even remotely related to health issues. He’d done it for so long, he couldn’t even remember any more when and how it had gotten started.
“Chip’s mentioned a couple of times that he didn’t think you were taking a lot of time to rest this cruise.” Lee frowned, which only caused Nelson’s grin to spread. “Said he figured that you were using the time trying to memorize every nut and bolt of the boat.”
“She’s a beauty, Admiral. Everything you wanted her to be when you talked about her at the Academy, and more.” Despite the compliment to Nelson, he frowned slightly again. He muttered to himself that Chip must have been having him watched if he knew how little Lee had slept and how much he’d been prowling around the boat. Doing, actually, exactly what Chip had accused him of doing – trying to memorize as much as he could, because he didn’t expect to see Seaview again. At least not any time soon. “But I should be getting back to my own. Probably the sooner the better.” He gave Nelson a sheepish little grin as steps went past his door. “I’ll give ComSubPac a call – maybe they can send a Sea Hawk out for me as soon as we clear the polar cap.”
Nelson gave him a flip of one hand. “I’ll take care of it, lad. There are a few things I want to talk to them about anyway.”
“Thank you, sir.”
He didn’t understand the enigmatic little smile that appeared on
Nelson’s face and chose to just ignore it.
That was one of the things he’d learned early on in Nelson’s classes at
Suddenly a shudder hit Lee, and Nelson’s smile disappeared. “Lee?” he asked gently.
“I’m fine, sir,” Lee repeated. At Nelson’s instant glare he continued. “Just still a little cold. Us submariners aren’t geared for white-outs,” and he nodded upward.
Nelson’s glare softened. “Not really,” he agreed. “Best you take a good hot shower. And not the three-minute variety you’re used to. We run to a few more amenities than your average sub.”
Lee grinned. “So I’ve noticed, sir.”
“I’ll have Cookie bring you a good hot meal, then its rack time for you.” It was said as an order, but the little smile reappeared. “You’ve earned it.” Lee started to say that the food wasn’t necessary but, despite the smile, the look in Nelson’s eyes made Lee merely nod. Nelson returned it, and left as quietly as he’d come.
Lee had to admit that the longer-than-average shower helped a lot. He let the hot water cascade over his shoulders and run down his body, gradually warming him up. As he dried off and pulled on a pair of pajama bottoms, the steamy heat still contained in the small head eased some of the multitude of aches and pains. There was a noise in his cabin and, assuming that it was the promised meal, just yelled out to leave it on his desk. He roughly scrubbed the towel over his head, drying his hair as best as he could. He’d been slightly overdue for a haircut when the call had come through for this mission, and now his dark curls, normally kept clipped very short, were definitely on the unruly side. Deal with that later, he muttered, dropped the towel around his neck, and opened the head door.
There was indeed a tray of food on his desk. But the ‘delivery boy’ was still there – Chip stood glaring at him from the space between the desk and the bunk. He should have known, Lee admitted instantly to himself, that Chip would wait only until everything was back under control before seeking an explanation for Lee’s actions. Lee dropped his eyes and watched his long-time friend practically through his eyelashes. “Eat,” Chip ordered, pointing to the tray. From the expression still on his face, Lee decided that now probably wasn’t a good time to further antagonize the blond. He slid quietly into his desk chair and pulled the tray a bit closer, still watching Chip through lowered eyes.
Chip waited until Lee had taken several bites of the braised beef tips and gravy over noodles that Lee discovered under the covered plate, and downed half of the hot cocoa he’d found in the small carafe instead of the expected coffee, before he let out a long, slow, breath of air, finally allowing his shoulders to shift into a more comfortable stance. “Thanks,” he said softly, and sat down on the edge of the bunk. The comment popped Lee’s head up, and Chip finally grinned. “Not what you were expecting?” he asked.
Lee just shook his head, and then asked carefully, “Thanks for what? Nearly getting you killed? Seaview was supposed to be well away long before we got back.”
It was Chip’s turn to shake his head. “Thanks for getting us all through this,” and he emphasized the ‘all’. “Can’t say that I approved much of the method. Especially at first.” The glare made a brief reappearance. “But doubt we’d have managed, otherwise.” Lee just lowered his eyes back to the plate and shrugged. Unfortunately, it appeared that not all of the aches had been steamed out and the shrug ended in a slight cringe. Also, unfortunately, Chip’s sharp eyes didn’t miss it. “Lee?”
“I’m fine,” Lee muttered. He raised his eyes just enough to meet Chip’s. “Just a little more used to being under the pack ice than on top of it.” The frown returned as another, slightly unrelated thought hit him. “I suppose it was your doing that I got stuck with that bright yellow wetsuit the other day.” He sent a glare toward his friend.
Chip’s easy grin, the one Lee had so terribly missed the last eleven days, showed up. “You should have seen the look on your face when you saw it. Absolutely priceless!” The grin turned into a light chuckle.
“Definitely more used to not standing out on a dive.” He got thoughtful for a second. “You sure it wasn’t you purposely making me a target for that ‘thing’ out there?”
Chip put a totally innocent ‘who me” expression his face, and both friends ended up chuckling. But Lee also cringed again as his shoulders moved with the laughter, and Chip sent him another particularly piercing look. He stood and took a step toward the head. “I know John’s got some…”
“No,” Lee said sharply.
Chip stopped and looked at him openly.
As had happened all too frequently at
Chip nodded and changed direction. “I’ve got some ibuprofen in my cabin. Be right back,” and he slipped out the door.
Lee just shook his head.
Gad, how he’d missed Chip! They’d
seen each other far too infrequently since graduation. A leave here, a training course there. A couple weeks at the Morton family’s house
at Thanksgiving one year when Lee’s Mom was out of the country on an
assignment. It hadn’t been nearly
enough. Lee had made other friends over
the years, both at
He was just finishing the last couple of bites of the wonderfully delicious meal – something else that wasn’t usually as good on other boats he’d served aboard – when Chip slipped back in without knocking. Lee gave him a relaxed smile, and then frowned as three brown pills were plunked on the desktop. “One, maybe,” he muttered with a dark look.
Obviously, Chip was back on ‘big brother’ status instead of outranked officer, because he ignored the look totally. “All three,” he said firmly, and crossed his arms over his chest. The grin made a quick reappearance as he added, “That’s still less than prescription strength, and you know it.”
“Aye, sir,” Lee admitted as he gave his friend a backhanded salute and downed the pills with the last of the cocoa. When he glanced back up at Chip after putting the cup down, he was puzzled to see Chip’s hard glare make another appearance and he cocked an eyebrow at the blond.
“That’s new,” Chip growled, pointing to Lee’s shoulder. Lee finally realized that the towel had slipped a bit, revealing a scar from a gunshot wound he’d gotten just over six months previous while running an errand for ONI that had gotten a little more involved than planned. “And that!” Chip added, pointing out a still not quite totally healed knife wound – a souvenir from his last little expedition off-boat for the Navy’s intelligence agency.
Lee just shrugged, trying to keep as nonchalant an expression on his face as possible. “Minor miscalculations,” he admitted softly. Here it comes, he told himself. Chip’s explosion about my never having given up the “extra-curricular activities.” He shivered slightly, as much from knowing he deserved the lecture and knowing only too well just how good Chip was at delivering it, as from a return of the chill that the hot shower hadn’t totally eliminated.
“Bed,” Chip ordered, catching the shiver and instantly changing gears. Lee decided that, discretion being the better part of avoiding all out warfare, he might as well simply accept the inevitable and surrender peacefully. Chip reached over and pushed back the blankets on the bunk, then snagged the still damp towel from around Lee’s neck. Returning from tossing it over the shower bar, he took the extra blanket and laid it on top of the other ones Lee had pulled over himself. Lee gave his old friend an open smile and Chip, as Lee had hoped, relented and smiled back.
“But we will be discussing that,” Chip got in one last growl, both knowing what he was referring to. Lee just nodded, snuggled further under the blankets and watched Chip pick up the now empty tray, turn down the cabin lights, and quietly leave.
Maybe transport will have been arranged before he can get his shots in, Lee thought with a smile, and closed his eyes. Although, Chip’s lecture notwithstanding, it would be nice to hang around a few more days. The smile only left his face as he fell sound asleep.