"Well, Chip, I guess we can close the book on this one," Lee signed the Captain's Log and tossed it atop the Ship's Log.
"Did you include everything?" Chip asked as he sat on the edge of Crane's desk.
"Only what I was told, and abbreviated at that," he chuckled wearily. "It's a little difficult to believe, even though it all happened. I'm just grateful it's all over; did I actually use super glue on the toilets and the periscope handles?"
"You certainly did," the XO grinned, " Admiral Nelson, the crew, and even our 'friends' are calling you the Triangle Terror, but Mr. X and his cronies have lots of time to repent of their mad plan in jail. You know," Morton laughed, " it's not every day our bitter enemies are thwarted by a little kid."
"I wish I could remember…it's just too outrageous. Zapped into a kid again, and zapped back, you know, I'll bet some of the admiral's scientist friends are just itching to conduct some experiments to see if it can be done safely, with intact memory, on a regular basis! Think of it, Chip, " Great vacations, Be a kid again, One million bucks per minute!"
As both men laughed and Lee ran his hand through his tousled hair, Admiral Nelson entered the wardroom.
"What are you both still doing here?" Nelson asked." The crew was dismissed for shore leave more than an hour ago, and security watch has already been activated. They told me you were still aboard. Any problems?"
"Oh, no sir, just finishing up a few loose ends," Chip motioned to the logs.
"I thought you had a date," Lee asked warily of the admiral, who seemed unusually somber.
"Ah, she's waiting in the limo," Nelson answered somewhat hesitantly, " but Sharkey had asked me to deliver this, and I only just remembered," Nelson handed Lee a small stack of chocolate chip cookies. "Your earnings from the last poker game, when you were uh, well, different."
"Not that I'm complaining sir, but I sure wish I'd have played for money," Lee smiled.
"Ah, but Lee, these, " Chip held up a cookie, " have so much more value…."
"Help yourself," Lee chuckled, " I know your mom hasn't sent you a 'care' package lately."
"Speaking of mom's, Lee," Nelson treaded on delicate ground, " you know, perhaps I can arrange…"
"Uh, well, it just isn't possible just now, sir."
"I see. Well, duty calls."
"I thought she was a real date, sir, not a duty assignment…who is she then, an investor; or a match made by little sister?" Lee asked. "How many women has Edie tried to match you up with now, ten, twenty?"
"Forty?" Chip interjected, " Really sir, haven't any of them been at least a little interesting?"
"No, and before either of you makes a snide comment, just remember that you've been on the end of Edith's matchmaker plans as well. As far as she's concerned, if a person is unmarried and female, I'm supposed to be interested, even if this time the poor victim of my 'attentions' is to be Jiggs sister."
"Mrs. Canoli? The rich widow??" Chip asked, aghast.
"What's wrong with her?" Lee asked in all innocence." I met her once at that reception we all tried to get out of. I thought she was utterly delightful."
"Sucker!" Chip answered, "rumor has it that, uh, never mind Lee," Chip tried not to show his embarrassment.
"Well, I'll be heading along, " Nelson interrupted, "Chip, make sure Lee gets to his apartment and advise him not to go 'on the town'. We don't want Doc yelling at us for letting our gallant skipper stay up past his bedtime," Nelson's eyes twinkled in remembrance of the 'boy' Lee being ordered to bed as he wouldn't go willingly. "You should both really go home and hit the hay early."
"But aren't you going to tell him a bedtime story-Harry?" Chip taunted good naturedly.
"Did you really read me bedtime stories?"
"I'd hardly call Maritime History and Technical Manuals bedtime stories, however, a few sea tales, and pirate yarns may have fit the definition; but don't forget it was you who insisted on me translating some highly technical terms regarding all the Seaview manuals you poured over endlessly."
"Did I like them that much?"
"Frankly, they put you to sleep! But not before you told me how boring they were and how I should put a little more pizzazz into them! You demanded I rewrite them! I never knew the Fundamentals of Ballast Tank Maintenance should be renamed How to Keep Your Boat Afloat, or To Sink or Not to Sink, That is the Question!
"I guess I was a real handful."
"That, Lee, is an understatement. If you'll excuse me gentlemen, I'm off to another boring evening of wining and dining, if only to keep Jiggs off my back! Why does everyone want me to get me married off anyway!"
"Must be your charming personality," Lee teased with a grin, "when you're not spitting tacks or threatening a reporter with keel-hauling, that is."
"Goodnight sir," Chip added, " have a good time, in spite of uh, well, goodnight sir."
"Chip?" Nelson asked at the door.
"Giving credence to ridiculous rumors is not in your job description, understood?"
"Very well, then, goodnight," Nelson departed, taking one of the cookies from the table.
"Chip?" Lee asked expectantly.
"You heard him, I'm not supposed to tell."
"That's not what he said. C'mon, what about Mrs. Canoli?"
"Well, it's rumored that she killed her husband."
"That's absurd! She's a sweet lady, and wouldn't harm a flea."
"I didn't say she used a man-made weapon, Lee."
"I don't understand."
"No, and you probably never will. You're too straight laced for your own good . "
"Straight laced?! Chip, for your information, I'm very open minded."
"Oh I know that, buddy, but uh, well, Lee let's face it, you're a gentleman when it comes to the dames."
"What's wrong with that??"
"Nothing…it's just that …well, to put it politely, your reputation as a Casanova is undeserved. But Mrs. Canolis' is. She…uh…she….well…"
"She's 'hot blooded'?"
"They say that once she has a man in her clutches, he's a goner, and while she was married, well…."
"All men are 'goners' once they're in love, but how did she kill her husband?"
"Lee, haven't you heard a word I said? He died at home…in the bedroom," Chip smirked.
"Mr. Morton," Lee paused, partly out of the sudden realization, partly for effect, " just because a man dies in bed, is no reason to think that she killed him! It was probably just a circumstance, and he could just as easily have died over dinner. I'm really surprised at you for even thinking such a thing."
"Well, perhaps, but that's what the police report said…they'd been…uh…"
"I get the picture, Chip."
"Still, what a way to go…"
"Chip! Enough! It's not like you to act so, so, juvenile!"
"You should talk!" Morton gave Lee a sheepish grin.
"Chip, aren't you expected home or something? Your brother and his family visiting California aren't they?"
"That a hint?"
"Yes. Now scram. I can see myself to my apartment, thank you."
"But the admiral told me to…"
"Go on Chip, I'll be okay, I just want to be alone for awhile before I go home. I won't go partying, and I talked you out of babysitting me okay?"
"Okay Lee, you sure?"
"Okay okay, I know when I'm licked. But call me when you get to your apartment alright? See you on the tenth. "
"Bright and early. The admiral said he has rather exciting mission for us coming up."
"You know, Lee, I could do without any of those for awhile."
Lee laughed, " Same here, Chip. Same here."
Chip flung his duffel bag on the sofa, walked the few steps to the fridge and groaned inwardly at the sight. He had been so certain he'd cleaned it out of any opened or unsealed foods before he'd left on the last assignment. Some of the growths looked like the admiral's experiments gone bad . They didn't smell so good either.
Deciding against opening up a beer, it's outer glass bottle covered in slime from its next door neighbor, he closed the fridge, and decided to just order 'take out'. Perhaps they'd deliver. He'd already driven through fog, smog, and traffic, and was not in the mood to fight it all again. One of these days he'd have to get an apartment closer to the institute.
Just as he was about to phone in his order, the doorbell rang, and he could hear exited voices. Grinning outwardly and groaning inwardly, Chip welcomed his brother and family to his 'castle'.
"Now, Harriman," Mrs. Canoli urged, " you as a man of science really ought to be above such silly hesitation. Sushi is delicious!"
"Kitty, I'm sure it is, however, mercury contamination is rampant in those waters, and the abundant parasites in uncooked fish can cause a multitude of intestinal complications."
"But, no-one here looks sick, the restaurant has a five star rating, a clean bill of health from the food and drug administration, so I still think you're just being silly."
"Perhaps I am, but I'd still rather have a fresh fruit and lettuce salad, with broccoli and roasted chicken with stuffing," he said firmly to the waiter, who nodded and departed.
"It's your loss, Harry, dear," she leaned over, " I may call you Harry, may'nt I?" she giggled. The giggle didn't go with her heavily mascaraed eyelashes and bright red lipstick. She looked like a Hollywood characterture of an older woman desperately trying to look young.
The problem was, she really was a nice person, and Nelson didn't like it at all that she felt she had to pretend to be like a schoolgirl to be attractive. It was going to be a long evening, and Nelson almost envied his command officers at home asleep, until she smiled and he suddenly felt twenty years younger. Perhaps it wasn't going to be such a long evening after all.
Lee entered his cabin and placed the boat's log and the captain's log in his top desk drawer and locked it. He noticed the stillness of his craft, and the silence. A few security guards and a small maintenance staff had come aboard, but to his ears Seaview was almost dead. It was a haunted, unpleasant feeling. And he didn't like it at all. But he'd been through it numerous times before, and it wouldn't do to remain aboard to 'protect' her or Nelson and Doc get wind of it and chide him about not taking advantage of some well deserved time off at home.
But that was the problem. His apartments had only been holes in the air surrounded by wood and plaster. Not that he didn't enjoy shore time. He often dated the various girls in his 'harem' as the men put it, but he was tired of the game. If only he really could go home. To the way it was, before all the trouble.
He hadn't told Nelson all the details and had actually lied about some of them. He must never know what had really happened. It was too awful. Too embarrassing. Too damaging. And far too painful to remember.
Slinging his duffel bag over his shoulder, he departed his cabin, his footsteps echoing down the corridors till he reached the control room. He signed the checkout clipboard, ascended topside, and said goodnight to the deck watch guard. Taking a glance down her deck, he turned and patted Seaview's conning tower. He never failed in the ritual. She'd brought them home again, and deserved the recognition. Others may have laughed, but it didn't matter. Treat her like a lady, and she'll always bring you home. It was an old saying among mariners, but to Lee, absolutely essential.
"So Angie, where's he off to on his shore leave?" Katie stopped by Angie's desk just outside the admiral's private office.
"Which 'he' do you mean, Nordic Viking, Ravishing Raven, or grumpy?"
"I heard that Angie," Nelson's voice came through the partially open door with a slight laugh to it.
"Sorry sir," Angie called out, then, whispered, " Kate, you better get out of here. He got in late but was actually happy…something's wrong."
Nelson strolled into the outer office. "No, no apologies or whispering, please. I'm hardly a Nordic Viking nor a black-haired panther, so I must be 'grumpy' by the simple process of elimination…Kate, is it important?"
"No sir, I just…uh, well, you see sir," she rambled.
"It's not like you to be so inarticulate. Is something wrong?"
"Well, he, I mean Lee, well, he sort of indicated that he'd call me this week. And he hasn't. It's been two days."
"He didn't call me either," Angie added, then noticing Nelson's raised eyebrow, " he's not two timing us sir, he just wanted to take us out on a picnic this week. We all simply decided to be friends."
"I see," Cassanova Crane lives, Nelson thought with a smirk, not believing the friends story Lee must have given them at all.
"Honest sir," Katie added.
"Angie, ask security to ring him up to confirm his location. I'll wait."
"Really, Chip," Morton's sister-in-law scolded, " that's the last time I play 'Monopoly' with you! Honestly, Niles, he's got all the 'Park Place' properties and money wafting out of his armpits! YOU," she leaned over to Chip menacing, "should be in retail, not playing second banana on a submarine."
"Sandy, the XO is very im…."
"Important," she interrupted, " I know I know. But I still think his talent is wasted. He could make a fortune in big business."
"I hardly call a board game the real world, I'm sorry Chip, she just doesn't understand."
"It's okay Niles, I understand. That's all that's really important."
"Uncle Chip, we're ready," one of his nieces called out as she approached.
"Chip, you don't have to do this, you know," Niles said seriously.
"How often do I have a chance to escort such lovely young ladies out to a concert. You're sure you don't want to come along Niles, Sandy?"
"No thanks," Sandy said wearily, "we hear Rockin' Relapse all the time at home."
"Chip, here, take my earplugs," Niles took out two small swimmer's earplugs from a pocket.
"It's okay Uncle Chip, it's kind of loud if you're not used to it. It's awfully nice of you to take us but we're really old enough to go by ourselves. You don't have to be eighteen to get in you know."
"He takes you or you don't go at all," Niles commanded, " And you do as he says, understood?"
"What's he going to do, make us walk the plank? Just kidding, just kidding. Well I'm ready, HEY C'MON WILL YA??"she called to the other girls who hurriedly checked purses, compacts, and gathered at the door.
"You all look lovely girls," Chip lied. His nieces ranged in ages from 13, 15, and 16, and were attired in mismatched colors and tinted streaked hair that reminded him of circus clowns. "I'll have them back by uh, well, a lot depends on traffic."
"I'll keep that in mind," Niles said, " when your car turns into a pumpkin. Have a good time."
"I see," Nelson sighed. "You have no idea when Morton will be back…yes I understand. No , no it's not an emergency. No. No message," Nelson hung up the phone. "Well, Chip's in Burbank and isn't expected back till late. Angie, any word from Lee's apartment manager?"
"Yes sir, they're checking now. They've got me on hold."
"Perhaps I'm being overly cautious but you know about Lee."
"What about me?" Crane entered the outer office.
"Where the blazes have you been??" Nelson almost shouted.
"I didn't know I was missing."
"You forgot to call Kate and Angie. What was I supposed to think? For all we knew you'd gone and gotten yourself into trouble!"
"Admit it Lee, trouble usually jumps out and attacks you, on or off duty. Now, I'm glad you're here. I have the mission details in my office I'd like you to go over. I know you're on shore leave, but….by the way, where the devil have you been? You look sunburnt. And what on earth are you wearing? And why haven't you shaved? What the blazes have you been doing?? Not that it's any of my business, but …we do care about you, you know, Lee," he added softly.
After about a year, at least to Nelson, Lee who had wearily, it had seemed, sat down in the overstuffed leather chair reserved for visitors; stretched out his legs, and crossed his bare feet, looked up and grinned. Nelson paused, knowing the signs of an impending storm, or an 'I told you so' by his colleague. What the blazes had Lee been up to? His hair was tousled wildly, his jeans appeared to be stained, torn, and singed. Singed? His denim shirt had stains and singe marks as well, Nelson only just noticed. And why was he barefoot? What the hell was going on?
"I was busy," Lee answered.
"UmHmmm. Care to fill us in on the details?"
"Nothing important…well, now, Katie, Angie, how about that picnic? Admiral, care to join us?"
"Damn it Lee!"
"Kate, Ang, I'll only be a moment," he rose and preceded Nelson into the inner office. Nelson followed, and shut the door.
"Gonna' be some picnic," Katie mused." I wonder if I ought to get out the first aid kit. The boss looked ready to clobber him!".
"Did you notice Lee's hair?"
"Wonderfully messy, I love it like that."
"We all do, but it looked, different somehow, almost like some of it had been …well, burnt."
"Burnt?..you know, now that you mention it, he did looked a bit frazzled. Angie, I have a bad feeling about this…"
"Angie," Nelson's voice came over the speaker, " have a medical team up here, will you? ASAP"
"I told you, I don't need any…" Lee's voice came through over the forgotten open line.
"You will see a med. team," Nelson's voice boomed, " and that's final! Of all the stupid, blunderheaded,…you didn't even have the EMT check you out! Its well and good that you got those people out of the elevator, Lee, but damn it man, you were hurt too! Why the hell didn't you contact us!"
"Because you'd start ranting and raving like you are now! I'm fine!"
"Fine!? You could have burnt to death! Or been crushed or DAMN it Lee!"
"Well, what would you have done? We were stuck on the 27th floor! The smoke was everywhere, the plates were beginning to melt, and the whole building was on fire. The only way out was through the trap door and inside shaft rungs to another level."
"That's not what I'm talking about! Of course you did the only thing possible, and got everybody up and out of the elevator and to the next floor up, but did you have to go back into that inferno to rescue that mutt?"
"That mutt, as you call him, has great value, and would have been squashed to death if the elevator moved an inch or been fried by the fire beneath it. Can you honestly say you wouldn't have tried to rescue it after it had slipped and fallen out of that little girl's arms when we climbed the rungs?"
"Hmmmph!… Oh, I suppose so.." Nelson admitted, defeated, " but you STILL should have had the EMT's look you over."
"HARRY! I WAS BUSY!"
"Yes, I know, but after things settled down and you'd finished helping everybody, including the firefighters, you could at least have…" Nelson paused, noting Crane's determined look, "oh, all right, all right. You win... I can see I'm speaking to a brick wall." Nelson absently pressed the already depressed speak button, " Angie, hurry up the Med. Team will you? I have a patient for them."
"Correction, Angie," Lee added, into the speaker, " I'm only having a check-up."
"That's a matter of opinion, Lee," Nelson continued, " Angie, tell them they may have to use restraints. Complete exam, no quickies."
"Admiral, I don…"
"I'll tie you down myself if I have to! Oh, here they are. Now, you will cooperate, or I'll call for Jaime…understood?"
"Understood," Lee sighed, beaten at his own game. Anything was better than being subjected to Seaview's physician and being mother-henned to death.
It was nearly 1 AM when Chip got back from Burbank. Now he understood his brother Niles' comment about a parent's responsibilities and how Chip's paled in comparison. The girls were still yaking about the concert, oohing and ahhhing over the celebrity group's hair, eyes, faces, muscles, etc. except the music. Could it be that they hadn’t even listened to the group? Of course they could be deaf. While Chip had tried to listen and understand the appeal of this musical group, he was grateful for the earplugs. Too loud, and way over his head in understanding. He'd heard better music from a work party in a sewer!
While the younger girls had pretty much stayed closeby, the older hadn't, using a 'visit to the powder room' as an excuse to mingle with other strangely coifed and attired young people, of the masculine gender. When Chip had finally realized the situation, and gotten an official to help him find the missing girl, he'd already managed to droop in his other niece's estimation, by his firm stand against their smoking, even if 'everybody else' was doing it. Good grief, he didn't even know what the whafts of smoke were, and he wasn't about to encourage jail time.
Forever doomed in their sight, he'd dragged them away, as they'd complained, like children, from the concert. They were soooo embarrassed to be treated as such. He was an old fuddy duddy, no wonder he couldn't get a steady girlfriend, they'd said.
Sighing in defeat, he'd stifled the urge to inform them of his many conquests, of which he was justly proud, but decided against it. Uncle Chip was just too tired to battle it out.
"Chip, glad you're home. Have a good time girls?" Niles asked, having waited up.
"Just FINE, till our BABYSITTER decided to bring us home!" 'Sweet sixteen' pouted bitterly.
"Dad, you really have to explain to Uncle Chip that there are other things to smoke than tobacco and marihuana!" another complained.
"Daddy, the concert was wonderful, but Uncle Chip didn't like it very well. I think he's retarded," the youngest added.
"I see, well, goodnight girls. I'll have a little talk with Uncle Chip…go on…see you in the morning, and girls, I'll expect you each to apologize to your Uncle Chip for your remarks in the morning."
The girls glared at Chip and retired to their rooms.
Niles poured out two whiskey's and handed one to Chip." You'll have to forgive them, little brother, they're all going through different 'phases' just now. How was it really?"
"I take it back, Niles, you deserve a medal for sheer endurance. I've never been so tired in my life…what were they smoking anyway? I made them throw it all away"
"Ahh. It was a company experiment. Non-toxic. Out on the market in a few months, could revolutionize things…"
"Becky escaped from me and spent an hour dancing and mixing with some horrible looking boys…and the music didn't deserve the name. It was just ear piercing, bone shattering noise…I don't know how you can stand it…the earplugs couldn’t drown it all out, but they helped me to keep my sanity.."
"Well, it helps when they smile," Niles grinned, " Tends to make you forget all about the little irritations."
"One. From your base. Not important."
"Who was it?"
"Oh, I don't know. Didn't say."
"Hmm. I'd better ring back. Not like the institute not to leave a message when they call."
Within minutes, Chip was agitated, and dragged his car keys from the entry.
"Lee's gotten himself hurt again," he groaned, exasperated, " I really have to run, Niles. Seems he was in a fire in Monterey…and what?"
"Monterey? The news had something about that…only real victim was a dog."
"Well, I'd better go check anyway. Lee has a way of hiding it when he's hurt."
"If they're checking him out, why not call the hospital. He may be just fine, and you're exhausted. The institute can survive without you for one night."
"You don't understand. Lee's important. And he's my friend. You could say even my best friend. "
"Look here, Chip," Niles handed him a scrawny newspaper," maybe this is what all the fuss is about. If Lee was here, he's fine."
Chip, aggravated by Nile's apparent lack of concern, grabbed the paper and began to read……
A division of Santa Barbara Daily News
In a recent report by several eyewitnesses, A lone man was responsible for the daring rescue of 15 persons and one dog from the conflagration at the Hornblower Building in the outskirts of the Monterey resort area.
An faulty wire in the 32 story building caused the blaze which quickly engulfed four floors of various offices, from law offices to brokerage firms.
Sprinkler systems helped to contain the blaze but it wasn't until firefighting teams arrived that it was placed under control and finally staunched.
However, that was of little use to the persons trapped in a stalled elevator just above the blaze in the elevator shaft.
One such person described how one of the passengers, noticing the smoke and buckling metal and wood inside the stalled elevator, took charge and kept everyone calm while he explained the situation and how they had to escape it.
Using the elevator's trapdoor in its ceiling, the passengers, now tightly covering faces with their clothing to filter the blackening smoke to breathe, were helped 'topside', as he called it, and to the inner shaft ladder, while flames flickered through the 'between space' of the elevator and shaft walls, and finally through the elevator itself.
A terrifying ordeal for all, it was most grueling for Mrs. Simpson, 93,who, legs paralyzed and in a wheelchair, was lifted and carried piggy back to the upper floors by the brave leader, who tied her arms around his neck with his tie in a tight knot. He then returned to assist the remaining passengers who had not yet finished climbing to safety.
Claustrophobic Mr. Timms, 54, was also assisted by the man as Timms was near a state of panic was beginning to hyperventilate in the increasingly smoking interior."He helped me to calm down, and I did. He had such an air of authority, I just couldn't let him down."
In addition, little Patty Toledo, 6, had just reached the upper floor level, when her dog, Snoodles, clutched in her arms, slipped out and fell, and was trapped below between the wall of the burning elevator and the shaft.
After the man had ensured that Patty was safely inside the floor, he descended down the now almost engulfed elevator, and with great difficulty, and danger to himself, rescued the injured and burnt dog from the tight squeeze. His shoes actually started to smolder, and he quickly flicked them off as he ascended to safety.
Once out of the shaft, he directed the group to the reinforced non-flammable lavatories, despite the soaking from the sprinklers, and asked one of them take his shirt and soak it in water . With this, he wrapped the pooch and helped to quiet down the hysterical little girl.
The man told his fellow passengers to remain calm and he'd be back with help. Little did they know that he was soon assisting others to the relative safety of the restrooms and helping the firefighting teams with the other stuck elevators, and directing people to areas of relative safety though he was provided this time with protective clothing.
But he didn't forget his promise, and was soon giving his fellow passengers the thumbs up sign that the danger had passed and assisted them several flights of stairs to the waiting paramedics below. He himself carried the dog and it was quickly given to an emergency unit. Finally putting his shirt back on, he insisted on staying with the group until satisfied that everyone, including the dog, would be okay.
"Well," Chief Firefighter Clancey is reported to have said, " he's either crazy or a bona-fide hero,…took guts, it did, to get everyone out of that fire-trap safely. Saved the dog's life too. Oh, some of the passengers might have made it on their own, but not the old lady, or a few of the others. But we can't find him now. Really wanted to shake his hand."
Our hero remains un-named and unknown.
Snoodles will be undergoing treatment for burns and cracked bones, but is expected to make a full recovery…………..
"What is it Chip ?" Nile's voice broke Chip's concentration.
"Nah, it can't be…how long ago was this?"
"That fire? Oh, early this morning. What is it Chip?"
"I have a sneaking suspicion on just who our hero is," Chip grinned, "I'll make that call, now."
Nelson was pacing in his office. Lee had been given the 'all-clear' by the medics several days ago, had been treated for 'minor' burns and smoke inhalation, and was classified as 'fit for duty', but that wasn't on Nelson's agenda just now.
Any archeological expedition, while sounding exciting, was usually considered a 'double-blah' mission by his submariners, but Crane had practically pleaded with Nelson to be relieved of this one!
There was nothing upsetting about the assignment; the world wasn't in danger, but even if it had been, Crane had never shirked from danger. If anything, he thrived on it! What the devil was wrong with him? Nelson had tried everything to find out, from gentle persuasion to his most riveting command mode. He'd even ordered Crane to explain his reasoning. But all he got in response,' Morton should have more command time anyway.'
But when Crane couldn't give Nelson a different or reasonable answer or indicate why the mission shouldn't take place with him in command, Lee's urgings availed him nothing, and with reluctance, Crane accepted the fact and made preparations for the mission.
The crew was aboard, gear stowed and stations manned. Morton nodded in approval and approached Lee. " Stations manned and ready, Skipper. When will the brass get here?"
"They're with the admiral now. And they're not really brass…just TV reporters," Lee tried to grin, but Chip noticed it was hollow.
"Lee, is anything wrong?"
"Not at all Chip," he tried to cover, "ahh, there they are now."
Nelson descended the ladder first, appreciating the snappy salutes of his officers, as the two guests followed.
"Gentlemen, may I introduce Mr. Jefferson and Miss Kensington, of the DFXZ cablevision network."
Chip had to consciously close his mouth, as it was difficult not to drool. He could have gazed at her longer if Crane hadn't taken coolly taken command and ordered preparations to get underway.
Nelson had enjoyed showing off Seaview's famous see-through observation nose, and poured out a libation of old brandy to each.
"Well, I'm certainly grateful for your invitation, Admiral Nelson," Miss Kensington raised a toast, " this should knock the socks off our rival stations. You realize, don't you Admiral, that the whole world will be watching our live broadcast from Seaview. And your men are certainly impressive too, Admiral. Such efficiency. But, tell me, " she asked in a conspiratorial mood, " are they all so good-looking as well?" she glanced back at Crane and Morton.
"Well, according to my female staff, they are!" Nelson laughed.
"Kira," Jefferson interrupted, " This is supposed to be an archeological expedition, not a 'handsome hunk' contest. I think we've taken up enough of the Admiral's time, and we should really be getting to our cabins."
"Not at all Mr. Jefferson, "Nelson excused himself, " Not at all. Please, enjoy the view. I'll order us some lunch, we can have it right here. I often do. One of the perks of owning your own submarine," he grinned.
"Will the Captain and the Exec join us?" Kira asked.
"By all means, do invite them admiral, "Jefferson added, " I'm sure the Captain appreciates Seaview's luxuries," Jefferson replied.
"Chip, have our guests escorted to their cabins after a brief tour, at the Admiral's convenience," Lee ordered, after Nelson had arranged a visitors timetable with him in the adjoining control room. Nelson seemed agitated, but hurried back to the group, eager to watch the vessel's departure and experience her plunge into the depths via the nose windows.
"You can escort our guests yourself if you wish," Lee added, having noticed Chip's prior reaction, " but see to it that none of the crew bothers Miss Kensington unduly…yourself included. Understood?"
"Lee! What kind of man to you think I am? No, don't answer that. Okay, I'll be a good boy. Uh, Lee?"
"You interested in her?" Chip asked carefully.
"No. But …" Lee seemed to fight the words, " Mr…uh, Jefferson, was it? Looks a bit possessive of her….I'd be careful if I were you."
"Lee, I'm a pro! I have a reputation to uphold you know. Besides, what can she possibly see in that old man? Colleague or 'Sugar Daddy', he's no match for Marauding Morton! I'm always on the prowl…within reason of course…sir…." Chip suddenly paused, noticing that Crane was not amused. "Lee what is it? It was just a joke. You don't have to look so gloomy…."
"You have the watch Mr. Morton," Crane ignored him, " I've made some scheduling changes you'll need to review."
"Man oh man, did you dig that dish?" Riley finished brushing his teeth in preparation for his assigned 'sack' time.
"Yeah, you and me and Mr. Morton too!" Kowalski toweled off his wet hair as he emerged from the crew's shower, " he all but whisked her away to a private little tet'a tet when he took them on their 'tour'. Sure took his time about it too. I think Lieutenant O'Brian had a great time playing XO! And the skipper sure didn't seem to mind, seemed a bit preoccupied…even, well, subdued somehow.… I wonder what's eatin' him?"
"Well, Ski," Riley yawned, going into the adjoining bunk room, " I heard that he and the admiral actually had a big argument before this mission even got underway."
"Nah, that's nothin' for the Skip to get upset over, they argue all the time, it's not anything new. Still, not like the Skipper to choose the 'graveyard shift' for his inspection tours or 'up- time', is it?"
"It's not unheard of though, guess he just want's a change of scenery…glad he's not on my time…till he feels better, that is."
"Well, maybe he just wants Morton to get a little more experience."
"Yeah, sure, like Morton's not already been offered a dozen commands…I tell you Ski, something's bothering the Skip, and I don't like it. He's really broody."
"He's always broody…knock it off now, will you, I want to get some sleep."
"Okay okay, still, kind feels kind of weird doesn't it, having him on the watch over us sleepy babies?"
"Riley, " Ski reddened. " One more crack and I'll tell the chief all about your little problem."
"Okay okay, you win. Cheeze…g'nite Ski."
The crew on the Graveyard shift or third watch, enjoyed Crane's presence for a change. It wasn't that often that the Captain stood alongside the men assigned to the hours between midnight and dawn. He had always taken time to express his regards to them, but that wasn't the same as him being awake when they were.
And he certainly wasn't sleepy tonight. In fact, he seemed determined that everyone stay on their toes. To ' match' the other shift's proficiency, he'd said good naturedly, but it was a transparent excuse. Almost everyone on the boat knew he had something on his mind. Nothing serious, they could tell that right away, but still, it seemed that he needed to be away from the rest of the brass. And by now everyone knew about the heated argument he and the admiral had had prior to the mission. The problem was finding out what it was. Not that it was anybody's business, especially in the control room, where other matters were supposed to hold one's attention, but if it concerned the skipper it concerned them. And it was kind of hard not to like the guy as well.
"Tell me sailor," Mr. Jefferson approached Patterson ,who was busy mopping the corridor, while Jefferson was on his way to the wardroom for breakfast, "How did the captain get his post here? Knew a few important people that owed him some favors, did he?"
"Sir! The skipper'd never even think of such a thing! Besides, he was drafted. To fill in for Captain Phillips who'd gotten killed. And he managed to save our hides and yours too come to think of it…no disrespect sir, but seems to me you made up your mind not to like the skipper before you've even gotten to know him…. We all heard what you said during lunch the other day in the observation nose."
"My my, what big ears we have…I was only stating the obvious…well, I'll let you mop the deck. Seems odd to me that a sonar technician is part of the mop and bucket brigade. What'd you do to earn it? Or does the captain just like to excersise his authority?"
"That's enough!" Chief Sharkey intervened, fighting mad, having come upon the two and witnessed the altercation, "Sir, that ain't nobody's business but the skipper's…"
"It's okay, Chief," Patterson interrupted, and added, almost glaring at Jefferson, " I volunteered, sir."
"Well, sonny," Mr. Jefferson replied, " don't get all hyper. I may be retired from the fleet, but I still know that it never pays to volunteer. Unless, of course, you need to suck up to somebody. See ya around."
"Man, that guy gives me the creeps," Patterson whispered after Jefferson meandered down the corridor whistling.
"Scuttlebutt has it he insulted the skipper right to the admiral's face just before they went to bed. Wish the skip had been there to bust the guy's nose in."
"No kiddin' ! Though, " Patterson pondered, " he probably woulda' come up with something else..I mean, it's not good to kill your boss's guests."
"Yeah, and the Admiral shut Mr. J. up pretty quick."
"Well, he's good at that!"
"Makes ya wonder just what that dame sees in the old salt…Jefferson, you knothead, not the admiral. Seems they requested the adjoining guest cabins."
"Yech! Makes ya want ta puke."
"So, Pat, just what did you do to deserve this?" Sharkey grinned as he held Patterson's mop up.
"Yeah yeah, and I spend all my off duty time scraping crud out of the ballast tanks…okay, back to work, oh, uh, if ya want to talk about it, ya know…."
"Yeah chief, I know."
Jefferson sipped his coffee in the crowded Wardroom as Crane emerged from the galley, checking off a spot on his clipboard.
"Very good Cookie, everything in outstanding order. Keep those cinnamon rolls coming but stow anything with the new apple mix, we're getting too many complaints. Cheaper is as cheaper does apparently. Even the Admiral's complained that the new dehydrated apples tasted off, just when he was in the mood for a few slices."
"Aye sir!" Cookie responded noticing Jefferson's glare at Crane.
"Problems, Captain?" Jefferson asked pointedly.
"Nothing we can't handle." Crane replied, almost dangerously.
"Strange," Jefferson lifted a forkful of rehydrated scrambled egg to his mouth, " that you can't simply delegate someone to take care of all the little details, or don't they teach that at Annapolis?"
"Oh," Crane replied smoothly, sitting down opposite as Cookie placed his 'supper' at his place, "I must have missed that lecture…it can happen you know, Mr. Jefferson, isn't it, captains doing things for themselves…we're not all Captain Bligh's you know."
"Good morning Lee, " Nelson emerged from the doorway, " or rather good evening, I can't say I like your new schedule. Mr. Jefferson, you're up early."
"Always. It's difficult to break a lifetime of Navy discipline. Once a sea-dog, always a sea-dog. But my wife never complained."
"Tell me, Mr. Jefferson, " Nelson slapped some butter on his toast, " that's an unusual piece of jewelry on your lapel. A badge of some sort?"
"Oh, this," Mr. J fingered the small gold, diamond, and emerald engraving of a mermaid intertwined with a half-moon. " It's an old family heirloom. Handed down from father to son, one generation after the next."
"It's exquisite, Mr. J, " Chip said, " who gets it next?"
"No-one. You see, I have no son."
"Pity, " Nelson said, " perhaps you could donate it to a museum. It's really rather unusual. Do you know why or when it was crafted?"
"Oh, there are stories, but far too long to tell, or to even believe in, suffice it to say family legend says it was crafted in the reign of King John of England and was a gift to one of his many mistresses. Whether or not it was stolen from her or handed down from 'wrong side of the blanket' to my ancestors, we'll never know. Wouldn't that be something, related to King John!"
"Oh, I don't know," Lee said, " I wouldn't doubt it at all."
Chip couldn't help noticing an almost palatable antagonism between the two men, but let it pass as no-one else seemed to notice anything amiss, and it could simply be his imagination.
Lee rose, excused himself , thanked Cookie for a very good supper, and said good night.
Seaview was nearing the presumed location of the ruins, and Nelson was growing impatient. Remnants of a city so far below the depths could conceivably give credence to Atlantis lore and as a scientist, Nelson was chomping at the bit. However, the stone-like 'paving' could also simply be a geologic formation as similar 'finds' had proven out to be. That's why he grabbed the bait so quickly, to investigate this area before any other team, as he had no desire for another hyped up 'lost city' to be proven wrong and persons he respected to be ridiculed for ineptitude.
"Chip," Nelson took Chip aside in the control room, as the Jefferson-Robinson team finalized their broadcast plans in the nose, "It's not good that Lee isn't here for the actual investigation. Have him rearrange his schedule, will you? We should be in the area in about four hours."
"Aye sir. I'll take care of it myself…O'Brian, take the conn."
"Yeah yeah, and I'm The Little Mermaid," Kowalski tossed down his cards, to the victorious Patterson.
"I'm tellin you Ski, Riley saw the skipper scrubbing out the head in his cabin with a toothbrush! And he'd broken the gym's punching bag!"
"Is anyone from maintenance on report?"
"Well then. It's just malarkey!"
"Maybe. You know, Ski, the skipper doesn't look good. And he hasn't been eating much these last few days. Even Cookie's noticed."
"Probably has a physical fitness exam coming up. You know how he tries to stay in shape. Just doesn't want any extra pounds on him, that's all."
"You don't believe that, c'mon Ski, you've had scrub detail in officer's country, any clues?"
"If I had any clues as to why the skipper's been acting kind of weird, I wouldn't be repeating it."
"That's good to hear, but not at all practical," Morton's voice almost echoed in the crew's mess, as he leaned against the hatchway, "out with it, what's all this scuttlebutt going around about the captain? Spill it…look men, " Morton sat down, signaling the men to sit back down, " I'm concerned about him too. He's been…distant. As XO I'm within my rights to understand if anyone else has noticed any …unusual behavior."
Within minutes Chip was very concerned, assured the men they weren't in trouble, and went down the maze of corridors to officer's country and Lee's cabin.
Not receiving an answer to his knock at Lee's cabin door, he hesitatingly opened it a crack and peered into the dark confines.
Entering further, what Morton saw didn't encourage him. Lee was tossing and turning in his bunk, evidently in a bad dream from the groaning he heard.
Hating to wake Crane, yet knowing he had to, he gingerly touched Lee on the arm.
"NO!" Lee practically screamed, blindly belting Chip in the gut. Reeling back in surprise more than pain, he saw that Lee was still dreaming.
Reapproching, Morton started to bang on the metal bedframe. "Lee. Lee! Wake up!" But it was to no avail. Sighing, Chip reached for both of Lee's arms and held him down, shaking the twisting Crane, " Lee! Snap out of it! Wake up! You're having a nightmare! C'mon buddy, wake up!!"
Startled out of his dream, Lee awoke, incoherent for a moment, then focused on Chip still holding him down.
"Chip? What ..what is it? What's happened? What's wrong? Seaview?"
"It's okay Lee, " Chip sat on the edge of the bunk, " you were having a nightmare…okay now?"
"I, I don't remember, " Lee tried to lie, but Chip didn't let on that he knew it.
"Well, the admiral want's you to be in on the kill, so to speak, so up and at 'em. No more graveyard shift for you."
"That's silly, he doesn't need me…"
"Lee," Chip paused, " is something wrong?"
"Lee, you've been… sort of sulky ever since you came aboard, you've been unsociable to our guests, you stuck yourself on third watch for your waking hours, and you were seen scrubbing your 'head's tiles to the quick, punching the shit out of the gym equipment ,and you've barely been eating…no, you can't get out of it. My sources are beyond reproach. You can tell me Lee….what's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong!" Lee bolted from his bunk, " I'm perfectly fit! A bunch of rumors cause I needed to work off a few pounds that’s all. Nothing like a little mop and bucket duty to keep my ego down and burn some calories off. Anything else?"
"You're not going to tell me are you? No, never mind. I know when I'm licked…we're about four hours from the site. The admiral wants you on the bridge. "
"Very well, I'll be there in about 20 minutes."
"Will you eat something first?"
"Will you quit pestering me? You sound like Jaimie!"
" And I'll keep sounding like him cause you don't use the sense God gave you!…no, I won't tell Doc, but Lee, the crew is beginning to notice and they're concerned. Blast it Lee, I'm concerned, and not just cause you're the captain."
" Chip, I …look, I…if I promise to eat , will you call it quits on the mother henning? I'm perfectly alright. It's just a misunderstanding, okay?"
" I'm only concerned for a friend," Chip pouted.
"Oh, hell, Chip…look, I didn't mean it like that… I'm sorry. It's just that…Chip?"
"What is it Lee?" Morton anxiously awaited what he was sure to be a revelation as to Lee's broodiness.
"Don't let Cookie feed me any Jell-O!" Lee grinned. It was infectious, and both men were soon laughing as Chip helped Lee to get presentable for bridge duty.
"Now, the reported sightings were here and here, " Nelson showed his guests the transparency map image of the sea floor, " and Seaview will have to maneuver into this location, just above this branch of the trench, for preliminary bell investigation, but it shouldn't be too much trouble."
"Why can't divers investigate? Is it too deep?" Kira asked.
"It's not the depth that's so much of a problem, though it's just about at the maximum for standard scuba gear, that's why we're using the new depth gear," Lee approached from the radio shack, " it's the intermingling currents, strong ones, that are the real problem. Divers could easily be swept away. We have to chart the currents first so we know what we're getting into and can map out our routes of investigation. By the way, Admiral, a message just came in from Admiral Starke," Lee handed Nelson the slip of paper. " All set with your broadcast details Miss Robinson?"
"We'll be going live when you are," she grinned, "and please, it's Kira, we'll be intermixing the control room activities with our external camera views as well, Admiral Nelson's idea. Great PR. "
"Well," Mr. Jefferson leaned against the chart table, and addressed the captain, " it may be good PR but it would be better broadcasting if you'd reconsider using divers first. Perhaps you're being too cautious, or perhaps you're just not qualified to supervise the dive yourself."
Kowalski, listening in to the conversation as all the hands in the control room were, gasped audibly, as his shipmates did inwardly.
"What is it, Ski?" Crane asked softly, blatantly ignoring Jefferson's comments, as he approached Ski's sonar station.
" Uh, nothing sir, I just thought I had a big whale for a moment. It's just a bounced echo off that boulder," Ski lied, Crane knew it, and Ski knew Crane knew, and held his breath.
"Well," Crane said seriously, " keep a sharp lookout." Pausing, he grinned at Ski, and mused," It never fails to amaze me why whales seem to be interested in us." Immediately the crewman's agitation ceased, and that of the control room's crew as well.
"Mr. Jefferson," Nelson called out, after having walked over to the observation nose, " come here a moment will you?"
It was not unnoticed by all hands that Nelson closed the accordion screen doors to the observation nose after Jefferson had followed him.
"I think our guest is in the dog-house," Riley grinned.
"About right too," Ski whispered.
"What was that Ski?" Crane asked, not amused.
"Uh, nothing skipper."
"Let's keep our minds on our jobs, shall we? Carry on Chip, I'll be in the missile room to check out the bell."
Nelson poured out a jigger of rum and handed it to Mr. Jefferson.
"To what do I owe this?"
"Nothing," Nelson paused, frowning, "Mr. Jefferson, may I remind you that you are a guest aboard this submarine, and that her captain is far more qualified than any active duty submariner to command her? I would appreciate it if you would be less vocal about your personal views about my men."
" I meant no disrespect Admiral."
"Oh yes you did…don't try to deny it," Nelson took a swig of his own drink, " in fact, ever since you boarded you've been making all sorts of snide comments and insinuations against Captain Crane, and I'd like to know why."
"Oh, did he come running to you to complain about me?"
Only Nelson's long years of self discipline keep him from backhanding Jefferson. "For your information, Crane has said absolutely nothing. But his crew has. They've made numerous complaints through the chain of command, and I myself was at lunch that day when you so grossly insulted him."
"All I said, Admiral, was that he must have slept his way to the top, it's not unheard of you know, especially now that it's not against the rules."
"Affairs of the heart between service colleagues may be legal now, but it's NOT something Lee would do. I'd like you to apologize to him for your insinuations, and today's little remark as well. It takes a big man to have ignored you so diplomatically, but…I'm not a big man."
"Aren't you being a bit over-protective of him Admiral? After all, if he's such a noble man, as you seem to think, he wouldn't mind the comments, but, of course, I could be mistaken."
"Get out!" Nelson roared, red faced and furious, " Go back to your cabin! You'll be called when the expedition begins. If I even decide to keep you aboard!"
Nelson pressed the button to open the accordion doors, " Chip, Mr. Jefferson is returning to his cabin for a little respite. Miss Kensington, I must ask you to return to your cabin as well."
Jefferson snorted as he took Kira's arm and led her down and out of the control room.
"Is something wrong, Admiral?" Morton asked quietly, concerned.
"Only with my harebrained idea to have invited guests aboard this mission, especially one of them! Sparks, I'll be on the comm-link with the Geographic Society. Pipe them through to me in my cabin."
"Very good Chief," Crane emerged from the cramped diving bell, "the new components check out fine."
"Thank you sir. Have you chosen the bell's team yet?"
"Patterson's already got dibs on it. He asked for it before we even shoved off. What is it Chief? " Crane noticed Sharkey's disappointment.
"Well, you gotta have me too, Pat…well, he daydreams sometimes, and well, you need me to keep him in line. I won't fall asleep on my keester."
"Chief, really…if I didn't know you any better, I'd say you were jealous."
"Me sir? Okay okay. I guess I am, maybe, but I sure would like to go."
"I'll see if the admiral can use an extra hand, but he'll have the last word, all-right?"
"Aye sir!" Sharkey replied in gratitude. His skipper always knew the right thing to do!
"Captain, report to my cabin." Nelson's voice boomed over the PA.
"Be right there sir, " Lee answered on a mike.
"Lee, " Nelson motioned Crane to enter the cabin, " I've decided to give the mission to the geographic society."
"What? Whatever for?" Lee sat on the edge of Nelson's desk.
"Prep the flying sub and have someone take our reporters home, will you?"
"You haven't answered my question."
"Blast it Lee, I'm entitled to do what I want without answering to you or anyone else aboard this ship, sorry, boat," Nelson knocked on a piece of wood, kept on his desk for just such a purpose. While all submarines were termed 'boats', Nelson often referred to Seaview as a 'ship', a definite 'no-no' in naval circles.
"Anyone would think you're superstitious. Knocking on wood aside, Admiral, what's going on? Please tell me."
"I'm sorry Lee, it's a personal matter…besides, I thought you weren't exactly pleased with the assignment."
"Very well, sir, " Lee rose, not rising to the bait to explain his own misgivings, " I'll see to the arrangements right away."
"It's for the best, believe me."
"I'd trust you with my life, sir, " Lee smiled and exited, unaware that his normally infectious smile only added to Nelson's desire to get home.
"This is outrageous! Breach of contract, that's what it is!" Mr. Jefferson stormed into the control room. "What's the matter Admiral? Crane talked you out of it didn't he, chickened out didn't he? I was right about him being a brown noser!"
"That's enough!!" Nelson retorted, seething, as practically every man in the control immediately stood at their stations, enraged. " I've had enough of your snide comments! " Nelson continued, "you will be taken back to the States as soon as the flying sub is ready."
"Admiral, " Lee emerged from the flying sub, oblivious to the commotion, " the flying sub won't be operational for about an hour, and that hurricane topside will necessitate a hop-jump, so it may be more practical just to return to port."
"And what, prey tell, is a hop-jump!?" Jefferson asked.
"A hop-jump, Jefferson," Nelson answered, "is simply sailing FS1 underwater till she's out from under the hurricane's inner bands. Then she can launch into the air safely and fly over the hurricane if it's in her path. Or, " Nelson paused for effect, " as Lee has usually preferred, to launch up right through the eye of the storm in a vertical lift off."
"Sure, Admiral," Jefferson glared, " and I'm the Queen of England!"
"George!" exclaimed Kira.
"It is a bit dangerous," Crane admitted, " but it does work. Unfortunately, waiting to hop-jump takes time…Admiral, with your permission, we might as well carry on…it would only take a few days off of the time it takes to return to port…."
"I'm afraid not, Lee," Nelson said sternly, " flank speed to the nearest port."
"What possible valid reason can you give me for this change of plans?" Jefferson sneered at Nelson, " or was I correct in my assumption?"
"That, Mr. Jefferson, is none of your business."
"Humph!" Jefferson snorted," well, either I was correct ,or, perhaps, sir, the government's butting in, isn't it? They want a piece of the action! Beauracacy! I should have known!"
"Well," Kira sighed, " at least we get a ringside view the way home."
"I'm afraid not," Nelson answered, "I'd prefer you remain in your cabins. I'm sorry, I can't go into details. To your quarters, please…. Lee, push her to the max. I'm going to my cabin."
"Aye sir," Lee answered, still confused, as Nelson departed, in effect practically shooing his guests out of the control room.
"What," Chip whispered, " is this all about?"
"I have no idea," Lee answered softly, "…Chip, he won't confide in me… so, it's either something Top Secret that's come up, or it's his own prerogative…we'll just have to wait and see… is the atmosphere in here rather tense or did I miss something?"
"Uh, just some fireworks, Lee. Just some fireworks. Honest. Uh, well, not exactly, Jefferson said some pretty ugly things."
"About the admiral!??"
"About you. Really nasty."
"What else is new, " Lee sighed.
"Aren't you mad!?"
"What good would it do?… I'm sorry about all of this Chip…."
"What have you to be sorry about? I tell you Lee, Jefferson's going to be shoved into sickbay with multiple areas of bodily harm if he doesn't clam up. Why's he so against you?"
"Every man's entitled to his opinions. Chip, just leave him alone. He's a guest aboard, after all. Okay?"
"Uh, okay Lee, if you say so. It might be more difficult to convince the crew, though."
"You'll see to it though, won't you?"
"Count on me, buddy."
Nelson fingered the map of the supposed archeological area and whispered, "Damn!" His thoughts were interrupted by a soft knock.
"In," he said without emotion.
"Have a few minuets?" Lee asked as he entered.
"Of course, Lee, please, sit down, tomato juice?" he popped a small can open, " Doc insisted I drink something a bit more nutritious than coffee and rehyrated lightening bolts."
"Care to talk about it?"
"No! I mean, no, I'd really rather not…."
"It was about me, wasn't it…. Chip didn't say what exactly, but I can guess. Jefferson's made a few uh, unsavory comments about me, hasn't he?"
"That man has a mind from a cesspool and a tongue from a sewer!" he suddenly chuckled, " actually they're the same things aren't they?"
"That's not why you're aborting is it?" Lee asked gently.
"Lee… you don't deserve all this, this… aggravation! I won't have that man belittling you at every opportunity!" Nelson paused, and added, softly, " you deserve praise, not defamation."
"Admiral… Look at me…if I.." Lee, long practiced at swallowing his pride, spoke quietly, "if I don't mind it, why should you?" Lee fibbed, then continued," he's a guest, a reporter, we're right on top of a possible find of the century…it won't do you any good to put personal feelings above the opportunity."
"Well, it's long past time that I did!"
"I thought,"Lee almost whispered, "we were above letting emotions get in the way of duty or opportunity… but it's your call ," he paused, then continued, ardent, " don't let Seaview get a bum rap because our feelings were hurt…that's what they'll say, you know, if not in print, in rumor. And rumors can be devastating…he can do it too…right now I gather he thinks Washington's behind the abort, the whole crew does, but if he finds out its not, please sir, for Seaview's sake? Reconsider?"
Nelson looked at Lee in a mixture of pride and annoyance, and with a grunt acquiesced. "All-right, all-right, you win…any suggestions about how to keep our guest's trap shut?"
"Jefferson won't stop flinging his barbs against you…."
"Don't worry, admiral, I have a pretty tough hide," Lee grinned.
"Ah, but does the crew? They're taking it personally, Lee. They don't like their skipper to be insulted. And neither do I ."
"Then you'll all just have to get used to it…for a few days anyway…I'll make the arrangements…I'll let you know when we're at the coordinates."
"Man-o-man," Kowalski speared a chunk of meatloaf, " we finally get rid of him, then the old old man changes his mind again, and now we gotta put up with him till this expedition stuff is over…I wonder if the skip knows just what Mr. J.'s been saying."
"Of course the Captain knows you knothead," Sharkey gulped his coffee, " skipper's got 360 degree vision and stereo hearing when it comes to anything happening on his boat! What he don't see or hear he just sort of figures out…and maybe Mr. Morton or the Admiral told him ."
"Well, " Cookie sat down at the communal table, "I don't know. The skipper'd just left the Admiral's cabin when the boss pipes over the 'resume the mission, Mr. Morton'." Cookie took a popover and mused, " seems to me the skipper must've had a little talk with the Admiral and changed his mind. So the skip can't be too upset about Mr. J, or he doesn't know all the scoop, or else…."
" Or else what Cookie?" Riley asked.
" Or else he's a bigger man than we realized."
The grunts of approval went roundabout the crew's mess, to their deep satisfaction. ***
" Really George!" Kira scolded, as she brushed her hair, in her adjoining cabin, the 'tween door open, " you been acting like a big bully! You're supposed to be a first class reporter, not a big guy on campus out for blood!"
"I meant every word I said! I've told you everything. It's true."
"Yes, yes, but not out loud! Does it really make any difference? Crane is the captain of the Seaview, and I certainly haven't seen anything you seem to be so sure of."
"There's only one way he could have possibly gotten command, and the sooner he looses it the better!"
"Well, do what you have to, but don't include me. Crane's nice."
"That's the whole problem my dear. He's way too nice. Now, come to bed and make me happy."
"We'll be at the ruins in a few hours!"
"It won't take me that long sweetie."
"No. I don't feel like it."
"I told you to come to bed!" he grabbed her arm tightly.
"Will the reporters please report to the observation nose, " blared the PA system.We'll pick up the moment later," Jefferson leered, " but remember sweetie, it would be a shame to loose your lucrative position. And I always get what I want."
"Everything shipshape Chief?" Crane entered the missile room, and observed the final preparations to the diving bell.
"Yes sir!" Sharkey emerged from the bell, " Pat and me'll have her down there and back in no time! And…thank you skipper."
"Why Chief, how could I possibly let the bell leave the boat without you, " he chuckled. "We'll be there in about forty minutes. Why not get a cup of 'joe' and warm up a bit. It's liable to be a bit chilly on the dive. Patterson, you too."
"Aye aye skipper!"
"Kowalski," Crane continued, "is everything synchronized for the live broadcast?"
"Yes sir, Patterson saw to it personally, and checked everything out with the reporters, Pat's…well," Ski grinned sheepishly, " a bit more versed in it than I am, family business and all …."
"Oh, that's right, well, I'm sure the viewers will get a fine view of and from the bell."
"Uh, skipper, uh, it's a bit strange the Admiral giving the okay for the TV coverage isn't it? …I gotta' tell you skipper, I'm not all that gung ho about everybody watching us here and in the control room either…."
"I'm sure the Admiral has his reasons, Ski, and it was part of the agreement… we can handle it I'm sure."
"Yes sir," Ski smiled, " if you say so…but…."
"But?" Lee cocked an eyebrow, but it wasn't part of his 'command' look, just an 'interested' one.
"Well, just between you and me skipper," Ski looked around almost conspiratorially, " I sure would be a lot happier if the Admiral had gotten a different TV team."
"What's the matter, Ski, I thought you liked pretty girls," Crane grinned.
"Oh, it's not the dame! She's a real knockout, just…well, Mr. Morton's kinda' got the edge on her, that is if he decides to really go after her…it's the guy, Jefferson. He gives me the 'willies', he gives everybody the 'willies', he's…well…let's face it skipper, he's a creep! Always bad-mouthing everyone and everything, Seaview, even you sir!"
Crane was still. "We'll just have to ignore it," he sighed, "okay Ski?" he asked gently.
"Okay skipper, we'll forget about it, you have my word on it."
"That's good enough for me…well, you'd better clean up a bit, if you want to impress girls back home, " Crane winked and departed.
Kira cleared her throat and Jefferson punched a button on their broadcast console…the live coverage began….
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We're coming to you live from the submarine Seaview. As you can see directly behind us, the great observation window on the fabulous undersea world that is her domain. As you may know, we are here to bring you coverage of Admiral Nelson's expedition to explore the many reports of a possible ancient ruin. Admiral?"
Nelson, nodded to his invisible audience, " There's been talk of Atlantis, or even hallucinations in the area known as the Bermuda Triangle, and there is an area which indeed looks like paving stones…however, some such other sites have proven to be mearly geophysical structures. We will attempt to find out if this site is such an area or if indeed it's an archeological find."
"We will now go the missile room, " Jefferson spoke, punching a few more buttons, "where two crewmen are preparing to descend into the area in a diving bell, but not before stopping in the control room, nerve center of the submarine. Can you tell us what is going on Admiral?"
"Commander Morton, our executive officer is checking computer printouts and Captain Crane is conferring with the missile room with preparations for the launch."
"I only see a silver oak leaf on Crane's collar, is he a captain or isn't he?"
"Crane is a full commander by rank in the Naval Reserve," Nelson hid his smoldering anger at the implied slight on Lee, " but is Captain by position aboard Seaview."
" Why doesn't Seaview have a full captain by rank? After all, if she's such an important vessel, I'd at least think you'd have hired a suitably important and experienced captain."
"I'm sure that…" Kira interrupted, but was stopped by a wave of Nelson's hand. If Jefferson was going to belittle Crane on the air, Nelson was ready for the battle.
"Lee was drafted to Seaview. Captain Phillips, also a commander by rank, had been murdered just before a special assignment. We needed a replacement. The best sub captain the Navy had. Crane. And I must say," Nelson mused," though I can't reveal all the classified details, Mr. Jefferson," Nelson paused for effect, " you , myself, the world's population in fact, owe our very lives to the command abilities and heroism of Seaview's skipper… several times over…now lets get back to present and the diving bell, shall we…Lee? Are we all set?" Nelson called out, almost cheerfully.
The initial mapping of the undersea currents was not as spectacular as the reporters had wished. In fact they were finding it rather boring . Despite Seaview's exterior cameras, the diving bell's and the interior TV linkups, watching a diving bell lowered, raised and lowered and raised as Seaview positioned herself at various locations got 'old' after a while. Though lights helped to illuminate the depths, there was no sign of any ruin while the bell, bumped and tossed around, took readings of the harsh currents and terrain in and around the area.
To keep viewers interested, the TV team intermixed other aspects of the mission, from a brief tour of Seaview with Morton, glimpses of the control and missile room, and 'interviews' with her crew.
"So, Seaman Kowalski," Kira asked, in the Crew's mess, " you actually have several different jobs aboard?"
"Well, uh, yes ma'am. Sometimes I'm at sonar, sometimes fathometer, missile room, lab, " Ski waved his hand," oh, anywhere they send me."
"Do you like living in a 'glorified' cigar tube, I think they call it?" she laughed, as she kept steering Kowalski to face the TV tie- in on the monitor.
"Ah, heck, I mean, uh, Seaview's a great boat to work on! Nothing like a regular sub! I mean, I thought the Navy's were good, but Seaview's in a class by herself!"
"How so? I do understand she's a research submarine, but I also know she's often 'drafted' for government work."
"Well, for one thing, it's sure never boring!" Ski flashed a devastatingly handsome smile. "And the guys are all pals, and well, we got the best officers a boat could have, and then there's the Admiral himself…I mean, he's really something! Nobel Prize winner, scientist, and submariner…and he actually owns the boat! Now that's something! And the Skipper and Mr. Morton, and O'Brian, and Sparks, and the chief, and Patterson and Riley and…"
"Yes, yes," Kira interrupted his enthusiastic roll call, "as good as the food is, most is reconstituted from powdered and dried mixes; do you miss anything in particular?"
"The only thing he misses is girl watching," Riley interrupted, off screen, to the chuckles of the various gathered crewmen, causing Ski to flush a bit.
"Oh dear, I suppose I shouldn't be here at all, then, " she grinned to the laughter and back-slapping of her live audience.
"Kira," Mr. Jefferson's voice came over the PA, " they're bringing up the diving bell now, and Admiral Nelson wishes to make an announcement."
" Well Ladies and gentlemen, let's go back to the observation nose." Kira directed her statement to the monitor waiting for a light to blink before sighing, " Well, guys, it's been fun, but duty calls."
"Ain't it the truth," one of the crewmen interjected.
Crane was examining a transparency at the plot table with Nelson when Kira entered the control room and went immediately to Jefferson's console. They were still 'on the air'.
"What's going on?" she asked Jefferson.
"The captain says they've found something…the admiral's making sure."
If Crane heard the remark he made no recognition of either reporters nor camera and worked out a few figures with his grease pencil on the transparency, to Nelson's audible grunt of satisfaction.
Turning to the reporters, Nelson smiled, " Well, the infra-red and sonargrams have shown us something very interesting indeed…looks like we may have found an actual building, or possibly a cave… the pillow stones may or may not be geophysical…look here, " Nelson stepped forward to the console and laid down the transparency. "It's very doubtful such even structures could be natural…we'll be sending out a diving team after the current's have been configured…rather dark at these depths, but we'll be using special night-vision and pressure diving gear… you'll be able to see exactly what the divers see. Ever done any undersea archeology Mr. Jefferson, Miss Kensington? Fascinating, really."
"Who will be going on the dive, admiral," Kira asked.
"That's up to the captain… Lee?"
"Kowalski, Riley, and Baker."
"I thought all divers had to have a buddy," Jefferson said, " you seem to be missing one or your arithmetic is incorrect."
"Not at all Mr. Jefferson," Lee made light of the comment, " I'm going along."
The TV-tie in showed the divers' preparations, as the Chief held his tongue toward the 'intruders' in his missile room. He let Commander Morton make any necessary explanations for the viewers. Equipment and gear was double checked, and the divers themselves made their own inspections, to the chagrin of Mr. Jefferson.
"Seems a lot of excessive checking captain," Jefferson spoke, " don't you trust your crew?"
"Absolutely. However, it would be lax of me not to follow standard operating procedures. I'm sure the Admiral has explained them all to you… you have diving experience Mr. Jefferson, and I'd certainly invite you along, however, we'll be using newly developed pressure gear. It takes a while to get used to it…if you like, and if we actually find something, we can train you in its use for another dive. How about it?" Crane asked amicably.
"You're on captain," Jefferson replied with an undercurrent of a dare, not unnoticed by the crew.
"Well, then let's hope it's really a building down there…okay Chief," Lee led the divers into the diving hatch.
Viewers watched as the little ball floated on top of the column of water beside the hatch, indicating it's being flooded to allow for the men to emerge from the boat, and were quickly switched to the Seaview's camera's and then to the diver's, atop their headpieces.
"How's it going Lee?" Nelson's voice came over the air waves.
"Awkward," Lee said with humor, " this headlight on my head makes me feel like a truck! The ropes are secure. On our way."
As much as the divers used caution and tried to avoid some of the mapped currents, it was inevitable that they proceeded with some difficulty, in spite of the safety lines to Seaview. Finally they arrived at the site. To the night-vision cameras, all that could be seen were rocks and sand. The divers began their task of chipping off bits of rock and 'vacuuming' sand into containers for the admiral to examine.
Another boring half hour for Jefferson's broadcast.Ratings would be dreadful as viewers switched channels. "Admiral," Jefferson asked, " this looks time consuming, can't you just set off a little blast? Then you'd see right away if it's a building."
"Yes, but we'd loose valuable information in the process. I'd like to preserve any artifact, not destroy it just to prove it's there…besides, we should have a pretty good idea after we examine the samples."
"You'll know right away?"
"Perhaps, that's what this expedition is all about, exploration of the unknown…getting bored?" Nelson grinned to himself. Bingo!, " Ahh, the divers are coming back in."
Switching to the Missile room, viewers were greeted with the sight of the moist divers stripping off their wet suits to the swimwear beneath.
"Tell me," an interested Kira asked, " are those regulation swim trunks?"
Lee laughed as he toweled his hair, " better actually…though I can't say I prefer the institute's choice of color. Neon orange does nothing for me!"
But the spandex sure does, thought Kira in a private moment of delight.
"Miss Kensington, Mr. Jefferson, here, look at this," an excited Nelson exclaimed, turning over small objects in his hands, " these are definitely man-made carvings. Amazing. Almost Egyptian in design."
" Egyptian!?" Crane came over to look with the group."In the Bermuda Triangle?"
" We can't be certain yet, however, they do bear a likeness. Lee, contact the Smithsonian Institute and the Egyptian authorities, I think they should have Reps here."
"Right away sir, " Lee departed.
"Fascinating," Nelson repeated as he examined one of the carvings.
"Looks like a cockroach," Chief Sharkey said in distaste.
"Mmmm. Or a relative…we won't be certain till it's cleaned up, but it looks like a scarab."
"What's a scarab?" Kira asked.
"An ancient amulet. Considered sacred, it was supposed to have magical powers. The design was based on the deltochilum species…or the common dung beetle. The real insects are rather interesting as well. Can survive the desert sands when little else can…I'm going to the lab…we'll examine all these bits and pieces further…coming Mr. Jefferson, Miss Kensington?
Lee was in his cabin, writing an entry in the Captain's Log, when Chip entered from the open door.
"Interrupting anything skipper?"
"Oh, just my sanity," Lee laughed. " How is the broadcast going? I hope they put in bathroom breaks for the viewers…if anyone's watching."
"They've closed up for the night. All set for when our dignitaries get here tomorrow on the flying sub though. Seems the cable has 'reserved' air time just for Mr. Jefferson. Lee, about Mr. Jefferson, uh, do you really think he and Kira are an item?"
"Isn't it obvious?"
"Well, now that you mention it, no. She's not exactly cooing or acting like his girlfriend…I was wondering…I mean I've haven't approached her, outside of duty, but…"
"It's your funeral, Chip."
"I thought you liked her!"
"Chip, it's not her…she's a nice girl…but…"
"Jefferson doesn't own her you know. She can make up her own mind."
Can she? Thought Lee regretfully, " Okay Chip, if you're after it, you have my official permission as captain to pursue the girl, and my butting out of it as your friend, okay?"
"Okay," Chip sat on Lee's bunk. "What do you think about all this Egyptian mumbo jumbo?"
"I learned a long time ago that it's best not ask for explanations while serving aboard Seaview," Lee grinned, then serious, " I have to admit, I'm uneasy…you know we had a run in with a certain other Egyptian artifact which I'd really rather forget, and well, Chip, other weird unexplainable things have happened in the Bermuda Triangle. It could all be connected somehow."
"And to top it all off, we have two interfering busybodies in the guise of TV reporters."
"You said that, not me…Kira's no busybody, I just don't like being on camera all the time. It's a bit unnerving. Never knowing if our loyal viewers will spot me picking my nose or scratching my uh, well more important men than us have been caught on tape!"
"I know what you mean!" Chip guffawed, " well, goodnight Lee, see you in the morning, oh, by the way, we've started to get some feedback from the viewers…they just loved your swim trunks!"
Lee rolled his eyes heavenward and suddenly yawned.
"Well, I'd better let you finish up the log and get to bed, nite skipper."
"Well," Jefferson yawned, slipping into his bunk, " that was clever, my dear, making a mockery of Crane's swimwear…whatever possessed you?"
"But I liked it!… George, that scarab could be worth millions, zillions even, and that's just for starts! Magical! Can you imagine!"
"I have something a bit more tangible in mind," he patted the bunk.
"Really, is that all you can think about? Anyone would think you owned me."
But I do my dear, I do, his thoughts left nothing to the imagination, as he smirked.
Any further comments were stilled as there was a knock on Kira's cabin door. She quickly went through the 'tween door and closed it, to answer the summons.
"Uh, hello Commander, is something wrong?"
"No, nothing, I just thought I'd ask you if you'd like that special diving lesson tomorrow before further explorations…and…uh…if you'd care to join me for breakfast afterwards."
"Why, I'd be delighted, but I uh…" she looked somewhat furtive. "No, I'm sorry."
"Oh, okay, goodnight."
She said nothing further as Chip retreated, confused.
"I'm telling you sir," Chip mused, his fork halfway to his mouth, "something's wrong. She was really open to the idea at first then suddenly changed her mind."
"A woman's prerogative, Chip," Nelson replied, " has been the curse the male of the species has had to live with since time began."
"I don't know sir, oh, hi Lee," Chip called out as Crane entered the wardroom, " I was just telling the admiral something and I'd like your opinion too."
"Seems he was rejected, " Nelson grinned.
"What's this about Chip?" Lee asked as he sat, not at all in the same bantering mood the admiral was in.
"Kira. I asked her if she'd like that scuba lesson and breakfast with me, and at first she was really enthusiastic, then suddenly she changed her mind…she was…well… almost furtive."
"Chip…where were you when you asked her?" Lee asked.
"Huh? What difference would that make?"
"Oh, you'd be surprised…"
"I went to her cabin after I said good nite to you…what is it Lee, what's wrong?"
"Was the 'tween door closed?"
"What's that got to do with anything, unless you mean they…Lee! You can't be serious!"
"Chip…listen to me…Jefferson has…influence…perhaps too much. Over her…."
"I hardly think she'd be having a fling with that old coot!"
"That’s' not what I said. I think she was scared."
"Wait," Nelson interjected, " Lee, why on earth should she be scared of her colleague?"
"Admiral, Jefferson's got…power. Sometimes it makes a man possessive."
"I can't believe this conversation" Nelson replied, "…Lee I know you may not like the man, none of us do, but I can't believe a grown woman would allow him keep her from seeing whomever she likes."
"Unless she's afraid of him, is that what you mean Lee?" Chip asked. "Why should she be afraid of him?"
"Chip, I don't know all the answers, I'm just trying to let you know that I don't think Kira turned you down because she wanted to."
"You know something you're not telling us?" Nelson asked, beginning to become concerned.
"No, not at all. Excuse me," Lee suddenly rose and departed.
"He's lying, " Chip said.
"I know," mused Nelson, thinking better of continuing the conversation, "Chip, Cookie's going to be upset that Lee's skipped out on breakfast again…make sure you soothe the ruffled feathers okay?"
"Aye sir…join me?" Chip grinned and scooped some of Lee's uneaten food onto his plate as Nelson did the same.
"Miss Kensington, may I see you a moment?" Crane asked, just after he'd come down the spiral steps in the nose and closed off access to the control room with the accordion doors.
"Certainly Captain…is there a problem?"
"I'm afraid so…" Lee found it hard to face her, and walked toward the windows as he spoke, " I really don't know how to begin…I just want you to know that you don't have to worry about taking Chip up on his offer if you'd like…in spite of anyone else aboard."
"Whatever are you talking about?"
"You know what I mean," he spoke softly as he turned to face her.
"No I don't…"
"Please don't be afraid of me too," he touched her arm gently. " I know all about Mr. Jefferson's little ploys…and he's not in charge here. I am…Kira, please, don't let him destroy you…you have your whole life ahead of you…and…."
"I don't know what you mean! Leave me alone!" she raced up the spiral steps in tears.
Lee sighed, and picked up the mike, " Mr. Jefferson, please come to the observation nose." Lee went to the sideboard and poured himself a little courage, or rather a small glass of Nelson's vintage stock of family rum. It was unlike him to need the help, but it gave him a feeling of security for the coming battle.
Within minutes the accordion doors began to open from the observation nose and an irate Jefferson stormed through to the control room to the corridor beyond, bumping into the just arriving Nelson.
"Whoa, you need a collision alarm, " Nelson said in good humor.
"I'm sure the captain will be happy to oblige! Tell me Nelson, how on earth do you put up with the sonofabitch!?" Jefferson squeezed past.
Nelson exchanged looks with O'Brian who raised his hands in confusion. No-one in the control room had heard anything through the soundproofing. But all had heard the profanity just offered. Nelson motioned O'Brian to stay on watch and slowly moved forward just as Crane emerged from the observation nose, moving to the plot table. Most of his crewmen only saw their captain at one of his numerous jobs but Nelson could see that he was holding the table for support.
"I take it you and Mr. Jefferson had an altercation?" Nelson asked softly.
"Oh, there you are admiral, " Lee hadn't even noticed Nelson, and called out, " Sparks check on when our dignitaries from the Department of Antiquities will be arriving will you? I'll be in my cabin."
"Lee…"Nelson whispered, " what's wrong?"
"Whatever could possibly be wrong," Lee replied in undisguised bitterness, "no, Admiral, nothing's wrong. Everything's going according to plan. Everything," he repeated disgustedly.
"O'Brian, carry on," Nelson ordered, taking Lee's arm, " the Captain and I have mission details to discuss."
The two men walked the length of the boat toward officer's country. Crane hadn't said a word, and was moving at a rather faster than normal pace. An angry pace. Nelson had an almost difficult time keeping up.
"Lee, wait up will you? Whew, am I ever out of shape…Lee, please," he added as they approached the Captain's cabin.
Nelson's plea got through to Crane and he stopped, just after opening the door, turning to face Nelson. Waiting.
"You used to confide in me," Nelson said almost pouting, as he entered the cabin.
"It's not important."
"Not important?" the Admiral eased himself into Crane's 'guest' chair, " Jefferson had fire in his eyes! And…wait a moment, let me see that…is that a bruise forming on your face, Lee?…alright, out with it."
"We had words, that's all," Lee grabbed a towel and ran it under some water in his head's sink.
"I told him," Lee said, patting his left cheek with the wet cloth, " to leave Miss Kensignton alone, that's all."
"You don't lie very well Lee…no…I can see it would take more than an order to make you talk…just let's get this mission over with no further problems shall we?"
"Shouldn't be any. Miss Kensignton's being moved to another cabin."
"Did she ask to be moved?"
"With the Egyptian and Smithsonian Reps coming aboard, it's going to be crowded. I arranged for her to be moved to the Cubbyhole… it should already be accomplished."
"The Cubbyhole! Lee, it's an old storeroom!"
"It's far more private, clean, and has adequate facilities for overflow guests."
"We have more than enough guest cabins and it's on another deck…I'd like an explanation Lee."
Lee sat and brooded, "She needs the space, sir…it hasn't been easy for her being stuck so close to…her companion," he almost grimaced.
"I thought they enjoyed each other's company," Nelson mused.
Oh, there's no doubt he enjoyed it, Lee thought.
"Man, I'm whacked," Ski groaned as he tried to ease his sore muscles, " all those experts aboard, but we get stuck with all the hard work. If I have to chip away one more bit of rock , I'm asking the skipper to send me home."
"Get in line," Riley added, stripping off his wet suit, and glancing at the new pile of 'debris' that had been hauled aboard.
"What's the matter, you knotheads ain't up to it?" Sharkey asked.
"NO!" both Ski and Riley replied in unison.
"Hey Chief, " Ski asked hesitantly, " what's the scoop on that scaraby thing? Is it for real?"
"Real? You bet it's real! That Egyptologist lady nearly went bonkers, and the tests they all did on it proved it's from way back, not a copy or anything like that…the admiral's really impressed, but he still doesn't think there's a buried pyramid or royal tomb out there, like she thinks."
"But my dear," Nelson said as he examined the scarab in the lab," it could simply be coincidence. This little stone bug could have simply fallen overboard from a rich antique collector."
"And landed precisely underneath those paving stones?"
"Certainly, if they're geophysical, the lava would have simply flowed over and hardened."
"Then you're not really sure?"
"Not at all, Kitty, not at all. I admit, some of the paving stones looks man made, but there's no actual evidence, no chip marks, etcetera. The man in me wants to believe they're part of human efforts, but the scientist in me can't. We need more time, and I'm afraid Seaview does have other obligations…"
"I've missed you, and you haven't said a word, outside of duty and ordering your men around."
"Well, I, uh, have obligations too, and one of them is maintaining a certain decorum and…." What Nelson was going to say was lost in their embrace as the scarab fell from his hands.
"So," Morton told Kira in the nose, "it's all been arranged, and okayed by Mr. Ali here of the Cairo Department of Antiquities, you'll be able to continue your broadcasts as necessary."
"My government is very grateful for your continued involvement Miss Kensington. " Mr. Ali nodded.
"The more we broadcast boring details" Mr. Jefferson descended the spiral steps, " the more our ratings drop, you know that Kira, we'll wait for more interesting discoveries. By the way, how do you like your new quarters? I understand the captain took it upon himself to rearrange our accommodations…and placed yours off limits to all hands and passengers…did he place a guard at your door as well? Are you too much a distracting influence?"
"I can see the captain's wisdom in the move." Mr. Ali said graciously.
So can I, thought Chip, as she flushed briefly, flattered with the falsehood. ..
"Now if you will excuse me," Mr. Ali rose, " I am tired from the flight. I will see you at dinner."
Crane was about to knock on the lab door, when he was approached by Mr. Ali.
"Captain, I am going to my cabin to rest. When should I come to dinner?"
"Oh, Mr. Ali, whenever you like. The wardroom is always open, though the senior officers would like you to join us at 1800, six PM, if you'd feel up to it…"
"I will be there…tell me captain…are you of Egyptian heritage? You look very much like my grandmother."
"Well, uh, " Lee laughed, " I really don't know…maybe…we're kind of mixed up a lot in the states…"
"Perhaps your parents' could tell you?"
"No, I'm afraid not…I was adopted."
"Ahh. A child of the stars then."
"What?" Lee asked, confused.
"A child who has no parents is still a child. The Earth therefore, is your mother, and the Sky your father…until the truth is revealed in eternity….Until tonight then," Mr. Ali nodded to Crane and departed.
A giggle permeated from the lab, followed by a laugh which could only be Nelson's. Lee decided not to intrude and departed toward the missile room.
"Hey skipper!" Riley grinned as Crane entered the artifact 'sifting' area in the missile room.
"Riley, good dive…any luck?"
"Nah. Just a bunch of grit and rock."
"Appears to be…" Lee roamed his hands over the large square sieves. "I'm wondering if we're going about this in the wrong way…I'd like to use a lazer."
"But the admiral…" Kowalski interjected.
"Not Seaview's lazer, one of the hand held lazer guns…. It's worth a try at least…and we can rig one of the sonarcams through the monitor , even the infa red equipment…anything's better than being a giant sand sifter."
"Then the admiral's decided the paving stones aren't natural?" Riley asked.
"Actually he's still undecided," Crane began to strip away his shirt…"any volunteers to go along this trip?"
"Just give me a minute to go to the head and I'll be right with you skipper, if it's okay with you?" Riley hurried to the small facility not really expecting a negative response.
"It's fine with me, how about you Kowalski? Want to earn an extra shoreleave point? I know you've been putting in more time than anyone else on these dives and deserve a break, but I could really use you."
"No sweat, skipper," Kowalski began to reapply the scuba suit he'd just peeled off, regretting his fib to the captain. But there was no way on earth he'd turn him down. Shoreleave points or not. " What about a fourth skipper?"
"We are supposed to aren't we," Lee grinned…"pick someone."
"Hey Chief!" Ski spoke into a mike gleefully, " gotta little assignment for you…Skipper says."
By the time Nelson had emerged from his 'scientific studies' in the lab, Crane's special diving team had been at it for over an hour. Morton was monitoring from many control room camera tie-ins and both Nelson and Mr. Ali had been urgently summoned.
"What is going on?" Mr. Ali asked, " I thought there would be no more dives till morning."
"Chip? " a slightly disheveled Nelson asked, followed by an equally flushed Mrs.Canoli.
"Lee's taken out a special dive…he's got sonarcam and infrared tie-ins. They've been using lazer guns. He just told me to get you both." Morton adjusted the monitor dials so all could have a look.
"Yes sir." Chip took the mike, " Lee, I have Mr. Ali and the admiral."
" Hang on a minute…that's it Ski. There Riley…okay. Admiral? We found a cave. Or something that looks like it could be a cave entrance…or it could be a tunnel. We don't know but look at this, there Riley, right on that carving. See it Admiral?"
"A cartouche!" Nelson exclaimed, " Mr. Ali?"
"Can you enlarge it?"
"Certainly, a moment Lee," Nelson fiddled with a few knobs, " we're magnifying the image for Mr. Ali…there…"
"Oh, the discovery of the ages! Yes, yes! You must understand that the hieroglyphs are both imagery and language…it will take a few moments and there is more hidden under the growths…but it is ancient Egyptian!"
"Can you understand any of it?" Lee asked.
"Let's see, 'illumination …something…Alexandria…something…scrolls…that's all I can see right now. Will you be cutting it out and bringing it aboard?"
"Actually, I thought we'd take a stroll inside…better get the Kira to the control room too, just in case…Ski's got the mini-cam on his gear…okay, let's go."
It was with some trepidation that Nelson watched his shipmates disappear into the opening, switching to Ski's mini-camera's view of their progress inside the enveloping darkness. It was murky, mud like, as flakes of dirt reflected the strong 'headlight's beam.
"Miss Kensington, this is exciting isn't it," Mr. Ali commented as she set up a special broadcast in the crowded control room.
"Yes," Mr. Jefferson interrupted as he hovered, " why wasn't I called?"
"I don't know…it doesn't matter…look…"
The world, or at least to the world with TV cable who happened to be tuned or flipping channels, were able to see from the diver's point of view the tunnel the men were now emerging from, still underwater.
"Mr. Ali, Admiral, any ideas?" Crane's voice was heard, as he stopped before a stone boulder . Greatly decayed and covered in slime, any painted hieroglyphs were long since destroyed. But the flattened gold inlays used in the carvings were not. This was no natural phenomenon. "It seems to be a door of some kind," Lee said as he ran his hands about the edges.
"Be careful Lee, you have no idea what could be behind it." Nelson warned.
The men began to pry the rough door open as the mud and bubbles obscured the view.
Lee led the men into the deeper cavern, "There's another door, Admiral, up there, look, it's above us…"
"It looks like solid gold!" Riley exclaimed as the divers swam underneath it examining it for a way to open it.
"Wait!!" Ali urged. "There's a warning on it!"
"Well," Crane asked, " what does it say?"
"A moment, please,"Ali said, " I need to see all of the engravings! There could be a curse against disturbing it."
"Mr. Ali, you can't be serious!" Nelson responded, " as a man of science I can't believe you'd give any credence to such a thought."
"Ah, but admiral, as a man of science you of all people should be aware that fiction often has a basis in fact…now there…look at that…three separate warnings…'a curse… upon he who renders… power without knowledge…a curse upon the raider… of my tomb…a curse upon me'…that makes no sense…Captain, please, do not proceed further. We must decide how to appease such warnings before going further. I will contact the authorities in Cairo."
"But Mr. Ali!!" Crane couldn’t hide the exasperation in his voice, " we're right here! You can't believe in a bunch of hocus pocus!"
"Captain, as an Egyptologist I can't afford not to give it serious thought! Remember Howard Carter!"
"Admiral, you're not going to let a few coincidences keep us from…."
"Skipper!Look out!" Riley said, as an electric eel swam past.
"Lee," Nelson said with regret, " I'm afraid it's Mr. Ali's ball park…come on back to Seaview."
"But Harry!" Lee appealed.
"That's an order Captain," Nelson commanded, realizing just how upset Lee really was. Crane had only used Nelson's given name in times of extreme emotion, and very rarely at that.
"Well, Mr. Ali showed him!" Jefferson whispered almost gleefully as Kira pulled the broadcast links.
"George, leave it alone."
"Mr. Jefferson," Ali approached, " perhaps you and your lovely colleague would like to help me with our closer examination of the video…."
"I'd love to," Kira nodded.
"I have other business to attend to just now, thanks anyway." Jefferson strode away.
Lee heaved his special equipment off as he dripped on the special mat in front of the missile room escape hatch.
"Skipper," Riley asked, " you really think there's a curse on that place?"
"Only in Mr. Ali's imagination, but he's the boss of this show, so…"
"Why didn't you just ignore him captain?" Jefferson intruded into the missile room, " you're supposed to be the captain. The buck stops with you doesn't it? Or has Ali offered you a little something in return for your cooperation? Perhaps in the bedroom?"
Before his men could rush Jefferson, Crane held up his hand in warning to them, then looked at his tormentor," Mr. Jefferson…why don't you shut up."
Glaring at Crane, he departed as Nelson entered the room.
"I got the distinct impression our guest is at a loss for words, Lee…you didn't upset him did you?" Nelson grinned.
"Who me?" Crane tried to make light of it, but Nelson saw his pain through the bravado.
"Mr. Ali's gotten through to Cairo. Shall we see what they say?" Nelson gave Lee a friendly pat on the back.
Lee sat down in the wardroom wearily as Cookie quickly sat a hefty slice of apple pie in front of him, with a frosted chocolate milkshake.
"What's this for?" Lee asked.
"Just for being the skipper, sir, " Cookie smiled, " and uh, well, Mr. Morton's said you could use a little nourishment ."
"Oh he did, did he," Crane grinned in return, " though I must admit, this sure looks good. Thanks Cookie…oh, feed the dive team too okay?"
"Already sent the grub to the crew's quarters."
"Remind me to request the admiral to give you a raise!"
"It wouldn't hurt!"
"Well, " Chip greeted Lee as he entered the room. "I see you've been taken care of…" Chip had to stop as Cookie plopped a piece of pie at his place as well. " What about my..oh. thanks," he added as the milkshake appeared. "What about the curse, Lee?"
"I can't believe it…a bunch of mumbo jumbo."
"Cairo's convinced of it…."
"I just can't believe we have to have somebody chant some ancient pagan songs to protect us from a curse…and the Admiral has to agree to it."
"Well, at least we have a musician aboard."
"How on earth is anyone going to be able to keep a straight face?"
"Just so you do. You're the dive leader. Cairo won't have it any other way.At least for now. Just don't bring back a mummy, Lee."
"Oh, don't remind me! Chip…maybe I'm being skeptical, but…perhaps this is all a scam."
"A scam!? Lee, the scarab, the gold, the…"
"I know, I know, but…the location, it's unprecedented…and …it's so convenient isn't it, having reporters aboard at the same time…well, we'll see when we open the gold door over our heads."
"Well, if it isn't our gallant team leader," Kira smiled as she appeared at the door, handing Crane a portfolio, "may I join you?"
"Of course," the men invited her over.
"I've just been with Mr. Ali and the videophone with Cairo again. Captain, this is very important. You should wear the scarab amulet when you go out again. It will protect you when the chants can't."
"You believe that?" Chip asked, amazed.
"Frankly, no. But Mr. Ali does, and these copies of ancient documents…here. It's a kind of protection…I don't really understand it, but we have one available, please captain…you found the opening to the cavern, it's your responsibility…and your life."
Crane sighed, not at all pleased, " I don't believe it for one minute…but…it it'll make you happy…okay."
She leaned across the table and hugged him.
"Perhaps I should volunteer more often…hey, wait…what's this?" Lee touched her cheek…"is this a blush under your make up, been making out with the Marauding Morton , or…" Lee was suddenly serious, "is that a bruise?"
"I tripped. Smack into a pipe."
"Better keep your mind on where your feet are going instead of on me, " Chip grinned.
"I'll be in my cabin," Lee excused himself, taking the portfolio.
"What's eating him?"Chip queried, confused.
Crane found Jefferson studying some books in the Seaview's library. Actually it was a small room but equipped with the latest microfiche, microfilm, audio tapes and CD's; a microfilm reader, a CD player, and actual books, though limited. It had one small table and four chairs.
"If you ever touch her again, so help me I'll kick you off the boat myself," Crane growled menacingly from the doorway, still clutching the portfolio, and turned to depart.
"Like to see you try, mama's boy."
"You can say whatever you like," Lee faced Jefferson, " about me, my crew, my boss, my boat even, but if you hit Kira again, if you even touch her, you're out of here," Lee departed.
"Well, Harry dear, what do you think about…what was that?" Mrs. Canoli asked.
"Sounded like a door slamming, " he sighed, " the sooner this assignment is officially handed over the better. I'll be back…in the meantime, see if you can make any more of all those other inscriptions nobody's able to identify."
Within seconds Nelson strode into Crane's cabin, unannounced and uninvited. He could see Lee's heavy breathing and clenched fists. Lee was just standing there,his back to Nelson. A few papers were still fluttering from being whapped onto the desk. Taking a breath, Nelson cleared his throat…"Lee?"
"Oh, Admiral," Lee seemed to visibly cool down.
"Is there a problem Lee? I thought I heard your door slam shut."
"Did it?" Lee said absently as he sat down on his bunk. "Getting careless I suppose."
"Hide's not as thick as you thought is it? Well, we'll be rid of our guests soon…Lee…you can always talk to me you know…well, I'll be getting back to Mrs. Canoli, she had some fascinating thoughts on some of the inscriptions…" he stopped, aware that Lee wasn't even listening. " Lee? Lee?" Nelson touched Crane's shoulder.
"Huh? Oh, sorry. You were saying?"
"Just that Mrs. Canoli has some rather interesting interpretations of some of the inscriptions on the gold door…care to join us? Chip's going to add to the discussion."
"Oh, thanks but no. I think I'll make an early night of it. Goodnight Admiral."
"Goodnight Lee," Nelson replied, concerned.
The diver was doing everything correctly.He'd checked and rechecked his gear. The buddy system was okay for amateurs but really superfluous for an expert like him. No-one would even notice he was missing. Damn, this pressure gear didn't give nearly as well as the old scuba suits.
O'Brian's voice permeated Morton's subconscious as he slept.
"Morton here," Chip yawned.
"Sorry sir, but a diver's left the boat."
"What!!" Chip was immediately alert, " get him on monitors."
"Can only pick him up from the Seaview's outer cameras and sonar sir, he doesn't have a tie tin. I've turned up the nose spotlight."
"What's his heading?" Chip asked as he quickly dressed.
'Toward the archeological site."
"Get me a dive buddy and alert the captain."
Crane was roused by hand by Chief Sharkey, " Skipper! We got an unauthorized diver off the boat. Mr. Morton's gone after him…we tried to raise you but…"
"Okay Chief, I'm awake now…roll call?"
"Mr. O'Brian's checking now…you wanta suit up?"
"Definitely, " Lee picked up the mike, " Sparks, connect me to Mr. Morton."
"On line sir."
"Chip, what's going on?"
"It's Jefferson, he won't answer, and he gave me the finger when he saw me."
"Try to stop him Chip¸ he's not versed in the pressure suits. We'll be right there…Chief, break out the stun guns…Sparks, alert Sick Bay to stand by…if the pressure doesn't get him, I will!"
Chip and Jefferson had already disappeared from view when Crane's party left the boat. By now everyone aboard was awake, and Nelson was furious. At least Crane's party was properly equipped. Even with the special lamps and diver cameras attached to their gear.
Not that the view was any good, for the mud was still swirling with bubbles as the divers spotted the golden door had been opened, having either dropped or been pulled to the bottom of the cavern. The divers rose and swam through the opening, their lights casting a turquoise blue in the shallowing water as they emerged into the dryness above them.
"What the hell is going on!" yelled Crane at Jefferson, who like all the divers except Jefferson ,were still breathing through their special gear.
"I found it! Look!"
It was then that Crane saw the chamber was a cave, but with more carvings, faded hieroglyphs, paintings, and mosaics. Stacked upon stacks were urns and boxes, some sealed with gold, some made of gold.
"Look! Look!" Jefferson shouted as he grabbed Crane's arm and pointed to an alcove...even from the distance, Lee could see a glimpse of stone sarcophagus in a brick/stone alcove. Shrugging the clinging Jefferson off, he advanced as Chip emerged from alcove.
"That's not all Lee, over here, "Chip said calmly.
Crane could hear Nelson gasp as their modified scuba cameras showed the small skeleton half leaning, half draped over the tomb. There was a ring on it's little finger, and long braided yellowed hair still adorned to a remnant of scalp, as it twisted through the bones to its feet, just touching one of the massive green copper candle holders, it's candle's light long since melted away.
"Yes, certainly Mr. President, " Nelson obeyed, " but there may be a few objections…yes, I know, but…I see…that's hardly a government assignment sir, and this is a civili..yes, but…but…blast it sir! Seaview is NOT a center for archeological research! I see…no, I don't…but…under protest, SIR." Nelson handed Sparks his private earphone."Have the captain report to me as soon as he's aboard."
"Problems Harry?" Mrs.Canoli asked.
"Only the ones invented by politicians!"
"Ooops, bad day I think," Mrs Canoli whispered to Kira and Mr. Ali as Nelson stormed out of the control room.
The divers returned to the Seaview, with Crane in the rear. Sharkey had the lead, followed by a reluctant Jefferson, occasionally prodded by Morton to hurry up. It would be funny if it wasn't so serious, Chip thought. This would probably kick Jefferson off the boat, and he, Chip would be one of the first in line to shove him off Seaview. He'd heard all about Jefferson's tirade in the missile room, and wondered how Lee was able to ignore the slander.
All the swim back, Jefferson kept on and on about his discovery. How could Crane be upset with him. He hadn't drowned or anything.
Finally emerging from the escape hatch, the missile room crew announced their arrival and Lee was informed to report to the admiral.
"Right…Chief, escort Mr. Jefferson to the brig."
"Aye aye sir!"
"You can't do that!" Jefferson roared, " I'm not a member of your crew!"
"I'm the captain, as you're so fond of telling me; take him chief, now. You can get his gear later."
"I'll sue!" Jefferson spat.
"See you in court," Lee replied, taking off his flippers, then hiked to the admiral's cabin.
"Lee, we have a problem," Nelson took a nervous puff of his ever present cigarette before the still moist Crane had even entered from the open door. Chip was right behind Lee, and Nelson motioned both to sit.
"What is it sir?" Lee asked as he sat, squeakily, still in his wet suit.
"You're not going to like this Lee…we have to stay on the job. The geographic society won't be taking it over."
"Presidential order. Seems we made quite an impression as we allowed Mr. Jefferson to discover the tomb. To all cable viewers everywhere."
"We weren't hooked up!"
"Apparently we were…from Honolulu to Tibet to the North and South poles, we were on the air, came through just fine I'm told. Since we've done just a fine job , he wants our reporters to accept a live tie in with a network TV morning talk show. Where is Mr. Jefferson anyway? "
"In the brig," replied Lee.
Nelson snorted, " about right, but you'll have to let him out."
"Do we really have to?" Chip asked. "Admiral, you don't know what he said to Lee and…"
"I realize this is unpleasant for both of you, but he's the star of the show now."
"Aye sir." Lee acquiesced, "Chip, give me a few minutes to clean up, then release him and send him to my cabin."
"You uh, need any backup Lee?" Chip asked, "he's liable to be angry."
"Not half as much as I am," Lee said wearily.
"What are you going to do?" Nelson asked calmly.
"Excersise my rights as Captain of Seaview…better get out your earplugs."
Some time later, Morton was sitting with Mrs. Canoli in the observation nose when Lee finally descended the spiral stairs.
"Captain, please," she stood and beckoned, "I hope you're not too upset with Mr. Jefferson. He only meant well…having to wait and wait, well, it was too much for him. I know he overstepped the bounds of custom, Chip was explaining it all to me, but for my sake, could you overlook his little escapade? I'm sure it won't happen again."
"He's no amateur diver. He knows the rules," Lee sat down. " And he blatantly ignored them. No communication, no notice, no pressure gear training, no diving buddy, and no permission! He put himself at risk..which put my divers at risk, and Seaview at risk. You can be sure it won't happen again. He'll be accompanied on any further dives with experienced crewmen if he passes the special training set down in the rules of this boat. In addition, he goes nowhere aboard without an escort, and he will be guarded around the clock."
"He said you'd made him a prisoner…must you do this to him as well?"
"As captain of Seaview, it's in his best interest, and hers."
"We'll see about that!" she rose, angry and departed.
It was not exactly unnoticed that Mrs. Canoli was rather tight lipped at breakfast the next day, her cheerful banter missing, especially toward Nelson. However, no mention was made of Crane's rules, even by Jefferson, who ate sullenly, occasionally glancing at the armed guard who was trying to melt into the background by the wardroom door.
Crane and Morton were busy elsewhere , much to the relief of the breakfasters.
"So, Lee," Chip asked, leaning over the plot table in the control room, " just what did you say to Jefferson? Cookie told me he didn't say a word at breakfast."
"Don't worry," Lee sighed, " he will…."
"Lee…why does he hate you?"
"He's entitled to his own opinion…we've had this discussion before I think Chip."
"You want me to butt out. He slandered you! He insulted you, and…"
"It's just not important," Crane interrupted," Let's see how our experts are doing with the skeleton brought aboard this morning. They also brought one of the jugs and a couple of crates. Protected in waterproof bags…."
"What, no chants or scarab to protect us?" Chip winked.
Doc had allowed a special examination table to be set up in Sick Bay's isolation chamber. He was not thrilled with the idea. Sick Bay was for his shipmates, not a skeleton. However, the admiral owned the boat, so there was really no argument.
"Any ideas Mr. Ali?" Lee asked, as he peered from the entry with Chip.
"Well, we can't say much right now. She needs specialized equipment. But at least we can do a preliminary exam. For example, with your doctor's medical help, and Mrs. Canoli's examination of the shreds of clothing, we've determined that she was anemic, her bone density was poor, and her teeth were terrible, with abscesses. But that was common. Many ancients never made it to adulthood with most of their teeth. Too much sand in everything."
"How old was she?" Lee almost whispered, of Doc Jamison, as he approached the small remains.
"I quite sure she was an adolescent. Oh, say, between ten and sixteen."
"Is this her real hair color?" Lee fingered the yellowish-green hair gently.
"Doubtful, captain," Mrs. Canoli entered the room, " hair dying was common, though the greenish tinge is probably due to age. We're testing a sample in the lab right now…for chemicals. It could tell us what she used on it, and we might even get a complete analysis of what her last meal was, so sophisticated forensic studies are now. Harry is in his lab,testing a small swatch of the scalp patch, and bone fragment from her hand. We'll be examining the parchments in the jar as soon as the neutral water immersion is complete. I' m so excited."
"She looks, so, fragile," Lee mused, unmindful of the other examinations.
"Be careful Captain," Chip joked, " or she could put a spell on you."
Instead of laughing with the others, Lee looked up at the exec, and said quietly, " I think she already has." He straightened up, suddenly somber, " and, " he continued softly, " I think it would behoove everyone to remember that this was a little girl , not a 'thing'...have the other artifacts been inspected yet?"
"Uh, Lee," Chip asked,"…how are we going to get the sarcophagus out of the cave and aboard Seaview? The chief thinks it weighs a couple of tons, and there's no way that we can protect it from the sea and…"
"We'll just have to make the examination there then, or have the admiral figure something out."
"Will you be attending the broadcast, captain?"Mrs. Canoli asked, looking at her watch, " George said it was vital that you be there."
"I have a boat to run… if it's so vital he can ask me himself. Doc, I'd like a copy of all medical findings, Mr. Ali, I'd like a copy of your reports as rendered, Mrs. Canoli, I believe you're due for the broadcast. Chip, I'll be in the lab."
"Aye sir," Morton replied, actually relieved as Crane departed. He respected his captain, he liked Lee, but sometimes he could be a pain in the…"
"Is something wrong, Chip?" Doc asked.
"Huh? Oh, no. Nothing…Jaime," Chip asked, almost furtive, as their guests departed to the nose, " is Lee alright?"
"Uh oh, you've noticed it too, have you?"
"What do mean?"
"What do you think I mean, he's…moody a lot lately."
"No, I mean…he's encountered weird things before, but why should he be protective of a skeleton's feelings?"
Jaime laughed, "Chip, don't take it seriously, he didn't mean anything by it. He's just a man of deep convictions, that's all. If I hadn't told him it was a little girl, he probably wouldn't have given your joke a thought."
"Yeah, you're right…but still…for a moment I thought he was actually mesmerized by it."
"Commander Morton, it's not Halloween, there's no full moon for a week, and only a mermaid ever really mesmerized him…forget it Chip. Don't you have a boat to see to?"
"Okay, I get the hint. Look, Jaime, I'm not due back to the control room for another hour. Sparks has the conn. Lee thought he could use the practice. How about a break? Fresh brownies?"
"Chip, hasn't anyone ever warned you about cholesterol?"
"Only everyone aboard. But…I'll let you in on a little secret…I asked Cookie to use the boxes of the fat free kind my Mom sent me."
"You enjoy tormenting us, don't you? All this time we thought you were over-indulging and here you are like a sly cat, teasing us while you chowed it all down…the Admiral is not going to like that."
"So who's going to tell him?"Chip winked, as the two went off to the Wardroom.
So far so good, Lee thought as he initialed the clipboard. Seaview was sitting smoothly, everything was stowed properly, and he could escape the broadcast as he inspected his craft. Surely Nelson would be interviewed, maybe even the Chief, but he knew that Jefferson would hog the whole show. He'd always insisted on power…well, not always. But those days were done and over with and the sooner he, Lee, forgot about them, the better. But how could he? They were a part of his life, even if those days were long ago and far away.
"Skipper? Skipper? You okay sir?" Kowalski asked, having discarded his mop.
"Oh, Ski. Sorry. I didn't notice you. Daydreaming I guess."
"Nah. Officer's ain't' allowed to," Ski grinned.
Lee laughed and it felt good. He'd been far too broody lately."Ski, I thought you might be on the broadcast. It's not too late…"
"Bunch of windbags…except for the Admiral sir, " he added hastily.
"Captain Crane, report to the observation nose," Nelson's voice boomed over the PA.
"Right away," Crane replied into a mike, then clicked it off.
"No, we don't have secret cameras and microphones hidden away on the boat…at least I don't think so," he joked.
"Yes sir, I mean, no sir," Ski grinned, as his captain moved forward.
The broadcast was going well in that the live tie-in was free from static. As Crane descended the spiral steps he could see Nelson was fuming. While still on the steps, Jefferson suddenly pointed at Crane and shouted as the viewer followed his finger to focus on Seaview's captain.
"And he calls himself captain! He put me in the brig! Do you deny it Crane?"
"What's going on here?" Lee asked as he stood in front of the small group of guests and live viewers.
"See how he changes the subject! How can he command this vessel when he…"
"I think I'll sit down," Lee said calmly, " now, anyone care to tell me why Mr. Jefferson is so upset?"
"Damn it ! You know why I'm upset!" Jefferson raged.
"Did you have him arrested?" the talk show hostess asked from the view screen on the table.
"Yes," Lee replied calmly, "he'd left the boat without the proper authorization or training…without communication, or a diving buddy. He placed himself in danger. My crew and my boat as well."
"He's explained he was just excited. Wasn't your action a bit harsh?" she asked.
"It was necessary whether you care to agree or not…what has this to do with the discovery? I thought that's what this ship to shore interview was all about, or am I on trial here?"
"Not at all Captain," she replied, " now, what do you think of this great discovery…"
It was past lunchtime and Nelson was hungry, but he was still pacing in his cabin. How had he managed to keep from tossing Jefferson overboard he just didn't know. The nerve of the man! Insulting Lee! Insulting Seaview! On live TV even!
There was a knock on the door.
"In!" Nelson voiced.
"You wanted to see me ?" Lee asked.
"Lee! Lee, please sit down. I'm so sorry about all that, I…"
"Forget it, admiral."
"You didn't hear all of it."
"I hardly think I need to know wha…"
"Please," Nelson interrupted, " hear me out…he made… insinuations."
"Damn it Lee! He suggested to his viewers that we were..were..that you and I were…before I could butt in and refute the accusations! Rumors will be flying now!"
"It's not the first time…Admiral, sit down, calm down…people who know us realize the truth…they see how ridiculous it is…these talk shows are always getting things exaggerated…."
"Why are you so calm about it??Arent' you upset even a little??"
"Admiral, rumors about close friends have been going on since time began…especially among seafarers cooped up in close quarters. But it doesn't mean anything. Most people know that."
"But some will! Lee, men can be broken by hearsay, contracts broken, and if even one important person goes with the flow, a lot of people follow, like sheep. Just to avoid loosing their own contracts. If Washington…"
"I'll have a talk with Jefferson. He'll apologize publicly, I promise."
"He hates your guts!! How on earth can you convince him to renege?!!"
Lee paused, deep in thought. "I'll think of something…why don't you go have some lunch. Chip's been eating up all the brownies but asked Cookie to keep a few out for the rest of us."
"I just don't understand you, Lee," Nelson patted Crane on the shoulder, " but I'm glad you're a tower of strength when I need it."
Nobody aboard knew what had convinced Mr. Jefferson to arrange a p.s. to one of his own broadcasts. It was simple, and to most viewers, a contrite apology, based on a 'hyper-reaction' to medication which had 'affected' his 'judgement'. It was given as Jefferson donned his diving gear and prepared to swim to the site to examine the sarchopogaus and what lay within. Holding up his 'certified' document, Jefferson beamed as Kira adjusted some dials on the monitor. He'd been instructed, tested, and certified . By Crane himself.
Sharkey was getting awfully tired of all these cameras all the time, even the ones on the diver's gear and sighed in relief as the two men from Seaview departed to the depths.
It was an interesting broadcast from inside the cavern. While experts made their examinations, of the cave walls, engravings, and artifacts,preparations were made to encase the sarcophagus with a special foam. It would harden and create an air bubble around it, to both protect and help float the artifact to Seaview.
Meanwhile Lee had had a bad night and was tired. Sleep had eluded him, and he was still musing about how his life had been before, before things changed. He hardly noticed Nelson's enthusiasm over the now proven ancient papayra.
"Lee! Aren't ;you listening to a word I'm saying? These scrolls could be copies from the ancient library at Alexandria! A wonder of the ancient world..Priceless! Ali may be quite knowledgeable, but he's no expert in ancient languages. See, here, this is what Kitty thinks, a combination of ancient Greek, Armenian, Hebrew, and Egyptian! What a find!!"
"I'm not doubting their validity, but …"
"You still think the site's a phoney, don't you?"
"I think it's all just too convenient."
"Stranger things than this have happened, convenient or not, Lee…what is it, lad, what's wrong?" Nelson sat and motioned Lee to a stool.
"Nothing's wrong…it just doesn't feel right…I can't explain it."
"Ahh. I see. You think Jefferson has somehow rigged this whole thing for his own glory is that right?"
"It does sound pretty ridiculous when you put it like that…I'm sorry."
"Lee…I…I'm sorry you have to put up him. It won't be for too much longer…damned idiot. He' lucky the crew didn't shove him in a torpedo tube when he…no-one believes any of it you know."
"I know. ..if all these artifacts are real, if the site itself is, how do you explain it?The ancient Egyptians only had a few reed boats…and you can't breath through a tube at these depths without serious complications…"
"I know Lee I know, perhaps there are secrets they had we're just not aware of…it does seem pretty far out, as Riley would say."
"Are our friends in Egypt upset about busting into the place without the proper precautions?"
"Oh, I'd forgotten…hmmm. Better have Ali say a few chants over the sarcophagus before we open it. Riley can strum a few notes on his guitar."
"Admiral, I know he plays loud enough to wake the dead, but…" Lee grinned.
"Go on, you have a boat to run," Nelson laughed in return.
"Mrs. Canoli? Got a moment?" Lee asked as he entered the sancrosant examination lab, where Kitty was examining the skeleton's ring.
"Of course, Captain, what do you want?"
"I need your advice…is that turquoise?"
"Yes. The enameling is pure gold…"
"Who do you think she was?" he walked over to the skeleton.
"That's anyone's' guess. Sometimes slaves were entombed alive with the mummy…"
"She was draped over the sarcophagus as if she was protecting it, or even crying."
"It's possible…why all the interest captain?"
"I don't know…maybe she did put a spell on me," he grinned. "They'll be bringing the sarcophagus aboard in a few minutes. Is everything ready here?"
"Mr. Ali and Riley will be giving it a proper greeting to ward off any curse…what do you think about that?"
"But captain, that wouldn't do any good…if anyone believes such nonsense…the curse is fixed…nothing can stop it…."
"But what is the curse?"
"That, captain, is unknown…perhaps we'll know more after Harry examines more of the papayra scrolls."
"You shouldn't be concerned. The curse is on Jefferson alone. No-one else…frankly, like you said, it's all a bunch of humbuggery."
"So there's no way to protect him."
"Why on earth would you of all people want to? The animosity between you two is pretty evident, and you'd even had him arrested and put under guard."
"Even so, I still wouldn't want anything to happen to him…."
Removing the sarcophagus to Seaview was more difficult than it had been imagined. Encased in the hardened air-foam or not. Everything else had been successfully removed to Seaview, even the golden doors that guarded the undersea chamber. It was so damn heavy that just getting it to the pool of water below the chamber was beset with groans, grunting and occasional swearing of the divers.
"All this work for a corpse!" Ski groaned.
"That corpse and it's container, Seaman Kowalski, " Jefferson growled, as the official dive team observer, "is worth more money than your submarine itself…or are you as dimwitted as your captain?"
"Hey!" Ski released his hold of it. "Look, bud, I've had enough of you! I don't know why you're so against the skipper, and I don't know why or how he puts up with you, but I sure as hell ain't gonna! "
"Ski, don't!" Patterson intervened, sparing Jefferson a right hook from the seething Kowalski. "Let's just do our job and get out of here. Remember what the skipper said."
"Yeah, yeah, okay…Mr. Jefferson, we're gonna lug this back to the boat now, you okay with that? I mean, anything else left in here? Sir?"
"As a matter of fact sailor, I did see something else over there if you'd care to give me a hand."
"Ski…" warned Patterson.
"Sure Mr. J., I'd be glad to,"Ski approached him.
"It's down there, to the right," Jefferson pointed, but suddenly belted Ski and a fight broke out. The two men bashed each other, and kept smashing against the cave walls again and again as Patterson called for help as he tried to stop the fight.
"Skipper!" Sparks voice was agitated, as Crane hurried over to the console. Flipping on the audio, all could hear the fight in the cavern.
Despite his orders the fight continued, suddenly broken off by a great noise of falling rock and screams. Cave in!
"Captain, wait," Mr. Ali insisted, " please, remember, you promised to wear this," as he draped the amulet around Crane's neck.
"Good luck Lee," Nelson added as the first of several rescue dive teams departed. "Mr. Ali, was that really necessary? The men are jumpy as it is."
"It will protect them…I hope."
The cave-in had made mess of the tunnel, and it was a long hard effort to clear enough room to swim through. In addition, the visibility was murky as they edged their way toward the chamber opening, if it was still open.
"There it is skipper!" Riley sang out, as his 'headlight' caught the outline of the edges above them. It was a tight squeeze as Crane entered the cavern. The sarcophagus sloped dangerously toward the tunnel. Rocks and debris were everywhere. Earie light from the battery lamps cast odd shadows as Lee and his men tried to find their shipmates among the rubble.
Nelson was trying to think. There had been no earthquake to weaken the undersea cavern. So if a mere fight had caused the rocks to tumble, the divers would have to be very careful so as to cause no further problems. Aboard were only a minimal crew, as the rest were on rescue detail, for extra manpower. But things were looking up as within a half hour Morton contacted Seaview and reported that all of Jefferson's team had been found;Ski was a bit woozy, Patterson and Baker were unconscious and Jefferson was rapidly becoming aware of his surroundings. They'd be brought aboard right away.
"Ohhh. What happened skipper?" Ski was lying down on the cavern floor.
"You okay Ski?"Crane asked.
"Yeah..I think so…"
"Good, go along with Dive Team B back to Seaview, Sick Bay, no detours."
"Oh I'm okay skip."
"Aye sir," Ski tried to wink, but it hurt."Pat?"
"Dive Team C's already taken him to Seaview, he's unconscious, but I didn't see anything that looked to bad. Baker either. Now go on with Ron.."
"Aye sir." Both men answered in unison as they put on the rest of their gear and slithered into the tunnel.
"Well, still playing the hero, captain?" Jefferson asked, bracing himself on a rock.
"Chip,"Lee called as Morton finished tying up the sarcophagus to take to Seaview, "Take Mr. Jefferson will you? I'll have Dobbs give me a hand with the monstrosity."
"No! That's my right!" Jefferson shouted.
"You're going to sickbay," Crane retorted. "Chip?"
"Come along Mr. J.," Morton ordered.
"No! I won't!" he yelled, and broke free of Morton's grip, stumbling over debris and falling hard against the cavern wall.
"Lee! Look out!!" Chip urgently yelled.
But it was too late. The roof of stone collapsed and crumbled above Crane and Mr. J, who were then lost to view.
"Ohhh, Lee? Lee?" Chip tried to move, but it hurt.
"Easy Chip…" the gentle voice of Doc Jamison soothed as he approached from Sick Bay's office to the center gurney.
"Lee? Where's Lee?"
"Chip…there was another cave in…a massive one…in fact…the cavern isn't a cavern anymore….you were lucky to be standing where you were.It was spared the worse of the damage…though you did get bashed on the head, and have a few cracked ribs."
"It was quick for them both, I'm sure… Chip…they were buried by tons of rock….We're doing what we can to clear it all, but …it's hopeless."
Jefferson felt like his very skin was crawling with ants. Sharp, painful, biting ants. He was in total blackness. A vast pressure surrounded him. He couldn't move. He heard voices, but could not comprehend anything. He did hear laughter. Cruel, harsh laughter. Then screams of utter agony,"Help me! Help me!"
Lee awoke to the sound of children laughing and sunshine streaming through the adobe- like wall. He was bundled in a course cotton sheath of some sort, only his feet were bare, but he was warm, so he basked in the sleepiness of the light. Where was he? Who was he? He felt he should know, but he didn't. All he knew was that he was unafraid.
Jefferson tried to ignore the screams for help. But as he yelled "Shut up!" he found that he'd voiced only " Help me!". The unanswered cries for help… were his.
"Hurry, Pharaoh adds more slaves to his harem today," the voice shook Lee's drowsiness away.
"Where am I? What is this place? Who am I?"
"That's not a good joke, Stavro. Hurry!" the woman insisted, "The master has a harsh whip. And a tongue to match!"
"Well, little brother, are you ready?" the heavy muscled man asked as he leaned against the wall. "Ah ,the fringe benefits to being brother to Pharaoh's chief scribe…food, the occasional wench, unless my little brother disobeys him, however, then we'll all be punished…now hurry!"
"Look, I…I don't seem to remember anything…"
"Too much wine, no doubt. Now, my learned brother, tis time you put your boring chronicles away."
"Uh, honest, I really don't remember…I don't even know your name."
"Hurry up in there will you! Pharaoh's coming!" the woman's voice screeched.
"Look, Stavros," his brother implored," if this is for real, just keep it quiet…madness in the family! The shame of it…and if you are insane, 'twould do you well to forget it, less you be cast into prison, or the games…here," he placed an amulet around his brother's neck.
"Wait! This looks familiar!"
"No. Really. I don't know you, this place, or who I am, but this...," he fingered the amulet, " I think I recognize this…thing."
"You ought to. Your crest of office…don't you remember anything???No, I see you don't...as soon as you've completed your scribbling of the procedures, you're going to the Sybil. Maybe she can set you right. Here , the other sandal. Ahh. Now you look like a nobleman. At least for the day."
"Admiral?" Chief Sharkey asked of the old man who sat in the observation nose. "Admiral sir?" he tried again.
"Oh, Francis, yes?"
"Uh, well, uh, you sure it's hopeless sir?"
"Chief, we've been at it for four days. You know as well as I that even if by some miracle the chamber didn't flood when the roof collapsed, their air was spent long ago..if they were even still alive after being buried alive by tons of rock…I want Lee to be alive,desperately, like all of you, but I can't bring myself to hope for it anymore."
The days were golden to Stavros. He was in favor with Pharaoh, but he'd felt uneasy writing about pharaoh's personal conquests , and hence he had omitted them from the official record.
"Master, Pharaoh calls," a servant interrupted his thoughts.
"Please, just call me Stavros. I'm not your master."
"As you wish, Ma…Stavros. You have strange ways.Come, Pharaoh awaits."
"Do you know what he wants?"
"Pharaoh would certainly not confide in me."
"You wished to see me?" Stavros bowed in the manner of his companions.
"You do not like my choice of concubine?"
"She's very… lovely."
"Then why," Pharaoh stormed about, " have you so grossly insulted me!"
"I do not understand."
"Your brother said you were suffering from moon madness, you have to be, to act so, so, shamefully!"
"I still do not understand."
"I take the fairest flower of the Nile to my bed and you make no note of it! You have insulted me! Have you no honor, man?"
"I wrote of the purchase."
"You spoke not of what I wish you to relay! If you have misgivings of recording what I want you to say, perhaps you should consider a life among the Hebrew slaves. I chose you to chronicle my life and that of my forebears because of your knack for many languages, or have you forgotten your former skills from Alexandria?"
"Sir, actually…I remember nothing…"
"Ahh. The rumor is true then. Tis moon madness indeed. I will summon the Sybil. She will know what to do."
It was as Stavros was walking in the garden that he heard soft tears. The newest concubine was alone, feet dangling in the lily pond. She looked very young.
"Are you alright?"he asked
"Oh, you startled me, Stavros."
"I'm sorry," he smiled and sat next to her. "I heard you crying…can I help?"
"No one can help…please…go away."
"Pharaoh calls my lady," an old maidservant approached, "and you sir, should not be here at all. Unless you wish to join the Guild of Eunuchs."
"I'll go then," he turned to the girl, " If you ever need anything, just ask."
The Sybil hadn't helped. Stavros was just as lacking in memory as ever. Sleep was becoming more and more evasive. In spite of a smattering of weird dreams, his nights were restless. Something was wrong. But he didn't know what.
"That's the last of it sir, there just ain't no bodies." Sharkey said, confused.
"All the rubble and rock has been cleared away," Nelson mused. "That leaves just one option…there's got to be another cavern."
" Let's get to work," Nelson's spirits had lifted. There was hope, after all.
"You don't remember me, do you, Stavros," the young concubine entered his office.
"I…no…I'm sorry. I didn't even know my name…nothing of before…."
"You were kind to me once."
"Only one time?" he lifted her head, " what did I do?"
"You gave my little brothers water at the quarry. And food. Rameses is stingy...what is it?"
"I don't know…something…just a feeling."
"Stavros! Come quickly," one of pharaoh's guards reported, out of breath.
Stavros hurried to the throne room. Just as he entered, a sour smelling man, like all the slaves, in homespun, brushed past him, casting him a calm but questioning look in his eye as he departed. Stavros felt he ought to know the man. It was unnerving.
"Hurry up will you Stravros!" Pharaoh called to him."Record that on this day, Moses demanded that I let my slaves go! Hah!What is it…you're pale…wine! Hurry! Stavros, drink. Are you alright, should I summon a physician?"
"I…I don't know…I…Pharaoh…."
Rumors of ill omens spread quickly through the hall as the physician tried to wake the fallen scribe. "There, he's coming around…just fainted."
"I…Moses! He's Moses!"
"Yes, that is my adopted brother's name, "Pharaoh said, " you seem excited. Why?"
"He …he…that's odd…I can't remember now…"
Nelson himself took yet another dive team to examine underneath the rubble for any sign of an opening. Infrared and sonar examinations had showed several areas of possible gaps in the sea floor beneath the original cavern…it was like tying to find a needle in a haystack . But while Nelson and all hands had been given a glimmer of hope of finding their skipper alive, they really didn't believe it , but were determined to bring his body back home anyway. No-body mentioned Jefferson.
Stavros had to be careful. It wasn't a good idea to sneak into the pharaoh's harem. It could mean his life…but he had a mission to accomplish…not really quite sure what it was, but he just knew he had to get the little concubine away from Pharaoh's court, and all the children of Abraham that had been sequestered here. A matter of life and death. At least that's what he felt.
"Little one, wake up, all your friends too! Hurry. We have to go to your brothers' dwelling."
"Pharaoh will kill you!"
"Listen to me…you'll be safe in your uncle and brothers' house…I don't know why, or how, I just know it. Death comes tonight, unless it passes over you."
"You've gone delirious."
"Please, look…I…I don't know. I could be dreaming…but I just have to make sure you're protected…"
"What has Pharaoh been telling you?"
"He hasn't told me anything, I don't know. But do this, please, for me?"
Lee awoke to a sharp pain in his side. He was disoriented, and it was dark. He heard breathing, labored breathing that was not his own…he tried to remember. Jefferson had been with him the walls fell down.
"Are…you okay?"Lee rasped, confused how sore his throat was. There was no response. He moved among some rubble, blind, hurting all over. Where-ever he was, this was not the same cavern. "Anyone there?!" he tried to yell. It was barely a whisper. Groping and soon gasping for air, from the lack of it, he stumbled over Jefferson.
It was difficult to ascertain anything in the darkness. But Jefferson had to be unconscious…Lee couldn't feel any broken bones..ahh, Jefferson had a lighter in his wetsuit leg garter. Clicking it on, Lee could tell they were in deep trouble. This small cave would be out of air soon. How on earth did they get here? A weakness in the cavern's floor to a sub cavern perhaps, if so, how to find the opening? He noticed with unease that he'd been fingering his amulet…some protection, he thought ironically. Out of the frying pan….
Suddenly he heard something…a grating noise, machines, lessening in volume…no doubt a rescue party had been sent, but they were going the wrong way!
"And so Ladies and Gentlemen, " Kira spoke to the viewers, " Seaview has… given up all… hope.. of her captain and… Mr. Jefferson returning alive, as well as any hope of recovering the… bodies…."
"My sympathies, admiral, " Mr. Ali spoke as Kira unlinked from the broadcast. "But you must continue your examination of the artifacts."
Nelson snorted in contempt. "It can wait…we should never have come here… Chip, prepare to get underway."
Lee hadn't heard the noise for some time now. The only noise was his, as he more and more frantically tried to clear the vast mounds of rubble to find a way out of the tomb. For tomb it would soon be if he couldn't. Who knows, in a thousand years even I might be valuable! He used the lighter in sparingly, conserving air, which was getting rank. Jefferson was only now coming round, quibbling about how useless it all was.
"Shut up! " Lee ordered, "We're getting out of here. Now if you can move, give me a hand!"
After about a year, or so it seemed to Lee, he thought felt a 'whoof' of air from above. But it was Jefferson, who'd finally clambered up the pile of rock beside him.
"What is it?"Jefferson rasped.
"I thought it was a bit of air, but I'm not sure, it might have been you. Be quiet now, let me check." Using the lighter, both men noticed the smoke twirl up with a sudden swing to the right and upward. Trickles of water were dribbling through the rock forms above them.
"That could be water on the cavern floor or the sea above, I don't know…how long can you hold your breath?"
"I don't like the sound of that."
"Neither do I," Crane mused, "know about buddy breathing don't you? It's not very efficient, oxygen wise, but it could keep us alive long enough to get to Seaview."
"Without tanks? You're crazy! And I doubt if your tub is even around."
" From the size of the cave in I'd say there's a good chance the whole thing has opened up to the sea, we can swim straight for her."
"And if she's not there?"
"Then we swim to the surface."
"Buddy breathing,"Lee said firmly.
"Good grief… you can hardly breathe now, and it's not lack of oxygen. You're hurt. I'm hurt. We'll never make it. If there's water up there, it'll rain down on us so hard we'll drown before we can do anything. "
"We're trying anyway."
Nelson stood, his hand against the glass viewpoint in the nose, trying to hold back the tears of sorrow, giving the site a last look as Chip took Seaview over her skipper's grave. It was quiet aboard in every compartment as all knew they were, in effect, giving him a farewell salute.
"Well, that's it then, " Mr. Ali said, in the lab with Mrs. Canoli, " I would have liked to examine the actual site further."
"The captain is dead, a passenger is too, and that's all you can say?"
"I doubt Nelson will allow the examination of the sarcophagus aboard. At least Morton had it tied to the grappling hook and it was able to be pulled aboard. I regret the loss of the men, but the artifacts are far more important to my country. You must understand that."
"I understand, that you are not the humane man I thought you were. Good day."
"Harry?"Kitty asked softly, as she entered the nose from the spiral steps.
The boson's whistle sounded and was piped throughout the boat and out into the depths as well as Seaview departed.
"Goodbye Lee," Nelson whispered.
What the hell was that? thought Jefferson, as the two swam through the rocky debris. It was very dark without light. And cold, despite the wetsuits. What was Crane trying to do? Pulling him like this. They were supposed to be going up, not sideways. Then he felt Lee's mouth on his and they exchanged air again for a count of three breaths, in and out, alternating together. Lee tugged on him, and then Jefferson saw a faint glow ..from Seaview's headlight moving far off and away. There was no way on earth they could reach her! But Crane insisted they follow, for while it was difficult to see anything down here, Crane had a tight grip, and Jefferson instinctively obeyed.
"Mr. Morton!" Kowalski reported, "Divers! 300 yards astern! Two of them!"
"It can't be," Nelson whispered.
"Chief, get some divers out!" Morton yelled, " O'Brian, stop the boat! Turn on all exterior auxiliary lights! Doc, get to the missile room! Good grief, Admiral, is it them??"
It was with awe that Mr. Ali entered Sick Bay, and stood over the weary Crane, propped up in his bunk,the amulet hanging from it, while Nelson and Chip and Kira, and Kitty sat beside him, simply enjoying his presence. Doc had taped the cracked ribs, but had assured Nelson, that aside from dehydration and the additional mild concussion, cuts, scrapes, bruising , he was otherwise alright. And hungry.
" And so, " Lee was saying, "we just buddy breathed..it was pitch black out there, and we were going go up but then we heard that horrible racket, and low and behold, there was Seaview, off in the distance, so we put on the gas and here we are..thanks to you putting on the brakes and getting us on sonar."
"You realize that I have dibs on the broadcast!" Kira said, smiling.
"Oh no!" Nelson and Crane laughed, in good humor.
"The amulet protected you," Ali said.
"Well, they are alive, aren't' they?"
"I'd chalk that up to good thinking and Divine Intervention," Nelson replied.
"How's the examination of the artifacts going?" Lee asked, curious.
"Oh, we've put everything on hold," Kitty said," I did see some ancient Greek that interested me, but I couldn't figure it out. Something about a 'stavros' and …what is it Lee?"
"I thought it was a dream! But..it wasn’t! I was there!"
"Doc…." Nelson summoned.
"No admiral, Doc, I'm not having delusions…I had… amnesia. I was called Stavros and I was the pharaoh's chief scribe…and I met Moses!"
The group tried valiantly to stifle their laughs.
"I'm not kidding!" Lee implored, seriously.
"Alright, Lee, calm down," Nelson patted him on the shoulder, "now, start from the beginning."
"Uh, Admiral?" Sharkey peeked into the lab. Nelson, Ali, and Miss Kitty, as she'd become known, were busy examining the ancient scrolls, along with a comm-link to the Smithsonian and the Cairo Dept. of Antiquities.
"Ah, Francis, I could use a break…any sandwiches?"
"Uh, no sir, I'll get some though, uh…"
"Come in Chief, what's on your mind."
"Well, uh, is it true? About the skipper I mean?"
"Well, as hard as it is to deny, if the legends are true, there was indeed a Stavros, who was indeed one of Rameses' chief scribes. And he, like everybody else in Egypt was ordered to remove any record of Moses and the children of Abraham…so my guess is that Stavros busted orders, and fled, because these scrolls do record it. All of it. Even Passover with one of Pharaoh's concubines and the parting of the Red Sea, to Moses receiving the Ten Commandments…quite remarkable, more like a chronicle than memorized facts….The fact that Lee doesn't remember much of it, indicates to me, that what he had was a paraphyscological vision rather than a time swap. Leftover images from someone else,possibly from the cavern, that his brain picked up on and put him in their place. We could use those sandwiches now. "
"Like sound waves, Chief, " Kitty added, " they never fade away , they just go on forever. Perhaps someone was so emotional that energy waves simply kept echoing around in the cavern for Lee to pick up on."
"Uh, not to be a wet blanket, but uh, how'd they put anything down here, in the ocean, and…"
"We don't know yet, Chief, " Nelson ended the conversation.
To say that Jefferson hogged the broadcast was an understatement. Morton and Crane were glad to be left out of the picture. They had far better things to do than polish their egos.
Lee sighed. "Too bad about the cave in…I really would like to know for certain if the site was legit, not just the artifacts."
"You still think they could have been planted there?"
"The Admiral thinks they were stored there by a modern collector for the security of such a location…but …I think it could have been a set-up..for us."
"But certainly if the artifacts are real, they'd've been reported missing or stolen…"
"Or lost in the jumble of a private collection…remember, early traders didn't usually know what they had, only that rich outsiders would pay money for them."
"But the skeleton, protecting the sarcophagus.."
"Ahh, but there's the rub…the skeleton is a thousand years older than the mummy in the sarcophagus….she had to have been planted there, for effect. Both are real , of course, but…"
"Lee, you can't imagine how glad I'll be when we finally reach port and get rid of Mr. Jefferson, " Nelson stomped into Crane's cabin, flustered, angry.
"What happened?" Lee looked up from the log.
"The nerve of the man! This entire cruise he belittles you, with downright insults and innuendoes, and then when you save his life, he completely ignores you! But this, this is the last straw!"
"What did he do?" Crane asked quietly.
"He just finished telling anyone who'd listen on his blasted broadcast, that it was he, not you, who remained so calm in the situation, that it was he, not you, who insisted on buddy breathing, and that it was he, not you, who spotted Seaview and dragged you to her!"
Lee said nothing.
"Didn't you hear what I said?"
"It's not important."
"The hell it isn't! Listen to me Lee. You didn't want to go on this mission, you almost pleaded to be let off, and blast it, Lee, the more the man insults, slanders, and ridicules you, the more you protect him! I can't believe there's not more to it than chance dislike! Now I want to know why you defend the creep!"
Lee was silent for a moment, then whispered, "Because he's my father."
It was late and Nelson was too caffinated to settle down. While there was decaf aboard, he preferred the standard heavy duty 'joe'. It just tasted better to him. At least he made himself think it was the caffeine that was keeping him from sleep. He knew better though.
It was what Lee had finally, and with effort, revealed to him. Geonini Crane had been a good father to the abandoned child, for a long time. It wasn't Lee's going off to Annapolis that had caused him to disown Lee, it was Lee who'd disowned him!
It wasn't a long story. Lee could pinpoint the day when he noticed that his father was somehow different. Fourteen year old Lee had long dreamed of submarines, and his father had approved, even encouraged him, until now……..
"Damnit, Lee! Why on earth do you want to be a stuffy, snot-nosed officer?! You've been a Navy brat long enough to know that they only want to grab the girls with their fancy uniforms. They're worthless crap, all of them, with one or two exceptions. My son, the officer! A CPO isn't good enough for you! WE're the backbone of the Navy! And you insult me like this! "
"Pop, I just want to be in on the action…the decisions…"
"That's the stupidest thing I've heard you say! You're young. You don't know any better…you've got lots of time to decide about what you want to do…you don't have to go into the Navy you know."
"But I want to!"
"Do you have any idea what you'd be letting yourself in for?? You could end up with the blood of everyone aboard on your hands! You're not smart enough! You don't have any common sense, never have, and you're too blasted compassionate!"
"What 's wrong with caring?"
"Lee, listen to me, I'm only looking out for your best interest. You don't want a reputation as a sissy boy, do you??"
"What are you talking about?"
"He's a friend!"
"Yes, and he's also a pretty boy. Your classmates know it! The teachers do, and it wasn't smart of you to come to his defense…you have a past, you know, people will talk."
"Pop," Lee choked back the emotions, " you of all people know I didn't like it! Onri's Boy's Home was an atrocity…you know that! I didn't ask the juvenile courts to be placed there! There was no way to fight it! Him, them…. It was a horrible experience!!"
"Lee, I know you're not to blame for the abuse you suffered, but some boys do end up …with …new inclinations…well, I think you should stay away from Jason, for your own protection. "
"I can't believe you're saying this."
"Lee, it's for your best interest."
"No, Pop, it's for yours. And I'm going to Annapolis."
"You'll never get in…Lee, if you go through with this…you're not the son I thought you were."
"I'll get in, somehow…and I'm not giving up a friend because you think I ought to."
"Well, then, perhaps you are a sissy boy, after all."
"You know that's not true."
"I don't know that at all…go ahead, keep your friend, let everybody talk, ruin your life, but keep me out of it…and if by some quirk of fate you do make it to Annapolis, I'll never speak to you again."……….
Damn the man! Nelson mused. So, Geo had continued to bully the boy simply because Lee continually refused to honor his father's wishes. As the years passed, the verbal slings became sharper. Lee objected to unleashing his hormones,'like a man', furthering the insinuations. Lee objected to his father's demand for his, Geo's, increasing and unquestioning authority. Lee kept to his cockamamie idea about going off to Annapolis and becoming an officer. Lee risked his father's wrath by his increased studies and preparations. Lee went through with the applications procedure, and then came the letter of acceptance. And Lee, signed the official document, knowing he would never be able to come home again. Oh, he'd arranged meetings with his mother at some of her friend's houses, or restaurants, or hotels,or churches, but it really wasn't the same, for either of them, and as she was torn between them, and the heavy emotions made the occasional visits times of tears, so they soon ceased. He could never go home again, not since that fateful day in which Gionini Crane had decided his son wasn't worth the name.
Geonini had taken the pseudonym of George Jefferson for his new life after leaving the Navy and used it for his TV byline. Jefferson had changed over the years from a kind-hearted to a very bitter and power hungry man. Or was he simply jealous of better men than he? Of Lee?
"Hello, Little One,"Lee asked the skeleton, before breakfast, " I have to check something." Lee reached beside her to the small tray which held the ring. So, they were her thoughts that he'd held…no, she wouldn't have known it all, but…some things were never meant to be explained.
"Lee, Chip told me you were here," Nelson interrupted Lee's thoughts.
"It's her, Admiral."
"Little One?" Nelson was familiar with Lee's nomenclature for Pharoh's concubine.
"I'm sure of it. I gave her this ring to wear. Or rather Stavros did. To take her mind off of…things."
"I'm sorry Lee,"Nelson remembered how real she had been to him.
"No, don’t be. This," Lee held the bony hand, "skeleton is just a husk. She's free now, to laugh, and sing, and…it's all a … bit overwhelming…any ideas on what happened? How we found her with a mummy case at the bottom of the sea?"
" I've been doing some checking ever since you first voiced your doubts, "I got a reply this morning, it seems as though a dredging company was hired to the area for some 'mining' excavations and formed some construction caves, five years ago…for a Mr. Geonini Crane."
"So," Kitty asked Jefferson, at breakfast in the wardroom," you had a weird dream too?"
"Mine was not nearly as interesting…it was like…hell."
Perhaps it was, thought Kitty, stranger things had happened." Perhaps you should detail your experience of it on the air…"
"No, well, perhaps,"he grinned.
"I don't think that's such a good idea Mr. Crane," Nelson said smoothly as he stood at the entrance." That is your name, isn't it? Geonini Crane?"
"It's your grapevine."
"What's this all about Harry? Lee?" Kitty asked.
"Mr. Geonini Crane,"Nelson explained as he sat down, while Lee remained standing, "a.k.a. George Jefferson, hired a dredging company to build some construction caves for a mining endeavor that was a total scam from the beginning…care to elaborate Mr. Jefferson?"
"Why should I? Ask him," he indicated Lee."Told you all about me, did he?"
"No, not everything. And only because I pressured him into it…now…about this little scam of yours…."
"Disgraced! Publicly disgraced! You'll see! Crane's out for blood!" Mr. Jefferson stomped about in his cabin, as Kira sat patiently at the desk.
"What disgrace? There's been no word of your little plot to the outside world. Captain's orders. Seems he feels sorry for you. Can't understand why, you, you, fraud!"
"Then my job, my…"
"Safe and secure, with one little condition…I am the new anchor…and your boss and off limits. Unless you want me to go public…Understood?"
"Why?" Geo asked as he entered the captain's cabin without knocking.
"Why what?" Lee kept his eyes on his paperwork.
"Why are you protecting me?"
Lee looked squarely into his eyes, " Do you really have to ask?…I know you'll always hate my guts. I know you're a defrauder and a womanizer and have no idea how Mom can put up with it, but…I can't…hate you. I can't even dislike you…much, just what you do…." He lowered his eyes then, and whispered, " I can never forget the hell hole you rescued me from, and the good times we had. Family, you gave me belonging, you and Mom. I can never forget the way it was, and that I love you, even now…"
Geo took Lee's face in his hands and looked down at him, " In spite of my still thinking all officers aren't worth the paper their commissions are stamped on?"
For the first time in his life Geonini Crane was flummoxed. Speechless. Of all the persons aboard, the one who had more right than any of them to have him removed from sight, was Lee Crane. Perhaps, Geo thought, no, he had been wrong. About everything.
"Well" Nelson strode the deck as the artifacts were being offloaded, " Mr. Ali, I'm sorry about all this…but I'm sure you'll find the artifacts of as much value as if they were a recent find…odd that nobody had noticed their removal from the estate of Hiram Phillips."
"Yes, it happens. Stuck in basements, unnoticed by succeeding generations…the family tells me we're welcome to them. It seems their cats refused to enter the place, and they cleared out the sealed crates in a garage sale! Though we will be reimbursing the family with a hefty compensation, and the Smithsonian will share in any profits from publications and photographs…It was a lucky day for us when Mr. Jeff…excuse me, Mr. Crane later saw the dusty items displayed in a pawn shop for Halloween and realized their value!"
"Strange world," Nelson found himself laughing.
"Man, will I be glad to get home," Ski flung his duffel bag over his shoulder and headed toward the bow.
"Me too, Ski," Patterson followed right behind.
"Well," Riley hurried along behind them, " you guys can sit around and eat your mom's home cooking, but I'm going surfin'! Oh excuse me Skipper, I didn't mean to bump into you."
"That's alright Riley, I wasn't really looking where I was going. I forgot to give Mr. Ali his amulet. Do you know if he's still aboard?"
"Uh, no sir, guys?"
Nods of 'don't know's followed.
"Well, have a good leave," Crane smiled.
"Uh, skipper," Ski asked, " my mom's always asking if I'd bring you home to meet her someday, maybe you'd like a good home cooked meal for a change and…"
"It's alright, Ski, I have plans."
"Yes, sir…but the offer's always open…bye sir."
"Well, Lee, " Chip handed Lee the ever present clipboard, " all signed off and ready to put this baby to bed. Security's been posted."
Crane gave Seaview a quick glance around, initialed the clipboard, and motioned Chip up the ladder into the upper hatchway.
"Uh, Lee, "Morton paused, " Look, my brother and his kids have never met you, and I was wondering if maybe you'd like to join us for awhile and…"
"Thanks Chip, but I have plans…Do you know if the Admiral is busy someplace on the grounds? I tried to contact his office but Angie said he was probably already home. I tried but there was no answer."
"Oh, he's busy alright," Chip winked.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"He left with Mrs. Canoli."
"Chip, you have to do something about that mind of yours," Lee grinned as the men ascended the ladder topside.
"Angie, " Lee asked as he entered the admiral's outer office, " I forgot to give Mr. Ali his amulet back, do you know how I can contact him?"
"I'll take it Lee, I'm going on vacation, and we have the same flight to New York. With the artifacts…"
"You were drafted."
"No," she smiled,"just going the same way, and our precious artifacts going to their connecting flight have two security guards in a pressurized cargo bay…I'm going to see a show with some friends… have any plans? We'd love you to join us," she asked as an after thought, knowing Lee never went home, at least not to any family.
"No, I have plans, good bye, have a nice time."
"Oh, Mr. Jefferson stopped by, there's a special TV report he mentioned, it was supposed to come on about now, here, let me get the channel."
"No, I really don't think I wan…"
"And so," Jefferson continued on the screen, "I deeply regret my actions of defrauding my employers, the public, the Nelson Institute and the men of Seaview, especially her Captain. I can't change what I've done, and will accept whatever punishment is meted out, but I can atone a little by speaking the truth of these matters and want it known that it was Captain Crane's ingenuity and skill that got us out of that cave- in alive, and I apologize for all my lies and unmitigated gall aboard ship. In addition…" he paused, " I am still all the more sorry, because I should have been proud of him, but was too jealous to admit it….You all know that my byline is a pseudonym. It comes in handy to have one. No crank calls in the middle of the night and such, but I no longer want it. My real name is Geonini Crane, and I'm proud to share the name with Lee Crane, my son. "
It was a gloomy day outside but Seaview's crew clambered aboard her in a cheery mood. Shore leave had refreshed them, and just about all were sporting a few extra pounds from 'home cooking', and fast food. Even the normally lithe Morton found his uniform a bit snug.
"Skipper!" Chip called out as Lee jumped down the conning tower ladder to the deck. "Good to see you…we'll be ready to depart in about, let me see here, oh, about a half an hour. Oh, the Admiral's been in sick bay."
"Sick bay!" Lee exclaimed in shock.
"Bad back," Chip winked.
"That's not in good humor, Chip."
"Ohhh." Nelson slowing and painfully descended the spiral steps.
"Are you all right?" Lee asked.
"Remind me never to volunteer to mow a lawn again," he moaned.
"You don’t have a lawn," Lee mentioned.
"No, but Kitty's Aunt Bessie does… right here in Santa Barbara. 'Call Harry any time Auntie dear,' she told her…how could I turn down a 95 year old! But I've hired a boy scout for any future 'gardening' chores."
"Well Chip?" Lee asked of the exec.
"Uh, still," Chip tried to whisper, " it could have happened."
"What are you two gibbering about…Lee, what's that on your collar, instead of your rank insignia?"
"Oh, just a little…uh…"
"It's the mermaid!" Chip held Lee's collar. "You swipe it?"he grinned.
"Chip!" Lee exclaimed.
"Relax, Chip, " Nelson poured out three rums from the sideboard. " I have a feeling a father found a son, or at least, that he discovered that he'd always had one. Is that right, Lee?"
"That's right sir, I went home at last."
"Well, I hope you took full advantage of the situation," Chip patted Lee's stomach, " how was mom's home cooking?"
"I refuse to answer on the grounds that Cookie would keep me on jello or rice pudding!"
"Or throw you overboard," Chip added.
"Or make you walk the plank," Nelson chimed in.
"Uh, excuse me sirs," Chief Sharkey approached, " but this package just came for you skipper, express mail."
"Thanks Chief, wonder what it is?"
"Where's it from?" Nelson asked.
"Excuse me," Lee tried to flee.
"Lee…" Nelson used his command 'better stop and tell me or else' voice.
Lee sat the package down on the plotting table and opened it….
"Uh, Lee?" Chip asked.
"Captain?" Nelson asked.
"Oh all right. Go ahead."
Within minutes, Chip and Nelson were helping themselves to the homemade cookies, muffins, and cake that Mrs. Crane had sent, and almost drooled over the exotic bread mixes that Crane had quickly sent off to the galley for 'future reference'.
" Are you two still gobbling away? We have a boat to get underway," Lee approached the two about ten minutes later.
"Well, " Nelson popped yet another peanut butter cookie in his mouth, " what are you waiting for Captain? Another chocolate chip, Chip…hmm, a play on words," he offered Morton the thick, big cookie.
"Don't mind if I do," Chip grinned, "oh, go ahead Lee, you can take her out if you like."
"I just think I will!" Lee smiled in a mix of aggravated amusement. Good thing he'd hidden away his other 'care package' his parents had insisted upon in his duffel bag. Both his parent's, he mused. He hadn't been able to say the plural in a long long time. If felt good to, at last.
Fingering the small mermaid crest, he gave the order, and Seaview was on her way in another venture, again.