Note: This has been created from the events in the series four episode… ‘Blow Up’. The lines were… “I never trusted you…never knew what you were thinking…” spoken by Admiral Nelson to Mr. Morton.
He sat in the shadowed booth, in the nearly deserted bar, as he had done for several evenings recently, turning the glass slowly in his hands, staring sightlessly into it’s amber contents.
To those who had grown used to his presence in the last month, he was obviously troubled with dark thoughts; he sat alone, spoke to no one, always withdrawn and unapproachable.
Seemingly unaware of the attention directed at him, cold blue eyes concentrated on the memories that preoccupied him. He took a gulp from the glass, swallowing the burning liquid quickly. He did not savour the taste but had grown accustomed to it and welcomed the warmth that spread through him. He knew that he was drinking more than was usual for him and that the spirits were stronger than he commonly drank… but so what? Who cared, he certainly didn’t any more. Suddenly a flicker of anger disturbed him as he remembered an earlier conversation that day, with his best friend.
“Chip, what the hell is going on with you?” Lee Crane demanded as he burst into his Exec’s office at the N.I.M.R building.
Chip Morton looked up from his work and straight at his superior. “Is there a problem…Captain?” He replied disdainfully, lacking any semblance of his usual respect.
Crane heard the faint sarcasm and frowned. What was going on here? Chip Morton was renowned for his respectful attitude towards his superior officers and friends and Lee Crane was his best friend, he knew better than anyone that something was bothering him.
He came forward and studied his exec closely. Leaning on the desk he asked anxiously. “Chip, what’s wrong?”
Morton stood and moved away restlessly, to stand by the large office window, looking out he replied. “What makes you think anything’s wrong? Aren’t I doing my job satisfactorily?”
“Chip!” Lee stood and went to stand by his friend. He caught his arm to turn him around to face him. “Chip, talk to me… what’s the matter with you? Why did you argue with the Admiral this morning?”
Morton shook off Crane’s hand and turned away angrily. “So that’s it! That’s what got you in here so fast, the Admiral!” Chip turned back to glare at Lee. “If he hadn’t come running to you, would you have bothered otherwise?” He stalked away to his desk and sat down in the chair.
“Of course I would. What is wrong with you? Why the attitude?”
Chip didn’t answer and refused to look up.
“Mr Morton, I want some answers. Why are you and Nelson arguing? I thought you had resolved your problems, that working on this project was helping you both.”
Crane returned to the desk and sat on the edge. Carefully he continued. “Chip, I’m asking as your friend, what’s the matter? Why are you acting this way?
Chip looked up at his friend and a flash of remorse shadowed his worried eyes. It only lasted a moment and then he stiffened himself as he looked away.
“I’m not the one who changed everything, Lee… he did.”
“What are you talking about?” Crane was confused
“He doesn’t trust me anymore…seems he never did.” Chip replied harshly.
“Chip, you know that’s not true. It was the gas… he never meant what he said to you. We were all under a strain; you know that. I thought you understood and had accepted his apology.” Lee said earnestly.
Chip sighed and looked down at his hands twisted together on the desktop. Quietly he answered his friend. “You weren’t there Lee, you didn’t hear him, the way he said it, the way he looked at me, he meant it alright. ‘I’ve never really trusted you… never knew what you were thinking…’ If he didn’t believe it, why’d he say it?” Morton turned angry eyes towards Crane. “I’ll tell you why! Because the gas just gave him the courage to say what he really thought, that’s why.” Angrily his voice rose again.
“That’s ridiculous Chip. Doc explained it to you. The gas…”
“Just released his inhibitions!” interrupted Morton.
“No! It altered his thinking. He was confused; he didn’t know what he was saying. He accused Jamie of trying to murder him, do you think he meant that as well?” Lee questioned harshly.
Chip ran a hand through his short blond hair, oblivious to the minor dishevelment, so uncharacteristic of him. “I don’t know, Lee.” Morton stood and started to pace. “I just know that I can’t forget the way he spoke to me. I try but somehow it… it just won’t go away.”
“It’s been over two months since that mission! You were fine with it after he explained… what’s happened since? Why have you suddenly changed your mind?”
Lee watched as Chip chose to ignore him and instead poured himself some coffee but after only one sip, put it aside distastefully.
Crane persisted, “Is that what caused the argument between you both this morning?” Lee watched Chip’s reaction to his enquiry with concern, as his friend flinched and turned away. “Well, answer me!” he demanded.
Chip turned back angrily. “Not exactly. We had a… disagreement over procedure.” Chip Morton raised his voice heatedly. “Just because he wants something right away, doesn’t mean it can be done! He has no patience… sometimes the answer has to be ‘wait’.”
Lee Crane watched with profound concern now, as his friend sat down again. Chip looked tired, faint circles shadowed his normally alert eyes. These days he wore a constant air of tension that was so unlike him. Ready to take every comment as a criticism against him. Lee had tried to get him to relax, suggesting dinner, drinks or just a game of tennis but he had rejected all overtures. They had not met up socially in over a month now. His appearance was also less than the pristine exactness he habitually insisted upon. Had he deliberately chosen to forgo his tie today or forgotten to put it on?
“Chip, you’re obviously tired. I know the admiral has been pushing hard on this project but if you need some time off, I …?”
Chip looked at him quickly, anger again flaring in the normally calm officer. “So, you too! Don’t you think I can do my job anymore? Is that what this is all about? Has Nelson sent you to do his dirty work… does he finally want me out?”
Lee was stunned by the vehemence Chip Morton displayed, he really believed what he was saying. Lee was more concerned than ever. “Chip, no one has sent me. I came because you’re my friend and something is obviously wrong with you. I want to help but you have to let me in. What’s so bad that you can’t tell me?” Crane asked anxiously.
Morton looked at his friend and for a moment, Lee could see nervousness but quickly it was hidden behind the mask of indifference that Chip used to protect his thoughts.
“I don’t know what you mean, Captain...” his Exec answered stiffly. “…nothing’s wrong with me. If I can be just left alone to do my job, without the constant necessity for people to question my actions, maybe things would get done around here!” Chip picked up a file and started to read, “Now, if there was nothing else, I have work to do, that’s if I do still work here.” He heard the slight gasp that Crane couldn’t stop and for a moment regretted the remark.
Lee tried to think of something else to say but, recognising Chip’s ability to tune him out if he wanted, he turned to leave, saying firmly. “This isn’t over, Mr. Morton. I will find out what’s at the bottom of all this!”
Chip took another drink and this time he drained the glass. He was about to order another when a figure cast a shadow across the table. Turning slightly he was not surprised to see the figure of a slim young woman.
“So, you found me.”
“It was your challenge. ‘Find me and I’ll buy you dinner.’” She smiled warmly.
“It was indeed!” Chip looked away and vaguely waved his hand to indicate the vacant seat opposite. “Please, join me. What would you like to drink?”
She sat and looked at him carefully, “Nothing for me. Are you sure you want another? Wouldn’t some food and coffee be better?”
“Not you too! What is it these days that has everyone so concerned for my welfare? Poor, Chip Morton… not the man he was, you know.” He murmured sarcastically and lifted his hand to the barman. The man nodded understanding, as he turned to fill another glass.
“Chip, please, let me take you home. I can get us some food and you can get some rest.”
She watched as the barman put down a glass, collected the empty one and picked up the money Chip had dropped on the table.
“How much has he had?” she asked softly.
“Enough.” He said quietly and walked away.
“I like it here. No-one bothers you or asks stupid questions.” Chip sipped his drink. “ I first came here .…” His voice faded as he tried hard to concentrate.
“I brought you here, remember? Our first dinner together.”
“Yes, that’s right. After you joined the team.” Chip smiled and looked at the pretty face opposite him. Dr. Fran Redmond was highly qualified in the field of satellite technology and Washington had appointed her to the joint N.I.M.R. project. Remembering how he and Lee had both vied for her attention, he smiled contentedly that she had started to date him. They had seen each other every evening since and he felt she at least understood him
“I thought it was strange choice at the time, but it does have a certain charm.” He looked around the smart but quiet bar. “Strange that it always seems to be the same people here….” For a moment a thought just out of his reach, troubled him.
“It has a very select clientele, that’s why I like it.” She drew his attention back to her. “Come on, Commander, it’s getting late, let a girl take you home and feed you.” She laughed gently and moved around to help him up as he finished the drink quickly.
Chip moved with her and stood, concentrating on remaining steady. He felt light-headed and couldn’t think why. He hadn’t had that much; had he?
Slowly they made their way to his car and he allowed her to help him into the passenger seat. He didn’t even realise that they had arrived at his beachside home until he felt Fran helping him out of the car and guiding him inside.
She followed as he went to sit on the couch and then lay down, stretching his tall frame to its full extent. He threw his left arm across his eyes and said sleepily. “I…just need… a few minutes… then… then we can… eat….”
His voice faded and she bent forward and moved his arm from his face then asked softly. “Chip… Chip… can you hear me?”
“Mmmm…” The sleeping figure mumbled.
Fran Redmond was very familiar with Chip Morton’s home and after she was assured that he was still semi-responsive, went to a cupboard and removed a tape recorder and headphones. Quickly she placed them on the table beside Morton. She opened her purse and removed a pre-recorded tape, fitted it into the machine, started it and put one of the headphones to her ear and listened. Smiling contentedly, she placed the headphones over Chip’s head and watched a moment as he moved restlessly, his eyes moving in agitation beneath the closed lids. After a few moments he settled and lay still.
She sat and watched him… smiling with satisfaction; this was proving too easy. She hadn’t been sure at first that he could be manipulated. He had a formidable reputation but they had broken through that famous reserve. Now they were close to their goal and tonight would bring the culmination of all their careful planning.
Almost blinded by tears she stumbled rather than ran down the corridor to Lee's apartment and leaned on the door bell, her other hand pressing a blood stained handkerchief to her cut lips.
Lee switched off the news broadcast he'd been dozing in front of and opened the door.
“Fran? What the...?” Instinctively he put an arm round the shivering woman and drew her inside.
“Lee ... I ... I didn't know where else to go. I was frightened that if I went home he might follow me.” Her words came out in a rush and Lee hastily sought to calm her.
“Just take your time, you're safe here.” As he spoke he pushed her gently down into a chair, pulling a thin throw from the couch and draping it over her shoulders. He handed her the coffee he'd just poured for himself.
He crouched down in front of her, “Do you want me to call for a doctor?”
“No, there’s no need. I’m more shaken than hurt I think.”
“What happened? Who attacked you?” He asked gently.
“Lee, I don't know how to tell you this.” She shook her head and looked down at the coffee cup in her hands.
“Just start from the beginning,” Lee encouraged.
Fran glanced at Lee shyly, then away again. “I went to meet Chip for dinner,” she started her story and then for a brief moment she experienced a momentary hesitation. She genuinely found Crane’s quiet confidence to be reassuring, it was extremely difficult not to be attracted to the man but then she remembered what was at stake and carried on. “He was at the bar where we had our first date, he'd been there for about half an hour when I arrived. He'd been drinking rather a lot and seemed upset so I thought I'd better drive us back to his place, I wanted to make sure he got something to eat. He fell asleep for a while and when he woke, I was making some coffee. We started talking about the satellite project when…” she paused, looking up at Lee, her large brown eyes swimming with tears, “…oh, Lee, he seemed like such a gentle person, I never thought ... “ she broke off, sobbing, burying her head in Lee's shoulder as he put his arms around her.
Overwhelmed by her statement, Lee tried to take in her words as he spoke, “You're saying that Chip did this? Fran, are you sure?”
“I'm sorry, Lee, I know he's your best friend. Maybe when he sobers up a little he'll realise what he's done, I’m sure he didn’t mean it. I think … that is… he’s was angry because I defended Admiral Nelson. I just didn’t realise how bad things were between them, how much Chip hates him. I managed to leave when he fell asleep on the couch again. I just ran here without thinking.”
Shocked, Lee reached for the phone and started to dial a number.
“I don't want the police informed," Fran put in hastily, “I really don't want to get him into any more trouble.”
“I'm ringing the Admiral. While you are on secondment to us you are to all intents and purposes an Institute employee and Nelson will want to know about this.” He waited until the phone was answered by a sleepy voice,
"Admiral, I know it's late but could you come over to my apartment right away, Sir?"
“Lee, what's happened?”
“I'd rather wait until you got here, Sir.”
“Alright Lee, give me half an hour.”
“You don't believe me, do you, Admiral?”
Nelson stopped pacing the carpet angrily, “What I believe or don't believe is irrelevant. An officer, one of my officers, has physically attacked a woman… a member of my staff and that I am not having.” He knelt down in front of Fran and very gently lifted her face to the light. “I'm going to take you to the Institute Infirmary, let them have a look at you.”
“No, please that’s not necessary…I'm okay, really.”
Nelson smiled, how many times had he heard those words. “While you work for me, Dr. Redmond, I give the orders.” He assured her softly.
“Alright, Admiral, if you insist, thank you.” This was better than she had hoped; now more people at the Institute would know what had happened… she would see to it that they did.
“Admiral,” Lee said, “I'll go round to see Chip. I ...”
“You're concerned about him? Under the circumstances, I think that might be a very good idea…” Nelson said angrily. “Tell him I want to see him at 0700 hours, in my office, tomorrow morning... sober!”
Lee rang Chip's doorbell and waited. There was a light under the door so he must be still up. After a moment with no response he took out the key Chip had once given him and let himself in. The sight that met his eyes momentarily stunned him but in a way didn't altogether surprise him. The room was in disarray with a chair over turned and papers scattered from the open briefcase. Chip lay on the couch, one arm hanging over the edge where he had dropped a glass, the contents of which were now gradually seeping into the carpet. Lee bent down and picked it up, placing it on the coffee table next to a half empty bottle of bourbon. He turned and looked down at Chip. Was this what it had come to? A first class officer, slowly letting himself sink into a decline. Sudden anger swept over him. No, he was not going to let this happen, Chip was not going to just let everything go. Bending down he shook Morton’s shoulder none too gently.
“Chip, wake up. Come on, open your eyes.”
“Mmm?” Chip murmured, trying to turn away.
Lee slapped Chip's face hard, “Come on, Chip, wake up.”
That had been 10 minutes ago and now Lee was as confused as Chip seemed to be.
“I really don't remember, Lee.” Chip sat on the couch, his head in his hands.
“Try.” Lee demanded.
Looking up he stated. “I've already told you, I met Fran in the bar and then the next thing I remember you're waking me up. Are you sure she's not badly hurt?”
“We don't think so.”
“I just wouldn't do that.” Chip stood up and started to pace the room
“How do you explain it then?” Lee asked, watching his agitation.
"I don't ... that is ... I can't.” Chip came and sat opposite Lee. “You do believe me, don't you?” He demanded suspiciously.
“I don't know what to believe any more, except…” Lee looked at his friend carefully. “I've seen her for myself and it wasn't pretty.”
The warm feeling that Chip had experienced in the bar had worn off and automatically he reached for the bottle on the table but Lee reached it first. “Just how much of this have you had?” He snatched it away and took the bottle to the bar slamming it down irritably.
Sudden anger swept over Chip… just exactly who did Crane think he was.
“That's none of your business. Since when did you get appointed as my keeper?”
Lee sighed in total exasperation as he turned back to face Chip. “Don't be ridiculous.” Angrily he glared at his friend. “I don’t understand you Chip, you’re not a heavy drinker, yet lately…” He stood with his hands on his hips, trying to find the right words. “You know how important this project is, we need you and we need you sober.”
“Oh, don't worry, I won't let Nelson down, I wouldn't give him the satisfaction.”
“That's not exactly what I meant and you know it. Chip this is serious! I'm trying to help you here. I can’t simply stand by and watch you risk your career.”
“That's rich, that's very rich, coming from you!" Chip replied sarcastically, “You stand there and have the temerity to say you're worried about my career, it was you who accused me of mutiny remember, or have you conveniently forgotten that?”
Lee remembered the incident all too well, it had all been part of the same mission that had started all this.
He had returned to the control room after checking the damage to the bulkheads, to be faced by an angry first officer and crew. Time to affect their repairs was short and he had not wanted to be distracted from that, by their concerns, justifiable, as he knew them to be. The Admiral was behaving strangely but his main concern had been getting the Seaview off the bottom and seaworthy again.
“Chip, I had to deal with the situation fast, in the best way I could. You know that, you would have done exactly the same.”
Chip Morton leapt to his feet. “I don't think so. We tried to warn you what was happening and you didn't listen. The great Lee Crane, the man who never needs to be told anything. Well I’ve had enough of listening to you, so if you've quite finished, you can get out.”
“I’m not leaving Chip, until I...” Lee crossed the room but didn't see the blow coming and found himself falling backwards to crash onto the floor.
“I said leave.” Morton repeated through gritted teeth.
Blazing angry now Lee picked himself up with as much speed and dignity as he could muster.
“Right, that's it. I've had it with you Morton. If I didn't believe it was possible before, that you could have hit Fran Redmond, I certainly do now. I'm going to give you one last chance by not officially reporting this. I suggest you have a good, long, look at yourself, mister. You've got to pull yourself together before you throw everything away… the Seaview, your reputation, your career, everything you've worked so hard for.” Lee glared at Morton. “Admiral Nelson wants you in his office at 07.00 tomorrow… I'll send a car.”
“I can drive myself.”
“I said, I'd send a car. Just make sure you're ready, that's an order!” Lee walked swiftly to the front door.
“Yes, Sir, Captain, Sir!”
Lee paused in the doorway as if about to say something else, then changed his mind and left, slamming the door behind him. Outside in his car, he leaned back in the seat, his eyes closed. Despite his best intentions he seemed to have achieved nothing. He just hoped Nelson could sort this out. He was totally confounded by Chip’s attitude; there was certainly, very little more he could achieve right now.
Chip sat down on the couch, his anger had abated as quickly as it had come and he felt tired and drained. Had he really hit her? Could he have done that to a woman and what on earth had possessed him to punch Lee? He put his head in his hands, Oh God, was he really losing his mind?
A knock on the office door and his perfunctory ‘Come’ interrupted his dark thoughts. He was relieved to see his Captain and friend enter. “Come in Lee. How’s the jaw this morning?”
Lee Crane came forward and rubbed at his chin tentatively. “Sore.” He sighed tiredly and sat down. “Is he here yet?”
Nelson nodded. “In his office…I suggested he wait there until I sent for him.” Anxiously he ran a hand through his hair and exclaimed, “Dammit Lee, how can this be happening? Chip Morton of all men…it’s unbelievable! If I hadn’t heard and seen the evidence with my own eyes….” He shook his head to clear the vivid memory, “Call him in, Captain, we need to sort this out, right now!”
“Aye, sir.” Crane picked up the phone and dialled. On hearing the familiar voice, he issued the summons and putting the receiver down softly, turned to go and stand by the admiral who sat at tensely behind his desk.
They had only minutes to wait. There was a single knock and Chip Morton entered and marched smartly across the room, standing at stiff attention in front of the large desk, his eyes concentrated on the blank wall behind his two superiors.
Nelson looked at the man who, until recently, he had been proud to call a friend but now….
“Well, Mr. Morton, what have you got to say for yourself? How do you explain your behaviour last night?”
When Chip Morton made no visible sign of even hearing the questions, both of his friends looked at each other.
Nelson stood abruptly. “Well, answer me, Commander. That’s an order!” his voice rising crossly.
Morton’s eyes flinched imperceptibly and he lowered his gaze to meet Nelson’s. “I have no explanation, sir.”
“No explanation… for God’s sake man, how can you say that? Did you or did you not… strike Dr. Redmond?”
This time the famous Morton mask slipped fractionally and both officers saw a glimpse of guilt but just as quickly it was erased. “I… I don’t know, sir. If she says I did then….” Chip could not finish his statement.
He had been so astounded when Lee had arrived in the early hours of the morning to confront him, his befuddled brain could not believe his friend’s accusations at first… he still couldn’t. His embarrassment at Lee’s obvious disdain of his condition, turned quickly to anger, mainly at himself but the result had been directed at Lee and he closed his eyes briefly as he remembered the punch he threw at his best friend.
“I’m sorry, sir, but that’s all I can say. I have no clear memory of the evening.” He resorted to formality and again raised his eyes to stare at the blank wall.
Nelson turned to Crane and glared. Lee took a step forward and said urgently. “Chip, think about what you’re saying. You must have some explanation. When I arrived last night, you were far from drunk… a little confused maybe but you remembered meeting with Dr. Redmond….”
Chip interrupted Lee angrily. “And that’s all I remember… I don’t even know how I got home!”
“Easy, Commander.” Nelson admonished harshly. “We’re only after the facts here. You were drinking heavily last night I gather, haven’t you been drinking rather a lot lately? Would that explain your… attitude of late, Mr. Morton?”
Chip Morton clenched his fists and lowered angry eyes to the man in front of him. “I don’t see that my attitude, sir, has anything to do with this. I do not remember….” he hesitated, searching for the right words. “ …harming… Dr. Redmond and if I am to blame for her injuries….”
“Dr. Redmond says so. Are you saying she is… mistaken?” Nelson asked tersely, his anger barely contained.
Chip stiffened and looked at his superior with derision. “I don’t know, sir. As I have no memory, I can hardly disagree, can I?” His voice was cold and lacked his normal respect.
Admiral Nelson gritted his teeth and fought to keep his temper under control. “Commander Morton, I don’t like your tone. In fact there’s a lot about your manner that I don’t like lately. I realise we’ve had a few problems….”
He stopped when Morton snorted rudely and muttered. “You certainly have!”
“Chip!” Lee interjected.
Nelson held up his hand and said. “No, no, Lee, let’s get this into the open. Just what is it that you think is the real difficulty here, Mr. Morton?” When Chip only glared at him, Harry encouraged sardonically, “ Please, I’d really like to know.”
Morton felt the man he had come to hate had challenged him. Hate? The briefest uncertainty stopped him for a moment.
“Permission to speak freely, sir.”
Nelson narrowed his gaze and nodded.
“Two months ago you told me that you had never really trusted me…”
“But that was the EBA gas that influenced me….” Harry interrupted impatiently, waving his hand vaguely to emphasise his statement. “You were there, you know that.”
“Yes, sir. I was there. I stood in the control room while you dressed me down in front of the whole watch…Gas or no gas; I believe you finally had the courage to admit how you really viewed me.”
“That’s not true… I have always valued and trusted you, man…”
“So you say now… but I remember all the other occasions when you have ignored or countermanded my orders. I finally understand that you have regretted my position but for reasons of your own had not requested my resignation. Maybe you just didn’t want the extra trouble of finding a replacement… or the disruption of training a new ‘tame’ exec … I don’t know why, sir, and right now I don’t particularly care, the reason doesn’t matter anymore. With Dr. Redmond’s accusations you have the opportunity you have been looking for, to be rid of me.” Chip Morton finished ruthlessly.
Nelson studied closely the man before him as Lee Crane tried to reason with him. When had he become this stranger?
He bitterly regretted the last mission that had resulted in the death of a crewman due to his paranoia. Unbeknown to them all, the Emergency Breathing Apparatus they were to test had unexpected side effects. It left the user with a bad case of instant paranoia. It was with deep embarrassment that he recalled the words he had used to insult the man he had called a friend.
“I have never really trusted you… could never tell what you were thinking!
“You are not going to break me… but I am going to break you.”
When his system had been purged of the influence the gas had caused, he had apologised to those whom he had caused harm but when it came to Chip Morton… well, his Exec had stood quietly and listened to his apology stoically enough and gave every indication of accepting it. Since that time, he had fervently hoped that he had done enough to show him, that all he had said in anger was not meant. Now he saw that he had not succeeded and that his first officer and friend still harboured resentment towards him.
His recollections were interrupted by the strident argument that was taking place between his two senior officers.
“I’m not the fool here, Captain! You’re just as bad. You don’t take me seriously either, I’m only included on ‘the need to know’ when it’s too late! Well, I’m tired of being used and abused…”
“That’s enough! From both of you.” Harry shouted irritably. He could see Lee’s astonishment at Morton’s aggressive stance. This had to stop they were best friends but Chip’s bitterness was now wrecking that relationship too.
“Dr. Redmond has refused to make a formal complaint against you Mr. Morton. She feels there were extenuating circumstances, it seems she has been concerned about your… mental welfare, for some time. Therefore, pending a full psychological profile, to be carried out, on Dr Jamieson’s return tomorrow, I am suspending you from duty. I suggest you go home and think carefully about your future Commander.”
Chip Morton stood absolutely still, a chilling expression of loathing, plainly expressed from his piercing blue, ice-cold eyes.
Slowly he reached into the inner pocket of his uniform jacket and withdrew a slim white envelope. Looking down at it, as if weighing the contents, he hesitated a moment, looking at Crane, then Nelson, he stepped forward and placed it on the desk carefully.
“My resignation, effective immediately.” He turned on his heel and left.
Lee glanced over the admiral’s shoulder at Chip's letter as he read it. As would be expected, it was businesslike and to the point.
Lee paced to the window, then turned anxiously to Nelson. “Admiral, we can't just leave it like this. Something is wrong; this is not the Chip Morton we all know. You must see that…he needs help!”
“I don't like it anymore than you do but I don't see what else we can do. We can't force him to work here, he's clearly not happy. Of course, it could just be the strain, he's been working a lot of extra hours on this satellite programme, perhaps he just needs some down time. I think the best thing to do is leave it, let Jamieson look at him and in a few days we could try to talk to him again”
“And if he's simply stopped listening, what then? Last night he was strange, almost paranoid, I didn't know he harboured so much resentment.”
Nelson looked uncomfortable, Morton certainly seemed to ooze resentment, Harry sighed. “Will's due back tomorrow, I'll talk to him about it. But right now Lee, we are going to have to concentrate on testing the radio link with the satellite, Washington is pushing for results; we can’t delay it any longer. Can Seaview be ready to sail by 14.00 tomorrow?”
Lee frowned as he studied Nelson. He could see the tension that shadowed his features and felt angry at the circumstances that were now affecting all of them. Quickly he came to join him. “I'll contact Sharkey and check on the crew’s return.”
“Fine and contact Lt. O'Brien, tell him until further notice he'll be Acting Exec,” Harry sighed again, this was all proving very tiresome. “You'd better tell him everything but as far as anyone else is concerned.…”
Lee nodded gently, “ ... it's classified information.”
“Right. Angie won't be in yet, so use her office to make your phone calls. Now we need to....”
He was interrupted by a light knock on his door.
Fran Redmond entered carrying a small stack of papers and notebooks.
“Dr. Redmond,” Nelson greeted, “how are you feeling?” He rose and came towards her, escorting her to a chair.
“Not brilliant, I must admit but I do want to thank you both for your kindness last night.” She glanced at Lee, “Not you too?” she asked with surprise.
“I walked into a door,” Lee told her flatly.
“Yes, of course you did.” Fran acknowledged hastily and asked no further questions. “Admiral, your corpsman at the infirmary suggested I took a few days off and I thought if you could manage without me, it might be best. You and Chip might need my notes. Please tell him…well, that there are no hard feelings and I hope he's feeling better very soon.”
“That may be a little difficult,” Nelson, answered with slight embarrassment, “he's resigned. In fact you've only missed him by a couple of minutes.”
“I'm so sorry to hear that. Is there anything I can do? I mean this is all because of me… maybe if..…”
“That's very good of you, considering the circumstances but the fault is not yours, you have nothing to reproach yourself for.” Nelson answered. “We're going to let him cool off for a few days, just give him time to think about things then we’ll talk with him again.”
“I understand. That’s probably best, after all he’s not likely to run away, is he?” She gave them both an embarrassed smile.
Nelson looked at Lee and then said. “No, I don’t think so. In the meantime you have a good rest and don't hesitate to call on our medical facilities if you should need them.”
“Thank you, Admiral.” She rose gracefully.
“Let me walk you to your car.” Lee offered.
Fran smiled at him, it was an unnecessary offer but why waste an opportunity. Mentally, she pulled herself up sharply, she must not allow herself to be distracted and risk everything simply because of a tall, dark, handsome colleague.
“ ... as soon as you can get everybody back on board, Chief, we want to get underway by 14.00 tomorrow.” Lee replaced the receiver and looked up as the door opened.
“Will? We weren't expecting you back so soon. Good leave?”
“Yes, just fine.” He paused then smiled ever so slightly, “Whose fist did you accidentally walk into? Surely our gallant Captain hasn't been brawling?”
“I walked into a door.”
“Officially or unofficially?” He put down the folder he was carrying. “Let me have a look.”
Lee submitted to a brief examination. “Well, you'll live… but it's going to bruise beautifully. How does it feel?”
“A bit sore, that's all. For personal reasons I don't want this on record.” Lee watched as Jamie narrowed his gaze and considered his request. “What brings you back early?” Lee asked quickly.
Jamie continued to look at Lee suspiciously but allowed himself to be re-directed. “I need to see Chip quite urgently. Security tells me he's already left, I tried his home but there's no answer. Do you know where he is?”
Lee looked immediately concerned. “I think we’d better go talk to the Admiral.”
“If I can persuade him to leave voluntarily, are you sure you’re ready?” Fran Redmond demanded.
“Yes, I told you,” the man in the back seat of Fran's car assured her, “we have everything prepared.”
“Good. Make sure you're not seen. I don't know how long I’ll be.”
Fran checked her appearance in the car mirror then got out and crossed the road to Chip's house. This was not going to be easy and it would have to be carried off with confidence.
Chip answered the door almost immediately. He was dressed in civilian clothes and even at this early hour he had a glass in his hand and a scowl on his face.
“Fran… Dr. Redmond… I….” Immediately, surprise, replaced his bad humour.
“Chip, I know I'm probably the last person you want to see at the moment but I was concerned about you. Can we talk?”
“Yes, of course. Come in… you're welcome. I thought you’d want to stay as far away from me as possible.” Chip watched her walk in and was embarrassed to see the extent of her bruises, her lip was also cut and her jaw was slightly swollen, had he really hit her that hard? “I'm sorry you got hurt, I …”
“Chip, please. Let's just forget about last night." She sat down on the couch and looked around. He hadn't tidied up, which was a stroke of luck; it would enable her to search the place under the pretext of clearing up. “They told me at the Institute that you'd resigned, but,” she added swiftly before he could say anything, “I haven't come here at their instigation.”
Chip sat down beside her and took a sip of his drink.
“Isn’t it a little early for that?” she asked.
Chip looked at the glass in his hand. “I thought it would help but it doesn’t.” He leant forward and pushed the glass across the coffee table.
“Are you sure about your resignation?” She asked softly.
“It's what they wanted,” he stated simply.
“But are you sure?”
“Oh yes, they made that very clear. I can't work where I'm not trusted,” the bitterness in his voice echoed his sincerity.
“What are you going to do?”
“There's always work for a trained diver.”
“No, I meant now… today?”
“I haven’t made any plans yet.” Chip sighed. “Think maybe, I should get out of here for a while. Need to do some serious thinking” He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes; his head felt like it was in a vice.
“I have a small holiday chalet in a beautiful deserted area in the hills, just beyond Cedar Springs. You can use it if you would like to. The nearest store is 4 miles away; you could have peace and quiet and be totally alone for a few days. There's good fishing and the weather at this time of year is wonderful. I can take you up there, show you round and then leave you for as long as you want to stay.”
Chip considered for a moment, he had his freedom now; he could come and go as he pleased. He sat up and looked at her.
“Sounds good. But are you sure, don’t you want to use it? I mean, after all I’ve done to you…it must be… difficult to face people…”
“I’m going to see my mother for a few days. She’s always complaining I don’t visit enough.” Fran smiled.
“You’re being incredibly easy on me… after all that’s happened. I just can’t imagine what made me do something like that. I’ve just been so mixed up lately….” Chip struggled to find the words adequate enough to express his abject apology.
“Please Chip, don’t. You’ve been put under tremendous pressure for so long; we’ve all seen it. I think you should get away, if only from the Admiral’s constant criticism. It will do you good.” She watched as her words struck home and Morton stood and stalked to the patio doors leading on to the deck area.
“The Admiral!” He said angrily. He stood looking out at the ocean, his arms folded tightly across his chest. Then turned quickly, he had decided. “Fran, if you’re sure it’s free, I would like to get away right now… I need to think…I don’t know what’s eating at me lately but I need to work it out…”
“I would have thought that was obvious. When you answered the door I clearly saw the anxiety in your face. You thought it was one of them, didn’t you?”
“I thought for a moment it might be Crane, back with his 'big brother' act.” Chip admitted brusquely.
“I thought so.” She smiled and stood to join him. “You just come with me right now and I’ll help you get away from here.”
“One thing, just promise me you won't tell Nelson where I am.” Chip asked quietly.
Fran smiled to herself, “Oh no, I won't do that.”
“I'll go and throw some things in a bag.” Chip smiled as he walked quickly into his bedroom.
While Chip packed, Fran hastily tidied up, looking in vain for the all-important item she'd stupidly dropped the previous evening. Unfortunately Chip was ready in minutes, she hadn't counted on his military precision.
“That was quick.”
Chip looked round, “You didn't have to do this.”
Fran laughed affectionately and linked her arm through his, “Come on, my car's outside.”
Will, seated himself opposite Nelson's desk and accepted the coffee that was handed to him.
“Chip's resigned? You'd better tell me everything.” He listened attentively as Lee and Nelson gave him a full run-down on the events of the last few days. “That's very interesting, it's because of Chip that Frank called me back early. Do you remember I did a routine physical on everyone before I left? We've had all the results back and there's nothing untoward except for Chip's blood test.” He opened the file he had been carrying and handed Nelson a sheet of paper. “There's a higher level of alcohol than I would have expected for him but I wouldn't particularly have thought much of that except there's also something else. Have either of you ever heard of a drug called Lexidrine?”
“No.” Lee shook his head
“I haven't either,” Nelson answered, “What is it?”
Jaime sat back and started a careful explanation. “It's a drug that was being developed about three years ago but it was immediately stopped when certain side effects were discovered. It induces confusion and sudden outbursts of irrational behaviour, combined with unexplained anger but more than that; it can be used to aid subliminal suggestion or hypnosis. Administered over a period of time it can subtly change an individual’s perceptions and combined with expert direction, the subject can be influenced to believe almost anything. In Chip's case, it appears for some reason he's focusing on the Institute and you two in particular. Dissolved in alcohol it would be tasteless and odourless, he wouldn't have the least idea he was drinking it.”
“Who would have access to such a drug?” Lee asked, his mind racing as everything began to make a sort of sense.
Will shrugged, “You can obtain anything on the black market if you know where to look. The only other people who would have access to it, would be the scientists who worked on it.”
“What are the long term effects?” Nelson asked.
“Combined with the alcohol it could eventually cause permanent brain damage. It wouldn't kill him but it would destroy the man we know. We do need to find him and quickly.”
“Both of you get over to his place now… find him and bring him back, Lee. He needs our help and protection.” Nelson ordered, “O'Brien can finish readying the boat.”
Chip Morton floated to consciousness slowly, his thoughts sluggish to respond, his body felt heavy and unresponsive. Little by little his memory returned and he was gradually reminded of the events of the last few hours. He remembered getting into the car with Fran and the movement from behind him then the sharp pain in his shoulder as the needle had pierced him; his last memory was of her smiling face as he slid into oblivion.
His restless movement alerted the others in the room. He heard a voice call out. “He’s awake, doctor.”
Chip slowly opened his eyes and looked at the blank ceiling above him. The sound of movement to his right made him turn his head and meet the eyes of the woman he thought he could trust.
“Good evening, Commander Morton.” Fran Redmond smiled and nodded to someone behind him.
He realised he was in a chair that had been fully reclined, now it was raised and he sat with both his wrists, secured to the arms of it.
Looking up at her he felt anger rise in him. He could see her attractive face marred by the bruising and he looked away as he surveyed his surroundings. He immediately recognised the banks of computers and consoles, so reminiscent of the Institute satellite control centre. Coolly he demanded, “Where am I and why am I here.”
“Direct and to the point as always, Mr. Morton.” She turned and drew another chair closer, so as to sit near him. For a moment she studied him. Handsome as he was, she could not help but compare him to a tall dark, captain that had stirred her senses rather more. Quickly she concentrated on the task in hand. “You are here because we need you, or rather the information you possess.”
“What are you talking about? What information and who exactly is we.” His voice was stronger but his throat was dry and he had a sudden craving for something… a drink… he needed a drink! This thought shook him, was he so dependant that in the face of such danger his first thought was for alcohol?
“What’s the matter Chip? Do you need a drink maybe?” Her smirk of familiarity shook him further.
“No!” he denied loudly, struggling against the bonds on his wrists.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Morton, you’re not turning into an abusive drunk or any sort of drunk. You just have a craving for what was hidden in the liquor.”
“What are you talking about?” He felt confused and shaken but maintained an outward appearance of calm, even though the muscles throughout his body were beginning to suffer cramps and a pain in the pit of his stomach was distracting his attention.
“For the last month you have been receiving ever increasing amounts of Lexidrine. A mind-altering drug designed to adjust the thought processes and make patients more susceptible to suggestion.” She smiled as she saw him shiver and the beads of sweat that formed on his face, told her more about his condition than he knew.
“Unfortunately, it has one or two major side effects, it is highly addictive and prolonged use of it destroys the neural pathways.”
Feeling more and more confused Chip Morton fought to keep an unaccustomed panic from his voice. “I haven’t been taking any drugs.”
“Not consciously, no. But every time you went to that bar, you were fed some more. That’s why you drank there; you couldn’t help yourself. And that’s why you’re feeling desperate now … it’s been at least 17 hours since your last dosage.”
Chip tried to concentrate on her words…but his mind started flashing random images and edited conversations at him. Lee! He fought with Lee. No! That wasn’t possible, not Lee.
“I am suspending you…go home and think about you career, Commander.” Admiral Nelson said that… but when, why? He groaned and shook his head, as he fought again to clear his confusion.
“Are the flashbacks taking hold now, Chip? Hurts, doesn’t it? It will only get worse you know. Soon you won’t know reality from your own wild imaginings. I can help you. I can stop all your pain with this.” She held up a syringe, obviously prepared and waiting for him. “This is the anti-dote, a series of these injections would rid you of all your pain and tormented thoughts.”
“What do you want in return?” Morton managed hoarsely.
“All you have to do is give me the secret backdoor entry codes to the Nexus satellite system.”
“So, that’s what this is all about! You must know I can’t… won’t do that.” Morton took deep breaths and focussed his thoughts on her words, desperately ignoring the broken memories and cramping pain that kept assaulting him. “I…can fight this.”
“The withdrawal? Yes, probably, in time but not without a lot of suffering and definitely not if we start you back on the drug. I could destroy that technical mind of yours that Nelson prizes so highly.” She smiled as she saw his reaction to Nelson’s name. “Oh yes, he does value you.” She reached across and pressed the button on a machine and her voice echoed in the room.
“Nelson doesn’t trust you… he said so. ‘I don’t trust you… never knew what you were thinking…’ He wants you out. Nelson wants to break you…. ‘You won’t break me… but I will break you!’ That’s what he said. He told everyone, the whole crew….”
She switched it off and looked at him.
“It was you! You brainwashed me… you…you…made me think I hated him!” Chip growled.
“Yes, and you were so easy to convince. A pretty face, the influence of the Lexidrine and a few well-chosen words whispered in your head each night, it was all so much easier than we thought it could be. Of course, Nelson had given us the perfect crack in your trust that we needed.” She leant forward, so close he could smell her delicate perfume. “Did you really believe you did this?” She waved her hand gently across her lips and chin. “No, my dear Commander, you were too deeply honourable for this… I had to get Dax here to perform that duty for you.” A man behind her smiled maliciously at him. Her voice lowered conspiratorially. “But they believed it… your so called friends. They were all too ready to believe everything I told them about you.”
Chip fought to maintain his temper. “So why did you stop there, why didn’t you just convince me tell me to give you the codes?”
She sat back in the chair, to observe him better. “Oh, in time you would have but Nelson really did start to worry over your behaviour and then he demanded you turn the access codes over to him as soon as you finished testing them, a lot earlier than we had planned for. You could have your personality distorted but deep down you resisted outright betrayal. Your sense of loyalty is too ingrained for that. So we had to push our timetable up and force you to resign… that way you could disappear and no one would miss you.
“Well, nothing’s changed. I won’t betray those codes to you, especially now!”
“Think carefully, Commander. If we have to use Lexidrine on you again, it could destroy your brain completely. With prolonged use, your mind will collapse, if we can’t have the information…we will make sure that you will be of no use to anyone else.” She got up and came towards him, kneeling down she whispered encouragingly. “Is it worth it Chip? No one knows where you are, you resigned remember? They won’t be looking for you until it’s too late.” She stroked his face and continued. “I don’t want to do this, I really don’t but the people I work for want those codes and you will give me them eventually. Used carefully, I can keep you in torment for months, if I wanted. You don’t want that Chip, believe me, you’re all alone now. As far as Nelson and Crane are concerned you left of your own accord, disappeared….”
“No! I don’t care, do your worst lady because I won’t give you those codes!”
She heard the renewed determination in his voice and momentarily flared to anger. “You made the wrong choice Commander Morton! I tried to make this easy for you…but you want to do it the hard way.” She turned to one of the three men in the room. “Give him the Lexidrine and take him to his cell. We’ll let it take effect and then question him again.”
A lab-coated technician approached him and ripped the shirtsleeve on Chip’s left arm, at the seam. Pulling it down to the elbow he applied sterilized gauze to his bicep and then injected him with another prepared syringe. Although Chip struggled, secured as he was, there was nothing he could do to prevent the injection.
When it was done, the two guards released his wrists from the straps and seized his arms firmly, dragging him away, watched callously by Fran Redmond.
He was led through several corridors and when he tried to resist, they used physical blows to overcome his weakened body. Finally they opened a door and threw him across a small, dark room and he bounced off the wall, to fall in a heap on the metal floor.
While the guards stayed at the door the technician knelt in front of him and started to examine him. “Play along,” his whisper barely audible. “I’m a friend… I’ll help you all I can.” Standing he said normally. “You’d do better to co-operate, Lexidrine can’t be beaten. In less than an hour you will be succumbing, in two you will be open to any suggestion we give you.”
Chip looked up at him and shrewdly assessed his statement. “Thanks for the warning.”
The man left and the door was slammed loudly.
Left alone Chip fought his pain- racked body and distorted thoughts. He tried to think about the whispered warning. Was he truly a friend or was this just another trick.
After checking with Chip’s neighbours and making other general enquiries, Lee once again used Chip’s spare key to let himself into his friends home. Chip’s beachside property was deserted but in good order again. Gone were the signs of last night’s struggle and the neatness gave Lee a feeling of unreality to this whole situation.
He turned to Will Jamieson who had accompanied him to conduct the search for the source of the Lexidrine that had affected his best friend.
“Where do you want to look?”
“I’ll start with the liquor cabinet, as he’s been seen drinking heavily that would appear favourite.” Will said as he crossed the room.
Opening the doors of the ornate but discreet cupboard, Jamie observed the extensive selection. “For a man who doesn’t drink more than the occasional beer, he certainly caters for all tastes.”
“You know Chip, he always covers all the bases.” Lee said fondly as he scouted the room for anything unusual.
“Well, it shouldn’t take long, most of the bottles are unopened.” He set up a testing kit and started to take samples.
Lee went quickly to the bedroom and checked out the closet. Only a few clothes appeared to be missing, so maybe he hadn’t gone far. His uniforms hung neatly to one side and when Lee saw them, he fervently hoped that their owner would return soon to wear them again.
He continued to check the room for clues to his destination, when Will stood on the threshold and stated. “It wasn’t in any of the bottles here… of course they may have disposed of it. I’ll check the kitchen just in case.”
“Okay Jamie. There’s no clue here to his whereabouts, I’ll check out the living room.”
Lee went back into the tidy room and after checking Chip’s desk, sat down in a chair to think. Had Chip gone voluntarily or had he disappeared against his will. The latter seemed the most likely under the circumstances… but why? Why had someone been drugging him? What had they hoped to gain from it?
He got up and walked to the window. He looked out at the beach and beyond to the sea. Chip loved this view; he had bought this house at great expense and never regretted the drain on his finances that the initial cost had been. Lee smiled; Chip came from a land locked state but like himself, only really felt at home near the sea.
Will joined him. “The kitchen is clean. Wherever he was given the drug, it wasn’t here.”
Lee turned and looked at Jamison’s concerned face. “Let’s go then. We still have to find him.” Just as Lee turned to go a shaft of sunlight glinted on a small object on the floor behind the curtain. Bending down, he retrieved a black message tape. Flipping it over in his hand he read the hand written label. ‘ Morton-subliminal tape 4…resignation’. Suddenly a cold fear swept through Lee as he recognised that handwriting.
He headed swiftly for the front door. “Follow me, Doctor, I think we may have some answers at last.”
Chip checked his watch again…over two hours since he had been injected. Apart from the fractured flashbacks that he fought to keep under control and the receding cramps that he was still suffering, he was feeling better than he had expected. His mind was clearer and he could think coherently, did this mean that he did have an ally in the other man.
Voices filtered through from outside the room and he heard the door being unlocked.
Two men entered, one of them the armed guard.
The other studied him and said casually. “He looks docile enough, I’ll be okay with him but you’d better keep the door closed, just in case he does try something, I’ll call if I need you.”
The guard nodded and left.
The other man approached Chip, who was now on the cot bed leaning back against the wall. He lowered his voice as he sat close to him and asked. “How are you feeling now?” He opened the medical kit he was carrying and spread out some of the contents.
Chip eyed him carefully and replied. “Okay.”
“Look Commander, we don’t have much time, so I’ll make this quick. My name is Sean Kramer. I work for a government agency that specializes in counterterrorism Some months ago this organisation came to our notice and I was sent to infiltrate them, we weren’t sure what they were up to but we knew it involved satellite technology and targeting an expert in a vital job. Seems you’re the guy they wanted.”
Chip listened carefully. So far he only heard what he had mostly worked out for himself.
Kramer continued. “I can’t get you out of here…but….”
“Where is here?” Chip interrupted.
“A damaged and
disused oilrig off the coast of Mexico. It’s their base of operations. From
here they can plan and execute their objectives, the main one being
taking over the Nexus satellite defence system.”
“But why? It can’t be used as a weapon….” Chip insisted.
“I know, but it can be used to send subliminal broadcasts around the world.”
“Look we haven’t time for this. Just believe me when I say, this is all about power and money, a great deal of money. Dr. Redmond is the key to their plans. She is supposed to get the security codes from you to give them full access to control of the system….”
Suddenly the door opened and the guard looked in. “You okay? He giving you any problems?”
Kramer shook his head. “Nah… he’s quiet as a lamb. Nearly done, just checking his vitals.” He started to unbutton Chip’s shirt as the guard nodded and left again.
“I have to go now but you have to play along, convince them you are under. I will give you the anti-dote each time and you have to pretend to be more co-operative, understand? In the meantime I will contact Washington as soon as I can and get help.”
“No.” Chip said urgently. Looking at the other man, he quickly made the decision to trust him. He had to start trusting someone. “Contact the Nelson Institute… speak to Lee Crane.”
“Captain Lee Crane, of Seaview?”
“Yes! Do you know him?”
“We met briefly, once. He has quite a reputation in ONI circles”
“He should, the amount of times he’s worked for them. Tell him this….” Chip gave him a message that he knew Lee would understand.
Standing, Kramer gathered together his medical kit. “Okay I’ll do my best but in the meantime, don’t let Redmond catch on or it’ll mean both our lives.”
“He hates you… Nelson doesn’t trust you. When Phillips died he brought in Crane, instead of promoting you. Crane is supposed to be your friend but is he? Does he respect you? Does he listen to your concerns on board? No! He ignores you… he leaves you out of his trust. He called you a mutineer, sided with Nelson against you and the men….”
The three officers sat listening to the persuasive litany that was emanating from the tape Lee had found. They all recognised the softly spoken voice of Dr. Francine Redmond.
“My God!” Nelson exclaimed as he switched off the machine. “No wonder he’s been behaving so abnormally. They’ve been slowly poisoning his mind as well as his body.”
“I told you Admiral. This drug lowers the patient’s defences and makes them very suggestible. If this is an example of his treatment, I’m not surprised at all that he resigned. You’re lucky he didn’t do something more drastic.” Will Jamison declared.
“Is that possible Jamie? Could she make him do something against his will?” Lee asked worriedly.
“I don’t know Lee. It depends on the level of drugs in his system. What exactly they want him to do, how much that will conflict with his high sense of duty and morality. I can’t begin to know the effect this will have on him… no one can.”
The intercom on the desk startled them all. “Yes Angie.” Nelson answered.
“Admiral, Rear Admiral Tenby wants to speak to you urgently sir, he says it’s about Lexidrine.”
All three officers looked at each other in surprise. “Put him through.” Nelson left the telephone cradled but pressed the button that allowed hands free communication.
“Todd, what do you have?”
“Harry, your doctor’s enquiry about the Lexidrine drug trials has set alarm bells ringing very loudly here.”
“Why is Washington in a flap?”
“Intelligence agencies have recently received information that experiments using subliminal suggestion, have been taking place, involving the use of a drug called Lexidrine. The word is that a group are planning to use a satellite system to broadcast subliminal messages to existing communication outlets, radio, and television, etcetera. My god, Harry, anybody in control of that sort of technology could literally make you think anything they wanted.”
“What does Washington know for sure and how does it involve the Institute?” Nelson demanded loudly.
“Easy Harry, I’m only the messenger. It seems that Dr. Francine Redmond once worked on the research team that developed Lexidrine. After clinical trials exposed it’s side effects and the possibility of it’s usefulness to the other side, the project was classified and shelved, she moved over to satellite research, her other scientific interest.”
“You mean they think she’s after the Nexus project?” Nelson looked at his two companions.
“The organisation she works for, certainly. They’re after billions of dollars in advertising revenue and she’s been promised limitless research funding. Harry, the danger is that this could be used to attack our country and we wouldn’t even know it was happening.”
“Yes, of course… use it to take away our will to fight or defend ourselves.” Nelson concentrated. “Do you have any idea where to find these people?”
“We only know it’s an offshore base, no exact location as yet but there is an agent on the inside. He was in contact a few days ago and said that they were preparing to secure the one man who could be the key to the project. Do you know who that is Harry?”
Nelson watched the concern that shadowed the faces of both the men opposite him. He was rapidly assessing what they already knew.
“Harry, you still there?”
“Yes, yes I’m still here.” Nelson replied shortly.
“Well, who are they after… you?”
“No. Not me. Todd, tell the powers that be, we will be in touch. In the meantime I want every piece of information they have on this whole organisation… everything, you hear me?” Nelson demanded brusquely.
“Harry, what do you know? Has something already happened? Admiral Nelson you can’t go this alone. Washington insists….”
“Washington doesn’t own me! It can insist all it likes. Right now the life of someone I value is at risk and I will not let more Washington foul ups cause his death!” He disconnected the call with ferocity as he rose and paced the room angrily.
“It’s always the same. Washington feeds us just enough information to make us work for them but never the right information to prevent disasters!”
“Admiral why are they targeting Chip? What does he have that’s so important to them?” Lee demanded.
Nelson turned to look at his Captain. “Chip Morton has been working on the coded computer uplink to the main control satellite. He’s nearly finished the top secret coding relays that protects the system from saboteurs. He’s the programmer and the one man who knows the override codes that stops all other commands and makes the whole system invincible. That’s what makes him so valuable.” Nelson sat at his desk and started to snap orders.
“Lee, make Seaview ready to sail at moment’s notice. Will, find out all you can about Lexidrine and get hold of whatever anti-dote is available. We’ll let Washington send their Intel and then we can start to search for him.”
“If he’s still alive.” Jamie said carefully.
“They need those codes… they’ll keep him alive until he surrenders them.” Nelson said grimly.
“Dr. Redmond took a heavy risk. She must know we’ll be looking for her now.” Crane said angrily.
“You’re forgetting Lee. She doesn’t know we are aware of her involvement, she could come back after a few days and carry on as normal.”
Sean Kramer crept quietly along the corridor towards the communications shack. It was 04.00 and most of the group were asleep, which would make his job easier. He had waited hours for the chance. He reached the door and opening it silently, slipping inside. Quickly he turned on the equipment and started to broadcast.
“Seagull to Albatross, Seagull to Albatross, come in Albatross.” He waited a few moments, anxiously listening for movements from outside the closed door. He repeated his call again and switched to receive. The speaker crackled and a voice answered. “This is Albatross, come in Seagull.”
“Mike, that you?”
“Yeah, Sean, we were getting worried, it’s been a while.”
“Too much activity… Mike listen, I haven’t much time.” Quickly and succinctly he gave his information and the co-ordinates.
“Mike, send in the marines, I don’t know how long we can keep them fooled.”
He stopped as he heard running footsteps along the corridor. “Gotta go, don’t let me down buddy.”
He was about to shut down the radio when he had an idea and spun the frequency dial. As the door burst open, he was sending a distress call. Two armed men rushed towards him seizing his arms, and turned him towards Fran Redmond as she came in. “Well, well, so this is our traitor.”
“I don’t know what you mean Doctor, I just came in to find a pen.” Kramer grimaced as pressure was applied to his arms
“Sure you did.” She looked at the guards. “Find out who he is but don’t kill him yet, he may be useful.”
Turning to the radio operator who had followed them in, she asked. “Did he make contact? “ The operator looked at the dial.
“Not on this frequency, he couldn’t”
Chip had been sleeping lightly, conserving his energy, when he heard the commotion outside. The cell door was thrown open and a man was shoved in and fell helpless to the floor. Instantly Chip was off the bed and bending over the prone figure. Carefully he turned the man onto his back to find he had been cruelly beaten.
Looking up his angry eyes met Fran Redmond’s. “Why?” he demanded.
“Because he got caught.” She replied calmly. “Do you know who he is?”
Chip stood and said firmly. “No.”
“I don’t believe you… but no matter. He didn’t make contact.” She clicked her fingers and a guard brought forward a syringe. “You have been given a long enough respite Mr. Morton, thanks to his interference. This time I will personally see you’re given the real drug…it may take a little longer to work after all that anti-dote but it will work eventually. Hold him!” She told the guards.
Chip tried to evade the men but the space was small and he was forced down onto the cot as Dr. Redmond administered the injection. “There, a double dose just to get you started.”
Chip waited until they had gone, locking the door securely behind them, then he bent down to help Kramer onto the cot
Looking at his swollen face and hearing his groans, Chip asked. “How bad are you hurt?”
“Bad enough, but I’ll live, at least for now.” He struggled to sit up a little. “I did get through.” He whispered.
Chip looked at him. “You sure?”
“Positive…I passed your message on…I just hope Crane understands it.”
“He will and he’ll come. We just have to hold on.”
Lee dropped easily down the ladder into the brightly lit Control Room.
“How soon can we be ready to sail?”
O'Brien consulted his lists, “Most of the crew are back, and the rest are on their way. We should be loaded and ready to go in about an hour, tops, Sir.”
“Well done.” Lee acknowledged,
“Where are we headed, sir? Do you have the co-ordinates, Skipper?”
“I don't have them yet. Just be ready to leave as soon as you can.”
“Skipper?” the shout came from the radio shack.
“There's a message from someone who only gives the code name Albatross, it's on scramble.”
Lee glanced round the Control Room, apart from a few men it was nearly deserted.
“I'll take it here.” He unhooked a microphone. “Go ahead Albatross, this is Crane.”
“I have a message for you from Seagull.”
“Seagull?” Lee said suspiciously.
“You do know of him?” The voice questioned uncertainly.
Lee considered a moment. He certainly remembered the agent from 18months ago….
“Yes, I know of him. What’s the message?”
“Your missing officer is on an abandoned oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. You haven't got much time if you intend a rescue attempt. In case you have any doubts, Captain I have to tell you: - The mutineer who threw the first punch warns you to beware of the woman. Does that make sense?”
“Yes” Lee tightened his grip on microphone, “Can you give me any more details?”
“Off the record?”
“No-one will hear anything from me.”
“The rig is being used as the broadcasting station, eight crew. Seagull is one of them; if you could get him out, I’d appreciate it…” the voice hesitated, “he’s a friend. I’ll make sure you get a head start but after that measures will be taken and there may be casualties. You and your submarine have a high reputation, Captain…I hope you can live up to it.”
“We’ll try Albatross. Thanks very much, we appreciate it, give me the co-ordinates...”
Lee turned to his radio operator. “Sparks, tell the Admiral we're sailing in 30 minutes.”
Lee crossed swiftly back to the chart table. "Mr. O'Brien, get ready, we have our co-ordinates."
“Aye, aye sir.” The young officer said with a smile.
Chip lay on the floor of his cell now, firmly in the hold of the drug, sweating profusely, the hallucinations destroying his grasp on reality. Twisted faces haunted him and broken memories, jumbled and warped, kept up a constant barrage on his mind. He tried in vain to fight the images but as time went on it got harder and even Kramer’s voice now angered him. He tried hard to concentrate but failed as the drug took over.
He was aware of being dragged out of the cell and taken to Dr. Redmond. Her persuasive voice dripped hatred back into him and although a fraction of his mind recognised the conditioning, he could not resist and slowly his anger rose until the face of the man he hated most took over his thoughts.
She asked him questions but he resisted, and failed to respond, eventually he was left alone, and he fell into a disturbed sleep.
He woke, disorientated and shivering…slowly his memory returned and he found he was still tied to a chair and Francine Redmond was seated opposite him.
“Awake at last. Did you enjoy you’re excursion into madness, Chip?” She questioned softly. “It can all be avoided you know… simply give me what I want and it will all end.”
“No.” his voice barely whispered. “I won’t….”
She picked up a glass of water and brought it to him, allowing him to satisfy his thirst. “I’m willing to be reasonable… but you are giving me little choice here. Time is growing short and I want those codes…” she bent down and lifted his chin. She looked into tired, bloodshot eyes. “You’ve had two double injections….”
“Two?” Chip interrupted weakly.
“Yes, Chip, two. 14 hours this time. Your mind can’t take this sort of punishment much longer… be reasonable. Nelson won’t care if you die… but I care, I want to help you.”
Chip Morton felt immense anger take hold of him at the mention of his enemy. Nelson! Nelson hated him… He hated Nelson! NO! No, it was a trick… it wasn’t real… but he’d said it… ‘I don’t trust you….’
Chip groaned as he struggled to keep hold of his thoughts. “Nooo…. I won’t…I won’t betray… codes.”
A new voice spoke up. “This is getting us nowhere. Let me take him to the sump… let him sit in freezing cold water and feel what it’s like to drown for a couple of hours … he’ll come round quick enough.”
“You don’t know this man. His sense of duty is so ingrained it’s a part of him.” She looked at the cruel gleam in the eyes of the man who had so recently been responsible for striking her, maybe he was right. He was certainly experienced at inflicting pain… maybe his methods would help. “Alright but let me give him one last dose, it may just be enough to make the sump even more terrifying.”
Chip was only semi-conscious as he was dragged from the room and taken into the bowels of the oilrig.
He felt his wrists being untied and heard a voice explaining. “Down there is an inspection hole and a cage that floods every time we have a storm. There’s a storm on its way, you have about three hours to decide to co-operate or you can stay down there and drown. All you have to do is call out to Murray here and he’ll haul you up in time, otherwise Commander, it won’t be a problem for you anymore.”
With that, Chip was lifted roughly and thrown into a dark place, he felt himself descending and fell onto a cold, damp metal floor. The breath was knocked from him as he landed and his left ankle buckled from under him in extreme pain as oblivion greeted him and he slipped into the darkness of unconsciousness.
They had sailed at flank most of the way and now, as they approached the co-ordinates, a group of men stood together in the observation nose, studying a set of plans. All, except one was dressed in fatigues and carried a weapon.
“So are we all clear on what we have to do?” Nelson pointed to a place on the plans. “Stephens and Hudson, you secure communications, here. Sharkey and Patterson guard the rear.” All four men nodded as Nelson went over the rescue plan one more time. “Lee, you, Kowalski and I will make our way to the main recreation area. That’s the most likely location for them to be using.” Turning slightly he addressed Dr. Will Jamieson. “You remain on board Seaview, Doctor, we’ll send for you, if we need you, otherwise be ready.” Jamie nodded.
Nelson stood and surveyed the taut faces. “As far as we know there are only eight hostiles. One of them is an agent and he will make himself known to you with the codeword ‘Seagull’… he should be able to lead us to Mr. Morton. I’d like this to be as clean as possible but take no chances. As soon as you’ve secured your objective, wait to be contacted by either the Captain or myself. Now there’s a storm starting to build so as we cross to the rig, be careful not to get separated, keep the boats together. Any questions?”
Each man looked at each other and it fell to the loquacious COB to confirm, “No sir, me and the men, we know what to do and don’t you worry sir, we’ll get Mr. Morton back okay, we’ll make sure of that.” Sharkey smiled confidently.
Lee and Nelson nodded but it was obvious by their expressions, they were less sure of the outcome.
“Right let’s get started.” Lee said as he turned to his second officer. “Mr O’Brien, crack the surface but keep her dark, no running lights.”
“Aye, sir.” Bobby O’Brien gave the orders that gently brought the giant submarine to the surface. He kept her main hull just below the surface, allowing only the dark conning tower to project into the stormy night.
“Emergency lighting.” Lee ordered as the bright lights of the control room dimmed and the soft red lighting took over. “Crack the hatch.” Patterson scrambled up the ladder to comply.
“Up you go men.” Crane ordered and watched as one by one the rescue party ascended. When it was only himself and the Admiral left, he nodded and said, “After you, sir.”
Nelson took one last look around and went up. Lee turned and spoke to Lt. O’Brien. “Take her down Mr. O’Brien and maintain station watch. We’ll radio for Riley and the Flying Sub, as soon as we’re secure.”
“Aye, sir. Good luck Captain, and bring him home safe, sir.”
“We will, Bobby and thanks.” Turning to Jamieson he said softly. “You come with the flying sub, Jamie… he’s probably going to need you.”
“I know.” Jamieson replied. “Just stay out of trouble yourself.”
Lee smiled and followed his men.
Bobby watched as the hatch was secured and turned to the Doctor. Quietly he murmured. “Now I know how Chip feels when he’s left behind.”
Jamie looked at the young officer’s grim expression and replied. “Don’t we all.”
Quickly and efficiently, the two boats rowed the short distance to the oilrig super structure. The sea was choppy, a strong wind and a swell was raising and lowering the small inflatables with ease but determination brought them to one of the giant platform legs and they tied off their moorings.
“Okay men, from here we climb.” Crane called over the roar of the early storm.
Slowly each man started the long ascent to the first level.
They all assembled, breathless and windblown, on the lowest deck and Crane tried the first door he came to, locked. Quickly he used a knife to prize open the lock and they all went inside.
It was quiet and only dimly lit. The oncoming storm’s howl was dulled now but could still be plainly heard.
“Right, head for your objectives and be careful.” Lee checked his watch.
“Stephens, Hudson, go.” The two men nodded and went towards a flight of stairs.
“Lee, this way.” Nelson nodded towards another staircase, as Sharkey and Patterson took up lookout positions.
Cautiously they made their way up to the crew, main recreation area and as they approached, heard the sound of voices, casually talking.
“…It’s just a squall. The reports are forecasting it to blow itself out overnight.”
“Too late for Morton, unless he co-operates.” A second voice laughed.
“He will … he must! I haven’t come this far, to lose it all now,” Fran Redmond declared.
“If he doesn’t, you can always go back and start working again. Nelson will have to start over and you can be in on it this time,” the first voice pacified.
“But the delays!” Fran shouted. “Damn him, if only he wasn’t so stubborn. I don’t want to waste my time with Nelson. I want to get on with my research, something that will get me recognised in my own right but that takes money and research grants are few and far between these days. I will not let one little obstacle stop me, Morton will talk, or he can die, his choice! Just make sure it’s slow and he suffers for his pig-headedness!” She looked at Dax, as he smiled at her obvious irritation. “I may have to start over with Nelson, but this time I won’t be as patient.” Dr. Redmond’s outburst was angry and vitriolic.
There was the sound of male laughter at her statement.
Lee risked a quick look into the room through the partially open doorway, four occupants, including Fran.
He looked at his companions and held up four fingers, Nelson and Ski nodded. Lee made a small signal with his hand to Sharkey and Patterson, as they joined them, they nodded and slowly edged away to search for the missing hostiles. He stood up straight, drew a deep breath, pushed open the door and entered, followed by the others.
“Drop your weapons and stand still.” His voiced called out clearly.
The shock showed plainly on the faces of the men and woman present. “No… it can’t be….” Fran Redmond whispered.
Nelson stepped forward and glared at the woman, who had once been his trusted colleague. “I’m afraid it is, Doctor.” He walked towards her, as the other men were gathered together in a group, and demanded. “Where is Commander Morton?”
All attention turned momentarily to her but with his peripheral vision Lee caught the slightest movement, as one of the men drew a knife from behind him and lunged at Crane.
Dax toppled Lee over with his weight and as he pinned Crane to the floor, trying to stab at the captain, Lee held him off. He saw an opening and his fist connected with the other man’s jaw and pushed him backwards. Dax struck out with the knife at Lee’s forearm and Crane felt the sharp blade slice through his sleeve and into his flesh but ignored the pain as he attacked the other man again and fell on top of him, using one hand to hold the attacker’s knife wielding fist away. He delivered a knockout blow to the kidnapper and felt him collapse. Taking the knife from the resistless figure he stood and breathing heavily, stepped back.
Ski, who was aiming his weapon at the other men asked anxiously. “You okay, Skipper?”
“It’s nothing, I’m fine… tie him up.” Lee ordered as he watched the other men and picked up a towel from table, to stem the blood flow from his arm.
Harry crossed quickly to Lee and taking the towel, proceeded to wrap it securely around the wound. Once Nelson had assured himself that Lee was mostly intact, he returned his attention back to Fran Redmond.
“Well Doctor? Where is Chip?”
A commotion from the doorway interrupted them, as Sharkey and Patterson came in supporting an obviously injured man and lowered him gently onto a couch. “Found him locked up in a cabin, sir. He’s been badly beaten.”
After ordering Patterson, to help Ski secure the other men, Lee came and bent down to look at the injured man. “ It’s Kramer…Seagull” he clarified.
Sean Kramer opened his eyes and looked at the man he recognised. “Crane… you got here… he said you would….” He spoke weakly.
“Do you know where Chip is?” Lee asked gently.
“Don’t you know?” Kramer struggled to sit up and coughed painfully as he looked at Fran Redmond. “She gave him a double dose of the drug and took him away… but that was hours ago…”
“We can account for two more men, sir but one is still missing.” Sharkey reported.
Lee stood and marched towards Fran Redmond, the full force of his anger focussed on the woman he had so readily befriended. He could see fear in her eyes as she fought to maintain an outward calm.
“Enough games! Where is he?” Lee demanded, taking hold of her arm and shaking her roughly.
Fran Redmond swallowed nervously. “I could tell you, Captain… but… what happens to me?” She took a deep breath to calm herself in the face of his anger. “Let me go free… and I’ll tell you… but you’d better hurry and make your decision, he doesn’t have much time left.” It was audacious but she was desperate and Crane just might go for it to save his friend’s life.
Lee’s eyes blazed anger at her and she tried to shrink away. “Don’t try to negotiate with me for a man’s life, Doctor… if he dies, you won’t live long enough to know it.” His voice was low and so menacingly calm that she shivered with the fear that it invoked.
“You wouldn’t…you couldn’t….”she stammered.
“For the life of a friend, I could… and would.” Lee’s chilling calm unnerved her further.
“Admiral…?”She appealed but was shocked even more when she heard Nelson say.
“Right men, let’s get these prisoners out of here and radio for some help. Sharkey help Mr. Kramer…” He turned to look at Lee and said quietly, “…the Captain has work to do.”
As the men moved to obey him, she started to tremble. Lee Crane’s hard, uncompromising expression filled her with terror and she felt the increased pressure he applied to her arm.
“NO! Wait…I’ll tell you…I’ll tell you…” She was shaking so much she could hardly stand.
“Well?” Lee demanded.
“Level 12… the sump… Dax put him in the sump. You need to hurry…it’s flooding with the storm …he’ll drown, if he hasn’t already.”
Lee threw her to the floor and raced for the door, calling. “Ski, Pat with me.”
Chip still lay where he had fallen, as awareness stirred within him again. Getting his breath back and letting his eyes become accustomed to the darkness, he assessed his condition. Pain radiated from his left ankle along his leg, which he fought hard to ignore. He could smell salt water and already his clothing was wet but more urgent was the familiar effects of the drug that Fran Redmond had given him. Looking up he could see the small circle of light that was safety. Quickly he looked away… he wouldn’t give in!
Nelson had brought him to this… Nelson and Crane, the Admiral’s obedient little puppet. NO, Lee was a friend; he had to hang on to that. He breathed deeply but the thoughts kept coming…
“I am going to break you...” well now he had succeeded.
“I'll contact Washington as soon as I can and get help ...”
“Kramer!” Chip didn't realise he had shouted aloud until a man's voice somewhere above his head answered.
“Kramer can’t help you…he’s dead, Morton. As you will be soon …in just a little while the water will be up to your neck. Enjoy breathing while you can.” The faceless voice laughed cruelly.
The voices echoed in his head as more images assailed him. No, focus on what was real, but what was real anymore? The water, that was real, the cold numbed his ankle a little but couldn't stop the distorted images disturbing him.
“I've never really trusted you ... never ...never…”
“I'm going to give you one last chance ...”
He started to lose some of his confidence… Lee wouldn't come for him, not now … it was no use kidding himself but some stubborn part of his mind that was still Chip Morton, Naval Commander told him that he must hold on as long as he dared. He was shivering almost uncontrollably now and his mind vaguely registered that the water was up to his chest. It would be so easy, so very easy, to let the gentle swell of the water just take him. He shifted uncomfortably, crying out as the movement disturbed his ankle.
“Have you had enough, Morton? Wouldn't you rather be warm and dry?” The voice taunted again. Chip ignored him, it was taking all his energy to fight the drug and remain upright. Despite his efforts, consciousness drifted from him and he slid unbidden into the cold dark depths but was revived as he started to choke in the water. Determinedly he dragged himself painfully upright, he had to keep awake, but the images were beginning to swamp his senses.
“I've had it with you ...”
“NO ... no ... Lee ... I didn't hit her.”
Once again his eyes closed and once again he woke up choking. The cold revived his senses a little but this time it took all his strength to sit up. Physically and mentally exhausted now, he realised that the next time he wouldn't be able to get up again.
From somewhere in the distance, he became aware of gunshots and running feet.
“MR. MORTON - CAN YOU HEAR ME, SIR?”
Kowalski? “Ski?” He called out to the familiar voice.
The bright beam from a torch picked him out in the darkness. “Just hang on, Sir, we're coming to get you.”
Chip lay back against the soft pillows in Seaview's Sick Bay and considered himself a very lucky man. The rescue may well have been 'last minute' but it had saved his life and that of Sean Kramer, who now slept soundly in the opposite rack, thanks to Will Jamieson's skill.
“I've been such a fool, Lee.” Chip stated torn between anger and embarrassment at his own gullibility, as he watched his friend, who sat in a chair beside the rack.. “She took me in completely, I trusted her. When I think what she was capable of ...” his voice trailed off as the consequences of what could have been became overwhelmingly clear. “I thought I was losing my mind.”
“She took us all in ... even Washington. Don't beat yourself up over it,” Lee assured him. “You were just a pawn in their plan. We should have questioned the circumstances a lot sooner than we did, I’m sorry pal, we let you down.” Crane answered sincerely.
“Not your fault, Lee. You tried but I didn't exactly give you much of a chance to help. How's the jaw? It certainly looks a spectacular colour… did I do any permanent damage?”
“Only to my pride - I was the boxing champion, after all!” Lee sat back in the chair, folded his good arm across him and gave Chip a sideways look. “Don't think an apology let's you off, Morton, I intend to have full reparation.”
Chip sighed in mock resignation, “Okay, what's it going to cost me? Dinner at Luigi's about do it?”
Lee rubbed his still tender jaw and looked shocked. “One dinner! This is at least a two-dinner injury and at La Maison, I think.”
Chip nodded his head and smiled. “Alright, Captain, La Maison it is…”
Nelson entered Sick Bay and crossed directly to Chip's bunk, “Lee, could I ask you and the Doctor to leave me alone with Mr. Morton for a little while.” From Nelson's tone this was definitely not a request.
Lee stood, “Yes, of course, Sir.” He'd been expecting the Admiral to arrive but had hoped he would be included in any important discussion, quite obviously this was not going to be the case, privacy was being demanded and privacy was what would be given.
“I'll join you for coffee, Lee,” Will Jamieson followed Lee out, shutting the door behind them.
Chip sat up as straight as his raised ankle would allow and watched Nelson apprehensively.
“Mr. Morton,” Nelson began firmly, “you and I need to talk….”
Lee and Jamieson sat quietly in the wardroom drinking coffee, lost in their own thoughts.
“Do you think they can work this out, Jamie?” Lee said cautiously, "I don’t want to play referee between them for the rest of my career.” He smiled ruefully. “We all know how stubborn they can both be….”
Will laughed gently, “Don't be too concerned, there's very little, if any, of the Lexidrine left in Chip's system, I don't think there'll be any more trouble.” He drained his coffee and set the cup down … “Harry values and respects Chip enormously, which is how he was able to use just the right insult to hurt him…we always know the right way to hurt our friends.” He sighed and stood, “Lets get back, they should have had enough time by now… besides I need to check on Kramer.”
Nelson looked up, blue eyes twinkling warmly, as they re-entered. “We've quite finished, gentlemen. Don’t look so worried, I think Mr. Morton and I have a better understanding of each other, do we not, Mr. Morton?” Harry smiled down at the injured man.
“Yes, sir…I think we do,” Chip answered sincerely.
“Do I take it then, things are back to normal around here?” Lee asked optimistically.
Chip smiled confidently, “Absolutely, I mean,” he indicated the sling that Will insisted Lee wore to protect his injured arm, “look at the trouble you get yourself into when I’m not here!”
As Crane started to protest, Jamie smiled. He glanced at the admiral as he watched his two friends indulgently and thought happily, oh yes; things were back to normal… maybe even better than normal.