A Moment in Time...

By

Linda A. Delaney

 

Captain Lee Crane glanced once more around the Control Room of his boat, the S.S.R.N. Seaview. When all was in order, he picked up the mike, "Pipe our guests aboard, Chief!!"

"Aye, aye, sir."

The bos'un's whistle shrilled loudly over the intercom system. Lee Crane watched the TV monitor in the Observation Nose, as dockside cameras picked up Admiral Harriman Nelson, and Lt. Cdr. Chip Morton welcoming two Navy officers aboard. As the party came towards the Conning Tower, he turned off the monitor.

"Atten hut'!" he barked and the Control Room crew smartly snapped to. Nelson's party came down the ladder. Salutes were exchanged, and Crane ordered, "As you were!" and the watch stood down.

Nelson brought the two officers over to the Seaview's Skipper.  "Lee, Lieutenant Commander Fred Roberts."

Roberts saluted Crane smartly, and then stuck out a hand for a handshake, which the Captain returned with a smile.

"Captain Crane, I'm very pleased to meet you, actually, it's reassuring to see you in the flesh...I've heard so much about you, this sub, her crew....I was beginning to doubt that any of you really existed!!!"

Crane laughed good- naturedly.

The officer continued, "Really, sir, I've had my doubts!"

"Well, Lieutenant, all I can say is that I wouldn't believe all that I heard!"

He turned toward the junior officer, who was younger and obviously more timid, "Ensign Gregory.?"

"Yes, sir!" he snapped, "Gregory, sir , Edward Junior, at your service, sir!"

"Pleased to meet you, Gregory. You can relax a bit, Ed...we're not quite as formal here...I run a tight ship, gentlemen, but not too formal a one. Chief Sharkey is going to give the both of you a tour of Seaview, and show you your quarters. After that, I'll meet you in the Observation Nose for a briefing.

Sharkey came forward.

"Chief, show the boat to these gentlemen."

"Aye, aye, sir…If you would follow me, sirs?"

As they left the Control Room, Crane joined Nelson and Morton at the Conference table.

"Well, Lee...?"

"Awfully green around the edges, sir...I don't know how much of leave I can enjoy with a couple of greenhorns running my boat."

Morton smiled, "I was just telling the Admiral the same thing, Skipper. We really don't need to go to this conference, and take any added leave.”

Nelson grew somewhat brusque, "Yes, you do...Doctor's orders for the both of you...The last mission ended a six month exercise in stress...not to mention…what was it now Lee…? A broken wrist, a concussion, and was it two or three bruised ribs...?"

As Morton was about to comment, Nelson added, "And as I recall, Mr. Morton, that shoulder wound took an awfully long time to heal…due to the unnecessary roughness with which some mines treated my boat!!"

Both men had the good grace to look properly chagrined.

Nelson got more serious. "Look, Lee, it's only for two weeks. We can send Sharkey for you at any time in the FS1. I'll be onboard the whole time and as much as she means to the both of you, you do need to get away from her once in a while!"

"Aye, sir...and away from the sea, too. That's why you're sending us to a conference on Unusual Marine Flora and Fauna being held in Denver Colorado...!!!  I like the idea of the Rockies, sir, but a marine conference?"

He left the question hanging in the air and smiled.  "I didn't schedule it, Lee.  Just agreed to send the two of you to speak about some of our more unusual discoveries."

"Well, if we can't trust you, sir..."

"Go on, the two of you . Finish your packing and police the quarters. We'll meet at 1400 hours here to go over the schedule for the new men, and then...you'll be free to go...!!"

***

Crane was bending over a suitcase on his bunk, when there was a knock at his door. Thinking it was Morton, he called out. “Come..."

As the door opened, he continued, "I won't be ready for a few minutes, Chip, I…"

A soft, feminine voice, responded, "Lee?"

Cathy Connors, Harriman Nelson's Executive Assistant stood in the cabin's doorway. She stepped in.

"Cathy...what are you doing here...?"

He strode across the cabin and engulfed her in a hug, and a warm, and more than friendly kiss. At first, he felt her enthusiastic response, but almost as quickly, she pulled back. He drew away, puzzled, "What's wrong, Cathy? We haven't seen each other in a while. We have been a bit busy, these last few months...I'm sorry. You know how lousy I am with keeping in touch. What gives?"

Almost shyly she held out her left hand. On the ring finger was a very small, very old, and a very definite Engagement ring.  "This...Lee...I'm sorry...I couldn't think of any way to tell you, but to come aboard and see you...a lot can happen to a girl in six months, Lee Crane. She can learn not to be taken for granted!!"

She stopped for a moment, and saw the hurt in his eyes, but continued, "I met a lovely man, Lee, while you were on this last mission...I was feeling alone, and sorry for myself, and I went out one night with a few of the girls from the Institute. I met him at Officers' Club. We just started talking, and I guess somehow, we connected. I care for him a great deal, Lee...maybe I even love him. Not the way I love you...will always love you...but then I have a rival for that love, and I know that I'll never win your affections away from her. She's not just a part of your life...she is your life! And I can't compete with this damn boat of yours!!!" Tears came to her eyes. "This boat, and ONI, and the Admiral and the Institute...I'm tired of waiting in line for your attention, Lee. Very tired...and when Fred proposed...I accepted. After this chance to serve on Seaview, Fred's going to accept a posting to Annapolis, and we'll be moving there. We'll be getting married in a month. The Admiral's going to give me away. He's accepted my resignation from the Institute."

She looked at him as she wiped the tears from her face. He looked stunned, as if he'd been hit hard and not given a chance to recover.…

"Fred Roberts...The new man...? But I don't understand, Cathy...I thought we had an understanding...that when we were both ready that we'd.…"

"Lee Crane," she said impatiently, "Didn't you hear a thing that I said?  I am ready...I've been ready...and you, you dear, sweet man didn't even have a clue. I'm sorry if this is causing you any pain...but realistically, this is my chance for something a little more permanent than a 'how'd you do' and 'by your leave' every six or eight months. I want, no, I need a permanent, settled relationship. And I'm sorry if this hurts you, but I have to think of me!!!"

Very softly, suddenly resigned to the situation, and her decision, he responded, "And I'm sorry too, Cathy.  You're right...I guess I was blind to your needs. In truth all I want is for you to be happy, and if this will make you happy, then I can only wish you the best."

He leaned over her tiny form and kissed her gently on the forehead, in a stark contrast to the passionate one of greeting he'd given her only a few minutes earlier. He gently brushed a strand of hair from her forehead...and said ...almost sadly, "I hope that you will be very, very happy, Cats."

She reached out to touch his arm, and then pulled back.

A strangled "oh" left her lips, as she turned and walked right into Chip Morton...The Exec had been opening the door to the Captain's quarters

"Oh, hi ...Chip.... I...I was...just... just leaving...Lee....I..…"she ran past Morton, who stood, speechless in the door way.

When Chip finally found his voice, he asked, "Lee...what was that all about? What is Cathy doing here? Why is she so upset? Can you please answer me...?" he demanded.

Crane sat heavily on his bunk. He ran his fingers through his hair in complete frustration, "Chip, I really don't know...she's engaged...to Fred Roberts...she came to tell me...she's leaving the Institute...she's getting married in a month."

A long, low sigh escaped from his lips, and he looked at his best friend with a hurt in his eyes that Morton had never seen before, "I really blew this one...and I don't think that I can fix it...!!!"

Chip was just as astounded by the news, "Cathy's getting married and not to you...!!!? I just can't believe it!!"

"Neither can I.…" Crane stood, straightened his tie, and reached for his dress jacket. He cleared his throat. "I guess we'd better get going, Chip…We can't be late for this conference," he said in a half-hearted jest. "The O.O.M. might just want to use us as specimens!!"

Morton slapped him on the back, attempting to lighten the mood, "C'mon, Skipper, our shore leave awaits!!"

 

***

 

Command was formally turned over to the two replacement officers and, with Nelson standing on the Bridge, flanked by them, Seaview's senior officers took their leave. As they smartly saluted the colors, both men paused...it looked like a changing of the guard...neither officer missed the significance of the different picture.

"Think the O.O.M. is trying to tell us something, Lee?"

"I don't know, Chip...right now, I just don't know.…

The Naval escort brought them to the private gate at the airport, where the private jet of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research was waiting for them.

As they boarded, Morton commented, "Sure beats a Navy transport, eh, Lee...?"

When his commanding officer and best friend did not reply, the Seaview's Exec nudged him in the ribs, "C'mon, Skipper...lighten up. There are a lot more pretty little fish in the sea...!!"

As they settled into the seats of the plane, and the flight crew got ready for take off, Crane remained brooding and silent. Finally, after Morton doing everything that he could to break Crane's mood, Lee spoke... and it was not what Morton wanted to hear.

"Maybe you're right, Chip. Maybe the O.O.M. is trying to tell us something.  Maybe it's time for a change, for us and the Seaview." Crane mused for a few minutes. " Colorado is about as far from Santa Barbara as we can get. We definitely need the change of scenery!  Wake me when we get to Colorado, Chip!"

Crane pulled his cap over his eyes and slid down into the seat. As he tried to sleep, he thought, So, Cathy's getting married, and I'm not the lucky guy...Damn!  I really blew this one...I'll miss her...miss her a lot...my own fault, though, my own fault I lost her.

Lee, you're one stupid son of a bi…She's so special...always a smile, a soft touch, and that unconditional love. My anchor through all the storms these last few years. I guess I took her for granted and just didn't hold her where she belonged, in my life. What a jerk!  Hell, Lee, you’re going to have to do something about it.

Morton shrugged his shoulders. He knew better that to try to engage Crane in a conversation he didn't want to have, so he too slid down into his seat, computer magazine in hand.

 

***

 

Aboard Seaview the routine of the boat did not change much. The new officers seemed to find their place and began to feel the rhythm of the grey lady and her crew. The crew held themselves in reserve. These new officers seemed competent, and they were working hard to fit in and get the feel of the boat, but they weren't the Skipper and the Exec.

As Sharkey had said in the Ward Room, "They can' t hold a candle to the Old Man and the Exec. They aren't even cut from the same bolt of cloth."

"Aw, c'mon, Chief...cut them a break...no one on earth can compare to the Skipper and Mr. Morton in your book!!!"

"Well, Ski, This here boat isn't just an ordinary submarine...she's a great lady, and her officers have got to be something special, too."

"Cut it out, Chief...you're starting to sound like my mother talking about my girlfriends...ain't no one good enough!!"

 

***

 

Connors knocked at the Admiral's door.

"Come!" was the gruff response. As Nelson saw his Executive Assistant enter the cabin, he rose and his mood softened, "Cathy...! I thought I was to meet you in the Nose at 1800...?"

She smiled at him, "I guess you just got caught up in your work, sir. It's 1830."

He glanced at his watch, "Oh, I'm sorry, Cathy… I've got a lot on my mind. You have some paper work for me?"

"Well, sir, that pile that Riley dropped off is just the beginning of what is still in my cabin for you to go over. These are the Quarterly Reports, the ONI requests, Naval Department vouchers, Grant forms for the Marianas' Trench Project...and Admiral, I need to talk to you right now, about Lee and me...!"

"I was wondering when you would get around to it... ."

"Am I that transparent, sir?"

"Only when it comes to you and Lee."

"There's no more Lee and me, sir... I'm going to marry Fred."

"You're determined to go through with this, even though you know that you don't love the poor guy?"

"I care a great deal for Fred, sir. He's been very good to me."

"And you've known him for all of seven months...and you and Lee have been together for three years....?"

"Only ten months, Admiral, if you take out all the time that we've been apart due to missions and the ONI assignments. Not too much longer then I know Fred, sir."

"I always thought that the two of you had something , well ...special.…"

"We do...did...sir, but how can I compete with all of this," she gestured grandly around the cabin, "she's slim and long and a beauty. She'll never age, never get a wrinkle; she can't get cranky, irritable or talk back. I can't beat her, since he spends more time with her than he ever would or could with me."

"This conversation is leaving me very confused, Cathy, I can't help you if I don't understand where you're at."

"No more confused that I am, sir...I just know that I'm doing the right thing for me."

"I hope so, Cathy, I truly hope so."

 

***

 

The conference on Unusual Marine Flora and Fauna was drawing to a close….  "And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the end of our program. Any questions can be directed to the labs at the Nelson Institute...I'm sure that Admiral Nelson will be happy to work on any further problems that you may have."

Crane bent over to Morton, "Chip, let's go, now...I don't think I can handle any more reporters..!"

As the two officers picked up their caps and briefcases and quickly left the stage, waiting for them in the wings was a group of media.

"Captain Crane, what do you have to say about the announcement in the papers about the Admiral's Executive assistant..?"

"I wish her the best of luck..."

"Captain, there were some rumors that you and Miss Connors were an item...?"

"Well, I'd say that your sources were wrong."

"Ladies, gentlemen...Captain Crane and I are on our way to an important meeting. We've just been notified by Seaview and it is imperative that we get there on time. If you'll just let us leave.…"

The crowd dispersed and Crane turned gratefully to Morton, "Thanks, Chip. An important meeting?"

"As a matter of fact, Lee, yes. I was handed this note while you were answering some questions. Shore Leave is canceled. The Admiral is sending Sharkey to the Denver Airport in the FS1. Seems a Mission has come up and he wants us back on board. Sharkey will meet us there at 1500 hours. That gives us an hour to check out of the Hotel and get to the airport!"

"Then, I'd say let's get on our way, Mr. Morton."

A short time later, Seaview's senior officers hurried out of the Hotel and to a waiting car. Tossing their bags in the back seat, Morton took the wheel, and the car sped out of the Hotel grounds.

 

***

 

Earlier, while Seaview had sat at the ready in her berth at the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, Chief Sharkey had been in the FS1 doing his final checklist prior to takeoff….

"Chief...?"

"Aye, Admiral. We'll be ready to leave in ten minutes."

"Good work, Sharkey. When you arrive at the airport, The captain and Mr. Morton should be waiting for you. Sparks sent word to their hotel and canceled their leave."

A huge grin split Sharkey's face.  “I'll bet the Skipper really didn't mind getting this news, sir," he chuckled.

"I'm sure he didn't, Chief.  Take the Skipper away from his boat and he's not a happy man! You should be back here with them in about 3 hours. Get going, Sharkey!"

"Aye, Aye, Admiral." Sharkey went down the hatch to the FS1 and dogged it from below. In a few minutes, the sleek yellow sub was away from the Seaview.

Nelson walked from the Nose to the Plot Table. "Mr. Roberts, Mr. Gregory…prepare to get underway. Course heading 137 degrees relative, all ahead standard. If you gentlemen need me, I'll be in my cabin," he picked up a mike," Miss Connors, this is Nelson, please meet me at my cabin, now!" and with that he left the Control Room.

 

***

 

Connors knocked at the Admiral's door.

The gruff voice from within called ,"Come."

"You wanted to see me, Sir?"

"Yes, Cathy. Sit down, will you?" he gestured to the chair at the side of his desk.

"Cathy, we've just been informed by ONI that Station Neptune 10, their newest and most advanced underwater station, is having some difficulties, and we've been ordered to check it out. I've gone over this with Roberts and Gregory, and I've sent for Lee and Chip. As for you, well, you're settled in the cabin, and if you don't object, you'll join us. You're no security problem since as my Exec Assist, you also have Top Security Clearance. You know what's going on here as much as any of us do."

He paused, and chuckled, "Maybe more!! Anyway, we have a great deal of paperwork to catch up on, and as you have so often reminded me, at least here on the boat, I can't get away from you!!"

They laughed with the easy familiarity of much time spent working together, and Cathy added, " I don't mind at all, sir. I haven't been aboard for a mission since just after Lee came aboard as Skipper."

"Good, I was hoping you'd feel that way, because we're already underway, and I'd like to do some work on the Trench Project Grant before Lee and Chip get back on the boat."

"Aye, sir. As I recall, I left the papers right here…” She gestured to the left side of the desk, "On top of that pile, under the lamp…” she shifted a few file folders, and pulled one from the heap. "Here!"

They bent their heads together over the papers.…

 

***

 

As the Seaview officers headed toward the airport, a car came up behind them and began to follow them. After a few moments, Morton said, "Lee, I think we have picked up a tail. Came into view about five minutes ago."

Crane turned around to look behind, and at the same time saw an arm come out of the window, with a black extension attached to it.

"Watch out, Chip!! They've got a gun!!!"

Shots began to fly at the car. Morton began to drive it in a scattering pattern, trying to avoid the bullets. They ricocheted off the car, the rocks, the roadway... finally, two tires were hit at the same time. The car careened wildly, Morton tried desperately to control it, but it hit the guardrail and flew through it, and down the rocky incline. It rolled over several times and came to rest, on the drivers' side, at the foot of the hill.

There was no movement from the car. The two pursuers stood at the edge of the road, looking down at the crashed vehicle. They looked around once and then sprayed the car with gunfire a final time, then turned and ran to their car.

Smoke began to filter lazily from the front of the car, and then began to grow in intensity. A few licks of flame could be seen skirting the engine area. A few minutes more and fire roared into existence, engulfing the front of the car. The front door of the car flew open and Crane crawled out. Fanning off the smoke and flames, he steadied himself and then reached back into the flaming wreck. Morton was half pulled, and half climbed out. The two of them moved away from the wreck, each supporting the other until they were several hundred feet away. Then the both of them collapsed to the ground.

 

***

 

"What'dya mean they don't answer the page?!! Captain Crane and Mr. Morton gotta be here!!! The Admiral said that they'd be meeting me here!!"

Sharkey charged away from the information desk, shaking his head and taking to himself. "Don't answer the page," he muttered, "Alright Francis, what's your next move?" The Hotel!

Sharkey went to the pay phones, and waited impatiently for one to be free. Finally he grabbed a phone and pumped a handful of change into it. Then he angrily punched in a set of numbers...and stood, waiting for a response on the other end of the line. Finally, "Chief Francis Sharkey, here...I what to speak with Commander Lee Crane....Yeah, how long ago..? Thanks."

He slammed down the on the receiver. He punched more numbers into the phone.

"Chief Francis Sharkey here, I'm trying to locate my Captain and Exec. They were supposed to meet me at the airport, here. They left their hotel over and hour ago... I need to know if there's been any accidents reported in that time... Yeah...where?...how do I get there.... ? Meet at the front of the terminal ? Right!!!"

He tossed the phone to the next on line and bolted to the doors.

 

***

 

Lee Crane moved his head and groaned with the effort. He felt like one of the Admiral's creatures were doing a dance in his head. He was hot...his left hand was throbbing with blistering, red hot pain that shot up his arm to his shoulder. He groaned again and slowly opened his eyes. Brushing his right hand across his forehead, he found it sticky with drying blood. How'd I get here ? he wondered foggily. Then the details began to fill his consciousness, and he slowly rolled onto his side to check for Morton.

He vaguely remembered helping Chip out of the flaming car, and getting away but nothing else. He started to cough with the acrid smoke from the burning wreck. Chip was lying on the ground next to him, not yet stirring. He tried to sit up, and the world tilted at dizzying angles, forcing him to put his head down again. He coughed once more and heard coughing from Morton's direction. More slowly this time, he reached for Morton.

"Chip..."he rasped with a voice made harsh by the smoke, shaking him as hard as he could. "Chip, are you okay?"

When Morton didn't reply, he called again, "Chip!"

"Lee..," came the weak reply, "You okay?"

"Can't lift up my head without everything spinning...left hand...think It must be burned" he took a deep, and difficult breath. "You hurt?"

"Can't focus too well...left leg....looks pretty ripped up. Hurts like hell!"

He started to pull up to a sitting position, started coughing again, and looked down at Crane.

"Looks like your head took it bad, Lee.…There's an awfully deep gash...."

Chip stopped speaking at the sound of sirens, "Guess the Cavalry is arriving!"

Several police cars came into view at the top to the incline, along with at least one ambulance .

As the cars came to a stop, one door flew open and a khaki clad figure let out a yell, "Skipper, Mr. Morton... are you alright?"

Without waiting for an answer, Sharkey came down the incline, slipping and sliding all the way.

"Sirs..!!!" He ran over to the officers as he got to the bottom of the hill. Following close behind were troopers with fire extinguishers, and paramedics. “Man, oh, man, am I glad to the two of you, sirs....!!! Mr. Morton, that leg looks pretty bad, sir...Skipper, your head...your hand..."

"Calm down, Chief...You've brought help..."

"No, sir, actually they brought me. When I got to the airport, and you weren't there, I called the police and they told me that there had been an accident and the caller reported that the car had what looked like two Naval Officers in it and so I hitched a ride with them. I gotta get the both of you back to Seaview or the Admiral'll have my head! "

With that, the paramedics arrived and Sharkey stepped to the side to allow the men to be cared for. He paced back and forth until, some twenty minutes later they were attempting to put both the men on stretchers, and transport them to Denver Hospital.

"I'm telling you that you can't do that. Captain Crane and Mr. Morton have to get back to the Seaview. I'm gonna fly them out of the Airport as soon as we get there!!"

The Paramedic in charge was not willing to be stopped, until Crane said, in his sternest command voice, "Sergeant, I want to talk to you…."

The medic automatically snapped to and turned towards the Seaview's Captain.

"Yes, sir."

"I need you here, NOW!"

The man did a fast two step to Crane's side and bent his head over to listen to what he had to say. Several times, Sharkey thought he saw the beginnings of a smile work its' way across Morton's face, and saw it quickly vanish as he caught the Exec's eye.

Finally, the paramedic walked away from Crane to the Troopers who were standing nearby. A few words to them and the site burst with new activity. Morton was carried up the hill , and helped to a police car, while Crane refused any aid other than Sharkey's shoulder. Settled into another car with Sharkey and with sirens blasting they headed to the Denver airport.

 

***

 

Their arrival aboard Seaview was no less dramatic. Sharkey had radioed ahead that he had the officers and that they would need Doc when they berthed. Crane had, naturally decried any need for aid for himself, insisting that Chip had the greater need.

Jamie was waiting for them at the hatch of the FS1 when she berthed. As the hatch opened, he directed Corpsmen into the sub, to help the officers out. He stood at the hatch and as the men came into the Nose, had the corpsmen ready to help them to Sick Bay.

He managed to silence Crane's protests with,” Skipper, isn't it the Captain's standing order that anyone coming back on board, from a posting, reports to Sick Bay first?"

"Yes, Doc, it is, but I …"

"I know, Lee…You're the Captain, but the Captain has to set a good example for the men, and believe me, when it comes to this, you don't ! Don't bust your own orders, Skipper!"

Crane gave in. His head was pounding and he didn't want Jamie to know it, but right now, Lee was sure that Doc had an evil twin standing right next to him. He laid down on the stretcher and was carried to Sick Bay.

 

***

 

Several hours later, Doc Jamison was wishing for the peace and quiet of retirement. Senior officers in Sick Bay were a no-win situation for him and his corpsmen.

Even if they needed to be there, they didn't want to be, and didn't want to stay. He was doing an assessment on both the officers when Nelson entered.

"Doc, how are they doing?"

"Doc looked up from his desk,” Well enough to give me a hard time! Sit down, sir, I'll give you a report."

Nelson sat next to the desk.

"Captain Crane has a severe concussion, as a result of a blow to the head. He also has a gash in his head that took ten stitches. He has a hand injury, burns, lacerations, and two small broken bones. He has a badly sprained shoulder and he should be here for several days at least, but, I'm going to release him to light duty, before he drives me and the others here crazy!"

"And Chip...?"

"We've got a larger problem there, Admiral. In addition to a mild concussion his leg was torn up pretty badly in the crash. Two of the muscles in the calf were almost torn apart. Any weight or unexpected moves, and the stitches could rupture. Then we'd be looking at a permanent disability. There are over 100 stitches in the leg, and it’s going to be quite painful for quite a while. I've started him on an antibiotic therapy. I want to keep him here for a least a week. If I release him to his cabin he'll try to walk on it as soon as he's alone and, well, I'd rather not discuss the possibilities."

"Does Chip know?"

"I haven't told him yet, I've got him pretty well sedated for now."

Crane knocked on the alcove frame, "Can I come in, Doc?"

Nelson rose. “Good to have you up and around, Lee. How're you feeling?"

Lee laughed lightly, "I've felt better, sir. Then again, I've felt much worse... I caught the end of the conversation, Doc. How bad is Chip's leg?"

"Bad enough, Skipper. I'll have to keep a careful watch on it for the next 24 hours for infection and as I've told the Admiral, he has to stay off it for at least a week. If he breaks open any of the stitches, well...I'd rather not discuss it right now, at least until I can make Chip aware of his condition. An that won't be for another 8 to 12 hours."

"Very well, Doc. Call me when Chip's awake. Admiral, I'm going to the Control Room."

"You're sure you're up to this, Lee?"

"Yes, sir!"

 

***

 

As Crane walked into the Control Room, it was almost as if the Crew as one heaved an audible sigh of relief .The Skipper was back and in charge, Seaview was back in the right hands, for no one took care of the boat and crew the way the Skipper and the Exec did.

Roberts and Gregory were at the plotting table.

"Captain Crane, welcome back, sir!!"

Roberts looked at Crane with a curious mixture of awe and respect, "I didn't think that you'd be back on duty so quickly, sir.

Lee smiled at him, "Doc Jamison was as glad to get me out of his hair, as I was to glad as well to get out of there...!!! What's our status, course and speed?"

"Status as follows, sir…alpha watch on duty, and at the ready, sir...Course 143 degrees relative...running at two thirds speed as per the Admiral's directive...ETA at Station Neptune 10 is in my mark, 0930 hours tomorrow."

"Thank you, Fred. How are our systems checking out, Mr. Gregory? As I recall from the Admiral's notes, we were to be running tests of the new Navigation system and Communications array."

"Aye, we are sir. Navigation is working well within the established parameters. Sparks reports there are a few glitches in the Communications array. He’s got a crew working on it now."

"Kowalski, Patterson...?"

"Aye, sir."

"Good...They're the best men for the job...top ratings in electronics .Chief Sharkey...!"

Sharkey hustled over to the Skipper, “Aye, sir."

"Get me the interim report on the Communications detail. I want a time line for the conclusion of the work. Tell them I said to step on it."

"Aye, aye, sir!!!"

"Mr. Gregory, I take it you are the Officer of the Day...?"

"Yes, sir, Captain."

"Very, well. Please inform all of the officers that I want a meeting of all the watch officers, and chiefs at 1430 hours in the Observation Nose. All officers, all watches."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"I'll be in my quarters...I have a few reports to catch up on."

As he left the Control Room, many eyes followed him out. They were sincerely glad that the Captain and Exec had returned.

 

***

 

As Lee turned the corner to his cabin, he saw Cathy Connors struggling down the companionway with arms full of files and papers.

He reached for the wall mike, “Riley, this is the Skipper, report to the corridor outside my cabin---NOW!!" He continued on toward Cathy, “Cathy, if you'll just wait a moment, help is on the way. I'd like to, but.…"

Cathy looked at him, and glanced at his arm, "Oh, Lee.…"

"It's okay, I.…"

The boat suddenly lurched and shuddered. Cathy lost her footing and fell, sending papers all over the corridor. Lee slammed into the wall with an oath, and braced himself until the shuddering stopped. He leaned over and gave her his hand to help her to her feet, and then he grabbed the wall mike. The lights dimmed to the Emergency Level. Klaxons were sounding. He shouted into the mike, "Mr. Roberts, what the hell is going on...??!!"

"There's a major problem with the Navigation system, sir. It’s 14 degrees off of the mapped readings. We've hit an underwater mountain range...we have to assume that we are the ones in the wrong place, not the mountains."

"What are the Damage Control Reports?"

"Negligible, sir...Chief Sharkey reports that all watertight doors and compartments are tight and dry, all systems secure...and all hands are ok, no injuries.. The only damage was to this evening's dinner, sir. According to Cookie there's more on the galley deck than in the pots. He's not very happy right now, sir."

"Very well, get a party on the new system and transfer to the old until further notice...I'll be there shortly.

Riley came around the bend, saw the papers all over and let out a low whistle.

"Give Miss Connors a hand here, Riley. I believe that all of this is going to the Admiral's cabin ?"

"Yes, it is. thank you, Riley."

"No problem, Ma'am...we'll have this ship-shape in short order."

"Thanks....Lee, you just took a good shot into the wall with the bad shoulder...you...okay...?"

Lee was resisting the urge to rub his shoulder where it had hit the wall, and was now pounding, "I'm fine, Cathy...I'll have Doc check it out as soon as possible. If you need anything, send Riley for it. Riley, after you finish helping Miss Connors, report to me in the Control Room."

Cathy looked directly at him, "Lee... have a care."

He smiled at her, "Sure, Cathy."

 

***

 

When he walked into the Control Room, and saw the chaos going on, he wished heartily that Chip Morton was there. Morton had a way of keeping order even in the worst of situations. He really had to let his Exec know how valuable he really was and how much he depended on him, the very next time he visited him in Sick Bay.

"Mr. Roberts, I want a report on the Navigation system failure in ten minutes ... Mr. Gregory, I want to know why the power systems aren't up and running yet...we need more than the Emergency lights to get her back on an even keel. Go on down to the Circuitry Room and check it out. Mr. Roberts, make a personal visit to Navigation now and see what you can find out. Mr. O'Brien, I want you to work closely with Sparks to check out the communications array. I don't want any trouble with the new system. I'd rather keep on using the old system until we can be absolutely sure of the new."

"Skipper, this is Sparks, we're receiving some pretty strange signals here from the new array."

Crane moved from the plotting table to the Radio Shack.

"See here, sir,” he pointed out three places on a grid face, “They all seem to be coming from Station Neptune 10 and they all are being sent at intermittent bursts with no detectable pattern...and sir...they aren't on any frequency that we use."

"Good, Sparks.....When did you start receiving them?"

"Right before the Navigation system went haywire, sir."

"I see. Keep me posted of any changes and any new information."

Lee went forward into the Nose, and picked up the mike,” Admiral Nelson, could you please report to the Nose…”

"I'm here, Lee," he said as he came down the staircase. "I was on my way when your message came over the intercom...what's up?"

"Well, sir...the new navigation system suddenly went haywire and at the same time we started to receive burst transmissions from Neptune10.Sparks tells me that these are not the type of transmissions we ordinarily send or receive. So we seem to have a mystery of sorts on our hands."

"That mystery grows only deeper...ONI refuses any information on the base or any of the electronics that may be there. So it seems that we won't know anything until we reach the station. And that is when...?"

"Well, sir, our little accident delayed us some two hours...that makes our ETA about 1000 hours."

"Okay, Lee...if you come up with anything, let me know...I'll be in my cabin."

"Very good, sir... I'll have the reports on the repairs for you when I come by."

"Good, and Captain," Crane stiffened at the tone in Nelson's voice, "You will see Doc in Sick Bay before you go off duty."

"If I have the time, sir..."

"My orders, Lee. Cathy tells me that you took a good slam into the wall during our little undersea dance."

"I'll be fine sir."

"No, Lee…my orders."

"Aye, sir."

 

***

 

When Crane entered the Sick Bay, Jamison was hunched over a bunk, talking seriously and intently to it's occupant, Not wanting to intrude, he stood quietly until Jamison stood up. He cleared his throat, and Doc looked in his direction.

"Skipper, something wrong?"

"Admiral's orders. I had an argument with a bulkhead, Cathy told the O.O.M. and here I am. How's Chip? Did you tell him about his leg? How'd he take the news?

"One thing at a time Skipper Let's get you up here on the exam table, and check, you out and I'll fill you in."

As he helped Crane to sit up on the table and as he checked Crane's well-wrapped hand and arm, he talked about Morton, “Chip’s doing pretty well, all things considered. The news about his leg didn't surprise him much. He thought there was some pretty bad damage from what he saw at the accident site. He'll be okay, as long as we keep it immobile for next few days and give it a chance to begin healing."

"Can I talk to him now?"

"No, Lee, I've got him sedated again. The pain is pretty intense and he'll feel less if I keep him sleeping for at least another 8 hours or so."

"Well, Doc...?"

Doc finished rechecking Lee's hand and shoulder. "You can button your shirt now, Skipper, there's no further damage that I can detect. But I wouldn't make it a habit of banging into walls with that sprained shoulder."

"Right, Doc," he slid off the exam table, "You will let me know when Chip's ready for some company? I really do need to talk to him."

"Aye, Skipper."

After he left, Doc went to the mike, "Admiral, this is the Sick Bay....I have that report you requested."

"Very well, Doc, I'll be right there."

 

***

 

Cathy Connors sat at the desk in her cabin. It always amazed her ...the volume of paper work that Harriman Nelson had to do but kept organized. Between the Institute, the Seaview, the government, and all the other various and sundry items that came across his desk, and therefore hers, she could have used a staff of twenty to keep it organized...but the Admiral had it all together, thank goodness.

I'd better get the O.O.M. this newest request from ONI .He won't like it...I can just hear him….'when is Naval Operations going to stop using this boat as a tinker toy in their grand scheme? After all it is MY boat...not theirs'. His boat...funny that Lee feels like she's his boat, too.

She commands that possessiveness in some men....wish that Lee had felt that way about me...that I was his. Poor Fred, I hope he doesn't realize that I'm 'settling' for him. He is a good man, he's just NOT Lee Crane. You’re so smart, Lee, why couldn't you pick up on the way I feel? It's this damn BOAT...!!!

'Seaview this' and 'Seaview that', whenever we were together. ‘Let me tell you about how she did in this test or that' Didn't he realize how much I wanted to get away from stories of this boat...!!! I've known her since she was on the Admiral's drawing board. I know almost as much about her as he does...nothing that goes on here is a secret to me...I wanted to talk about us...US.... and all he wanted to talk about was Seaview...His 'best girl'...well maybe we are both better off this way...maybe…

She looked up at a knock at the door, “Come."

Fred Roberts opened the door, "Cathy, I've just come off duty and I want to know if you'd like to join me for a bite to eat in the officer's mess."

"I'm sorry Fred, Cookie just brought me a tray that I requested ...I've just too much work to do and I have to take advantage of this opportunity. I have the Admiral in one place that he can't get away from me or give me any excuses. He’s here, I'm here and we will get this paper work done."

"Okay, I just thought I'd ask. Will you have some time later?"

She gave him a radiant smile, “Of course...how about 2000 hours in the Nose?"

"Great...I'll be there.…" He left and she stared thoughtfully at the door.

He's always so thoughtful...he's never taken me for granted...he always tries to put me first...he's just what I want in a man...but then why, oh, why, don't I feel for him like I feel for Lee..? May be because the Admiral's right...that I don't and won't ever love him like I love Lee...but then again, I'm not supposed to love him like I love Lee.

Cathy Connors, that's the whole problem. You love Lee Crane, and there's no getting around it...you have to take him as he is or not take him at all. You’ve decided not to take him, so get over it or do something about it....

Decision time is now, girl….

At that moment, Lee Crane's Lady decided to have another dance party for her crew... and she shuddered several times and took a nose dive that sent everyone and everything on the boat in directions that tried to defy all the laws of established physics.

She hit the bottom with a hard thunk and settled down...the emergency lights came up again, Klaxons sounded and the Admiral started barking questions and orders over the intercom. Cathy found herself on the floor behind the desk. She didn't know how she got there, but she got to her feet, brushed herself off and started towards the door. It suddenly burst open, and Fred Roberts was in the cabin.

"Cathy...Cathy are you okay?"

"Yes, Fred, but what happened?"

"Don't know, but I'm on my way to find out."

"I'll come with you."

They hurried down the corridor--This time Seaview had not been as lucky as the last .Several circuitry panel fires were being extinguished as they entered the Control Room ,and there was the distinct odor of burning electrical wires in the air.

Nelson was standing at the Plotting Table. The compartmental crash doors for the Observation Nose were closed. At the table with Nelson were Gregory, and the Second, O'Brien.

The O.O.M. was barking orders in a gruff manner and looked up as they entered. "Ah, Roberts...good, you're here.... here are the Preliminary Damage Control reports...damage to the circuitry Room lists three systems down...repair time estimate is twelve hours...I want that cut in half...there are several small repair jobs needed here in the Control Room...small circuitry repairs...we have a major problem with the Communications array, and the new Navigation system...the old navigation system is also giving us a problem, so for the time being, we're dead in the water. We're already overdue at Neptune 10, and have no way to notify them of the problem until Sparks has Communications up and running. That’s the priority right now."

"I'll get on it right away, sir... but, sir, Captain Crane... ."

" I know, Fred. You have the Conn. Connors, you come with me,"

"Yes, sir !" she turned on her heel, and followed him down the companionway to officer's country.

 

***

 

Nelson's pace was brisk and determined; Cathy had a hard time keeping up with him. Here and there on the corridor they could see evidence of the boats' recent tumbling.

Loose hanging mikes, scattered papers in the corridor and the cabins...cabin doors ajar. They came abreast of the Captain's Cabin, they saw that the door was slightly ajar, but they were unable to move it more than a few inches.

Cathy slid in and cried out, "Lee!!"

Crane was lying on the floor, unconscious. Cathy pulled at him to let Nelson squeeze in and then knelt down to try and rouse him. Nelson went straight for the intercom.

"Sick Bay...this is the Admiral...Send a stretcher crew to the Captain's Cabin...the Captain is down."

They moved him from the doorway, and Cathy held his head in her lap.

"Lee...Lee..." she moved her hand from beneath his head, it came away, bloody.

"Admiral!!!"

Nelson put a reassuring hand on her wrist .In a voice that was calmer than he felt, he said, "Cathy, it looks like he's reopened the head wound; he must have fallen and hit it when we were tumbling about"

A low groan drew their attention back to Crane... he opened his eyes and they flicked back and forth from Cathy to Nelson and he started to try to rise.

"Admiral, what happened...?" he lifted his head and the cabin began to tilt at a strange angle.

Cathy gently held him down. “Don’t try to move, Lee...You've been unconscious for a while...there's a Sick Bay team on the way."

"No...! I've got to get to the Control Room and."

He stopped as movement caused the room to lurch again. Doc chose that moment to enter the quarters, accompanied by two corpsmen.

"Well, Skipper...?"

"I just hit my head, Doc...I'll be okay, just need to get cleaned up a bit."

"Let me be the judge of that, Captain."

Crane allowed the medic to do a brief exam, and then Jamison began to issue orders...over the Captain's protests.

"You men, get the Captain on the stretcher. He’s going to Sick Bay. No sir, not a word of protest...the sooner that I have you there, the sooner I can release you."

Doc continued a bit more sympathetically, "Skipper, I have to take a look at that head wound...it's been opened in the fall.... and I know that you're having some difficulty with dizziness...for both our sakes, not to mention the 125 other bodies on this ship...I have to check it out."

"Alright.. Jamie...you win...I'll go."

"Admiral, I'll give you a full report on the Captain's condition as soon as possible."

Doc gave the Admiral a reassuring nod, "I don't think it's too serious, sir."

"Fine, Doc, I'll be in the Control Room."

"Connors, come with me."

Cathy glanced over at Crane as they carried him from the room, and then reluctantly followed the Admiral.

 

***

 

It was with a great deal of care and trepidation that the Corpsmen aided the Captain from the stretcher to the treatment table. Jamison had a real concern for Crane. He knew he was reaching the end of his reserves, and that he'd soon be unable to function if he didn't take a hand in it now, since he knew that he would, with great reluctance, have to let him go back to duty before he was actually medically fit.

As he worked on the younger man, he kept up a steady stream of dialogue, "Skipper, you've busted the stitches in that scalp wound wide open. No, there’s no new damage, but it sure made a mess. I had one of the corpsmen bring you a clean uniform shirt, this one's had it, and I intend to keep you here for observation for at least the next eight hours."

Lee began to protest, " Eight Hours...!! Doc, I need to get the reports on my boat...!!!"

"Admiral Nelson has informed me that your health is a priority, especially with Chip unable to go on duty. Since it will be at least that long before we get underway again, I'm going to keep you here for that long." He paused for a breath, “Look, Skipper...there is nothing that can't be handled for eight hours, it's repair work, Lee! You can stay here at least that long! You may be Captain of the boat, but I give the orders in Sick Bay!!!"

On the other side of the room, Morton's voice added, "Give it up, Lee, you know that you can't win. Jamie’s got you were he wants you...flat on your back in Sick Bay. "

Crane laughed, in spite of himself, and then, "Ow..! Doc, that hurts...!!"

"Serves you right...this thick head of yours can only take so much pounding without getting back at you...!!"

Reluctantly Lee replied, “Okay, okay, you win...!!Eight hours.. no more...!"

Jamison looked almost happy as he called the Corpsman to help the Captain to a bunk, “John, help the Captain over to he bunk next to Mr. Morton."

The sailor approached his Captain cautiously. Crane stood up and then grabbed the edge of the gurney.

Jamison reached out, concerned, "Dizzy, Skipper...?"

"Mmm..a little, Doc," he grinned at the worried looking Corpsman. “Don’t worry, Richards, I won't bite your head off, regardless of what the good doctor has told you."

Lee allowed the corpsman to assist him to the bunk, and as he laid down, Jamison hovered nearby.

"Skipper, Sick Bay is off limits to everyone, save staff and patients. And my two patients will not, and I repeat, will not discuss the running of this boat!!!!"

Crane threw his good arm over his forehead, "Right Doc, no discussions...frankly...a little sleep sounds pretty good right now."

 

***

 

Eight hours later, the Captain woke...the lights in the Sick Bay had been dimmed, and he could hear Morton's steady breathing. He looked around for any sign of Jamison... seeing none, he started to sit up in the bunk, but the spinning of the darkened room made him put his head back on the pillow.

He was beginning to think that the Doc had all but abandoned the Sick Bay, when the light in the office came on, and he heard Jamison's voice.

"Sudden movement is not a good idea, Skipper, not after reopening that scalp wound, and taking a knock on the head for a second time. You're likely to be a little dizzy if you try to move too fast. Try to sit up again, but slowly."

Doc stood next to the bunk, as Crane tried to sit up a second time. This time the room did not spin, "Better this time, sir?"

"Yes...Well, Doc?"

"You need a longer rest than eight hours. You've reinjured your head, and certainly complicated the concussion. You shouldn't be even thinking of any duty for quite a while, and then of course there's the condition of your hand, and shoulder.  However, I know that this boat would not run efficiently if both her senior officers were out of touch; and since you are the most mobile, considering Chip's injuries, then much as I hate to allow it from a Medical standpoint, you are the senior officer on active, if limited duty. But I'm warning you...you have to take care... another blow to the head, and well, a concussion would be the least of your worries...and as much as you hate to take things slowly, you're going to have to, or we'll be picking you up off the deck, and you'll be back in here!!"

"I get the picture, Doc, take it easy and slow. Now, can I check on my boat?"

"Aye, sir."

Crane slowly walked to the door of Sick Bay, and turned to Jamison," I'll be back, after I check on the boat...I need to talk to Chip."

 

***

 

A short time later, he was standing at the Plotting table with O'Brien and Roberts, when Nelson entered the Control Room.

"Lee, glad too see you back on your feet."

"I can't tell you how glad I am to be here, sir," he smiled broadly at Nelson.  "Doc says that Chip is just about climbing the walls with the inactivity... Just imagine how he'd be feeling if I was confined there as well!!" and he laughed heartily.

"I don't think that it would be a picture Jamie would like to paint... How're repairs coming?"

"Fred's been seeing to it, sir...why don't you give the Admiral the update, Fred?"

"Well, sir...the Chief tells us that the Navigation Systems, the new one and the back up are operational... Engineering stands by their estimate that there were no flaws in the system..… The observation is that something triggered the malfunction... but they don't know what."

"Communications...?"

"That's a more difficult problem, sir...Sparks...?"

"Yes, sir?"

"The repairs?"

"Our old communications system is running fine, sir...It's the new array that I'm having a real problem with...Ever since it crashed, I can't get it up and working...It's almost like it was set to self destruct...there are things wrong with it that I couldn't even tell you what they do, sir. It really has me stumped."

"Are we functioning well enough on the old system?"

"Oh yes, sir!!! All communications are fully restored.!"

"Have you been in contact with Station Neptune?"

"No, sir...I'm awaiting the Captain's orders."

"Very, well, Sparks... contact the station and inform them that our ETA is 0900 hours."

"Aye, sir."

"Lee, when you have a moment, meet me in my cabin."

"Aye, sir...as soon as the watch ends...about 20 minutes?"

"Very well."

 

***

 

Lee knocked on the Admiral's door some thirty minutes later.

"Come..."

"Sorry for the delay, sir. Sparks had some new information the Communications problems. It all seems to point to a connection between Station Neptune, and the new communications array."

"My own investigations come to the same conclusions, Lee. Ever since ONI basically refused us the information on the station, I've been doing a little checking of my own, and it hasn't been a very pretty picture. Neptune is in existence about 2 years. Last December, she was totally outfitted with some new and pretty sophisticated communications equipment. Last month, they lost all contact with the station. With the newer prototype installed on Seaview, we were elected to check the station out. It seems that we must have made the connection as ONI assumed we would They did tell me that they had a suspicion that there were flaws in the system we installed."

"Flaws, like a self destruct once the system shorted out the new Navigation system?"

"Could very well, be. Have we had any contact with the station since the array went down the first time?"

"No sir...every time Sparks sends a message, there is no verbal reply. Only replies that we get are in the form of a message received. If your assumptions are correct, then we need to plan an offensive action against the station."

"No, Lee, I don't think an overtly offensive plan is the way to go. I believe that at least for the time being, we should behave as if we don't have any idea that there is any kind of a problem, which doesn't mean that we won't be prepared for any, that are, shall we say less than friendly. Why don't you make all preparations for a hostile action, while we are pretending to be completely unawares."

"Very well, sir...I'll see to it. I'll set a plan in motion, and then I'll be in Sick Bay with Chip. I want to bring him up to speed on what's been going on as well as get his input."

"Good idea. Even if he can't get to the Control Room , Chip's input on this will be invaluable."

"Aye, sir...Gregory and Roberts are on the duty watch, I'll inform them and then get down to Chip."

"Very good, Lee... I'll be here if you need me."

"Aye sir."

 

***

 

"So that's where things stand as of now, Chip. You know the O.O.M's motto... 'Expect the unexpected' and that's just what we're doing."

Morton was sitting in a wheelchair, in Sick Bay issue robe and pajamas. His injured leg was supported by the brace on the chair. He was still pale, but he had cheerfully admitted that he was feeling much better.

"I could use you in the Control Room right now. If you don't come back on duty soon, I think this boat will fall apart when it comes to discipline."

Morton laughed, “I really don't think its' all that bad, Lee," he grew more serious, leaning forward, "I think the Admiral is correct in his assumptions about Neptune 10. The old adage 'the best defense is a good offense', so' let's get offensive' seems to hold true here. What do you have in mind, Skipper?"

"Actually, I'm torn between two choices...the first one would be to approach the station as if we don't have a clue to any problems, but be at battle stations on the boat. The other would be to approach with guns blazing, so to speak, and to make them, whoever they are , reveal themselves and their plans. I think subtly is the better choice. You ?"

"I think that the subtle approach is the best one as well... the Admiral.."

"Whatever'll work best, as we see it."

"What about Roberts and Gregory?"

"Frankly, while they may be good officers, I'm still uneasy with them. I really don't care to seek their opinion... and no, there's nothing personal in my decision at all... I'm just not comfortable with them."

While Chip had a broad grin on his face, at Crane's discomfort talking about the junior officers, he added, " I agree with you, Lee. There's just something about the two of them that does make you uneasy. Wish I could put my finger on it. Usually the both of us are pretty on track when it comes to personalities. Of course, if it's just a bit of jealousy on our part...well.…"

"I know, Chip... I don't think that's the problem...there's just something about the two of them that makes me uneasy... I'll figure it out yet!"

"I'm sure that you will, Lee. If I can help you out in this in any way, that will get me out of here in the near future, well just let me know!!"

Crane laughed, "Do you really think that Jamie will let you out of here, in the shape that you're in ?"

Morton grinned, "Maybe if I make myself enough of a nuisance, he'll let me out?"

Crane grinned back at him, "I don't think that's likely, Chip, but then I guess that you never know!"

Lee rose to leave, and clapped the XO on the shoulder, "I'll be back in a while, Chip."

Morton laughed again, “I just hope that you come walking in, and don't come in flat on your back."

Crane shot him an evil look, "I'll do my best, Mr. Morton!" as he slammed the door.

 

***

 

Crane came to a stop at the Plotting Table. Gregory and Roberts had been deep in conversation when he came into the room. At his arrival, their conversation stopped. Lee, smiled at them easily.

"Anything going on that I should know about, Fred?"

"Aye, sir. We were just about to notify you. We are approaching the Station."

"Any changes from Communications?"

"No sir, still no other than acknowledgment of received messages...and frankly sir, that could be an automatic response."

"Yes, Sparks went over that ...your thoughts?"

"Puzzled, sir... the station is supposed to be manned... we've tried contact again and again. If we were sent to resupply, then who, or what, are we resupplying?"

"My sentiments exactly. So in that light, let's get into a defensive posture. I want the boat at General Quarters...all hands at the ready. I want you to take us into 150 feet from the station, and I want a dive party - Kowalski, Riley, Rodriguez and Barker, the third, to be ready to go knock on the front door. I want Patterson on the hydrophones, and I want this boat ready to move on a split second's notice. I want the dive party to be in constant communication with Sparks, and I want Chief Sharkey in the Missile Room to fire the forward torpedoes, full spread, at the first sign of trouble, If anything is not right at the station, I want to blow it out of the water. I'm going to report to the Admiral, and then I'll join you back here."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Mr. Gregory, I want you to monitor the dive party. Any questions, gentlemen?" he paused ,"No..? Good. I'll be with the Admiral." He turned on heel and left the Control Room heading toward Nelson's Cabin.

 

***

 

Lee knocked lightly on Nelson's door.

"Come."

"Admiral, I've a report on status."

"Good, Lee.…"

Crane walked into the cabin, and as he did, Cathy Connors stood up from the chair where she was sitting with a stack of papers.

"I'll come back in a bit, Admiral. You and Lee have some things to discuss...."

"No, stay, Cathy... you have as much knowledge of this mission as we do. There's no reason for you to leave."

She sat back in the chair, and Crane sat on the edge of Nelson's desk.

"We're about to heave to off Station Neptune, sir. I've ordered General Quarters for the boat, a dive team to knock on the front door, and torpedoes ready if anything untoward takes place. Chip and I discussed it and felt that this action would be the best."

Connors rose again from her chair, "Admiral, Lee, ...I think I will go to my quarters... If we're at battle stations, then I'm supercargo, and the best place for me is in my cabin. Besides, now that I've gotten you, sir, to go through this paperwork, I have to get it all in order!"

"All right, Cathy...perhaps it is best...just one note. Don't process anything until we review it again."

"Yes, sir, Admiral. Anything else, sir?"

"Not now, Cathy. Thank you."

She started toward the door and placed a hand on Crane's uninjured shoulder.

"I was in the Sick Bay earlier with Chip, Lee. He's looking much better."

Crane reached up and held her hand there for minute. She didn't pull away, but let his quiet strength flow into her and reassure her.

"Lee," she hesitated , "I... I hope you're feeling better as well."

He released her hand, "Yes, I am, Cathy, " he paused as she held the door knob to leave, "Maybe, on the return to Santa Barbara, we could talk..?"

"Sure, Lee... anytime...."

"Captain Crane, this is Roberts."

Crane picked up the intercom on the Admiral's desk, "Yes, Mr. Roberts?"

"We're 150 feet off the Station, sir. Sparks is trying to raise them, but there is no response but the automated acknowledgement."

"Is the dive team ready to go?"

"Yes, sir. They’re in the missile room. awaiting your orders."

"Good, I'm on my way... thanks, Fred."

 

***

 

Crane strode into the Missile Room and was taken aback with the presence of Ed Gregory on the dive team. He was immediately angered by the team change, without his orders.

"What's going on here, Mr. Gregory? I specifically ordered Mr. Barker to lead the team! Who superseded my orders?"

Gregory gulped and looked almost frightened of the Seaview's Captain.

"Mr. Roberts, sir. Mr. Barker has been suffering from an ear infection and Doc said that a dive could cause his eardrum to rupture. I volunteered to take his place. There wasn't time to inform you of the change."

"I see. Where is Roberts right now?"

"In the Control Room, sir. Awaiting your orders."

"Very well then. You will lead the team. Keep in constant communication with the boat. When you gain access to the Station, notify us immediately of the status of the station. If it is manned, by whom, and why haven't they acknowledged the hails. Find out all that you can if it is unmanned. Any questions?.... Kowalski, as Senior diver, you are responsible for the safety of the dive team. If anything seems the least bit off, or wrong, return to the boat right away. Is that understood?"

Kowalski looked at the Skipper first with a question, then with a dawning realization of what Crane was saying. A very sharp "Aye, aye, Skipper!" was his answer. Crane clapped him on the shoulder and the men went into the hatch, and out towards the station.

To Sharkey he said, "Chief...keep the link to the divers open at all times, and prepare the forward torpedo spread for firing. If the team returns without broaching the station, fire the full spread. Is that understood?"

"Aye, aye, sir."

Crane picked up the mike, "Admiral, the dive team is away. Perhaps you'd like to meet me in the Nose to observe, sir."

"I'll be right there, Lee."

Crane left the Missile Room for the Observation Nose.

 

***

 

Cathy Connors sat in shock in the Observation Nose. (With the boat at battle stations, the compartmental doors were closed) Her fiancé had just made a startling revelation. She couldn't believe what Fred just told her.

He was standing at the window, looking out. His entire persona had changed. He was a different man than the one she knew, and had been planning to marry. She really hadn't expected this. He turned to look at her, a strange smile playing on his face. He held a service revolver in his hand.

"Guess I had you fooled, didn't I, Cathy? Nice, wholesome, safe, Fred Roberts a double agent...Never could happen, could it? And I didn't fool just you, I fooled Nelson, Crane, Morton...all of them. No one even suspected me! It took years of work to make this successful, and your friends just played right into my hands. Perfect timing that little conference in Denver. It made is so easy to arrange Crane and Morton's accident. Too bad our agents there didn't have the guts to kill the two of them when they had the chance.

But this worked out just as well. Morton is useless in the Sick Bay, Crane certainly isn't able to carry half the duties he would with his injuries and Nelson, well, I don't see him as a factor at all in any of this.

And then there's you, lovely Cathy...pretending to fall for you wasn't all that hard, and you were so eager to prove to Crane that you could have a life without him. Do you know what an easy mark you were? Honey, I couldn't have planned this any better if I'd tried. I don't suppose that you want to come with me when I leave this boat, and my friends pick me up at the station?"

She shook her head numbly , No.

"I didn't think so. You'd rather go to the bottom with the Seaview, and her noble crew, than escape to be with me. How touching!!!!! Too bad that's not my plan!"

At that moment, Lee Crane entered the Nose from the Stairway. He stopped short when he saw Roberts holding the gun on Cathy. Roberts looked up and saw him.

"Why, come in, Captain, and join our little party on the Admiral's front porch. There's plenty of room. I assume that the Admiral will soon be joining us...please, sit down next to my future wife!"

Lee walked slowly toward the chair next to Cathy. As he sat, he asked her, quietly, “Are you okay?""

"Yes, just in shock...I never expected this..!!"

He patted her hand to reassure her, and Roberts sneered at the gesture.

"How very considerate!!!!! And after she told you she didn't want you any more, that I was more of the kind of man she wanted!!"

"I guess that you proved us all wrong, Roberts," Crane said softly, "It only goes to show that life is full of surprises."

He looked up as Nelson came down the spiral stairs.

"Well, it looks like the third member of the party is here to join us. Come in Admiral. Sit down."

When Nelson hesitated, he growled at him, "I said sit down!!!"

The Admiral moved to the desk chair and sat.

"That's better... now I'll bet that you're wondering what I plan to do....Let me tell you the how and why of it. And while I'm explaining, gentlemen, don't get any foolish ideas. This gun is trained on my sweet fiancée. One wrong move and she will be very dead. I don't think either one of you would like to see that happen."

Nelson and Crane exchanged glances, and Cathy squeezed the armrest of the chair tighter.

"I thought that you would be cautious.... Here..." he tossed several lengths of rope to her. “Tie them up...Nelson first, arms to the armrest and then to the chair. I don't want him to get loose. I'll check your work...do it!!!"

As she was tying the Admiral's arms she said, "Admiral, I'm so sorry, I had no idea…."

"I know, Cathy. Just do as he says. We'll be okay."

"Quiet!! Don’t talk to them!! Finish up with him and tie Crane up, too. Take that arm out of the sling and tie it to the armrest. I don't take unnecessary chances!!"

She saw the look of pain on Crane's face as she moved his injured arm and tied it to the chair. "Lee…."

"Don't say anything, Cathy. Just listen to the Admiral and do as he says."

"Now you come here, my beautiful fiancée. Turn around! Put your hands behind your back, like a good girl."

Crane nodded and she did as Roberts told her.

"Cross your wrists...there.…" he tied her wrists together and then swung her around to face him. He grabbed her face and pulled her to him and kissed her hard and full, she tried to pull away, but he had more strength. When he finished taking what she did not freely give, he laughed, and spun her around to face the two men. Both were visibly angered, and struggling to free themselves.  "Don't bother. Your precious boat and all her knowledge and secrets will soon be in the hands of my employers. You and Crane will be coming along or the ride, Admiral, as well as lovely Cathy here. The rest of your crew, they'll be shot, and then my people will bring their own crew aboard.… Seaview will vanish from the seas for a while, and all hands will be listed as lost. We'll pick your brain and the Captain's too, and then when we have what we want, we'll kill you. Then, with the Seaview, we will control the oceans and make them our domain. With Seaview's secrets we will build a fleet like her and rule not just the oceans, the land as well. We will eventually rule all of the world!!"

Very calmly, Nelson responded to him, “You’ll never get away with it. ONI knows where we are and expects us to contact them. The President and the Chiefs of Staff are also aware of our mission and position. If we disappear or aren't heard from, we will be tracked and found, and destroyed, if necessary!"

"We both know, Admiral, that if the Seaview doesn't want to be found, she won't be."

Cathy was struggling with Roberts to get free of him. He finally became angry with her and slapped her hard on the face. She staggered and fell to the deck.

"Cathy...!!"Crane strained against the ropes that held him in the chair.

Roberts advanced toward him waving the gun back and forth. “Worried about her Crane? Don't be. I'll take very good care of her!!!!"

"I'd rather die first!!"

"That too can be arranged, my dear. Why so quiet, Crane? No righteous platitudes, no heroic promises?"

"No, Roberts," he said quietly, "I have nothing to say to the likes of you."

" The likes of me? That's a laugh, Crane! Do you really think that this lovely lady here would have been do open to me if you had been giving her what she wanted. If you had been the kind of man she really wanted, the kind of man she saw in me? Do you think that the opportunity to serve on this boat would have been presented to me if I wasn't involved with Cathy? Come now, Captain,” he sneered, "I tell you that I simply make the most of my opportunities! And this is one that I intend to make the most of!!!"

He raised the gun and leveled it at Crane’s head. “What do you say, Admiral? Should I pull the trigger now? My superiors do want the information that the Captain holds, almost as much as they want this boat, but he is expendable, whereas you are not."  He grabbed Cathy by the arm and pulled her to her feet, "What do you say my dear...? The ways that my superiors use to get information from their prisoners are not pretty, you know. I understand that when they are done, there is not much left of a man. Should I end it for your gallant Captain now and spare him that? Well, Cathy....?"

He twisted her arm tightly against the ropes that held them together. She felt terrorized by this man , what he threatened to do to all of them.... Lee, the Admiral, the boat....coherent thought escaped her.

Roberts cocked back the trigger, "An answer, My dear.... or I will take matters in hand."

She looked at Crane and his eyes locked into hers. He looked perfectly calm, but she could see the anger in his eyes. The only indication of the stress of their situation was a thin line of sweat on his forehead.

Lee spoke to Roberts while keeping his gaze fixed on Cathy, "Unless you want the entire ship's compliment in here on a moment's notice, I wouldn't pull that trigger if I were you ."

"In a few minutes it won't matter, Crane. My people will take the arrival of the diving party as the signal to attack this boat, and it will be crippled in a matter of minutes. It's most vulnerable right now. Those torpedoes will never be launched."

"I wouldn't count on that, either, Roberts. Take a look out there!!"

As Roberts turned to look, a full spread of torpedoes approached the undersea station, and impacted it with full force. It literally burst into thousands of pieces.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! he shrieked. He turned on Crane, "You did this!!!!!!!!!!! You!!!!!!!!!"

Roberts swung at Crane and hit him full force in the face with he butt of the gun. Blood spurted. Cathy screamed. At that moment, the boat was tossed as the shock wave from the explosion hit it. Men, furniture and any thing that was not fixed in place flew around the boat. The boat went dark, and then her emergency lights came on. Voices began shouting over the intercom. In the nose, four figures lay still. The compartment doors opened and the Nose was flooded with men. Chief Sharkey led the way. He quickly directed men to get and restrain Roberts, who was coming around. Patterson bent over Cathy, helping her to her feet, untying her arms. Nelson was being untied by Rodriguez.

Crane's chair was on its side, blood pooling beneath his face, and Sharkey was bending over him, untying him and reaching for the intercom, "Sick Bay, this is the Chief, send a corpsman to the Nose. The Skipper’s hurt!"

"Chief?"

"He's unconscious, sir. He has a wound on his face. He’s bleeding pretty badly."

Cathy was standing in the background, just watching. Doc came in, followed by two corpsmen with a stretcher. Sharkey stepped away as Doc bent over the Captain.

Nelson began giving orders, "Take Roberts to the brig, Patterson." He looked into the heart of the Control Room and saw Morton in uniform , and in a wheelchair, quietly giving orders and bringing order to the chaos that existed after the shock wave. A thin smile played on his face.

"Damage Control reports, Mr. Morton?"

"Minor shorts, a few bruises and bumps, but she maintained her watertight integrity, sir. We were ready for the shock wave here. Are you okay, sir?"

"Yes..."

"The Skipper?"

"Doc's with him. Where's Gregory?"

"His cabin, sir. Is there any evidence he was involved?"

"None right now, Chip. But we'll have to investigate him further to clear him of any suspicion. Looks like you and Lee were right on this one."

"Aye, sir...I'm looking forward to letting Lee know it."

They turned to look as the corpsmen carried the still unconscious Captain from the Nose, with Doc and Cathy Connors following. Nelson put a hand out to stop her.

"Connors, are you okay?"

Cathy looked a little dazed by the course of events, and it took her a few seconds to focus on Nelson's question.

"Oh....yes, sir...I think so...I...um... I'll see Doc after... after he takes care of Lee... I.... uh…." she swayed a little.

"Kowalski."

"Yes, Mr. Morton?"

"Escort Miss Connors Sick Bay."

"Aye, sir."

"Chip, set a course for home. Get me full report from the diving party. Contact ONI and let them know what's been going on and have them send a copter for Roberts. The sooner he's off my boat, the better I'll feel. Can you handle things here?"

Nelson didn't imagine the pleasure in his voice as Morton sharply replied, "Aye, sir! There's not much to taking her home after a mission's successfully ended."

"Good. I'll be in Sick Bay if I'm needed."

Nelson hustled out of the Control Room.

 

***

 

Nelson heard the argument between the Captain and Jamie as he approached Sick Bay.

"It's only a few stitches in the chin, Doc. That shouldn't keep me out of the Control Room!!! I need to know what's going on on my boat!"

More patiently than he felt, Jamie responded, "Skipper...you were unconscious for at least fifteen minutes. This is the third time in as many days that you've received a blow to the head. The arm and shoulder show signs of new trauma. I want to keep you here for at least 24 hours for observation!"

"Can't do it, Doc. I've got to relieve Chip of the watch. He can't do much in that wheelchair."

Nelson barged into the room, "He seemed to be doing a fine job to me… I just left him and he has it all under control."

"There, Skipper, you see, you're not needed right now. What you need is some rest and close observation for the next 24 hours. I'm sure that you won't even be missed."

Doc finished applying a bandage over the stitches on the Captain's chin. Crane didn't see the doctor signal a corpsman to hand him a hypodermic, and before he could protest, the needle was in his arm, and the doctor was grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

"There, Skipper, now you have no choice, you'll be here for a while!"

He stood next to the gurney, arms folded and carefully watched as Crane fell into a deep sleep. He gestured to the Admiral to follow him into the Sick Bay office. As he passed one particular bunk, he stopped, and checked on the patient. Cathy Connors was also asleep. He shook his head slightly as he sat at his desk.

"This has been quite a busy day, Admiral , and full of surprises, too."

He picked up a clipboard and thumbed thru the papers. "Let's see...the Skipper ...ten stitches in his chin. Cathy said he was hit with butt of a service revolver. We’re lucky it wasn't worse. I want to keep him here and run a few tests just to be sure we haven't missed anything. He has a hard head, but I don't know how much abuse even Lee can take with out consequences. His arm and shoulder have some new bruising. I think from the fall…he should be okay, but I'd like to be sure.

Cathy Connors... well, she's had some severe emotional trauma in the past few hours. I'm sure she'll be fine with a little help from her doctor, and a certain friend. She just needs some rest. I'll keep her under light sedation for 24 hours of so.

Chip Morton...well he's on light duty until further notice. That really was some sharp thinking on the part of both Lee and Chip that saved this boat. Planning the attack without the enemy knowing it, well if we don't have the best command team in or out of the Navy, I don't know who does!!"

Nelson beamed at him, "Jiggs will never believe this one!!!!"

 

***

 

Several days later, Crane sat in the chair next to Nelson's desk. A large square bandage sat on his chin, his left arm was still in a sling.

"We should be at the Institute in two hours, sir."

"Very well, Lee. What's the status report on Gregory?"

"ONI can't find anything to the negative on him...but that was also the case with Roberts. I think they'll have him under careful surveillance for a long time."

"And Roberts?"

"Word from the ONI is that he was a double agent of long standing. He had been in very deep cover for a number of years. Needless to say, he had everyone fooled. Absolutely no suspicions about his behavior. He was being saved for a special mission. and we were it!"

"And if it hadn't been for yours and Chip's instincts, things would have turned out very different."

"Well, it’s a good thing that Kowalski picked up on my orders as the team left. We just didn't know where Gregory figured into the picture, and when I found him assigned to the team by Roberts, I had to think fast without letting on that we were suspicious of him as well."

"Well, as usual, it worked!...How's Chip doing ?"

"It's good to have my Exec back in the Control Room, no matter how limited his mobility is. I'd say he's doing fine. Of course, I'm not Jamie!"

Nelson laughed heartily, "I suppose the same can be said for you?"

Crane smiled ruefully, "Doc is still carrying on about light duty, but I really am fine, sir."

"Yes, Lee. Just one look at you tells me how fine you are. I think once we're back at the Institute, you and Chip had better take some extended Sick Leave."

"We'll see, sir... Admiral, have you spoken to Cathy since we cleaned up this mess?"

"Once Jamie let her out of the Sick Bay, she's stayed in her cabin. Cookie's been bringing her her meals. We've only spoken once...seems she blames herself for everything that's happened, including the injuries to you and Chip in the crash You haven't spoken to her?"

"I tried to, in Sick Bay, once I woke up...but she wouldn't talk to me. I haven't tried since."

"Perhaps she'll be more receptive now."

"I'll try again, as soon as I leave here. Will there be anything else, sir? You'll have my written report before we dock."

"No, Lee... it might be best if you try to talk to Cathy, though…."

"Aye, sir."

 

***

 

Lee knocked on the cabin door and waited for an acknowledgement. When none came, he knocked again and called, softly, "Cathy, it's Lee, may I come in?"

When she didn't respond again, he tried the door. It was unlocked, so he opened it quietly. Cathy was sitting at the desk, a pile of papers and folders scattered all over. Next to the desk and over flowing the wastebasket was piece after piece of crumpled paper. She looked at the open door with tired eyes.

"I didn't say that you could come in!"

"As the captain of the boat, I'm concerned about the health of all of my crew, including any supercargo that may be aboard."

She looked angrily at him, "Well, supercargo or not, I am entitled to my privacy, Captain!!"

"That may be...but since you haven't been seen by anyone for a few days, it's my duty to see if you are okay."

"Well, you've checked. I'm okay. Now leave!!"

"No…is that all you're going to say? "

"No, I just told you to get out."

"No."

"You have to!"

"No, I don't! Remember, I'm the Captain!" A bemused smile began to play on his lips. "I can stay here as long as I want."

"Lee Crane, you are the most frustrating man I know!! Don't you understand what I'm trying to tell you?"

He laughed aloud, “No, Cathy, explain it to me!! I know that you're upset about what happened here, " he grew more serious, "I also know that you're blaming yourself for it. You're not to blame, Cats. It could have happened to any one of us."

"But it didn't, Lee...It was all my fault. If I hadn't been so angry with you for not keeping in better touch with me, I wouldn't have met Fred Roberts, or agreed to marry him, or wangled a posting to Seaview for him.

If he hadn't been on the boat, none of this would have happened. It's all my fault!"

Crane came over to the desk, and gently pulled her from the chair, and wrapped his arm around her.

"Everything’s okay, Cats...it's okay."

She started to sob, and tried to talk all at the same time.  "Oh, Lee... I thought that I could love Fred...I thought that… I could put the way... I feel for you aside. Then you and Chip got hurt ...and then this mission and ...all of the problems....And then Fred....And then you were hurt, again....And I ....I...."

"Hush, honey, hush, "he sat in the chair and pulled her gently onto his lap. He wrapped his good arm around her and spoke softly while holding her tightly, " You aren't to blame for any of it, Cathy. It happened. Its over. Everything is alright. Everyone is okay. It's over, honey...it's over."

They sat there, together, and he just held her until she finished crying it out. Finally she looked into his eyes and was taken back by the unquestioning love for her that she saw there.

"Lee...I ..I didn't know."

"I didn't know how to tell you. You know that I'm not good at expressing myself about these things…."

She shifted her position, and he winced.  "Oh, your arm..! I..." she jumped out of his lap.

He grabbed her hand, "Cathy...?"

"Yes, Lee?"

"Would you...?"

"Oh yes, Lee!"

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, Lee."

"I don't want to risk losing you again…."

"No, Lee. There's no chance of that. You're going to be stuck with me for the rest of our lives. I love you, Lee Crane.…"She pulled his face to hers, and kissed him, "and I am very, very, sure!"

 

***

 

Several days later, Lee and Cathy were walking the beach on the Institute grounds. It was the beach below the guest cottages Nelson kept for visiting long term scientists and dignitaries. The beach was a quiet secluded place the two of them had come to know and love in the years since they had first discovered it. It was close enough to the Institute to walk to, yet far away enough for privacy.

They came to a familiar outcropping of rocks and stopped, sitting down on the sand. Crane leaned back against the rocks, and Cathy nestled in the crook of his arm.

The sun was setting and the sky was brilliant red, pinks and yellows.

"It's so pretty here, Lee. I want to catch it in a bottle and keep it , always."

"Mmhunh. Do that, Cats. Show me how, will you?"

She slapped his arm playfully.

"You know, I think they took the news pretty well, don't you ?"

"They…who? the Admiral...? Chip? Angie? the crew?"

"Well, Nelson seemed pleased enough, in spite of his mutterings about 'stealing away the best damn Executive Assistant' he ever had, and 'how was he ever going to replace' you. He looked relieved when you told him you weren't leaving the Institute. And I thought that Chip would jump right out of that wheelchair."

"Did we forget anyone? You called Helen?"

"Helen?" he looked at her quizzically.

"Your mother..!"

"Oh... I don't think of her as Helen, sorry. She seemed pleased enough."

"I think she feels you're finally settling down."

"Am I?"

"You can answer that better than I can. I know that things won't change, at least as far as the boat, missions, the ONI are concerned. But we'll be together. We'll be sharing everything...work, play, everything. That's what will be different ...better... and we won't be alone anymore."

"I like that...not alone. You know, I love you, Cathy Connors."

"And I love you , Lee Crane."

                          

 

 

                            

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