A Renewal of Life

by

Jane Daffron

Author’s note: Please be advised that this takes place in the present time. A little license has been taken and I hope you all will be indulgent. This was my first foray into writing. I want to thank Barbara Paul for use of background material from her story Price of Dream as well as her help with a couple of scenes and to Linda Delaney for her help and friendship as well.

 

Admiral Harriman Nelson sat quietly, but impatiently, in Admiral "Jiggs" Starke's office at ComSubPac’s San Diego Headquarters. He had approached his old friend to find someone with the qualifications he required to build a special deep water diving (DWD) team for the SSRN Seaview, the world’s largest research nuclear submarine. Seaview was Nelson’s creation and was privately owned by the Nelson Institute of Marine Research. She was staffed by a civilian navy reserve crew and her captain, Commander Lee Crane, was the Navy’s top submarine commander. Funding for the sub’s missions came from the Federal Bureau of Marine Exploration (FBME) as well as from other government and private sources. Her primary purpose was to explore the ocean and conduct experiments that her creator and backers required. On occasions she was pressed into service when situations arose that needed a ‘special touch’ that certain government agencies could not provide.

Nelson had had a very rewarding active military career. However, after retiring early and building the Nelson Institute as well as the Seaview, he found that the life he had carved out for himself was now less restrictive and afforded him more accessibility to concentrate on his life’s passions, that of marine exploration. He could now follow his own path, more often that not, and still have access to all the Navy had to offer, including personnel.

So, on that fateful day in May, he sat calmly, if not anxiously, in Starke’s office. His old friend had called him with the news that he had finally found him a diving master. Nelson was anxious to meet the person and see if he would mesh well with the Seaview’s crew.

If Starke would get himself in here, we can get started. I have too much to do back at the Institute. He always was one to drag things out.

About that time, Starke walked in carrying a rather large personnel file folder under his arm. A rather large hulk of a man, he looked at his old friend with amusement. He had a feeling he knew what Nelson’s reaction would be to the news and he wanted to savor the moment. "Harriman, you old sea dog…how are you doing? Ready to come back into active service?"

"No, thank you, Jiggs.  Besides I don’t think that even I would fit your mold." Nelson laughed, a pointed reminder that Starke considered himself ‘spit, polish and the brig’ Navy, the old Navy. Nelson, on the other hand, had always considered himself one of the ‘New Navy,’ similar to that of Elmo Zumwalt’s approach. In fact, Nelson and Zumwalt had been constantly compared as to their similar styles and rapid ascension through the ranks. Both men had obtained the admiralty rank at a relatively young age. Zumwalt had aspired to the highest post in the Navy, that of CNO, whereas Nelson had chosen sea exploration and let his discoveries and inventions speak for themselves. This had afforded him the contacts and experiences necessary to accomplish his dream when he decided to retire early.

"Harriman, I do believe you’ve gotten way too accustomed to straddling the line." Starke replied with a wide grin. "Well, I’ve found you a dive officer. Name’s K. L. Davis, Captain. Excellent references…apparently quite an aircraft pilot, too. A sometimes flight instructor over at Miramar. Should give Crane some competition on that Flying Submarine of yours." He handed him the file and sat back in his chair, wanting a full view of the explosion that was about to occur.

Nelson leaned back into the overstuffed chair across from Starke and started to go through the file. As he read through the first page of the fact’s sheet, he first thought that his old friend was joking, but as he read on, he suddenly realized that he was not. The file was a lengthy but quite impressive one. Knowing that Starke was waiting for some sort of reaction from him, he decided that he was not going to give him the pleasure. In fact, as he finished the file, he grinned and handed it back to Starke.

"So…when do I get to meet her?" was his only comment.

"Harriman, you can’t be serious. You’ve got 125 men on that boat of yours. I know that the Navy has a policy of opening certain combat areas now, and you know damn well I certainly don’t agree with it, but you can’t put a woman on a submarine. Even one that’s a ‘civilian’ one. Too many things can happen. And after the Tailhook incident "

"Jiggs, must I remind you that the Seaview is not Navy. She’s a civilian ship and we’re under the ‘auspices’ of the FBME. And apparently, K. L. Davis is the person for what I want to do. Besides, the status is going to be that of a mission specialist anyway. Now, I’ll ask you again, when do I meet her?" Nelson pointedly replied. He, quite frankly, was getting more than a bit impatient with Starke’s attitude.

"Okay, okay…I just don’t agree with…"

"I know you don’t, Jiggs, but that doesn’t really concern me…what does is…if you are so adamant about her not being on board, then why show me the file?"

"Because, damn it, I fed your ‘qualifications’ through the damn computer five times…five times, mind you…and each damn time, I kept getting the same name…Hers…"

"Well, obviously, then, she’s who I want as the head of this team."

"Harriman, I wish you’d reconsider…"

Nelson’s blue eyes blazed. When someone was this qualified, he didn’t like to be told no. "Jiggs, if she’ll take the job, I want her at the Institute and on board Seaview. Now, where is she?"

Starke knew not to push the issue with his old friend. "Oh, hell….all right. She’s over at Miramar. I understand she’s training this session. We can go on over now and let you two get acquainted, if you want."

Nelson stood, taking his hat from the side table and putting it on. "Good, let’s go then. The sooner the better." He picked up his brief case and headed for the door. Starke had to hustle to keep up with him.

A driver was standing by to take them over to Miramar, the Navy’s top fighter pilot training facility. Here, pilots, who had been judged to be the best by their respective commanders, came to learn from the best to be the best. In the last ten years, women had been allowed to go into the combat arena of Naval aviation and there were now numerous female pilots being posted to carrier groups.

As they drove by the outer perimeter of the base, F-A18's were both taking off and landing on the airstrips. Starke had related to Nelson that Davis would be in the air at this time training the newest group of ‘students’. It was an impressive sight to watch the sleek but deadly aircraft descend to the tarmac only to suddenly power up and take off again without ever touching down. These craft were considered to be the best in the world and their pilots had to be equally as good to handle them.

The driver took them directly to the flight commander’s offices. The FCO informed them that she was airborne with a trainee. He then handed them each a set of headphones with an auxiliary battery pack as well as a pair of binoculars.

"Gentlemen, you should be able to pick up communication between the aircraft. You won’t be able to communicate with them, but you can monitor them. The microphones are for communication between yourselves. It has a tendency to get a bit loud out there, so I’d really advise you to use them. Captain Davis’s ‘handle’ is Ice Queen …Oh, and if you hear any music in the background, it’s coming from her plane. The captain…has a bit of a habit for some unorthodox training aids."

Starke and Nelson looked at each other, puzzled at the comment. Thanking the FCO, they proceed outside to the parking area near the taxi runway. About that time, two sleek FA-18Cs came screaming in toward the landing strip, one slightly ahead of the other. As they neared the end of the runway, music started to blare over the headphones. A blast of musical chords and then the words ‘taking care of business…’ could be distinguished. The two planes skimmed the tarmac at what Nelson estimated was 20 to 30 feet off the ground. Reaching the end, they accelerated and executed a vertical climb, each in a different direction. Between the deafening whine of the jet engines and the music, the two men looked at each other and wondered what in God’s name was transpiring up there.

Within moments however, the music volume was lowered as the voices came across.

"Good run, Jack Rabbit…good run. But you need to pull your nose up a bit more coming in. Otherwise, you could slam into the ground when you try to skim. The point is to come in low, under radar, drop a quick round, and haul ass out of there."

"Okay, Ice, I’ll try it again…Hey, we’ve got company on the tarmac…you see’em?"

"Yeah, I see’em. Looks like we won’t get in another run today. I recognize one of them but not the other. Let’s go downstairs. We’ll set you up another time."

"Sure…Jack out."

They circled the airfield and then approached the parallel runways for their landings. Both planes touched down flawlessly at approximately the same time, one in front of the other. Nelson and Starke watched the two craft as they taxied from the end of the runway to the parking area near them. Here, other jets sat awaiting their pilots and were being readied for flight by the numerous maintenance crews buzzing about. The two men watched as maintenance crews rushed to the two aircraft, bringing ladders, hoses for fuel, and other equipment. One of the crew ascended the ladder and cracked the canopy of the lead plane. Nelson noticed the person yelling something to the pilot, who in turn signaled an okay. The planes were powered down and the pilots descended to the ground. He noticed the lead pilot was smaller that the other; in fact, the second pilot seemed to dwarf the first. Watching them through binoculars, he saw the lead remove ‘his’ helmet. It was then that he realized that the ‘he’ was, in fact, most definitely, a ‘she’. He watched as she unbuckled the safety straps to her parachute and handed it to a member of her flight crew. He surmised that she was about five foot five or six inches with very curly dark blond hair. Her eyes were hidden by the sunglasses she now wore but she appeared to be quite attractive, even if she wore a flight suit. He studied her interaction with the crews and watched their reactions to her. Her body language didn’t show arrogance, but instead, as he watched her, he saw appreciation of those around her. At the same time, there seemed to be a certain air of confidence about her. And as he watched her, he felt there was something else. Too many of the fighter pilots were known to be a bit on the cocky side, but it didn’t seem to be that. No, it wasn’t that…but he yet couldn’t put his finger on it quite yet.

She walked up to Starke and gave a sharp salute. "Admiral Starke, to what do I owe this pleasure?"

"Captain…I’d like for you to meet Admiral Harriman Nelson of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research. Harriman…Captain Karen Davis."

Turning to Nelson and saluting, she said, "Sir, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’ve heard quite a bit about you."

Nelson smiled and nodded. "Captain, that was quite an impressive display up there. Are you always quite so…demonstrative?"

"Only when necessary, sir…only when necessary," she replied and grinned broadly. Nelson couldn’t tell what her eyes held hidden behind those glasses.

Starke turned to face her. "Captain, Harriman’s got a proposition for you. Is there anywhere we can talk?"

"Sure, I’ve got to talk with my wingman; that’ll take about fifteen to twenty minutes. It’ll take me about another fifteen to get rid of this gear and become human again. Tell you what, meet me inside here in forty-five minutes."

"All right, forty-five minutes in the flight officer’s office then."

She saluted the two, turned around, and walked away. Nelson’s eyes followed her as she strolled toward the hanger. There was something about her…that made him slightly…uncomfortable…in a very strange sort of way. Yet, at the same time, he also felt at ease with her, too.

 

 σσσσ

 

Forty-five minutes later, Starke and Nelson settled down into chairs in the Flight Officer’s Office. A short knock came and Starke’s reply followed, "Come."

Davis came through the door and stood at attention. Now dressed in the Navy’s khaki work uniform, she definitely looked ‘human’.

"At ease, Captain, and sit down. This is an informal meeting."

She smiled and took a seat facing them.

Starke cleared his throat and started. "Captain Davis, Admiral Nelson here is looking for a diver to head up a special team he wants to build. I’ll let him tell you the rest."

Nelson shifted his weight in the chair and leaned toward her. "Captain, as you well know, Seaview is made up of the best the Navy has, in accordance with my ‘special needs’. I want to put together a team of divers that specialize in deep water dives and can handle other ‘tasks’ as well. Your record indicates that you’re the very person I want to head up that team. Would you be interested?"

She looked at the two men and studied Nelson in particular. She knew this man was a living legend. He was one of the youngest admirals in naval history, second only to Elmo Zumwalt. Academy graduate as well as professor of biology, chemistry, and military tactical history. He retired early and, with a combination of government and private funding, built the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, then the Seaview. A Nobel Prize in biology enhanced his reputation, as did numerous other honors and accolades from around the world. Now here he was…offering her a job.

"I’m flattered, Admiral. What exactly did you have in mind?" The two locked eyes and sat intently studying each other.

"I want a team that can dive as deep as Seaview can; that can handle any situation, be it research or covert."

"An interesting proposition, sir. So basically, you want a SEAL-type team that can handle research as well, or am I wrong?"

"Not a SEAL team, but a DWD team," he replied, correcting her. "Your responsibilities would be to ensure that each man on the team is certified in depths no other divers could touch. Should, let’s say, certain situations arise that might constitute the need for electronics or explosives gear, then they would be trained in that as well."

"Well, as far as depth goes, I’m sure that you’re more than aware that deep saturation dive training takes less than three weeks.  However, any deeper than that and you’re looking at specialized suits.  I believe there’s one being developed now that’s smaller, lighter, and more maneuverable than the older Hardsuit suits or even the current one that’s in use.  What equipment and manpower are you talking about here? Would I have access to whatever and whomever I need?"

"Equipment would be handled by the Institute. Personnel, however, would be limited to Seaview’s crew. Your job would be to choose the best from them and then train them.  I know the prototype you’re talking about…and it’s still a few years down the road.  If memory serves me correctly, it’s a one-atmosphere suit," he informed her.

“That’s correct, sir.  Tentatively, it’s the Hardsuit 2000 that you’re talking about.  However, it’s not the only one in the works.  There’s another one…the Exosuit ADS is also on the board.  However, as you stated, they’re still in the design phase, though I think that the 2000 is getting closer to the testing phase than the Exosuit.  The question is…do you want to enter that arena as well?  Design and develop your own?  And who would supervise the team when Seaview goes out on missions?" Her interest was peaking as the description of the job became more detailed.

"That’s exactly what I want, Captain.  If necessary, you’ll head up the R and D section for that project as well as heading up the team itself.  And as far as supervision of the team, well that, Captain, would, of course, be your responsibility as the Mission Specialist in charge. You’d live aboard the boat with your team once they’re up and running."

That sudden realization stunned Starke. The big man exclaimed, "Harriman, you can’t be serious. No sub has a woman as a member of her crew!"

"No regulation Navy sub has. But you must remember, Jiggs, we’re not regular Navy," Nelson replied. He turned his attention back to Davis and smiled slightly. "Well, Captain, what do you say? Want to do some ground breaking of your own?"

She looked at him warily and then a slight smile slowly began to emerge. "Well…it’ll take a bit to wade through the personnel files and to access capabilities.  Then, the specialized saturation dive training.  I’ll have to see about arranging for those selected to attend class down at Panama City at the Dive School.  I’m assuming that most of your people already have at least the basics of diving down…and there’s probably a few that have achieved master diver or dive officer status.  In the meantime, I’ll have to assemble a team of R and D specialists to start work on the deep dive suits.  Those things aren’t just going to magically appear…We’ll have to investigate the other two prototypes and see if the positives of both can be incorporated into one and then work closely with the contractors.”  An eyebrow rose slightly and she finally stated, “I’d say you’ve got yourself a new dive officer, sir. When do I report?"

"As soon as you can. You can arrange that with my director of personnel."

She thought for a moment, then replied, "If it’s quite all right with you, sir, I’d like to wait until mid-June. You see, my daughter’s in high school…she’s a junior…and I’d prefer to not disrupt her education this close to the end of the year. We can move as soon as the school year is over. That way I can look over schools in Santa Barbara as well as obtain living quarters."

Nelson was slightly taken aback that she would even suggest this; however, he had to admit it was a reasonable request. Starke had told him earlier about the daughter and that the child was a credit to her mother. He also reminded himself that several of the Seaview’s crew were fathers, although not exactly in the same situation as she was. He smiled slightly and said, "That would be fine. As for your living quarters, the Institute has sufficient arrangements within its own grounds. I’ll see that you’re assigned something that will meet your needs, but I do need you there as soon as possible."

"Thank you, sir, I’ll be there within two weeks after school ends."

Starke stood at that point, signaling an end to the meeting. Davis rose, saluted, and left. As soon as she walked out the door, she exhaled a loud sigh of relief. Her wingman, Jack Rabbit (aka Wes Browning), walked down the hall about that time. Seeing her, he yelled, "Hey, Ice, you okay?"

She broke out in a smile that could have illuminated the hall on its own. "Yes, yes...everything is absolutely all right!!!" And with that, the two went outside where she promptly explained her new job.

 

σσσσ  

 

Inside, Starke stood at the door and looked at his old friend as he picked up his things. "Harriman, I hope you know what you’re in for. She’s got a reputation for being unconventional and a bit of a maverick," Starke told him, then added an extra pointed remark, with a definite gleam in his eye, "In a strange way, she sort of reminds me of someone else I know."

"Humph! Well…Jiggs, I do believe that she’ll work out just fine. I’ll have to admit that it’s going to be interesting. But then again…we all need a little shaking up now and then, and from what I’ve just seen, I think she’ll handle it just fine." I just hope I do.

"Hope you’re right, Harriman. I really hope you’re right."

 

σσσσ  

 

Six weeks later...

A cherry red Jeep Grand Cherokee turned off Highway 101 onto a two-lane access road north of Santa Barbara, California. Its’ final destination was that of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, perched high on a seaside cliff about twenty miles outside the city. The two occupants, a mother and teenage daughter, had just spent two weeks driving from their home in Virginia and they were tired and anxious to see their new home.

Arriving at the gate, Captain Karen Davis rolled down the window and displayed her credentials and was told that the moving van had arrived just moments before. She was then given directions to the living quarters area of the complex. When she pulled up to a five-story building with the moving van in front, she and her daughter climbed out and stretched. Looking over the vast facility, she wondered to herself if she had gotten herself into something she would regret. A guard approached her and asked for her papers.

"Sorry, ma’am. But we need to make sure." He looked over them and then held up a walkie-talkie. "Tell the Admiral that Captain Davis and her daughter have arrived at the apartments and are unloading"

A voice came across with "10-4".

"Ma’am, you and Miss Davis will be in five-A…that’s the fifth floor. The movers can use the service elevators here."

She signed the clipboard that he had handed her and replied, "Thanks. I’m just glad to finally be here. It’ll be good to sleep in our own beds tonight, won’t it, Caitlin?"

"Sure will, Mom. Well, let’s go on up and take a look at our new home. This place looks fantastic!"

After giving the movers instructions, she and Caitlin went inside and took the elevator to the fifth floor. Once there, they quickly found the apartment and went inside. What they found was a spacious four bedroom apartment overlooking the ocean. Off the living room area was a huge balcony with an exquisite ocean view. There was a huge kitchen and a formal dining room. Karen thought it odd that such quarters existed at the Institute but didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. Caitlin staked out her bedroom and decreed that another bedroom would work just fine for her mother’s office. The master bedroom would, of course, be Karen’s. The remaining one would be turned into a guest bedroom.

The movers started trouping in with the furniture and the many boxes and crates. Caitlin acted as traffic controller, designating the rooms to which the things were assigned. In the middle of the confusion, two men in blue officer’s uniforms suddenly showed up.

"Captain Davis?" The taller, dark haired man inquired.

"Yes?"

"I’m Lee Crane, Seaview’s Captain and this is Chip Morton, the XO."  He turned to the tall blonde haired man standing beside him. "We thought we’d come up and welcome you to our humble home." He then held out a bottle of wine and a six-pack of Cokes.

"Well, well…we thank you gentlemen most humbly." Turning around and calling back into the apartment, "Caitlin, come in here, please. These gentleman come bearing gifts." She motioned them to come inside, noting the rank insignia on their collars.

Caitlin Davis strolled in from one of the back bedrooms and looked at the two officers standing before her. She had become used to handsome men in uniform so these two certainly did not faze her. Smiling and acknowledging their presence, she then turned to her mother and asked, "Where did you pack the computer patch cords? I need to set up the computers in your bedroom and in your office."

"They’re in a gray box marked ‘office’. They should’ve already been brought in."

"Okay, I think I saw that box somewhere in the other room."

"Caitlin, this is Lee Crane and Chip Morton. Commander Crane is the Seaview’s captain and Mr. Morton is the exec."

"Hi, guys. It’s nice to meet you." Turning to Crane, she said, "Commander, please make sure you take care of my mom."

"Miss Davis, I certainly intend to," Crane replied with a slight bow and a wide smile, his hazel eyes twinkling.

"Good, then we’ll get along just fine. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get these computers up and running." The teenager turned and headed back toward one of the bedrooms.

Crane watched as she exited the room. Quite a girl, that one. Cute, too. White blonde hair and bright blue eyes. Couldn’t be more than 16 or 17, but carried herself with an air of way more maturity. And if what he had heard about the mother was correct, the daughter could definitely handle herself.

"The movers should be finished shortly. Caitlin’s my computer guru. Lord knows, I don’t know how they work. I simply tell her what I need, and she programs and does it for me. My late husband used to call her a ‘byte head’ when she was eight years old. Once she gets me up and running, then we can truly unpack. And hopefully, we’ll be completely entrenched here by day after tomorrow. "

"Is there anything we can do?" Crane asked looking at the rows and rows of boxes and packing crates, furniture, etc.

"No…actually, we’ve got it fairly under control. Controlled chaos, I call it. But thanks, anyway. It’ll be nice to sleep in our own beds tonight. Two weeks of motels and hotels get a little old," she replied, placing the wine and sodas on a packing crate.

"Well, there’s a staff meeting set for 1000 tomorrow in the Conference Room. That’s on the first floor of the Administration Building next door. Apparently, the admiral set it up so you could meet with the whole command staff. He wants to outline duties and responsibilities," Crane informed her.

"Oh, great!" she replied, slightly perturbed. "Just what I need. Oh, well…guess I should’ve anticipated this. Commander, just where do I find the Admiral at this time of day?"

"He should be in his office. Usually is by this time. That’s also on the first floor of the Administration Building. You can’t miss it."

"Thanks. Well, I’d better get over there." She turned and called out to her daughter, "Caitlin, what did you do with my uniforms?"

From an unseen room in the apartment came a voice, "They’ve been hung in your closet, Mom. Why?"

"I’ve got to get dressed and meet with Admiral Nelson, honey. You finish the unpacking and I’ll be back as soon as I can." She turned to the two uniformed men. "Thank you. I guess I’ll see ya’ll tomorrow, then."

With that, Crane and Morton took their leave and left the ladies to unpack. Crane chuckled to himself. This is going to be an interesting situation, he thought. Maybe he was just a little of the ‘Old Navy’ though he’d hate to admit it. However, if the O.O.M. thought this was a good idea, then he was willing to go along with it. Nelson had given him a copy of Davis’s personnel file and he was duly impressed. She’s no submariner, but she could certainly dive and she was most definitely a pilot. It’d be good to have another competent pilot aboard for the FS-1.

 

σσσσ

 

Karen Davis quickly cleaned up and dressed in a khaki uniform. She then found her way to the Administration Building. Entering, she was quickly faced with the outer door to Admiral Nelson’s office. Well, Crane said she couldn’t miss it. He was right. She paused for a second to get her breath then opened the door. Lord, this was something else. If this outer office was any indication, then his office must be enormous. A very well groomed young woman sat at a computer terminal working on a spreadsheet.

"Excuse me"

The secretary looked up at her and smiled. "Yes?"

"My name is Karen Davis. I’m here to see Admiral Nelson, if that’s possible."

"Captain Davis…yes…he’s been expecting you. Please…have a seat. I’ll let him know you’re here. Oh, and by the way, welcome to NIMR. I’m Angie Pierce, his secretary. I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot of each other in the near future. Now…if you have any questions or problems, just let me know. And if I can’t help you, I’m sure that Lt. Cathy Conners can.  We’ll have an office for you soon, as well as your own secretary."

"Thanks…Angie. I might just take you up on that sooner than you think.  I have someone to thank for the apartment…I really wasn’t expecting quarters quite like that," Karen replied, taking a seat opposite the door to Nelson’s inner office. "Tell me, what’s he like to work for?"

"Well, you can thank Lt. Conners for that…and as for the Admiral…actually, he’s great. He can be a bit of a bear at times, though. He can be impatient and short tempered, but I think you’ll do fine. I’ve read your file, Captain. Pretty imposing; very…independent. He seems to be quite impressed with you," she quickly remarked and then she reached for the telephone. "Admiral, Captain Davis is here to see you…Yes, sir. I’ll send her on in."

She got up from her desk and walked to the office door. Opening it, she motioned Davis to go on in.

Nelson was seated at a massive mahogany desk covered with files, blueprints, and spreadsheets, contemplating one of the blueprints. On a sideboard against one of the walls was a 4 foot long model of Seaview. There were numerous framed certificates, awards, etc., lining the walls. In the middle of the wall opposite his desk was a giant TV screen. She was able to make out a mini-cam attachment on the side of it for videoconferencing. On his desk, covered by blueprints, was a computer monitor and CPU. The keyboard and mouse were placed to the side. Behind him was a small laser printer/fax machine. This was certainly something befitting someone of Harriman Nelson’s professional stature.

He looked up and smiled, then motioned her to sit in one of the two leather chairs that were placed in front of his desk. Getting up, he handed Angie the blueprint and said, "I want a 10x blowup of this section. ASAP."

"Yes, sir." She took it, smiled at Davis and winked, and then left, closing the door behind her.

Going back to his desk, he settled into the overstuffed chair. "Well, Captain, are you getting settled into your quarters? I hope that they’re acceptable."

"Yes, sir, thank you. We are. I left Caitlin to finish with the movers. Frankly, I didn’t expect anything quite so…comfortable. It’s a bit overwhelming, however we’ll manage fine."

"Good…good. I had Lt. Conners, my administrative assistant, look over what we had, and with her recommendation, I figured that with your daughter and all, you might need a little bit more room than we bachelors."

"Well, I thank you and so does she. And please extend my thanks to Lt. Conners as well."

"You can do that yourself, Captain.  You’ll be seeing quite a bit of her as you get your things set up.  Now…have you had any time to look over the complex?" he inquired.

"No, sir. We only just arrived a few hours ago. Oh, Captain Crane and Commander Morton did come by as sort of an ‘unofficial Welcome Wagon’. That’s how I found out about the staff meeting at 1000 hours tomorrow. I understand that the complete command staff will be present. What do you want me to have ready for presentation?"

Nelson allowed himself a slight grin.

She’s all business. Good.

This should make things easier for him. After his encounter with her at Miramar, he half wondered if he wasn’t imagining things. There had been some kind of feeling in the pit of his stomach the first time he saw her. Now, upon seeing her again, that uneasy feeling had returned. Was it that he was unsure of her as a candidate for the Institute or could it be that he was mildly attracted to this woman? What was it? It had been years since an honest-to-God woman had been in his life. Not really since Katherine… Oh, there’d been flirtations, yes, but…

For God’s sake, Harriman, you’re going to be her employer. You’re at least fifteen years her senior and you are her commanding officer.

He had to admit, however, that there was something about her…He had to shake this and get down to business. This might be a little harder that he wanted to admit.

"Captain, I realize that you’ve only just arrived and haven’t even truly moved in, so the meeting will be fairly short. I want you to meet Seaview’s command staff, get to know them, maybe talk to them about want you want from them. That is, if you can have that ready."

"Yes, sir, actually…I already do. I sketched it all out on the way here. I’ll have the specs ready for the meeting as per your request."

"Good…good. Now, how would you like to see where you’re going to be living when you’re not here? Seaview’s berthed down below."

"That would be good, sir. If I’m to be assigned quarters, then I need to know what I can bring onboard with me."

"All right, let’s go, then." He stood up and walked to the door. Holding it open, he allowed her to exit first. Chivalry dies hard, even in this day and time. They proceeded to the elevator at the end of the main hallway. Entering, he touched the number pad and then held his hand to an infrared scanner in the panel.

A computer voice intoned "Access confirmed. Nelson, Harriman. Admiral." The elevator then started to silently move downward. "We’ll get you entered into the system so that you’ll have no problem with accessibility."

As quickly as it started, the elevator doors suddenly opened onto a platform which in turn opened onto an underground submarine docking facility called a sub pen. Numerous men scurried about performing their various duties. Supplies were being loaded. Equipment. Food. Then she really saw the ship he had brought her to see. She was definitely different to any sub she had ever seen. Over 400 feet long and looking somewhat like a manta ray (she thought, what with the bow fins shaped the way they were) she was quite an impressive sight. Following Nelson across the gangplank that stretched from the dock onto the top hull of the boat, she carefully observed every hatch, every rivet in every seam, everything about her. If this was to be her surrogate home, then she would become as familiar with it as she was with the back of her hand.

Nelson led her through a doorway hatch located in the side of the conning tower. This in turn led to a hatch which led to a ladder. She followed him down the ladder and found herself standing in the middle of the Control Room. Now, Karen had seen some of the Navy’s top subs but it did not prepare her for this. It was like something out of Star Trek. Main controls were now touch pads electronics; the engineering boards were like the video display of a computer game. The original old style massive computers had been replaced by a much more efficient but powerful smaller version. Lighting emulated daylight at this point yet he informed her that even that would change depending upon the situation. She had heard that Nelson had dry-docked his beloved boat for nearly a year while she underwent a complete refit and update. If this was the end result, then the only description was that it was unbelievable and fantastic!

He explained each section of the submarine, from the control room to the sophisticated reactor to the scullery and galley to the crews’ quarters. The ‘mini-tour’ took at least two hours. As they walked down a corridor on the upper level (A Deck), Nelson stopped outside one of the doors. Opening it, he motioned her inside.

"This will be your quarters, Captain. I hope they meet with your approval."

She glanced around. It was simple but comfortable. There was a built-in bunk, a desk, a very small bathroom (head, in Navy terms), and some closet space. She’d had less room in her dorm room in college if truth be told. There was a small video monitor built into the wall. Nelson explained that this was linked into the ship’s video cameras that were mounted on various points on the outside hull. It also doubled as a display for videoconferencing. Underneath of it was a small enclosed bookcase. There were also outlets and wiring for a laptop computer if she so desired.

"Admiral, this is more that sufficient. Thank you. I’ll have some of my personal belongings brought aboard so that at least I can feel at home."

"Good. Most of the crew is on shore leave right now. They’re due back next week. That should give you sufficient time to go over the personnel records for your team profiles. I expect a list of candidates in two weeks."

"Yes, sir."

As they left the cabin, a crewman attached a sign to the door. The sign read ‘Captain K. Davis’.

 

σσσσ  

 

Nelson allowed her the run of the ship and patiently answered all of her questions. He was impressed that she had obviously done her homework on Seaview and she proved to be a quick study so that her questions were both pertinent and intelligent. He showed her the FS-1, figuring that she would definitely want to see the saucer shaped aircraft. He assured her that as soon as they were underway, he would have Lee Crane take her out so that she could become accustomed to her.

As they ascended the ladder back to the conning tower and then proceeded back to dockside, she seemed more at ease with the whole situation. Up until now, she had been quite sure about this. When he had offered her this position, she had jumped at the chance. Seaview. How could she even think of turning the job down. Now, after seeing all of this, she wondered if she hadn’t bitten off more than she could chew. However, she had accepted the post and she was here; now she’d certainly make the most of it.

 

σσσσ  

 

The next morning at approximately 1000 hours, the command staff of the Seaview met in the Conference Room just down the hall from Admiral Nelson’s office. In attendance was Nelson, Captain Lee Crane, Commander Chip Morton, Captain Karen Davis, Chief Petty Officer Francis Sharkey, Lt.(jg) O’Brian, and several other lieutenants and ensigns. Angie Pierce was also there, taking an official record of the meeting.

After all were assembled and seated at the large conference table, the meeting began. "Gentlemen, I’ve called this meeting to introduce you to the newest member of Seaview’s crew, Captain Karen Davis. She will be in charge of the new deep water diving team that will be formed. Captain Davis, I turn this meeting over to you." Nelson said and then sat back to observe the proceedings.

Standing, she looked at each one of the men sitting at the table. "Gentlemen, I must say that this is quite a pleasure. Some of you I’ve had the pleasure to meet last night. To the others…well, we’ve got a lot of time to get to know each other. Now…for the business at hand. You all know this crew far better than I, so I’ll rely on your input and insight as to their abilities and personalities. What the Admiral wants, and what I will deliver to him, is a deepwater dive team, or DWD team. This team will be highly specialized and more than capable of going where no others may dare, or to quote a phrase, to go where no one has gone before. I’ll go over personnel records of each member of the crew, including all officers with one exception. I’ll assess their abilities from their records, ask for your input, test them, and then submit a list of likely candidates to the Admiral. After I go over this with him, I will then retest them and make my final choices. After that…those that have never been trained in deep saturation diving will have to go down to the Naval Diving and Salvage Training School in Panama City, Florida.  In addition, I’m going to be heading up a department whose purpose is to develop the specialized diving suits we’ll be using at depths beyond 2000 feet.  Now, please understand, gentlemen, that while you might know of those whom are, what you might consider the ‘best divers’…you might be one of those yourself…but constant exposure to the pressures of deep diving is entirely different than what you may in fact be used to. I’m also going to need specialists in communication, demolitions, electronics, and photography. If you or any of the crew are so inclined in these areas, I need to know." She then turned to Nelson and said, "Admiral, if someone will bring me the personnel files, I’ll start the process as soon as this meeting is over."

And with that said, she sat down in her chair. There was a momentary silence, then the barrage of questions began. How many divers on the team? Would they be taken away from their regular duties? What was the training schedule? What kind of time frame before implementation? What about equipment? She answered each and every one, zeroing in on the person asking the question. By the time the meeting ended, roughly two hours later, she felt like she’d been through the wringer. But she had satisfied their curiosity. The mere fact that the officers were even being considered for the team made it that much more intense. Her reasoning was that since she had a limited pool to pull from that no one was exempt from consideration. Except for one person. The Admiral. All others were fair game. Even Commander Crane.

Nelson was satisfied with the meeting. He called a halt after 1315, thanking each them for coming in from shore leave in order to meet with her. Dismissing them, he came around the table to where she sat.

"Well, what do you think of your new shipmates, Captain?" he asked.

Captain Davis looked up at him as he leaned against the table. "They’re interesting, Admiral. I grant you that. I believe I can deliver what you want if they cooperate."

"Oh, you’ll have all the cooperation you need, don’t worry about that. And as for equipment, that’ll be up to you once you get your section together. Just start listing what you need. I’ll have it delivered to your lab or to Seaview, whichever you prefer.  I’ll also have my director of Facilities Management work with you in setting up your laboratory."

"Thank you, sir. I appreciate that. Speaking of equipment, sir, I would like to take inventory of the equipment aboard ship. That will give me some idea of what may be needed."

"Fine, fine. Whatever you need." Glancing at Angie as she stood near the door, he stood up and walked over to his secretary. Turning around to face Davis, he said, "Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting at 1330 with Admiral Starke. By the way, he’s interested in your progress here."

She slightly frowned. Starke was like an overbearing, disapproving father. Or at least that’s the way he’d always presented himself to her. "Please give him my regards." And with that, she got up, gathered her notes into her briefcase and left.

Nelson was left wondering what he had said wrong. Maybe he had misjudged her…or was it that Starke simply rubbed her the wrong way? Jiggs had a habit of doing that at times. Harry had told him off more than once in their years of knowing each other. In fact, Starke could be a downright pompous ass at times, usually under the excuse of being ‘Old Navy.’ More than one person had referred to him as that…most behind his back.  However, he was one of his oldest friends. And he did trust his judgment in personnel. In fact, wasn’t it Jiggs who sent Crane to the Seaview after John Phillips was killed years ago. He made up his mind that he’d have to investigate that issue further at a later date.

 

σσσσ

 

The next months passed slowly but steadily. Seaview went out on several assignments and handled several projects, as well as numerous times for the team’s routine training exercises. Karen Davis reviewed personnel files, did the preliminarily lists, tested men, consulted senior officers and Nelson, retested the personnel, and then finally announced her list of divers. There would be four teams consisting of four divers each. As team leader, she would be one of the sixteen, so that left fifteen of the best to be selected. Chip Morton was the most senior of the command staff to make the team, therefore, she chose him as her second in command. The list of the remaining fourteen chosen was posted in the wardroom. Those chosen would start reporting to her lab for further diving tests. It had gotten to be a real competition as to who was going to make the final "cut".  Once all the assignments were made, then the Navy Dive school in Panama City  was contacted to start certifying the teams in deep saturation diving.  The rest of the training would have to wait until the suits had been designed and developed.

Nelson watched over all of this with quiet absolution. He and the crew had quickly become accustomed to having a woman on board. In fact, he felt it had had quite a bit of a positive effect on the crew. They had taken to her quickly as her easy going manner had easily won even the most skeptical. He eventually realized that they would do anything she wanted because she had fully won their respect and loyalty, just as they respected he, Crane, and Morton. And in addition, the crew had unofficially adopted her daughter as their ‘little sister’ and became quite protective of her during their home base time. This amused Nelson to no end. Knowing his crew as he did, he was quite surprised that none of them had tried to date the girl, even if she was only 17. Even Lee Crane, previously known for his harem of beautiful girlfriends before his marriage to Cathy Connors, had taken an interest in seeing that no one harmed the girl. He certainly acted every inch the stern big brother towards her. Even the Admiral himself had unwittingly assumed a father-figure role for the girl.

The crews' attitude toward her daughter was a refreshing and reassuring one to Karen. She had previously worried that one of them might try to take advantage of the girl. However, Chief Petty Officer Francis Sharkey, the Chief of the Boat, had told her that the guys would look out for Caitlin and protect her from any ‘unduly influences’ as he put it. Knowing that and actually seeing it with her own eyes did ease Davis’s mind and made her transition much easier. She had even hired a housekeeper that would stay with Caitlin while she was out at sea for extended periods of time. Not that Caitlin couldn’t take care of herself, but it gave her piece of mind to know that someone was there with her that she could trust.

 

σσσσ 

 

The preliminary training of the divers progressed that fall and before they realized it, it was Christmas. The crew would be returning to their families for holiday leave. However, Karen and Caitlin elected to stay in California for their first Christmas. However, Karen found herself a little depressed for the first time since her arrival at NIMR. She blamed it on the fact that they were away from ‘home’ for the first time in long time. They both missed Virginia and it showed, especially at this time of year. So, in order to deal with their loneliness, they hosted a formal Christmas Eve dinner for the senior staff.   An accidental fire on board the boat that same night provided a slight distraction for the party’s participants, but allowed Karen and Caitlin to start to gain a sense of ‘family’ that they hadn’t known in a long time.

The new year came in on a quiet note for the Davis’. The research and development phase of the specialized deep diving suits now took up most of Karen’s time and before she knew it, spring arrived and with it a personal revelation. Soon, too soon for her, it seemed, Caitlin was graduating from high school.  Bishop Garcia Diego High School had never seen the kind of attendance that this particular commencement ceremonies brought about. In the audience were over 120 of Seaview’s crew in dress white uniforms. It seemed that Miss Davis had manage to graduate at the top of the class and the crew had promised her that they would be there for moral support. As she looked out on the crowd of parents and friends, she found her mother, Admiral Nelson, Captain Crane, Commander Morton and the entire crew sitting in one large block.

Karen was so proud of her. Tears started to form as she saw her only child ascend the podium and start her speech. She looked up at the clear blue sky and closed her eyes. Uttering a small prayer of thanks for this day, she smiled broadly suddenly when she heard Caitlin specifically thank her for all that she had become. The tears silently flowed down her cheeks from that point on. Nelson stole a sideways glance at her and was amazed at the sight he beheld. It was the a side of her that he had not seen in the past year. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and quietly handed it to her. As he did, he took her hand for a moment. She didn’t attempt to remove it, but only nodded and smiled her acceptance. There’s that eerie feeling again, he thought.

The graduation ended with all proper formality and then the partying began. Seaview’s crew crowded around their "little sister" and showered her with brotherly hugs and kisses. Nelson had even given permission for a party to be given in her honor back at NIMR so after all the obligatory pictures and small talk, everyone headed back there.

At the party, the Davis’ announced that Caitlin had accepted a full academic scholarship to her mother’s alma mater, Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia and would be majoring in computer science.

At one point during the party, Karen couldn’t find Caitlin in the sea of white uniforms. When she finally did, she saw that she was deep in a conversation with Nelson. A smile graced her face as she wondered what those two were conspiring about. Perhaps he was giving her some fatherly advice. It had amazed her to watch the relationship between her commanding officer and her daughter over the last year. She had observed the quiet respect that had grown between them and she secretly believed he relished the father figure role that obviously had developed. Caitlin had, with his permission, helped the computer department to implement a new computer system at the Institute which, surprisingly, had saved them a ton of money, yet had put them on the cutting edge of computer technology. Nelson had even written her a glowing recommendation to Tech for her college application as well as helping her select appropriate courses of study.

Karen smiled as she watched her only child…the one thing she held dear above all others.

Lord, thank you for giving her to me. I did the best I could after Robert died; I hope you know that. Please watch over her and keep her safe; I love her so much.

Someone handed her a glass of punch, pulling her back in to the real world. Suddenly feeling the need for some air, she walked out of the room and went outside. The warm California breeze and fading of sunshine in to the quietness of dusk made her smile. Suddenly, she became conscious of someone behind her, watching her. Turning around, she found Nelson standing there, hands clasped behind his back.

She smiled warmly. "Sorry, I had to get out of there for a minute. It’s part of being a mother, you see. You sometimes can’t wait for them to grow up, and then when they do, you wish you could turn back the clock. It seems only yesterday I was in the hospital giving birth to her. Do you know she was born three weeks early? I developed toxemia, so the doctor decided to deliver her early in order to alleviate the problem. She was perfect…" The tears started to form again. He made a movement toward her, but she waved him off. "I’ll be all right in a moment. I promised myself that I wouldn’t do this. However, where she’s concerned, it’s difficult. Robert would have been so proud of her. She idolized her father…it almost destroyed her when he was killed. Wasn’t any easier for me, either. I suddenly had to be father and mother to her. I just hope I’ve done okay."

He took the two or three steps forward and slowly put an arm around her shoulder to comfort her. Smiling over at her, he replied, "You’ve done a wonderful job. She’s really an exceptional young woman and I’m sure that she’ll do just fine. You know that she’s just as proud of you as you are of her, don’t you? She’s told me so on numerous occasions."

"Well, I know that she looks up to you and respects your opinion, Admiral. That’s meant a lot to me, for her to have a good solid male role model in her life. Thank you for that."

"No thanks are necessary, Captain. As I said, she’s an exceptional young woman…with a highly exceptional mother. She’ll be fine."

They stood there, looking out on the luscious hues of yellow, orange, and red as they spread throughout the distance; her head now resting on his shoulder. They weren’t aware that Caitlin stood at the doorway observing them and smiling to herself in quiet approval.

 

σσσσ  

 

Summer brought with it a tragic accident that brought about Cathy Crane’s untimely death.  The entire Institute, it seemed, was in mourning for the young woman.  Lee Crane was beside himself with grief, disappearing at one point, a way everyone surmised that was to deal with the grief and anger he felt.  It had been discovered that his wife’s death had been deliberate…a deadly warning to not undertake a proposed ONI mission.  However, he was not to be deterred…even tho he was so emotionally wounded.  His mother came west to help care for her only grandchild, and, with Caitlin’s help, tried to navigate the fragile emotional state that held Seaview’s captain in its clutches. 

The ending of that tragic summer led the Davis family eastward as they made the trek back for Caitlin’s move to college. Mother and daughter kept the e-mail flying cross-country and the crew would always ask about her. Karen would, in turn, let them know how she was doing.

The diving teams were now being utilized somewhat but they had not yet been given an assignment to fully test their cohesiveness as a full team, which was just as well. Karen wanted them at their very best before putting them to the test. If there was something she wasn’t comfortable with, she made them redo it…time and time again, until the processes were natural and they could do them in their sleep. The R and D section had tweaked the team’s equipment in such a way that it now nowhere resembled the normal deep sat diver’s gear.  They had also formed an alliance with the makers of the two prototypes of deep diving suits and, taking the best of both, had actually developed one for their own needs.  The unmanned testing phase of the suits proved to be the most time consuming of all the work.  She wasn’t about to put her team into the suits if they wouldn’t hold up.  So, week after torturous week, the suits were tested at various depths.  Once she was satisfied with the results, an order was placed for 16 of the specialized suits.  Then all of the team’s equipment had to be tested, redesigned, remade and reordered if necessary, then retested…all of this had to be done until it passed muster. The teams were now getting comfortable with the somewhat bulky suits and tanks. When they had suggestions that made common sense, these were incorporated into the design if possible.

One morning in early November, Karen was in the middle of some decompression experiments in her lab when Nelson strolled in. One look at him and she could see he was definitely not in a good mood. If fact, he looked ready to chew someone’s ass off.

"Good morning, Captain." he growled as soon as he came through the door.

"Good morning, sir. How can I help you?" She put down the clipboard she was holding and with a slight motion of her head indicated to her assistant to leave the room.  Crap. This doesn’t look good. And I’ve got a full day’s work here, too.  I wish he’d just leave me alone and let me get this done!

"Captain, I want to know precisely when this team will be available for assignments beyond the 2000 foot mark." He was most definitely in a foul mood. He had just gotten off the phone with the IG’s office at the FBME and they were exerting pressure to show results to be able to justify the expenditures she was incurring. He knew they were necessary; in fact, he had argued the point with them, but to no avail. The IG’s stance was that it had been nearly eighteen months. Surely they were ready to be used.

"Admiral, we’re almost there. I would estimate completion in about three to four months."

"Three to four…Captain Davis, you’ve been at this for nearly eighteen months now. Surely they’re ready for their first assignment." He was most definitely losing his patience. As a scientist, he understood certain things could never be rushed. However, in his role as Administrator of the Institute, he needed some definite time lines.

"Admiral, I can’t release them until I’m satisfied that the suits are completely operational and safe at the deeper levels,” she calmly replied.

He had made small comments previously regarding the training and testing schedule, but his current attitude on this particular morning was not going over well with her. She had gone over the procedures with him before, stressing that proper conditioning and training at extreme depths were essential. These were schedules that could not be rushed.

"Captain, I want this team to be ready by the end of the month. There’s an assignment coming up that would be good for them."

She couldn’t believe that he’d even considered making such a demand.  She realized that he had every right to be impatient; however, this wasn’t the day for it and she really wasn’t in the mood for another confrontation. The experiment that she had so meticulously planned had now been thrown off track by his intrusion. He was demanding that she accelerate her schedule, thereby possibly putting the teams in danger. She’d quietly sidestepped his comments before, but now…now they wouldn’t and couldn’t be tolerated.

Slowly turning to face him, she chose her words carefully but forcefully, very coolly and very unemotionally, so that he would get the point.  "Admiral, the teams will dive when I say dive, not before. May I respectfully remind you, sir, that it was you who came to me to build this team, not the other way around. And it was you who gave me the authority over it. I will not put this team on available status in those suits until I’m satisfied that they’re absolutely ready. Now, if you choose to overrule this, then I’ll submit my resignation from the Institute, effective immediately, and re-enter the Navy on an active status."

Nelson’s eyes blazed. Her words and attitude boarded on insubordination; he could fire her on the spot and she knew it. But there was something about it that stopped him. The anger of her defiance was building inside him, but somehow it seemed out of place.

"Captain, may I remind you that I have the last say in this matter?" he softly but calmly stated, trying to keep his temper under control.

"I’m sorry, sir, but not on this issue. Per your own instructions, I’m in total command of the DWD teams and the research and development of these specialized dive suits. What I say goes here... Admiral, understand this, they’ll be ready, as scheduled, in three to four months. To do otherwise, is unwise as well as unsafe. I won’t not put my teams in harm’s way unnecessarily. Furthermore, I don’t put my teams through something that I myself wouldn’t do." She paused to let her statements sink in. "Now, sir, if you’ll excuse us, I was trying to conduct a very important experiment regarding decompression times below 5000 feet." The tone of her voice indicated finality to the conversation.

She picked up the clipboard and stood there looking him straight in the eyes, not backing down one inch. At the same time, she could see something deeper than the blazing fury in them. He was not used to being told no and she had just accomplished that very feat. Yet, for an instant, his eyes held something much deeper. Something that made her suddenly feel uneasy. It certainly wasn’t the fact that he was her CO or that he was the great Admiral Harriman Nelson. No, for the first time since she had arrived here, she was looking into the eyes of a man that attracted her. And that most definitely made her feel uncomfortable.

For what seemed an eternity was in actuality a matter of a few seconds. Finally, Nelson realized that she had won this round. She would not back down and would not be intimated by him.

"Very well, Captain. But I’d better start to see some results by the first of March." And with that statement, he turned and walked out of her laboratory with a half exasperated smile on his face.

 

σσσσ

 

One morning toward the middle of February, Captain Karen Davis walked into Harriman Nelson’s office, unannounced, with a cup of coffee in one hand and a file folder in the other, wearing a very immense grin on her face. He motioned her to sit down opposite him. Doing so, she handed him the folder, took a long sip of her coffee, and settled back into the overstuffed leather chair.

"What’s this?" he inquired, looking at the folder before him and then up at her.

"This is the progress report on the DWD team. I’m here to report, Admiral Nelson, that we’re now up and running...and fully operational.  And that includes the suits as well.  All testing has been completed and all of my specialists, and the divers, are in complete agreement."

He arched an eyebrow and then studied the report for what seemed an eternity to Davis. She studied his face for any hint of change in expression. One thing she had learned in the more than a year and a half of working with him was how to read him. She had learned how far she could push something with him and just when to back off. The ‘old, old man’ could be mercurial but she had quickly learned how to defuse situations with him. They had become fairly good friends, not only just employer and employee. She had enormous respect for him and he had returned that in kind.

Once finished, he closed the report and sat back in his chair. "This looks very good. Do you think they’re ready to handle an assignment now?"

"Yes, sir. We’re ready to go...and I might add, the guys are a bit anxious to prove their worth."

"Good, good. Seaview puts to sea by the end of next week. Have all of your equipment put aboard. I think I’ve got the perfect opportunity for you to show off your team."

"Excellent. I’ll let Chip Morton know what needs to be brought aboard. You know, I think he’s as anxious about this as I am. He’s a good man... and I’m glad he’s my second."

"Yes, yes...he is."

She started to get up from the chair. "Well, if there’s nothing else, I’ll take my leave to go check on the equipment."

Nelson sat there looking at her, contemplating his next move. He had received several e-mail messages over the last few months, marked personal, from her daughter. Most of them were conversational, some were procedural in nature. One of them in particular stood out. In her own way, Caitlin was giving him encouragement to do something he had sworn he’d never do...to ask an employee out. Caitlin’s reasoning was that her mother was too much the professional to admit that she might possibly feel something deeper than friendship toward him. She indicated that her mother deserved to be happy and that he had an obligation to do something about it. After all, she said, isn’t that what he really wanted that night of the graduation party? That single statement had thrown him. He hadn’t known that she had seen them outside. But she was right. Damn that girl, he thought. How could she have known? Well, ... .there’s only one way to find out...

"Are you free for dinner tonight?"

His sudden question threw her off for a moment. Cautiously, she answered, "Yes... why? What did you have in mind?"

"Well, I happen to know of a place that has a beautiful view of the harbor and great steaks. I’ll pick you up at 1900, at your office, if that’s all right."

"All right...I’ll be ready," she found herself saying

"Good, I’ll see you then," he replied as he glanced up at her with a slight smile. He had finally crossed that line between personal and professional and to his amazement, she had accepted. He was so deep in thought that he didn’t notice that she’d gotten up and gone to the door. She turned and said something…he didn’t hear her at first.

"Admiral, I asked if you wouldn’t mind picking me up at 1830."

"Oh, ...right. 1830 it is." For some reason, he seemed distracted.

"Good day, sir." And with that she walked out the door, closing it behind her.

 

σσσσ

 

In the outer office, at her desk as usual, was Angie. She looked up at Karen and was instantly puzzled by the strange look on her face. "Is everything all right, Karen? You look kind of...dazed."

"Yeah, I think so. Angie, I think I just got asked out on a date. Can you believe that?"

"Really?... Well, it’s about time he made a move toward you. God, men can be so dense sometimes, no matter how intelligent they are."

Karen looked at the secretary in disbelief. "Angie, what are you talking about? The Admiral’s my CO and there’s absolutely nothing between us," she said. Maybe she was trying to convince herself of it as much as she was Angie.

"Karen, get a grip on the situation, will you? There’s been electrical sparks flying between you two ever since you hit this place. It’s been quite evident to anyone watching the two of you."

"Angie, I couldn’t even think of it...he’s my boss."

"Karen, okay… technically…you’re in the Reserve, right...and he’s technically retired...so what’s the problem? Yes, now I grant you…he is your boss…but...you’ve maintained your complete professionalism with him these last two years. You’ve built his diving team for him. Caitlin looks upon him like a father and I know for a fact that they’ve been conversing by e-mail since school started. Look, you can certainly tell me to butt out and mind my own business if you want to, but you two would be good for each other."  And then she added, “So does everyone else that knows the two of you.”

“Arrggggggg!  What is it with everybody?  Why are all of you bent on throwing us together?!”  Davis’ face showed exasperation and confusion.  Finally, she relented.  "I don’t know what to say. Have I really been out of it for that long that I didn’t know?"

"Maybe you didn’t want to or maybe you chose to ignore it...whatever...the fact is that he’s chosen now to finally make his move. The only question that remains, Captain Davis, is what are you going to do about it?"

Karen stared at her, dumbfounded. Picking up her coffee, she simply turned and walked out of the office and down the hall to her own. Terri Styles, her own secretary, gave her a cursory nod as she opened the door to her own inner office. Once safely inside her own ‘retreat’, she sat down in the overstuffed chair behind her desk. Turning around to face the window and the ocean view before it, she went into a deep thought mode and shut everything else out of her mind.

Was Angie right and I missed it all? Oh, God, what if it’s true? I’ve been so wrapped up in the team that I just didn’t see that he was interested in me as more than just…  The man is my boss, for Christ’s sake.  Why in God’s name did you accept his invitation??

She thought back over the past two years and images flooded her mind. The looks he had given her, the graduation and the party afterwards; the Christmas dinners and the times he’d ‘accidentally’ spent at her apartment…had she really been so blind? Apparently Caitlin had seen it. Lord knows the girl had made enough sly remarks about them getting together. And it always seemed she was trying to put them together in one situation or another.  And the others…Angie, Terri, Tony Rennalt, Luisa, and Maria…all of them.  Well, they always said that sometimes you miss what’s right in front of your face.

Okay, Davis, so now what are you going to do? He’s asked you out to dinner. What’s next? He’s not the kind of man who’d use the situation improperly.  No…if he’s asked you out, you idiot, then it’s because he wants to ask you out.  I mean…it’s not like he’s been making passes at me the whole time I’ve been here.

She had to assess her own feelings before tonight and she had to be sure that this was right because once that line was crossed, there would be no going back.

"Terri, I’m going back to my apartment for awhile. Forward any calls there, please," she instructed her secretary by intercom.

"Yes, ma’am."

Karen picked up her briefcase and files and when out the door. Once she was back in her own home, she knew she could think straight. She wandered from room to room looking around, her eyes coming to rest on a picture of her, Caitlin and Robert that was taken many years before. Picking it up, she sat down in the nearest chair. Then, suddenly, the tears came streaming down.

"Oh, Robert. I loved you so much. Why in the hell did you have to leave us?!" She hugged the picture to her chest for a long time. "What do you think I should do, Robert? Is it time for me to live again? Is it really time? I mean…I know I thought it was before…I tried but…but now? And with him?  Our daughter apparently thinks so…Lord knows she’s been pushing for this from almost the time we got here. She likes him, Robert. You’d be so proud of her. She’s turned out wonderfully. He’s been a good influence on her. They all have. I’ve been so very lucky. Please tell me what to do. Please!" she said through her tears.

She cried for what seemed to be an eternity. So much so that she finally fell asleep. When she awoke, it was lunchtime. Realizing how long she had been home, she went into the bathroom to wash her face. Her eyes were red and swollen from the crying, but strangely enough, she finally felt at peace. Maybe she just needed to get it out of her system once and for all. She went in and sat down at her computer. Composing a e-mail letter to her daughter, she outlined her predicament, ending with ‘What should I do’" Hitting the send button, she hoped for a quick reply.

She went back into the bathroom to reapply her makeup and when she came out, the computer screen was flashing that she had a message. Clicking on the mail box, she found that it was indeed from Caitlin. When she opened it, there was a one line reply: Do it, and let nature take its course. Daddy would want you to start over. Caitlin.

Turning off the computer, she made her final decision and left.

 

σσσσ  

 

True to his word, Nelson entered her office at approximately 1830 that evening and found her working at her desk. She had changed from her khaki uniform to a more casual blue slacks, white pullover sweater and blue shoes, pearl earrings and a pearl necklace. Her hair, normally worn very curly, was different. It was softer…more relaxed and casual. He realized he had never seen her wear it that way before...and yet, it was very becoming to her.

"Are you ready to leave?" he asked as he strolled through the open door to her office.

"Just one moment, let me finish this...yes...that’s it. Okay. Now, I’m ready. I just wanted to finish the estimates on the new masks before I give them to you." She put the finishing touches on a report she’d been working on at the computer. As she hit ‘save’, she looked up and smiled.

"Thank you, I appreciate that. The reservation is for 1930 and I haven’t been there in a while. I would like to be able to take our time getting there."

"Of course, just let me get my coat." She was just about to get up from her desk when the screen flashed for an e-mail message. Clicking ‘on’ to open it, she found a message from her daughter. It read simply, Mom, lock and load. C. She had to stifle a laugh or Nelson would have asked questions. Making a mental note to have a phone discussion with her daughter later, she shut down the computer, grabbed her coat and purse from the closet and they left the building.

Nelson escorted her to his personal car, a dark blue Mercedes S500. Normally, he would have had a driver; however, tonight was special. He didn’t want anyone else interfering. He was trying very hard not to appear nervous. The mere fact that he was feeling this way was puzzling to him. He had known this woman for two years now and had developed a close working relationship with her as well as a close friendship. Crane and Morton had even noticed the ever so slight change in Nelson’s demeanor since Karen’s arrival aboard Seaview…almost as if she’d had a calming influence over him. Even Angie had made an off-hand remark to that effect one day that he had discounted at the time. But now it was getting harder to ignore the effects…

They proceeded through the main entrance gate of the Institute and headed south down Highway 101 to Santa Barbara. Dusk was beginning to fall and it would provide them with a spectacular sunset. About 30 minutes later, the car exited onto a short dirt road leading to a small restaurant overlooking the Santa Barbara harbor. Some of the boats had begun to turn on their night lights and with the advent of the rising moon, it was a very beautiful site, indeed.

"It’s beautiful, Admiral." she exclaimed as they sat looking out over the harbor.

"Wait until you get inside. The view is better than this" he assured her. He offered his arm to her and which she graciously accepted. They leisurely strolled inside where the maitre d’ met them.

"Admiral, it’s good to see you again. It’s been a long time."

"Yes, it has, Daniel...Maybe too long."

"Your usual table, sir?"

"Yes, thank you. And Daniel, ...this is Captain Karen Davis…she’s going to be my dinner companion this evening."

"A pleasure, ma’am. We hope to see you and the admiral more often."

She smiled and replied, "Thank you, I hope so, too."

He led them to a secluded table in the far corner of the room. It was up against the window that afforded them a magnificent view of the harbor.

She was too engrossed in the view and atmosphere to hear him order the wine. The waiter silently brought it and left. Nelson was watching her, observing her, really, as one would a scientific specimen.

He finally softly spoke her name, "Karen?"

Turning to look at him, she smiled. "Oh...I’m sorry. I guess that the view kind of put me in a very relaxed mood."

He handed her the glass of wine. Holding his, he looked at her for a few seconds, then quietly said, "To...possibilities."

She studied his face and his eyes. This was definitely going to be an interesting evening. "No...to...definite...probabilities" she replied slowly as she gently touched her glass to his.

He was slightly taken aback at her reply. Maybe I’ve been out of this game too long. Women are definitely more interesting nowadays.  More direct…and to the point.  Curiously, he watched her as she sipped her wine and placed the glass on the table. Allowing himself a slight grin, he made a motion of acceptance of the amended toast.  "To definite probabilities then."

They studied each other in those never ending seconds; each trying to analyze the other. Karen decided to break the ice first.  "I understand that you’ve been having a running e-mail conversation with my daughter. Is there something that I, as her mother, need to know that maybe she hasn’t told me?

He laughed. "No, I can’t think of a thing. Except... maybe for the possibility that I finally told her that I was interested in her mother."  She bowed her head just a bit. Nelson saw that she actually had blushed.  Well, well, I finally made some progress.

"Thank you, kind sir. And what was her reply?"

He leaned back in the chair and fingered his glass.  "Well…I was admonished that it was about damn time and that I should have done it long ago."

Karen chuckled quietly.  "That’s my daughter, all right. Short, sweet, and to the point."

"Actually, I guess I am woefully inadequate in these matters. It’s been a long time since..."

"Since Katherine…?"

"…Yes…but how did you know?…Still, that’s no excuse. I realize now that I should have done this sooner."

"Admiral…believe me, I’ve been there. It’s something you can’t do until you’re really ready to. I know. Look, you can’t blame yourself for her death any more than I can blame myself for Robert’s. What happened was brutally violent and unfortunate. But from what I’ve been told about it, those people were absolutely ruthless and would have killed anyone who got in their way. You can’t deal with people like that, on any level. They don’t give a damn about human life. And never will."

She picked up his hand and gently put it in hers, then after a moment’s hesitation, continued, "Do you think that the person who killed my husband cared one iota about others? No. If he had, he wouldn’t have been driving drunk. The police told me that he had a string of DWI arrests up the whazoo. He showed absolutely no remorse during his trial." She looked straight into his eyes. "Both of us have had terrible tragedies in our lives. And apparently, we’ve dealt with them in somewhat similar ways. We’ve immersed ourselves in work and haven’t allowed ourselves to really heal. I had to at least deal with part of it for my daughter’s sake…Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get on with my life. I know that’s what Robert would want me to do. That was his way. I loved him and always will; he’s the father of my child. But I’m the one who’s still here…and I want to live again." and lowering her voice to a near whisper, "And to love again…if that’s possible."

He was moved by what she had just said. No one had dared talk to him that way since Katherine’s death. Yes, he had fully blamed himself for it. He had figured that by completing his work and building Seaview that he would have his revenge on those responsible. But it had all been somewhat hollow in a way. Now, hearing her speak of her own pain in relation to his made it all so clear. She was right, of course. He held her hand tightly and looked at her. For the first time in a very long time, he felt a huge weight being lifted off his shoulders and from his own heart.

A waiter’s sudden appearance with their dinner broke the mood somewhat. They ate their meal, making idle conversation about each other’s lives, and each pondering what had just been said. Karen was afraid that maybe she had said too much and ruined the entire evening. When Nelson ordered after dinner brandies, she gave a small sigh of relief that apparently she had not. He asked her to join him out on the deck outside the restaurant.

"You’ve given me something very important to think about, Captain Davis." He turned to her and continued. "You’re right. Life does go on. And so here we are. Well, now, Captain, what shall we do about it?"

She studied him. He looked so handsome in his dress blue uniform. And his eyes…those blue, blue eyes. She realized now why they had made her feel so uncomfortable that day back in November. They could bore right into your soul. Hesitating a moment, she ventured, "Well…I guess we let nature take its course…sir."

He sipped his brandy for a few minutes more as he gazed out over the harbor before replying. "Let nature take its course, eh…well, I guess that would be the most sensible way to handle it. Well, then…Karen…why don’t we do just that?" And with that, he put his glass down on the railing and leaned over toward her, softly kissing her.

She held her breath during that endless moment, afraid that the magic would be broken. Slowly opening her eyes and looking directly into those steel blue eyes, she asked, "Why did you stop?"

"For one thing, I don’t really want an audience. For another…well, it’s better left at that for the moment."

"Then let’s go where there won’t be an audience. Where it’s only us and…nothing else."

He looked deep into her eyes and saw that she did indeed mean what she was saying. He took her glass from her and then told her to get her coat, that he knew of just such a place. While she excused herself, he paid the tab, grabbed his hat and met her out front.

They drove back toward the Institute. But about half way there, he detoured off the main road onto a dirt road. About 2 miles later, they found themselves near a deserted stretch of beach. Parking the car and getting out, he motioned her to follow him. He took her hand and led her down a small path to the beach below. There was a huge full moon and the wind had died down to only a slight crisp breeze. As they walked along the beach, Karen couldn’t help but wonder where he was taking her. Shortly a large array of rocks stood before them, jutting out into the ocean. It was low tide and the waves were breaking far out to the end of it. Motioning for her to sit down on the one closest to the beach, he stood up on the one nearest it. She suddenly realized that she could see the Institute from here. It loomed like a monastery high atop one of the cliffs to the north of them.

"I found this place one day years ago when I was trying to find the perfect spot for the compound. The tide was out…and I got up here and started looking around. When I looked up there, I knew almost immediately that’s where it had to be. The geology was perfect, the location was perfect. Everything. Sometimes I come here even now when I need to get a real grip on things…when I need to think," he told her, making a sweeping gesture with his arm. For some reason, he seemed drawn to this place, and he wanted her to see it. For him…it was almost an expression of himself

He jumped down off the higher rock and walked over to her. Gently pulling her to him, he drew her into an embrace and kissed her again. Only this time, she began to reciprocate slowly with equal passion. Carefully placing her arms around his neck, she instinctively deepened her reaction to his embrace. It was almost as if her body ached for his caress. It had been so long…so very long since she’d known this kind of feeling. What could Mother Nature be leading them into? Somehow, it didn’t matter...to either of them.

Slowly breaking away from him, she found herself breathing rapidly and her heart, pounding. He gently and slowly kissed her neck, cheek, eyes, and then her mouth. She felt his hands stroke her hair and then proceed to her back. Soon, they were inching forward…His motions were starting to make her feel dizzy.

She whispered his name as his caresses became more insistent, "Harriman…"

"Hmmmmm?" was his reply as his lips hungrily sought hers.

"I…think...we…need to…go...slowly…here…or we may end up...doing something...that we’re... .that I’m…not ready for." she was trying to say, but having a very hard time concentrating on the words. His breath seared her skin, awakening feelings long dormant.

He stopped and looked deep into her eyes for a few seconds, then decided to heed her warning. His heart was pounding so hard he thought it would explode. This had to be right. As much as he wanted it, he wouldn’t have it any other way…for her or for himself. The ‘O.O.M’. still had feelings...yearnings…that he hadn’t really felt in years; and this was most certainly getting to him. Regardless of his own needs or wants, he was still too much of a gentleman not to take into account her feelings.

"Maybe we’d better go on back," he replied softly, figuring that if he stayed here with her much longer, much more would happen than either of them had planned. He knew he was feeling the sudden rush of his own body’s reaction .

Her own body’s sensations were heightened and made raw by his actions and she searched his eyes. Trying to bring her own emotions back under control, she nodded her head in affirmation. "Promise me one thing, though. That you’ll bring me back here sometime. It’s too beautiful a place to come to alone."

Quietly moving his fingers into hers, he responded, "That’s something that I can definitely promise you."

He turned to start back down the beach. Quickening her step, she struggled to keep up with him. Suddenly, she took hold of his arm and stopped him, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him passionately. A very slow, lingering, deepening kiss. For those few moments, it seemed as if there were no one else on the planet save these two. But this time, he was the one to break the embrace, looking at her and trying to figure out who would seduce whom here.

"Karen, if we stay here, I don’t know if I can be responsible for my actions." Her body felt so good in his arms, almost as if she truly belonged there and he knew if she allowed it, he would start a course of no return for them both .

"Harriman, I know that...I just had to let you know that I feel the same."

He held her close to him, encircling her with his arms. As he held her, he gazed out over the calm Pacific Ocean.  God, this feels so right.  He realized that, had he had his way, he would have made love to her right then on that beach. He also realized that it might not have been the most sensible thing to do at this time.  No, not yet. Give her time…let her lead the way.

He was sure that she had been as swept up as much by the moment as he was and, left to her own devices, would make the decision on her own.

I can wait.

 

σσσσ  

 

They entered through the main Institute gate and headed for the housing area.  Pulling up in front of the apartment building, he shut the car off and sat back, sinking into the soft leather seat. She had turned her body slightly as she searched for her pocketbook.  Taking a deep breath, he opened his car door and came around to the passenger side and helped her out.  Silence hung heavy between them as they uneasily waited for the elevator so that he could then walk her to her door.  Secretly he was hoping that she would invite him in.

"Thank you for tonight," she quietly told him as she clutched the key to her apartment.

"You’re more than welcome. I…enjoyed it more than you know." He was not but a few inches from her and could smell her perfume.

They stood there awkwardly until she rose up and barely kissed him. "I’d better go in…There’s a lot I’ve got to do tomorrow." Turning, she opened the door to the apartment and there was a slight hesitation before she turned and kissed him again, the second time a bit more lingering and a bit more passionate.  As the embrace was broken, she whispered, "I really did have a good time. I hope that we can…do it again," into his ear, then let herself in and quietly closed the door behind her.  He stood there for a few seconds more, then turned and left.

What happened on the beach had surprised and confused him.  His mind whirled with questions upon questions, yet no answers seemed forthcoming.  As he exited the building, he looked back up to the fifth floor and watched a light go on in one of the rooms.  Getting into his car, he sat behind the wheel for a few seconds and then started it. Slowly putting it in gear, he left and drove back toward the entrance of the Institute, then off the grounds, heading toward the Route 101 highway.  His reactions, and hers, had unsettled him and he found he needed some air and time to think things through.

Without even thinking, his drive found him at the cemetery where his late fiancιe, Katherine Campbell, was buried. Parking the car, he slowly got out and then walked up to her grave site.  As he reached it, he sat down on the small stone bench next to the headstone and simply stared at it. Removing his hat, he lowered his head slightly.  After a few moments of silent meditation, he leaned back in resignation.

"Katherine, I guess it’s been awhile since I’ve been here…I don't know where to begin or what to say so I think the best way is just to come out with it. I've met someone...a woman who works for me.  She lost her husband several years ago…so she knows the way I feel...she's been through all of this. She…ah…she tells me that I need to go on with my life and to stop clinging to the past.  Is this what I'm doing? Holding on to the past we once shared together?" He shifted a bit and looked up at the night sky. "The one thing she has that I don’t is that they had a child together so she's got something left of him.  When you died, you took that one dream from me.  I've got nothing but memories to keep me warm. She told me tonight that she finally realized that she had to go on with her life because she couldn't hold on to the past…that he was never coming back and she was the one left to go on."  Sighing, he looked deep into the headstone.  "Do I need to let go of the past we had together and go on with my life like she's doing? Is this what I need to do?"
 
A few minutes later, he stated, "She's here, Katherine...you aren't...and God knows how much I wish how you were. I’m so very sorry about what happened…and I so wish I could…." He sat back further on the bench. "I'm so empty and alone inside, Katherine.  I miss what we had...I miss you.  But you know…when I was with her tonight, it felt so good.  So ...right.  We ate and talked. It just felt so good to hold her in my arms."  Pausing a moment, he softly continued, "I have to know if you want me to pursue this relationship. It’s with an employee…something I swore I’d never do. I remember what happened to you because I loved you. I couldn't go through that again…her getting hurt or worse because of me. And her daughter…what if something happened to her because of me? What should I do?  Continue to live in the past where I know I'm safe or take the chance of getting involved again? I just don’t know…"

His head rose slowly as he looked up into the now cloud filled sky. A storm front was now moving in and had slowly blocked out the full moon and surrounding stars. As he looked up, the clouds parted slightly and the moon appeared, almost bathing him in its' soft glow. Quietly, he stood and walked slowly back to the car, still trying to find the answers to his questions, then got in and headed back home.

Once back at his house, he walked in and threw the keys on the kitchen counter, fixed himself a drink, then headed for the deck off the great room.  Sitting down, he stared out at the ocean seeking some sort of answers to his quandary.   Before long, he heard a familiar sound and looked up to see a lone seagull land on the railing and sat there looking at him.  The bird was one of the several that he'd made a habit of feeding from the deck occasionally and over time they'd come to trust him and expect a handout.

Without emotion, "Sorry, my friend. I'm fresh out of sardines tonight. I'll get some more tomorrow for you."
 
The gull flew off as if she'd actually understood him and he watched it disappear into the night as he seemed to sink further into the deck chair.  The sound of the waves seemed to soothe him so as he sat there, his eyes closed as he simply enjoyed the peace and quiet.  Within a few minutes, he drifted off to sleep.

His mind wandered aimlessly as he started to dream.  Then his dreams turned to one where Katherine appeared to him on the beach as she beckoned him to join her.  When he did, she silently took his arm and walked with him for a while until they came to a door at the head of a stairway.  Once there, she slowly turned and kissed him, then disappeared as the door opened to reveal Karen standing in the hallway.  At that very moment, he awakened to the feeling of something wet hitting his face. It had started to rain softly. 
 
Standing, he looked out over the waves as they crashed onto the shore.  The wind had picked up and the surf was now becoming more turbulent.  The images of the dream and its significance haunted him as he walked back inside.  As he turned back and looked at the rain before heading to bed, he decided that maybe it was time to go on with his life.

 

σσσσ  

 

The next day, Karen was in her office precisely at 0800, working at her desk when the phone rang. The voice on the other end was Nelson’s.

"Good morning, Captain," he greeted her cheerfully.

"Good morning, sir. Is there something I can do for you?" She was trying to be unassuming, particularly with what had happened the night before.

"Yes…you can. I was wondering…if…you’re free for dinner this evening. I was thinking about going about my yacht tonight…just to get away for a bit and I would like for you to join me. That is…if you don’t have any previous plans." There was a hint of hesitation in his voice, as if he wasn’t sure of her answer.

Karen was fidgeting with an ink pen as she listened to the man on the other end of the telephone. Last night had been one of restless sleep for her after she’d left him and now, here he was, asking her out again. Before she could even think, she found herself saying, "I’d love to, sir. What time?"

"1800. I can send a driver for you, if you want; or you can drive…I’ll be glad to email you with the directions. I’ve got some meetings in town so I won’t be coming back here…"

"Actually, I don’t mind driving. 101 is a wonderful drive and I really don’t mind it. It actually gives me a chance to clear my mind. So, just send me the where and when and I’ll be there."

She couldn’t hear the sigh of relief on the other end of the telephone. "All right. I’ll send you something shortly and oh…dress casual. This is just to relax, okay?"

"All right…casual it is. And 1800. I’ll be there. Oh, should I bring anything?" she asked.

"Not a thing except for yourself," was his answer and then before she knew it, he’d hung up.

 

σσσσ 

 

He looked at his watch again to make sure. 1755. She still hadn’t arrived and the yacht’s motors were idling and the galley crew had prepared a wonderful dinner. There was a bottle of Bordeaux on ice as well as a bottle of Champagne chilling down below. The minutes ticked slowly away when, suddenly, a red Jeep Grand Cherokee pulled into a parking spot at the end of the pier. A woman got out and waved in his direction, then started toward the gate.

Breathing a silent sigh of relief, he headed down the gangplank to meet her. Watching her as she walked toward him, he found he was still amazed and astounded at the events that had unfolded in the last 36 hours. He’d done something that he’d sworn that he’d never do…date an employee…but it all felt so very right. And for the first time in a very long time, the feeling of loneliness had started to lift from his shoulders.

She was dressed in a pair of dark burgundy slacks with a white turtleneck sweater, flat black shoes and a minimal amount of jewelry – only a necklace, earrings and two rings…family heirlooms, she’d told him once. She’d taken him at his word when he said to dress casual. After all, he himself wore a pair of khaki slacks and a cardigan sweater over an open neck shirt. He’d simply wanted to relax and wanted her to join him. When she’d accepted, he’d gone to great lengths to make sure that she’d be totally comfortable with him and with the situation.

"I’m glad you came," he told her as he embraced her and planted a quick kiss on her cheek.

"Told you I would," she pleasantly replied, linking her arm through his. "Besides, I think I’d like more of a chance to get to know the man behind those four stars."

"That could very easily be arranged, Captain, " he slyly replied as he escorted her aboard and then quickly gave the order to his captain to cast off. After showing her inside, he picked up the phone and told the galley to serve dinner within the hour. She was struck by the simple but very apparent masculinity of the furnishings. He explained that the yacht had once been his research vessel while the Institute was being built, even taking up residence there for a time. The leather chairs and dark paneling as well as the simple accessories extolled sheer maleness.

Handing her a glass of wine, he smiled. "I was almost afraid you wouldn’t come."

"Now why wouldn’t I? After all, my daughter has obviously worked very hard at throwing us together. Who am I to argue with her?" she told him as she accepted the wine.

"Not I. She’s one very determined young lady, your daughter. Perhaps she’d do well with ONI when she graduates…"

Karen chuckled. "Personally, I don’t think that even ONI could handle her when she goes on a tear. She could always get her way with her father and that was years ago. Apparently, she’s honed her craft very well to have gotten to you."

Nelson took a sip of the wine and a sly smile appeared. "Actually, it didn’t take that much convincing."

She fingered the stem of the wine glass and slowly brought her eyes up to his. "You know…it’s been a long time since I’ve felt this way…Why do you do this to me?"

His head at a slight angle, he replied, "I don’t know what you mean…"

Taking a deep breath, she slowly said, "I was deeply in love with my husband…it took me a long time after his death before I could ever feel something for someone again. Then you, sir, waltz into my life…offer me a job…and I spend the next 20 months denying to myself that I’m attracted to you. You then manage to break down every barricade I’d put up in one single night." She took another sip of her wine and moved a little closer to him. "How?"

"Hmmmm, determination? Actually, I’d prefer not to question how it happened or whatever your daughter managed to do and simply enjoy tonight. The one thing I've learned is that time is a very precious commodity and shouldn't be wasted, especially as you begin approaching old age. So I suggest let's just let fate, or whatever comes along, decide the course of this evening, okay? I want you to relax and enjoy yourself…because that’s what I’m going to do."  The feel of the boat slowed, and then it stopped.  He looked at her, smiling.  Taking her hand in his, he pulled her to her feet. "Come with me, I want you to see something."

Holding her hand, he took her above, to the railing on the port side of the yacht.  Pointing to sparkling lights off in the distance, he said, quietly, "There…recognize that?"

Karen recognized the lighted outlined form of the Institute. "Umm, yes.. she's beautiful. You must be proud of her."

"I am. A great deal has gone into making the dream come true, and a great deal continues to go into her."

"And will continue to," she whispered.

He nodded and grunted in assent.  Still holding hands, they stood at the railing in companionable silence.  After a short while, he dropped her hand, and slowly slid his arm around her waist. When she didn’t protest, he pulled her closer until she was comfortably molded to his body.  Looking at her face in the moonlight, he turned her to face him. Gently, he took his other hand, and touched her chin.

"Do you mind?" he quietly asked.

She said nothing, yet her eyes showed affirmation. He drew her face closer to his, and gently brushed her lips.  The touch was tentative, as if he was afraid of rebuff, yet tender.  She sighed slightly and softly said, "Mind? Not at all. In fact…you didn’t have to stop…"

She felt his arm then tighten around her waist, as she relaxed into his embrace and into his body.  He kissed her again, this time more sure, gently touching her lips, slightly parting them. His first small entry was enticing and heady… Both of them wanting more, but both yet still unsure. He started to probe further as he began to taste the wine she’d been drinking when just at that moment, the steward's bell rang, announcing dinner, and they reluctantly parted.  At once they were almost shy with one another, both suddenly realizing where their wanting could be leading, but still a bit hesitant.  The memories of the night before were vivid for both of them. He held the hatch door as they proceeded below decks to his cabin, and dinner.

The cabin was extremely large, comfortable and masculine, but almost utilitarian. Rich, dark paneling and comfortable but non-descript furnishings decorated the cabin. A table had been placed in the center of the room and decorated with a white linen tablecloth as well as silver, bone china, and fine Irish cut crystal. Harry held out her chair for her and then seated himself.  The steward, Pete, promptly placed their meals before them and silently poured their wine. When he left they could hear the soft and distant sound of music, low and slow.

Harry lifted his glass and looked at her with a raised eyebrow, "To whatever the fates allow."

Karen watched him and smiled, slightly touching her glass to his. "Hmmmm...maybe…the fates need a little help," and then took a sip of the rich wine and intently watched his reaction.

About an hour or so later, after dinner had been served and completed, the engines stopped and they dropped anchor a mile or so off the main point, just within sight of the Institute.  It grew darker and the lights from Santa Barbara's harbor twinkled like diamonds on the mainland.  They’d wandered back up on deck to enjoy the crisp night air. Karen stood at the railing, a glass of the wine in her hand, a slight breeze moving her hair as he watched her from behind, simply quietly observing, before he joined her.

"Penny for your thoughts..." he remarked quietly.

She almost seemed not to hear him before she slowly turned, a slight smile on her face.  "Do you really want to know?"

"Yes..."

"Actually, I'm just enjoying the quiet and serenity out here...and the company is wonderful as well."  She quietly sipped her wine and then looked into his blue eyes. "In a way, I guess I'm just trying to figure you out..."

"Me?" He seemed a bit surprised.

"Yes, you.  You know...you're a bit of an enigma...at least to me, anyway.  And yet...I suddenly can't imagine being anywhere else or with anyone else."  She slightly bit the bottom of her lip and then added, "You're really are a puzzle to me, Harriman Nelson."

He laughed a bit.  "I don't see how."

"Well, you are.  But then again...I happen to like solving puzzles."

He gently took the glass from her hand.  "Well, I promise not to be too hard to figure out...if you promise that you won't be either."  He pulled her closer to him until her body clung to his.

Looking straight into his eyes, her own showing a bit of mischief, "Can't promise that...It's my understanding that men have a hard time figuring out women anyway.  Why should I make it any easier for you simply because you out rank me?  I've got to have some advantage somewhere."

"And what would you think of me if I didn't take advantage of this tactical move?" He looked deep into her eyes as if trying to see into her very soul. Suddenly she found herself being pulled gently to the openness of the deck. They moved slowly and in rhythm with the soft strands of some jazz music being played. He held her close and gently laid her head on his shoulder as he carefully guided her in their dance. She could feel his breaths and she closed her eyes as he led her along to the music. When it stopped, he lightly kissed her then escorted her back inside to the cabin and sat down across from her.

"I want to thank you for accepting my invitation tonight. I just had to get away from the place for a while and ... well, I didn't want to spend the evening alone." He eased back in his chair and took a sip of his wine. Then just as suddenly, he seemed unusually withdrawn for some reason. Nelson was making a concerted effort to keep his actions in check. Every action, every word was now being carefully picked.

Karen studied him closely and could see something in his eyes that she wasn't quite sure of.  Whenever he'd look at her and she'd return the gaze, he'd glance away as if not wanting her to see what he held in those eyes. In the background, the jazz music was soft, the lights now low, and the atmosphere in the room was deliberately romantic. Parfait glasses of strawberries and vanilla custard had been placed on the table by the steward and as she picked up a spoon to sample one of the rich red berries, she kept intently watching him.

"No one should ever be alone when they don't have to be," she softly said and then took a bite of the berry.  "And as for your little 'tactical maneuver'...very nicely done, Admiral."  Her eyes seemed to belie a bit of mischief.  "Perhaps you could demonstrate that again..."

He looked up into her eyes and could have sworn he saw them daring him.  He'd been hesitant to move too fast.  His reactions the night before had taught him that patience, in this particular case, would most likely be by far better than haste.

"I can…if you'd like," was his calm remark, placing his napkin on the table, then rose and took her gently by the hand, drawing her into his arms.  It was suddenly as if the music enveloped them.  As he held her, again moving slowly to the rhythm of the music, he could feel the tension drift from her body as she surrendered completely to his embrace.  Suddenly he stopped and tilted her chin upwards a bit with the tip of his finger.  His eyes searched hers, trying to see. "I want to kiss you..." he barely said.

Her heart seemed to pace faster as he was now within inches.  "You don't have to ask..." was her quiet answer.

He barely touched her at first before he broke away.  When she didn't protest or pull back, he pulled her into a more impassioned embrace, this one deeper, slowly becoming more intense with each passing second. After the longest of moments, they broke away, both breathless and as his arms surrounded her, he pulled her tighter to him.  He could feel her heart racing when he unexpectedly stopped, and took her face in his hands and kissed her again, this time with more passion and wanting.

When she finally parted from him, she was astounded at her own reaction to him and his to her. Her body had started to inflame and it was calling for a physical conclusion as she instinctively knew his was as well.

Moments passed as a sudden awkward silence stood between them.  Sensing that he'd possibly overstepped his bounds, he pulled further away.  "I'm sorry...I seemed to have..."

Karen reached over and put her finger to his lips.  "Don't..."  She slowly put her arms around his neck and kissed him, exploring and teasing.  As she withdrew, she whispered, "You didn't do anything I didn't want you to...or wouldn't want you to do again."

His eyes searched hers…My God! What’s happening here?

"I'm afraid if we maintain this current heading, I may very well end up doing something I'll regret. Maybe we should go topside and get some fresh air..." he replied as he opened his cabin door and put his hand out to her motioning her to join him. He seemed a little nervous, almost tense. His own physical reaction to her was both disturbing to him and yet exciting at the same time. However, he also knew if they stayed here in the cabin, they might not leave until morning.

She knew why he was breaking away…even she was afraid of what might happen. So when he offered his hand, she took it and joined him as they headed back up on deck. The air had taken on a sudden chill so he removed his sweater and placed it around her shoulders for warmth. He briefly left her and walked to the back deck and away from the deck lights, then reappeared back at her side moments later. Suddenly, all but the running lights went out. They stood on the back deck under a sky full of stars. It was beautiful. The waves slapped gently alongside the yacht as they swayed ever so gently on the swells.

He drew in a deep but slow breath and let it out just as slowly as if releasing all the tension inside him. Putting his arm around her shoulders, he drew her close to him. "It's been a long time, Karen. I swore I'd never let myself get this close to another woman ever again. Yet...here I am with you. I have my job, the sea and that was all I ever needed ... or thought I needed, particularly after Katherine…" He hesitated a moment, then, "Now…I'm not so sure. Everything has been turned upside down with me. For some reason , I'm drawn to you and I’m not sure why." He stopped for a few moments, as he pulled her closer, before continuing, "I had a very curious dream the other night after I let you off at your apartment. I'm not sure what to make of it or where it'll take me." He then looked down into the water as if waiting for her to speak, yet still held her close.

She quietly slipped her arm around his waist.  Looking over at him, in almost a whisper, she replied, "Well, I think I'd like to be around when you find out.  I know that...I haven't felt in a long, long time like I feel right now.  Not since...Robert…"  She stopped for a moment or two. "I’m not going to deny that I'm attracted to you...physically... but the feelings I’m having right now are more than that and they’re...confusing to me. What I do know is this... Being in your arms feels right...it feels good...and you make me feel safe."

He turned slightly and faced her.  Looking into her eyes with only the moon to provide light, he saw for the first time what he'd truly been looking for. He raised her chin just a bit with his hand.  "You know…if we continue to pursue this…well…some things I’m involved in are…can be…dangerous. My life isn't always easy," he plainly told her. "Your life wouldn’t be either…if we…"

"Who said life ever came with guarantees or assurances?  No one ever told me that I was going to be a widow with a young child to raise.  Besides," she slightly smiled. "You don't get any warranties with me, either. My job isn’t exactly the safest in the world either…now is it? So…I guess I’m game if you are."

"Fair enough." He sighed as he stole a look at a clock nearby. "We should be heading back. We’ve both got a long day tomorrow. You’ve got to start getting your team ready for their first field test." He drew her in his arms and looked her in her eyes. "Thank you for this wonderful evening and for your company. You don't know how much this has meant to me. And looks like…it’ll mean much more in the future." And with that, he kissed her long and passionately as the yacht slowly started its way back to the harbor.

 

σσσσ  

 

On Friday of the following week, Seaview put to sea with a full crew. The DWD teams were ready and anxiously awaiting their first assignment. The men had noticed that Captain Davis was a little nervous. Chalking it up to the first assignment, they assured her that they were indeed ready to go. She knew this, of course, but kept checking, rechecking and re-rechecking equipment.

Twenty-four hours after leaving port, Nelson called his senior staff together in the Observation Nose. As she entered the Nose, he smiled at her and then turned dead serious. "Are the teams ready?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Lee, I want you to lay in this course with an ETA of seven days. We’re to rendezvous with a Navy supply ship, the USS Tomahawk, that’s carrying some new equipment for us."

Crane looked at the coordinates that Nelson had handed him. "This would put us in the North Atlantic, near the Titanic."

"That’s right, Lee."

"But that’s been explored numerous times, especially by the Woods Hole people. Why bother?"

"Because Karen’s teams will be the first people to actually physically set foot on the Titanic since she went down." Directing his attention then to Davis, "What I want from you, Karen, is that your team go in closer and with more precision than the drones can. Now…are you sure the men can handle 13,000 feet?"

"Yes, sir, they can. Besides, I wouldn’t put’em outside unless I was willin’ to go, too. You tell me exactly what you want and we’ll get it for you."

"All right, this is what I want" and he went on to explain the entire composition of the mission. They would have to be both surveyors as well as researchers. Nelson wanted samples from the plankton that now inhabited the famous wreck. He wanted detailed pictures of the famous gash in her hull. All in all, they would be doing a biological and metallurgical survey of the wreck. Her teams would be working round the clock in order to accomplish all that he wanted.

Karen went to work with Chip Morton coordinating the work details. The site had been mapped out from previous scientific dives, so they used them as a base. Gridding the areas off, she assigned teams and times. She and Chip had decided that at this depth, the teams should not work outside more than two hours at time. An entire rotation was done in eight hours. Each team would receive six hours rest before returning to the outside. This should, in theory, give them plenty of rest. Karen estimated that in order to accomplish the mission, they would work round the clock for three days. Hopefully this would give Nelson his necessary data and specimens.

Nelson, in the meantime, was getting a bit anxious with regards to the team’s field tests. He had to finally admit to himself that it was because of his growing feelings for Karen. They had been seeing each other just about every night until they sailed. Perhaps he had make a mistake in getting involved with her, but somehow, deep down, he knew that wasn’t the case. He had to learn to deal with it since she wouldn’t have it any other way. She was going to go out with the teams and that was final.

‘Just because something is growing between us doesn’t mean that I have to stop being who I am. That is something you’re going to have to deal with, Harry, because I am who I am,' she had told him one evening in his cabin when they were going over the progress reports. Crane and Morton had both noticed a slightly higher level of tension between the sub’s owner and its newest crew member. In fact, Crane made an off-handed remark to Nelson on the 5th day out and nearly got his head taken off. Later that day, Karen confronted Nelson in her lab. She had made sure that they were alone before saying anything. She had been showing him the new dive masks and gloves when she made a comment.

"You know, you really need to learn how to downplay your temper. Lee didn’t mean anything by his comment this afternoon and you just about handed him his head."

Nelson sat down and looked at her. He was tired, but why was he suddenly this touchy?

"I know, I know. I just…oh, hell…I’m worried about you…and the team. This first dive will prove that this sort of thing can be done."

She touched his arm and looked at him. "Look, I know you’re worried. Hey, so am I. But you cannot let your concern for me get in the way here. I’ve got a job to do and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability. So just let me do it, okay?" Smiling, she went on, "I just wish that Caitlin were here. She’s always had a fascination with the Titanic and she’s going to die when she finds out that her mother actually dived out and stood on the bow."

He kept watching her in fascination. Lord, how he wanted to lean over and…But he knew that, in a way, she was right and that’s what made the next few days at least bearable. He calmed down and got a hold on his temper. The crew even noticed that the O.O.M. seemed much calmer, but were not privy to the reason.

On the sixth day out, they found themselves with a terrible storm topside and so the only plausible way to ride it out was to run submerged to the rendezvous point. They’d have no problem making their destination on time, but the surface ship would. Add to the fact that it would make it that much more difficult to transfer the special equipment over to the Seaview. So, they decided that they would just have to wait it out once on site.

On the seventh day, Seaview arrived at the drop coordinates. And waited. Topside, gale winds were blowing causing up to twenty foot sea swells. Sparks received radio communications from the supply ship that they would be at least sixteen hours late due to high seas. Even then, transfer couldn’t take place until the waves descended to a maximum of five to ten feet. Otherwise, equipment, and men, could very well be lost. And neither vessel’s captain was willing to take that chance. So here they sat.

The crew was getting anxious. The DWD teams knew what was at stake here. More than just the samples they would obtain for their employer, they had to prove that they could work outside in the extreme ocean depths. If this worked, it would prove to be valuable asset for Seaview and bring them more notoriety.

On the morning of the eighth day, as she had done every morning while aboard Seaview, Karen Davis drank her morning coffee in her cabin after taking her shower. When she first came aboard, she had gone to the galley and asked the cook to send her a pot of fresh coffee each morning at approximately 0630 hours. She would have this while going over her notes from the day before. This gave her about an hour and a half to gather her thoughts and for her own time since breakfast for the officers was served in the Officer’s Wardroom at 0800. Attendance was generally required and since she didn’t mind the company by that time, she had always joined them there. At about 0700, there was a knock on Karen’s cabin door.

"Come in."

The door opened and Nelson strolled in. He looked like hell. Apparently he had not slept the night before; his eyes were bloodshot, he had not shaved and his uniform looked like he had slept in it. Certainly not the way she was used to seeing him.

"Lord, you look like the day after the night before. What’s wrong?"

"Oh, thank you very much" came the sarcastic reply. Going over to the coffee pot, he looked at her, "May I?"

"Sure, help yourself."

He took another cup from the tray and poured himself a cup of the hot coffee. "The storm’s still up there and the supply ship can’t stay here more than another 24 hours without endangering themselves. We may have to cancel the mission. I’ve been up trying to figure out a way to get the equipment aboard without jeopardizing the crew or the equipment."

Karen had walked over to the head to rid herself of the towel that was wrapped around her hair. She was already dressed but her hair was still wet. Combing it out and then running her fingers through it was about all she did anymore. Except now…when she went out to dinner with him.

"Last night’s brainstorming bring any ideas?

Nelson turned to face her. "I think so. We might have to jury rig the diving bell to use it as a delivery system. It’s going to be rough, though, what with the swells topside.

"Anything’s worth a shot. How long before the alterations are made?"

"Sharkey estimates about 6 hours. Can you have the teams ready to go as soon as we get the equipment aboard?" He sat sipping on the hot coffee.

"Sure, once we sit down, we’ll be off and running. All you have to do is get the equipment here. I’ll handle the rest."

"Good, then hopefully, Captain, you’re going to have your hands full for the next 72 hours after it arrives."

She watched him carefully. He was most definitely fatigued. No sleep, probably umpteen cups of coffee. He had to be running on caffeine and adrenaline alone. However, she knew him well enough now to know that he would not rest until the equipment was safely aboard and that no one was hurt in the process. He needed sleep now if only she could convince him of that fact.

"Harriman, why don’t you go get some sleep? If you’ve given Sharkey the orders already, the crew will handle it."

"No…I think I’ll go back and clean up, then join you for breakfast in the Ward Room. Then I can oversee the refit."

Karen got up from behind her desk and walked around to the front of it. He was sitting in the chair opposite the desk, looking haggard and exhausted. She placed her palm to his cheek and bent over and kissed him softly. "Harriman Nelson, this is an order. Go back to your cabin and get some sleep. I’ll have Sharkey wake you in about four or five hours. The crew can carry out your orders without you hovering over them. Now, please go."

He looked at her and grinned warily. The mere fact that she phrased the request as an ‘order’ amused him. He suddenly wanted to do more than just settle for one kiss from her. He reached for her, pulling her close to him and then kissed her passionately. For what seemed to be an eternity, they were locked in the embrace. Then came the icebreaker…the intercom.

"Morton to Admiral Nelson."

He fumbled for the microphone. Tearing himself away from her was hard. Damn Chip Morton.

"Nelson here. What is it, Chip?"

"Sir, we’ve got incoming communications from the supply ship. They state that the swells are coming down. Estimate transfer can commence in five hours if the weather holds. Do you still want to proceed with the refit of the diving bell?"

"Hold off on that, Chip. If it looks like the weather will worsen, then we can proceed. I’d rather not, if it’s possible."

"Yes, sir. I’ll let the Tomahawk know."

Putting the mike back in its holder, he looked at Karen. "Well, Captain, you’ve got a job to do."

She smiled somewhat back into his eyes and replied, "Yes, sir. And if you’ll let me, I’ll get right to it."

 

σσσσ  

 

The equipment, a specially designed compression-decompression chamber, was transferred from the USS Tomahawk to the Seaview in a matter of two hours after Seaview went topside. Lee Crane thanked the captain of the Tomahawk, Captain Leslie Mahood, and promised her a bottle of vintage wine when they docked at Norfolk. Mahood, having already heard of Crane’s reputation as a ladies man, simply replied, "Thank you", trying not to give him any encouragement. Then Seaview slipped gracefully beneath the ocean’s surface.

Roughly an hour and a half later, Seaview had rested itself on the ocean floor about 300 yards from the largest part of the Titanic shipwreck, the bow. Several of the crew had come forward as they hovered over her. Nelson had had the external video cameras turned on and all monitors now showed the crew the final resting place of the gigantic ship. She was still a sight to see, even in this condition. .

In the missile room, Karen Davis and her teams were going through their final equipment checks. She would lead Team One, Morton, Team Two, Kowalski, Team Three, and O’Brian, Team Four. As her team prepared to suit up, Nelson and Lee Crane walked through the hatchway. They stood silently, watching the process unfold before them. Each suit, each mask, each tank of specially mixed air was tested and retested before the diver suited up. This was Davis’s domain and the two men knew not to interfere. Morton helped her with her suit. Once it was comfortable, she asked him for the tanks, the gloves, and then the specially designed mask. She glanced sideways at Nelson, who stood silent with a solemn expression on his face. Once the pre-checks were finished, the four divers tested the internal communications system built into their masks. The ok sign was given and they started toward the dive tube. Karen would be the last to go in the tube. Turning around, she gave a thumbs up signal to Nelson and disappeared inside the tube. Sharkey started the gauges to flood the tube with an intake of seawater. Once the pressure inside the tube was equal to that on the outside, the team could open the hatch and proceed. Within about 90 seconds, the outer hatch was cracked and the team was on its way.

Nelson, Crane, Morton, and Sharkey then hurried to the Observation Nose. Doctor Will Jamison was standing by as well in case medical advice was needed. They watched as the four divers slowly made their way to the famous shipwreck. The intercom had been tuned into the diver’s communication frequency so that they could hear what was going on. The ship would also have an audio link with them as well. Davis had insisted that each diver’s helmet would carry an implanted mini-cam so that the video operators aboard Seaview could see everything they did at the same time they did. That way, if Nelson saw something he was particularly interested in, he could instantly relay it to the dive team.

As the team moved slowly up the side of the hull, they would take samples of the different aquatic life that had taken up residence. This was one of the things that they were here for. At one point, one of the first team divers found a fluorescent phytoplankton that was latched onto a porthole. Nelson instructed him to take a small sample since it was most unusual. As Team One neared the top of the bow section, Karen went ahead of them and headed over the railing. She asked Crane to have all of Seaview’s flood lights turned on and directed toward the Titanic. What she wanted was the fullest illumination that they could possibly get. When they came on, it was a sight to behold. Nelson and Crane could make out the figure of a lone diver on the ‘flying mast’ of the Titanic’s bow.

"Make sure you get a good picture of this, Thompson. I want Caitlin to see this." Davis said. "Admiral, the bow’s decking looks okay so we’re going to start with the metal samples here. Team Two will handle the lower hull area, Three will do the upper area, and so on. When we get through here, if there’s time, we’ll start inside. If not, we’ll get it the next trip."

"Good, ...that’s good. Karen, how’s the suit holding up? What about the pressure?" Nelson inquired of her. He was intrigued by the new diving suits she had developed.

"The suit’s just fine. Little bulky, though. Definitely not like the regular dive suits. Air mixture is okay. Tell Jamie that we hit on the perfect mix just in time."

Hearing his name mentioned, Dr. Jamison joined in the conversation. "Captain, just don’t try to overdo it. I don’t want any of you in danger of over exhaustion. Your lungs may try to take in too much too fast."

"Will do, Doc. No problem here. Besides, you know I’m your best patient, unlike some captains we know..."

That brought a round of sudden laughter from the men in the observation nose. Even from the one person the comment was blatantly about...Lee Crane. His reputation as being Jamison’s ‘patient from hell’ was well known to all.

"Just be careful. I can’t help you out there and me in here."

"Received loud and clear, Doc. Loud and clear."

Before they realized it, Team One's two hours was nearing its end. Morton and Team Two had suited up and was ready to roll as soon as Team One came back aboard. Since the monitors were on all over the ship, including the chamber, Morton knew exactly what was going on. And he had kept in close contact with Karen the entire time.

Team One entered the dive hatch and came back aboard. Instead of coming out into the missile room, they exited directly into a specially built chamber that was now attached to the escape tube’s secondary interior hatch. The teams would live here until the mission was ended. Then all four of the teams would decompress at approximately the same time. It would be a slow process but one that was absolutely necessary for the least amount of risk involved. Jamison monitored each diver in the chamber, closely checking their heart rate, blood pressure and blood gas buildup via the computer linkup with the monitors that were set up both inside and outside the chamber.

There were bunks to sleep in, books, music, food, videogames, and video tapes for the crews to indulge themselves in. All the comforts of home. Karen had even put her bag of needlework in, just in case she got bored with everything else. Nelson had been down to see her several times; once during the night hours when she was asleep. He stood at the glass portal silently watching her. She was so tired that she had fallen asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. Since the mission was going well, she had indulged herself in the much needed rest, letting Morton handle everything else. Jamison told him that she had been asleep for about four hours and should soon be waking up. The doctor (somewhat of an amateur psychologist) watched Nelson’s reaction to his sleeping officer. He had also noted the number of times the Admiral had shown up down here with some reason or another. He decided that, if he were a betting man, there was something going on between those two. However, if there was, it was better to keep it to himself. Any verbal speculation on his part might just open up an unnecessary can of worms. Still, if the Admiral and Captain Davis were involved, then more power to them. He had known Nelson in the early years of NIMR and the building of Seaview. He also knew of the tragedy that involved his fiance, Katherine Campbell. Now, after all these years, could Harriman Nelson find some peace of mind and heart with this particular woman? He hoped so.

"Will?"

"Yes, Admiral?

"Are they okay? Will there be any damage due to the prolonged exposure to the high pressure?"

"Admiral, they’ll be okay. Captain Davis and I have gone over every possible medical aspect and side effect. Oh, by the way, she asked if I would give you this the next time you came down." He said handing Nelson a sealed envelope. On the outside was his name and the initials ‘FYEO’

Nelson smiled and went to his cabin. Once there, he undressed, showered and got ready for bed; he then laid down on his bunk and opened the envelope. Inside there was a note addressed to him.

Harriman, if you’re reading this, then I hope you’re at least trying to get some rest. You don’t need to keep checking on me. I’m not going anywhere.

He chuckled. Continuing, he read on...

You owe me 1 nice long shore leave, preferably somewhere where there’s no phone, pagers, computers, faxes, etc. If that’s not possible, then I’ll take the Williamsburg Inn after we dock back in Norfolk. I hear they serve a mean room service. I mean, there’s a high probability that they do. Anyway, I really do hate to have breakfast alone. Try to behave yourself, and please get some rest. You may need it very soon.
Karen.

He reread the note a second time and smiled again, making a mental note to make a ship to shore call in the morning, then he turned off the overhead light and fell instantly asleep.

When he awoke, it was to the intercom urgently calling his name.

"Admiral Nelson to the Control Room, emergency!!!"

He shook the sleep off and grabbed for the mike. "Nelson here. What’s going on?"

Lee Crane answered. "One of the Dive Team’s in trouble. I think you may want to come down here."

"On my way," he replied and threw on his robe. Running down the corridor and down into the control room, he looked up at the monitors. "What’s wrong, Lee? What’s happened?"

"One of Team Three's divers is trapped under some debris. They’ve been out there almost the maximum time. Apparently, they were headed down an interior corridor when something fell. The others are trying to get him out now." Crane explained to him. "Jamie says that too much exposure to the air tanks beyond the allotted time may have side effects."

"Is Captain Davis aware of what’s going on?"

"Yes, sir. She’s in communication with the team from the chamber even now."

"Turn up the audio."

Crane complied. They could hear Davis’s voice interspersed with the team outside. There was not one hint of emotion in her voice. Maybe this is why she’s called the ‘Ice Queen’, Crane thought. No emotion at all.

"Kowalski, try and slide the debris off. You’ve got to get him out of there and back into the chamber."

"Captain, we’ve tried. It won’t budge. It’s wedged in tight."

"All right, you’ve got the collection rods. Try and use them as a lever. If that doesn’t work, try the torch."

The crew watched as the team took the rods and anchored them under the fallen debris. The problem was that the suits were just bulky enough that getting two of them in that corridor was an awfully tight fit. Minutes past with no results. But somehow they managed and the diver was finally freed.

"Rodriguez, are you okay?"

"Got a busted leg, Captain, but everything else seems okay."

"Kowalski, get him back here ASAP and abort your team. Four will go out at the appointed time. We’ll compensate for Rodriguez on the next go round."

"Yes, ma’am."

Kowalski could be seen holding on to Rodriguez. They slowly made their way back to Seaview. Once they were through the hatchway, one of the medical personnel assigned inside the compression tank checked Rodriguez’s leg. By the time Nelson and Crane had gotten to the Missile Room, the situation was well in hand. Nelson could see that Karen was helping the med tech wrap the injured crewman’s leg. She was also debriefing him at the same time as well as giving orders to Team Four. The compression chamber times were carefully monitored so that each team had a minimum of six hours and not one minute less. It was imperative that this schedule be kept. Up until now, everything had gone down perfectly and Davis was intent on anyone not repeating the mistake. He would not disturb her. This was her area of expertise and this was the very reason he had brought her here. Let her do her work and keep out of her way. He silently stood and watched her, a half grin, half stern look on his face. She had done what he wanted her to do. She had built this team from the ground up and she was damn proud of them right now. She was also damned concerned about Rodriguez.

Karen glanced out of the corner of her eye and saw Nelson standing there in his bathrobe. She turned and smiled at him and said into the microphone. Noting his attire, she stated, "You look like you got some sleep".

"I did...thanks to you."

"Really? Well, hope you stored up enough for later. We’ve got another 14 hours to go and I’m down one team member. Better check what we can cut. Team Three will be down one the next time out."

"All right, I’ll confirm what we’ve gotten so far. It may be that we might not need to do the last two, if that’s okay with you."

"That’s fine, it’s your show. Just let us know. Decompression will take several days. We just need to know when to start."

"I’ll let you know something in the next few hours," he told her. "Oh, and shore leave will be arranged."

"Good, the teams are going to need it…and so will I," she replied with a smile.

Somehow, seeing her smile made the concern he felt subside.

In his cabin, Nelson went over the quickly devised inventory of the samples brought back aboard. He was duly impressed that so much had been obtained in so little time. Consulting the gridded search area versus the sample allotments, he concluded that they could dispense with the last two dives. The metallurgical samples alone were worth the trip. The samples of sea life that had taken root on the rusted hull as well as the plant life were also invaluable. Karen’s teams had done a damn fine job for their first time out. This was definitely something that the drones couldn’t do. Now, he could push the FBME’s director, Admiral B. J. Crawford and the Congressional Appropriations Committee for more funding for the project.

After quickly making his notes, he suddenly looked around his cabin. Strange, it suddenly seemed too quiet in here. He took a few moments to glance over the numerous awards and certificates hanging on the cabin’s walls. Had he actually let life pass him by for all of this, he wondered. Could it be that she was the key to his life’s renewal? He smiled in remembrance of the morning a couple of days ago in her cabin. He was so exhausted that morning, but seeing her somehow gave him a serenity that he had lacked for a long time. And when she had kissed him...God, he shuttered at that memory…He had instinctively wanted more. And from the note she had passed to him, apparently now so did she.

He remembered the night in her apartment over a week ago when they sat in quiet solitude on her sofa watching a movie and eating popcorn. She’d fixed a casual dinner and then they’d settled in to watch a videotape. He’d held his feelings in check, yet felt serene and happy as he held her in his arms during that evening of comfortableness on both of their parts. There was something about her that made him feel…complete.

He grabbed his notes and headed out the door. Entering the missile room, he hoped to talk with her but found that Team One was now back outside. He went over to the video monitor and picked up the microphone next to it.

"Sparks, this is Nelson."

"Yes, sir?"

"Patch me into Team One."

"Yes, sir."

A few seconds later, Nelson spoke again. "Karen, can you hear me? This is Nelson."

"Loud and clear. Go ahead."

"I’ve checked the specimens and the grids. You can cut it short after Two’s dive. That’ll give us all we need for now."

"Okay, that’s fine by me. Jamie, did you hear?"

Doctor Jamison had positioned himself by Nelson. Taking the microphone in hand, he replied "Sure did, Captain. I’ll let them know in the chamber. As soon as Two comes in, we’ll get started on decompression."

"That’s fine, Jamie. They’ll be glad to hear it."

Davis’s team continued with their work. Between the four teams, they had explored the entire front section of the broken structure. The stern half would have to come at another time. She didn’t want to risk her crew’s lives simply to go over the entire ship. It certainly wasn’t going anywhere and they could always come back. Besides, now that the team had proven its worth, there most certainly would be other chances.

At the end of the appointed two hour stint, Team One started back to the boat. Suddenly, without any warning, the sea started to vibrate around them. Boulders tumbled down onto the seabed. Sediment was kicked up making visibility virtually nil.

"What the hell’s happening, Seaview?" she yelled into her mike, now only hearing static.

There was no answer.

"Seaview, this is Davis. Come in!"

"Captain, what’s going on?" asked Thompson, one of her divers. At least intra communication was still viable.

"I don’t know. Must of been some kind of undersea quake. What concerns me is Seaview not answering the con. Is everyone okay?"

Each diver radioed in as all right. That at least was something.

"Okay, let’s head back toward the boat. Maybe communications has been damaged someway"

Suddenly, Thompson yelled, "Captain, my tank’s been damaged!" Small bubbles could be seen leaking from the side of the auxiliary tank near the bottom.

She rushed toward him as fast as she could, signaling the others to do the same. Reaching him first, she made a quick assessment. "Mike, you’ve got about five minutes left in your primary tank and it’s decreasing quickly. If you control your breathing, you’ll have just enough to make it back. Your auxiliary tank has been punctured. We’ve got to get back NOW!"

Mike was about to panic, but saw her face inside her helmet. Her expression was one of ‘You can do this. We’ve trained for this’. He calmed down and nodded.

The sediment was clearing now. They could see the faint outline of the sub.

"Seaview, come in!!!"

Static filled her helmet, then she heard Lee Crane.

"Karen, can you copy us?!"

Breathing a small sigh of relief, she forced a calm reply. "Yes, but we’ve got a big problem here. Mike’s auxiliary tank was heavily damaged due to falling rock debris. His main tank has less than five minutes. We need you to move the ship a little closer if you can so we can cut the distance. It will save us on the air supply. Can you do it???"

"Yes, hang on."

Crane ordered the sub to blow some ballast and move about 150 yards closer to the divers. He could see them through the observation nose. Thompson was obviously struggling to stay calm and under control of his breathing. They were making excellent progress until another quake hit.

"Karen, is everyone all right?"

No reply.

"Karen, come in!!"

Still no reply.

By this time Nelson had appeared in the observation nose. He had been thrown to the floor on the upper deck when Seaview had lunged in response to the quake and had a small cut on his forehead. A trickle of blood made its way down the side of his face. Taking the handkerchief from his pocket, he proceeded to wipe it off.

"Lee, what in the devil is going on?"

"Undersea quake of some kind. Team One is out of communications. Thompson’s air supply has been damaged. Karen asked that we bring the ship in closer to close the gap. The second quake hit and now we’ve lost communications with them."

Nelson judged from Crane’s expression that he was deeply concerned. Suddenly a wave of nausea hit his stomach. What if something had happened to her? To her team? He took the mike from Lee’s hand. He had to stay as calm as possible even though his heart was racing.

"Karen, can you hear me? This is Nelson."

Nothing.

"Karen, can you hear me?"

Then, static...then a faint voice. "You don’t have to yell, ya know."

Crane and Nelson looked at each other and smiled.

"We’re almost to the hatch. Be inside in one minute," she informed them.

Inside, the crew closely followed the team each inch of the way until they reached the escape hatch. One by one they followed the divers into the tube and saw the hatch close.

In the Missile Room, Sharkey had been watching the progress of the team to the hatch. When he heard it slam shut, he started the controls to blow the water outside. Just as the red light turned to green over the doorway, Crane and Nelson ran through the doorway. They watched as the doorway opened and the divers emerged. They were clearly in physical distress.

"Get Mike in the tank. Now!" Karen ordered.

The crew instantly obeyed her command. Other crew members rushed to her aid. She waved them off, indicating that the other two divers were in worse need. Once inside the compression tank herself, she quickly shed the dive suit and sat down. Sweat poured from her head and down her face. She suddenly felt cold and clammy in her bathing suit. What she wouldn’t give for a nice long soak in a hot tub. One of the Team Four members offered her a towel; wiping her face and head, she grabbed a robe, put it on, and sat down on one of the twelve bunks. Team Two was already outside. She had to get to the communications console and talk to Morton.

"Chip, can you hear me?"

"Yes, go ahead."

"Chip, keep a close watch on the air supply. Double check your auxiliary tanks. To be on the safe side, cut the trip short by 15. I do not want a repeat of what just happened. If there is any indication of trouble, get the hell out of there. We’ve gotten what we came for. Understand?"

"Yes, ma’am. I understand."

"Also, keep the mikes open. If there’s any trouble, we need to know."

"Will do."

She slowly got up and walked over to the bunk. As she started to lie down, a gruff low voice came over the intercom, "Is everything all right?"

Turning to look at the portal, she saw Nelson standing there with a microphone in his hand. Seeing the cut above his eye, she frowned. Slowly she got up, walked over, and picked up a mike. "What happened to you?"

He touched it lightly and forced a grin. "I tried to move the deck a bit and it moved me."

A tired smile formed on her face. "Better have Doc take care of it."

"Actually I have a better idea," and he winked at her.

"What happened out there? We had no prior warning of quakes in the area from seismology."

"I’m not sure, either. But you can be damn sure that I’m going to find out. At least Chip’s team is the last one out. Once they come in, we’ll pull up stakes and head to Norfolk. How long do you estimate for decompression?"

"If all goes well, we’ll be out by the time we dock."

"Good. Inform the teams of the good results and that shore leave will be for 1 week once we dock. Then we’ll head down to the Panama Canal and go home."

"You got it. Besides, I think that after eight or nine days in a small space we’ll need a break from each other," she told him in an exhausted tone. Leaning against the frame of the window, she sighed. "Lord, I need some sleep. I’m so tired."

"You go ahead. I’ll come down later and go over some things with you."

"Fine by me."

She started to walk away when he quietly said, "And that other matter will be handled as per your request."

Turning slowly back toward him, she displayed a very weary smile and nodded her head in acknowledgment. Right now, however, all she wanted to do was sleep.

 

σσσσ  

 

The next days for the DWD teams were spend in the decompression chamber. However, Karen was one to which time would not be wasted. Each team member was individually debriefed as to experiences, physical and mental conditions, and what could be done differently in the future. Physical, biological and chemical data was fed into the computers, which in turn was analyzed by Dr. Jamison. Then each team was debriefed. When all of this was done, she called a meeting of the entire team.

"Gentlemen, I think for our first time out, we did pretty damn good. I’m very proud of all of you. And except for a few unforeseen mishaps, we had a good trip. The Admiral has asked me to extend his unheralded gratitude to you and wishes to bestow one week of shore leave when we dock in Norfolk."

There was a very loud round of applause and shouts that could possibly have been heard all the way up in the control room. She continued, "Now, for the fun part, guys…" and she heard groans…"after Norfolk, we go home!"

In unison, there were several shouts of "All right!!!!"

She looked around at the faces of the fifteen men before her. They had performed well…and she knew they were all proud of that fact. "Okay, okay, settle down a minute, please. We did have some problems with the auxiliary tanks. Chip, when we get home, I want them gone over with a fine tooth comb. I want an explanation for what happened. Ski, I want to know why communications failed in the helmets. That will not happen again. Do I make myself clear, gentlemen?"

"Yes, ma’am," was the answers in unison.

"Good. Now…decompression will formally end in approximately six hours from now. So…I suggest you guys contemplate what you’re going to be doing on shore leave in Norfolk for the next week."

The men knew her well enough now that they could make certain off-color remarks and get away with it. They just didn’t push it too far or she would give them a cold hard stare that would quench any fire. With Commander Morton there, though, they decided was it best left alone.

"Hey, Captain, what are you going to do?"

Karen smiled a bit. She knew exactly what her plans entailed but would never share that part of her life with the crew. Just like another person she knew, her personal life was private and would remain that way. "Actually, Ski, if all things work out, I’m going to Williamsburg for some shopping…and a few other things. We’ll just wait and see."

 

σσσσ

 

Seaview made her way through the Norfolk harbor and up the Elizabeth River to the Navy sub pens. ComSubLant had arranged for them to birth at a special sub pen, along with one other sub, the Dallas. Because of Seaview’s particular configuration, she was given the outside pen.

Inside, the mood was jubilant. The entire crew had received a much needed week long shore leave. One by one, the crew descended the gangplank onto the pier and headed off to various points in the Tidewater area.

By this time, several Navy cars had parked on the pier next to the subs. Special technical teams requested permission to come aboard for the routine maintenance checks required when a sub comes into port. The teams had settled themselves in and started to work.

The senior staff had not yet left the boat. When Karen came down to the Observation Nose, Crane, Morton and Sharkey were there, bags on the floor, and all were dressed in civilian clothes. She herself was dressed in blue jeans, an Irish cable knit sweater and tennis shoes.

"Well, well, gentlemen, and where are we going looking so dapper?" she asked coyly. She went over and slipped her arm through Lee’s and sat down on the table top where he was standing.

"Oh, here and there and to points beyond." Crane laughed, patting her hand. "And what about you?"

"Well, I’ve got to go up to Richmond for the morning on a personal errand, then I do believe that I’ll head back east on 64 to Williamsburg for some shopping at the outlets."

"What about Caitlin? You not going to Blacksburg to see her?" Morton asked.

"Nope. Actually, she’s co-oping this semester up in Connecticut. Had we put in at New London, I would have seen her. But she can’t get away...and anyway, my little bird has to learn to fly on her own."

About that time, Nelson came down the stairs and saw his officers jovially standing there. "Now, isn’t this a sight? Why in heaven’s name are you still here?" he asked.

She was the first to answer, sliding off the table. "Actually, I’m waiting for a car so I can run my errands. I don’t have any ideas about these guys."

"Well, gentlemen, you’d better get cracking or the week will be over," was Nelson’s ‘order’.

In unison, Crane, Morton, and Sharkey all replied, "Yes, sir!"…picked up their bags and left.

Now, only the two of them were left. He sat down in the chair nearest her. "You’re going to Richmond this morning?"

Turning to face him, she suddenly became very serious. "Yes, there’s something that I need to do today but I’ll be back in the area this afternoon."

"Good. I’ve made a reservation at the Trellis Restaurant for 1900; that is, if you’re still interested."

"I’ll be there." She hesitated a moment and then, "Harriman…"

He held his hand up, motioning her to be silent. "Somehow I feel that this errand has something to do with me."

She was quiet for a time. She didn’t know quite how to answer him. Slowly, the words came. "I guess in a way…it does. But it’s more about me than anything else. Maybe I have to finally deal with my own ghosts before I can finally go on."

Taking her hand in his, he gently squeezed it. "Go on and deal with your ghosts. I dealt with mine a few weeks ago. I’ll make sure your things come with me." And with that, he let her go.

 

σσσσ  

 

A blue four-door sedan with US Government tags pulled to a stop in the middle of Mount Calvary Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. A lone female exited the car carrying flowers and walked a little ways from the curb. Stopping, she bend down and placed the flowers on a grave. She tenderly cleaned off the headstone… and then she cried.

It was bitterly cold that day. It hadn’t been like this when she left the sub pen at Norfolk. But here, where there was no windbreak, the wind cut like a knife. She shivered. Her coat was no match for this wind as it blew off the James River. But she would stay until she found her peace. Karen had come here to ask Robert for his blessing to really start her life over again. She’d tried before…but this time was different. She didn’t know whether this relationship with Nelson would work, but she knew, deep down, that she had to give it a try. Caitlin was happy with the possible liaison between the two and her opinion mattered a lot. Yet, it was here that she would find peace. In some small way, she knew he was listening to her and would let her know that it would be all right.

Finally, just when she could take the cold no longer, the wind suddenly stopped and the sunshine beamed down upon her face. Looking down at the headstone, a flower had been blown across the name. It was a rose. She picked it up and smiled, somehow knowing that she was now free to live again. Touching her fingers to her lips and then to the name on the stone, she softly whispered, "I love you and I always will. Thank you for all that you were, and all that you gave to me."

And with that, she turned and walked away.

 

σσσσ  

 

She looked at her watch as she drove eastbound on I-64. 1330 hours. There was still plenty of time to do a bit of shopping before dinner. 1900 he had said. As she wheeled the car into a public parking lot behind Merchant’s Square, she mentally surveyed the shops. Binn’s. That’s where she would start. Tonight would be important and she wanted to look her very best. No khaki or blue uniform for her tonight. This time, she fully intended to make sure he saw her as a total, competent but sexy woman. And by the time she was through, he wouldn’t know what hit him.

By closing time, she finished with her shopping and she’d purchased several new outfits. Armed with numerous bags and boxes, she decided to wear one of the new outfits out of the store. One could have described her as a woman with a mission.

At approximately 1850 she pulled into the parking lot behind the Trellis Restaurant and parked right next to the street. Just by chance, she saw a limousine pull up, he got out, and went inside. She hesitated and decided to wait until 1858 to make an entrance. At 1857, she grabbed her purse, got out, locked the car and went in. The maitre d’ approached her as she came to the front podium.

"Yes, ma’am?"

"I’m supposed to meet a gentleman here at 1900…er…7 p.m. for dinner. His name is Harriman Nelson."

"Ah, yes... Captain Davis? Yes, ma’am…Admiral Nelson has already been seated. Please, this way." he replied, ushering her to a candlelit table in a darkened corner of the restaurant.

Two glasses of wine had been brought to the table. He stood and thanked the maitre d’ for bringing her to him. God, he looked so handsome in the candlelight.

"You’ve been shopping this afternoon." he stated with obvious satisfaction.

"Yes, I have. I thought I owed it to myself. Do you like it?"

"Most definitely. Now... ." he picked up the wineglass, "Here’s to...definite possibilities."

She looked at him and smiled coyly. "No…to definite certainties" and gently touched his glass in affirmation.

 

σσσσ  

 

That night, in a luxury suite in the Williamsburg Inn, the only old ghosts were the ones of the Founding Fathers. When they arrived at the door to the suite, there was a moment of uncertainty until that fateful moment when the door opened. He allowed her to pass inside and then he stepped in and closed it softly behind him. Without a word, he placed the key down, then picked up the telephone and rang Room Service for two brandies to be sent up. She had placed her pocketbook over on the corner of a desk and sat down on one of the couches in front of the fireplace. Watching her in the dimness of the light, he knew she was feeling the same anxiousness he was. This was a big step that both were taking and once done, there would be no turning back.

He watched her sitting there in the firelight and the pent up desire he’d been feeling for the past weeks was building. A momentary wave of second thoughts was quickly pushed away as he walked over to her and gently took her hand, drawing her up to him.

Quietly, he studied her face and her eyes. Putting one hand under her chin, he tilted it slightly upward. Slowly, he barely touched her lips, waiting for her response which came in a soft sigh of longing.

"Don’t stop…" she whispered. Her nervousness was now being replaced by her own building desire.

Grasping her hand within his, his eyes bore into hers. He pulled her closer until she could feel his own longing on the rise. Lowering his head just a bit, he planted as soft kiss on her neck and then on the top of her shoulder. His fingers gently undid the zipper of the plum colored silk sheath dress she wore and then slowly slid it off her shoulders, letting it fall effortlessly to the floor. She now stood before him clad only in her lace underwear and when she gingerly reached up and tugged on his tie, pulling him to her, she was smiling. Pulling him closer, she kissed him, tentatively at first, then more searching.

"I think you need to get rid of that tie," she quietly told him while she started to undo it. Once undone, she pulled it through his collar and then dropped it on the back of the chair beside her. Then one by one, she unbuttoned his shirt, brushing her fingers against his chest. Her eyes never left his as she then felt him unhook the latch on her bra and slide it off her arms, letting it fall onto the floor on top of her dress.

His eyes roamed her figure as he pressed against her, his desire for her now straining against her body, his hands barely touching her silkened skin.

"You do that quite well," he mused. "Now…I wonder…" and his fingers slowly began to massage her breasts, kneading…then barely brushing the peaks as they quickly hardened to his touch.

Her hands expertly unbuckled his belt and slowly but cautiously unzipped his trousers and helped him out of them, leaving them in a heap on the floor next to her own. His restraint was crumbling quickly. The mere feel of her touch on his skin was almost enough to send him over the edge. Nelson then took her hand and led her to the bedroom, closing the door behind him.

Two people who had found their way to each other were then united in the oldest of all human needs. He was the most considerate of lovers. Putting her needs ahead of his own, he laid her gently on the bed, seeking out her mouth, his tongue gently exploring at first, then pushing onward to taste the smooth brandy she’d drunk earlier. His fingers brushed first one tip and then the other, their hardening becoming more and more apparent as she moaned slightly, her body arching to meet his moves. Slowly, one hand crept little by little down her stomach, inching toward her most private of places.

Breaking away from the deepened kiss, his eyes searched hers for the affirmation he sought.  "I want to make love to you…I’ve wanted to for some time now…But if you…" he softly said to her as his lips brushed hers.

"I know…I’ve wanted the same thing," she answered, returning his kiss. "And I still do…" Her gaze bore into his as ages old needs rose within her to overcome any doubts she would ever have. She’d already made up her mind and knew this was the right course for her to take.

"I’ll never hurt you…you know that. I couldn’t. You mean too much…" he started to say as he kissed her the cleft between her breasts.

Her finger went to his lips to silence him. "Shhhh. No more talking…now’s not the time." She was feeling a need growing deep within as his fingers expertly manipulated her, and bringing her to heights of passion that she thought were long dead.

His own craving was evident as it pressed against her bare flesh. It was getting harder and harder to control his own ardor as it strove to overcome his restrained reasoning. Within moments, he divested her of her remaining garment and situated himself over her as she moved to welcome his entrance. Karen’s eyes were riveted to his blue ones as he hovered over her, teasing her…touching her…bringing her as close as he dared before suddenly plunging inside. Her hands caressed his buttocks and brought him deeper with each succeeding stroke. Within moments, both were deep within a world of sensuality as their own needs climbed toward an inevitable conclusion. Suddenly, her eyes closed and she cried out as she clutched his arms while wave after wave of her own climax washed over her. Then, as if in response, he found he could hold himself no longer and his own pinnacle finally came at feeling the first of her contractions and continued until he had no more to give.

Their tempo slowed as their bodies adjusted themselves to the relief each had sought in the other. Covering her body with his own, he rolled gently to his side, all the while never breaking the link between them, and wrapped her in his arms as he held her tightly to his chest. Neither spoke for the next enduring minutes. Both were too enveloped in the ecstasy their lovemaking had brought. Finally, she moved just a bit and looked up into his eyes His hand captured hers and intertwined his fingers with hers. Bending over just a bit, he lightly kissed her forehead. Looking up into his penetrating blue eyes, she smiled and sighed. For the first time in a long, long time, she felt contentment. True, loving contentment.

 

σσσσ

 

When the first rays of dawn broke, Nelson lay on his side facing her. She was sound asleep and was oblivious of the fact that he was watching her. He stroked her hair lightly as to not awaken her. Turning over, he picked up the telephone, called Room Service and placed an order for their breakfast. Sitting up in bed, he surveyed the surroundings of the room as well as what he could see through the door. Clothes were on chairs, the floor, a lamp.

God, were we that bad last night?

Chuckling to himself, he looked over at her. The last three weeks had been hard on her. She had been under an enormous amount of stress due to the expectations of the performance of the DWD team. Last night, however, she had let it all out. She made a slight movement and turned over toward him. He bent over and softly kissed her cheek, then eased himself out of bed. Putting on a robe, he wandered into the bathroom to shower and shave. He would let her sleep until the breakfast arrived.

Lord knows, she deserves that.

 

σσσσ

 

The distant noise of a running shower stirred her back into the world of the living. At first, she wasn’t quite coherent as to where she was. However, when she ran her hand down the vacant side of the bed and smelled the faint scent of his aftershave, she knew. Opening her eyes, she focused in on something. His uniform jacket was draped over a chair. His suitcase was open and his shaving kit was missing. Her suit bag was also open and clothes hung over it. There were also clothes on the floor and something was on a lamp. Good, Lord. What a night!

But she smiled to herself. A complete sweet smile of pleasure. Then there was the sudden realization that she was wearing nothing but a smile. And with that, she stretched out across the bed. If he wants back in, well, he’d have to…she stopped and smiled wickedly at that thought.

The water stopped. A few moments later, she heard his electric razor. Shortly, he strolled out, finding her sitting up in bed, watching the morning news on WAVY-Norfolk.

"Well, well, sleepy head, you finally decide to wake up?" asking her as he sat down beside her and drying his hair with a towel.

"Well, I kinda had no choice since someone was makin’ so much noise in the shower. What time is it?"

Picking up his watch off the table beside the bed, he replied, "0645 and I’ve ordered breakfast for us."

She slid further down beneath the covers. "It’s too early."

He laughed and slid under the covers beside her. "Why, Captain…I thought it was your habit to rise around 0630."

Snuggling into his arms, she rose up and kissed him then looked into his eyes. "That, sir, is when I’m working. Last time I looked, I was on leave as of yesterday morning. And if you want further clarification, I would suggest you take that question up with my boss."

"I just might have to," was his bemused reply just as he pulled her into a long, searching embrace, his strong hands roaming her body at will.

"Why, Admiral…whatevah are ya tryin’ to do, suh?" she laughingly asked as she reciprocated the ministrations. Soon, they were again engaged heavily in the arms of passion. Finally, they linked hands as the world exploded around them. He held her tightly to him, kissing her softly and tenderly as he rolled onto his side. Lifting her face, he could see she had tears in her eyes. Alarmed, he wasn’t sure what to do.

"What’s wrong?"

"Nothing…absolutely nothing," she quietly replied and kissed him softly.

"Then why the tears?" he asked as he caught one with his back of his hand. He was afraid that he’d hurt her for some reason…something he desperately didn’t want to do.

"Because you’ve made me feel loved again. That’s why. And because I cry when I’m happy. That’s something you’ll learn about me if we keep going."

"Hmmm…and I’ve made you happy, have I?"

"Oh, very. I have a question, though. How long are we going to be here?" It was her attempt to change the subject.

His slight laughter seemed so easy and natural now somehow. "Why do you ask?"

"Well…It would be awfully nice to stay here for the week…but I know that’s a bit unrealistic. And the maid does need to come in and clean…" She looked around at the disarray in the suite. Looking back over at him, she slyly remarked, "I think we, uh, sorta made a bit of a mess here…"

"Tell you what. How about we go back to the real world on Tuesday morning? That gives us plenty of time together and we can still do some exploring here."

"That’s good. I can deal with that. Now, where were we?" and she pulled him close to her. Unfortunately, about that time, there was a knock at the door and a voice saying "Room Service".

He kissed her deeply and then got up, put on his robe, and walked into the sitting room of the suite to let the waiter in.

"Breakfast is served, m’lady." he called out.

"I’ll be right in" she replied as she slid out of the bed and into the bathroom. He heard the shower start and then about 10 minutes later, it stopped. 5 minutes after that, she emerged in a robe with a towel wrapped around her head. Nelson handed her a cup of hot coffee. Sitting it on the table, she put her arms around him and kissed him deeply and passionately. It was she who broke away first as she felt his hands pull her robe loose and his hands encircle her body.

"Why, Admiral, whatevah do you have on your mind, suh?" she teasingly asked him, still with her arms encircling his neck.

"Well, Captain, I do believe it can be better physically demonstrated than verbally explained."

She giggled. It was the first time that he had ever heard her truly do that. It was different, he thought. A good sound.

"Maybe I’ll take you up on that ‘demonstration’ later. Right now, I’m starved. What did you order?" Taking the covers off of the plates, she surveyed the bountiful breakfast. "It looks wonderful. You know, I do believe that today is going to be an absolutely glorious day."

 

σσσσ  

 

They lazed the morning away and that afternoon, they walked down Duke of Gloucester Street. A light snow was starting to fall. Karen told him that this part of Virginia rarely saw much snow. ‘Too close to the sea’, she had said. But it was an invigorating kind of weather, cold and crisp. They stopped by many of the colonial houses for live character presentations and then strolled to the Royal Governor’s Palace. Inside, actors, portraying citizens of the era, told the history of the second capital of Virginia. Nelson had called ahead and made reservations for them at a colonial tavern, Chownings, for dinner. There, amidst the candlelight and characters, they enjoyed colonial fare, music, and drink and talked for what seemed to be hours.

Karen watched him closely.

He really is enjoying himself. I do believe that he takes himself much too seriously sometimes. Oh, my good Lord, I’m falling in love with him…this can’t be happening…but it is.

He looked over and noticed her grinning at him. "What is it?"

She reached out and touched his hand. "Nothing. I’m just happy to see you’re really enjoying yourself."

Taking her hand in his, he replied, "Hmmmm, I guess I can be a bit of a stuffed shirt at times, can’t I? Old habit, I guess. It’s been so long since I’ve had anyone to share something like this with." He leaned over and kissed her. "Now…that situation has changed, hasn’t it? Do you know that I’ve never done the ‘colonial tour’?" There was actually a twinkle in his blue eyes. "I was stationed in Norfolk when I first got out of the Academy, but I just never seemed to take the time."

"Yes, I believe it has changed…and I can’t believe that you spent all that time at Norfolk and didn’t do the ‘tour’."

"Well, I didn’t. Maybe we can do that tomorrow, eh? Captain, what do you say to a midnight stroll in the snow?"

"Admiral, I’d say…let’s do it."

They left the tavern and walked back toward the Inn. Snow was beginning to fall heavily now. The lights in the colonial area were still illuminated and it cast an eerie glow around the area. Once back in their suite, Nelson again ordered warm brandy to be sent up. The fire in the fireplace in the suite had already been lit by the maid and the bed covers turned down as well.

As they sat by the fire sipping the brandy, he watched her. She seemed to glow in the firelight. He contently settled back in one of the chairs and found himself drifting deep into another world. It was now past midnight and he found that he could not imagine himself to be anywhere else but here. Suddenly, he felt her hand barely touch his arm. She was looking up at him, puzzled at his far off expression. Sitting his brandy down, he reached for her hand and drew her up to him. Silently, he led her to the bedroom where he slowly and tenderly began to make love to her.

 

σσσσ  

 

On Monday, the real world intruded upon their fantasy. That morning at 0500, the telephone rang in the suite. Nelson turned over, picked it up and mumbled "Yes?"

"Admiral, this is Morton. Sorry to wake you so early, sir. But we’ve got a problem."

Nelson sat up in bed, trying to wake up enough to comprehend what his executive officer was trying to relate to him. Apparently, during the middle of the night, an undersea earthquake had hit the area around the Azores. It had caused a massive tidal wave and there was a tremendous loss of life on the islands. Seaview was being asked to investigate the damage and its probable causes. She would sail as soon as all hands were aboard. Crane was on his way back from Virginia Beach at that very moment, but there was one small problem.

"Uh, sir…we haven’t be able to locate Captain Davis since she left. She gave us a pager number and a cellular phone number, which we’ve tried, but there’s been no response. Would you possibly have any idea where she may be?"

Nelson glanced over to the other side of the bed. Smiling slightly, he replied, "Yes, Mr. Morton, I do. I’ll let her know and I guarantee she’ll be there before we sail."

"Yes, sir. At this time, estimated time of departure is 1400 hours."

"Good...good. We’ll...er...I’ll be there in a few hours. There’s some things I have to take care of first. I want a complete report on the situation as soon as I board."

"Yes, sir."

Hanging up the phone, he got up and went to the window. Both Karen’s pager and phone were laying on the table. Picking up the pager and then the phone, he noted that she had turned them both off. No wonder Morton couldn’t contact her.

Oh, well. Not like she wasn’t going to find out anyway.

Looking out upon the fresh snow he tried to imagine this was some sort of a dream. A soft moan and the slight rustling of sheets made him turn toward the bed. Seeing her lying there sound asleep, oblivious to the conversation that had awakened him, made him realize that this was indeed very real. She looked so peaceful and content. Lord knows, he felt that way.

It finally dawned on him the entire complexity of the situation. The question now was…what was he going to do? Obviously, he had fallen in love with her. Could he continue to allow her to live aboard Seaview or would that compromise everything? What about her involvement with the diving team? She was an integral part of the team. Hell, she’d built it for him. She’d have one holy fit if he ordered her to give it up simply because of their relationship. He remembered the incident a few months ago regarding the team. He had wanted them to do something before she felt they were ready. He’d had been furious with her, but she had held her ground and launched into a tirade of her own. In not so many words, she very plainly told him to "butt out". If he wanted this team, then it had to be by her rules, not his. Thinking back on it now, it was the first time that he had crossed that ‘line’ into her territory and she had handed him his head.

Looking at her, he also realized that the ‘uneasy’ feeling he’d had at Miramar was in fact the feeling of a strong attraction he had felt toward her. Now, he would have to really face it. If the situation was as bad as Chip had said, then Karen and her teams would be needed more than ever. And that made him uneasy.

He walked back to the bed and carefully slid back in. In response to the motion, she rolled over close to him and her arm draped across his chest as she nestled in next to him. Softly stroking her bare shoulder and the small of her bare back, he whispered in her ear, "Karen, wake up."

The only response she made was that she snuggled closer to him.

"Karen, wake up." A little louder this time.

"Mmmmmm…nooooo."

"Yes…Chip just called. We’ve got problems."

Opening one eye and raising her head slightly, she sleepily said, "Let Chip handle it then."

He bent over slightly and kissed her, then replied, "No can do. We’ve got to get going. Seaview sails at 1400…and we have to be aboard."

She finally started to come to life. Clutching the sheet around her, she yawned and sat up in bed.  "What happened?" she asked sleepily.

"Undersea quake in the Azores. We’ve been asked to go in and investigate. I’ve got a feeling your teams are going to get another workout, so we need to get back as soon as we can."

"What time is it?"

"About 0530, I believe. I’ll go ahead and order breakfast for us. You can have the shower first."

He got back up and threw her robe on the bed. She grabbed it and then threw a pillow at his head. It whizzed by and he wheeled around with a puzzled look on his face. "What was that for?"

If the overall situation hadn’t been so serious, she would have burst out laughing. Instead, she put on her robe, got up and walked over to him. Placing her arms around his neck, she looked directly into his eyes and replied, "Because that’s no way to wake me up in the morning."

In the most serious, gruff voice he could muster, he asked, "Then what is?"

"This!" And with that, she kissed him deeply and slowly. She was extremely conscious of the fact that she was starting something that she fully intended to see through to its most obvious conclusion. Secretly she knew that once they left this ‘sanctuary’ they would have to maintain a facade for the crew.

As he broke the embrace, he whispered, "You know something…you’re wicked."

"I know…but that’s what makes it so much fun," she said, smiling erotically and leading him back to the bed.

Two hours later, breakfast arrived as Karen was coming out of the shower. He handed her a cup of hot coffee, kissed her lightly, and remarked, "I’ll have to remember how to wake you up in the morning from now on."

She grinned and winked at him. "I hope you do. Now, what’s this about an undersea quake around the Azores?" She was now nibbling on a croissant.

He explained as much of the situation as he knew. While she was in the shower, he had called Chip Morton and gotten a further update. Causalities were at least 500 people and could climb up towards 1000 or more. The seismologists had had no forewarning of anything in the area.

She spooned out some fruit into a bowl and then stopped. "You know, I wonder if this could all be related to the encounter we had up near Titanic?"

"I’ve been thinking about that...There’s never been any seismic activity reported in that area. It’s always been extremely stable."

"Well, something has definitely shaken some things up. I take it that this is why Seaview is being sent in?"

"Yes, since we’re already in the Atlantic, FBME thought that we could be of more help in that respect than that of the surface ships already en route."

"We’re going to need new tanks flown out from the Institute to replace the problem ones from a few weeks ago. I’ll have to call John Thomas and get them en route. Can we handle a helicopter to ship transfer?"

"Shouldn’t be a problem. You go ahead and call while I shower and shave. Considering the time difference, you’ll get him out of bed. At least we can get them going and that’ll be one less thing to have to worry about." He headed into the bathroom as she sat down at the telephone in the living room. By the time he was through, she had talked to Thomas, specified what she needed and gave him what she knew of the situation. John was her logistics and equipment person. He would handle the equipment and its transport to them from NIMR’s end. If any additional equipment would be needed, he would oversee acquisition and transport himself.

Harriman walked out of the bathroom with a towel in his hand drying his hair about the time she got off the phone.

"John will have the tanks en route within two to three hours. That may or may not give us time to load before we sail. If not, then shortly thereafter. I’ll let him know if I need anything else later. He may have to get it from here depending on time constraints."

"Good...by the time we get to the dock, most of the crew will have boarded. Oh, by the way, both your pager and your cell phone weren’t on…did you know that?"

"Uh huh…I figured if something important came down, they’d get hold of you first. So, since I didn’t really need them, I turned them off. Why do you ask?"

"Chip made the comment that they’d had no response from you to the pages on either one and asked if I knew where you might possibly be."

"Oh...And what did you tell him?"

"That I did know where you were and that you would be aboard before we sailed."

They looked at each other and smiled. If the crew only knew…

 

σσσσ  

 

Around 1200 hours, Nelson and Davis boarded Seaview. After sending her bags to her cabin with a crewman, she headed straight to the missile room to check on the diving equipment. Sparks had given her a message that John Thomas had called to let her know that the equipment she had requested was en route. Unfortunately, it was not going to make it to Norfolk in time and would have to be transferred to Seaview by helicopter. After assessing what equipment she had on hand and with the addition of the new tanks, they should have what they needed. Final determination would come after the staff meeting that Nelson had called for at 1300, one hour prior to departure.

Nelson, in the mean time, had taken up residence between his cabin and the Observation Nose. He had been on the phone with the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Charles Norwood. The Navy, as requested by the President, had sent several ships to the area with instructions to render any aid they could. However, Norwood wanted the Seaview to see if they could provide an explanation for the massive undersea quake. Norwood reasoned that since the epicenter of the quake was in an area where the depth was below 5000 feet, Seaview was the best bet they had. And especially now with the new DWD teams that Nelson had aboard.

At 1300, the command staff, along with Davis, assembled in the officer’s wardroom. Nelson walked in carrying a roll of underwater terrain charts and unrolled them on the table.

"All right, this is the situation. The epicenter is here," he pointed to a circle on the depth chart. The terrain was going to be treacherous. Mountains, cliffs, valleys, and few plateaus. Letting them digest this, he then turned to her.

"Karen, there’s going to be a problem getting Seaview down close enough for your divers. The canyons may possibly be too narrow for us to maneuver in. We won’t really know until we get into the area. What is the possibility that you can go down, let’s say 200 to 500 feet, maybe more, to the bottom and start your assessment? Looking at these charts, I don’t believe that we’re going to have enough room to set down on the bottom for you."

She rose up from her chair and stood beside him. Bending over the chart to more thoroughly study the topography, she fully understood what he was saying. This was going to be a nightmare. It would be diving into a canyon filled with every rock and boulder loose and ready to fall. Then was also the potential for avalanches. Depth wasn’t the problem here. No, it was clearly going to be the terrain that would be the major obstacle.

He studied her as she analyzed the charts in front of her. He noted the intensity of the look on her face. It was obvious that she didn’t like the situation. Finally, she straightened up and looked him straight in the eyes.

"It can be done...but it’s going to be very, very tricky. Actually, it’s not the depth that I’m worried about. It’s the potentiality of other things...like avalanches for one. If this truly is the epicenter of the quake, you can be sure that the area is going to be highly unstable. What’s the seismographic history of the area? Have there been any other quakes in the general vicinity in the past?"

"I’m getting that information as we speak. If the area is that unstable, I would prefer that we not sit down on the bottom." He turned to Crane and addressed the next issue. "Lee, what about current speed in those canyons? If we do go in, we’ll have to be able to hold our position without us hitting the canyon walls while the teams are out."

"If the canyons are wide enough, we should be able to hold steady with no problem." Crane replied. He, like Karen, obviously did not like the looks of the area.

Nelson stood, his arms crossed, looking at his Captain. Satisfied with the answers he had received, but not necessarily with the situation, he decided to end the meeting.

"All right, let’s get it done then. Dismissed."

As the other officers filed out of the Wardroom, he motioned for her to stay behind. Going over to the coffee pot, he poured a cup for himself and for her. Handing it to her, he smiled slightly at her and asked her to sit down.

"Karen, are you sure that the teams can handle this?"

"Yes, I am. As I said, depth’s not the problem here. It’s the terrain. I want to see those reports before I go out, though. I want to know exactly what I’m dealing with here before I totally commit them, and me."

"We may not know anything definite until we get there."

"I understand that, but...look, we were just in an area that supposedly was not known for quake activity. Then we get hit with one and an after shock on top of that. This time I’d like to be a little better prepared in that respect. That’s all."

He drank his coffee slowly. Looking at her, it was hard not to think of the last four days that they had just spent together. She must have sensed his thoughts because she reached out her hand and touched his face.

"We can do this, you know," she softly told him.

"Which, the dive…or us?"

"Both."

He took her hand and kissed it. "You know that I’m not going to let up just because..."

She looked at him and smiled. "I know. I wouldn’t want you to, either. Now, I’ve got work to do, Admiral. And that’s something I’m not going to let up on either." Getting up from her chair, she checked to see if there was anyone else in the wardroom. Satisfied that they were totally alone, she leaned over and quickly kissed him. "See you later." And then she walked out of the room, leaving him alone to finish his coffee.

 

σσσσ  

 

Fourteen hours later, Seaview was rushing to the location of the epicenter that was 500 miles off the coast of the Azores. Since it was around 0300, the Delta watch had managed to keep things fairly quiet. Those members of the DWD team normally assigned to the night watch had been excused from duty and were ordered to rest due to their upcoming assignments. Karen wanted them completely rested and ready to go at a moments notice.

For herself, sleep did not come easy. As she lay in her bunk, she reflected back on the last few days. Finding it hard to believe that it had actually happened, she found that she was coming to terms with the reality of it all. She and Nelson had just spent four beautiful and wonderful days and nights together. She quickly became accustomed to waking up and finding him there beside her or rolling over and placing an arm on his chest. Now, lying alone in her bunk, she found that she was quite alone with her thoughts. A situation that she had known for way too long a time. As she tossed and turned, one thing came back over and over to her...that she was in love with him and that she didn’t want to be alone ever again. Somewhere in all of her turmoil, she finally fell asleep.

 

σσσσ

 

Meanwhile, down another corridor, in a nearby section of the sub, Nelson himself was having problems sleeping. He was suddenly restless, fidgety. He had lain awake for what seemed to be hours. Finally, he sat up and rubbed his eyes. Getting up from his bunk, he went over and turned his desk lamp on. A soft glow of light illuminated his cabin. Sitting down behind his desk, he flipped on the switch to his intercom.

"Control Room."

"Control Room, aye"

"Mr. Watson, what’s our position?"

There was a pause as Watson checked with the Internal Navigational Computer. "Sir, we’re 525 miles south, southwest of the target. ETA is approximately 11 hours at present speed."

"Good…Nelson out"

He did some quick computations and was satisfied with the results he came to. They would be on target at approximately 1400. Considering the data that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had provided him coupled with the latest satellite data from the area provided by NASA, he had determined that they had a chance of giving Karen’s teams a very good shot at getting extremely close to the center of the quake area. And she was going to need all the help that he and Seaview could give her.

After he finished up with his calculations and put them aside, he opened the bottom drawer to his desk and removed a small bottle of vintage Scotch that he kept. Reaching for a glass from the sideboard near his bookcase, he poured himself a small bit of it. Sitting back in the chair, he slowly sipped it as he thought over the events of the past week. His personal life had certainly taken a different route that he had ever anticipated. Part of it was intentional, part unanticipated. Whatever the reason, Nelson had to finally admit to himself that he needed her. For many reasons. But the biggest one was that he realized that he was deeply in love with her. He thought that he’d had these feelings neatly tucked away since Katherine’s death and that he would never have to know what it felt like again. But then, she came into his life.

Now, he was asking her to go out into a situation where there was a good possibility that she could be killed. Why should this be any different than before? It was getting harder now for him to accept her insistence that she wouldn’t ask the team to do something if she wasn’t willing to do it as well. He suddenly found he wanted to keep her here on Seaview, out of danger. Years ago, it would have been easier to reason with her. Years ago, women were not as ‘independent’. Years ago... .But this was now, not the past. He had to admit that he found her independence alluring and her love of life revitalized him; she had an uncanny ability to stare him down when she felt she was right and yet had the good sense to back off when it was prudent. Maybe she was the answer to the renewal of his own life. He had to admit that she had made him feel truly alive inside again.

Putting down his drink, he looked at the clock. 0500. She’ll be waking up in about an hour and slipping back into her shipboard routine of rising at 0600, taking her shower, coffee at 0630, breakfast at 0800 in the wardroom. He smiled slightly to himself as he remembered the past few mornings with her. The way she would look at him during and after they made love. The walks they had taken in the Colonial areas and the things they had discussed…details he had never known about her life, both before and after her marriage to her late husband. She had even shown him Caitlin’s pictures ranging from infancy to the most recent college photos as well as other family photographs. She, in turn, had drawn him out somehow, in that disarming comfortable style of hers. He told her of his life, his family, and why he had left the Navy so early after obtaining the fourth star. The early years of the Institute and of Katherine...He was truly surprised, and touched, when she had inquired about her and understood how he had felt upon losing her. He hadn’t really wanted to talk about the incident and she had let him tell her only what he’d felt comfortable with. They had talked and talked, and what utterly amazed him was that, in those four days, his personal life seemed to take on a whole new meaning somehow.

He could still recall the scent of her perfume. Chantilly, she had said. He’d have to make a note to buy her some more. She had alternated it with a vanilla bath scent.

Maybe I’ve been a bachelor far too long. Maybe it’s time to make a change…I started to once before…Maybe I should ask her to…  Oh, to hell with this.

He rose from his chair and headed for his shower. I’ve got to get my head clear.

Nelson stopped at the door and looked back at his cabin. For all his accomplishments and all of the accolades and friendships made throughout the years, deep down inside he realized how lonely his heart really was. Twenty minutes later, he was changing into a fresh uniform, had shaved, and decided to go to the Control Room. If he couldn’t rest in his cabin, maybe the Observation Nose would provide some relief.

 

σσσσ

 

The Officer’s Wardroom had been made ready for breakfast. Usually somewhere around 0745 the junior officers would start to straggle in. At 0800 all officers were generally present. That morning, there were two missing, Admiral Nelson and Captain Davis. Lt. Watson, the Delta watch officer, had informed the cook that the Admiral’s breakfast would be brought to him in the Observation Nose. However, no one had seen or heard from Captain Davis since last night. In fact, one of the cooks had remarked that she had not answered the knock at 0630 for her morning coffee. Lee Crane noticed the break in routine and decided to investigate on his own.

He arrived at her cabin door in time to hear voices coming from within. Apparently, she was on the video phone to someone.

Well, at least she’s up and around…but it’s strange that she’s missing breakfast. She’s never done that before…something’s wrong.

So he decided to find out exactly what. He knew she had been a little different somehow since she and the Admiral had come aboard yesterday afternoon. In fact, they both were acting, well, strange. At first he didn’t think much about it, but now that he thought back on it, they did seem to be a bit closer in their friendship. Chip had mentioned to him the conversation that he had had with the Admiral yesterday morning. Crane was now giving greater speculation as to the possibility that Karen was with Nelson when Morton had called him and this was why no one had been able to get in touch with her. Even some of the crew had made comments about the Admiral’s relationship with her and how it seemed to be more than just friendship. If fact, on this last mission out, Crane himself had made an off-handed remark to Nelson about her and Nelson had promptly torn into him. Now he wondered if there was indeed more to their relationship than employer-employee.

Crane knocked on her cabin door and waited.

"Come in."

Opening the door, he found her hard at work at her desk looking over the topographical charts the Admiral had shown them yesterday.  "Wondered what happened to you at breakfast."

She looked up as he walked through the door. "Oh…sorry…I had a hard time sleeping last night and I overslept. Didn’t even get my coffee. I’ll come up and get a bagel or something…Lee, this dive worries me. I’m not real comfortable with this."

"I know what you mean. The area worries me, too." He came over and looked at the charts she had. "I just hope we’ve got enough room to maneuver so we can get you in close enough."

"As I said before, it’s not the depth. It’s terrain. The instability is going to be a nightmare."

"Kept you up last night, huh?"

She looked up at him and smiled rather weakly. "That…and some personal matters I had on my mind."

He sat on the corner of her desk and casually crossed his arms. Looking at her, he could only speculate on the ‘personal’ matters. The concern for her team was genuine. The other was puzzling.  "Want to talk about it?"

She sat back in her chair and stretched from fatigue. Karen had considered Lee Crane a good friend since she first took this job. He was easy going and she could talk to him about most anything. Looking at him, she debated as to whether to confide in him about her relationship with Nelson. She knew that he was the Admiral’s best friend. But she also knew that whatever she told him would remain between them alone.

"I’m scared, Lee."

"About what, Karen? The dive? That’s understandable."

"No…about something else."

"You want to elaborate here?…I’m no mind reader."

She looked up at him and said softly, "I’ve…I’ve finally fallen in love again."

He sat there and didn’t say a word for a few seconds. Then as a small grin formed he finally asked the telling question, "The Admiral?"

She looked away from him and whispered, "Yes."

"I thought so."

She looked back at him for any type of reaction. Approval, disapproval, some sort of reaction.

"Karen, if you think that I’d disapprove, think again. I think that several people already have figured out that the two of you were together during shore leave. To tell you the truth, I think that you’re the best thing that could have happened to him. He needs someone in his life. I guess I’m a good one to talk, but the only family he’s truly had, except for his sister, is this ship and its crew. After Katherine’s death, he pulled inside himself and put the Institute and Seaview ahead of anything else. I do believe that if there is anyone that can give him what he truly needs, it would be you."

Breathing a sigh of relief, she told him, "I love him, Lee. I guess I just don’t know what to do about it."

"Have you told him?"

She smiled, remembering those four nights. "…Not in words."

He looked at her expression. "Oh…" Something more than just dinner had definitely gone on between them. "Well look, you’ve got a job to do right now. Your feelings can’t get in the way here, you know that."

"I know. That’s not what scares me…I guess that I’m now very unsure of myself regarding him."

"Karen, you’ll handle it. I know you. And he’ll handle it as well. He already has. Why do you think that he’s sending you out on this dive? I’ve known him for a long time. He’s thinking the same thing about you, I’d bet. You know he can’t pull you off of it. And even if he tried, knowing you, you’d have a fit. I understand you’ve already had one ‘discussion’ regarding the team in which you ‘politely’ told him to butt out. Am I right?"

"Yes, you’re right. Well…I’ll just have to deal with it, won’t I?"

"…You both will. Now, let’s get some work done, shall we?"

They left her cabin together. Lee headed for the Control Room and Karen went to the Missile Room to check the equipment.

The new tanks had been transferred to Seaview from NIMR’s transport helicopter the prior evening. Karen had checked each tank twice herself. John had also sent some replacement equipment for some of the dive helmets’ communication systems. After the problems on the first dive at the Titanic site, she didn’t want to take any chances at losing communications between divers and with Seaview. And in this particular dive, communications would be imperative.

In the Control Room, Nelson, Crane, and Morton stood over the charts discussing the best approach to the area. Nelson had shown his two officers his computations, which in turn were verified by the Navigational Computer. The final call would be Crane’s but he couldn’t dispute the older man’s figures. Finally, after a thorough review of all possible scenarios, a consensus was reached that Lee was comfortable with. It was his responsibility to keep Seaview and her crew safe and he took that very seriously. On the other hand, he also realized the importance of this mission and that for the DWD teams to be able to accomplish their mission, some leeway had to be given. But only within certain parameters. No further.

As Nelson walked back to the Observation Nose, Lee joined him. He felt that this would provide him with the best time to approach his friend about Davis. Nelson sat down at the table in front of the Nose. Since they were running submerged, the water patterns displayed on the ‘glass’ nose provided an ever changing display. In fact, it could almost be hypnotic at times. Crane knew that his boss liked to come here to rest and to think.

"Coffee, Admiral?" he asked as he poured himself a cup.

"No thanks, Lee." Looking down at the maps and his figures, he then inquired, "What’s our ETA now?"

"At our current speed, we’ll be there at 1400, give or take."

"Good…good. The sooner we get down, the sooner we can get out."

"Admiral, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so anxious over a dive. It’s going to be tough, but we shouldn’t have that much of a problem."

"I know…I know…but I’m thinking of the DWD teams. That area is highly unstable."

"Karen knows what she’s doing. They’ll be okay." Somehow Crane knew that his mentor’s concern was primarily for her. He decided to delve a little further into the subject. "She’s in the missile room right now checking the equipment that came aboard yesterday. She didn’t come to breakfast this morning. Said she didn’t sleep last night and when she did, she overslept. It’s not like her to break her routine over nothing."

"She said that she wasn’t comfortable with this mission but that it could be done. I guess she’s nervous about it."

Crane knew he had to tread lightly here and not fully betray her confidence. "When I talked to her a little while ago, she told me she had some…personal situations…that were on her mind. Apparently she’s…fallen in love with someone and it’s…ah…bothering her. I don’t usually get involved with these kinds of matters, especially where she’s concerned, but it seems that she really cares for this person."

Nelson curiously looked up at his friend. "She told you this, did she?"

Crane nodded his head. About that time, Lee was paged over the intercom to come back to the Control Room. He started to leave and then stopped. Turning back to his friend, he said softly, "Uh huh…you know, it might be reassuring to her if the gentleman were to tell her how he felt." And with that, he left for the Control Room.

 

σσσσ

 

Nelson sat looking at his Captain as he walked away, knowing full well that the last remark was aimed directly at him. He turned and looked out the windows at the water that rushed by. How did Lee know if neither one of them had mentioned it? If this had affected her in this manner, maybe she would consider not going on the dive herself. That one thought he promptly dismissed. She would go, come hell or high water, simply to show him that she could.

Maybe Lee’s right. I haven’t really told her. Shown her, yes. But not verbalized the actual words.

Maybe this was necessary for the both of them.  He turned and walked out of the Observation Nose and headed to the Missile Room.

 

σσσσ  

 

In the Missile Room, Karen and members of the DWD team were laying out equipment. They had about four hours before they arrived at the epicenter of the quake. The communications equipment was being checked and rechecked because of the previous failure. She did not intend for it to happen again if at all possible. John Thomas had also sent her the newest camera equipment that she had ordered for the team. With the sophisticated cameras they could take still photos of the area at various distances and not have to rely strictly on the videos. The lenses had been specially encased for the various levels of high pressures that they would encounter. The IG’s office had pitched a holy fit over the cost. Now they would see if it was worth it.

Kowalski and Benson were busy with checking the tanks for the proper mixture of air when Nelson got there. Not seeing Karen immediately, he asked where she was. Kowalski indicated to him that she was over at the mini-sub launch area, checking out the possibility of using them to help speed up their descent.

He indeed found her bent over and partially in one of the mini-subs.

"Karen?"

"Hold on." came the muffled reply. A few seconds later, she stood up, a pencil in her mouth and grease smudges on her face. Suddenly conscious of the way she must look, she removed the pencil. "Sorry. I think it might be possible to modify the mini-sub in order to transport us and the equipment down quicker. Dive time is going to be limited and I want any edge I can get. Do I have your permission to make any modifications I may need?"

"Yes, if you think it might help...do you think it’ll be necessary?"

"Right now, I’m looking at anything and everything I can."

Conscious of the fact that they were not alone, he asked her to come back to his cabin...that he needed to talk to her in private. As they left, she instructed Morton upon his arrival to start on the modifications. If they could do two, then that would transport the four members of each team easily on their rotations.

Once inside his cabin, he offered the use of the Head to wash the grease off her face. Once she did, then she sat down in the chair in front of his desk.

"What did you want to see me about?"

"Karen, are you sure you’re up to this dive?"

"Excuse me?" she replied with a baffled look on her face.

He came around to the front of the desk, leaned up against it, and repeated his question. "Are you sure you’re up to this dive?"

"Now why on earth would you ask me that? Of course I’m up to the dive. Why wouldn’t I be?"

"I just want to know that your mind is really in it, that’s all."

At first, she started to get angry with him, but then she quickly simmered down when she realized that his questions were out of concern for her. "My mind is definitely in it...Admiral...have no doubt about that." came the very tight, very controlled reply.

"Good...because I don’t want anything to happen to you...or the team...out there. Karen...I..." he was trying to explain but not having much success.

Just then, she was paged over the intercom. It was Chip Morton.

"Captain Davis, can you come to the Missile Room?"

She looked at him to go ahead and finish his sentence , but he motioned her to answer the page.

"On my way." Putting down the mike, she looked at him to finish.

"Never mind, I’ll talk to you in more depth after this is over. Go on."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, now go on. You’ve got a dive to make, Captain. This can wait." Nelson hoped that he would not regret those words after she walked out of his cabin.

 

σσσσ  

 

The modifications were made on the mini-subs and by 1400 Seaview had arrived over the epicenter of the quake. Both sonar and the boat’s fathometer indicated 5355 feet, keel to bottom as they sat on the surface. The surface conditions were calm as they started their descent. Lee Crane was determined to get Seaview as close as possible and as safely as possible to the target area. He closely monitored the sonar for depth changes in the area. Constantly comparing the readings to the topographical charts, he guided the huge submarine through the sea canyon walls until he felt that further descent was unsafe. Leveling off, he asked for a final sonar reading.

"Patterson, what’s our depth?"

"4935, sir. 420 keel to bottom."

Nelson looked at his Captain and nodded his satisfaction. Although he would have rather gone deeper, he trusted Crane’s judgment. He then took the mike in hand and paged Davis.

"Nelson to Missile Room"

A momentary silence and then, "Davis here. Go ahead, sir."

"We’re over the site now. Are you ready?"

"Yes, we’re readying the mini-subs now. How far to the bottom?"

"420 feet."

"Well, at least that’s not too bad. Could be better, could be worse. But we’re ready. I’ll let you know ETA to launch."

Nelson looked at Crane and decided to leave the Control Room. Heading down to the Missile Room, he felt there was something not quite right, but couldn’t put his finger on it.

Maybe Lee was right and I’m too anxious over this dive…because of her. Something was gnawing at him, like an aura of impending disaster.

Just as he entered the Missile Room, she was getting ready to climb up into one of the mini-subs. She looked over at him and smiled. The look she received from him puzzled her.

He walked over to her. He knew he couldn’t do what he really wanted to do; he had to put on the facade.  "Karen, is everything alright?"

"Everything’s fine. We’re ready to go…What’s wrong?" she asked.

Shaking his head slightly, he tried to shrug off the weird feeling. "Nothing," he lied.

She looked into his eyes and smiled. At first, she couldn’t see it, but the longer she looked, she realized that he was afraid for her. Her smile turned into a quizzical expression, trying to figure out what he really wanted. Composing herself quickly in order to placate him, she smiled weakly and whispered, "I’ll be fine. Don’t worry."

He nodded and squeezed her arm ever so gently. Before he knew it, she had climbed into the min-sub and the canopy was closed. Stepping back, he watched as the two subs were lowered into the docking bay area and then launched. Walking back to the Control Room, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something terrible was going to happen.

 

σσσσ  

 

Team One descended slowly in the mini-subs. Internal sonar helped to keep them from crashing into the undersea canyon walls. At this depth, one could not always rely on simple visual acuity. The teams had modified the subs with special communications, video, and monitoring equipment. Once in place, the teams could work quickly and efficiently. Since they had so far to descend, the round trip would cut into the actual work time. Corners had to be cut, but not at the expense of safety. Because of the limited space of the mini-sub, the first couple of trips would be used to ferry the bulkier equipment. Therefore, the team would be working without auxiliary tanks. Karen wasn’t too crazy about this but there was nothing that could be done. Team Three would be the one to actually start the work with all equipment up and running. As soon as she got back to Seaview, she would brief Kowalski and his team on the exact procedures that would be used. It was going to be necessary to place the seismographs at various key points around the epicenter that NASA had located for them. These in turn would have to be monitored and other measurements taken at the epicenter would hopefully tell them what had happened.

Karen was noticing a slight gradual rise in temperature as they descended. In water of this depth, this was highly unusual. Confirming her findings with the other mini-sub, she then radioed Seaview.

"MS-1 to Seaview, can you copy?"

"Go ahead, MS-1, we read." came Crane’s reply.

"Lee, is the Admiral there? I’ve got something here I think he’d be interested in."

Nelson’s voice suddenly came over the radio.  "I’m here, Karen. What have you got?"

"We’re experiencing a gradual rise in temperature during descent. We’re approximately 250 feet from the bottom and the gauge has gone up 10 degrees since we left Seaview. It should be getting slightly colder, not warmer, the deeper we go. Something’s not right. Also I’m finding the currents are getting a bit more erratic the deeper we go. Is it possible we may have something else going on down here?"

Nelson fingered the microphone as he thought. Could it possible that the quake had caused a rift to open and was allowing heat from the magma deep within to escape? This could account for the temperature rise and erratic current. As the water was suddenly warmed and then the cold sea water pushed down on it, it could cause a sudden collision of forces. If this was the explanation, then they could be in for a rough time.

He went back to the chart table and pushed away the excess maps until he found the topographical map he wanted.  "Lee, come here. Look at this."

Crane joined the Admiral at the table. Nelson was furiously marking coordinates and making computations. He scanned the NASA data and the information sent to him by the NOAA, then redid calculations. Showing them to Crane, they both concluded that there was a very good possibility that there was an undersea volcano being formed at the epicenter. This would explain the temperature changes. And further complicate matters as well. There would be no telling if or when another quake or possible eruption would occur.

Nelson picked up the microphone and told her, "Karen, it looks like the possibility of an undersea volcano. Have you seen anything yet?"

"No, we’re still about 150 feet from the bottom. Temperature has risen another ten though. Rising quicker now the closer we get to the bottom. Visibility is next to nothing due to sedimentary debris hanging in suspension. That kind of heat would cause the currents to act the way they’re doing, though. Our sonar is now showing the some flat areas near the target. Tell Lee he did a great job getting us this close. There’s no way in hell that Seaview could have come down here. The walls are definitely closing in. Approaching 75 feet from bottom. I’ll let you know the second we touch bottom."

"Karen, listen, if there is a volcano forming from the epicenter, then that’s the possible cause of the quakes. I don’t want you sitting the subs down anywhere near the path of that thing. Do you copy?" Nelson replied.

"Yes, sir, I do. But we won’t know until we get all the way down, will we? I’ve got to get as close as possible. Visibility is crap down here. Even with the high intensity lights, we can’t see more than three to five feet in front of us. We’re having to rely almost totally on sonar readings for depth and terrain changes. We’re now 35 feet from bottom. Walls are closing in fast. Estimate only about 75 feet width at bottom... Temperature is up another 10, no. .another 12 degrees... Turbulence is getting worse, but we can still hold trim... Damn, this thing is definitely NOT like an F-18. Getting harder to hold her steady... 10 feet... . .5 feet... Okay. We’re down."

She suddenly went quiet as she and her team shut down the active systems. In order to conserve power on the mini-sub’s systems, the main power system would be partially shut down. Only absolute essentials would be kept on. Only when both subs had completed their shutdown procedures did they open the canopies and start out with the equipment. They were operating off of a compass and the sonar readings. Thompson carried a portable temperature gauge and kept dictating the changes to a mini-computer in his suit. The closer they came to the target, the warmer it was becoming.

Suddenly, a stream of steam-like water rushed up in front of them. It was amazing. The only way you could describe it was like an upside down waterfall. The four divers slowly circled around it and started placing the seismographs and heat monitoring equipment at the four corners of the target area.

Nelson and Crane watched the scene via the video hookup from the mini-cams in the divers’ helmets. They could see a fissure which had opened up in the ocean floor. The teams estimated the length ran for about 100 yards, maybe more, down the canyon floor. However, the heat stream emanated from only one spot in the fissure.

"Karen, do you see any evidence of lava being pushed out from the fissure? And if there is, what’s the shape of the flow?" Nelson asked.

"Can’t see any at this time, but we haven’t explored the area yet. Won’t have time to do a thorough exam on this time out. Team 2 will handle the rest of the equipment and then Teams Three and Four can do a complete exam of the area. If we have to come out again, then we’ll take a deeper look at this split. By the way, the ocean floor is not, I repeat, NOT, semi-solid here. It’s shifting so bad that we can’t get a firm grip on the floor. The legs on the monitors have gone down probably 4 feet before we hit something solid. It’s like trying to walk on a beach with three feet of loose sand."

"That much loose sediment can be dangerous. Be extra careful near the canyon walls."

"You’re telling me?! Okay, we’re on our way back to the subs. Be back in a little while."

The team slowly made it back toward the mini-subs. Dr. Jamison monitored each one of them for their heart and respiration rates through the electronic microbiochips in the diving suits. He knew which team members could handle the extreme physical stress and who might be in trouble. Right now, his instruments showed him that all four showed slight physical duress.

As the team got back to the mini-subs, their heart rates slowed a bit. He regarded this as a good sign. But he kept coming back to one of the four monitors. The heart rate was high, but respiration was normal. Jamie knew what most of the others did not.  Because of the time he’d put in closely working with her on the teams’ conditioning, he knew she could put on a good outward show.  At the same time, he also knew how scared she really was out there.  In fact, he’d kidded her about her game face.  Anyone listening would have never been able to tell what was really going on underneath.

Thirty minutes later, both mini-subs were being hauled into Seaview’s Missile Room. The four divers were immediately placed into the decompression chamber and Team 2 made ready to go out. After a brief 15 minute period of instructions, Team Two went down. The rest of the equipment was unloaded and anchored into place. They were ready to begin the process of finding out exactly what had caused the quake here and whether it had had any bearing on the one they had experienced in the North Atlantic.

Then it was Team Three's turn. Kowalski and his team had been briefed on the target, the equipment, and what they were expected to look for. Part of the new communications equipment sent from the Institute was small, voice activated mini-recorders in their helmets. This would provide an audio recording of anything the diver might run across. Mike had used his to record the temperature changes at the various depths. Karen had recorded her impressions of the ocean terrain in anticipation that something might possibly happen. Now Kowalski and his team would use theirs in recording the data from the monitors. Team Four came in where Team Three left off.

Back aboard Seaview, the data being received from the monitors was being fed through the computers and then downloaded to the Institute’s main computers. Seismologists there were set up to receive and analyze the data as it came through. A steady stream of communications between the Institute and Nelson kept the radio shack busy. In addition, Nelson kept in constant contact with the DWD teams as they went about their work. After Team Four came in, Team One prepared again to dive. The analysts wanted as complete a picture of the fissure as possible. Now this meant that depth measurements of the open areas would have to be made. As Team One made its way down, the instructions were coming in fast and furious. Finally, Karen had to call a halt to what they wanted to be done.

"Admiral, we can only do so much down here in the limited amount of time that we have. My people are tired and stressed. The environment is extremely unstable. I want to know immediately if the monitors indicate any movement within the fissure so I can pull my people out."

Nelson could hear the fatigue in her voice even if no one else did. It was true that his people at the Institute were asking an awful lot, but they had never had this kind of chance before and they wanted to make the most out of it. At the same time, he had to be careful not to overdo it with the teams. He debated with himself and then made his decision.

"Karen, get the measurements and then get out of there. They’ll have to wait for the rest."

"Good...You know, to be over 5000 feet down, it’s awfully damn hot down here. I’ve got to remember to install AC in these suits when we get back home."

Harriman smiled slightly at her small attempt at humor. He’d be glad when she and the remainder of her team were safely back aboard. He had not been able to shake the feeling he’d had earlier.

The mini-subs touched down and the work began. Probes were placed in the depths of the fissure as close as they dared to the water spout that was now spewing almost scalding water into darkness above. The team worked furiously but cautiously to complete the assignments given them. They had also been requested to obtain core samples of the fissure and nearby sediment. Karen directed her team as close as they dared. The temperature soared as they edged closer to the opening in the sea floor. It was now extremely difficult to work because of the heat and exhaustion and she was getting overly anxious to get away from this hell. As soon as the samples were taken, they started to back away just as the stream sent a cloud of mud particles and superheated water spiraling into the cold water above.

"Let’s get the hell out of here," she yelled and quickly directed them back to the subs. I’ve got to get them out of here. Christ! This must be what hell is like. "John, Mike, Tom. Get back to the subs. Now! We’re leaving." Herding her team back, she then called Seaview.  "Lee, can you copy me?"

Crane answered her immediately, noting the unusual nervous edge in her voice. "Go ahead."

"This place is definitely not stable. We’re coming back in now. Make ready for emergency transfer to the tank."

"We’ll be ready. Do you think it’s going to activate again?"

"It looks it, but we’re not going to stay around to find out. T-One's coming up."

"I’ll let the Admiral know."

"Thanks. Davis out."

Davis signaled Seaview again when they were back aboard the mini-subs and were ready to start their ascent. They went through the pre-checks and then powered up. She edged the nose of the sub upwards with the small steering wheel. Speed control, such that it was, was a small button on the wheel, much like a cruise control on an automobile. Too much speed on ascent and they could run in to decompression problems. Too little and the longer it would take them to get back and waste precious breathing mixture in the process. Just as they lifted off the floor, the whole area started to vibrate.

"Captain, I think we’ve got trouble!" yelled Thompson from the other sub.

"I feel it, Mike. Tom, how we doing back there?" She replied, asking for confirmation of the assessment from her sub-mate, seated behind her.

"We’ve got sediment movement, for sure, Captain. Temperature has increased another 10 degrees. At this rate, she’ll boil down here. Captain, this is crazy! I’ve never seen anything like it." Tom responded. He suddenly looked up and exclaimed, "Captain, look!..."

The stream of superheated water escaping from the fissure was suddenly growing larger and was now headed straight for them. Davis estimated that they only had precious minutes before the fissure opened up on their end and then the stream would have a straight shot at them. They had to get out of there now.

"Mike, take her straight up, as fast as you can go, and head for Seaview. We’ll worry about decompression once we’re aboard. Ya’ll get out now. I’ll follow."

MS-2 was in a better position for the maneuver that she was asking him to make. Mike pulled back on the wheel, pointed the nose upward, and held down the button. The little sub shuttered and wavered at first, as if something was holding it down. Then slowly, slowly, it started to climb upward toward the giant mother ship that hovered 400 feet above it.

As soon as Mike was clear, Karen edged the nose of MS-1 upward. The stream was closing in fast.

Have to get the hell out of here. Come on, baby. Let’s go home. Come on!

The thermal current was getting worse. The mixtures of hot and cold waters colliding was making the ascent almost impossible.  "Mike, where are you? Have you gotten out of the thermals?"

"Sonar says we’re 50 feet above you on a steady ascent. Watch for the cliffs on the starboard side. You’ve got an overhang that has to be cleared."

"Right. Listen, keep going and don’t wait. We’ve only got so much air. We’re right below you at about... Oh, damn!!. . NOOOO... " there was a deafening roar, then a loud thud. And then the radio then went dead.

"Captain!" Thompson yelled her name, fearing that something had gone terribly wrong.

No answer.

"Captain Davis?!...Tom!!"

There was no answer, only deafening silence.

 

σσσσ  

 

Aboard Seaview, Chip Morton had been monitoring Team One from the Decompression Chamber. His team’s time was almost up there and he was due to be released from the chamber at any minute. He heard the sudden sound and then the deafening silence from MS-1. His fist hit the chamber wall as he yelled, "No!!!... .No!!!"

The other teams turned and looked at him in disbelief as the sudden reality of what had happened sat in.

Turning around to the portal to see a crewman standing outside oblivious to what had taken place, he screamed, "Get the Admiral and Captain Crane down here now! And get me out of here!"

The crewman, upon seeing the Executive Officer and hearing his anguished command, opened the tank to let Morton out, then grabbed the mike and urgently paged Nelson and Crane.

At approximately the same time, the Admiral and Captain had been listening to the conversation and were well aware of the situation. Nelson stood at the plot table, his hands gripping the side so hard that the knuckles were white. All color had drained out of his face and it was contorted into an expression of the deepest pain and disbelief. This couldn’t be happening, he tried to reason with himself.

God, no. Please. Not when I’ve just found her. Please, God. No!

Crane looked at his boss and somehow read his mind. Taking the microphone from Nelson’s hand, he struggled to keep his voice under control.  "Thompson, can you read us?"

Nothing.

Suddenly, static. Then a voice. "Captain, this is Thompson. I...I think we lost MS-1." Then,. . "Captain, MS-1 is buried under an avalanche. They can’t get out. We need help!!"

Again, "Thompson, can you copy? This is Seaview. Where are you? Where are they?"

Then amid a sea of static, "We’ve got to get them out. Can you hear us? Air supply running out. Got to get them out of there!"

Nelson and Crane looked at each other, furiously trying to digest the news. Obviously, their communications was now only one way. They had no way to know whether they were dead or alive.

Lee took a long hard look at Nelson. The man’s about to lose not only some of his crew but the woman he’s in love with as well. "Admiral? What about the FS-1? Can she withstand that depth?"

Nelson looked up at his Captain and responded with conviction, "Yes, she can. And she’s got the new robotic arms that might be able to dig them out. Let’s go, Lee. Now!" He practically sprang across the table and ran toward the Observation Nose, quickly opening the hatch and dropped through.

"Chip, you’ve got the Con. Keep her as steady as you can." Lee shouted to Morton as he was running into the Control Room. He followed his boss to the hatch in the Nose.

The two men settled into the flight chairs and quickly ran through the pre-flight checks. Knowing that time was running out, they expedited all other procedures and descended from the docking bay under the belly of the bow of the sub. Nelson edged the nose downward and prayed that he and Crane would be in time.

Touching the microphone around his throat, he asked Morton, "Have you established contact with either mini-sub yet?"

"Negative, sir. Communications are still one way. Thompson’s apparently near the site now. He’s advised that he’s been able to spot a tail fin sticking out. MS-1's almost completely covered."

"Keep trying to raise them, Chip. We’ve got them on sonar now."

The FS-1 gracefully negotiated the twists and turns of the canyon gorge. Crane kept his eyes on the craft’s sonar for the MS-2's signature blip. Visual sighting was almost impossible since the eruption of the superheated jet spout. Nelson had to be especially careful of the canyon walls relying on Crane’s instructions from sonar. Within minutes, they came upon MS-2 trying to hold steady over an area below a cliff overhang.

"Thompson, this is Nelson in FS-1. Can you copy?"

Static.

"Thompson, can you copy?"

Nelson decided to try a visual code. Turning on the radiant spotlights located on the front of the FS-1's bow, he flipped the switch three times. All of a sudden, there were three quick flashes of a dim headlight from the mini-sub in return fashion. MS-2 had answered and knew they were here.

Morton’s voice suddenly came over the radio. "Admiral, Thompson said he sees you. Apparently the communications receiver’s out. They can send, but not receive. If you can switch your frequency, he’ll guide you in."

"Understood." Turning to Crane, he tensely barked out the order. "Do it."

Anticipating the order, Lee had already switched to the mini-sub’s frequency. He could now hear Thompson’s voice.

"20 feet down and 10 degrees off my starboard bow, Admiral. Careful, though. There’s an overhang and the sediment’s not stable. If you get in too close, the turbulence from FS-1's wash could bring more rocks down."

As Nelson guided the yellow craft slowly through the area, he gently came up to the side of the cliff. "There it is," exclaimed Crane, seeing it both on sonar and visually as well. The starboard fin was the only thing sticking up out of the debris. Huge boulders covered the area.

God, could they still be alive? They’ve got to be. They’ve got to be.

They moved in and Crane went to work with the robotic arms. The currents were become stronger and more erratic. Boulder by boulder, Lee cleared debris from the injured mini-sub. Slowly, more and more of the sub was uncovered. But time was dwindling fast.

Nelson was struggling to keep the FS-1 under control so that Crane could work. Part of the canopy was now uncovered. They could see the injured crewman, Johnson, in the back compartment. As Lee continued to clear the larger boulders off the little sub with one robotic arm, he cleared the area of the smaller rocks with the other. He had to be careful. If he got too strong armed with the giant claws, he could further damage the craft and possibly kill those trapped inside.

The canopy was almost completely cleared now. Maneuvering around to the bow of the sub, the FS-1 started to work there. It was then that Nelson got his first look at Davis as she sat in her seat, unconscious. Quickly looking at his watch, he estimated that they had about 15 minutes of air. No more. They had to get them out of there.

"Chip, once we get the field clear, MS-2's going to have to get them out and aboard here. Have you made any 2-way contact yet?" Nelson inquired feverishly.

"No, sir. Still one-way only."

"Damn. We’ve got to get them to understand someway." He had to figure out a way to let them know what he wanted them to do. "Lee, retract the arms. We’re turning toward MS-2 for a moment." He edged the FS-1 upward and turned 60 degrees starboard. Moving in closer to the little sub a bit at a time, he could see Thompson and his companion clearly. Motioning with his arms and hands, he desperately tried to get the diver to understand what he wanted. Slowly, comprehension was obtained and Thompson fully understood. But matters would be complicated by the fact that only one diver could leave. The other had to keep the sub stationary. Before Nelson could communicate further, however, both divers emerged from the sub and headed for their downed companions. The little sub drifted away into the gorge. It was clear that FS-1 was now to be their safety net and ride home.

Nelson turned the FS-1 downward and descended back to the site. Crane returned to work with the robotic arms, assisting the divers with the extraction of their injured leader and comrade. It was clear to them that both that Davis and Johnson were injured. How badly remained to be seen. The two men slowly lifted them out and started toward the underside of the craft. There was no movement from either of them as their companions practically dragged them along.

Crane had retracted the arms back into their holders and then cracked the floor hatch to allow the divers access. Suddenly, one of the divers appeared with his injured companion. Lee half way got into the water to help pull Johnson aboard. He pulled him in and half dragged him to a spot near the hull of the craft. Thompson then appeared with Davis. Her limp form hung heavily in the water. Crane quickly pulled her aboard and laid her gently next to Johnson. Thompson joined his companion as they sat next to them, all of them still inside their pressurized suits, and watched as Crane quickly closed the floor hatch. He saw Nelson look over and signaled an ok with his hand. The Admiral nodded and quickly looked at Davis’s quiet, still body lying on the floor. Thompson thought he was seeing things as he watched the Admiral’s face turn pale and frightened. Then, just as quickly, his expression returned to hard resolve as he wheeled around to face the large windows in front of him. He would get them back safely. He would save her. And he would tell her how much he loved her. He would save them all. Or they would all die trying.

The FS-1 pointed upward toward Seaview. As Nelson powered up and accelerated, the side of the canyon wall slid downward enveloping the fallen mini-sub and pushing it, tumbling, downward toward the fissure. In a matter of seconds, the mini-sub was gone, having fallen into the opening in the ocean floor. Had they been a few minutes later, there would have been no one left to rescue.

Crane strapped himself in and they proceed upward. A few minutes later, the craft was being pulled into the docking bay. Emergency medical personnel had been called to the Observation Nose to receive the injured. Unfortunately, they couldn’t take them directly to SickBay. They would have to proceed directly to the Missile Room and the Decompression Chamber. Medics already stationed inside would have to assess the situation from within and confer with Jamison.

Quickly and quietly, Davis and Johnson were lifted upward toward the waiting personnel and then carried to the Missile Room. Nelson himself helped carry Karen. He had already resolved not to leave her side no matter what the circumstances. He laid her gently down onto the cot that the medics had sat up in the chamber, then he and Morton quickly left, sealing the chamber’s door behind them. Only then could they safely be divested of the specialized suits. Several of the members of Teams Three and Four carefully undid her helmet and stripped off the diving suit leaving her clad only in her one piece swim suit. Dried blood matted the curls of blonde hair on the back of her head. Her skin was cold and clammy, but she was breathing on her own. Her face wore a blank expression, her eyes closed, much like someone who had simply drifted off to sleep. It was obvious to all of them that she had sustained a serious head injury. Kowalski covered her with thermal blankets in an effort to keep her warm. Staring at her through the glass portal, unable to reach her, Nelson cringed in pain, his brain being seared with the vision of her in this state. Pain that he might very well lose her and the pain of the realization that he had not told her how much he cared. Morton saw now for the first time the Admiral’s reaction to her condition and how much his boss truly cared for this woman. He wanted to comfort him, to reassure him, but did not know how to.

The medic, having just finished with Johnson, came over to begin his examination of her. Talking via a headset microphone to Jamison, he clinically and unemotionally recited his observations to the doctor. Nelson and Morton stood silently outside of the chamber, watching and waiting and hoping. They could not hear the medic’s recitation to Jamison.

"Patient has pulse of 40…respiration, slow and shallow. Skin, pale and clammy to touch." He took out a pen light, lifted one of Karen’s eyelids and quickly shone it her eyes. There was no response. "Pupils dilated, no response to light stimuli. She’s obviously in shock, Doctor. I’m going to hook up to the EEG and EKG. You should get readings in a few moments."

They all watched as electrodes and lead wires were attached to her chest and forehead. The monitors were then activated. And they all waited.

Outside, Jamie watched the readout as the machines recorded her heart and brain wave activity. He knew by what he had been told by his assistant that she was in trouble. Johnson, at least, fared a bit better. He had a concussion, a broken arm and contusions. Right now, however, everyone was focusing on Davis. Because she was in the front of the mini-sub, she had born the brunt of the collision. The mini-sub had turned over several times before coming to rest where it was found. In the process, they had been bounced around inside. The diving helmets they wore were designed for high pressures during diving, not collisions with immovable objects. Therefore, there was very little head protection in the form of internal insulation or padding. It was a miracle that their heads hadn’t cracked like an egg during the fall.

Jamie tore off the results from the machines, looked at them for a few moments and then approached Nelson as he stood outside looking in. He motioned him to come and join him away from the chamber. This was something that he wanted to discuss with him in private. At first, the Admiral refused to leave, but then relented when Chip advised he that he would stay.

As the Nelson followed him across the Missile Room, Jamie found a place where they could sit down.

"We have to talk, Admiral," he said, clutching the results in his hand.

One look at the doctor’s face told him it was not good news. "What?...How bad is it, Doc?"

"It’s bad, Harry…I’m not going to lie to you.”  He hesitated a moment, then lowered his voice to just above a whisper, “I know how much she means to you."

"Is…is she going to die?" The pain and anguish in his face was almost too much for Jamison.

"Not if I can help it. I believe there’s pressure, due to the severe concussion, that’s built up on the brain. A portable CaT scan will show exactly what’s wrong and where. If I’m right, then it’s got to be relieved and fast. There’s no other way. Somehow, I’ve got to go in and place a shunt to alleviate the pressure. Working in that chamber is going to be a real bitch. But that’s the only way I know to do it.  We’re going to have to isolate her from the rest in order to be able to work on her."

"Do what you have to do, Doc." was Nelson’s anguished reply. He took hold of Jamison’s arm and looked at him, almost pleading with him. "Just don’t let her die."

The look on Nelson’s face was almost too much for the doctor to bear.  "What I really need is a qualified neurosurgeon ASAP. I don’t care how they get here, but I need’em fast. I’m only qualified to do so much and this is beyond my realm of expertise."

"You’ve got it." Nelson replied, turning to the microphone on the wall. He hurriedly explained to Sparks who he needed to talk to and that it was an emergency. Two minutes later, he was informed that the call had been put through. Conversing with Bethesda Naval Hospital and then having Jamieson clarify the exact situation, it was decided that a surgeon would be en route to rendezvous with Seaview. Nelson gave the order to run at flank speed toward the Maryland coast. In the mean time, a Navy jet helicopter would transport the doctor to the speeding sub.

Lee Crane had joined Nelson in the Missile Room. He stood outside the chamber with him as they looked inside at her lying on the cot, motionless and unresponsive. An IV drip had been placed in her right arm in an attempt to give her some needed fluids and nourishment. Team One's divers were suffering from some form of heat exhaustion due to the high temperature increase of the superheated geyser. Nelson just stood there, unwavering, looking at her. Watching for any movement that would let him know she was all right.

Crane soon realized that the Admiral would not leave her. He couldn’t get to her but he would not leave her as long as she was this way. Lee put his hand on Nelson’s shoulder as the Admiral had done to him so many times in the past. This time it was his turn to comfort the ‘old man’.

"I didn’t tell her, Lee. I didn’t take your advice." Harriman softly and regretfully said. His face was contorted in a mask of pain. "Now I may never have the chance to."

At first Lee didn’t know what he was talking about, then it hit him…the conversation in the Observation Nose that morning.  "Doc says that if they can get the pressure shunted off, she has a good chance. We’ve got to hope for that."

"I know. But I should have…" his voice trailed off into nothingness. The anguish of regret was so obvious to Lee.

"She’ll be fine, sir. She’s strong...very strong. And she has you to help her through it."

They stood there, watching her…both of them trying to will her to open her eyes.

 

σσσσ 

 

Three hours later, a Navy jet copter made its rendezvous with Seaview. The surgeon and Dr. Jamison conferred; and after viewing x-rays and the results of CaT scan, both reached the same conclusion. Surgery had to begin as soon as possible for her to have a chance. Jamie’s assistants brought in all the necessary equipment and placed it in the decompression chamber. It was determined that considering that amount of time that Davis and Johnson had already spent in decompression, that the pressure level was within an acceptable level for the medical team to now safely commence the surgery. Most of the teams had pretty well finished decompression and could now safely exit the chamber. This left the doctors, the medics, and Johnson. Johnson was isolated in another part of the chamber to keep him out of the sterile operating area. And then they began.

Nelson, Crane, Morton, Sharkey, O’Brien, and Kowalski stood vigil outside the chamber as the operation progressed. The whole episode seemed to take on a feeling of the surreal. The entire crew became silent as the day and evening wore on, aware of the event unfolding in the decompression chamber. Time passed slowly, or so they thought.

Five hours after the surgery started, Jamie emerged from the chamber. Taking off his latex gloves and operating mask, he walked over to the waiting men. They voluntarily parted as he headed straight for the Admiral. The doctor couldn’t help but think how Nelson looked like death warmed over himself.

Nelson looked at him, desperately wanting to see some sign of good news in Jamison’s face.

"She’s going to be all right." was all he heard before collapsing back into his chair with an utter sigh of relief.

 

σσσσ 

 

The next day, Davis joined Johnson as a patient in SickBay. Both were now safely out of decompression and would spend the rest of the time out here. Johnson was already up and around, but Karen was still unconscious. The surgeon would stay aboard and return with her to Bethesda after they docked. Once she had been placed in a bed, Nelson took up residence in a chair beside her. No amount of persuasion, no amount of harassment from the doctors would deter him. He read to her, told her stories about his family and his early days at the Academy as well as what was going on the results from the mission. Jamie had told him that often times patients in this condition would drift into a coma-like state. It was nature’s way of healing the body and dealing with the pain. As long as it didn’t go on too long. Therefore, if the Admiral insisted upon staying, then he could help by actively trying to bring her around.

That evening, when he realized that the doctors were gone and Johnson was asleep, Nelson decided to try something on his own. He sat down beside her on the bed and took her hand in his, kissing it softly, and gently told her, "I know I should have said this before you went down there…I started to while you were in my cabin…Don’t know why I didn’t. Like an old fool, I believed that it could wait until later. But some things can’t wait, can they? They shouldn’t ever wait. Too many things can happen so easily. I should have realized that a long time ago. I don’t know how else to say this, but Karen, I...I love you. I guess I’ve known it for a while, even before I first asked you to dinner, even before Caitlin kept after me to see you. I think I was first attracted to you at Miramar. Remember? You quite literally blasted into my life that day." He smiled at the memory of her in her flight suit.

He encased her hand in both of his and held it to his lips. Softly, he continued, "I hope you can hear me…I don’t want to lose you now…Not when I’ve just found you. You’ve given me a new lease on life. Maybe we do need each other. You know, I’ve always kept my private life separate from my professional one. Never thought that one day the two would cross in this way. I never imagined that I’d fall in love with an employee."

He took one of his hands and touched her hair. The back of his hand stroked her cheek and then traced the outline of her lips. He sat back and remembered what seemed to be an eternity ago. The first night they had made love. How scared in a way they both were, but how much they both needed and wanted each other. A tear formed in the corner of his eye and ran down his cheek. How his heart was breaking as he looked at her. He remembered the times she had firmly stood her ground with him and argued a point until he finally had to relent. He loved her independence, her spirit. Her love of life…God, how he wanted her back. How he needed her in his life...

He was so deep in thought that he almost didn’t feel the ever so slight pressure of her hand closing over his. At first, he thought he was imaging it. Then, it happened again, shocking him back into reality.

"Karen! Can you hear me? It’s Nelson." He bent over her, trying to virtually will her back to him.

There was a slight stirring and a small moan. "Harri…man?" was the almost inaudible reply.

"Yes, Karen. Can you hear me?"

"Harri…man…" the faint reply was strengthening and she struggled toward consciousness.

"Yes…I’m here."

Her eyes fluttered and she slowly opened them, trying to focus on the figure in front of her. Turning her head slightly, the outline started to become clearer. "Harriman?"

"I’m here, Karen. You’re okay now. You had to have surgery…You had…"

"Shhh…I know…I mean…I remember…some things." she softly and slowly said. She managed to flash a weak smile and hoarsely said, "I heard you, Harriman. I heard…what you said…I love you, too."

He broke into a wide smile and bent down, kissing her softly at first and then when she slowly responded, a bit more passionately. About that time, Jamison and Crane walked into the room. Nelson looked up and they could tell from his expression that Davis was conscious. Jamie rushed over to see how his patient was and after a quick going over, he pronounced that her condition would be upgraded and that she was indeed going to be all right.

Lee pulled up a second chair and sat it next to her bed. In his best serious tone, he lightly chastised her.  "You gave us quite a scare, lady. We thought you were a goner."

She smiled weakly and tried to touch her head. "No way. You know I’ve got too hard a head to go that way." She glanced up at Nelson. "The data…"

He took her hand in his and smiled, reassuringly. "All in. The Institute has it now and is running it through the computers. Preliminary results show an undersea volcanic eruption. The superheated geyser is currently venting the steam and should for some time. With the monitors your teams placed, we can now keep an eye on it. And it was the cause of the small disturbance near the Titanic site. They want to qualify that as more like an after shock."

"Why didn’t…why wasn’t there a tidal wave with the one at Titanic?"

"The fissure hadn’t opened yet. It wasn’t until that happened that there was trouble."

Jamie came over to them. "Gentlemen, my patient needs to rest. You can talk with her tomorrow. Now I’m going to ask both of you to leave. And that means you, Admiral."

"No, I’m going to stay with her…"

She looked up at him. He seemed so tired and haggard. There was no doubt that he needed to rest, so she wearily told him, "No, go on. I’m not going anywhere. Besides, you need to get some rest."

Placing his left hand on the top of her head and keeping her hand in his right, he responded, " I’m not going anywhere; I’ll have plenty of time to rest after you’re out of here. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir" was all she could manage in her weak state.

He looked up at Doctor Jamison and Jamie knew not to try to persuade him anymore. So Jamison turned his attentions to Crane.

"Well, Captain Crane, if you stay around here any longer, I’ll put you to bed."

"Oh, no you won’t, either. Sir, with your permission, I have a boat to get back to base. You, lady, have to go to Bethesda as soon as we dock. So, by your leave…" and he was gone.

Jamison decided to leave the two alone for a while so he made himself scarce by retreating to his office.

Nelson sat there for the longest time trying to figure out what exactly to say to her, how to tell her he was sorry, that he should have never let her go down there.

Sensing his turmoil, Karen decided to lighten the burden a bit.  Though she was still groggy, she smiled slightly. "When we get back, I think I need a long shore leave. I’ve got enough leave stored up that it wouldn’t hurt if I took about six months off."

He looked at her. Somehow, he knew what she was planning on doing. He suddenly felt that she just might not come back. "What will you do? Where will you go?" he asked, not really wanting to hear the answer.

She looked at him for a long time, not really knowing how to answer his questions. She felt tears starting to form in her eyes. It was the sudden realization of what she had just been through. For the first time in a long, long time, she was scared. No. Terrified. Absolutely terrified. She had to hold herself together and she felt her self-control slipping away.

"I’m not sure. Probably go see Caitlin in Blacksburg. Maybe go back down to where I was raised. Maybe go to Richmond or DC for a while…" She could see the pain deepening in his eyes. She knew he didn’t want her to leave. "But I won’t be far away…I won’t be far from you, Harriman. I’ll come home…to you…and to the Institute. I promise you that. I love you too much to ever leave you. I just need some time to…think about what happened…to re-evaluate what I’ve been doing…I need you in my life, too…but I also think I need to be alone for a while."

"I think I understand, Karen. I’ll be there whenever and wherever you need me to be, you know that. Just let me know…"

"I know. And don’t be too surprised if you get a call to meet me in Williamsburg," she managed to say before the tears came streaming down and she started to tremble. He reached for her and held her close as she buried her face in his shirt.

"I’ll be there, no matter when or where," was his whispered reply. And he cradled her in his arms as she cried herself to sleep.

 

σσσσ  

 

Epilogue

 

Six months had passed since that day aboard the Seaview when he had told her that he loved her. Six months she had been gone from the Institute to heal her wounds, but she was never far from him. Not in her heart nor in his.

She climbed down out of the jet at Miramar and soaked up the last rays of a warm October California sun. In fact, it had the definite beginnings of an absolutely beautiful sunset. It had been a long but easy flight, but she was glad to be out of the cramped confines of the small cockpit. The flight maintenance crews took over and checked out the FA-18 she had just brought in from Oceania Naval Air Station, relieving her of its responsibility. As she handed her parachute to one of the crew and signed over the jet, she spied a young man waiting next to an open rear door of a familiar dark blue Mercedes sedan. Grabbing her bag containing her clothes and briefcase, she slowly walked over to the idling car. The young crewman saluted and closed the door for her after she climbed in. Once she was settled, he stowed her gear in the trunk, got in the driver’s seat and they proceeded to leave the airfield.

No words were spoken between the passenger and the driver of the vehicle. The destination had been prearranged by its owner. She wondered why he had not been there to meet her, reasoning that maybe he really didn’t want to see her. She did not ask the young man, figuring that he was only following his employer’s orders. Time seemed to pass slowly as they wound their way from the base to Santa Barbara. Proceeding northward on a solitary winding road outside of town, the big car took a detour onto a simple dirt road that lead ultimately to a deserted stretch of beach near the Nelson Institute of Marine Research. She instantly recognized the area although she had been here only once before. Directing the driver to stop, she got out and looked down the deserted beach to a large array of rocks jutting out into the ocean. Standing atop one of them, with his back to her, was a man wearing a dress blue Navy uniform with yards of gold braid banded around the sleeves.

Following the narrow path down, her heart quickened and pounded with each succeeding step. Once at the base of the path, she hastened her pace across the beach toward the man standing there. He had promised her that he would bring her back here one day, she remembered with glee. As she neared the rocks, he turned around to face her and jumped down off the boulder. Taking the last three or four steps to meet her, he took her into his arms and kissed her tenderly, deeply, and without reservation, dispelling all her fears.

"I’ve come home," Karen whispered to him as she looked deep into his blue eyes as the tears fell freely from her own.

"I know," Harriman Nelson replied softly as he held her tightly to his chest. And silently, he thanked God for bringing her back to him, and made a vow that if at all possible, he would make sure she would never be hurt again.

 

©1998

 The End

                          

FEEDBACK STORY PAGE
   
HOME

  Hit Counter

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”® and its characters, indicia and designs are trademarks of Irwin Allen Properties, LLC.  © Irwin Allen Properties, LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.  All rights reserved.

Website design and original content, i.e. original fiction, characters and all biographies, are the property of Daffron and Delaney, LLC, except for the rights reserved for Synthesis/IAPLLC regarding its trademarked and copyrighted material.