A Time to Love, a Time to Die...

By

Linda A. Delaney

 

Cathy Connors Crane bounced down the street to the little house she shared with her new husband…Not really new... she been married to Lee Crane for six months now, six glorious months. She held the best news in the world in her hand at this moment and she couldn't wait to share it with Lee. Of course, now that he was on the first cruise since their marriage, she'd have to send the word to him from the Institute tomorrow. Being Harriman Nelson's executive assistant had its advantages.

A conference was taking place in Admiral Nelson's quarters aboard SSRN Seaview. Sitting on the edge of the Admiral's Desk, her Skipper, Lee Crane finished reading the orders from ONI. He fairly slammed it down on the O.O.M.'s blotter.(In the Navy, the Skipper of the ship is known as the Old Man, or O.M. so that on Seaview, Nelson became the Old Old Man, or O.O.M.) His Exec, Chip Morton, also looked at the Admiral in askance.…

"Why now, Sir?"

"Simple, Lee. We've reached a critical point with the research on cold fusion. If the information falls into the wrong hands, well, I don't have to tell you what a world wide disaster that could be."

"So we take this party of scientists, one or more of whom are traitors, to a Restricted area, where there is a Restricted project going on and wait for them to play their hand...?"

"That's right. And since ONI believes that it is one or more of the scientists that we have on board, it's our good fortune to follow their plans. We must not allow any one of them to be suspicious of our knowledge. We have to let the traitors expose themselves..."

"And our passengers movements..?"

"Unrestricted...after all, they have top security clearance. We just have to keep an extra critical eye on them. Chip, I want you to choose only the top crewmen, inform them that their additional duties will be covert observation of our guests."

"My discretion, sir?"

"Yes, but I have a feeling that I already know who's on the detail."

Morton gave the Admiral a half smile in acknowledgement," Kowalski, Patterson, Rodriguez, and Riley."

"Approved. Get on it immediately. Top Security in all communications regarding this."

" Aye, sir".

Morton left the room and Crane sat down at the desk. He absentmindedly twisted the new wedding ring on his ring finger. It had replaced the signet ring he had worn for years, and would twist when he was thinking or under stress.

"Looks like we're in for the long haul on this one, Lee. Everything okay on the home front, with your first cruise since the wedding?"

" Last the I heard from Cathy, all was A-okay," he smiled, "she said that it wouldn't be much different than before we were married.…" His face darkened a bit, and he looked a lot more serious.…"But, sir, it's not the same, the only time I've ever felt this sense of commitment is to the Seaview and her crew, sir, and it's a little strange getting used to it," he half laughed. "Cathy says that Seaview is the only serious rival that she's ever had...and that at least she knows where her rival for my affections is all the time. If she was other than a Navy 'brat' herself, she'd be wild with jealousy of the fact that I spend more with her rival than I do with her!” Lee laughed heartily, and Crane seemed to relax quite a bit. At the same time the mood became more serious, and Nelson looked at his Captain.

"Lee, I can't begin to tell you how important this mission is. But if.…"

"Admiral, Cathy and I knew the risks of the job here long before we were married. Nothing has changed. I'm still Seaview's skipper, and she and her missions come first. Cathy knows that and accepts it. It just makes some decisions a little more difficult at times. " His mood became intense. " Just promise me, sir, that if something should happen... well, that you'd see that Cathy was well taken care of . She's a very special girl, you know."

Nelson nodded and replied, " Of course! She's the best thing that ever happened to you or the Institute! Jiggs always said she was the onshore 'keeper of the flame' for the Institute whenever we were at sea!" Then, in a more somber tone he continued, “Don’t worry about her, Lee. She'll be fine, and this cruise will come off without a hitch, you'll see."

"I wish I could believe that sir, but it seems like we've said that many times before!"

 

***


Cathy came out of the N.I.M.R. Radio Room. Before the cruise, she and Lee had setup their own code, in order to keep their private messages private, and they could send them without fear of prying eyes. She was humming a little tune to her self as she went to her office.

Angie, the Admiral's secretary looked and smiled, “Well?"

"Yes, positive...Baby's due in about six and a half months."

Angie squealed, jumped up and squeezed her hard. “That’s super, Cathy! I'll bet Lee busts all of his buttons when he hears the news."

Cathy looked a little downcast. “Wish I could see his face at that moment, but no videophone communications on this cruise; any news from the Admiral?"

"Just a message from the O.O.M. confirming the orders."

"Orders from ONI...!"

Angie replied hesitantly, "Yes...but you..."

"Yes, I do know - It's just that when ONI is involved it’s always such a risk to Lee…I was sort of hoping that maybe this time, just once…” Her voice trailed off.

Angie put her arm around the other women's shoulder, "Relax, honey, not every mission is risky, and once Lee gets the news, he'll be careful.…"

 

***

 

Sparks tapped on Crane's cabin door.

"Skipper, I have a message for you from the Institute - your private code."

"Come, Sparks,"

Crane was sitting at his desk going over charts.

"I didn't want this to go over the 'comm', sir."

"Thanks, Sparks, I appreciate your discretion."

"Aye, sir ; if you have a response, sir, I'll send it out ASAP."

Sparks turned on his heel and left. Crane opened the top desk drawer and took out his copy of his code book. He and Cathy had each made one before he left Santa Barbara. He carefully decoded it and then read it, not once, but twice.…

My Darling Lee, I’ve just received the best news and I wish I could be there to see your face when you read this. We were right -Daddy!! Your son, and I know this is a son - is due in about six and a half months! I can't tell you how excited and scared that I am right now, and how much I love you. Lee...part of me is so sorry that we waited this long to marry and start a family and part of me feels that this is just the right time for us...We are ready for this Lee, and I know that the time will fly by until you are home with me again. I can't wait !!!

With all my Love,
Cathy

Lee leaned back in his chair, and ran his fingers through his hair - he was in shock. They'd teased each other about the possibility of a pregnancy, but neither of them believed that it could happen so soon. He smiled to himself. Then again, why not? They'd certainly tried to make up for lost time together in the six months since the wedding .

Nelson had offered him shore duty on a permanent basis, but they all knew that Crane was no pencil pusher. He was a man of action, and Cathy also knew that the sea and Seaview was Crane's other love. They'd taken advantage of Nelson's offer of a six month shore leave (something about accumulated time) and by the end of the six months Crane was itching to get back to 'his ship', and Cathy knew that they had to get back to some kind of routine. He had regretted the end of their Idyll, but knew reality called.

The note he held in his hand confirmed what they both had hoped for. What an unbelievably lucky guy he was; the greatest job in the world, the most beautiful ship, the most wonderful wife, and now they were going to have a baby!!! And what lousy timing!!!

Well, Lee, your timing never was the best!! He reached over to the intercom.

"Mr. Morton, this is the Captain...would you please report to my cabin, ASAP?"

"Aye, aye, sir," came the crisp reply.

Crane was writing furiously, when Morton knocked."

"Skipper, it's Morton."

"Come, Chip."

"Morton came into the cabin.

"Yes, Lee ?"

"Sit down, Chip, we need to talk."

"Chip's crisp blue eyes were puzzled. "Something wrong, Lee?"

Answering the question, Crane handed him the decoded note from Cathy, and a smile began to spread across the Exec's face. He jumped up and was clapping his best friend on the shoulder while pumping his right hand.

"This is great news, Lee! Just Great!!! Congratulations!!!" Chip laughed good-naturedly and a bemused twinkle shown in his eyes.

"How'd you like to be a Godfather, Chip?'

Morton sat down with a 'humph’. “I don't know what to say ... the Admiral..."

"Just say yes, Chip. The Admiral, well, let's just say he's more the grandfather type than godfather.

"Sure, Lee… I'd be honored. But what about Cathy, shouldn't she.…"

"Cathy and I agreed long ago, that I pick the guys for an event and she picks the girls. Angie's name comes up a lot.

Morton had the good grace to blush at the mention of the Admiral’s secretary, his somewhat steady girl of late. Crane became more serious.

"Chip, I don't want anyone else to know about the baby as yet … not even the Admiral. If he were to find out, let's just say that it could affect his judgment about the mission. We can't let that happen!"

"Sure, Lee, don't worry, I won't tell him. We're sure to come through this one okay, and the O.O.M. can always use more good news at the end of a mission."

Crane continued, "Chip, I've never been more serious about anything in my life. . Cathy and this baby have become the most important people in my life... I can't begin to tell you all the changes she's made in my life ... most of them are important only to me...but she makes me feel like a complete person, a feeling that I've been lacking for a long time. I've written her and the baby a letter, just in case this mission doesn't succeed …..

I've been feeling uneasy about it since the Admiral told us about it ...I want you to take it to them, if something happens to me ... and stay with her until she's ok. She's strong and brave, and she'll be alright if…."

"Jeez, Lee… you're talking like you've been dead and buried . We've had too many of these missions to count and you've always come through okay.

Crane grabbed Morton's arm, "But I've never had so much to loose before, Chip, NEVER!"

"And you're not going to, Lee, I promise you that!!"

At that moment, Nelson's voice came over the intercom, "Captain Crane, Mr. Morton, please report to the Control Room."

Lee grabbed for the speaker on the desk. “On our way, Admiral." Lee looked at Morton - "Remember- not one word!"

 

***

 

As Lee passed by the Radio Shack, Crane handed Sparks a sheet of paper - "Send this to this to the Institute when you can, Sparks."

"Aye, Skipper."

Crane went forward to the nose, where Morton had joined Nelson and five civilians.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the O.O.M. began ..."Captain Crane, and Mr. Morton - gentlemen, - Doctors Rose and James Atler, Mr. James Wang, Mr. Arthur Edwards, Miss Darcy Davis. My officers and crew will be happy to assist you in any way possible. Hopefully, you've settled into your cabins and are ready to begin our work together. We reach the Arctic waters in three days, and from the landing point, it's a three hour trip to the research station. The site was chosen for its isolation because of the sensitivity of the work... Course and speed, Captain...?"

Morton handed Crane the latest computer printout.

"070 degrees, sir, all ahead one-third"

"Thanks, Lee...Any questions, people? No? Good - We'll meet at 0730 hours in the lab...there's lots of work to do… Captain, Mr. Morton may I see you here?"

The civilians left the observation nose; Nelson gestured to the seats at the table.

"Sit down, Lee, Chip - Here's our plan of action - -We will reach our destination in 72 hours. We will set up a base station on Seaview, and send out two teams reach the research station. Lee, your team will be the Doctors Atler, and Mr. Edwards; Chip you will take Mr. Wang and Ms Davis. You will rendezvous in three hours at the research station, contact the Seaview from there. You should be aware that there is a front moving through the area, but we should not be affected by it. We'll fine tune our plans as during the cruise. Any questions or comments?"

Morton looked over at Crane, who indicated the most subtle NO!

Nelson watched the interplay between the two…"Lee, is there a problem?

"No sir, none at all. Crane rose and Morton followed, going to the Chart table and picking up the log book. Nelson watched the two officers as they worked together. Crane was the son he never had, Morton, his best friend. The two worked like a well - oiled machine. Always one-two through school, the Academy, and in their commands. Crane was always first, and Morton always right behind him; their friendship growing stronger through the years. There was no question in his mind that the two men were comfortable with the arrangement. When Seaview was being built, he knew from the start that he wanted the two of them to run his ship. They had proved his instincts correct time and time again. Each mind seemed to know what the other was thinking, they could communicate by a look or gesture exactly what they wanted the other to know. He depended on that finely tuned communication, and he could read it very well. So when that look passed between that, just now, he knew that they were not being completely open with him. He'd find out. One of them would slip. All he had to do was wait.

 

***

 

With the door of her office closed behind her, Cathy Crane took her code book from the desk drawer and decoded her message from Lee.

My Dear Cats,

What can I say... What great news!... I can't believe our good luck!!! So I'm to be a Daddy and you a Mommy!!! Sounds FANTASTIC!!! Cathy ,you are such a brave girl to take on this Submarine kipper for a husband. You're going to be alone a lot with our baby - our Baby - sounds so great!!! know that you'll be a great Mom.

I Love You Cats
Always,
Lee

A single tear slid down her cheek - she longed to have his strong arms around her right now - longed for his gentle touch, longed to look into his wonderful dark eyes and see them twinkle in delight with the news. She wanted to wait to let him know, but she knew that she'd had to let him know right away. She missed him like she never missed him before. It really hurt to be apart at this time with this good news, and not be able to touch, to hold, to feel…. Lee...please, for all of our sakes, take care.…

 

***

 

Three days of the Seaview cruise sped quickly by. The Officers and crew moved smoothly and efficiently through their shipboard duties, the scientists moved about their laboratory routines with a calm, if cold clarity. If Crane was a little, or Morton a bit on edge, no one noticed it or mentioned it. Nelson seemed to be the only one to see the slight, out of sync of the two officers .Even the eagle-eyed Chief didn't pick up on it even when questioned by Nelson.

"Sir? Something up with the Skipper or the Exec...Naw, nothin's wrong...could be sure I'd have heard any scuttlebutt.... sir."

Nelson laughed aloud and clapped the Chief on the shoulder, "I know, Francis, I know, that's why I asked you!!!"

Nelson lowered his voice so only Sharkey could hear him, "but if you hear anything, anything at all Let me know on the double."

"Oh, Aye, aye, sir!"

 

***

 

The control Room was humming with activity. Seaview had reached her destination and was preparing to surface.

"Skipper, there's a large hole in the icepack dead ahead, sir. Distance from our present position...15 km...Seaview can fit through it easy, sir."

"Good work, Ski …Mr. Morton, ahead dead slow…when we reach the site, full up bubble on all planes, and take her up! Have a crew ready to put out the temporary dock. Chief, get ready to off load two Snowcats and appropriate equipment. See that the two scientific parties have all that they need . Patterson, be sure all the electronics are operational. Riley, see that all the parties have the necessary cold weather gear."

Nelson's voice came over the intercom, "Captain Crane, Mr. Morton - to my cabin, now, please."

With a gruff "Aye, sir", Crane slammed down the mike and barked at Morton, "Chip, bring her up and then report to the Admiral."

"Aye, Skipper."

"Talk about timing," Crane stormed out of the Control Room. Sharkey looked at the Exec.

"Don't ask, Chief, just don't ask!"

 

***

 

Crane tapped at Nelson's door and was surprised to see the Doc standing next to Nelson's desk and was slightly alarmed.

"Sir?"

"Relax, Lee, it's okay, Doc is here to help us a bit with our mission, Chip?"

"Finishing our docking, sir. He'll be here as soon as we're safely settled through the ice."

"Good, Doc, why don't you tell Lee what we have in mind for him and Morton?"

"Aye, Admiral ."

Lee noticed a small, covered medical tray on the Admiral's desk.

"Skipper, in a couple of discussions with the Admiral about the mission, we came up with this little gadget, for a just in case scenario. He pulled the cover off the tray - 2 boxes, looking like small transistor radios lay on the tray, along with 2 almost microscopic chips. Doc picked up one with a tweezer, "Biological transponders, set to specific radio band, and feeding back to these," Doc indicated the radios, "Data regarding the subjects' condition. We can place them under the skin, they aren't visible to the naked eye, and send out a signal up to a 30 km radius. One for you and one for the Exec."

Crane looked at Nelson with a questioning look.

"I told Doc how concerned about the conditions here and the ability to maintain constant radio contact with you. He came up with this."

"How does this get installed?"

Doc held up a hypodermic device, “Easily done, Skipper, into the hip, a pinch, and we're set to go.

Morton knocked on the door.

"Come, Chip."

"We've surfaced, Skipper…Settled in and crews are at work topside to get us settled."

"Good job, Chip; Doc, let's get this over with."

Doc Jamison moved over to the tray and fussed a little with the contents; "Skipper, this way please... here we go, sir... "

With a grunt from Crane, the doctor then fidgeted with the radio. "Admiral, here's the monitor, the frequencies can also be picked up by the receiver in the radio shack. Mr. Morton?"

"What does it monitor?"

"Heart rate, respiration's, pulse…the basics. And here, this is a locator...this will tell us where they are. We'll have your locations at all times."

"And know how we are doing."

" Right Lee, and if necessary, we can take an offensive action. ONI feels that our suspects will reveal themselves, here and now…Your final orders are simple, get them to expose themselves, and then get them back here for ONI to deal with."

"Aye, aye, sir...Any timeframe on this?"

"Yes, Lee, roughly 24 hours from departure of the two scientific groups, they should return. Once at the lab, readings need to be made of the equipment, it has to be checked out, and recalibrated. Allowing for a rest period, barring any major surprises, Seaview should be able to return to base at 1800 hours, tomorrow."

"Admiral, just a personal request, sir. I told Chip…I left a letter for Cathy on my desk, and asked him to get it to her personally, if anything should happen to me. I’d like you to allow him to do that sir, if at all possible."

"Of course, Lee, but I don't think is necessary."

"Well, sir, I do. I want to cover all the bases. For a lot of reasons…and now, sir, if you'll excuse me," Lee rose and went to the door, “Chip, we'll meet topside in 45 minutes." Crane closed the door and left. Morton also rose, only to be stopped by the Admiral.

"Chip, what's up with Lee? He seems a little preoccupied these last few days. I can't seem to read him."

"Well, sir, I guess you could says he's a little…distracted," Chip laughed half -heartedly. "He's. ..well...he's never been married before and you know how Lee is, everything he does he takes it very seriously. He doesn't take these things as cavalierly as he did as a bachelor, you know.…"

"Nelson had the feeling that Chip was holding some information form him...and the exec didn't want to share any more at this time.

"Okay, Chip, see you topside."

 

***

 

Crane sat at his desk. On his blotter lay two envelopes, one addressed to Nelson, the other to Cathy. He was staring a Cathy's picture, taken on their wedding day. She was so beautiful!! He was so damn lucky!!! But he knew that his streak was about to break…felt it in his gut…he could only hope that he wouldn't leave his bride a widow, and a single mother. That wouldn't be fair to her, or to the baby. The baby. In six months, he would be a father. What an incredible high, and what a completely frightening experience…a father! Lee hoped that he would do it right, not that he didn't have a great role model to follow in Nelson. Too bad that the O.O.M. hadn't had kids of his own. Maybe that was why he was so close to him. Many times he felt that the regard from Nelson was more that of a proud father, than as his commanding officer. Crane could easily say that the level of regard he had for Nelson was closer to that of a father...funny he never analyzed it that way before...but looking back on these last years... he'd have to let Nelson know how he felt, after the mission. Chip was gonna make a fine Godfather, and the Admiral, well he'd be good at his role too. Lee looked down at the wedding ring on his left hand and decided to take it off and leave it for Cathy, just in case. He placed it on top of her letter, took a long deep look at her photo, and left the cabin.

 

***

 

On deck, Nelson showed Crane a weather report from CINCPAC weather satellite. As Crane scanned it, the Admiral said, "Looks like we're in for some heavy weather in 24 hours or less, Lee. That front will be bringing in blizzard conditions faster that we expected."

"Then we had better get moving now, sir. We can cut down the time at the lab, and move more quickly, sir. Chip let's get this show on the road! Radio contact every hour, sir...time out...1350 hours, first check in 1450."

"Very good, Lee...good luck, and be careful!"

Crane gave Nelson a smile that was an attempt at nonchalance, and leapt onto the snow pack, gave a brisk salute and he and Morton were off to the station.

 

***

 

Nelson watched the cats roar out into the gray and white wasteland, and when he could see them no more, he climbed back into the boat. Sharkey was waiting for him at the base of the ladder; he took the Admiral's coat, and stood, awaiting orders. They came soon enough.

"Chief, have the deck watch stand down. Use the sail cameras fore and aft to monitor outside activity. And have Doc come down to my quarters when you go by Sick-Bay."

Nelson moved past the Radio Shack, "Sparks, keep the high frequency band locked onto the Captain's and Mr. Morton's signals. Any changes, relay the information to Doc in Sick Bay. Set the radio to relay Morton and Crane's hourly reports to my cabin, any further information, call me ASAP!"

"Aye, sir."

Jamison sat across from the Admiral in his quarters.

"Doc, have you noticed anything out of the ordinary in the Captain since the mission began?"

"Jamie smiled, "My very frequent, and I might add my worst patient? No sir, not particularly. No more stress than one would find on a newlywed away form his bride for the first time."

"You really think that that's all that it is, Doc?"

"Yes, sir, I do. The Skipper is a very passionate and intense man. He takes all of his commitments to heart. Look how he cares for this ship and her crewmen all my years of service, I've never seen the level of dedication that Lee has. And the men love and respect him for it.... Would you expect any less of that type of commitment to his wife and marriage? I don't think so. So if he seems a little stressed and distracted, well, sir, that's Lee."

"You're sure that that's all it is Doc?"

"As sure as any one can be about Lee Crane."

"Transponders working well? "

"Aye, sir."

"Good, thanks, Doc."

Just then a voice came over the com, "Admiral Nelson?"

"Yes, Sparks?"

"Mr. Morton, sir, on the low frequency band sir."

"Pipe him through," concern registered on Nelson's face.

"Admiral, Morton here, sir...Our snow cat's broken down. We've no power at all sir. No heat in the cab, and the batteries are very weak. I just don't understand sir...it all checked out ship shape when it was off loaded..."

"And Lee...?"

Morton's voice seemed to falter a little, "We've…lost contact, sir. His snowcat just kept on going when we broke down, sir, we lost sight of them from here sir...bottom line, Admiral, we need help ASAP."

"Okay, Chip, hang on, a Rescue Party is on the way. Do what you have to keep those scientists and yourself safe."

"Chief Sharkey," Nelson continued, "report to my cabin immediately. Mr. O'Brien, assemble a rescue party, Sparks triangulate the transponder information to locate both the Skipper and the Exec. Give the coordinates for Mr. Morton to Mr. O'Brien. I want that rescue party to Morton within the hour!! Doc."

"Monitor readings were within normal parameters, sir. As you were talking there were some changes in the Skipper's...it indicates that he's lost consciousness."

"Lost consciousness...?"

"Yes, sir, a sudden spike in the heart rate, and resps and then, a drop to a lower rate, slow and steady."

"I've a real bad feeling about this, Doc, Morton's party has the first priority. ONI wants to confirm that the party with Lee are the traitors!"

"At Lee's expense...?"

"If need be, Doc, if need be"

 

***

 

In Santa Barbara, Cathy Crane sat bolt upright in her bed, "LEE...!" She shook her head to clear it, but the feeling didn't go away. Something's wrong with Lee...!!! How could she find out ...? The Institute radio...!!! She reached for the phone at the bedside and dialed up the Institute. A crisp voice answered at the other end.

"Nelson Institute of Marine Research...may I help you?"

"Cathy Crane, here...Connect me to the Radio Room, please...code alpha alpha beta one."

"Code alpha alpha beta one, confirmed Mrs. Crane...connecting.”

"Radio Room, Sanchez."

"Sanchez, Cathy Crane here... I need to contact Seaview. When is the next message packet being forwarded?"

"At 0600 hours, ma'am."

"I'd like to attach a message to it, Sanchez, can you take this down, please?"

"Aye, aye, Ma'am, go ahead."

She thought for a moment..."Admiral, need to talk to you ASAP, regarding Lee...Cathy. Mark it URGENT and Personal, and request immediate attention, got that all?"

"Yes, Ma'am.  Is there anything else, Ma'am?"

"No, Sanchez, That'll be all. Please, contact me immediately with a response...at this number, or, after 0900 at my office at the Institute...Good Night, Sanchez."

She hung up the phone...and sat there hugging her knees... Oh, Lee, please be all right, PLEASE!!

 

***

 

Nelson paced the Observation Nose. He was chain smoking, nervously. Sharkey stood to one side watching the O.O.M., concerned for the older man…Oh boy the Skipper and Exec are really up to their necks in this one...Mr. Morton'll be okay, but the Skipper...Aw, he's gotten out of so many scrapes, like a cat, with nine lives... I just don't want to around when he uses up the last one...The Admiral, there's no telling how he'd take that... Not the Skipper…Naw….

O'Brien handed the Admiral a note. Nelson read it and crumpled it up.

"Chief, have Doc ready Sick Bay for three patients. Morton's party is coming in in 10 minutes...some mild frostbite and exposure according to the corpsman. Mr. Morton's got some minor burns on his hands...seems he found the problem with the cat...a booby trap!"

"But sir, that can't be. I was with Kowalski when he checked it all out! There was nothing to be found, sir nothing, I'd stake my life on it!"

"Calm down, Chief...as good as Kowalski is, he wouldn't have been able to find this one. Morton found a computer chip under the steering wheel on the cat hidden at the base, direct wired to the battery system to short it out at a distance out. He tried to remove it and got himself some electrical burns on the hands. Seems the batteries weren't completely dead!!!"

Sharkey shook his head in surprise, and muttered, “Why.…"

At that moment, the comm crackled, "Admiral, the rescue party is boarding, sir."

"Thanks, Sparks."

 

***

 

Nelson moved to the Control Room and waited at the base of the ladder from above...Patterson came down first, followed by the two scientists, who were immediately assisted by waiting corpsman to the Sick Bay. Kowalski came down the ladder, nodded at Nelson and Sharkey and waited for the next person down.

"Easy, Mr. Morton, sir..."

Morton slowly came down the ladder, using elbows and arms to guide his way down, rather than bandaged hands. He nearly fell as he reached bottom and several dozen pairs of hand reached out to steady him. Nelson was first to his side. Chip managed to push back the hood of the parka.

"Admiral, I'm sorry, sir... I tried to ..."

Nelson put a hand on Morton's shoulder.

"Easy, Chip...we'll talk after Doc's given you the once over, and checked out those hands."

Morton gave him a rueful grin, “Just plain stupid, sir."

"Belay that, Commander. Standing orders from the Captain are that all crew members returning from a mission report to Sick Bay, first! Kowalski, assist Mr. Morton to Sick Bay, and inform Doc to call me as soon as he can give me a report!"

The two left the Control Room and Sharkey barked, "Alright you men, back to your stations...we have a ship to run here!!!"

Nelson went into the Radio Shack. “Sparks, any new information on the Captain."

"No, sir, I've pinpointed his last location, but that's about all I.... Admiral, just a minute, sir...I...I've lost the Skipper's signal!!"

"What??!!"

"His signal, sir, it's just not there anymore!!!"

"What do you mean, not there?"

"That's it, sir, not there!! It reads like it's been shut off."

"Could he be...dead??!!"

"No, sir...It's just ...disappeared!!"

"Jammed?!!"

"More like he's been cut off from transmission, sir."

"A dead zone. Something, or someone blocking outgoing transmission?"

"Aye, sir."

"Very well. Sparks, keep me posted if there is any change."

Nelson stormed out of the Control Room.

 

***

 

Nelson came to a halt outside the Sick Bay. Taking a deep breath, he knocked and entered. Corpsmen bustled about two patients in the center of the room, while Doc bent over a gurney in the alcove...Jamison looked up…

"Come, Admiral, I've just about finished up with Mr. Morton,” placing a strong hand on the Exec's shoulder, "and no, sir, you may not get up. I think all the officers on this boat have gone to the Lee Crane school of how to be bad patient!!! Admiral, please back me up!!!"

"Doc's right, Chip, take it easy. We can talk later; Mr. Morton's status, Doc?"

"Second and third degree burns on both hands...serves him right for trying to play electrician," he joked half heartedly, knowing the both men had much on their minds.

Morton, however, remained serious. "Doc, you don't understand…"

"No, sir, I don't think you do...either lie back and relax, or I'll be forced to sedate you for 24 hours!"

The exec settled back onto the pillow, looking pale and drawn. Both hands were bandaged, and an I.V. hung next to he gurney slowly dripping into his arm.

"Admiral, can I speak to you, privately, sir?"

Nelson pulled he curtain to close off the alcove.

"I'll be out here if you need me, sir," Doc said.

Nelson pulled up a stool next to the gurney, "Yes, Chip...?"

"Sir, about Lee…do we know where he is; what's going on...?"

"We have an approximate location, that's all. The transponder isn't sending at this time."

Morton rose up on an elbow, "We've lost contact!! No!!"

Nelson eased him back down on the bed, "Easy, lad, easy...Lee's been in worse scrapes before, you know that."

"But, Admiral it's not just Lee, now...it's Cathy, and..."

"And what, Chip?"

"I promised Lee I wouldn't tell you, sir, but...you have to know...Cathy's...pregnant, sir. She's due to have their baby in six months from now. Lee didn't want you to know 'til the mission was over. He didn't want you to worry, sir."

Nelson closed his eyes, exhausted by the revelation, deeply depressed by the course of events. Nelson put a hand on Morton's shoulder, "Rest, Chip, we'll get Lee back, I promise.… You...Cathy...and the baby.…"

Nelson went through the curtain, and realized that Doc was waiting for him.

"You heard?"

"Yes, sir. I admit, I was eavesdropping. As a Medical professional, you understand?"

A ghost of a smile passed over Nelson's face, “Sure, Doc.…What's the prognosis on my Exec?"

"He'll be up and around by tomorrow; a light case of exposure, and of course, the burns. He won't be doing much paperwork for a few weeks...seems we have a greater problem, on our hands, however."

"Nelson ran his hand through his hair, "Yeah, Doc, I know. We’ve got to find him...."

 

***

 

Crane fought his way to consciousness. It was a difficult struggle, and he was so tired of struggling through the haze. He thought of Cathy, of her smiling face, of the look in her eyes when she said she loved him. He had to get back to her, and the baby.

He snapped awake. His head was pounding...it felt like jackhammers...and his arms ached and pulled. He smelled a fragrance, a heavy musky fragrance; it was almost enough to make him give up the contents of his stomach. He opened his eyes, and he found himself hanging from a pipe, in a fairly well lit room. He tried to move and felt his wrists pull against metal, handcuffs, he thought.

A silky, feminine voice said, “Welcome back, Captain, we’ve been waiting for you to rejoin us. I hope that you don't mind these accommodations...they are a bit primitive, but we have to make do."

He tried to focus on her face, and assess his situation; he also realized that his shirt was gone, and he was bare-chested. She had moved in front of him and was looking directly into his face. He tried to speak, but his throat was dry and no sound came out. He tried to clear it and speak again, and a hoarse rasp came out..."What...do you want...?"

She ran a sharp nail across his chest, hard, and drew blood, then took his chin in her hand, "Just some information, Lee...a little bit of information, and then you can go home to your lovely bride, and your little house, and your boat and your crew...Just a bit of information."

"I don't think so," he replied with as much strength as he could, “I don't think so at all!!"

"Who would know, Captain? Just you and I.…"

"That's the point, I would know."

"A pity, Captain, a pity...well, perhaps I can persuade you to change your mind. I've been told I'm very good at persuasion!"

He tried to anticipate what kind of torture would begin as she stepped away...he heard two swift, sharp cracks. A whip! He tried to steel himself for the blow he knew would follow...he heard the crack and felt the blow...it drove the breath from his lungs.

"Oh, God!" he murmured under his breath.

"Do you have something to tell us, Captain?"

Another blow sent his senses reeling, “Yes," he said softly, through gritted teeth, "Go to hell!!!"

He heard a long, throaty laugh, and then the voice said, "Perhaps, Captain…perhaps."

Her laughter was joined by two male voices. With each blow the skin on his back was being torn open... piece by piece... the blinding, hot pain...he heard the crack again and again and the blows continued strike him. He tried not to cry out; to give into the incredible agony being inflicted upon him, but finally, his reserve gave out and the last sound he heard was his voice calling out Cathy's name…

 

***

 

Nelson stared at the message in his hand...Cathy wanted to know about Lee...would he be able to tell her that Lee might not be returning to her and the baby she now carried...Damn, he loved them like they were his own family. Lee, was the son he'd never had, and Cathy, the daughter…No one could have been prouder when they married, and, he'd given her away like any proud father. Yes, the two of them were very special to him. How was he going to pull this together...??!!!

There was a knock on Nelson's door.

"Come."

"Admiral?"

"Come in, Chip, sit down...how are you feeling?"

The Exec entered, still in Sick Bay issue robe and pajamas, "Still feeling pretty foolish about this,” he held up the bandaged hands, “but I'm managing with Doc's help… Sir, what are we going to do?"

"Until we can get further data, and this storm lets up, we sit and wait...and I have to figure how to answer this,” Nelson held up Cathy's message.

Chip looked the O.O.M. straight in the eye - "With the truth, Admiral...that's the way Lee would handle it and I think we should too, the question is, can Cathy handle it right now, alone in Santa Barbara."

"Angie..?"

"Yes, sir, we can talk to her first, and she can be with Cathy when you call her."

"I'd say let's call her now...however I have concerns that these people are monitoring any transmissions, so, I have a plan," Nelson reached for the intercom on the desk, "Mr. O'Brien, make preparations to get us underway."

"Sir... the Skipper...?"

"Get us underway, Mr. O'Brien! Leave a radio buoy on the surface, take her down to 90 feet and hold her there! Do I make myself clear?""

"Aye, sir!" came the crisp, if humbled reply.

Nelson turned to the Exec, “If they think that we've left, their guard may drop."

"And leave us the opening we need to get to Lee."

"Right! When will Doc let you resume duties, I need you on the bridge, Chip."

"Just as soon as I can get into uniform!” Chip left the room, and Nelson turned to the papers on his desk…

 

***

 

Crane became aware of pain! It engulfed him, smothered him and yet it drove him to awareness. Nothing he had ever been through before had prepared him for this! Between the waves of nausea and the blinding, red-hot pain in his back, he tried to focus on where he was. He wasn't hanging by his wrists any longer...he seemed to be lying down...still unable to move, as if he were securely bound. His throat was raw, and the part of his brain that was analyzing his situation realized it was from his crying out...'Cathy'...he'd called out for her, before he lost consciousness. ‘Cathy.'

He hoped that she'd be okay, that the Admiral would take care of her...'Cathy'.... A sharp blow to the face brought him to a full and terrible awareness...he could not escape the almost mind-numbing agony that was his back.

"Wake up, Captain, we need to talk some more. I do need that information you hold. I need the codes for the research station, Captain. We need that technology, and the fuel that is there. Without your help, we shall have to simply destroy it, and that would be a waste for all of us.... Come, Captain Crane, give us what we need from you."

Crane's mind flashed a thousand retorts, but he couldn't waste the energy…A simple answer would earn the same punishment as a smart one...he simply said "No!!"

A rifle butt slammed into his side, he felt a snap as a rib cracked, and his stomach, empty though it was, rebelled again, against the new abuse. A red fog began to engulf him and he would have welcomed it, given into it, but he felt a prick in his arm and the red receded.

Awareness became almost too keen ...he longed for the unconsciousness but now it pulled away, just out of reach…

"There, Captain, I didn't want you to leave us again, not before we were finished...you really don't have to be so brave, you know, they've left you Captain, they're gone...slipped under the ice this morning...left you here alone. All alone... now, why don't you cooperate with us, we can make you so much more comfortable!!!"

Gone.... Seaview’s gone.... The mission...the Admiral, Chip, they'll take care of Cathy…Cathy...I love you Cathy Crane… Seaview ... gone... no... There’s more to the Admiral than they can imagine. You’ve got to hold on, Lee, 'ol boy, you aren't dead... yet!

There was another blow to the side - he coughed and found blood in his mouth - must have punctured a lung, he thought detachedly. Hurry up, Harry, I don't know how long I can last!!

The voice took on a silky, almost soothing tone, the kind of voice you wanted to answer, "Come, Captain, just the codes. Your friends have left you!! They don't care!!! You are alone...just the codes, Captain...you have no reason to hold back."

"There is one reason," he rasped, coughing with the effort, " something you can't understand, " he said softly, "my honor!!"

She slapped his face. He coughed again. A trickle of blood came from the right side of his mouth. In spite of the injection he'd been given, everything was fading; his breathing was becoming more difficult. He tried to focus his mind somewhere else, away from he painful reality he was trapped in. He pulled Cathy's face in front of him, her sweet smile, her gentle voice, his last conscious thought, Cathy!

His captors huddled in discussion; Rose Atler spoke to the two men, "He'll tell us nothing, now! Orders are to destroy the installation if we cannot obtain the information. We can dump Crane there, and when the installation blows, he'll die with it!!!Get us transport!!!"

 

***

 

Seaview lay beneath the surface, her crew kept her at the ready. Their beloved Skipper, who had often risked his own life for them, was in enemy hands, and each one, to the man, wanted to help in a rescue and escape. They served their duty watches in the Control Room quietly, treading carefully when Nelson, and Morton were there, as the senior officers took turns haunting the Radio Shack, harrying poor Sparks for any signal at all. On the surface, a blizzard raged, the radio buoy invisible in the blinding white.

Aboard, other storms raged, as tempers flared and each man in his own way strove to keep calm in a tense situation...Sharkey lost his temper with a team that was cleaning the Missile Room for the umpteenth time. Nelson took him aside after witnessing a particularly harsh dressing down of a crewman for a minor infraction.

"Francis, you have to give the men a break!"

"Sir..?"

"We're all on edge, Chief, Give the men a break...they're as edgy as you are!"

"Me, sir...? On edge, sir? Aw, Admiral…Can’t we do something, sir? Just sitting around, waiting, it's getting to me, sir..."

"It's gotten to all of us, Chief, but we have to wait for the weather to break."

 

***

 

"What do you mean, we have to wait for the weather...?"

"I plan to leave this site in 20 minutes...I expect that appropriate transports will be available when we arrive there. We have a job to do there and then we will be on our way. We have a cargo to dispose of at the site. We will leave here soon!!! Get Crane, put him in the truck. Poetic justice, eh. The Captain will die as the installation he tried to protect is destroyed.  Fitting, very fitting."

 

***

 

"Admiral...! The Skipper's transponder, sir...it...it's transmitting again.!!!!"

The crewmen in hearing of the Radio Shack grew quiet, and whispers around the Control Room spread the word that the Skipper had been found. The room became heavy with silence as the men strained to hear the conversation from the Radio Shack.

"Readings, Sparks...!"

"They're coming in, sir, but I have no idea..."

Doc came into he Shack at a dead run...Morton with him…

"What so they say, Doc...?"

"Heart rate, respiration's, pulse, all low, but he is alive!

A small cheer was heard in the background, Nelson looked at Jamison, "Doc, Chip, to my cabin, now!"

The three of them quickly left the Radio Shack, while the word flew around the ship that the Skipper was alive. They entered the Admiral's quarters.

"Okay, Doc, Lee's alive, but...?"

"But we don't know what's happened to him, how badly he's injured, or…if he'll even live...we just don't know!"

"As long as he's alive, there's hope," Nelson slammed on the intercom, "Sparks, do you have a location on the Skipper?"

"Sir, the signal is moving in the direction of the Research installation...figures indicate an ETA at the Installation of 45 minutes."

"Weather conditions...?"

"Sky is overcast...no precip...satellite indications are that the front is moving out...."

Chip looked at Nelson, " FS1 can be ready for operation in an hour sir."

"Cut that time in half, Chip!!"

"Chief, ready the Flying Sub for immediate launch! Ready her for a party of four...the Admiral, Doc, Kowalski, you...The team will assemble in the Nose in thirty minutes."

"Aye, aye, sir," Sharkey fairly shouted into he mike. The officers heard excited chatter in the background, as Nelson called the Radio Shack again, "Sparks, patch me through to the Institute on the Videophone line to my secretary Angie, please."

"Aye, sir," Chip looked at Nelson.

"Just enough information to reassure them at the Institute...There's always the chance that the other side is trying to monitor any signals."

"Admiral, the Institute on the Videophone."

"Patch it through, Sparks."

Nelson leaned over and turned on the monitor as Morton moved behind him.

"Admiral, we've been frantic here, you’ve been on radio silence for almost 50 hours.... We were about to send in the Cavalry."

Her tone darkened... "What's wrong, sir?"

"Is Cathy with you, Angie?"

"No sir, she's down in the Labs, Quarterly Reports are still due, whether you're here or not...and it gives her something to do, sir, you know…she's been beside herself with worry…”

"I am sorry that you had to carry the load there, Angie, all I can tell you now is that we are about to wind down the mission…Tell Cathy, I'll contact the Institute again once we're underway," he looked behind at Morton, "Chip."

"Angie, please, keep a close eye on Cathy...she's going to need your friendship in the next few days... Lee..." Morton faltered, "Lee...would appreciate it."

"Would...? You don't mean...?"

"No Angie, it's just...well...let's just say that...his part of the mission isn't over yet,” Chip brushed his forehead with a bandaged hand.

"You're hurt...!!!"

Chip muttered,"Damn," at his own thoughtlessness. “I’m okay, Angie, just a little accident, no real damage done."

"That doesn't look so fine to me, Chip...what is going on there?"

"We have to sign off, Angie, the Admiral will call back when he can...Seaview out."

 

***

 

Angie took a deep breath and went into Cathy Crane's office to wait for her friend. Poor kid…what a situation, and a baby on the way.

Cathy walked into her office, and stopped short..."Angie...what is it? Lee...the boat..."

"Sit down, Cathy and just listen...I've been on the Videophone with Seaview; Chip and the Admiral. The mission's almost over and they'll be on their way back in 24 hours. Lee...Lee's not back from the mission yet and Chip's been hurt,” she gripped the arm of her chair, “his hands were bandaged, he said it was an accident, that he was okay, but he looked so pale, and.…"

"Oh, Angie, you do care!!"

A slight smile crossed Angie's face, "Guess I do, sorry Cathy…I didn't find out anything else about Lee, all they'd say was that he's still on the mission."

Cathy sat down hard in her chair, "Something's wrong with Lee, Angie...he's been hurt, or worse… I just know it…”

 

***

 

Minutes later, FS1 was ready for launch," Admiral," Sharkey handed Nelson the preflight checklist to sign. Nelson initialed the clipboard and handed it to the Second, O'Brien, standing at the Exec's right.

Nelson strapped on a sidearm, “Okay Chip, weather reports no precip, cloudy skies, winds at 10 knots… FS1 should handle that easily. We'll land as close as we can to the installation and get the Skipper, one way or the other."

 

***

 

Lee hovered in a twilight world of red and black and pain.... and now cold...so very cold...!!! They'd dragged him from where he lay on the floor, and put some kind of a shirt on him. He thought he heard someone say, "Cover him! It makes me ill to look at him." They tossed him into the back of some kind of truck...his senses blurred. I don't know if I can survive this one...I'm so sorry, Cathy...So sorry

He heard voices, " Make sure he is aware when we get there. I want him to know the moment that he dies...to be aware of every second as they tick by…”

"Wait until we get a little closer, ma'am...no sense in giving him a shot if he's dead by the time we get there!!!"

As the vehicle started moving, it only increased his agony...It was so very cold....

 

***

 

The Flying Sub approached the Installation. Sharkey sat in the co-pilot's seat with binoculars to his eyes, "Look there, Admiral, an all- terrain vehicle next to the building, and on the other side, a 'copter, lifting off."

"Seaview, this is Nelson."

"Morton, here."

"Chip get a fix on a helicopter, just taking off."

"Lee's...somewhere on the ground, sir. Sparks reports that the signal hasn't moved for the last ten minutes."

"Lock onto the 'copter, Chip. Surface to air missiles. Fire on my orders."

"Aye, sir."

"Sharkey, let's take her down and see if we can locate the Captain, "Doc, how are the readings?"

"Minimal, sir and getting weaker."

"Admiral..."

"Yes, Chip...?"

"Sparks reports that the sensor feed from FS1 is giving us an overload on the power grids set around the installation. There's a strong indication that there may be a device set to cause the station to explode!"

"Damn! Can Sparks get any more information from the feed?"

"Yes, sir! Indications are that the device is at the northwest quadrant of the building... that the power is building at a rate of 10 to the third power every 5 minutes and that it should reach critical in 15 minutes…”

"Very well, Chip...Lee's location?"

"Same area, sir!"

"Very well, we're landing now...gentlemen, get ready for a hard landing."

The Flying Sub set down roughly 100 meters from the installation.

"Chip, we're down and leaving FS1 to locate Lee. We will also attempt to disarm the device. Target that 'copter, and bring it down." The men in the Flying Sub donned parkas, gloves and climbed out of the hatch. and stepped onto the snowy surface.

"Sir, if we follow the tracks of the ATV, I think we'll find the Skipper. Ski ran ahead of the group, and started waving his hands frantically, "Here, Admiral, Over here...!!!"

They found him ... in a doorway, crumpled in a heap, his bloodied uniform shirt his only protection from the elements. His wrists and ankles were still shackled tightly together.

"Skipper..." Kowalski gently lifted his head, "Skipper...Skipper, please..." he leaned over and tried to listen for a heartbeat. Doc touched the crewman on the shoulder.

"Kowalski...we're here."

Doc set about checking on the Captain, and simply turned to Nelson, "Admiral, let's just get him to FS1...we'll check him out there!"

Lee heard these voices, so different from the others. He was being lifted, every movement jarring his already overloaded senses, but these hands were gentle, they weren't trying to cause any more pain. It was just so cold...so much pain...and it was so hard to breathe. All he wanted was warmth and darkness, but all he could feel was the cold.

Kowalski was dispatched to disarm, if possible, the device that would cause the overload. He had a seven-minute margin. Close to five minutes passed and there was an explosion, but it was not the installation. A fireball spread out in the sky, and flaming debris showered the ice. Nelson watched grimly, loss of any life was a waste, but this was one case that he could justify it!!

Lee Crane had been tortured for information he had obviously not given...Nelson had always known that Crane's sense of duty was strong...but it had to be more than duty to even survive what he'd been through. Duty, Honor, Country...obviously something that Lee lived and maybe, one day, would die by.

Sharkey came into FS1, "Got it Admiral...here it is," and handed Nelson a small box, “Fairly simple sir."

"Very well, strap in and let's get the Skipper home!!!"

As the Flying Sub flew to her mother ship, Doc Jamison gave the Admiral a preliminary assessment. “I don't know where to begin with this, Admiral..."

Heavy shackles that had been confining the Captain rolled across the floor. Sharkey picked them up and woefully shook his head…

"I.…” Jamison's usually strong persona faltered, "there's so much damage, sir. He's been beaten; flogged with a whip, Admiral...20 or 25 stripes. There is extensive tissue damage...his back and shoulders are in bad shape. There's been massive fluid loss. He's in shock, severe shock...his breathing is labored. It reads like a punctured lung; one or two broken ribs, lacerations and swelling of both wrists. One may be broken. Then there's hypothermia, exposure, evidence of a concussion… I don't think he's ever been in as bad of shape as this!!!"

Lee heard them talking.He wanted to tell them that he was grateful, so grateful...he heard them say they were going home...to Seaview...home...Cathy....if he could just stop the pain, if only it was easier to breathe. If he could just tell them…

Seaview stood ready to receive the FS1 and her Skipper. In the Nose, the sailors stood and waited and formed a double cordon. They filed through the Control Room, the hatch and down the companionways to Sick Bay. They were silent, stoic and anxious…

"FS1 docked, Mr. Morton."

"Very well. Mr. O'Brien to the ready…”

The hatch opened and Doc and then Nelson came up the ladder. Jamison went to Sick Bay, looking curiously at the sailors and officers lined up and waiting. Nelson bent down and reached into the hatch, and many hands reached down with him. The Captain was strapped to a stretcher to make moving him a little less painful. He was quickly and gently lifted into the Nose.

The bosun piped him aboard, and the stretcher was passed from man to man down the Control Room, as he was slowly, almost reverently, passed from hand to hand, each man had a positive word for this man who had earned their love and respect, ‘Welcome back, Skipper'...'Hang on, sir’...'Glad to have you back aboard, sir'...'Doc's gonna take good care of you, sir'...'Don't worry, sir'...'You'll be Ok, Skipper' - and so on, all the way to the Sick Bay. The men, when they had passed their precious cargo to the next man, went back to their stations, and resumed their jobs.

O'Brien took the 'Conn and Morton and Nelson followed the stretcher to Sick Bay. Crane was aware that he was being moved again...his senses were flooded with sensations.

Pain was the most dominant...he couldn't make it go away...but through it he was aware of a soft murmuring.... reassuring sounds... many different voices...but strong...reassuring...loving...respectful.

Again...he wanted to thank them...but the pain was so strong, and the effort was too much...the dark warmth was calling him...'Come...come!'

Nelson had a new respect for his crew. Morton spoke, "Admiral, the men requested this, I just couldn't say no to them, sir."

"No need to apologize, Chip, I've never seen such an open display of respect, for anyone…it may be the best medicine Lee could get."

Nelson walked into the Sick Bay and found Jamison and a corpsman working around a gurney in the center of the Medical Suite. Crane lay on his right side, propped up on pillows to protect broken ribs and torn back.

"I don't know, Admiral. We've got I.V.'s running, fluids and plasma, and a line of volunteers if he needs a transfusion. I've started massive antibiotic therapy for the open wounds on the back. He’ll need some tissue reconstruction if…I can't tape the rib just now. I'll do a pneumothorax to reinflate his lung in a few days. With oxygen, he's breathing easier…his body temperature is still very low. I've found evidence of several massive doses of stimulants in his blood, but no drugs or toxins. I haven't given him anything for the pain or any sedation because his system too depressed to take a chance."

"And his chances?"

"Admiral, I'm not a betting man, but if I were to give odds, 20/80. It doesn't look good."

"Should we go for Cathy?” Nelson paused.

Doc said quietly, "I think it would be a very good idea, sir... And now, if you and Mr. Morton would please leave, sir."

The two left the suite, Morton headed to the Control Room, and Nelson turned to Officers' Country. He stopped at Crane's door, and went in. It was dark. He flipped a light switch, and the desk light went on. It glinted on the wedding ring that lay on Crane's letter to Cathy. Nelson saw the letter addressed to him and picked it up; turning it over several times...he stared at it long and hard...and then sat slowly in the desk chair. The envelope was simply addressed Admiral in Crane's crisp, precise handwriting.... He turned it over one more time, and then slowly opened it....

Admiral,
This is a difficult letter for me write, sir. If you're reading this, I can assume that whatever has happened, it's not likely I'll survive
...

Nelson set the letter on the blotter and wiped his eyes to clear his blurry vision, then continued to read…

I just wanted to say thank you, sir for all of the opportunities that you have given to me. 
You have given me an outstanding role model for my life, a fair and caring employer, and most of all, a very good friend. You have been a mentor and a father to me, and I can never thank you enough for all of this... Seaview is a fine boat, one of the best - Navy or non-Navy, and her officers and men, the best in the world.

You and Chip, take good care of them for me, sir. And, if you can, watch over Cathy and the baby, they'll need your guidance and your love, if I'm not there.

Thank you again,
Lee

Harriman Nelson cried...Morton stood outside the Captain's cabin, a bandaged hand to the doorknob. He did not want to retrieve the letter on the desk for Cathy, but he knew he had promised his best friend he would take care of it. He turned the knob and opened the door... and he saw Nelson sitting in Lee's chair. The Admiral looked up at the Exec.

Morton could see his red-rimmed eyes. The O.O.M. really looks his age right now. “Excuse me, sir, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you...I didn't know you'd be in here. I came to get this," he reached for the envelope and ring on the desk, and then realized he couldn't pick them up.

Nelson slowly handed them to him, "We'll both go for Cathy, Chip."

"Aye, sir, when you're ready, sir."

 

***

 

It was a very somber pair of officers that disembarked from the Flying Sub hours later in Santa Barbara. Neither man said much during the flight; each of them alone with their own thoughts.

They walked into Nelson's suite of offices at N.I.M.R., and into his private Office. Cathy and Angie were waiting there for them. Cathy shot out of the chair and into the Admiral's stocky arms.

"Is Lee...?"

Nelson sat her back down, "He's on the boat, Cathy. He's alive, but the prognosis isn't good."

"Oh...Oh...I…."

"Sit down, Cathy. We plan to take you to Seaview. We, that is Doc, felt that you should be with Lee…Do you feel well enough to come with us? I don't think Jamie can stand any more emergencies right now."

"Oh yes...yes, sir...can we please go, right now, sir?"

Angie had moved next to Chip, when he came in, she was crying. He put an arm around her to comfort her.

"Admiral, I'd like to go too, Lee's my friend."

"Of course, Angie," he cleared his throat, "Let's go then." He put his arm around Cathy's waist and they left the Institute for the Flying Sub.

 

***

 

Cathy stood outside the door to the Sick Bay. The boat was very quiet…she couldn't ever recall the Seaview with this kind of silence. Turning the knob on the door, she entered, and looked around. Doc was in the alcove, the curtain pulled almost closed. She began to walk towards it and he heard her and came out to her.

"Cathy."

"Um, yes, hello, Doc…Lee... is there any change...?"

"I'm afraid not. He's badly hurt."

"I know, the Admiral and Chip, they told me...in the FS1...on our way here. Can I see him, please...I...I need to talk to him, Doc.…"

She was crumpling a sheet of paper over and over in her hand.

"Of, course, Cathy...I must warn you...It's not going to be easy to take."

Doc guided her to the alcove and pulled the curtain back. She gasped and covered her mouth so no further sound could escape. Crane was lying on his side still propped up by the pillows; I.V. lines were running and monitors beeping. There was a huge dressing covering his back, slightly discolored from weeping wounds, and at the edges of the dressing, she could see what looked like deep cuts. His wrists were bandaged, one of them in an air cast… He had an oxygen mask on his face, and there were deep, dark circles under his eyes. He looked so very pale....

She moved slowly to the bedside, Doc right behind her...She reached out and touched his face with a gentle hand. “Lee, Lee, it's Cathy, I'm here, Lee."

Cathy...he heard a voice, soft, loving...Cathy...here.... No, his mind was playing tricks on him. Cathy was safe, in Santa Barbara, not here on his boat.

"Lee, I'm here, now, with you...you have to get well, my love, you have to. We need you, the baby and me. We need you, Lee...please, Lee.... please.... I love you!"

She shuddered and sighed, she had never been so afraid in her life. A baby... a baby needs his father.

It wasn't that he didn't want to talk to Cathy.... He just couldn't right now...he hurt, and he was so very tired....

"Cathy, I think you'd better go back to your cabin now, we just have to wait this one out. Lee's young and strong, and if everyone on this ship has their way, we'll get him through this. You know that."

She patted Doc on the hand, "Yes, Doc, I do."  She ran her hand across Lee's forehead, kissed him, and whispered, "I love you."

Cathy left SickBay for Crane's cabin. Angie was waiting for her there… Angie rose from her seat and took Cathy by the arm, and sat her in one of the chairs next to the desk, "Want to talk...?"

"I don't know what I want to do, Angie...part of me wants to scream and yell, part of me wants to cry hysterically, and part of me just wants to do nothing at all. I've never been so frightened in my life. Lee's been in so many bad situations, hurt so many times. I thought I was used to it, you know...but I don't think I can ever get used to it. This time is different. He's not just Lee Crane, Captain of the Seaview, he's Lee Crane, my husband, and the father of my child!! That makes all the difference in the world!!! Angie, he has to be okay, he just has to be!!!"

 

***

 

Seaview sailed at flank speed to home base. There was an urgency to get the Skipper to base as soon as possible. In the Sick Bay, a routine was established; he was never left alone. Cathy, Nelson, Chip, Angie all took turns at the bedside; each one of them spoke constantly to him, and after 24 hours, Doc spoke to Nelson of his concern.

"He's in a deep coma, Admiral. His medical condition is critical, but stable. I can deal with the physical, but he has to come around soon."

Cathy held Lee's hand as she had been doing since she arrived. She took his ring from her pocket, and slid it onto his finger.

"There," she said softly to him, “It’s back where it belongs, and don't you ever take it off again, Lee Crane, not ever...!!!!"

A tear slid down her cheek, as she looked down at him...the dark circles under his eyes seemed even darker. She wanted him to open those eyes, to recognize her. She wanted to see the love and joy they shared reflected in them, "Oh, Lee...!!"

Tears fell on his hand …he felt something wet on his hand...why was Cathy crying? She shouldn't cry. He had to tell her. He had to wake up. He had to make her stop crying.... His hand slightly twitched and Cathy called out, "Doc, come quick."

Lee was struggling to open his eyes...he could hear the voices talking around him… Ever so slowly he forced his eyes open. Everything was blurred.... he couldn't focus...there was pressure on his face...a mask...there was a shadow hovering, hands gently touching. Probing, voices…

"Lee...Lee...wake up, please..."

He opened his eyes...he groaned softly with the effort...Cathy stroked his forehead.

"Lee."

He nodded ever so slightly...Doc bent over him…

"Skipper... I'm going to take off the mask," he removed the oxygen mask and Crane found it harder to breathe, "You've a punctured lung, sir...it'll be harder to breathe without the mask, but easier to talk, if you want for a few minutes…  Here, sir, try to take just a sip of this,” Doc held a straw to his lips and Crane took a little bit of the water and then closed his eyes. The effort was exhausting….

"Cats"," he whispered.

"Yes...Oh, yes..."

"You're okay?"

"Yes, we're okay, Lee...we're okay."

"Good...Admiral?"

"Yes, Lee," Nelson came out of he background and into his field of vision.

"The boat, sir...the mission ...Chip ...?"

"Everything is fine, Lee, just fine...you've been our concern."

"Sorry ...sir...I…"

"That's enough, Skipper...I've got to put this mask back on, you sir. Everyone out now...except, Cathy. He needs his rest.

A tired, but relieved group left the Sick Bay.

Cathy pulled a stool next to the gurney...she still held his hand tightly. Doc bent over to replace the oxygen mask.

"Wait, Doc," she asked softly.

"Just ...a... few...minutes... more... Okay, Skipper...just a few."

Cathy looked down into his eyes. She could see the pain he was in at the effort to talk, but she knew he felt he must try.

"Cats...I...I wish that ...things were...different...didn't plan...to...to tell you...like... this...how...happy.... I am...about.... about the baby...."

"I know, Lee... I'm just so glad you've come back to us. You’ll be okay, you know. Doc promised."

A ghost of a smile passed over his face. She was determined, he thought, very very determined. She'd make sure Jamie did things right...poor Jamie. And he thought I was a tough patient.

Red-hot arrows of pain shot through his back, and he couldn't hold the groan that escaped from his lips, "Doc!"

"Skipper, I'm going to put the mask back, now...and give you some medication for the pain...You'll sleep again, sir. It's really what you need."

Cathy held onto his hand even more tightly now, as Doc replaced the oxygen mask and gave Lee the medication. "Lee, I love you, my darling...rest now...I'll be here…”

He could feel a soft warmth flow over him… the pain was gone...and there was that soft, gentle voice, and it was real, not his imagination...He could sleep, now, everyone...everyone was safe... "Cathy..."

She looked into the Doctor's eyes, her face wet with tears.  "You'd better go get yourself some rest, young lady...Don't worry about him, Cathy, we're doing our best, and I'd say right now, that you just increased his odds a hundredfold. Not that this is going to be an easy recovery by a long shot!!!"

She looked at him slightly amused, “I know...Lee's not the best patient in the world...but I don't think he's that bad...!"

Doc rolled his eyes and smiled at her. You’ll find out, Cathy Crane you'll find out, he thought.

 

***

 

The next day, activity increased on the ship. Word had spread throughout the boat that the Skipper had awakened. Word had also spread that he was going to be a father! That kind of news lifted the spirits of the men to new heights.

In Sick Bay, Doc also became busier. He set up the surgery to reinflate the Skipper's damaged lung. Once finished with the procedure, the Captain was made more comfortable and a steady stream of visitors came into the suite.

The Chief blustered his way into the room, and then, promptly lost his ability to speak…”Skipper...I...uh...urrrgh...uh...Dammit, sir...I...I'm just glad you're going to be okay, sir."

Crane smiled at him, "Chief," he said softly, "I wouldn't have it any other way...I have to thank you for your help. The Admiral says you and Kowalski were a big part of saving my life."

"Well, um...sir, we all know that the O.O.M. exaggerates a bit...."

"Oh, I do, Francis?"

The Chief grew very pale, "Oh, well sir, I meant, sir...well, you know sir, I...uh...didn't do anything sir...I just followed...orders, sir."

"Yes, Francis, we all know!! Doc, I'd like to talk to the Skipper alone for a while...okay with you. and Cathy?"

"Aye, sir."

"Yes, sir, " Cathy leaned over the gurney, and kissed Lee on the forehead, "I'll be back shortly."

Nelson moved to the bedside, and grasped Crane's good hand firmly. He was relieved at the strength of the returned grip. It was his own evidence that the younger officer would mend.

"I've read your letter, Lee…When we didn't know if you'd make it or not, well…”

"I understand, sir...I...I meant every word, Admiral...I sometimes don't let those that I care about know how I feel. I...find it difficult...to put it into words.

"I think that you put it very eloquently, and I will treasure it, always. Thank you, ...son"

Nelson grasped his hand firmly again, and brusquely left the room.

Lee closed his eyes. He knew he'd done the right thing...and the letter to Cathy.... Chip must've given it to her. She'd gotten his ring, but she hadn't said anything. The pain was starting up again. Doc would probably give him another shot soon. He was still so very tired, but he had to get stronger. For Cathy and the baby, for the Admiral, Chip, Sharkey, and the crew...they all depended on him...and he depended on them.

In the next watch, Seaview sailed into her berth at the Nelson Institute in Santa Barbara. Her Sick Bay became a hive of activity...preparations were underway to move the Captain to a nearby Naval Hospital until he could be flown to Bethesda.  Doc Jamison would be going with him, so the medic was preparing to leave Seaview for a prolonged time. He was also making arrangements for Cathy to have transport at the same time. She adamantly refused to leave her husband's side until he was in Maryland, and Doc thought that it would be even more difficult then.

Admiral Nelson was preparing to put the boat in dry-dock, so that he too, could go to Bethesda, with his Captain. The only senior officer to remain in Santa Barbara was Chip Morton, and that suited Angie just fine. Perhaps she could practice her nursing techniques on that certain Exec.

Doc was speaking to Cathy, "I'm going to sedate Lee pretty deeply, Cathy. This move isn't going to be easy on him. But we have so get him to those skin specialists at Bethesda as soon as possible. There’s some long-term surgery ahead, and the sooner we get started, that sooner he'll be on the way to rehabilitation. Tell him you'll see him in a while…I'll probably put him out for twelve hours or so."

"Okay, Doc, " she leaned over the stretcher. Lee was strapped on his side to the stretcher, with the I.V.'s attached. She knew he was in a great deal of pain, "Lee, we're going to move you and Doc's going to give you some medication to put you out for awhile. This is going to be a tough one, darling."

"I know...Cathy ...the letter. did Chip give you my letter...?"

"Yes, he did...and I chose not to read it... you wrote that in case you died, and I knew you weren't going to die…I wouldn't let you."

Lee smiled at her, "All the time I was in their hands, all I could focus on to get me through it was you... I didn't want to let you down...I had to tell you how I felt...I..."

"Alright, Skipper, here we go...this is pretty powerful stuff...It should kick in right away…"

Lee felt himself slipping into the soft warmth...It kept the pain away...he had to tell her..."Cathy," his tongue was thick with the heavy narcotic...  "Cathy, I love you..."

 

***

 

The media was reporting on the break-up of a spy ring at the highest of the scientific levels, and the part that the Seaview and her heroic Captain had played in the breakup were making headlines. There were reporters waiting at the gates to the Institute. Cameras were flashing as an ambulance and several cars sped out of the Institute grounds, and towards the Naval Hospital…

 

***

 

Several months later, Captain Lee Crane, and his wife stood at the foot steps of the Nelson Institute...she carried a small bundle in her arms...Lee had an arm wrapped protectively around them. On the steps, the entire compliment of the Seaview, Officers and men, waited anxiously. They started toward the steps, and a cheer rode from the assembly. Crane smiled broadly.

Chief Sharkey stepped forward, and began to speak, "Skipper, Mrs. Crane, on behalf of the Officers and crew of the Seaview I ...I..., Sir, welcome back and congratulations!!!"

A cheer went up, and Crane quieted them down, "Thank you all very much. Cathy, our son, and I couldn't have gotten a warmer welcome any where, from any one. Thanks very much!"

The men cheered again, and began to disperse. Nelson, and Chip came up to them.

"Welcome back, Lee...Ready for a shakedown cruise?"

"Aye, sir...I've been away from her for good long time...It'll be good to get back."

"Me, too..!!" Cathy added. She planted a kiss on Nelson's suddenly reddened cheek, "and thank you so much for putting that nursery in the Office, sir. We're all very happy."

At that moment Robert Charles Harriman Crane decided to make his presence known, with a loud wail.

"Determined personality," Nelson commented, "Just like his father."

They all laughed and walked up the steps to the door surrounded by the men of the Seaview.

 

 

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