Blindman's Bluff

By
Linda A. Delaney

                       

 

 

 

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The Cabin Cruiser rode the waves, gently swaying at anchor. The man in the yachtsman’s cap sat at the table on the deck Three men other men sat around it. The man in the cap smiled….

"So, you like the parameters of my little game? Well, I can tell you that the blindfold is something more than a piece of cloth. The main player has been blinded. And ‘tag’ is a little more than a tap… so what are your wagers? Do you wager on the blind man, or my game plan…ante up, gentlemen…opening bids are $250,000… and we’ll get to watch the game as it unfolds here….

 

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Lee Crane woke in darkness. He had a pounding headache. Rubbing at his eyes, he wondered at the darkness. There wasn’t even light coming through the vent in the door from the corridor. He sat and swung his legs to the floor. As he stood, he also became aware that there was no vibration of movement. The boat must be resting on the bottom. That in itself was strange. They were scheduled to be at Point Barrows, Alaska at 2250 today. If they weren’t moving, what was wrong...? Where were the lights? Why didn’t he hear the Damage Control teams moving about... Where in the hell were the lights?

He took two steps forward and tripped over something, falling to the deck... Swearing in the darkness, he pushed himself up, and moved toward what he thought was the door and the light switch. Feeling at the wall, and finding the switch, he flicked it, expecting light to flood the room, but finding only darkness. A feeling began gnawing at his gut, something wasn’t right here… He scrubbed at his eyes… wondering why it was so dark, and he couldn’t see… He felt his way along to the door of the head, and pushing the door open, felt for, found, and pushed the switch to the open position. No light. If the lights were out, where were the red emergency lights?

Now becoming more troubled, he felt his way to his desk…feeling for the intercom, he clicked, and spoke, "Control Room, this is the Captain… Status of the boat!" Dead Silence…Lee’s voice became more strident, "Mr. Morton! Status of the boat!!"

Further silence. He dropped his hand from the intercom, trying fruitlessly to remember what had happened to the boat… what had happened to him…Then, a voice penetrated the darkness…

"Captain Crane, I’m glad that you’re finally awake…frankly I was worried that our operation wasn’t going to be successful… but, now that you’re conscious, let me…"

He tilted his head toward the voice, recognizing it, and yet, not knowing it. "Operation? Who the hell are you? What the hell are you talking about? What have you done to my men? My boat?"

"Oh, always the fine Captain, your men, your boat!!!!" the voice laughed… "Aren’t you the least bit curious about why it’s so dark in your cabin, Captain? Would you like me to tell you? Or should I let you guess?"

"You’ve tampered with the lights on the whole boat, brought us to the bottom in some way that no one knows, nothing works…"

"Come, come, Captain… you’re an intelligent man! Surely you don’t believe that! Now, don’t let me keep you in the dark…" the voice laughed again, "In the dark!!! Oh, that’s rich!! You are in the dark, Captain, because you are blind!!" the revelation was followed by long, near hysterical laughter… "Did you hear me, Crane? You’re blind!!"

Lee sat; stunned by the voice’s announcement…realizing the voice had more to tell him, but trying to adjust to the pronouncement. With amazing calm, he asked, "What do you mean? How…?"

"Relatively easy, Captain. Some well placed funds, a few good men, and we have your boat, your men, and you!"

"My men would never…!"

"Never is a difficult word to use, Captain Crane. The old adage, of ‘never say never’ can hold true here! But enough! Let me tell you my plan. It’s quite simple, you see…" He laughed again, "Oh, but you can’t see!!!… My, I never realized how often we use the word! Very well, I don’t want to make you feel too bad, in your new condition, so…I’ll rephrase. Your Admiral, and your Exec are, let’s say, restrained in two different parts of your submarine. We’re going to play a little game, like ‘Blind Man’s Bluff’. Obviously, you’re the blind man!" he cackled. "You have to find them….Instead of a player tagging you, you have to tag them! Each holds part of a key to save your sub. If you find Nelson and Morton, you will have to figure out what the key is they hold… then you will have to find what you can do about saving your boat! You have approximately 12 hours of air left. Your men have been given a gas that will keep them unconscious for at least 24 hours. My man was put aboard to treat you, and he gave you an injection that enabled you to wake up…so they’ll die, as will you, if you don’t succeed. If you find Nelson and Morton, they won’t be able to help…I’ve seen to that. Oh my, there’s that phrase again!" He laughed again, " So…there you are! You have a deadline, and you won’t even be able to tell if you’re on time or not! You can’t even see a clock! This is so delightful! Oh, as a final note, there are a number of, I think I would call them roadblocks, that we’ve placed in your path!! Good luck, Captain!! I don’t think you’ll succeed!" The voice stopped, and silence prevailed.

Lee sat in the silence...revelations and taunts had him in a mental quandary. Blind!!! The voice said he was blind...if the voice was right...then, there was no hope, for him, or for anyone... no hope at all....Blind!! He wanted to give into the fear and hopelessness, but something would not let him... someway, somehow.... he would have to find the Admiral, and Chip...and save them and the men. He was the only one that could do anything.... but Blind!!!

He held his hands in front of his face... hoping against hope to see something... anything!! An outline, a shadow...a cast of color... but there was nothing...nothing but inky blackness...Nothing!!!

He slammed his hand down on the desktop, rage, frustration, and some degree of desolation setting in. Evaluating his options, he knew that he had one and only one way to succeed, and that was to get to Nelson and Morton, or die trying... They’d all die, if he didn’t attempt to do something, so he had no choice, he would have to try. He sat back, drew a deep breath, and began to try and visualize the plans of the boat, so that he could find his way about. He knew her, knew her well, but did he know her well enough to get around her without seeing her? Did he know her well enough to move around her companionways and decks without seeing...being blind? The word ‘Blind’ struck such terror in his soul...Blind... it meant that his life was over; that he would never see the ocean he loved, the faces of those that he loved… never again see his ‘lady’ resting at the dock. It meant the he would be relegated to the land, never sailing, never.… It meant he would lose Seaview. He stopped... if he focused on this loss of his sight any longer, he would never get moving...never do what he could to try and save the 125 lives that depended on him.

Shaking off the despair, he rose from the desk, and felt his way to the door to the companionway. He took several shaky steps in the direction of the door, and then dropped to the floor. On his hands and knees, he made his way back to the bunk. He felt around on the deck to find what he had fallen over. His hands came to rest on a soft form... a body. He felt around, finding the body wore, not a jumpsuit, and not a uniform either. It felt like the body was wearing a shirt, and slacks, and a long coat over it. The shirt felt like a golf shirt, an in the center of the chest was a wet spot... a large wet spot. Lee felt for a pulse in the man’s neck. There was none... This wasn’t a member of his crew, so it had to be one of the men who had helped take over the boat... possibly one of the men that blinded him... he would never know, because the man was dead... Lee felt the chest, and found, beneath the wet, two bullet holes. He sat back, momentarily startled. Whoever his tormentor was, he was ruthless…human life meant nothing to him. Wiping his hands, which had been bloodied, on his pants, he tried to devise some plan to find Nelson and Chip, and figure out who had done this and what he could do to get them all out of it...

His reverie was broken by the voice ... "Tsk, tsk! Why, you haven’t left your cabin, yet, Captain, so I must assume that you have found poor McCarthy. He did the work on your eyes...and I know now that the work he did was a huge success. I had to kill him, of course. He would have gotten in the way of my plans. How does it feel, Captain Crane? How does it feel to be blind... to know your boat, but find that, when the chips are down, you don’t know her as well as you thought..." the voice paused his verbal torment. "Why, you have wasted almost twenty minutes of your limited time. You had better get moving, Crane if you want to find your friends..."

"Wait!!" Lee called out "Just tell me, Who and why?"

"The why is simple... I want to be ‘entertained’... Since I hate you, Nelson, Morton... men like you ... doing what is ‘right’, you make perfect pawns. That high and mighty ‘right thing.’ Such ridiculous motivation. There is no ‘right thing’ in my world... only what is best for me and mine... and if I can’t buy what I want, I take it...from governments on down. I want to see you suffer and struggle. I enjoy watching and inflicting pain… and I do enjoy a good game…just remember, I can see you... But you can’t see me!!!" and he laughed...loudly and cruelly.

"Now as to who I am... you do know me, I’m sure that you would know my voice, if you could see my face. But you can’t… and knowing who I am, well, that would spoil my game! No, Captain Crane, I will not tell you , at least not now...but you will find out. Since you have found my first little ‘surprise’ so quickly, I think, that I’ll reward you , let’s say I’m giving you a fighting chance! There is another ‘surprise’ in the companionway, on the starboard side of the boat... But I’m not telling you which companionway, or which deck. Guess, Captain Crane.... Go ahead and guess!!!!!"

Lee slammed his hand down on the deck, and swore. Then he calmed, realizing that his loss of any control would benefit, and entertain the voice. He began to do some mental associations to see if he could figure out who the voice was… if he knew that, then he would be able to figure out what the man’s plans really could be.

He rose from his knees, and felt his way to the door of the cabin. Taking a deep breath, he opened the door, and cautiously felt his way into the passageway. Making a mental picture of the boat’s ‘A’ deck, he turned to his left, and felt his way to the companionway that led to the forward part of the boat. The time that it took him just to reach the center of the passage seemed and eternity. Easing his way along the bulkhead, feeling the wall, one hand at a time, he made his way to the watertight hatch that abutted the rear of his cabin, and the crew’s quarters. The hatch was open and he felt around it, cautious of any trip wires, or worse. Feeling none, he moved through it, and continued down the passage toward the next hatch, and the gangway next to the crew’s quarters, that led to ‘B’ deck. At the door to the crew’s quarters, he hesitated, wanting to go in , and find out if the men that were off watch were there, and if he could revive any of them. He stopped himself, also realizing that that was, probably, exactly what the ‘voice’ wanted him to do. And, if he was only allotted a certain amount of time, then, he would have to use the time well, to find Nelson and Chip, and find the pieces to the puzzle, and save the boat. He sighed. He didn’t know if he could continue…this was hard…so hard… he was so used to doing without thinking, to acting first, and thinking about the actions later…and now, every movement, every step had to be thought about…measured, taken carefully.

He was tired, bone tired…he wanted to stop, to sleep for a long time and wake up from his nightmare…but he knew that he couldn’t… he moved forward, again, and reached the hatch to the gangway to deck ‘B’. He knew that he had to decide here and now what course he would take. To ‘B’ deck from here, or continue to the spiral gangway that lead to the Observation Nose. Conditions being what they were, the spiral ladder could present a further problem, and the ladder here was at least a straight one.

Using both hands, he felt around the hatch on his left. It was dogged tightly. He had a momentary delay, in thinking that there may be something at the very least unpleasant on the other side of the hatch, but, deciding that this was the way to go, he moved to finish undogging it…

 

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On the surface, above the boat, the cabin cruiser sat at anchor. For all appearances, it was a simple group of men, fishing and doing some diving. In the large chair, at the back of the boat, the man sat, wearing a yachtsman’s cap, holding a fishing rod, while several other men moved about. Looking closer, one could see a small microphone and headset on the man in the chair. He smiled, a self satisfied smile, as he looked at what seemed to be a fishing monitor, but in reality was a TV screen. He gestured to one of the men near to him, and pointed to the screen. "Look at the brave Captain!!! He has no idea what is in store for him!! Watch!!!" And he laughed an evil laugh… the man next to him smiled.

"Dr. Gamma, I have to admit that this is one of your more interesting games…much more interesting than the last!!"

"Thank you, Georg… I think so… I think so too!"

 

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Lee felt his way through the hatch. It had taken him very little time to open it, and stepping over the sill, he went slowly, aware that a trap could be sprung on him at any time, and he would never know! Slowly, he felt his way along to the edge of the bulkhead, and the railing on the gangway. The he knelt down and felt the first few steps. Finding them intact, he stood reached for the railing and started down the steps. He had gone to the fourth step, when he put his foot to the next and felt air, nothing but air…he tried to stop himself, but the combination of his weight and the momentum of movement carried him forward. Grasping futilely at the railing, he fell, wrenching his shoulder with the fall, and landing hard on the deck. There was no further darkness to overtake him, but unconsciousness claimed him as her victim, and he went to her arms willingly.

 

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The back of the boat was filled with raucous laughter. "See! I told you that the blind man would fall into one of my traps soon enough! Look at him!" Gamma chortled. "Round one of the game belongs to me, Captain Crane. And if you only knew what lay ahead!!" He turned to one of the men on the boat. "Nelson and Morton are well hidden, the traps set?"

"Yes, sir. If Crane gets to them, he could kill them by finding them, if he isn’t careful."

"And he’ll never know that he was the instrument that killed his friends, unless I tell him… well, we’ll see how the game plays out. We have ten hours until we have to leave the area. The automatic beacon on the sub couldn’t be disarmed, and will notify COMSBPAC of her location and they will be sending help… a change in my plans, but still… this is becoming an interesting game… a very interesting one. I knew that using Crane would be provide me a great deal of entertainment… I just wasn’t aware of how much! Now, watch!"

 

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Lee gradually came to awareness. He hurt all over. He didn’t want to move too quickly for fear of finding out too soon if he had been injured in the fall. He opened his eyes, and found no lifting of the velvety darkness. He slowly rolled onto his side, intending to push himself up, and trying to use his arms for leverage, felt searing pain in his right shoulder and arm. He collapsed against the deck, gasping and waiting for the pain to recede… the inky dark had become a momentary red, and then the black had returned… he knew he was hurt, didn’t know how badly, but also knew that his chances for success had just been drastically reduced. A blind man needed both hands in the best of conditions… he didn’t even have that now… he knew that the pain in the shoulder and arm meant at least sprains, if not dislocations and breaks. He rolled to his left, and using his legs, pushed himself up against the bulkhead. The simple act exhausted him, and he sat there, cradling the right arm, and drawing in deep breaths. His mind was going in several directions, all of them trying to determine the best way of moving forward. One of his friends had to be forward! If he could find at least one of them, then at least he might have a way to determine what this man, who was running this charade, had in mind… a clue!

"Shit!" he hissed, angry with himself for allowing the tiny bit of overconfidence to have caused the fall… ‘If I hadn’t been so sure of myself…Damn!"

He groaned, and felt the bulkhead, slowly coming to his knees, and standing, trying to orient himself to his position on ‘B’ deck. He also realized that he now had a decision to come to… if his time was so limited, he should go to find Nelson and Chip… yet, he was so close to the Sick Bay, he might at least be able to find something to hold the arm in place. As if to read his thoughts, the voice spoke…

"Ahh, Captain….had a fall, did we? Tag, Captain Crane… you’re it!!!!" He laughed hard into silent air of the Seaview. "And there is no way that you can get back at me!! You can’t see, Crane!! You can’t see anything… you won’t be able to beat me, Crane… I hold all the cards, you have none!"

Lee cocked his head to the sound of the voice, "I may not see you, whoever you are… but I will find the Admiral and Chip, and I will beat you!"

"Well spoken, Crane! So, so very heroic!! Well spoken, tho’ I don’t know if you believe your own brave words. You can’t see, you seem to be hurt from your little tumble, which will decrease your ability and efficiency even further! Good Luck, Captain…remember, I’ll be watching!!!"

Lee slammed his left hand into the bulkhead in frustration, and then calmed. He felt his way to the corner of the companionway, and then made his way, slowly and more warily along the corridor. He passed the CPO’s quarters and the Junior Officer’s Quarters, finally reaching the hatch to the Control Room… he paused there, and leaned into the heavily reinforced hatchway. The hatch was open, and he could hear the familiar sounds of the Control Room. He realized, upon hearing the sounds, that the boat had power. Lights! There had to be light! That made his private darkness that much more of a private hell.

Even at rest, the boat was giving off some of her comforting song. He felt his way along the science station, and to the sonar and radar stations. He paused at the high gain sonar. Feeling at the chair at the station, he resisted the desire to sit, and decided to move instead to the nose of the boat. He felt his way slowly to the plot table, and then through the crash doors to the nose. Using his one hand, he felt his way to the window, and leaned his head against the cool Herculite. He ran his hand over the edges of the window, finding the feel of it a comfort. It helped him, at least momentarily, forget the pain in his shoulder and arm, forget the fear of being without sight for the rest of his life; forget it all and draw on the reserves that he held deep within. He drew on the strength of the boat, and the almost psychic link he had with her, to help him focus on his next step. Leaning his cheek against the hull, he felt her strength, not in the metal, and steel, and Herculite, but in what was the essence of his ‘lady’ .

Oblivious to the fact that he was being watched, he held his hand against her, and said softly, "help me, girl… help me find the Admiral, and Chip…help me out of this some way, some how…"

He paused, and waited…

Lee felt the gentle roll of the boat in response… he knew that his ‘lady’ sensed his pain… He couldn’t explain it, but he and the boat had a connection, and many were the times he felt her presence….. she had sensed his sorrow and pain in her heart…she was there for him …

He sat in one of the chairs that were on the Admiral’s front porch. He felt miserable, and was aware of the growing pain in his shoulder and arm, as well as the pounding in his head. He was becoming accustomed to the blackness, but the pain, well, he didn’t know how much longer he would be able to deal with. He shook his head wearily, and with his good hand, felt again for the ledge below the window next to him. He rubbed the cool metal with a steady rhythm. He missed the hum of her engines, but even at rest, she gave off the cool, steady presence, that both reassured him, and pushed him in to action once again…

He winced, as he rose, sore muscles protesting the movement, the red hot pain in his shoulder pushing him to stop and lean on the railing around the FS1’s hatch.

Suddenly, he was struck with the idea to look in her for Nelson. Something made him reach for the hatch, and he found it undogged. Awkwardly, he pulled the hatch cover open, and felt for the ladder… this time, he would be more careful; he couldn’t afford another fall… another accident would be the end…

He went down the ladder a single step at a time… slowly. It was difficult to maneuver with only one hand to give him balance, but he managed to do so, and finally, reaching the deck, stood, leaning against the access ladder, re-couping his waning strength. He felt his way to the command chairs, and the windows. His ‘baby’ felt cold to the touch. He knew that there wasn’t any power in here, that all must still be in darkness around him.

Moving to the circuitry panel, he carefully examined it with his hand, feeling for the familiar dials and switches… he studied it with his hand, visualizing it in his mind, and counting off several switches, hit two to turn on power and light. He waited, until the hum of her small, but sturdy nuclear reactor began to function. He had no idea if the lights were on, but he reasoned that if he found Nelson or Chip, they would need light when they revived. He sat in the command chair, and tried to reason and figure out where someone could be hidden. He slowly rose, and felt his way to the bunk, and the storage area beneath it. Pulling at the door on the left side of the bunk, he opened it and groped within. Feeling nothing there, he paused, and felt his way along the bunk, to the rear of the cabin, and the access hatch to the Engineering Section.

He put his hand on the hatch, and spun the lock to open it. He felt his way around the entire hatch, feeling for any traps or tricks. Feeling nothing suspicious, he stepped over the coaming, and moved into the small space. He felt along the bulkhead, slowly moving step-by-step. His search was abominably slow…he had one hand, one arm, the other was completely useless. He reached the storage compartment and felt along the doorway for the handle. He turned it and it wouldn’t open. He leaned forward, his head against the doorway, and tried to figure out how he could open it. Feeling in his pocket for his keys, he pulled them out, and fingered them. Taking a deep breath, he felt for the lock, and slid a key into the lock. It didn’t work and he swore, fingering another, and slid it into the lock. It gave a little, and then stuck. He fingered a third one, and slid that one in, finding that it turned the tumblers and the lock opened. He pulled at the handle and the door suddenly fell against him, a weight pushing so hard and suddenly that it knocked him to the deck. The weight fell against him, and he knew it was a body, he just didn’t know whose. He pushed the weight off and carefully he moved the body to one side of the deck, and hauling himself to his knees, he bent over the body. He felt for the collar, the bar of four stars instantly recognizable. Running his hand over the face, he recognized the craggy features of Harriman Nelson.

"Admiral!" he whispered. He felt down Nelson’s body, feeling rope binding him in several places. He swore again, and began to fumble with the ropes, trying to release them. It seemed to take forever, but after an eternity, he finally had the Admiral free. With his hand, he ran his hand over Nelson’s body, trying to find any sign of a wound or an injury. Finding none, he bent over and laid his head on the older man’s chest. He heard a heartbeat, steady and strong. He breathed a sigh of relief. At least he was sure that Nelson was alive. He tried to bring him to consciousness, to stimulate a reaction, but could not get a response. He sat back on his heels, cradling his arm, which was throbbing, and tried to think. The voice had said that Nelson and Chip held keys to a way out of the mess. He didn’t know what it could be. Finally, deciding that there was little else he could do, he linked an arm under Nelson, and began to slowly pull him to hatchway. It was slow, arduous, painful work…his strength, already weakened, was rapidly dwindling. But he knew that he had to get the Admiral out of the locker, and into the flying sub's cockpit. At least then, he could leave him there, safely, until he regained consciousness. Ever so slowly, he pulled Nelson into the cabin. He knew that he should try and make him comfortable, but he didn’t have the time…didn’t have the energy… Lee made sure that the older man lay in what felt to him like a comfortable position, and then he slowly made his way up the access ladder, to the Control Room. He sat in one of the chairs, exhausted and drained. His shirt was drenched with sweat, and he wiped at the sweat running down his face. He was about ready to give up. It seemed a useless task, to try and find Chip… and then do what ever he had to, to save the boat… He didn’t think he could do much more…

"Resting are we, Captain?" the odious, silken voice trilled. "The brave, gallant, Captain of the Seaview resting? What’s wrong, Crane?" the voice became slightly more strident, "Ready to give up, and call it quits? That wouldn’t surprise me, you see. I don’t think that you are half the man that you are alleged to be. Of course, if you did quit, then I would be quite angry; I would lose a great deal of money. I don’t like to lose money, Crane. I would have to kill Nelson and Morton flat out… and let you live with the consequences of your actions. I see that you found Nelson. I believe that was really too easy… I should have realized that you would look for one of them there. Morton, however, is another issue. I really don’t think that you will find him in time. His time is truly running out, and time…that’s the issue here, isn’t it? Time! "

"What do you want from me? From us…" Lee stood, staring sightlessly at the sound of the voice. "I need to know why!"

"You need to know, Captain. That’s very humorous…very humorous indeed. All you need to know is that there is a reason, my reason. And you don’t need to know anything else…except perhaps the time. You have six hours, Captain. Six hours to find your Exec, and save your boat and your men. Remember, time is running out. For all of you!"

Lee slammed his fist into the paneling of the Observation Nose with such force as to crack the wood veneer where he hit it. He didn’t hurt his hand, but was even angrier with himself for letting his captor get to him. He shouldn’t have allowed the anger… it wasted energy, of which he had none to spare. He felt his way to the spiral gangway, and using it as a point of reference, moved down the companionway to the hatch to the ‘B’ deck corridor. Something told him that Chip would be found in the aft of the boat. This man had imprisoned Nelson in the most forward part of Seaview, so Lee felt that Chip would most likely be found in the opposite direction. He hoped his gut instinct was right…there was too much to lose, for all of them for him to be wrong.

He felt his way along the corridor, moving, once again, slowly. The slowness was from caution as much as from fatigue. He couldn’t afford to get hurt again, he couldn’t afford to have his meager reserves depleted by further injury, so he made his way down the corridor with agonizing slowness. Time truly took on another dimension, it became a different sensation. He knew he had to find Chip, and he knew that Morton’s life was at risk, if he didn’t find him, but he also realized that speed was an enemy here. That the faster he moved, the more at risk they all would be. Finally, he reached the rear corridor, and the hatch to the missile room. Slowly taking his bearings from the hatch, he turned to port, and felt his way to the gangway with the hatch to ‘C’ deck beneath it. He sat on the raised platform, and leaned back against the bulkhead. He sat, and in spite of the urgency of the situation, lost his grip on consciousness, and passed into oblivion.

 

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He woke, the pain in his arm and shoulder causing him to wake with a start. He had fallen sideways against the bulkhead, and was leaning awkwardly against it, on the injured areas. He groaned aloud, knowing that his moan of pain would not be heard by anyone. He scrubbed at his eyes. The blackness had not gone away. He hadn’t thought it would, but he allowed himself the tiniest bit of hope, and found that the reality of the darkness remained the same.

Moaning again, he sat, and then turned to the hatchway next to him… he pulled himself to his knees, and placed one hand on the hatch cover, slowly turning it open. He was putting all of his energies into getting the hatch open, knowing that he had to get to the lower deck, if his search for Morton would have any kind of conclusion… If this whole nightmare would come to an end. He felt the hatch lock disengage, and opened the cover, slowly and carefully, gravely aware of any possibility of any kind of trap. After checking the hatch area, and finding nothing, he moved carefully down the gangway to the ballast pump area of ‘C’ deck.

His feet made contact with the deck, and first with one foot, and then the other, he tested the area at the base of the gangway. Once he found the area clear, he stepped down, and he pulled himself erect, moving along the passage to the first bulkhead that he encountered. Feeling the wall for the nearest hatchway, he found a hatch, and fingered the sign next to it. From the smell of the area, he knew he was in the ballast pump and compressor area, with the heavy smell of machine oil permeating the compartment. The sign, the feel of the lettering told him he was right. He moved past the hatch, to the next one, and again fingered the sign on the bulkhead… He had no idea why he thought that he would find Chip down here, but something was sending him here… Something was making him come to this part of the boat… but where did he go from here…? He leaned his forehead against the bulkhead, and taking several deep breaths, tried to think of where someone would hide a person down here. Where would a person be hidden at the greatest risk to that person’s life?

He focused on Morton, on his friend, their jobs, their work here on the boat, shared dates, and the many shared experiences as friends and fellow officers.

"Where in the hell has this madman hidden Chip? And why did I come here?"

As he leaned against the bulkhead, and thought, he felt the boat shift ever so slightly. He steadied himself for a moment, not losing contact with the bulkhead. The boat settled, and he continued to think. Suddenly the hairs on his neck rose.

"The brine tank… check the brine tank…" he stood, shook his head… he was sure he heard a voice… but whose? Certainly not his captor’s. It wasn’t as if he even really heard it. It was as if he heard it in his head. Well, it was an answer to the question he was asking himself. He decided to move to the tank room. He had nothing to lose, and if the voice was right, then maybe he could find Chip. He felt his way thru the small corridor in between the compressors, and came to the door to the generator room. The brine tank lay on the port side of the compartment. It ran the length of the room, filled with brine, or empty depending on circumstances. The tank had several ways of taking in water, timers and manually, and when they were not in use, they were filled and emptied on a regular basis to keep them fresh for whatever use they may have in a given mission or experiment. Suddenly, Lee realized the reason for the time table from his captor. The tanks were filled, and emptied on a rotating 12 hour basis. They had emptied the tank just before they had lost consciousness! If Chip was in the tank…and it was time for it to fill…!!!!!

As quickly as he could , he moved to the side of the tank. There was only one way in and out of the tank. A ladder at the side! He would have to climb it, get into the tank, and if Chip was in there, get him out…He would never be able to do it…but he knew he would have to die trying. He felt along the side of the tank, finding it at room temperature, knowing then that it was still empty. He issued a silent prayer of relief, and then, hit the tank several times. It didn’t sound empty, the usual echo of metal to metal was missing. There was a decided quiet to the tank…moving more quickly, he felt for the ladder. Finally reaching it, he slowly grasped the hand rail, and began a slow agonizing ascent of the ladder. The tank was about eight feet high, with an open top to allow the scientists access during experiments. But for Lee the eight feet felt like eight hundred, injured and blinded as he was. He finally reached the top rung, and swung over into the tank, descending the interior ladder. Landing on the base of the tank, he dropped to his knees, feeling about the bottom of the tank.

His hand landed on a shoe, and then another, and he knew he had found a body. He moved his hands quickly up the body, and felt the insignia at the collar…

‘Chip!’

Relieved at his discovery, he felt Morton’s body for wounds, and injuries. Feeling none, he leaned over and listened for a heartbeat. He sighed in relief, as he heard the strong heartbeat. He found ropes binding Morton’s wrists, and with difficulty, untied him. He then tried, as he had tried with Nelson to revive him. He was as unsuccessful as he had been with the Admiral. He sat back and tried to figure out his next move…

"Oh, good, Captain… Very good, Captain Crane! You found Morton. But now you have a problem. How do you get him out of there. You see, your timing was good, but, now, you also have to deal with a tank about to flood… you can save yourself, but I don’t know how you will save your friend… you’ve found him in order to be with him as he drowns, and you may too! You’ll have to see what, if anything you can do!! Of course, my money is on you…that at least you will survive. The brave, gallant Captain!"

Lee had had enough of the silky taunting voice… "Go to hell!!! Go to bloody, god-damned hell!!!"

The voice laughed. "Not in the near future, Captain…not at all…but, my card game awaits… good luck…you’ll need it!" and he laughed… and laughed, the laughter ringing in the tank, the echo only being drowned out by the sound of inrushing water.

The sound galvanized Lee into action. He had to get Chip out, along with himself. They had to get out of the tank before the water got high enough to drown the both of them. He was momentarily overwhelmed thinking about his dilemma, but grasping at a plan, he began to move on it. He pulled Chip into a sitting position, and removed his belt, along with Morton’s. He buckled them together, and then, pulling Chip’s body to a stand, and bracing him as best he could, he pulled the belt about both their waists, and then slid Chip’s arm over his shoulder, holding him upright with his good hand. Walking and pulling Chip, he felt his way along the interior of the tank to the ladder… the water was rising rapidly, and it had already reached their knees in the short time. It was cold….very cold…, and he realized that they could not stay in the water too long without having other consequences occur. The water continued to rise, and reached their waists, when Lee pulled Chip’s body to face him, and throwing the man’s arms over his shoulders, waited for the water to begin to lift them as he held the ladder upright with his good hand.

Very rapidly, the water began to lift them, and they rose to the top of the tank. Twice, Lee almost lost his grip on the outside support of the ladder, but he managed to hold on. Finally the water stopped rising, and they had reached the top of the tank. There were about two feet, and two rungs before they would be out. Lee would have to use his good hand and arm to lever them out. Double the weight, double the effort. It was a do-or-die moment. So he pulled himself and Morton up one rung and then the top one, and then he gripped the top of the tank. He knew that eight feet, at that moment was a long way down, and he didn’t want either one of them to fall.

"Okay, pal," he murmured. "Anytime you decide to wake up would be a good time." Knowing that Chip was not about to come to soon, made the next decision easier. He released the belts, and let Morton’s body drape over the edge of the tank. Then he swung his own body over the edge, and positioned himself that so that he could get something of a grip on Chip. He locked his legs into the rungs of the ladder, and balancing himself, pulled at Morton until his body was in front of him. Then, he began to ease them down the ladder, a rung at a time. He had failed to count the number of rungs when he had climbed up, and as he descended, the distance to the next rung seemed to become further and further, instead of closer and closer to safety. Finally, unable to hold his friend any longer, his grasp gave out, and he and Chip fell the rest of the distance to the deck. He tried to throw his own body in the opposite direction, so that he would not fall on his friend. He hit the deck with a jarring thump, and heard Chip hit hard as well… apparently to him, it had not been a far fall…lucky for the two of them. He caught his wind, and then proceeded to crawl over to the area where he thought Chip had fallen.

He ran his hand over his friend’s body, trying to determine if the fall hurt him. All he could feel was that Chip seemed to have landed on his left arm, and that his wrist was turned at an awkward angle. Relieved that they were both here, and still alive, he was ready to give into the complete exhaustion that was ready to envelop him. But even allowing himself that small bit of self – indulgence was to be denied. As he lay there, cold, wet, in pain, and on the verge of unconsciousness, near Chip, on the deck, the voice came again into his world.

"Tsk, tsk. Captain… our little game is ended… you have found your men… too bad for me, really. I would have liked for this game to go on. But… your Navy is approaching and it looks to me like you are going to be rescued after all…" He sighed loudly, and with a great deal of theatricality. "I've wondered, Captain, have you thought much, about who I am??? Do you want to know? Better yet… should I tell you??" He sighed theatrically … "I imagine I should… I’m Dr. Gamma, Captain, in case you haven’t realized that …. Although I would imagine that that doesn’t surprise you at all. Now that you are going to be rescued, perhaps I should tell you that all this was, quite simply, only a game for me…it was just a bit of entertainment for me and my guests… I needed something to wager some money on, so I devised this game …I do so enjoy games… ‘Blind man’s Bluff!’ with a few twists of my own… I won a great deal of money on you, Captain. Thank you! I will have to think of you a bit more kindly in the future, if only for a brief moment."

Lee heard the voice through the haze of pain, and the enforced blackness that he was enfolded in… he lay there, and hesitated for a moment, and then asked, "My eyes?"

"You don’t like blindness, do you? And you want to know if it’s permanent, and what I will tell you about it?"

"Yes… Is it?"

"Permanent…? Why, I really don’t know! I don’t know at all!" he laughed again. " You see, I killed the man who made you blind, and I don’t know how or what he did. It was his own procedure. He didn’t share the particulars with me. I’m sorry…you don’t like my answer, do you… too bad, really, too bad… I guess that you are in for some difficult tests and procedures…not to worry, Crane, I’m sure that your Institute can find work for the disabled … and the blind…good bye, Captain Crane… my regards to Nelson, Morton and your crew….Until we meet again!!!"

The voice continued to laugh, and then the laughter died. With that, Lee allowed himself to sink into the pain, and the blackness, a small part of him hoping that when he woke, it would all be over, and he would see again…but an even larger part of him knew somehow that that wouldn’t be… He heard the clunk of metal on metal in the escape hatch, and slid into Persephone’s arms.

 

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"Lee!" a familiar voice called his name. "Lee! C’mon, Lad…Wake up!" He felt the touch of a warm hand on his bare shoulder, and moving, felt his right arm and shoulder heavily bandaged, and found the arm bound tightly to his chest… He went to move his left hand, and found it’s movement also restricted… it dawned on him that there must be an IV in his hand, and it must be strapped to an IV board to restrict its movement. He turned his head to the voice, slowly opening his eyes, and finding not a face, but the inky black instead. He cleared his throat…

"Admiral? … You? … Chip? … The men? … The boat? …. Is everyone alright?"

"We’re all okay, Lee. A little the worse for wear, but okay. Can you tell me what happened? What went on here? I woke up in Sick Bay about an hour ago…all I know is that the emergency buoy brought the Navy. You, son… what happened to you? To us?"

Lee swallowed hard. Vocalizing what had happened to him was not that difficult, but to say the word….In a soft voice, he said, "I’m … blind, Admiral… Dr. Gamma, he was behind all of this. He… he gassed the sub, somehow. He said that he had bought off crewmen, and did something to the boat so that he could play his game. He had someone blind me, and tie you and Chip up in opposite ends of the boat…told me that he was watching… talked to me the whole time. He must have had some type of camera and speaker system put into the boat while we were unconscious…" he had not heard a response from Nelson, and turned his head, "Admiral? Sir? Are you still listening to me, sir?"

Harriman Nelson had been stunned into silence. Dr. Gamma! Their old nemesis had returned, and this time, had gone after Lee and the boat in the name of a game! He had blinded Lee! Blind!! He spoke, softly, trying to be reassuring to his friend. "I’m here, Lee. Right here." He touched the Captain’s arm…"We’ve got men all over the boat. If there is a system installed we’ll find it!"

Lee closed his eyes, tired, and sore, and there was no use in keeping them open…he couldn’t see anything anyway! "Aye sir, I know we will…Where’s Chip?"

"In the Control Room… He woke up here, had Jamie cast his wrist, and went to take over operations."

"I’m afraid I wasn’t too gentle with Chip. I had to get him out of the tank, and the water was rising, and he was still unconscious. I know I dropped him at least once. I guess I’m the one who broke his wrist…."

"The bottom line is that you saved his life, his and everyone else’s on the boat…You’re a hero, Lee.."

"No, sir…not at all…I did what I had to do…that’s all."

Nelson shifted on his feet, "We’re going to head her back to port. The project in Point Barrows is on hold. Now that you’ve told me what went on, we’ll check for whatever Gamma was using, and see if we can find any gas canisters, or evidence of a gas. We’ll check the rosters, here and at the Institute, and we’ll find out who Gamma got to…they’ll pay for all of this…for all you’ve been through. And we’ll get Jamie to take a better look at you and see what we can do about your eyes."

"Admiral… I don’t think that will do any good, sir. He killed the man that did … this… he had him shot, in my cabin. He told me that it was a technique that his man alone knew…" Lee dropped his voice. "I don’t think that there is any help for me. I…"

"Don’t think that way, ! We’ll find out what he did! We’ll reverse it! You’ll see again!" The hand on his shoulder squeezed again, the warmth of the touch trying hard to reassure Crane, as well as himself…

"Yes, sir." Lee replied, resigned to his blindness for the time being, and believing that it was going to be a fact in his life from this point on. "Sir, If you don’t mind, I think I’d like to rest a bit…"

"Certainly, Lee.."

Harriman Nelson stood at the side of the rack until Lee fell asleep. Watching his Captain, seeing the bandages, and the bruises...he could not begin to imagine what Lee had been through... In the name of a game... an entertainment for Gamma!! Damn the man to a cold and bloody hell!!! Although Nelson thought secretly that Gamma would enjoy Hell... he just wished he could wish him there, NOW.

Blind! Lee said he was blind... that meant that he had found Chip and himself, alone and hurt, and blind! Nelson shook his head amazed, yet again, at Lee’s capabilities in even the worst of circumstances...Blind! No! He wouldn’t allow it... He wouldn’t allow it at all. He turned on his heel, and started toward Jamison’s office... slowly pushing back the sliding door, he found Will Jamison with Lee’s chart in front of him...

"I heard... I confess..." he smiled grimly, then put down the folder in his hands, and steepling his fingers, began " When we got the three of you in here, we did complete exams of all of you ... including x-rays. Due to your prolonged unconsciousness, I had some concern over concussions. When I read Lee’s x-rays, there was evidence on the of some bleeding in the region of the optic nerve. I put it off to a mild concussion." Placing a disk in the computer on his desk, his fingers flew over that keyboard, and on the computer screen was a side, and frontal view of Lee Crane’s skull. "Here... and here... Harry see..." He moved the onscreen pointer to indicate the areas he was talking about.… "See the blurring around the nerve. That’s an indication of a bleed. Now his blindness may be a result of the bleeding and the pressure, or it may be an indication of some other trauma. We need to do a CAT scan. As soon as the Flying Sub’s checked out, let’s fly him back to the Institute. The Med Center is better equipped to handle this than we are here on the boat..." Jamison shook his head, "Geez, Harry...when we make enemies... the toll they take on all of you!"

Just then Chip Morton came bursting through the door to Jamison’s Office. "He’s awake?! Is he okay? Can I see him? The scuttlebutt...."

"He can’t see, Chip. He’s blind." Nelson replied flatly.

With the momentum that he had built coming through the door, Chip sat heavily in the chair facing Nelson, "Blind? " he said, his voice hardly above a whisper. "He’s blind? How? When? What happened?"

"Here’s what Lee told us, and what we know from Will’s tests…"

 

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Kowalski stood and patiently rang the bell to the Skipper’s house. The Admiral and the XO had sent him there to see how the Captain was getting on. He hadn’t been in touch with anyone since he’d been sent home from the Med Center. The aide that they sent over couldn’t get in.  The phone was busy, and the Captain wouldn’t answer the door.

Every man on the boat was concerned for the Skipper. The fact that he'd been blinded aboard his own boat had them even more than angry with Dr. Gamma.

Seaview took care of her own, and the Skipper wasn’t letting the men do what they wanted to do for him… That of course was the problem, doing for the Skipper…he didn’t want to be done for,  he wanted to do. Kowalski rang the bell again, and then knocked on the door. He hit the door harder and harder.

"Captain!!! Captain Crane!!! Skipper, please!! Answer the door, sir! Please!" When he still received no response, the senior rating shrugged his shoulders, and started around to the back of the house. The Captain had had several informal parties for the crew on the beach behind his house, and Ski knew the way to get to the doors that led to the beach. He went around, and up onto the deck, standing at the doors that led to the house. He peered inside, and saw nothing but darkness. He knocked, and then tried to open them. Surprisingly, the door slid open. As he opened it, the curtain blew out, and hit him in the face. He staggered back, startled, and then brushing the curtain away, he stepped into the great room of the Captain’s house. He saw the darkness, and felt the despair that the dark brings. He shook his head… They shouldn’t have left the Skipper alone…They shoulda' sent someone home with him.

Ski had only been in the house a couple of times, and he was trying to figure out where the Captain would be. In the dark, he stumbled over several things on the floor, and finally found his way to the light switch on the wall. He hit the switch, and the lamps on either side of the couch lit the room… He looked around, becoming increasingly upset and concerned. Crane was nowhere to be found. He looked around the room, and then turned to the kitchen. There were several broken dishes on the floor, and remains of some food in and around them. The door to the refrigerator stood open, and if it had not been for the fact that the air-conditioning was on, all of the food in it would have spoiled instead of just the more perishable.

Stepping over some debris on the floor, he pushed the door to the refrigerator closed, making a mental note to tell Nelson to send someone over to police up the place. After all, how could the Skipper do it by himself?

He turned from the kitchen, and made his way to the stairs. He found discarded clothes along the stairwell, and he was becoming more and more concerned. This was not the behavior of the Lee Crane that he knew and admired, as his Captain. ‘Damn!! The O.O.M. and the Exec never should have let the Skipper have his own way!! Someone should have been with him!!’

He stopped at the head of the stairs, uneasy about entering the Captain’s bedroom, but forcing himself to enter what he thought of as an extremely private place….

He found the Captain of the S.S.R.N. Seaview sitting awkwardly in a large chair which faced the windows to the sea. Crane was unshaven, and wearing only sweatpants. His right arm was still bound to his chest, and the shoulder sported bandages as well. Kowalski didn’t know if the man was alive or dead in the dimness of the room. Quietly, he said, "Skipper?"

Crane didn’t move, his eyes were closed, and Ski was about to reach out and touch him, when he spoke, "Not a very pretty picture, is it, Ski?"

Kowalski had jumped back, and yelped… "I… I… uh, I’m sorry Skipper… I… well, the Admiral and Mr. Morton…"

"Yeah, I know…they were worried about ‘poor Lee’! Go back to the boat, and tell them to leave the blind man alone! Get the hell out of my house!! How did you get in here anyway? Morton’s key?"

Kowalski mentally hit himself in the head. Each of the Senior Staff had keys to the houses of the others in case of emergencies, he should have gotten the Exec’s! "Uh, no, Skipper, I didn’t have the Exec’s key… I came in thru the deck doors, sir. You must have left them open…"

Lee 'humphed' unhappily, "probably, ’Ski… What day is this, and what time of day?” He sighed a hopeless sigh. I can’t figure any of it out. The radio doesn’t work, and I couldn’t find the remote for the TV…" He laughed… a slightly hysterical laugh…"about the only thing that I can figure out is the way to the head! Oh, and I can feel around and find the cup for water…you must have seen the mess I made of the kitchen…" He sighed again…. "I just figured, why bother, you know?" He shifted uncomfortably in the chair.

Kowalski stood, mute. He didn’t quite know what to say. Finally the rating spoke, carefully choosing his words, "Skipper, why don’t you let me give Doc a call. That shoulder of yours looks like it could use some rebandaging, and you know, maybe a shower, and I could give you a hand and help you shave, and such?"

"No, don’t call Jamie. His clucking and carrying on is the last thing that I want to hear. As to the shower, well, that sounds good. I guess if you’ll help me, get these bandages off, then I can manage…" He sat forward, and waited, with resignation, rather than patience.

Kowalski moved toward him, and then said, "Hang on a minute, Skipper. I need to get something from the bathroom…" As he went to the bathroom, he turned on the lights, and came out of the room with a pair of scissors in hand. "Skipper, I have a pair of scissors, and I’m gonna cut the bandages off. I’ll find something to use to redo it while you’re in the shower."

Lee nodded, and Kowalski set to work… he cut away the wrap from the shoulder, and the arm, wincing when he saw the bruising that still showed on the Captain’s body. Gently moving Crane’s arm, he laid it in his lap…seeing the air cast that was keeping it immobile, he asked the Captain, "Sir, is the arm broken?"

"That’s what Jamie said…cracked it right across. He didn’t cast it because of the shoulder." Lee moved the arm gingerly, wincing when the movement caused muscles in the shoulder to move, irritating the damage at the dislocated shoulder. "Mmmph… that hurt! Guess it’ll take a while to heal…not that time is any kind of a factor here… I’ve got all the time in the world… Seaview can't very well use a blind sub Captain, now can she, Kowalski?"

"Skipper, you know the Admiral, and Doc are gonna do everything they can…"

"Yeah, I know… Give me a hand up, huh?"

"Sure, sir…" He bent over the Captain, and using the good side, gave Lee the leverage to get up.

When Lee stood, he winced again, the movement causing further discomfort in his shoulder and arm.. He held the arm close to his waist, and moved to the bathroom. Kowalski reached out and took his good arm. Crane shrugged it off.

"I can find my way to my own head, sailor! I’ve been there often enough with out help, since I came home! I just needed help with the bandages on the arm. Thank you. You’re dismissed, Kowalski."

The Senior Rating grinned. "Begging the Captain’s pardon, sir, but you can’t dismiss me. I’m not under orders, sir. I volunteered to come over here and see if you needed anything, and again, begging your pardon, Skipper, but you do need some help."

Angrily, Lee turned to the sound of Kowalski’s voice. "Dammit, ‘Ski! Just leave me be, will you? Tell everyone to leave me be! I’m blind! Do you understand that? Blind! Not unable to do things, just unable to see... I’m not the Captain of the boat anymore, Morton is. I gave the Admiral my resignation before I left the MedBay. I’m leaving Santa Barbara as soon as I can. I’m going back to the East. My mother is making arrangements for me to live there." He grunted. "She’s always wanted me to come home and live closer to her... looks like she’s getting her wish." He ran his hand thru his hair, and shook his head sadly. Calming his tone, he asked the sailor, “Would you mind finding a towel for me, Ski? And throwing it next to the shower? I just don’t have the energy to do that. " He reached the doorframe, and extended his hand, to lean against it. Quietly, he said, "Thanks, ‘Ski...just ...thanks." He closed the door behind him, and left Kowalski standing in the middle of the bedroom.

Ski went to the window, and Pulled the blinds, allowing sunlight to flood the darkness. The room was a mess. He shook his head, and began to pick up discarded clothing, broken, and fallen objects, books, etc. The bed had been left a rumpled mass of sheets, and blankets, with pillows on the floor. Gathering the linens and clothes, he headed out of the room, and down the stairs to the mudroom, and the washer and dryer. Putting things in the machine, he started a load of laundry. The Captain’s frame of mind was bothering him... He sounded as if he had given up, just quit, and let the bad guys win. And ’Ski knew that if he didn’t do something, then the Seaview would lose the best Captain she could ever have, no disrespect to Morton intended.

'Alright, Kowalski... the Cap told you his plans... what are you going to do about it. You can't let him leave, you just can't...' A plan began to form in his mind, and he reached for the phone, calling Nelson's office at the Institute's Admin  building.

 

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When Lee emerged from the shower later, he felt his way to the bed. He had a towel wrapped around his waist, and when he reached the bed, he found Kowalski had left him a fresh set of clothes. He had drawn them on with difficulty, tiring himself in the process. All he wanted to do was to lie down and sleep… and dream … of the boat, and the sea. He sat on the bed, and careful of his arm, and shoulder, he did lay down. He felt the clean sheets and realized that Kowalski had changed the linens. The clean sheets felt good. He felt the breeze coming in the windows, and for a moment envisioned walking out the doors to the patio, and down to the beach. He would miss this house and place, with the temperate climate all year. If the truth be told, he hated the cold. That was one of the reasons that he loved Santa Barbara, no snow, or cold winters.

He hated being dependent, but that was what was in store for him. Jamie had no straight answers for him. They had no idea how Gamma's man had blinded him with out so much as an external mark. They had no idea if it would be permanent or not. In ten days time, his sight had not come back… or at least he thought it was ten days. Not that he had any way of telling. He sighed, and threw his hand over his head. He was tired of the pity, and the guilt and just plain tired. He didn't want to cope with anything else. And now, he had made up his mind to leave, leave it all; the boat, the men, the Institute. More importantly, leave the Admiral and Chip to build the new command team. Chip deserved the boat, and Nelson would give her to him, once that he was out of the picture.

He turned onto his 'good' side, and lay there with his head on his arm. He'd just rest for a while, and then see if 'Ski could rewrap his shoulder. All he wanted to do now was sleep…just sleep…

 

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He woke, what was to him an indeterminate time later. That he had no concept of the passage of time was one of the hardest things to accept. He had lived his life to this point by time, and its framework. Night or day meant nothing in his darkness…nothing…He slowly sat, and let his feet touch the floor. His arm was pounding as well as his shoulder, and he wanted to get to Kowalski, to get the rating to rewrap them. He stood, and felt his way to the door. Slowly, he felt his way to the stairs, and went down them one step as a time. He had been surprised, when he had first come back to his house at how totally unfamiliar the familiar could be. He was still trying to find his way around his house. As he approached the foyer, he heard voices in the great room, and froze in place…What the hell had Kowalski done?

 

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Chip Morton looked up at the sound of someone in the foyer. He had been working with Sharkey in the Great Room. They were rearranging some of the furniture to make access to the kitchen easier for Crane.

He saw Lee standing in the foyer, and Chip was taken aback by the look of his friend. Wearing only sweats, cradling his right arm to his waist, Lee looked haggard, worn, and if possible, thinner than ever. There were livid bruises on his shoulder, and chest, he was unshaven, and his hair uncombed. He was staring straight ahead, and Chip could see that his eyes were unfocused. Chip elbowed the COB, and Sharkey turned around, starting to ask a question, the words stalling on his lips, when he saw the Captain.

"Lee?" Chip ventured.

Crane cocked his head to Morton’s voice, "Chip!? What the hell are you doing here? Who else has decided to come over uninvited? Get out! All of you… get out!"

Morton moved quickly to Crane’s side…. "Lee! There are only a few of us here… face it, pal, you needed some help here…stop being so stubborn! Frank’s here. Will sent him over after he talked to ‘Ski. And after I talked to him, well…look… let us just give you a hand, and then, we’ll leave."

He nodded with his head, Frank Lerner came over to Crane’s side. Lerner touched Lee’s arm. "Skipper, let’s get that arm and shoulder fixed up." He gently steered the Captain to the chair nearest the foyer. Reluctantly, Crane sat, and Lerner began to work on the injuries, and talk softly to Crane.

Morton moved to the other side of the room, and Sharkey nodded to him , and they went to the deck doors.

Sharkey’s face was looking more hang-dog than usual. He ventured to Chip. "Mr. Morton?"

"Yeah?" Chip was listening to the COB, but watching his friend. "What, Chief?"

"Well, sir, the Skipper, sir? Is he gonna be okay? I mean, his eyes, sir… he is gonna see again, isn’t he?"

"I wish I knew, Sharkey… Jamison doesn’t have any answers…"

"Well, what about the Admiral? He’s gotta have an answer!"

"I’m afraid not, Chief, He’s as stumped as Will. It seems that there are no answers. Only more questions."

"Then the Skipper is really blind, for good?"

Chip sighed heavily. "I’m afraid so, Chief."

"Nobody can do anything for him? Geeze, Mr. Morton, what’s he gonna do? I mean, sir, all the Skipper knows is submarines…and the boat… and well, begging your pardon, but he’s the best Captain I’ve ever served under, and…"

Chip smiled sadly at the Chief of the Boat, and clapped him on the shoulder. "I know, Sharkey… I feel the same way about him that you do. We have to figure out a way to let him know how we all feel. Let him know that we care…but we’re not trying to give him pity… that we don’t feel sorry for him…just concerned about him." He shook his head. "I just don’t know how to do that."

Cathy Connors came out of the kitchen, at that moment, and walked over to Chip and Sharkey.

"Chip, how're things going? You guys almost done?"

Morton smiled at her. Cathy had come to the Institute when it was new and growing, and had taken on Nelson and his office quickly and efficiently. She had brought several others to the Institute, and had the place running better than even Nelson could have imagined within a month. Angie Pearce, Cathy's closest friend, had become Nelson's secretary, and between Cathy and Angie, things ran better and better as the Institute grew.

He didn't know if she bossed Nelson or what but she had it all in hand . In the time that Cathy had been at the Institute, the boat had become a reality, and the Institute had become a world renowned facility. And he attributed a great deal of it to Cathy's management skills.

His blue eyes looked into her green ones, "Almost done here, 'Irish'. Sharkey and I will be finished in five, and then we can all haul out of here." He gestured toward Crane, "Don't know what to do about Lee, 'tho. Maybe we can get someone to stay here with him?"

"Fat chance, knowing your Captain. Stubborn cuss!"

Chip laughed, "Still is, always has been, at least as long as I've known him. You can't expect a leopard to change his spots. And you have to admit, this isn't an easy thing to adapt to… If it's permanent…"

"Hell, Chip! Yeah, it’s tough, but he really has to get on with his life! Lots of people have real tragedies occur, and they go on. He's running away! Going home to mom!"

"Other people aren't Lee Crane, Cathy. You don't know him like I do. This is typical Lee. He's leaving so that things will become more normal here, for everyone. He figures that if he stays, we won't move on…"

"But if he leaves, he won't either!"

Chip grinned at her again, "Then why don't you tell him that?"

She smiled back at the Exec of the Seaview, "Maybe I will, Morton. Maybe I will!" She gave him a friendly punch in the arm, and he laughed.

"Good luck, ‘Irish’! Better men than you have tried!"

"But have better women??"

Chip threw his hands up in mock defeat." Okay, you win, Irish! Go for it! Pizza and beer with the guys at Pascuccio's if you can get Lee Crane to believe that, blind or not, we all need him here!"

"Morton, never, ever give a Connors a challenge….You’re gonna be sorry….real sorry!!! It'll cost you big time!"

She turned from him, and walked determinedly to Lee Crane's chair. Smiling at Frank, she stood and waited until the corpsman finished with Crane's shoulder. Frank then helped the Captain into a shirt, letting the right sleeve hang loose. And the shirt itself remained open. She touched Frank on the arm, and he stood.

"Skipper?"

Lee's sightless eyes followed the sound of Frank's voice. "Yeah, Frank?"

"I'll be coming over in the morning to change the bandages…and I'll give you a hand, help you shave, and the like, if you'll let me, sir. Mr. Morton said he'll give me his key to the front door."

Lee nodded, listlessly. "Whatever, Frank. It really doesn't make a difference to me. I can't see a thing, remember?"

"Regardless, sir. I'll be here in the morning. If you need anything, call the Doc and he'll send me over. Anytime, sir."

"Thanks, Frank…If I need you , I'll call." He turned his head toward the door, inclining it in that direction…"Okay, now…everybody out!!" When he didn't hear any movement, he continued, "Mr. Morton! Did you hear me? I said everybody out… now!! Thank you all and please leave!"

He heard some shuffling of feet, and heard a few voices, muttering , " 'Bye, Skipper… Nite, Captain… s'long, sir…" and then he heard one set of footsteps, a familiar pattern, known for years. The owner of the feet stopped in front of him. He waited for the voice. Finally, he said, "Go ahead, Chip…"

"Lee, I… I'll come over tomorrow night, after work…you and I need to talk."

"Sure Chip, you bring the beer. I'll fix the steaks. On the grill!" he replied sarcastically.

Chip reached out, "Lee, I didn't mean…"

Crane's reply was mildly repentant. "Neither did I, Chip. Sorry. You didn't deserve that. I'm just tired of everyone walking on eggs around me. I haven't changed, just because I can't see. Give me some time, huh? Yeah, come over tomorrow night… and bring the pizza with the beer!" He smiled weakly at the XO. "And thanks, for trying…."

"Sure, Lee…Sure."

Morton went out the front door, and closed it behind him. Waiting a few moments, Lee then slowly turned his head… "Alright, Connors, give over! Why are you still here?"

Cathy had jumped at him saying her name, unaware that he had felt her presence. "Oh! Uh, Captain!! I'm staying to fix you dinner. Chip and I went shopping on our way over here. And I was platooned to the KP. I'm not the cook that your 'Cookie' is, but I can hold my own. My dad and brothers were meat and potatoes men. C'mon, Captain. I'm not one to keep the person that I am cooking for waiting in another room alone." She reached down for his good hand, gently pulling him to his feet.

"No, thanks, Connors. I'm not hungry. I'm not good company. And I don't want to sit at the kitchen table and listen to you try to make me talk. I'll just go on up stairs to the bedroom, thank you very much!."

"THE HELL YOU WILL, LEE CRANE!"

"THE HELL I CERTAINLY WILL!!"

He stood opposite her, and he could feel her anger, although he could not see her blazing green eyes, and determined stance. He felt the pressure of her hand on his arm, and moved to face her. He tried to fix his face to her determined one. She felt a pang of guilt, and knew that she was bullying him, but also realized that this man, as brave and courageous as he was, needed to be pushed out of his mood of self-destruction.

"You can't win, Captain," she said, changing tactics, in a gently teasing voice, "…as I said earlier, I'm here on the Admiral's orders. He told me to see that you had all that you needed, and that you were to eat when I was here, or he would have Jamie haul you back to the Sick Bay. And we all know how you LOVE the Sick Bay."

Lee grunted. "Yeah, really!" in a slightly more friendly tone, "So if your Dad and brothers were meat and potatoes men, what can you cook?"

"Oh, a little bit of this and that…you have to join me in the kitchen to find out…" she laid a hand on his good arm, and said in a soft, gentle tone, "Come with me, and find out."

Once again, instead of leading him, she guided his way to the kitchen, letting her contact with him be the means of his following. Once she had seen the situation, and knowing him the way she'd come to, since he had joined the Institute Staff, she knew he would have to be in control, and that would be the only way that he would allow her to 'help'. They moved together to the door of the Kitchen, and into the bright room. The sun reflecting on the terra cotta tiles made the room warm. Something that was cooking made it smell good and Lee realized it had to be several days since he'd eaten anything substantial. He was hungry!

They moved to the breakfast bar that separated the preparation area from the eating area of the kitchen, and Lee felt the stool, and moved himself onto it. "Okay…we're here. You're standing there, and I'm sitting here… Where's dinner? It smells mighty good."

"In the oven. It'll be ready in about 20 minutes."

"Mmm, well in that case…" he said somewhat sheepishly, " what day, and what time? I don't have a clue…I asked 'Ski, but never got an answer… My remote seems to have gone by way of the ocean, and all the clocks are LEDs. The radio also seems to have vanished. Can't find a blasted thing!"

She reached for his hand, and opened it on the counter. Placing several things in his hand, she spoke to him in a soft, caring voice. It was a tone that he had never heard her use before.

"Here, Captain. Your remote was under the couch in the Great Room, Riley found that. Here's the remote for the CD center. It's smaller than the TV one, and the third button on the right is to turn on the radio. Riley put a lump of something on it so that you would be able to feel it and recognize it. Go on, feel it!"

She put his hand on the smaller remote, and let his fingers find the enlarged button for the system's radio. He grunted appreciatively. "Yeah, it does feel different. Easy to recognize. Tell Stu I said thanks."

"I will, Captain. Here's something else sent over from the men on the boat. It's a cell phone. Small enough to keep in your pocket, and programmed so that once you open it, its voice activated. It'll talk to you so that it'll prompt you through whatever you want to do. Pretty cool, huh? I've had mine for a while. I'm a sucker for new gadgets, and I couldn't pass that one up…" She placed it in his hand after removing the remote.

He used his thumb to feel the side of it, and made the lid open… a mechanical voice, with a decidedly feminine lilt asked, "Please state your function." He laughed.

"That's a pretty bold statement for a gadget like this, don't you think? Forward woman, isn't she?"

Cathy laughed along with him, then added, "Some of us have to be…and some men like us that way!"

She turned from the bar, pleased that Crane had relaxed at least slightly since the others had left. Perhaps he felt that she was non-threatening to him in his situation and he was allowing himself to be more himself with her. She didn't know, wouldn't ask, and wanted only to try and continue the mood. She moved to the closet, and removed dishes from one closet, silverware from the drawer, and glasses from the other closet. Quickly and efficiently she set two places at the breakfast bar, and moved brusquely about the kitchen. Lee listened to her move about, to the rhythm of her footsteps, the sounds of her moving about the kitchen, seemingly comfortable in the space.

"Connors?"

"Yes, Captain?"

"Why?"

"Excuse me, sir?"

"Why are you here? Why are you doing all this for me?" Lee had gestured to indicate the kitchen and the rest of the house.

He couldn't see her shrug her shoulders, and she sighed slightly, and said simply, " A couple of reasons… The Admiral wanted me to, you needed the help, whether you want it or not, and the bottom line was that I consider you a friend, and friends help friends. Not to mention the fact that the Seaview may be a new boat, but the boat carries on a tradition that stems from the tightness that all good crews have. I'm a plank owner, like Chip, Ski and a bunch of the other guys. We take care of our own. So, here you are, stuck with me, as a dinner partner." She paused, and he heard some movement around the stove. " 'Nuff said, Captain… Dinner is served."

He was struck by the pleasant aroma coming from the counter, and his stomach growled in response. "Well, are you going to tell me what it is?"

She chuckled. "I'm sorry. It's a cheater's Chicken Parm, Cheating because my Italian great-grandmother would turn in her grave, if she knew that I used a jar of store sauce to fix this, but, when you don't have the time to make the sauce, you have to make do…so it's chicken in a doctored sauce with mozzarella cheese, and on a bed of gemelli pasta."

She turned the plate, and put it in front of him… "Listen, Captain. I know that this is difficult. So don't be angry. I cut the meat for you, it's between 0100 and 0300 on the plate… there's a piece of buttered bread at 1100 and the pasta fills in the rest. There's a glass of beer above the plate, at about 0130, and the silverware is lying on the napkin at the port side. If you 're going to yell about it, do it now, and get it over with, and then eat."

Lee sat quietly for a few moments, and then asked her in a quiet voice, "Is that your impression of me? That I yell a lot?" She saw a ghost of a smile pass quickly across his face.

"Well, you have been doing a lot of that lately."

"I'm sorry. This hasn't been easy…"

"And you aren't a patient man." she added.

"No, I'm not. I like to do, not be done for. This whole thing… I don't know how much longer…"

"You're going to have to, you don't have a choice. If the blindness is permanent, then you are going to have to learn to live with it. You 're an intelligent man, Captain. You know that better than I do. So, start learning now!!! Eat your dinner!"

Lee smiled at her, a completely disarming smile. She was glad that he couldn't see her blush. "Yes, Ma'am!" Taking the fork in his hand, he tapped the plate, and then used the fork to locate the food, according to where she said she had placed it, speared a piece of meat, and brought it to his mouth. He cautiously opened his mouth, and put it in, slowly chewing it in the process. Once he swallowed it, he smiled at her.

"Good. Very good. Once things are settled, before I move back to Providence, I'll have to return the favor. I've been known to cook a good meal here or there."

"Thanks. I'll have to take you up on it…before you move…"

Lee merely grunted, and nodded his head, beginning to eat the meal that she had prepared, unaware that she was pushing her food around the plate, confused by what she was feeling and thinking. The silence between them was a companionable one, easy with little stress, and the two of them ate, and then simply sat in silence for a while.

Finally, Lee said, "Thanks. That was good. Haven't had something that good in a while…."

"Then I'll come over again if you like, with something else. In fact, if you want, I'll try and get a schedule set for this week, maybe I can come over a couple of nights…"

"If you can, I'd like that. Very much. Like I said, haven't had anything as good as this in a while…"

"Just tell me what you like… chicken…beef…"

"Actually, I'm not fussy…good food…that's all… Cookie's a good cook, but on the boat, I never feel I have enough time to sit and enjoy what he fixes… And I don't like to eat on the run… so coffee, and cookies…a sandwich here or there… and cookie is always sending something to my cabin after hours…just to make sure. The man seems to think I'm his personal crusade."

Cathy looked at Lee's face, his expression a mix of resignation, and indignation… he had wonderful eyes…their color hazel- amber/green. She knew they could twinkle with merriment, and have deep pain, and sadness… now, there was nothing there… they were open, and blank, not focused, and staring off… and for some reason, it caused her immense pain… for him, and for herself. She shook off the feeling of sadness that the blankness in Lee's eyes brought her, and then began to take the plates from the counter.

Clearing her throat, she said, "Captain, here's the plan for the rest of your evening. I think that you might like to relax in your great room for a while…I'm going to clean up in here, and make some coffee if you'd like some… I'll bring it inside…"

"Yes, I'd like that a lot… I'm thinking that a softer chair would be a pleasant change…" he stood, and felt his way to the end of the counter. Cathy resisted the urge to steer him, instead, stepping back to let him find his own way to the other room… watching him, as he slowly felt around the doorframe for the door, and slowly disappeared into the other room, her heart lurched. She knew, as well as he did, that he had to do it himself… that she couldn't do it for him. She turned from the empty doorway, and proceeded to clean up from the dinner.

Once she was finished putting things away, she turned on the dishwasher, and took the tray with the coffee pot, cups, and utensils, into the Great Room. She looked to the sofa, and when she didn't see him there, searched the room, finding the doors to the deck open, and seeing the dark head sitting in a chair on the deck. She continued to the deck, with the coffee, and when she stepped outside, she closed the door behind her.

"You gave me quite a start, Captain. I didn't expect to find you out here…"

"I do some of my best thinking out here, Connors. Close enough to the sea, with the peace and quiet I need at times…" Cathy set the tray on the table, and moved to lean forward on the railing. The soft breeze of the late evening blew at her short brown hair, and she brushed it from her face. The orange-gold of the sunset bathed her in a glow that Lee Crane would have appreciated if he could have seen it. She wasn't an exceptionally beautiful woman, but she had a quality and air about her that made her beautiful in the eyes of all around her. Letting the breeze wash over her face, she stood and wondered at the ocean, and the sky…enjoying the colors of the sunset… and suddenly feeling very sad for the man that sat in the chair. She knew how he would appreciate such a scene, and he couldn't see it.

Turning to look at him in the waning light, she was sure that she saw a single tear slide down his cheek… His eyes were closed, and he looked for all the world like he was sleeping.

"Captain?" she called softly, "Captain, are you alright?"

He turned his head in her direction, opening his eyes, their unfocused gaze resting somewhere out there….

"I don't know if I'll ever be alright again, Cathy. I was just remembering what the sunset out here looks like, the colors, the breeze…just remembering…and part of me praying and hoping for something that will give me my sight back. Look, I know that I asked for the coffee, but I think I've changed my mind. Could you just leave it in the kitchen? Frank can heat some up when he comes over in the morning. Don't worry, I won't lock him out…."

Feeling something for him that she didn't understand, she moved next to him, and sat on the chair on his left. "Captain…"

"Cathy, we've known one another now for almost a year… how about calling me Lee? Especially now… since I'll be leaving soon. The Captain is too…formal."

She shivered, tho’ the night was warm. She, like all the others, didn't want him to leave Santa Barbara, and the Institute. But he seemed to have made up his mind. "All right, Lee…" she said uneasily. "It'll take a bit of getting used to… but I'll try. When do you plan to leave?"

"That's something I don't know yet. I have to talk to the Admiral, and get the final papers done. I'll have to arrange transportation, and I have to wait and see what my mother can arrange. I'm sure it's a few weeks away." He sighed, "and it will give me more time to get acclimated to … to the darkness."

He dropped his voice to little more than a whisper. "that's the hardest part of all of this, you know… the darkness… I can learn to get about, to do things…but the blackness…no color, no light…nothing… that's what's so hard… like not seeing those green eyes of yours on fire when you are hollering at me or the Admiral over some expenditure or something. And not seeing you blush like you are now, when someone pays you a compliment," he laughed, lightly. "From what Chip tells me, a whole lot of what is here wouldn't be, if you weren't riding shotgun on the Admiral. You and Angie are the best things that ever happened to the O.O.M., and this place. Chip says that it wouldn’t be what it is today, if it weren’t for the two of you !"

She was aware of the warmth that had flooded her face when he talked about her eyes, and was even more warmed by the compliment that he just gave her. "Thank you , very much…" she stammered. "I…"

"Cathy, I hope that you know me well enough by now, to know that I don't say anything that I don't mean. And on that note, I think that I had better turn in… Something tells me that Morton and Lerner have some things planned for tomorrow that I don't know about, but that I will need my wits about me to deal with. And could you please tell me what day this is… I know its early evening, around, umm, 2030?"

She laughed. "Good guess! 2045 actually…and its Thursday. You've been home for four days. Which is why you were so hungry! You hadn't eaten much, but you sure left the place in a hell of a mess. I think that you're going to need a housekeeper for the duration of your stay here… I'll arrange for it, if you want."

"Not want, need… but you don't have to handle it, Cathy. I'll call Jenny in the morning, and let her do it. But thanks, anyway."

"Okay, Lee. How about I call tomorrow, and maybe I can do dinner on Saturday night?"

"Sure, I don't have any plans that I know of…better check with Morton, tho’… he's a bit devious at times…" Lee laughed…an easy relaxed laugh. Then he became serious again. "Thank you …for everything, Cathy…"

She rose from the chair. "You're welcome, Ca… Lee. I'll bring these things inside, and let you know when I leave."

He nodded, and closed his eyes again. "Yes, please…"

She took the tray and went inside, putting things away, and straightening up the kitchen. When she finished, she went out to the deck…Lee looked like he was asleep, and she had a momentary concern, that he would get chilled, on top of everything else. She laid a hand on his good shoulder. "Don't you think that you'd better come in?"

Lee felt the light touch on his shoulder. and for a moment, enjoyed the sensation of the softness and gentleness, of it. 'In another time, in another situation, .... Forget it Crane...there's no chance here for you ... she's just a friend, helping a friend.'

Cathy let her hand rest for the moment on Lee's shoulder, and wondered... 'You know, Connors, in another place, another situation... forget it, girl...the man's just not interested... He has too much on his mind than starting a relationship...He just sees me as a friend, nothing else.'

He cleared his throat, and turned his head towards her, "Right,. just getting a little lost in the sounds out here... the ocean is a tough mistress to give up.." he moved forward, and started to push up from the chair, with his good hand. Then without warning, his hand slipped, and he fell back hard, letting out a small cry of pain, as he struck the back of the chair.

"Lee!" Cathy called out sharply.

He caught his breath, and said, hoarsely, "I'm... OK.. Just had the wind knocked out of me, is all! Really...."

"Do you really think that you should be alone? Wouldn't it be better if you had someone here, just.."

"Just in case the blind man has an accident? No! If I can't take care of my self now, what about later, when I’m really alone? No... and don't you dare send anyone over here! I can take care of myself!! Go... go on and get out, now!"

Stunned by his change in attitude, she changed her demeanor as well...."Very well, Captain! I am leaving.. go on and be stubborn and see if I, or anyone else, give it a second thought! Good Night!"

She turned on her heel, and he heard her charge threw the Great Room, and out the front door, slamming it with a vengeance as she went through it.

He pushed up, and out of the chair, successfully this time, and felt his way to the doors. Turning to the door, he pulled it shut, felt for the lock, and turned it. Then he leaned back against the door, trying to analyze why he had reacted so badly to Cathy, and her concern, realizing that it was the situation, not the person that had drawn his anger. He also knew that he would have to apologize to her. He didn't like the way that he had treated her. He also hoped that she wouldn't refuse to talk to him. Sighing again, and angry with himself for lashing out at her, he felt his way along the wall to the light switch, and pushed it to the off position, then continued along the wall to the doorway to the kitchen, and then to the archway to the foyer. At the foot of the stairs, he sat.

Cursing his own stupidity once again, he rose, and wearily felt his way up the stairs to his bedroom, feeling the loneliness of his position and situation, perhaps more pointedly than before.

 

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Cathy slammed the door to Crane's house behind her, furious with him, and even more furious with herself... 'Dammit! Why did I let him get to me that way? Why did I blunder into dangerous territory like that...I should have kept my big mouth shut! Damn! Nelson's not gonna be happy when I report to him. Oh well! What did Scarlett O'Hara say? 'Tomorrow is another day!'’ She walked down the walk to her car, got in and drove back to the Admin building where Nelson was waiting for her report.

 

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It was with some trepidation that Cathy Connors approached her office, and that of the Admiral's. The light under the door told her that he was waiting for her. She steeled herself for his explosion, and knocked...

"Come!" the warmly resonant voice called.

She opened the door, to see Nelson's auburn head bent over several files scattered on his desk. He looked up as she entered, his piercing blue eyes searching her face for answers that he wanted to hear.

"Well?" Before she could open her mouth, he followed it with, "Lee being his usual stubborn self? What happened?"

She flopped in a chair, relaxing slightly, and taking the privilege of intimacy with her boss's moods, she asked..."Any Glen Livet left in the sideboard, Admiral? I could use a drink."

Nelson silently nodded, and rose, went to his liquor cabinet, poured a healthy dollop into a glass, then poured another, and went around the desk, handed it to her, and then leaned back against it, facing her.

"Okay, Irish, what happened?"

"Simply put, I blew it, sir. I was doing okay, I had the Captain talking to me about his plans, and then when he went to get up, his hand slipped off the armrest, and he fell back into the chair. I offered help, suggesting he have someone stay with him until this was all over, and he got angry and put me out." She took a deep gulp of the scotch. Nelson put a hand out, and held her arm, a slight smile playing on his lips.

"Easy, Irish. Glen Livet is meant to be savored, not gulped... you have to appreciate it as a smooth, easy liquor, not something to toss down."

She grinned sheepishly, "My Dad would be yelling at me if he knew I was treating this like soda pop! He puts this right up there with his Tullamore Dew. And he would say the same thing....savor it... don't gulp it."

Nelson released her arm, and continued to pursue the earlier line of discussion, " so where do we stand with him? Is he still leaving?"

"That's still his plan... he said he has to finish up paper work with you , and details with his mother, and then he'll leave... I wanted to ask how he intended to do it all by himself with the broken arm and all, in addition to the blindness, but I didn't get the chance. I got him so angry that he refused to let me stay any longer...he put me out."

"I see," Nelson reflected, "At least he isn't planning on going right away, I can stall the paperwork... and I can talk to Helen. After she got over the upset of Lee's blindness, and his announcement that he was coming home, she called me. As much as she wants him home with her, she also knows that his heart is here, and to go home to Providence would kill him. Besides, she also knows that if there is a cure for the blindness, it's here." He chuckled, and took a sip of his own drink, "You may not feel that way, but I think you've saved the day after a fashion... since we know what the good Captain has planned, we can circumvent him, at least for the time being."

"Well, sir, it certainly didn't feel like I saved the day the way he kicked me out of the house! Stubborn, pig-headed, obstinate mule! Doesn't he know that we only want what's best for him?"

Nelson laughed aloud. “Colorful description of the Captain! Irish, don't you know that there is only one way for Lee...Lee's way. Didn't you see how he reorganized his departments, once he got a hold on things... The fact that he has to work with you on Grants, and that the way that we set this organization up so one can't do with out the other, grinds on him.... Not you, as a person, mind you, but you as the head of Ship's Stores. He wants to do it his way...that's why he likes being on the boat, and not on land. He can run the boat his way... what he sees as the best way, and quite frankly, his way is best for her... Here is a different story." By the time that Nelson finished speaking, Cathy had finished her drink. She looked Nelson straight in the eye, holding the glass out to him. Wordlessly, he took it from her, and went to the cabinet, refilled it and returned it to her... this next taste of the scotch, she sipped, and then sighed.

"Well, Admiral, I'm just glad that you're the one that has to deal with him in the near future, 'cause right now, I want to be as far away from the man as I can be. And the longer, the better!" She finished the scotch in a final gulp, and handed Nelson the glass. Standing, the room suddenly tilted, and she swayed. "Damn!"

Nelson reached out to steady her, "Looks to me like someone is having difficulty with her scotch!"

"Damn!...Sorry Admiral. Just hit me a little when I stood. I'm okay, sir." She waved his hand off, took two steps, and stopped... "On the other hand, I think I'll bunk on my couch tonight. I don’t' think I want to drive!” Nelson moved quickly around his desk, picking up his keys, cover, and Jacket.

"I don't think so, Cathy. As I recall from the last time we had a budget all-nighter in your office, that couch dates back to the 1940's and has more lumps than the Appalachian Mountains. I'll drive you to your apartment."

"No, sir! I don't want to bother you!!" She swayed again, and by this time, Nelson was at her side, gently taking her elbow, and guiding her to the door. "I was finished anyway, Irish!"

She looked at his face, and saw the twinkle in his eyes... "Please...Don't tell my father about this!! I'll never, never live it down... A Connors who can't handle their scotch!!! Oh God!" She touched her forehead.

He began to laugh as he held her arm, and after locking the office doors, held onto her as they walked down the corridor. Whispering confidentially to her, "Let me tell you about the time that one Lt. Colonel Francis Xavier Connors got so sick on scotch that Jiggs, and I had to help him back to his hotel, and then had to clean him and the room up. So if he ever, ever gives you a hard time, here's what you tell him...."

 

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At 0730, the next morning, Seaview’s Senior Medical Corpsman Frank Lerner knocked at the door of Lee Crane's house. He had Morton's key in his hand, but wanted to give his CO the opportunity to answer the door in his own fashion without barging in. He knocked a second time, and then rang the bell... or rather he pushed the doorbell button, but the bell itself didn't ring.

Satisfied that he had done all that he could, he took the key and slid it into the lock. Reluctantly, he entered the foyer, and looked around, hoping against hope that he would find Lee up and around. When he didn't see him in the downstairs, he went to the stairs, and went up to the bedroom. The door was open, and as with the downstairs, the lights were off. The windows were open, as were the blinds, but there was no sign of the Captain. The bathroom door was ajar, and as with the downstairs, the lights were off. The windows were open, as were the blinds, but there was no sign of the Captain. The bathroom door was ajar, and there was no evidence of the Captain having used the room recently. He sighed, and proceeded to do a room to room search, hoping against hope that he would not find something that he couldn’t handle. Not finding Lee upstairs, he went back downstairs. He again did a room to room search. Finally he went to the deck doors, and found them unlocked. He went out of the doors, and onto the deck. At the end of the deck, he looked down and saw footprints in the sand. Going to the beach, he followed the footsteps down the beach. Roughly a mile from the house, he saw a figure sitting on the beach. The dark-haired man had his knees drawn up under his chin, and one arm wrapped around them, staring, it seemed out towards the ocean. As Lerner approached, Crane tilted his head towards him.

"Skipper? You okay? "

"Frank? Yep…just thinking… sitting here and thinking. Been here most of the night… usually come out when I need to think. And I didn’t want to try and find my way home, and get lost doing so!"

"I understand, sir… You ready to head back to the house?"

"Yes…Give me a hand here, will you?" Frank reached forward, and gave Crane his hand. Reaching with his good one, Lee pulled himself up, and brushed at his sweats. Frank moved to the Captain’s side, and touching him lightly began to walk up the beach. Lee walked at his side, and the men engaged in small talk, until they reached the steps to the deck of Crane’s house. Lee’s good hand reached forward to touch the railing of the steps. Frank touched his arm, and with a gentle pressure guided the hand to the rail. Lee inclined his head toward Frank, and simply nodded his thanks at the corpsman’s subtle help.

Once on the deck, Lee then moved along the railing until he came to the door. Frank dropped back and let the Captain do what he wanted, waiting until he asked for help. When Lee reached the door, he opened it and turned back to Lerner.

"Coming, Frank?" Lee grinned. Inclining his head slightly, "I could use some help shaving. I don’t want to look like my face met a windshield and lost, when I walk into the Admin building today."

Frank was surprised at Crane’s obvious change of attitude. There was a lightness to his voice that Frank hadn’t heard in days. "Sure, Skipper," he stammered… "Doc’s orders are to take the bandages off the shoulder, and if you’re comfortable, he wants you to keep it in a sling to support the arm, but wants to see you at sometime today in the MedBay."

Stepping carefully into the Great Room, Lee felt his way along the wall to the kitchen doorway. "Cathy left coffee in the pot in the refrigerator, Frank, said that you could heat it up in the morning… I suspect there’s breakfast food there too. She and Morton were conspiring yesterday. Can you tell me the time?"

"Uh… Yessir, it’s near 0800."

"Well, then I think you’d better get the shaving kit ready… if I know my Exec, I think he’ll have gotten the report from Connors about last night, and he’ll be here about 0900 to drive me to the Admin. building and then drive me crazy!" Lee chuckled, and then felt his way to the stairs. Finding the banister, he made his way up to the Master Bedroom. Lerner followed close behind, ready to help in any way the Captain requested, and surprised at the change in his attitude from the day before. Shrugging his shoulders, Frank went into the Captain’s bedroom, and following Lee’s instructions, helped the Captain prepare for the day.

 

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Chip Morton walked up the path to Crane’s house. He had mixed feelings, but he was here on his own as well as Nelson’s. He was going to drag Lee out of bed, if necessary.

Enough was enough! Lee Crane had to get up and back into life, regardless of what life had thrown at him. He took a deep breath, and knocked at the door. Waiting, rather impatiently, he tapped his foot. Then he paced, hands in rear pockets, cap pushed back on his head. Finally, he heard movement in the foyer, and the door being opened. He was stunned to see Lee Crane, arm in sling, in work Khakis, at the door.

Lee was smiling. "Chip?" he said the grin spreading.

"Lee? What? I…"

"Don’t stand there with your mouth hanging open, come on in!"

Chip stepped forward, into the foyer, and Lee closed the door, turning to his Exec. Morton watched the Captain’s face, and realized that Lee was feeling his way through the actions, of closing the door, and stepped back as Lee felt his way along the side of the foyer.

"Want some coffee? Cathy left some last night, and Frank heated it up. There’s plenty left in the kitchen."

"Uh, why…sure…where is Lerner?"

"In the kitchen. Having some of the coffee…"

Lee turned, and took several slow steps into the Great Room, his hand extended to touch the couch. Finding it, he felt his way to the end, and then extended his hand again, taking slow steps, until the hand felt the wall, and the doorway to the Kitchen. Wrapping his hand around the sill, he went thru the doorway, and hand on first one counter, and then to the other… he felt along the breakfast bar until his hand rested on one of the chairs. He turned the chair, and sat carefully, gesturing in the air to his friend, and Exec.

"Well, Mr. Morton, what do you think? Can this old sea dog learn a few new tricks?"

Chip slid into another chair, and Lerner handed him a cup of coffee. He placed another one in front of Lee. "Skipper, coffee is at 0300 in front of you…"

Lee nodded, and felt in the direction of the cup, finding the handle, and he grasped it and lifted it slowly to his lips. Feeling carefully , he then put it down, and carefully let it rest on the counter, his hand on it. “Your very quiet, Chip. Something wrong? Cat got your tongue?” Crane was grinning, at what he knew was his friend’s surprise.

"Lee… I… I dunno what to say. Just that you surprised me. But then I should be used to surprises from you! I take it you want to go to the Office?"

"Yep… I need to talk to the O.O.M. and then I’m going to need some help getting organized. Jenny’s going to hate it, but there’s a lot to do…"

Morton laughed, and said, "You can draft Dorothy at any time, tho’ I’m sure that I’ll be paying for it for a long time if you do!"

Lee laughed, a good strong laugh. "Thank you very much, but you can keep the old DI! Jenny and I will get along fine! You and Dorothy have a good working relationship!"

"Right, Lee. She says jump and I say how high!" Both men laughed heartily, and for the first time in a while, things seemed to fall into the right place, the light bantering between the two friends lacking the tension of the last weeks.

"Thanks, Chip."

"For what? "

" For coming here this morning after I was so totally out of line yesterday. I… I…"

"Hey, that’s what a friend is for, Lee. Someone to turn on when you’re in the dumps! It’s okay, Skipper." Chip clapped him on the shoulder. "What do you say we get going… you’re gonna need time to…"

"Get acclimated to the Institute… in a different way… Yes, I know.. I’m gonna need some help there."

 

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In the weeks that followed, Lee Crane was seen more and more frequently back at the Institute. He was seen in the company of the officers, or the Chief and Kowalski, and Patterson. Sometimes Cathy Connors was with him, but he was becoming a more familiar sight, at the Institute offices. He seemed to be adjusting to his circumstances, although no one spoke about it aloud. His arm and shoulder healed, and he seemed to be recovered in all other ways, save his sight. And they would all get used to that in time…

 

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Cathy Connors knocked on Lee’s office door. Jenny had called in sick, and there was no one from the temp pool to replace her. Cathy knew that it didn’t bother Lee, who had been busy learning his way around the Institute with the help of a teacher from the Braille Institute in Northern California. That same teacher had been giving Lee lessons in Braille as well, and Lee had told her that he was ‘catching on’ to the method. The boat had been out again, on several missions, with Chip in command, and although they all knew that Lee missed her, he seemed to accept the fact that he couldn’t go out on her.

There was no response to her knock, and she knocked again. When Lee didn’t answer the second knock, she called his name. "Lee… Lee are you in there?"

Again there was no answer. Cathy was puzzled since she had talked to Lee not more than 20 minutes earlier, and he was waiting to meet with her about several issues in Ship’s Stores.

She knocked, and called again. She tried the knob, and slowly opened the door. There were papers on the desk, and Lee’s CD player was softly playing. She looked around the office, and called his name again. "Lee? Lee?"

She took two more steps into the office, and saw a hand, extending out from the side of the desk. She dropped her files, and moved to the side of the desk. Lee was lying on the floor, obviously unconscious. She dropped to her knees, and reached for his head. Her hand came away covered in blood. Holding her fear for him in close check, she reached for the phone on his desk. Wiping a bloody hand, she punched in the code for security…

"Tommy, Cathy Connors! Send Jamie and an ambulance to the Skipper’s office… He’s had a bad accident!"

"On our way, ma’am!" was the rapid terse reply. Cathy sat back on her heels, and took his hand in hers, afraid to touch or feel anything that may cause further harm… The blood on the carpet didn’t seem to be increasing, maybe the bleeding had stopped. She hoped so!

‘Oh, Lee! If only there were something I could do for you …you were beginning to get used to this…just beginning! Please…be okay!’

There was a great deal of sudden activity in the corridor, and several bodies burst thru the door to Crane’s office. Leading the way was Will Jamison. "Cathy, what happened?"

She shook her head, " I don’t know, Will. I had a meeting scheduled with Lee. I came, knocked on the door, when Lee didn’t answer, I came in, found him here."

In the course of the brief conversation, Jamison had knelt at Lee’s side, and checked his vitals. Cathy had risen, and her place was taken by Frank Lerner. With a nod, they turned Lee onto his back, and Jamison began to check his head. There was a large gash on the side of Lee’s head, that had stopped bleeding, although it still oozed some blood. Around the gash, the skin was bruised, and discolored. Will checked Lee’s eyes, and then looked at Lerner.

"Let’s get an IV started, and get him over to the Med Bay." He rose, as Frank began to work on the Captain. He took Cathy by the shoulder, and moved her away from the spot where Frank was working on Crane.

"Will?"

"It looks like he fell against the desk, and hit his head. I need to do a scan, and some X-rays, but I think he’ll be okay. I won’t know for sure until I get him there, and run some tests. You okay?"

"Huh, oh, sure, Will. I have to go and tell the Admiral, then I’ll come…"

"No need to come and tell me, Cathy." Harriman Nelson strode into the office. He went immediately to Lee’s side. "Will, what happened?" he laid a hand on Lee’s shoulder, sure that the unconscious man would sense his presence even in this state.

"Cathy and Lee had an appointment. He didn’t answer the door, so Cathy came in and found him on the floor. I think he lost his balance, and fell and hit the desk. I’ll do a CAT scan and other tests as well…I don’t see any injuries except the head wound, and that is easily explained. We’ll know more later."

"Umhmh. We’ll follow you over to the Med Bay in my car. Cathy and I’ll let Chip know. We won’t say anything to the men just yet." He reached for the Intercom on Crane’s desk. "Angie, get me Chip Morton. I think he’s on the boat. Have him call me here in Lee’s office."

"Yes, Sir."

Tommy Chin came into the office, as the stretcher with Lee on it was readied to leave.

"Doc, I have an escort for the ambulance. You going with it, or do you want to follow with me? Admiral?"

"I’m in the ambulance, Tommy. I want to watch the Captain’s vitals…Frank?" he turned to the corpsman.

"He’s stable now, sir."

"Good…let’s go."

They moved out the door. Chin turned to Nelson, "Sir, you and Miss Connors?"

"Going over in my car. Get someone to clean this up, will you Tommy?"

"Yes, sir…" He paused. "Sir, the Skipper…he’s going to be alright, isn’t he?"

"Doc seems to think so…" He clapped his security chief on the arm, " and we can hope…and pray…" he turned to Cathy, who was still trying to comprehend all that had taken place so quickly. "Coming, Irish? "

"Oh…Yessir. Right away sir."

Nelson took her arm gently, and they started to the door, when the intercom buzzed…

"Admiral?"

"Sir, Chip is on his way to the Med Bay. He’d heard the call for Tommy on the security channel, and left the boat. He said to tell you he’d meet you there."

"Fine, Angie. Thanks…"

"You’re welcome, sir….and Admiral…Lee… he… he will be alright, won’t he?"

"Jamie seems to think so… I’ll let you know."

"Thank you, sir."

He turned back to Cathy, "Connors?"

"Oh, yes… I’m coming, sir…"

Cathy followed Nelson quickly, catching up with him in the hall. The two of them moved down the hall, and down the steps of the Admin building to the Admiral’s waiting Mercedes. Kowalski was at the wheel, and they got into the back seat and he drove them quickly to the Med Bay.

 

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Cathy and Nelson took the steps of the Med Bay building two at a time, tossing open the doors, and heading to the Emergency Treatment area. They entered and saw that Lee was already being treated by the staff, as Jamison moved about the gurney, and around the small room… Chip Morton was already there, and waiting for them. He approached his CO.

"Admiral, what happened to Lee?" The concern and worry was clear on Chip’s face. Nelson ran a hand thru his hair, and half turned to Cathy.

"Cathy had an appointment with Lee, and when he didn’t answer her knock, she went in and found him. Will thinks he may have misjudged himself, and fell, and hit the desk."

"You okay, Cathy?" Chip put a hand on her arm, squeezing it gently in a friendly gesture.

"Yeah, Chip… I’m fine… just a little shaky. I didn’t expect…"

"To find that Lee had an accident, in his office, and you ‘d be the one to find him…look, he’s in good hands. Why don’t you sit over there, and I’ll get you and the Admiral some coffee. We can’t do anything but wait right now."

"Think I will take you up on the coffee part at least. Dunno how long I can sit…, just edgy you know."

Chip grinned slightly, "I do know, Cathy… I do. Our Captain puts a great deal of stress on those that serve with him." He turned to Nelson, "Doesn’t he sir?"

Nelson nodded, "Right you are, Lad. Right you are." He nodded towards the door, and Jamison came toward them. The doors swung open, and Will Jamison walked to Nelson.

"Well, Jamie?"

"We’re moving him to a private room. He’s stable. Vitals are good. The CAT Scan is being read now, X-rays too. The only damage I can find is that gash on the side of his head… took ten stitches. I’ll know more when I see the rest of the test results. He’ll have a good headache when he wakes."

"How long will that be?"

"In a while I think. I haven’t given him anything. I’m all for letting nature take its course. And yes, Harry, you can go and wait for him to wake…you all can. Just let him come out of it naturally, okay?"

Nelson nodded, and he and Chip moved to the door to follow the gurney to a room… Cathy remained behind. Chip realized that she wasn’t with them , and turned to see her standing in the middle of the waiting room. He stopped, and Nelson stopped with him.

"Why don’t you go on, sir. I’ll be right with you."

Nelson nodded again, and then mumbled. "Fine, Chip. Just fine."

Morton turned around and went back to Cathy’s side. Laying a hand on her arm, "Cathy… aren’t you coming?" Seeing a strange look in her eyes, he questioned, "What’s up? What’s bothering you?"

"Oh, Chip… I don’t know… I don’t know if I belong in Lee’s room. We’re just friends who work together…not like you and the Admiral and Lee. I don’t think…"

"Look, Irish, you’re the one who found him… with Jenny out sick, who knows how long it would have been before someone went in there. You belong with us…If only to give our stubborn Captain a chance to say thank you."

She hesitated for a moment more, and then said, "Guess you’re right. And if he weren’t so stubborn, and so…Lee Crane… then we wouldn’t have any problem getting the temps to fill in, in Jenny’s absence, would we?"

Chip laughed aloud. "Nope! Too bad ‘Casanova Crane’ doesn’t have the same reputation with the temp pool that he has with other ladies!"

Cathy gave him a short punch in the arm, and he laughed again, as they started down the hall to Lee’s room.

 

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Nelson was standing at the bedside when Chip and Cathy came into the room… On the other side of the bed, Jamison was fussing with machinery. Both men looked concerned.

Chip moved to Nelson’s side, and Cathy took the place next to the Exec. They all saw the besides the bandage on Lee’s head, there were bandages covering his eyes.

"Something wrong, Jamie?"

The medic looked up, "Hmmh, oh, no… just got some results on Lee’s scan and x-rays… a bit puzzling, but…"

"And…? What gives?"

"Well, you do remember when this happened with Lee’s eyes, we found blurring around the optic nerves?"

"Yes, and you were all puzzled by what it meant…what’s happened."

"Well, when I talked to the Radiologist and we compared the results, it seems that the area around the nerves is beginning to clear. The blurring, if it was a mass, or a clot that had been introduced seems to be breaking up. We think that the fall may have caused it…Now what that means to Lee, we won’t know until he comes to. I’ve covered his eyes in case his sight does return. I don’t want him to be shocked by it. And if it doesn’t this little precaution won’t matter."

"Then, you’re thinking the news may be good?"

"May be is the operative word here. We really will have to wait and see."

"Something that none of us are very good at, right Will?" Nelson asked, a tiny bit of humor creeping into his voice.

Jamison merely nodded his head, and smiling slightly said, "Not very good at all, Harry. This Senior Staff has no idea what patience means." He looked down at the man in the bed. "Come on, Lee’ll be out for a while yet. Let’s get some coffee, and then come back here."

"I’ll stay, Jamie. I really don’t feel like any more coffee or anything else, right now."

"Want us to bring something back, Cathy?"

"No, thanks. I’m really fine, thank you. I’ll just sit here with Lee."

Nelson and Chip exchanged looks, and Jamison moved them to the door. "We’ll be back in twenty or so… if you need me, if Lee comes around, use the buzzer to call the desk, will you Cathy?"

She pulled a chair to the bedside, and quietly answered, "Yes. Yes, I will."

The three men left, and once they were gone, she reached for his hand. Holding it lightly, she began to talk to him.

"You know, Lee Crane, you confuse the hell out of a person! I don’t know how we’ve managed to get along at all, sometimes…. Of course, I know of your reputation…. Like I told you when we first met, it preceded you. And it wasn’t the hero reputation that was flying by here. ‘Casanova Crane!’ indeed! I’ve watched you flirt with just about any pretty thing in a skirt. Why you’ve even tried to turn the charm on me, and I want you to know here and now, even if you can’t hear me, that it almost worked, until I realized that the bottom line is that you’re one level below the Boss, which makes you my boss in a fashion too, and I don’t date or fall for my Boss… then again…I could. There are times when you can be so kind… so considerate, that I could melt. And there are times I’d like to use a baseball bat on that thick head of yours."

She leaned over the bed, and lightly stroked his hair, "When I caught you unawares that day in your office, when you were writing the letter to Farrell’s family, I could see on your face, all that you’d gone thru, and more, so much more. My heart wanted to break for the pain that you were in. But as soon as I knocked, the ‘mask’ came on, and you were the strong Captain, who could take anything, and not let anyone know how much you hurt. Just like you are being now. I know that its eating away at you inside, that you can’t see…that you can’t be on your boat, with your men. But you don’t want their sympathy, or worse yet, their pity, so you put on the façade of ‘the Captain’ so no one will know. Well, I’ve got a newsflash for you, pal… we all know! The Admiral, Chip, ‘Ski…all the men know… and they play along with you so that you’ll feel better thinking that they don’t know. Talk about confusion, Captain. You’ve given it to me in spades. And now, with all of this…well, I wish I knew how I felt about you. I know I care… I just don’t know what else. What I do want, what all of us want right now, is for you, thru some miracle, to get your eyesight back, so you can get back to the boat! I’ve been praying for that since this happened, Lee. I think I want that for you more than anything. I hope that it happens. But no matter, you have to start to let people in… otherwise, you’re gonna have an awfully lonely life…"

She stood and reached over the bedrail and lightly kissed him on the forehead. "And as for the rest, well, I guess I’ll have to see what happens, huh?" She sat back down, and continued to hold his hand in hers.

 

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The return to consciousness was a long one… he could hear voices, then silence, and then a single voice. He couldn’t understand what was being said, he really didn’t want to. The velvety warmth that surrounded him was too easy to remain in. He wanted to burrow deeply into it, and stay there,  for a long time, but he knew that he couldn’t do that. That would be giving up. And he never gave up. He climbed to the level of awareness to begin to focus on the voice talking to him. He caught the last few words, ‘see what happens…’ and recognized the voice of Cathy Connors. ‘Cathy? What’s she doing here? How…?’ He remembered feeling his way in his office around the desk, and then tripping and falling. He remembered hitting his head on something, and then nothing… He lay there, listening, and thinking, and feeling the warmth of the hand holding his. Finally he moved, letting out a small sigh, and realizing that there was something different about his eyes, this time, he couldn’t open them. He could feel the pressure of what only could be bandages. Did he hit his eyes in the fall? He didn’t remember. He shook off the hand holding his, and felt with both hands the bandages on his eyes, and around his head. He put his hands down, reaching for the one that had been holding his, "Cathy? Is that you?"

The hand had quickly pulled away. "Yes… yes, Lee, it is…Hang on a minute, I have to let Jamie know that you’re awake…"

He felt about for her hand, and made contact with her arm…he grasped it, and held, turning his head in her direction. "No! Wait…what happened to me? Why the bandages on my eyes… what’s going on?"

She took his hand off her arm, and gently laid it at his side, holding his hand in hers. "It seems that you fell in your office, and I found you. You hit your head pretty hard, and needed some stitches… Jamie has to tell you the rest. Not me…easy Captain. Just take it easy. Let me call him up here, he’s having coffee with the Admiral and Chip. They’ll be here as soon as I let them know that you’re awake." She patted his arm awkwardly, and then moved to the phone. He heard her speaking softly into the phone, picking up words, and phrases, not complete thoughts. He heard her say, " Thanks, Jamie, I’ll tell him…" She hung up the phone. Her voice came closer to him, and her hand again gripped his.

"Will said he’s on his way. He’ll be here to talk to you, and explain a few things… How’re you feeling?"

He humphed slightly, "I have a hell of a headache. How did you draw the bedside duty?"

"I found you." Her response was simple, but he heard the catch of her voice. He gripped her hand that had been holding his more tightly.

"I sorry… I remember getting something from the desk, and then going to move around it, and I tripped… always had big feet…and couldn’t stop myself from falling. I …don’t remember much else." He paused "Sorry that I scared you, Irish. Sure didn’t mean to…"

"I’m sorry too…you took a couple of years off my life to be sure. And at my age, Captain Crane, I can’t afford to lose any!" She laughed lightly. Then more seriously, she reassured, "Don’t worry about it, Lee. I’m just glad that you’re okay…"

He became somewhat bitter, "Yeah, for a clumsy blind man…I’m okay." He sighed,  "Sorry, Cathy… you didn’t need to hear that one…"

"No apology necessary. Just don’t make a habit of scaring me like this…"

Jamison, Morton and Nelson came into the room, and moved directly to the bed. Cathy released his hand, and moved away, allowing the friends, and the physician to take her place at the bedside. She quietly moved to the far side of the room, and stood listening.

Nelson stood at the head of the bed, Morton at his side. Jamison moved to the other side of the bed. Nelson placed an arm on Lee’s shoulder. "Glad you’re awake, Lad. You threw us quite a scare."

"Yeah, Lee," Chip said quietly… " a real one for all of us … I mean if you want to do something like this, try and do it so one of the men find you, not the Admiral’s assistant. And try not to leave such a mess behind." Chip’s tone was bantering, but the words made their point.

"Don’t worry, Chip." Lee replied, "I’ll do my best not to let it happen. When I get my guide dog , and the cane…."

Jamison saw the direction that the discussion was taking, and he was determined to stop it. He cleared his throat, and fussed with the IV in Crane’s arm. "Alright, gentlemen, now it’s the doctor’s turn. Hullo, Captain. Welcome back to my Med Bay. How do you feel?"

"Other than a hell of a headache, not bad. What’s going on with my eyes? The bandages…" he touched them, and left the question hanging.

"Well, there is some news, and I don’t know how it will affect your vision. The blurring around the optic nerves is breaking up. I don’t know if that’s good news or bad. The bandages are just in case your vision is returning. I wanted to be here, if your sight has come back. But I don’t want to get your hopes up falsely. There is a possibility that you will see again, and there is a possibility that you won’t."

"Well, then, why don’t you stop talking about it, and take these damn things off?" Lee asked impatiently.

Jamison laid a hand on Lee’s shoulder. "Alright, Lee. Let’s see indeed."

He flashed a look at Nelson, whose grip on Crane’s shoulder tightened, and he went to a nearby table and took several things from it. Coming back to the bedside, he pulled a high tray near, and began to work on the bandages on Lee’s eyes. Morton stood and gripped the rail, and Cathy moved closer to the bedside. They all waited anxiously as Jamison removed the light wrap, and took the pads off Lee’s eyes…

 

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Lee lay there, anxious and strangely excited. The CAT scan had changed! He stood a chance of his sight returning! ‘Oh, please GOD!’  He felt Nelson’s pressure on his shoulder, and felt Jamison working on the bandages on his eyes. He felt the pressure lift from his eyelids, and heard Will say, "It’s okay to open your eyes, Lee…Go on…"

He noticed that there was no lightening of the blackness, when the pads had been removed. He slowly opened them, and all that he saw was the blackness that he had become accustomed to. He moved his head to face the direction where Jamison’s voice had come from.

"Nothing, Jamie. Its still the same….nothing." He through his hand over his head… "Still the same…thanks for the hope, but I don’t think that what ever happened made any difference at all. Looks like you’re gonna be the Captain of the boat, Chip. Congratulations. I don’t know any one that can take better care of her and the men. If my opinion means anything, Admiral, I give Chip my vote. And Cathy, you had better get started on the paperwork. For me and Morton here. I think you better get the paperwork set to get me mustered out of the reserves. I need to find some work. There’s no place for a blind submarine Captain in the Navy or out…"

Nelson’s voice was tight, and strained. "You’ll always have a job here, son. This is your home, Lee. We’re your family. You can’t… we… I …don’t want you to go anywhere else. Think about what you’re saying… We’ll bring in other doctors that Will can recommend. We can find someone to help you…"

"Thanks, Admiral… I … I don’t want to leave here… I’ll have to think about staying…" he shifted in the bed, "Jamie, can I have something for this headache of mine? I must have had quite a hit on the desk…"

Quietly, Jamison moved to the small cabinet in the corner of the room… he took two pills and gave them to Crane. Lee popped the two pills into his mouth.

"Thank you all for being here, but forgive me…I am tired…thanks…" He shifted again, and closing his eyes, rolled onto his side, his left arm thrown over his head. Jamison motioned the three out of the room. Outside the door, he spoke.

"I think its best that we leave him alone for a while. He’s had a hard day , and to say the least, a crushing disappointment. If he sleeps for the next six hours or so, I’ll release him. I’ll let you know, Admiral, and then we can get someone to get him home, and settled. It sounds to me like he’s been thinking a great deal about many things, and he’s come to some major decisions. I don’t think we should pressure him in any way. We have some changes to adapt to ourselves.

"Not yet, Will." Chip added. "I’m not ready for it yet… and neither are the men… we’ll wait a while on that one."

Nelson 'harrumphed'. "We’ll all have to wait and see what happens here. I want you to give me another a list of the best Ophthalmologists in the country , the world if necessary. I want to have all of them see Lee…and see what they can do for his eyes. There has to be an answer for him somewhere."

Jamison looked carefully at the older man. "Harry, is it Lee that wants the answer…or is it you wanting it for him."

Blue eyes bored into brown ones…. " I want it …For Lee… he doesn’t deserve this… this kind of hand dealt to him…"

"No one deserves this kind of hand, Harry. No one… but many have them dealt anyway. Just because we can get all kinds of specialists here, doesn’t mean that they will fix it. We can’t even tell what they did to him…how they blinded him…how can we expect someone who doesn’t know the case to fix it…Harry, you have to be realistic here. There may not be a fix to this… the reality of the situation is that Lee very likely will be blind for the rest of his life. You've known that all along, and you must come to grips with it."

Three sets of eyes watched Nelson as he digested Jamison’s words. Chip Morton didn’t take the news any better. He slammed his hand into the wall behind him and swore. As he rubbed the limb, Jamison gave him an ironic smile…

"Feel better now, Commander?"

"Dammit, NO! Don’t go looking so superior, Will! This whole situation really sucks!"

"Well put, Chip… and yes… it does…and to be frank, there isn’t a helluva lot we can do about it, at least physically. We just have to support Lee, and help him adjust. He will, you know. One thing about Lee Crane is that in the end, he always manages to make adjustments. "

Cathy had been standing quietly, listening to the Doctor. She finally had something to ask. "Jamie, I know that its all still in the discussion stage, but did you all ever even think to ask Lee? He may have some definite ideas about the rest of his life. Blind or not, it is his life…not any one of ours, and he sounds like he had some definite idea of what he wants to do. I think we should respect that, whether we like it or not, Admiral." She looked pointedly at Nelson. "And now, if I still have a job, sir, I think I’m going back to my office. Chip, I need the reports on the last mission and what the needs of the boat are. Ship’s stores needs to know what we need to load aboard."

The three men looked at her, and after absorbing what she said, Morton spoke, "Reports are on my desk." He looked at Nelson. "I’ll be back later, sir. Tell Lee if he needs anything, well, you know…"

Nelson and Jamison nodded. "Go ahead, son. Cathy, I’ll see you later. I’m staying here for a while." He turned to Jamison, "Will, we have a lot to discuss here…"

 

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Lee woke from a dream… he had been in the nose of the boat, simply watching the movement of the boat underwater. He was feeling the smooth vibration of his lady, and watching the smooth movement of the men in the control room… watching…he woke to darkness…a deep velvety darkness… nothing had changed. He moved and felt for the nurse’s call button. Pushing it, he waited until he got a response.

"Yes, Captain?"

"Can you send someone in here with my things… and get Jamison… I’ve been here long enough. I need to get out of here."

He thought that he heard a slight giggle. "Someone will be there in a minute, Captain."

"Thank you," he replied, wondering at what he was going to do with the rest of his life. He was glad that he had come to some decisions, now if only he could follow thru on them. He would stay in Santa Barbara. Nelson was right on that count. This was his family now. And if he could learn a new job, with the blindness, he would be able to stay and do something worthwhile as well… he heard noise in the hall, and two sets of footsteps approach the bed. He waited to hear the persons speak, so that he would know who he was talking to.

"Skipper?"

"Sharkey? What are you doing here?"

"Well sir, me and Kowalski are here to bring you back to your place. The Admiral told us about your umm, accident… and we volunteered to help out. Ski’s got your uniform, since the Doc said that the one you had on earlier was kinda damaged…"

"I get the picture, Sharkey" Lee sat up, and grabbed at the railing on the bed. "I think that you’d better get a nurse to get this thing down, and see when Jamie is going to let me out of here…."

"You’re already busted out, sir…Doc just wanted to wait until you woke up."

" Doc’s orders again?"

The two men at the bedside laughed, and Crane couldn’t help but smile. "Okay, so he got me, this time… Help me get off this bed, and let me get dressed." He paused, "Thanks…both of you."

"Aye, sir. We’ll be right outside the door." Lee nodded, and listened as the two men left. He reached for his pants, and proceeded to dress, failing only when it came to his tie. He had come a long way, he thought, from the first few weeks, and he knew that he had a far distance to travel… ‘one step at a time, Crane. You can’t move too fast with something like this… you’ve got a lot of learning to do… a helluva lot!"

He finished dressing, and leaving the tie hanging, felt his way to the door. "Chief, ‘Ski… I’m ready to go… If one of you could fix my tie for me… I’m still having problems with this."

"Sure, Skipper." Kowalski volunteered. He stood in front of his Captain, and fixed the tie, "Sir, Miss Connors asked me to tell you that she’ll be over to your house at 2000 with dinner. She didn’t ask, sir, she just told me to tell you."

Lee laughed. "Don’t worry about it, ‘Ski, I can take care of Miss Connors.

"Oh, I’m sure, sir," Kowalski blurted out. Quickly realizing what he had said, he blanched. Lee wished that he could see the look on Kowalski’s face, but he laughed anyway.

"Easy, Ski, don’t worry about it. "He clapped him on the shoulder, "C’mon, let’s go…you all know how I hate hospitals!"

"Yessir!" and allowing the Captain to place a light hand on his arm, Kowalski, Crane and Sharkey left the Med Bay.

 

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Lee sat in the Great Room of his house. He had a CD playing softly, and the windows to the deck were open. He could hear the ocean, the gulls and the sounds of the outdoors under the sounds of the music. He knew it was near 2000. The watch that he had been given by Nelson was without a crystal so that he could feel the position of the hands on the dial. He’d decided to wait for Cathy here, in the Great Room, rather than the kitchen. It just seemed right to him somehow. He couldn’t help but think about her. Her kindness to him since this had happened had been beyond the call of duty. He wondered what she really thought, how she really felt, but he didn’t know what he felt either. He liked her a lot, as a friend,  how he felt about her as a woman, well, he hadn’t yet decided. He couldn’t decide anything anyway, at least, not right now. Not until he had the final conclusions about his eyes. Oh, he thought things were pretty well settled, but a small part of him kept hoping that maybe… just maybe…

The bell rang, and broke his chain of thought. "Come!" he called. He heard the door, and heard the footsteps, light ones, followed by heavier ones.

"Dinner’s arrived, Lee. And company, too! The Admiral and Chip invited themselves… and since I wasn’t planning on a dinner party, Morton here prevailed upon me to do take out. How does Fried Chicken and all the fixin’s sound?"

"Sounds good to me…" He rose, and stepped toward the voices. They moved to him, and met on the edge of the foyer. He extended his hand, and Nelson grasped it.

"How’re you feeling? Will sent some meds over in case the headache hasn’t abated."

"Headache's much better…and thanks, but I don’t think that I need anything…"

"Good, Lee, glad to hear it."

"Alright, gentlemen, I’m not a housewife, and I have no intention of doing this all alone. We move to the kitchen, and KP duty begins."

Chip leaned over to Nelson, "Is she always this bossy in the office, sir?"

"Worse!" he bantered back, bringing a laugh from all. "Much worse! Sometimes I wonder who is wearing the stars…."

Fresh laughter erupted from the younger men, and Cathy responded. "Dinner is getting cold, and I’m not gonna let mine get any colder, the rest of you are on your own."

Lee heard her go to the kitchen, and heard a rustling of bags, and the banging of some plates.

Morton turned to Nelson, "She means it! She really means it!!" He sprinted into the kitchen, and Nelson turned to Lee.

"Looks like we fend for ourselves, Lad."

Lee grinned at him. "Not the first time, sir, and I’m sure not the last!"

Nelson laid a hand on Crane’s arm, and subtly guiding him, they went to the kitchen to join Chip and Cathy, and have the promised dinner.

 

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Things and life fell into a pattern for Lee Crane, his friends, and his men, as he waited for paperwork to be completed, and for things to change.  He went daily to his office, and spent time there with paperwork, and with the Braille teacher. He also spent time with Nelson, Morton and the men of the boat, working out all of the various problems that would arise with Seaview’s frequent missions. Cathy Connors was often seen going and coming from his house, and was often seen helping at the office as well. Things changed, yet in ways remained the same…

 

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One Saturday morning, Lee awoke to hear a great deal of noise on the beach. He went to rise, and close his windows, and he realized that his world had taken on a decidedly different color. Gone was the velvet blackness, and in its place was a lighter grey… No shapes, nothing distinct or definite, but certainly grey. Instead of heading for the windows, he instead reached for the phone at the bedside. The small cellular phone was opened, and once Lee named Jamison’s phone number, the tiny device took over, and in barely seconds, Jamison was on the line.

"Skipper?"

Lee cleared his throat, afraid to speak, to hope… "Will, I… the blackness…it’s…it’s gone… I… can’t see anything…but it’s not black any more… it’s…it’s grey… I don’t know…"

"Lee… don’t move…don’t do anything! I’ll be there in less than five minutes…I’ll let myself in…just don’t do anything! Stay right where you are!"

Lee almost laughed. Trying to control his growing excitement, he said, "Jamie, I won’t go anywhere…do anything…. I’ll wait right here for you…just be careful coming over…I don’t want my doctor to be in an accident!"

Jamison hung up his phone, Lee turned off his, and sat, wondering. Would this be the beginning of his own personal miracle, or would it just be another bit of false hope, sent by lady luck to torment him further. He cocked his head to hear the source of the noise that had wakened him, and realized that it was coming from the beach. As he searched his memories for a reason for it, he remembered that today was the beach picnic for the men and their families, and that it often took up most of the stretch of beach from Nelson’s house all the way down Officer’s row to the last of the Junior Officer's housing.

From the sound of it, the crew was having a good time. He had opted not to attend in order not to make anyone feel awkward over his blindness. He certainly couldn’t take part in the games as he had done last year, and he had felt that his absence wouldn’t matter much, that in the grand scheme of things, he wouldn’t be missed.

He heard activity at the front door, and steps on the stairs, and heard a man enter his bedroom. His visitor was out of breath.

"Take it easy Will. No need to run. I really wasn’t going anywhere, anywhere at all."

"Well, I’ve know you for a while now, Lee, and I thought that at some point you might wander down to the beach. So I wanted to be sure that you waited here for me."  He began to examine Lee’s eyes, and the surrounding tissues. "What do you see?"

"Nothing, Will. It’s just lighter, instead of the black, its grey…bright grey…"

Jamison continued probing, and Lee sat patiently. After a time, Jamison finished…

"Well?"

"I can’t see any change externally, however, I would like to do another CAT scan.  I can call Frank from the party, and we…

"NO!… Don’t call him from the party… If I’m not mistaken you’re supposed to be there now, making Jamison’s famous punch. This can wait, Doc. Wait at least until tomorrow. Go on,  Jamie, go and join the party.."

"What about you, Lee? Didn’t the men expect you?"

"I bowed out, didn’t want to crimp anyone’s style…"

"Lee…"

"Hear me out… Last year, I did the volley ball game, and the races, etc… It was a good time, but I can’t do that this year, and I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable because I can’t… that’s all… no other reason…"

"Well maybe if…"

"Nope…I’ll be out on the deck later… Say ‘hi’ to anyone who passes by… But that’s it. They don’t need me to put a damper on their day."

Jamison shrugged his shoulders. "Do you mind if I use your back door. Closer to the party."

"Be my guest… Say ‘hi’ to the troops for me. Tell them I’ll catch some of them later.."

Jamison said ‘goodbye’ and left. Lee listened for the door on the deck to open, and close, and heard the footsteps go to the end, and then stop. He rose from the bed, and moved to the bathroom, to take his shower. He finally had learned how to shave without chopping up his face, and he was more than pleased with himself each morning as he finished this usually mundane task. He had showered, and then came out of the shower, heading back to the bedroom where he searched his drawers for shorts, and shirt. It was fortunate, his Braille teacher had told him , that he favored neutral colors…his drawers had been arranged with help to put coordinating clothing together. He felt thru the drawers until he felt the sought after garment. His old Jeans shorts. He felt for and found a pullover, and with out further thought, pulled the clothes on, and headed down the stairs. He reached the foyer, and thru the lock off, since the housekeeper was scheduled to come in the mid-afternoon. Barefoot, he padded to the kitchen, feeling his way more confidently than before. The grey didn’t fade to darkness, but was remaining grey. He had a slight headache, but attributed that to the way he woke up.

In the kitchen, he felt along the counter to the coffee machine, and pushed the button to start it. It had been left ready yesterday by Cathy Connors, when she had come by with Dinner… He shook his head as he felt his way to the refrigerator. Cathy had been a real light in the true darkness of this whole mess… She had been helpful, with out being pushy or insistent… there, if he needed her, but not pushing herself on him… a real friend. He reached into the refrigerator, and found the fruit that she had left him last night…he told himself that it was better for him than cookies for breakfast… Then again, that was what he liked the best… cookies, and coffee. Muttering a bit about taking too good a care, he felt his way about the cabinets, his hands finally lighting on a bag. He felt it carefully, feeling the particularly distinctive feel of the lettering on the bag, and a smile began to spread across his face…

‘COOKIES! CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES!’

Putting the fruit back, he took the bag, and feeling it carefully, he opened it. He had no idea where they had come from, assuming that they had been in that closet for a while, but if they were edible, they would be better than Ambrosia of the Gods. He couldn’t remember when he had last had some of these particular cookies. He sat at the counter, waiting for the coffee to brew, and felt for a napkin. Then he took a cookie from the bag, and took a bite. He savored the taste. Surprised that it was so good, part of his mind aware of how old it must be. Well, the media promised that due to special ingredients, the cookies would stay fresh.

He sighed. Taking several more from the bag, he placed them on the counter. Listening carefully, he heard the coffee stop brewing, and waiting a further minute, he reached for one of the mugs that were left near the pot. He poured himself coffee, and taking it, and the cookies in hand, slowly moved to the Great Room, and then to the doors to the deck. He nudged the door open with his knee, and went outside.

The sun felt warm on his face, the breeze off the ocean balmy, caressing him more like a lover than an inanimate act of nature. He breathed deeply of the fresh air, and slowly moved to the part of the deck where he knew a lounge chair to be. He carefully levered himself to the seat, and just as carefully felt the table adjacent to the chair to rest the coffee and cookies on.

He allowed himself to relax. The fact that he was seeing something other than the black gave him renewed hope for the return of his sight. What that meant to him, well, it was beyond measure…any measure… He refused in his heart, however, to allow his mind to plan beyond the here and now. He was still blind… he had no idea when, or if, his circumstances would change. So he had to plan to go on, as things were. And maybe, just maybe, he might have good news down the road in the future… as for now… all he wanted to do was to relax on his deck and enjoy the beauty of the feel of the day. The warmth of the sun washing over him, lulled him into a drowsy easiness, that he let carry him into a soft cocoon of relaxation. With out any effort, he slept.

 

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A hand shaking him gently woke him. "Lee?"

He shook his head, and cleared his throat. "Yes, …umm.. something wrong…?"

"No, we saw you here on the deck, and wanted to make sure that you were okay…"

He straightened up, "Chip, what are you doing here, anyway? You’re supposed to be at the beach party!"

"Jamie told us your news, and Cathy and I were sent to see how you were taking it."

"The Admiral was concerned, and sent us on down. He wants us to bring you back with us…."

"Sorry, Cathy, I’m off-duty, and I don’t want to go. I just want to sit here on my deck, and relax."

"You can relax at the party. Hot dogs, burgers and coke are better than cold coffee, and months old cookies!" she said sarcastically.

"But I like cold coffee and cookies!" He shot back cheerfully. Reluctantly, he rose. He knew that neither Chip nor Cathy would let him rest alone, and he also knew that Nelson was anxious to see him, to see if this change in his circumstances, however slight, would make any change. Crane knew that he would have to make an appearance at the party… he resolved to return home as soon as he had been seen.

He heard Chip moving around, and heard the door to the deck open and close.

"Okay, Chip…how many of my cookies did you take?"

"Oh! Uh, just a couple, Lee. Did you know that these are some of the best! Aren’t they the ones that you had, what was her name, Sandy,send you from Pennsylvania? The ones that she brought you when we were in Norfolk? You remember, the blonde with the…" Lee waited until he heard Chip within striking distance, and let an elbow fly in his direction, when he had come next to him…Lee heard him exhale hard, and grunt.

"Hey!"

"Hey, yourself…. There’s a lady present, Morton. And my escapades don’t need to be shared!"

Cathy took his arm. "Well, Sailor, there is a story that you have not one but several girls in every port. Sandy, huh? What special, um, attributes, does she have, Lee?"

She had guided him to the stairs that led to the beach. "And what exactly did you share with her that she gave you her cookies?"

Morton spluttered with the question, and Lee had the good grace to be silent. When they reached the beach, and he felt the sand beneath his feet, he reached for Cathy’s hand. "Somethings are better left unsaid, Cathy, in spite of what big-mouth Morton is hinting at! Sandy, for your information, was the daughter of the Harbormaster in Norfolk. We met when we were sent there right after the Academy. The Navy was planning to expand the number of slips on the base, and needed a couple of ‘green’ officers to talk to the locals. We were supposed to get eaten up alive in the politics. Instead, we managed to get the port officials to see the Navy’s way. And we both got our first promotions out of it. Sandy, besides being his daughter, was the secretary to the Harbormaster, as well, and we saw a lot of one another. She was originally from a small port in Pennsylvania, on a river used more for recreation than transportation. Her father was retiring a few months after we were there… she was a friend. Nothing more than a friend…Thank you very much, Chip Morton…"

Still rubbing at his bruised side, Chip mumbled, "Sorry! But she still sends you cookies?"

"Yes! She and her husband run a small business, and the cookies are part of what they sell. She sends them to me for holidays and the like…and she is a good friend!"

"I could use a friend or two like that, Lee. Why not ask her to put your best friend on her mailing list?"

Lee laughed. "You’ll do anything for food, won’t you Chip? Sure, I’ll tell her, but it may cost you an apology for leaving her stranded in the middle of the floating dock, and leaving me to do the rescuing, and the explaining!"

"Enough! ‘Irish’ here has heard enough to keep you and me in deep trouble for months…"

"Years even!" Cathy laughed. Her pace slowed, and Lee, feeling it, slowed as well. "We’re here…The Admiral is at 0400, and Jamie is next to him. The men are to port of him, and there’re tables and chairs set up at 0700." Her touch on his hand increased slightly, and she gentle directed him to Nelson, and Jamison.

The Admiral and Doctor were standing to the side of the men, both of them talking earnestly. Nelson was wearing blue shorts, and a golf shirt, open at the neck. The doctor was in walking shorts, and a pullover T-shirt with NAVY emblazoned on the front. Both were holding tall glasses in their hands Seeing the trio approach, Nelson called out.

"Lee! Glad you joined us!" There was no mistaking the warmth of the greeting in Nelson’s voice. From what Jamison had told him, he had not expected Lee to come, regardless of Morton and Cathy’s prompting. Jamison also greeted Lee with a warm ‘hello’.

Cathy subtly led Lee to the two men, and when Nelson extended his hand, she tapped Lee on the arm, and he reached in the direction that she indicated. Nelson’s grasp was warm, and firm, and with it he directed Lee to stand by him.

"Admiral, Chip and I are going to join the volley ball game… How about a try, sir?"

Nelson laughed. "You two go right ahead… I know better…the last time I played, Will had me in his Med Bay for two weeks with a sprained knee. I’ll sit this one out!"

"Very well, sir. See you later, Lee."

Crane nodded and smiled, "Cathy, you and Chip help ‘em win!"

"Yessir!" she replied, and she and Chip went to join the players.

Nelson guided Lee to a bench, Jamie sitting next to him, Nelson taking a place across the table from him.

"How’s it going, Lad?"

"About the same as this morning. Just light grey,  the sunlight seems to make it more intense then it was in the house, but still just the grey, nothing else."

"Will?" Nelson’s tone was soft, but the demand for answers was there…

"We won’t know until I can do some tests, and our friend here refused a trip to the Med Bay, today. Said he didn’t want to spoil the day for me. He promised he’d make it on Monday. Seems he doesn’t want to disturb Sunday either…"

"It can wait, Will. I’ve waited this long another day or so, well, believe it or not, I can be patient… really patient."

"I’m sure you can, Lee, but does it occur to you that Harry and I may be as anxious as you are to find out what the result of this change is, and where it may be going. Not to mention how the men may feel."                                                             

"Don’t tell them… I don’t want to get their hopes up." He sighed. "I don’t want to get MY hopes up. Too much is riding on it, and I don’t think I could stand the disappointment. I’m just going to wait and see what happens… if you and Jamie can stand the wait!" He laughed. "I think that you are worse about this than I am right now, Admiral!"

"And I think you’re right, Lee. I am. But we let’s not discuss that now. Let’s just enjoy the rest of the day, and we’ll talk about it tomorrow. As much as I want to talk to you about it, I agree. We have to wait and see."

 

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Wait they all did. Lee’s vision didn’t improve further. He took to wearing sunglasses inside and out, as bright light became hurtful to his eyes, with his seeing only the grey. No shadows or shapes were visible, only the grey. He tried to remain optimistic, but it became more difficult, as time went on without any further changes. He settled into a comfortable pattern of work, and study, and time at home, with Nelson, Chip, Cathy, and occasionally Sharkey and one or two of the men. No one mentioned his leaving and neither did he. Things came to a status quo. Chip took the boat out sometimes with Nelson aboard, sometimes not. Nelson continued to work on his various projects. The Institute continued to thrive, and Lee made a place for himself within the organization. It as not necessarily the one that he wanted, but still one that he could do, and not leave Santa Barbara.

Helen Crane paid a visit to her son, and stayed only a brief time. She saw how well he was getting on , and she knew that he would not be returning east, even if his sight never returned. She had watched him with the men, the Officers, Nelson and Morton, and she knew that he was home here, with all of these people. She left him, knowing that this indeed was the family that he had craved as a young boy, and had found as a man. She knew he was happy, in spite of the blindness, and that he would visit, but that he would never come home to Providence to live. So she left, and went home, and stopped worrying about him, and his life. She made her own plans, now, to continue on with her own.

 

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Lee was working on some bills for Ship’s Stores when it happened. He had been talking to Chip and Cathy about the computer needs for the Seaview, and what she would need after her upgrade. He had moved his head upward as if to look toward Chip, when a streak of red shot across the grey of his vision. He started in the chair, and Cathy and Chip looked at him, equally startled with his sudden movement.

"Lee!" they said in unison, "Lee… are you okay? What’s wrong?"

"I… I can’t say…Is there a storm, or some kind of lightening…its red… a red streak.." he held his head, and cried out…"There it is again!" as a second streak shot across the grey.

"Let me get Jamie! Cathy, stay with him here…Lee, don’t move."

"I won’t…I… I’m okay!"

"Yeah, right!" He reached for the phone, and punched Jamison’s extension. "Will, get over here to Lee’s office…something is going on with his eyes."

Lee heard Chip put the receiver down, "He’s on his way… Lee?"

"There’s more, Chip. More of them… closer, and faster… and the grey, its getting lighter…!"

Cathy moved to his side. Placing her hand on his shoulder, as he leaned forward, resting his elbows on the desk, holding his head in his hands, his eyes closed.

"Lee…" He moved one hand to cover hers.

"Just stay here, would you both…till Will gets here? I think this is going to mean another trip to the Med Bay. Damn!"

"LEE!" Cathy and Chip said in unison…

"The flashes of red, they’re faster, and closer… the grey… its becoming more red, than grey… It doesn’t hurt, but it hurts!!" he shook his head, trying to make the flashes stop. But they didn’t…

Jamison came running into the room at that time, followed by Nelson. The doctor stopped at the side of the desk opposite Cathy and Chip.

"Lee, I want you to sit back…" he eased Crane backwards. "I’m going to need you to open your eyes, now. Slowly." Nelson had moved next to Morton and Connors, the three of them giving the doctor space to work on Lee. "Lee, do as I say…open your eyes, now."

Crane had his head back on the top of the chair, his hands gripping the armrest. Cathy Connors had her hand resting on his shoulder, and when Will Jamison saw this he nodded and indicated for her to remain with the contact that she had made. Will was standing over him, penlight flashlight in hand… "Lee, if we want to find out what’s going on, you have to open your eyes…"

The grey had turned to red, with flashes passing through, brighter, and then softer…Lee didn’t know what was going on, but he was fearful of opening his eyes to more grey, or even worse, maybe the black again. He sighed, and slowly opened his eyes. His vision was colored red, a blurred red, with grey overtones. But there was more…there was the outline of a head, and then a sharp white light penetrated the red/grey. Automatically, his hand reached out to push it away.

"You saw the light, Lee?!!"

"Umm, yes… and an outline…you?"

"The one and only… I’m going to try the other eye, Lee." Jamison pointed the light into the left eye. Again, he pushed it away.

"You saw that?"

"Yes, Will… A bright white circle, in the middle of the red and grey. And an outline…"

With a nod from Jamison, Cathy Connors took his place. "Whose outline is this…"

"Cathy… and her features are clearing a bit…still red/grey… but clearing…"

"Alright, Captain, you and I are off to the Med Bay…Admiral, Cathy, Chip… you can all come along." He reached for the phone, "Tommy, get me an ambulance and crew here to the Captain’s office. I need to get him to the Med Bay. And no, this is not a bad news trip. It may be good news…very good indeed."

Turning back to Lee, "I’m going to take you over to the Med Bay and run some tests, Lee. I don’t what’s going on, but it seems that your sight is returning. I just want to make sure how much, and how fast. For now, lean back in the chair, and close your eyes."

Crane nodded, and leaned backward. He was feeling amazingly calm for all that he was beginning to see again. He kept his eyes closed, allowing the red/grey to remain, and he began to think about how he would begin to bring his life back to some kind of order.

 

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Several hours later, an elated group left the Med Bay. Lee’s vision had definitely returned.

It was still tinted red/grey, but it was definitely returned. He could see faces. They were still fuzzy, but he could see faces. Details were still unclear, but Jamison was certain, now, that he would completely recover his sight. He would have to take things slow for the next few days, restricted to his house, forbidden the offices, and the boat until his vision was completely restored. Lee had agreed, easily, willing to wait until he was back to normal before returning to his regular duties. There was no question…He could see!

 

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Lee Crane looked at the small group that had gathered in Chip Morton’s house. The fact that he could see the faces, as well as listen to the people gathered there, continued to amaze him. He had had his vision back for a month, and it had been a month of experiences that he had not anticipated. The simply joy of opening his eyes and seeing the light of the day come into the room… Looking at a beach at sunset…Watching the water rush by the windows of the Observation Nose on the boat…so many things…once taken for granted, now appreciated in a very different way.

He put down his beer, and searched the room for Cathy Connors. He wanted to talk to her, privately, and he was going to take the opportunity to do so now, if he could find her.

He finally saw her, in the middle of a group of men from the boat, talking animatedly to them. She was laughing and gesturing and he watched her. There was something special about her. He had found himself wanting to spend time with her, and trying to find the time had been the problem. Their equally busy schedules left little time for socializing.

‘Carpe Diem, Crane! Seize the moment before it gets away from you!"

He walked over to the group, and was greeted with several "Hi, Skipper!’s". He looked directly into her green eyes, and asked, quietly, "Cathy ,can I see you a minute?" He extended a hand to her, and she looked back, and said, with equal quiet, "Sure, Lee."

She took his hand, and allowed him to lead her to the doors to the deck off Chip’s Living Room.

He stopped at the door, and almost shyly asked her, "Care to take a walk on the beach?"

Her reply was as timid, "Why, sure…" a bit puzzled, "Is every thing alright, Lee… Your eyes, are they okay?"

He smiled warmly… "Everything’s fine… I just wanted to invite you to walk on the beach, that’s all, really."

She smiled back at him, "I… well, yes… I’d like that … c’mon, let’s go then…"

Hand in hand, they walked out the door. Neither one of them saw Chip look at them leave. He nodded to Nelson, who had been talking to a group of men from the Labs, and he simply nodded back to the Exec, and smiled slightly. Cathy and Lee went out the door, and the two men inside returned to their conversations.

 

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They walked down the beach in silence, barefoot, holding hands, and allowing the surf to wash away their footsteps as they walked.

‘His hand is so warm, so strong…He is sure of who he is …but if I ask him, will he let me into his life? Would he be willing to share part of it with someone?…I wonder why he wanted to walk on the beach tonight?’

‘Her hands, so soft, yet there is a strength to them…she’s a strong and determined person…in control…would she be willing to share part of her life with someone…someone like me? Would she be willing to let someone into her life?’

They walked further down the beach, their hands tighter in one another’s without even being aware of it.

I wonder if he knows that the visits that I made when he was blind were selfish visits…there’s something about him…I wonder if he realized I wanted to be there…with him…’

‘I wonder if she knows that the one bright spot in all that time of my blindness were her visits… that in all that time, she was the best part of each day…the very best part…I wonder…would she really want to be with me?’

Finally, a distance from the house, Lee led Cathy higher up on the beach, and they sat. Lee stretched out, extending his long legs, leaning on one arm. Cathy sat, her knees pulled up in front of her, arms wrapped around them, her chin resting on her knees. They were both looking at the sky, and each measuring the other in their minds. Both felt the attraction…both knew that they weren’t children… both were unsure of what this meant or where they were going…

Finally, Lee pointed up into the clear night sky. "Look up there, there… that’s Orion… beautiful, isn’t it? … The night sky, I mean…. Since… since my sight returned, its one of the things that I appreciate the most. On the boat, when I would shoot the stars for position, I took it for granted that the stars were there, and I would always be able to know where I was because of where they are… being without my sight for all that time, well, the sky and my position in things takes on a very different meaning….lots of things do…"

Lee was sitting slightly apart from Cathy. He turned to her, and looked carefully at her. She was a pretty woman. He knew that he was falling for her. And he was, frankly, somewhat frightened of the feelings… he had never committed to anyone in anyway on a personal basis. He was about to do something he’d never done before… well, damn the torpedoes…

"Cathy…? Could we talk…?" ‘smooth move, Casanova! Can we talk!’

Cathy sat looking at Lee. He was a handsome man…but more than that…much more… she was falling for him, in spite of her best efforts… she had been involved with a few men, but none like Lee Crane… He was a complex man… one who gave all to whatever he was committed to… did she want that kind of involvement? She knew that there was one thing that already owned his heart, the Seaview. That the boat was important to him, these last months had taught her well…did she want that kind of competition… was personal satisfaction, a personal relationship with him worth this kind of commitment?

‘well…’

"Sure, Lee…What’s up ?" That’s good, Connors! What’s up!

He laughed nervously…"Well, I … I want to thank you for all the you did, for me…when I was blind…I…"

"Lee, it was no problem, really… you’re a friend… when friends need help, you help…Simple, really…"

"A friend? I see… just doing the duty-bound thing for a friend."

She turned her head to face him. He was looking down, letting sand stream through his fingers. She was struck by the look of sadness about him. "No. Not duty bound. You don’t do for someone just because of duty… I … I wanted to…help…" She dropped a hand over one of his that were playing with the sand.

He looked up, and the moon struck his eyes, making their hazel depths even darker. He looked into her eyes, and the dazzling green took on an almost otherworldly glow in the bright moonlight. He sighed, "I’m not very good at this, Cathy. In spite of my reputation, much of which is the fault of one Charles Philip Morton, best friend, self- appointed caretaker, reputation maker, etc." He sighed again, and took the hand she had placed over his in both of his…she was again struck by the warmth of his hands. "Here goes… I like you… like you a lot… in the last few months, I’ve come to care about you a great deal….I would like to … to…"

She had been holding her breath, and exhaled… "Lee…I… I feel the same way… I care about you… I want… I would like to …too." She laughed… nervously… "Umm… I guess that we are both at the same place…like…"

"Yep…" He pulled her to him with the hand that he had been holding. She resisted, slightly, and then she moved toward him, slowly. He pulled her closer, and slowly slid an arm around her waist. She moved toward him, and he put his hand on her face, lightly touching. He held her chin lightly, and then slid his hand along her face, his hand resting at the back of her head, weaving his fingers in her short brown hair. He gently pulled her face toward his, and she moved to him, finally, their lips touching …and they kissed…gently, tentatively… Their lips parted slightly, and they began to kiss more deeply, but the both of them suddenly pulled away, surprised at the intensity of the feelings that they were experiencing.

Cathy sat up. "Maybe we should be getting back to the party. Chip might…"

"He saw us leave, They won’t be expecting us back for a while…" He reached out and pulled her closer again. She relaxed in his arms. "This could get to be a habit, Lee Crane."

"Mmm, and a nice one at that…would you like to have a lesson in the stars, Miss Connors?"

"You the teacher?"

"Yup! The test comes later… and I decide on what is a passing grade."

"Well, if I can get this close to the teacher, teach away! Army brats don’t get to know much about the stars… our interests are elsewhere." She snuggled into his shoulder…"School was never like this…"

"I certainly hope not!" He pulled her closer… pointing upward, "We can start at the beginning…the Big and Little Dippers…"

"Pretty…tell me something, Captain…" Her tone was light, teasing him.

"Yes?"

"As a sailor, you know a lot about the stars, right?"

"Yes…of course, the term ‘ a lot ‘ is a relative one… what’s the question?"

"Where do you sailors get the expression ‘stars in your eyes?" She was trying hard to hide her giggles… "I mean, if you know so much about them, how do they get into your eyes?" He could feel her shaking with laughter, knowing that she was teasing him…

"Well, Miss Connors, its like this…a girl falls for a sailor, he takes out to the middle of the ocean, and out there, they grab at the stars, and if he can catch them, and if she loves him, he gives them to her…they make her eyes glow, hence, ‘stars in your eyes’!"

His eyes were shining in mirth, and she started to laugh harder. "You’ll never be a storyteller, Lee… that’s okay, but…"

"Forgot to tell you that I flunked storytelling one-oh-one…only thing that I did badly in." He kissed the top of her head lightly. "So what other questions would you like to ask?"

"How about why don’t we head back to the party? This is lovely, but what about…"

"Morton’s mouth? Well let’s just say that the fact that we left the party for the beach will be all over the Institute and the boat by morning… and Chip will be fanning the fires… looks like we’ve made a commitment here." His voice was light, but there was an underlying seriousness to it.

"A commitment?"

"Yep… you are now one of the many who have gone to the beach with ‘Casanova Crane’. Morton is going to have a field day with this one!"

"Maybe we can do some Damage Control before it gets out of hand. You and I are in Ship’s Stores… you control the purse strings, I do the ordering, right?"

"Yes, but…"

"No, no buts… we’ll blackmail him!"

"What?"

"Blackmail, Captain…I know that you’ve heard of that before…if Mr. Chip Morton wants his supplies for his precious computers, he’ll be wary of what he has to say about us… otherwise, his supplies will dry up!"

"You have a devious mind there, Connors…." Lee grinned at her, "But I like it! Dunno if it will work, but I like it." Laughing, he rose from the sand, and extending a hand to her, helped her to her feet. They brushed the sand from clothes and hands, and started back toward the party. Lee pulled Cathy close to him, and draped his arm over her shoulders. She moved closer, sliding an arm around his waist, and leaning her head into his shoulder. Neither spoke, lost in their own thoughts,

‘This feels right…really right… I wonder what he’s thinking about… I wish I could stop my heart from pounding! Is he the one?’

Cathy sighed, and lightly hugged his waist slightly more tightly.

‘I can’t believe how right this feels…almost like it was supposed to be this way…so comfortable…so…right! If this can weather the storms…could she really be the one for me?’

They reached the deck, and stopped… Lee bent and kissed her lightly on the forehead. "Ready? I’m sure that Chip’s been anxious since we left…we’re in for the first degree!"

"What is the expression you sailors use, ‘damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"

He laughed. "Well put! Let’s go!" they walked up the stairs, arm in arm, and opened the door to the room where the party was still going strong. No one in the room looked over as the door opened, as the music was playing loudly, and the soft swish of the door was drowned out. They parted, each going to different parts of the room, and joining different groups of conversation. Chip came out of the kitchen, carrying several bottles, and saw Lee out of the corner of his eye. He looked , and saw Cathy in a different part of the room. He tried to look more closely, to see if either was angry or upset, and not seeing any signs of either, he became somewhat puzzled. Handing the bottles to the nearest person, he made his way to Lee.

He tapped him on the shoulder, "Can I talk to you a moment?"

"Sure, Chip. What’s up?"

"What’s up? The two of you left here almost an hour ago, come back and aren’t together, aren’t angry, aren’t upset! What the hell is going on?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing?! What the hell does that mean?"

"Exactly what I said… Nothing… we took a walk on the beach, we talked… that’s all."

Chip looked at Crane and could see the laughter in Lee’s eyes, while his face remained calm.

Cathy had come up beside him, and slid a hand into his, "Something wrong, Chip?"

"Yeah, something’s wrong.. what’s going on with you two?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "Nothing."

Chip looked like he was ready to explode. "Nothing! What do the both of you mean?"

In concert, Lee and Cathy and Lee said, with smiles on their faces, "Nothing!"

"If the two of you…"

"What Chip? If the two of us what? We’ve both got to get up early tomorrow… Ship’s Stores has a budget meeting at 0730. We were talking about certain budget items in the area of computer supplies…we had to get certain items ironed out…" Lee continued, smiling at the look on his Exec’s face. "in fact, Cathy and I are leaving, now… we both need to get some rest before the meeting in the morning." Lee looked at her, hoping she would go along with him."

She smiled at Chip. "The Admiral gave me a lift over here…Lee offered me a ride back to my apartment. It’s been a good party, Chip. Thanks for the invite." She linked her arm in Lee’s. He shook hands with Morton

"Ditto on the party, pal. Another Morton success! I’ll see you on the boat, in the morning, around 1100. Meeting should be done by then, and we need to go over the rosters for this new project and settle on the stores for the boat, and the computers!" He winked at Chip, and turned heading to the front door, Cathy on his arm.

They left the house and walked up the hill to Lee’s house. His red Cobra was parked in the driveway. He reached in his pocket for the keys, and held the door while she got in. Then he easily vaulted over the door, and into the driver’s seat, putting the key in the ignition, and moving the car out of the driveway in one smooth motion. He put it in drive, and drove it the mile to the apartment building, coming to a halt at the front of the large building. They sat in silence for a few moments…

"Nice car, Lee."

"Oh! Uh, thanks…forgot, your first ride in her, huh?"

"Yep… she rides like a dream…pretty too…"

"Thanks…" reluctantly, "Guess you’d better get inside, we do have an early call in the morning."

"Yep, you’re right." she sighed. "Wish we didn’t… would you like to come up for some coffee?"

"No, thanks… I… don’t think so… not tonight."

"Oh…well, I guess I’d better go…" she reached for the door latch, and opened the door. Before she was aware, he was opening it up the rest of the way, and helping her out of the low-slung convertible. He took her arm, and holding it lightly, walked her up the steps to the large glass doors that led to the foyer of the Institute Apartments. The doorman held the door, and they walked to the elevator. Cathy punched the up button, and turned to face Lee.

"You don’t have to come with me…I’m perfectly safe here…"

"I do have to come with you, to your door. A gentlemen doesn’t put a lady on an elevator and walk away, and you, Cathy Connors, are quite a lady. I …."

The elevator door opened, and they stepped into the elevator. As soon as Cathy punched the button for the fourth floor and the door closed, Lee wrapped his arms around her, and drew her into a kiss… this time, a deeply passionate one. Her response was enthusiastic, almost as if she had waited for this moment all night… her arms encircled his neck…her fingers twined themselves in his dark, curly hair. Their lips sought one another, their lips parted, their tongues, meeting and melding… their hands began a tentative exploration of one another. And then the elevator stopped, forcing them to stop.

"Damn!" he swore in his mind.

"Damn!" she swore in her mind.

They left the elevator, and slowly walked halfway down the hall. They stopped in front of her apartment door, and she reached into her pocket for a key. She turned to face him, her back against the door. "You sure you don’t want to come in?"

He laughed huskily, "I’m sure I do want to come in, but I won’t. Don’t want to move too fast Cathy, we have a lot to learn about one another yet…" He stroked her hair, tenderly, and slid an arm behind her back. She raised her arms to his neck… Green eyes locked into amber-hazel ones…

"Then at least, a kiss good night?"

"Umm, yes…my pleasure…my most definite pleasure…" he lowered his head to hers, and their lips came together for yet one more time that evening…This kiss was a sweet, tender, almost gentle one…one that lead to a promise of more…much more…

They pulled apart, and she slid the key into the lock… She turned to him, "Are you sure?"

"Very… I’ll see you tomorrow at 0730. And would you like dinner tomorrow night, in Santa Barbara…there’s a restaurant…."

"Wonderful, it sounds wonderful…see you at the office." She slowly closed the door. He stood there for a moment, and then shoved his hands into his pockets, as he walked down the hall…this felt right…he hoped she was feeling the same way.

She leaned against the door…It had been quite a night…this felt right…she hoped he felt the same way… sighing she went to her bedroom….

He went downstairs, and got into his car, driving the short distance home. He hauled into his drive, got out of the car, and went into the house… "Yes…this could be that start of something right for him…for them… something very right…."

 

Not the end, but the beginning…

 

 

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