CONFESSIONS

A Sequel to A Renewal of Life

by

Jane Daffron

 

The sun was just beginning to rise, its rays bringing a soft orange glow to the cool December morning. A lone jogger, a young blonde haired woman, ran down the beach near the Nelson Institute of Marine Research. Clad in a Virginia Tech sweatshirt and sweatpants, she had decided to start her daily routine earlier than normal that day. Returning to Santa Barbara only the day before, and on Christmas holiday break from college, she had surprised her mother, Captain Karen Davis, with her unexpected early arrival.

The girl was using her workout to vent frustrations that morning because, although Karen was glad to see her, Caitlin’s early arrival had caused herself a minor embarrassment. In an effort to surprise her mother for Christmas and help get the decorating started, Caitlin had neglected to take into account that her mother now had a very personal life. When she had arrived at their apartment late last evening, in high spirits because of the season, she had inadvertently stumbled into a very compromising scene between her mother and Admiral Harriman Nelson. Deciding not to awaken them, Caitlin had made a quiet but discreet retreat to her own bedroom. It was because of Caitlin’s insistence that Nelson had finally asked her mother out on a date. It was not seeing them together that bothered her, nor the fact that she was quite well aware that her mother and the Admiral had become lovers. It was the nagging doubt in the back of her mind that, somehow, all was not quite right with Karen. It hadn’t been since spring and Caitlin was worried.

Caitlin stopped her running after about 5 miles. Stopping near a rock formation that extended out into the water, she stretched out her legs to prevent the possibility of cramps. Deciding that this would be a good place to think, she climbed up on one of the boulders and sat down, watching the breaking waves and the rising sun. She turned her thoughts to the past eight months and the effect it had had on her mother. Karen had taken leave from the Institute after she was almost killed in a diving accident off the coast of the Azores. She and one of her team had been buried by an undersea avalanche and had to be rescued by Admiral Nelson and Captain Lee Crane. Badly injured, she had had to undergo emergency surgery aboard Seaview. The incident had shaken her mother’s confidence to the very core. And it was only because of the love that had grown between Nelson and Davis that Karen had returned to the Institute. But she wasn’t quite the same person she had been and this worried her daughter. She had never seen her mother give up without a fight on anything important to her. And this is what she felt Karen was doing now. She was letting her fears win out. Although she had returned to Nelson, a part of her remained on that ocean floor, 5200 feet down. Karen was so very good at putting on the facade, when all the while being terrified inside.

Caitlin had recently received an e-mail note from Nelson, stating that her mother was well enough to return to duty and to diving. She, on the other hand, wasn’t so sure. She couldn’t understand why he didn’t see it; he loved her mother, for Christ’s sake. Is he that blind not to see how she was covering up her fears in order to accommodate what he wanted? Caitlin had to do something about this, but was unsure how.

After about an hour of sitting there on the rock watching the sun come up and getting soaked from the sea spray, she resolved that she was going to have to confront him about her mother, reasoning that, if he loved her as much as she thought he did, he would see what was going on and handle the situation accordingly. Caitlin smiled inwardly, thinking of the numerous e-mail messages between the Admiral and herself, regarding her schooling, career choice, and of course, her mother. It was she who had kept him up to date on her mother’s recovery, passing on information once to twice a week during the period of her absence. She was the one who had seen her mother wake in the middle of the night, crying and calling out his name to rescue her and to not let her die. The nightmares had continued for months until they finally subsided. But something had taken Karen’s confidence away. And somewhere deep inside, Caitlin knew that only one person could help her regain it.

She got down off the rock and started back up the beach toward the Institute, knowing now what she had to do.

 

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Admiral Harriman Nelson casually strolled into his office that morning, peacefully content with himself. Last night had been an interesting one. He and Karen Davis had spend the afternoon walking along the beach, talking, and then spent the evening together at her apartment. She had cooked dinner for the two of them and then they had settled in for a quiet evening watching a movie on the VCR. The evening had further advanced into a very romantic liaison and he had ended up spending the night with her at her apartment.

Angie Pearce, his secretary, handed him his messages and his appointment list, and then advised him that he had a visitor waiting in his office.

Opening the door to his expansive office, he found Caitlin Davis, Karen’s daughter, sitting in one of the overstuffed chairs opposite his desk. He was a bit stunned since she wasn’t expected home until later that evening.

"Caitlin, what on earth are you doing here? I thought you weren’t due in until late today."

"Actually, I came in very late last night...I decided to come home a day early to surprise Mom and help with the decorations for Christmas. But I, uh...apparently came home a little too early." she sheepishly replied with a grin.

Instantly, Nelson knew why she was acting so embarrassed. Poor kid. Well, I guess we got caught in the act, Karen. He chuckled to himself. He had not seen her in the apartment this morning. She must have gone running before we woke up. And after all, she was the one who provided the encouragement for him to ask Karen out this past February.

Not wanting to prolong her embarrassment, he somberly asked, "Did you want to see me for any reason?" He placed the messages down on his desk and sank down into the large leather chair behind it.

She got up and started to pace the office floor. Looking at him now, she could see how her mother had fallen in love with him. He was definitely her mother’s type.

"Yes, sir. Frankly, I’m worried about Mom."

He leaned forward across the enormous desk, expressing concern about her comment, "What do you mean?’

Sitting back down in the chair, she continued, "Has she been out on any dives with the team since she came back?’

"No, but then again, it’s only been about two months. We haven’t had any reason to activate the team. She’s had them in constant training sessions, but there’s been no assignments. Why do you ask?"

"I believe that she’s lost the confidence in her own ability and she’s afraid to go back down. Admiral, I’ve never known my mother to give up without fighting back when she’s down. For her not to go on the training dives means something’s wrong."

What she had said concerned him. He had thought he was imagining it, but it all fit now. Numerous times, Karen had found a reason not to accompany the team down below, leaving the hands on training to Chip Morton. The reasons were always so plausible that he never had really questioned it. But now...

"Caitlin, your mother is a very strong woman, you know that. I know she had a very traumatic experience, both physically and mentally, but she’s apparently gotten over it. That’s why she came back here," he explained, sitting back in his chair. It was clear to him that something was very wrong and that maybe he was missing something. He had tried to be extremely observant of her since her return in October. What had he missed?

"Has she?...Has she, really, Admiral? Look, the reason Mom came back here is you. She loves you and she promised you she’d come back. Admiral, you know that Mom’s real good about putting on a ‘game face’ when she has to," Caitlin tried to explain to him. "But I saw her during those six months...." She looked straight at him and then asked, "Is she still having the nightmares?"

Nelson slightly cocked his head to one side and raised an eyebrow. "Nightmares? What are you talking about?"

Caitlin leaned back in the chair and pulled one leg up into it. She rested her chin on her knee and looked at him. Obviously, her mother hadn’t told him.

"She started having nightmares. Bad ones. They’d be so bad that she would actually be crying in her sleep. I came in one night and heard her talking in her sleep. She was crying...really crying, tears and all...and calling out your name, for you to come save her and not to let her die." Caitlin looked away from his eyes and stared out the window behind him. Her eyes were starting to blur from the tears that were forming. "It went on for months. Night after night. I wanted to call you. To get you to come to her. But she wouldn’t let me. Said it was something that she had to work out for herself. That’s why I kept sending the e-mail. Finally, about July or August, I believe, they stopped. And she seemed like her old self. But I’m not so sure anymore. I’m a bit surprised she didn’t tell you, but then again..."

Nelson looked at the young woman seated before him. He could see Karen’s resemblance in her face and it was obvious that she was deeply concerned about her mother.

"Your mother didn’t mention anything about nightmares to me, and to my knowledge, hasn’t had any. In fact, she really hasn’t talked much about the incident at all. I’ve tried a couple of times to talk to her about it, but she avoids the subject. But now that you mention it, I’ve wondered about times she could have gone down with the team and didn’t. The question is, what can we do about it? I really don’t want to have to order her to dive, especially if she’s not able to."

"That’s the problem. I don’t know. See, usually Mom wants to talk about things that upset her. But this was so bad that she won’t. She won’t talk to me about this and I’ve tried to get her to. I really think that the key to this whole thing is you."

"I don’t understand," he remarked as he leaned back in his chair.

"Look, Mom loves you. That’s the real reason she came back. Admiral, let’s face it, I’m not exactly naive here. I know that you and Mom are lovers." He looked up at her in a slightly shocked manner. "And it didn’t take last night for me to know that." She stared him straight in the eyes. "She needs you to get her to open up. She won’t do it for me. Maybe she’ll do it for you."

"Caitlin, I’ve tried, but she won’t even go near the subject."

"Then try again, and again, and again...until she finally breaks down." Caitlin was almost on the verge of pleading with him. "Sir, I really do believe she wants to but something is stopping her. Maybe she feels that it was her fault. That she didn’t do enough to keep it from happening. I don’t know. But I do know that if she doesn’t get this out soon, she may very well never dive again. And that would, for her, be admitting total defeat. And that, Admiral Nelson, is totally out of character for my mother."

He sat back in his chair and contemplated the full meaning of her words and realized how very true they were. Karen was a very strong natured woman and for her to utterly give up was totally out of character. The question was how could he really help her if she wouldn’t let him?

"Caitlin, I’m open to suggestions here. What do you want me to do?" he asked in an imploring tone. He observed the girl, very much like her mother in so many ways. The forthright and plain spoken manner were traits she shared with Karen.

She looked at him for a few moments, drew in a deep breath, and then explained, "Take her away for the weekend. I know for a fact that the two of you haven’t been away from here since she came back. At least not together." She caught the surprised look on his face, evidenced by the raised eyebrow. "Come on, I told you that I’m not naive...Anyway, get her some place where the two of you can concentrate solely on each other. Then get her to talk to you. If she’s away from here, she may open up. She’ll be under less stress and you’d stand a better chance." Catching her breath, she continued, "You know, Christmas is three weeks away. Take her somewhere where it’s decked out for the holidays. I’ll decorate the apartment for her while you’re away so she won’t have to do it. That way, when you all get back, maybe she’ll be herself again."

Nelson pondered over the suggestions the girl had provided him. He admired Caitlin’s devotion to her mother and the fact that she trusted him enough to come to him. He had been worried about Karen since her return, but she had assured him that she was fine. He realized now that she was covering up the real situation. He got up from behind his desk, walked around and sat down in the chair next to her.

"If I get her away, and mind you I said if, she will undoubtedly resist any conversation about the accident. If the situation is as bad as you say, then she’s clearly not ready to talk about it. And if that’s the case, there’s nothing we, or I, can do until she is."

Caitlin looked away from him. She didn’t want him to see her crying. She wouldn’t look at him.

"Caitlin?" his tone demanding that she turn back to face him.

She slowly turned her head and he could see the tears slowly following a path down her cheeks.

"Damn it, Admiral! Mom needs your help. If you love her half as much as you’re supposed to, you’d realize that. She’s never, ever given up before. She’s a fighter. Is, was, and always will be. Even when Daddy died. She cried…she screamed…  She’d hit a wall or the door…  But she never ever gave up. I’d hear her at night, alone in their bedroom, crying. There were times it was so bad for her that she’d come in my room and sleep on the bed with me because I was crying and she’d end up crying too. But she helped me through Daddy’s death and she pulled herself through it someway. But this is different. I don’t know how to help her." She buried her face in her hands and the tears came streaming down.

Nelson felt helpless. He had totally misread Karen’s actions and now he was faced with a situation he wasn’t prepared for. He sat back in the chair and watched Caitlin as she composed herself. Karen seemed to be all right; at least, from all outward appearances. He certainly didn’t detect anything last night when they were together, or this morning either. She seemed to be her usual laid back self. Now he was afraid that all of that was a faηade for the real pain that lay underneath.

"Caitlin, I’ll do whatever it takes to help her. But you have to understand, if she doesn’t want it, there’s nothing I can do." He looked at her and placed his hand on her arm, reassuring her. "I’ll arrange for us to go away this weekend. I know of a place up around Napa Valley that would give us some privacy. You go ahead with your plans for the decorations. I’m sure that will surprise and please her. When we get back, we’ll review the situation and see what else needs to be done."

"What about the dive teams? How are you going to handle that?"

He sat back in the chair and contemplated her question, and his answer to her.

"That’s an issue that I’ll have to deal with at an appropriate time. For right now, I’m concerned about your mother more on a personal level. If we can clear that up, the professional decisions will then take care of themselves."

 

σσσσ

 

Over in one of the laboratory buildings, in Karen Davis’ lab, experiments were underway to test new lenses for the still cameras the DWD teams were using. Commander Chip Morton, Seaview’s executive officer and the team’s second-in-command, was in the process of subjecting the lenses to the various pressures in a specialized pressure tank. Karen in the meantime was entering the data into a computer as Chip called out the readings. As each batch of lenses were tested, any failures were marked and set aside.

One of her assistants came into her and said, "Captain, Admiral Nelson’s on Line 1 for you."

"Thanks, Irene. I’ll take it here." Turning around to the telephone, she activated the speaker and then punched the blinking line.

"Hello."

"Hello, yourself. Are you busy?" he inquired.

"Actually, Chip and I are right in the middle of checking the new batch of camera lenses. Is it something that can wait a couple of hours or do you need me right now?"

"What I really wanted to know is if what you’re working on is going to have you working all weekend?"

"No, we should be finished here by the end of the day. Why?"

"Are you free this weekend?"

"Ah ...Caitlin’s in. I ...ah...found out this morning that she’d come in late last night."

Nelson chuckled. "I know. She came to see me this morning after she’d been running on the beach."

"Oh, really?!....And what did she say?"

"That she came home early to surprise you and that she knew the full extent of our relationship."

"She did, did she? I guess I’m going to have to have a little talk with her about prior notification when she decides to come home early," she commented, a little perturbed.

He laughed and then said, "Karen, I really don’t think it’s too much of a secret from anyone around here anymore. Not after the accident and especially after you came back. You know the ‘grapevine’ is too strong and too quick."

"Harriman, I realize that. But my daughter has better sense than to come home unannounced, especially now."

He couldn’t help but smile at her slight indignation. But it did not distract him from his primary reason for calling her.

"Listen, I’ve got reservations for us at an Inn up in the Napa Valley region. Get your bags packed and we’ll leave at noon tomorrow." He could sense her wanting to protest, so he didn’t give her the chance. "And that’s an order, Captain." It was said in such a tone that there was no use in trying to argue with him.

"Yes, sir! ...I will, sir!" Actually, she was kind of glad he had suggested the weekend away. She hadn’t really been able to truly relax since she had come home.

Karen had not been able to shake the uneasy feeling she had every time she came near the Diving Lab. Memories would come back. Memories too painful for her to share with him or even with Caitlin. They were beginning to consume her. In fact, she had feigned illnesses the times when the DWD teams had gone down below. So far, she had gotten away with it but even she realized that there would come a day when the excuses wouldn’t work any more.

"Karen, are you there?" he asked after a period of silence.

"Huh?....Oh, sorry. Yes, I’m still here. And, yes, I’ll have a bag packed and be ready to go at 1200 tomorrow."

"Good. Now what about dinner tonight for the three of us at the Harbor Restaurant?"

"Fine. I’ll find Caitlin and we’ll be ready to go at about 1830, if that’s okay." She continued to enter the data as she talked to him. Thank God for speaker phones.

"All right. The reservation will be for 1915. I’ll pick you both up at your office."

"No, at the apartment. I’ll need to shower and I’m sure she will also," Karen laughed. "Besides, you’ve never had to contend with two females in one household trying to get ready at the same time. You just have NO idea what goes on."

"Okay, the apartment then. At 1830."

"That’s fine, thanks. ‘Bye."

She smiled and then turned back to the phone to shut the speaker off just as Morton brought the newest batch of data in for her.

"Looks like we’ve got about twenty-five percent defective rate here," he told her, holding the lenses out for her to see.

"Twenty-five percent! That’s totally unacceptable, Chip. The manufacturer is going to eat this, not us. First thing in the morning, I want all the information on the rep and the specifics on the order we placed. Then I’m going to have a little heart to heart talk with that rep. I think I may have to remind them about the performance clause in the contract as well as the definition of breach of contract."

"I agree. I’m also concerned that since these didn’t hold up under pressure, something else could be wrong with their equipment as well," he told her.

She took one of the defective lenses in her hand and held it up to the light.

"You know...you might just be right. I know it’ll mean extra work, but let’s check on clarity as well. If what I suspect is true, we may have to chunk the entire lot or most of it at least."

"You think they tried to pass off the defective lenses, figuring that we wouldn’t find them until too late?"

"I’ll bet you twenty dollars that’s exactly it. And, if that’s so, then there’ll be hell to pay. I’ll not have the Institute pay for their mistakes!" She fingered the lens absentmindedly. "Also, I’m going to be out of town this weekend. We’ll get done what we can today and tomorrow morning ‘cause I’m leaving at noon."

Chip looked at her as she gazed out into the lab from the computer room. He could tell her mind was elsewhere.

"You and the Admiral going away for the weekend?"

She turned her stare toward him and arched an eyebrow. Hesitating, she finally answered, "Yes. He thought we needed to get away from here for a while. I guess he’s right. It’s just....I just hate leaving this for you to complete."

"Hey, don’t worry about it. Besides, I think the O.O.M.’s probably right. You’ve been working constantly since you came back. You need a mini-vacation."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Chip."

Morton sat down on the top of the desk next to the computer. "Karen, look...we all know what you went through down there and we all know how close you and the admiral have become. Hey, I stood there with him when the teams stripped off your suit and we saw what kind of condition you were in. I saw how he reacted and saw his face when he looked at you lying there."

She grimaced in pain at the memory, even though she really had no active memory of the event he described.

"Karen," Morton continued, "...He’d do anything in the world for you. But you’re going to have to get over this. We all face it every time we go down there."

She looked at him. Heard his words…but refused to acknowledge them as the truth. She couldn’t let him know…

"Chip, I’m just fine. Now, if we can get back to work…"

 

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At noon the next day, Karen Davis was placing her weekend bag in the trunk of Harriman Nelson’s dark blue Mercedes. Caitlin was giving her mother last minute instructions that she was to rest and enjoy the time away. She also assured her mother that their apartment would be decorated for Christmas, just as they had planned.

Nelson finally got Karen situated in the car and then proceed to tell Caitlin, out of Karen’s hearing, "I hope this works......For all of us."

"So do I, Admiral. So do I. Thanks."

The next few hours were spent talking and laughing as they drove northward toward Napa Valley. Finally, at about 1700, they came to a beautiful old Victorian styled home on the grounds of a huge vineyard. The view was absolute picturesque of 19th century California. Acres upon acres of vineyards stretched outward and around the beautifully restored Inn.

As Nelson drove his car into a parking place in front of the Inn, Karen looked around her. She was awestruck.

"It’s beautiful! How did you ever find it?!"

"An old friend of mine owns it. He went through the Academy with me. Retired about 10 years ago and settled here. This has been in his family for over 100 years. Come on, I’ll introduce you." He got out and came over to open the car door for her. As she slid out and put her arm through his, a man with salt and pepper hair, dressed in jeans and a light red plaid shirt came out the front door and down the steps.

"Harriman Nelson, as I live and breath!! Is it really you? Lord, I must be getting old and going blind." He stopped short and looked Karen over. "And with a very lovely lady on your arm to boot!"

The two men embraced each other warmly.

"John, you haven’t changed a bit. The place looks great!" Nelson exclaimed.

"Well, it’s about damn time you took time out from that Institute of yours to come see." Turning to Karen, he bowed slightly and winked. "Ma’am, I’ve issued I don’t know how many invitations for Harry here to come up and he always had an excuse not to come. Too busy, out at sea, whatever. Now....I see that someone has finally gotten you away from there." Looking at Nelson, he grinned, "Harry, aren’t you going to introduce me to this lovely lady of yours?"

Harriman laughed at his old friend as he turned to Karen. "Karen, this is retired Rear Admiral John Andrew Prescott, owner of this fine establishment. John, this is Captain Karen Davis."

Prescott looked at her, eyes squinted at first, then wide open. He took her hand and softly kissed the back of it.

"So you’re the one who’s stolen Harry’s heart?! Well, well…I thought I’d never see this day." He then took her arm and led her up the steps to the front door. "My dear, I’m going to have to give you the lowdown on this gentleman. I do hope you know what you’ve gotten yourself into with him."

Karen took an instant liking to this gregarious and charming man. Playing along, she smiled demurely and replied, "I think I’d like that very much, sir." Frankly, she’d had her doubts about this weekend, but now she was glad that she had let Harry ‘order’ her into it.

As the three of them entered into the Inn, Karen gasped. It was something out of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Holly and pine wreaths everywhere, a large ornate Christmas tree in the middle of the front living room. Lighted oil lamps enveloped the rooms in their soft glow. There was even the soft warm delicious scent of cinnamon and vanilla in the air.

"Maggie…that’s my wife…is in the kitchen with the housekeeper working on tonight’s dinner. I’ll see that your bags are taken up to your room," Prescott was saying but she really wasn’t listening. Karen was enchanted with the sheer beauty and charm of the place. It was as if she had been transported into another land and time. Looking over at the counter in the front hall, she half watched Nelson as he signed them in and was given a single key to their suite.

"Come on, you two. I’ll show you up personally. Harry, you’re going to have to give me the complete rundown on your lady here."

Nelson looked at him, laughed, and then placing his arm on Prescott’s shoulder, replied, "John, if I told you all her secrets, she’d kill me."

They were led to a second floor two room suite that quite literally seemed to have been transported from the turn of the century.

"It’s beautiful, Admiral Prescott," Karen gasped as she looked at the room full of antiques. She was enthralled with the charm of it. "I believe these are original pieces, aren’t they?" She asked, referring to the furniture.

"Yes, they're all originals. And please, it’s John or Mr. Prescott, whichever you prefer. I left the title years ago when I retired. Unlike Harry here, I don’t maintain ties with the Navy. Now...dinner's at seven-thirty, breakfast at eight-thirty and lunch is served at twelve-thirty. You have full run of the grounds. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to ask."

"Thanks, John," Nelson told his old friend as he walked him to the door. He then lowered his voice a bit. "I’ll talk to you later. Right now, I think what we need is some privacy."

"No problem, Harry. I understand. Come see me later and we’ll talk," Prescott remarked, then turned and addressed Karen. "Captain Davis, it’s an absolute pleasure to meet you."

She nodded and smiled. "Thank you…Mr. Prescott."

Karen turned around and gazed out the window. The view was magnificent. Vineyards as far as she could see. Even though the growing season was over and the vines no longer held their leaves, it was still an impressive sight. The sun was setting and its last amber rays were descending low over the trees. Nelson came up behind her and encircled her waist with his arms. She leaned her head back on his shoulder and closed her eyes.

"Are you tired?" he asked, softly kissing her cheek.

"A little. But dinner will be soon and we’d better unpack."

"That can wait a bit. I want to just stand here and enjoy this for a while. Do you realize that we haven’t had time together like this since Williamsburg?" He slowly turned her around to face him. "Karen, I’d truly thought I’d lost you, in more ways that one. I’m awfully glad I didn’t. Maybe when you almost lose something that’s so important to you, you realize how very precious it really is." He held her face in his hands and kissed her tenderly, then simply held her for the longest time. He knew if he had any hope of breaking through the faηade, he had to go very slow.

That night at dinner, they dined under the stars by candlelight. The Prescotts had arranged for them to have an intimate dinner apart from the other guests. The coolness of the evening necessitated sweaters but the clear sky was worth the trip outdoors. After dinner, they decided to walk for a bit. Since they were away from the residual lights from the cities, the night sky seemed so much brighter and the stars stood out like diamonds on black velvet.

"I’m glad you talked me into this. I think I really need this," she said as they walked on the grounds.

"I know I did. John’s been after me for years to come up here. I just never had an excuse to until now."

They came to an area on the grounds where there was a gazebo near a small pond. The full moon hung midway in the night sky and left a silver streak across the still waters of the pond.

Sitting down on the bench in the gazebo, he held her as they looked up at the brilliant night sky. He knew what he had to do. Somehow, he had to break through, to get her to talk. The problem was how.

"Karen…?" he whispered in her ear.

"Hmmmm…"

"Karen, you never did tell me what you did during the six months you were gone. Where did you go?"

She was silent for a while before she spoke. "I went to Blacksburg and stayed with Caitlin, for the most part. I also visited where I grew up. Saw some family I hadn’t seen in years."

"Why didn’t you call me? I would have come, you know that."

She turned around to face him. Even in the moonlight, she could tell from his eyes that he loved her.

"I know you would have, but this was something that I had to deal with myself."

"And have you?"

She looked at him. How could she tell him about the nightmares she’d had? How could she tell him how every time she thought about diving that she would freeze? In one way, he expected so much from her. The bad thing was that he had every right to.

"Yes, I have. I’m all right now."

He looked at her. If he hadn’t had the talk with Caitlin, he’d have been inclined to believe her. God, she’s good. Her face gave no indication of the pain below the surface.

"Karen, are you sure? You know you can talk to me. Lord knows, I know what it’s like to come that close. I’ve faced it too many times myself."

"Harry, I’m sure. I’m fine."

"Karen…" but before he could utter another word, she pulled him close and kissed him.

When the embrace was broken, he looked at her. This was going to be harder than he thought. She’s really trying to avoid the subject. Holding her, he lifted her head up a bit and softly kissed her.

"Karen…talk to me, please. I know everything’s not all right."

She tried to turn away from him, but this time he wouldn’t let her.

"Karen!.....Look at me!.......Look at me!!" He commanded her using a tone of voice reserved exclusively for dealing with subordinate officers. It was then that he saw the flicker of pain in her eyes. The brick wall is beginning to crack a tiny bit. Taking her by the shoulders, he stared her straight in the eyes. "Karen, I know you were hurt. I helped get you and Johnson out of the mini-sub. I helped carry you to the decompression chamber and I had to stand outside while they operated on you. I almost lost you then and I won’t lose you again because you can’t come to terms with what happened to you."

She looked at him and wanted to shrink into the woodwork somehow. She couldn’t make him understand what she couldn’t understand about herself. That for the first time in her life, she was truly afraid to continue her work and what she loved to do.

"Harriman, stop it!… I’m fine!…  Please?!" She pretended to look annoyed at him. "I think we should go back to our room. I’m a bit tired."

He realized he wasn’t getting anywhere with her this way. He was simply putting her on the defensive. So he figured he’d have to change his plan of attack. Maybe between John and him, they might just get through to her.

"All right, you’re right. I guess I’m a bit tired, too. Maybe it would be good if we did call it an early night." He offered her his hand to help her up and as she took it, she looked into his blue eyes. She knew she had to divert him off this subject someway.

"Harriman, you know, between the drive and the work with the lenses, I’m tired and tense. I think I could use a good long soak in that wonderful tub I saw in the bathroom."

"All right. Then while you’re enjoying your bath, I’ll go down and talk to John."

"Actually…Admiral…" she coyly remarked as she placed her arms around his neck and kissing him lightly, "…I was hoping that I could persuade you to scrub my back."

He looked at her.  Okay, we’ll play this your way for now. But later…Besides, he smiled to himself.  There’s much worse ways to end an evening.

 

σσσσ

 

Later that night, as the moon hung high in the sky, Karen tossed and turned in bed. Unsettling dreams filled her restless sleep.

No, no…Tom, we’re going down! No! No! Oh, God, NO!!!! God in heaven, we’re being buried alive. NOOOOO!!!!!!

Harry!… Harry!!!!… Please, please save me. PLEASE DON’T LET ME DIE!!!… I LOVE YOU. PLEASE…HELP ME!!!!!!!

Nelson woke up, found her moaning, and heard her calling out his name. Turning over to face her, he reached for her and in the moonlight saw tears streaming down her face even though she was asleep.

"Karen?… Karen, wake up!"

She was fighting him, not sure what or who was real.

"Karen?… Wake up!  It’s Harry…I’m here."  He took her in his arms and cradled her, not daring to let go. She was trembling. Just like she had that day in SickBay when she came out of the coma. Caitlin was right about the nightmares. Damn, why hadn’t he noticed this before?

"Karen, it’s okay. I’m here. Shhhh…I’m here!" he tried his best to calm her. Her whole body was tense and shaking; but as he held her and talked softly to her, she seemed to relax and finally fell into a quiet, deep sleep.

 

σσσσ

 

In the early hours of the morning before dawn, she awoke in his arms. He was half-sitting up in bed but his arms were firmly wrapped around her. She couldn’t remember going to sleep like this. She did remember them making love after her long bath. And she remembered ...the horror suddenly came across her face. She’d had another nightmare! She hadn’t had them in months. He must have heard her.......seen her. That’s why he wouldn’t let go of her. Thoughts raced through her head. Why didn’t he say something to her? But then again, she remembered, he had tried last night, but she managed to divert the conversation.

Her hand slowly stroked his bare chest. His breathing was slow and rhythmic, and she could hear his heartbeat, steady and strong, as her head lay there on his chest.

He’s sound asleep.

She hated not being able to tell him her fears. She loved him but couldn’t bring herself to bare her complete soul to him just yet. A tear fell from the corner of her eye onto his skin.  When she could take it no longer, she slowly and quietly eased herself up out of bed. Finding her gown at the foot of the bed, she slipped it over her head and then found her robe. Crossing the room quietly and entering the sitting room, she stood at the window overlooking the vineyard and at the moon above. And then she bowed her head and silently cried.

Waking up slightly, he realized she wasn’t there beside him. Sitting straight up in bed, Nelson allowed himself time for his eyes to become accustomed to the residual light in the bedroom. When he didn’t see her there, he got up and walked into the sitting room. He found Karen sitting in a chair in front of the window. Walking over to her, he knelt down beside the chair and took hold of her hand. Slowly, she turned her head toward him and he could see she had been crying.

"Karen…come with me," he quietly and gently told her. He led her back to the bed and sat her down beside him. "I can’t help you if you won’t let me or if you won’t help yourself." He wiped away her tears with his fingers. "I love you, but you’ve got to let me help. Don’t do this to yourself…or to us."

Oh, God, how she wanted to tell him. But he expected so much from her that she couldn’t. It was tearing her apart, but she couldn’t let him know how afraid she really was.  "Harriman, I’m fine. I just…couldn’t sleep and I didn’t want to wake you," she replied, barely above a whisper. "I just had a very…unsettling…dream, that’s all. Really."

He was slowly losing patience with her. Why wouldn’t she admit what was wrong? He could plainly see that she needed to talk and it was extremely frustrating that she wouldn’t talk to him. He wanted to help but she wouldn’t let him. Caitlin was right about one thing. It was almost as if she was giving in to whatever was bothering her. If this went on too long, there could be consequences, not only for her, but for the DWD team as well. And he knew the decision he would have to make if that came to pass would not be a pleasant one for either of them.

Deciding against an alternate course of action for now, he simply put his arm around her and said, "Then come back to bed and get some sleep. We’re here to rest, so let’s do it. If you want to sleep in, then we’ll do just that. John will understand if we don’t get down for breakfast."

She looked at him and could see in his eyes the pain she had caused him. Nodding silent agreement, she slid across the bed and settled underneath the covers beside him. He pulled her to him and put his arm around her shoulder as she lay her head on his chest.

He bent his head and softly kissed the top of her head. "Go back to sleep, Karen. We’ll talk in the morning."

The minutes passed slowly but soon he heard the slowing of her breathing and her body relaxed in his arms. Smiling slightly, he then allowed himself to finally drift off to sleep.

 

σσσσ

 

A few hours later, Nelson awoke and found Karen still asleep in his arms. Good, maybe she’ll finally feel safe enough to let me help her. He looked at his watch. 0900. He’d have to let John know to send a tray up to them.

When he had contacted Prescott about this weekend, he had told him why he was bringing Karen to the Inn. Prescott had agreed to help him to get Karen to confront her fears. John had been a close friend in the years before the Institute and had known Katherine Campbell before she died. And when he was told about Karen, Prescott had been overjoyed that his old friend had finally found someone that he could share his life with.

Looking down at her, he marveled at how peaceful she looked, yet he knew that deep inside she was trying desperately to fight a dark force within her own mind. He had seen absolute terror befall even the strongest of men, although he had always known her to be one of the strongest people he had ever met. And yet she was, at times, so very vulnerable. That was one of the things that had drawn him to her. Her inner strength and ability to go on, no matter what.

She stirred slightly and her hand came to rest on his chest. He covered it with his free hand and then kissed her lightly on the forehead. Karen then stirred and slowly opened her eyes. Focusing, she looked up at him and smiled slightly.

"Good morning."

Bending his head down slightly and kissing her softly, he replied, "Good morning to you. You feel better?"

She slowly became aware of the implication of his words. "Yes, thank you. I had a bad dream and…it was really very weird."

He looked at her, trying to figure out whether or not to call her bluff on this. But it was too early for confrontations and he really wasn’t ready for it, either. Harry shifted his weight and turned on his side facing her. Taking his left hand to her hair, he pulled her gently to him. His mouth then came crashing down on hers, taking her breath away. He let his hand wander downward to her waist and pulled her even closer and then on top of him. She returned his kisses with equal enthusiasm. His hands then rounded her back and slowly found themselves grasping her buttocks and pulling her tighter onto him. For the longest time they were intertwined in the embrace and its ensuing passionate conclusion.

An hour or so later, Karen was still lying under the covers on the huge four-poster bed but now she watched Nelson as he dressed to go downstairs to see Prescott about a tray for breakfast. He had showered, shaved, and was about to leave when he turned back to the bed and leaned over and passionately kissed her.

Karen’s arms moved around his neck and when she broke the embrace, she smiled and asked, "Hmmmm…what was that for, sir?"

"Simply because I wanted to, m’dear," he replied, returning her smile. "I’ll go see John about something to eat. Sleep a while longer if you want." He stared into her eyes trying to see what was behind them. Was this a mask she wore or was the safeness she felt real? Could he get her to open up?

"Actually I think I’m going to go in and take a quick shower while you’re gone. Please extend my apologies to Mr. Prescott about our not coming down to breakfast." She stretched her arms over her head and looked at him. "Actually, some coffee and a couple of bagels wouldn’t be bad if you can manage it."

"I’ll see what I can find. See you in a bit," he replied, kissing her lightly again, then headed out the door.

Karen lay there, alone in the huge old bed, surveying her surroundings. She felt safe here for some reason. She reasoned that it was because she was here, in this beautiful, wonderful fantasy with him. But deep down inside, she knew it was because she was away from the Lab and the possibility of diving. She clasped her hands behind her head and took a few deep breaths.  She knew that sooner or later, she’d have to confide in him.  The problem was…would he truly understand.

She threw off the covers and grabbed her robe that was hanging on the bedpost. She walked over to the window and stared out. The sun was hanging half way in a brilliant cloudless blue sky. Looking out over the grounds, she found herself deep in thought as to what she really was going to do. Then suddenly, as if a cool fresh breeze had blown through the room, she knew she had to have a long talk with him. She had to make him understand something that she herself wasn’t sure of and hope that he wouldn’t be too disappointed or angry.

 

σσσσ

 

Harriman Nelson descended the staircase that exited down into the kitchen area. Turning the corner, he found John and Maggie Prescott sitting at the kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee.

"Harry! Come on in. Grab a cup and pour yourself some coffee. Maggie just made a pot so it’s fresh."

Nelson took a cup from a little stand on the counter and poured himself a cup of the coffee. Turning around and leaning back against the counter, he slowly sipped as he looked at the two people sitting at the table.

"Harry, you don’t look happy, my friend." Prescott remarked.

"It’s okay, John. It’s just that…"

Maggie Prescott looked over at her husband. A silent nod from him and she stood up. "Harry, I think I’ll fix a tray and take it up to your room. Is she awake?"

Taking another sip of the hot beverage, Nelson nodded. "Yes…well…at least she was when I left."

"Well, I’ll take the tray up and you two can talk," Maggie Prescott said. She got up and took hold of a serving tray. Within a few moments, she had filled it with a thermal pot of hot coffee, bagels, cream cheese, fruit and all the trimmings. She then turned and told the men, "I’m going to leave you two to your scheming. But I’m going to put my two cents worth in here." She turned to Nelson. "Harriman, she’s been through a very traumatic ordeal. And from what you’ve told us, she’s never had to face this before. never. At least… not for her own self. Tread lightly, ok…."

"Maggie, I have been, I’ve given her plenty of chances to talk to me, but she refuses. Even denies that there’s anything wrong. She’s been having horrific nightmares. Had one last night, in fact. I’m losing my patience and I know that’s not the right thing to do with her."

Maggie sat down the tray on the counter and put her hand on Nelson’s arm. "Harry, from what you’ve told us, she’s had her share of tragedy. She’s just had to face the real prospect of her own mortality. And considering the kind of work she does, it’s amazing that she hasn’t had to do it before now. Either she’s one lucky lady, or she’s had a guardian angel sitting on her shoulder the whole time. Give her the time she needs; she’ll open up to you. And when she does, you need to be there to hold on to her, ‘cause it won’t be easy."

John Prescott looked at his wife and nodded. "I agree with Maggie, Harry. She hits me as being one intense lady when she has to be. I’ve seen that before in people. So focused on one thing and expectin’ so much of herself. No, Harry, she’s had her confidence shaken to the very core. Keep chipping away what’s wrong. It may take a while, but eventually, you’ll wear her down."

Nelson drank the coffee and then refilled his cup. "What I’m afraid of, John, is that her reluctance to really deal with this is going to also affect the DWD team." He cocked his head slightly and continued, "Chip Morton has already approached me about it. He sees it too. And he’s her number two man on the team. It puts me in a rather ticklish situation here. On one hand, I want to give her all the time she needs, but on the other hand…"

Prescott nodded, "…On the other, you’re going to have to make a tough decision with what do with the team. I know. And that’s a tough issue. After all, you are her commanding officer, not just her…well, whatever they call it these days." Prescott narrowed his eyes and one eyebrow arched itself. "You know, you might just have to take her off of the team. Temporarily, of course. But if her behavior is a determent to the team, you have no other choice. Look, Harry, I know things have changed a lot since I was in, and you run an informal group down there. But you may really have to get tough with her. She impresses me as being one tough cookie. And from what you’ve said about her background, I think she just might need the shock. Now, mind you, it won’t be easy. Her pride is going to take a beating, particularly with it coming from you. But…if she’s got what I think she has deep down inside, she’ll come out of this ok and much better to boot."

Maggie stood with the tray in her hand and leaned slightly against the door frame at the bottom of the staircase. "I agree with John, Harry. But, beware.....she'll put up a fight until then. Just don’t lose that Irish temper of yours and blow the whole damn thing. Now, I’m going to get this upstairs before it gets cold." She turned and started up the stairs. Prescott watched her as she left and smiled.

"You know, she’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I’m one lucky son of a bitch."

Nelson smiled slightly. "You’re right, John. She is the best thing that could've ever happened to you."

"And Karen Davis is the best thing that’s happened to you, my friend." Prescott raised his cup in a mock toast to his old friend. "Seriously, Harry, you get her through this, you really ought to marry the lady. She’s just what you need. Fire and ice, Harry. That’s what you need. Not some little mouse that’s gonna sit in the background and play the role of showpiece…No, old buddy…you need somebody with some backbone. I checked her out, you know. I do still have some contacts. And I was impressed, to say the least." He sipped his coffee and then looked at Nelson with a somewhat mischievous grin. "What I want to know is how come it took you two years before you asked the lady out?"

Nelson shifted his weight and then walked over to the kitchen table and sat down. "Frankly, I’m not sure. Looking back on it now, I realize I was attracted to her from the first moment I laid eyes on her. There was just something about her, you know? Anyway, as you well know, I’ve always kept my personal life separate and apart from my professional one. Karen was, from the very beginning, a part of the professional one but her daughter, Caitlin, kept dropping little comments ever so often.  And then everybody else down there…including Rennalt.  And you know how much of a pain in the ass Tony can be at times." Harriman smiled to himself, remembering the various e-mails that he had had from Caitlin, especially the one that finally led him to take the final step…and the fact that it seemed that everyone at the Institute was in on the conspiracy to get them together. "Now that’s a kid you ought to meet, John. She’s the one who kept after me about her mother. I’d swear that if I didn’t know better, she was trying to play matchmaker between us."

"Who knows, Harry, maybe she was. A lot of times, others see what we ourselves refuse to. Maybe she saw her mother’s reaction to you and vice versa and decided to take matters into her own hands. Whatever. As for Tony…I’m not surprised to hear he meddled in your ‘affairs’.  He’s been doing that for a long time now and you can’t tell me he hasn’t been.  But the point is, you finally did do something about it. Now, old friend, it’s up to you to help the lady get back on track."

Prescott got up and retrieved the coffee pot from the stove. Refilling Nelson’s cup and then his own, he sat the pot down on a trivet in the center of the table.

"John, I know that. But the problem is how to do it. She’s so very good at hiding the hurt. I watched her last night and this morning and I’m telling you, had Caitlin not clued me in on the real problems, I’d have never known."

"Harry, what really happened down there? I know only what little you’ve told me. But for it to effect her this bad, there’s got to be more than what you’re telling me."

Nelson leaned back in the kitchen chair and stretched his legs out. Holding the cup in both hands, he pondered his response for just a few moments.

"Basically, in a nutshell, there was an undersea avalanche that buried her and a team member in one of the mini-subs. They were both hurt. Lee Crane and I had to help get them out by using the robotic arms on the Flying Sub. Karen was hurt the worst, John. Will Jamison said it was fluid pressure built up on the brain. They had to do surgery right in the decompression tank. She was in a coma for nearly 48 hours afterward. I think the fact that she was conscious during the avalanche coupled with seeing themselves being buried alive nearly a mile down must have hit her pretty hard."

Prescott passed Harry a plate of the bagels and handed him some silverware and cream cheese. "Look, wouldn’t you be scared too, if that had happened to you for the first time? Think about it, Harry! Think about the times that you and Seaview and her crew have been sitting on the bottom in some bad circumstances. Now, turn that around and you’ll see that, for her, this was 1000 times worse. Especially since she had never faced the possibility of her own death before," John exclaimed. "Harry, would you like me to try to talk to her and see what I can do? Maybe someone who’s not close to the situation may be able to get further than you will? Or maybe Maggie?.... Actually, come to think of it, Maggie might be the one who would be better suited for this than me. Another woman and all that, you know. What do you say?"

"John, at this point, I’ll try anything."

"Ok, I’ll talk to Maggie. But then, if I know Maggie, I’d be willing to bet that she’s up there right now assessing the situation and talking to her. And if there’s anyone that can make heads or tails out of a strange situation, it’ll be my Maggie."

 

σσσσ

 

Maggie Prescott was indeed talking to Karen Davis. She had taken the breakfast tray up to the suite and found Karen about to head for the shower. The two women struck up a conversation and Karen seemed to find herself completely at ease with her hostess. Maggie was regaling in telling Karen how long she and John had known Harriman Nelson. Feeling more and more like her old self, Karen chimed in with a few of her own stories about him.

At one point, Maggie deliberately but delicately asked about the accident and if she was all right now. Karen thanked her for her concern and advised her that she was just fine. Maggie wasn’t convinced, however. There was a certain strain to her voice, almost undetectable to anyone else. She watched Karen’s mannerisms, listened to her. Although she didn’t know her, she still picked up on the body language. Harry’s definitely got his work cut out for him here. She’s scared about something, that’s for sure.

"You know that John and Harry are old, old friends. John actually is the older. He was in his third year at the Academy when Harry got there."

"Why did Admiral...I mean John...leave the Navy?"

"This winery belonged to the Prescott family. It was usually handed down to the oldest son, which John is not. Anyway, John’s brother never really took much of an interest in the business. In fact, they almost had to shut down. John, though, had the real nose and palate it took, so in order to save it, the family approached him about taking over when he retired. He did and we’ve been here ever since. You don’t know how long he has tried to get Harriman Nelson to come up here. And Harry always had something else he was into. But now he’s got you to think about, now doesn’t he?

"This is a beautiful place, Maggie. It’s probably more so in the spring and summer. I envy you."

Maggie Prescott watched Karen as she spoke. She saw the flickers of light in her eyes as she spoke about Nelson. It was obvious to Maggie that Karen was in love with him, but at the same time, there was something else there. She wasn’t sure, but she could have sworn it was fear. Why would she be afraid of him if she loves him so much? This doesn’t make sense.

"Well, I’ve got to get downstairs and start cooking for lunch. If you want anything, use the phone and it’ll ring in the kitchen." Maggie started out the door when she suddenly turned and said, "And if you ever just want to come down and talk, I’d love to have another set of hands in the kitchen."

Karen smiled at the gracious woman. "Thank you, I’ll remember that."

Maggie left her to her coffee and bagels and headed back down to the kitchen. When she turned the corner, she found Nelson sitting at the kitchen table with John. She pulled out a chair and sat between the two of them.

"Harry, that’s one hurt lady that’s up there."

Nelson looked at Maggie in disbelief. How could she know anything after just a brief meeting with Karen?

"Look, don’t ask how I know, because both of you would think I’m crazy, but I do know a few things. One, she loves you very much. Didn’t have to say it, but the tone of her voice showed it. Two, along the same light, though, she’s afraid of you for some unknown reason., and three, she’s most definitely fighting some sort of battle inside herself."

He sat the coffee cup down and rubbed one hand through his hair. "Ah...and you got this from your conversation with her, did you?"

"Look, often times it’s not what is said, but what is not said that gives the clue. Now, I may be wrong, but for some unknown reason, I think she’s afraid of you. Now, the reason why is something you need to find out." Maggie looked at Harry and then to her husband. "John can tell you that I’m pretty good at reading people. Ahhh....Harry, there’s no doubt that she loves you. Her eyes light up at the sound of your name. But at the same time, there’s something else there.....almost like fear."

Nelson looked genuinely puzzled. Why would Karen be afraid of him? That just didn’t make any sense!

Maggie sat there, letting him digest what she had just said. Then she made an offer to him. "Harry, let me try to get her to open up. You’re too close to the situation. She may perceive your inquiries and concern as a threat. Can you stay for a few extra days? It may take that long, but if it works, it’ll be worth the time."

"We could probably stay a day or so longer, Maggie. I’ll try anything if it will help."

"Good!....Then it’s settled!" John smiled. "Now, Harry, didn’t you say that you wanted to see our operation here?"

Nelson nodded and the two men left the kitchen and head toward the winery.

Maggie, in the meantime, started on a plan to get Karen to open up and confront whatever was haunting her.

 

σσσσ

 

Up in the suite, Karen looked out the window and saw Nelson and Prescott head toward the winery operation. She decided to dress and take Maggie up on her offer; maybe she could talk to her. She seemed to be just what Karen needed - someone to really pour her heart out to.

Karen dressed and found herself going down to the kitchen. Maggie was washing fresh vegetables for the chicken cacciatore that would be served that evening for dinner. Upon seeing Karen, she smiled.

"Well, hello....I’m preparing the vegetables for dinner. Want to help?"

"Sure, I can cut veggies with the best of them," she replied.

Maggie then handed her a knife and the two women proceeded to cut, slice and dice the vegetables for dinner. They laughed at each other’s jokes and Karen seemed to be relaxing. Maggie was easy to talk to so when she asked Karen about the accident, Karen decided to finally say something.

"I guess Harry’s told you what happened to me."

"Well, he did sort of say something to John about it. Told him that you were pretty badly injured and that you took about 6 months off to heal. I hope everything’s okay now."

Karen stopped what she was doing and gazed out the window at the vineyards. Tears suddenly formed and she started to cry. Maggie saw what was happening and put her knife down and put her arm around her.

"Maggie, I’ve got to talk to someone. I’m so afraid."

The two women sat down at the table and Maggie put her hands over top of Karen’s.

"Why are you afraid?"

Karen looked up at her, tears following worn paths down her cheeks.

"I’m afraid that if Harry knows how really frightened I am that he’ll be angry and disappointed. You see, I was originally brought aboard as the Seaview’s new Diving Officer. I was the one who built the Deep Water Diving Team for him. He has such high expectations, as well he should. But I’m afraid that those same high expectations also extend to me as a person. Maggie, I don’t think I’ve ever been as afraid of dying as I was that day. A mile under water, buried alive. I watched those rocks come down on top of us and I couldn’t do a thing. I couldn’t do a damn thing! I tried, Maggie, I really truly tried. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t.... ."

She buried her face in her hands and sobbed.

Maggie let her cry. For at least ten minutes or more, the two women sat at the table, Karen crying her very soul out and Maggie holding on to her. Best to let her get this out of her system, Maggie thought.

After a bit, Maggie got up and got a box of tissues and sat them down next to Karen. Sitting back down, she leaned back in the kitchen chair and looked at her. She saw a woman who, for the very first time, had had to come to terms with death. Whether she lived or died had depended upon unforeseen forces and she had not been able to influence the outcome.

"Karen," Maggie softly said. "We don’t usually pick the way we die. That’s not for us to do. These things are not exactly in our control."

"I know. But I’ve gone over it and over it and over it in my mind so many times to see if there was something I’d missed.....something I did or didn’t do....that caused us to be buried......and......."

"And you can’t find anything, right?"

She nodded her head yes.

"Karen, Harriman Nelson is the type of man who accepts things like this. He knows you did every thing in your absolute power to keep this from happening. Yes, he has high standards. But he has to. Look, if he didn’t, do you really think you’d be aboard Seaview?"

Karen got up and crossed over to the sink. Turning around to face Maggie, she dried her tears with the back of her hand. "I know what you’re saying is true, but still........"

"But still nothing. Listen to me, ok? I’ve know Harriman for a long, long time. He’s in love with you. We knew Katherine Campbell long ago and you’re nothing like her. But I’ll tell you this....You are the best thing that’s ever happened to him. He really hasn’t wanted to get serious about anyone until you came into his life. I see how he acts around you, how those blue eyes shine when you’re around or when your name is mentioned. Karen, look. A word of advice, okay? Tell him exactly what you’ve told me. You might just be surprised at what you find out."

"I can’t, Maggie. Then he’ll know I’ve failed him."

"Oh, bull. You haven’t failed him, Karen. Not in the least."

"I have if I can’t dive!"

So that’s it! That’s what she’s afraid of. Maggie looked at her. "What do you mean if you can’t dive?"

Karen looked away from the gaze of her eyes. Swallowing hard, she looked back.

"Maggie, I’m petrified to go back into the water to dive. Every time I get near the diving lab, I freeze up. And even thinking about going back down there puts me in a cold sweat. I’m afraid to even come near it for the first time in my life. Look, ever since my husband died, I’ve lived on the edge. The FA-18s, the diving......everything. I felt like nothing could touch me. Maybe it’s been a death wish........I don’t know. But I know that, for the first time in my life, I’m afraid to even go back."

The two women looked at each other. Karen was standing there with tears in her eyes.

"And if I can’t dive, what good am I to Harry or to Seaview? That’s why I was brought aboard. I can’t ask him to keep me at the Institute simply because I’m his lover."

"Karen, you’re much more than that to him. I know that for a fact. Good God, woman, don’t you see what’s going on here? You’ve let the fear take over your whole being. Now, listen to me, you’ve got to talk to him. Tell him. Let him know. And if I know anything about him at all, he will understand."

"Maggie, I’m afraid that my self-doubt is going to effect the team. If they were to get in a tight jam, right now, the way I feel, I can’t even put a wet suit on much less look out Seaview’s bow without getting antsy."

"Then you’ve just got to confront your fears, Karen, and you’ve got to tell Harriman about it, too. You owe him that much."

She bowed her head slightly and nodded. "I know, I know....it’s just....just...that I don’t really know if I can face him about it."

Maggie got up and crossed over to where Karen was standing by the sink. "Well, you’d better get over that real quick, ‘cause if you don’t, he may have to take some drastic measures that he doesn’t want to take."

Karen looked up at her and she recognized that the older woman was giving her a very subtle but gentle warning. She was no fool. She recognized the fact that Nelson was her commanding officer and her employer, not only the man with whom she was in love with. And he had responsibilities as well. He would make decisions based on the welfare of the crew and the facts of a given situation, and if that included an unpleasant one involving her, then he would do what had to be done, regardless of how he felt.

Just about that time, Nelson and Prescott came through the kitchen door. The two men stopped short and Maggie shot a quick hard look at her husband. John knew that look so well that he immediately said to Nelson, "Harry, let’s go get a bottle of our best vintage for dinner tonight. I think the ladies need some more time to...ah...get things under control here."

Maggie made slight motion with her head and John herded him out of the kitchen. She didn’t want Karen to feel threatened just when she had finally decided to open up. Having Harry around would not be conducive to the process.

Karen looked at Maggie in appreciation and got herself together. She certainly didn’t want Nelson to see her in tears. He would ask too many questions, and she wasn’t prepared to answer them yet.

"If you want to talk, you know you can talk to me. I’m really good at listening," Maggie told her.

"Thank you, Maggie. I really appreciate that. I know that I’ve got to talk to him. I’ve got to confess the whole thing to him....I just don’t know whether I’m really up to it yet."

"Karen, can I give you a small piece of advice?"

Karen looked at her and a slight smile crept onto her lips. For some reason, she trusted this older lady. She just bared her greatest fears to her and found herself valuing her opinion. If there was anyone who knew Harriman Nelson, it would be the Prescotts. And Maggie probably knew him as well as her husband.

"Sure, go ahead. I’ll take any I can get."

"Talk to him. Tell him everything you’ve told me. I think you may actually be amazed that he really does understand better than what you think."

"Thanks, Maggie. I eventually will. I’ve just got to figure out a way to do it."

"Don’t wait too long, Karen. He’ll understand, but don’t wait too long to do it."

Karen then excused herself and went back upstairs to their rooms. The longer she stayed there, the more she realized that Maggie was right. Shortly, Nelson came in with a couple of bottles of vintage wine in his hands. He explained that John Prescott had shown him the winery’s vast inventory and had graced them with a couple of bottles of their finest vintage years. Karen patiently listened as he explained the various processes and types of wines produced by the Prescott Wines. She sat over by the window in the bedroom, occasionally glancing outside and letting her mind wander back to the accident, then her mind would snap back to the present and she would hear him explaining the chemical processes of wine making.

"Karen, are you okay?" he asked her, suddenly seeing a far away look in her eyes.

She looked at him, seeing him, yet not seeing him; hearing him, yet not hearing him. Her mind obviously somewhere else.

"Karen....?"

"Yes?....Oh, I’m sorry....I was thinking about something....Harriman, I need to talk to you."

He stopped short and looked over at her. Watching her closely, he thought he saw something different in her eyes.

"I’m sorry, I’m absorbed in all of this. What is it?" He came over and sat down next to her.

She looked at him and studied his expressions. Taking slow deep breaths to center and calm herself, she gathered her courage to face what she was about to do.

"Karen, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?"

She looked at him, watching his expressions, his body language. She drew in a deep breath and decided to dive in, feet first.

"Harry, you’ve been asking me what was bothering me. Well, I guess I need to tell you."

He watched her as she looked past him to the outside. He could see flickers of pain behind the eyes although her face was expressionless. Somehow he knew that this was what he had been hoping for. That she was about to open up to him.

Minutes passed without comment. Finally she turned toward him, and without further comment, she said, "Harriman....I’ve been....having.... nightmares."

"I know, Karen. But why? What’s wrong?"

"The accident...I keep reliving the accident." She looked at him. Tears were starting to form and she had promised herself that she would not cry when she told him. She had to be strong if he was to have any respect for her.

"Harriman...I...I...couldn’t do anything when the rocks started to fall. I tried to get us out of there, I really did. I tried. But it wouldn’t budge." She looked away. She didn’t want him to see the tears.

His hand went out to hers. Watching her now, he could see the anguish behind the mask starting to come through. For the first time other than when they made love, she was letting her true feelings come through.

"Karen, I know you did all you could. We all know that."

"I’ve failed you, Harriman. I allowed that situation to happen. I should have known...should seen the problems..."

"You did, don’t you remember? You told me that you were concerned about the terrain. You told me that a couple of times. Karen, I had reservations about the dive myself. I had a bad feeling about it and I could have...should have...stopped you. But I didn’t. You’re not responsible for what happened down there."

"Yes I am, Harriman. I was in charge down there. I’m the expert, remember? I should have been able to have foreseen what was going to happen."

"Damn it, Karen. Do you think that I hold you responsible for what happened? That area was unstable. You tried to get Johnson and yourself out of there. I know that and so does your team."

He got up and moved over to her. Taking her hand, he slowly pulled her up to him and held her as she started to cry. This can’t be all of it. There has to be more. This is too deep a hurt.

Putting his hand under her chin and lifting her face up to look into his eyes, he saw the tears as they streamed down her cheeks. He softly touched his lips to hers and tasted the saltiness of her tears.

"There’s more to it than this, isn’t there?" he calmly asked her.

Closing her eyes, she couldn’t look at him. This was going to be the hardest of all to admit and she wasn’t sure that she could.

"Karen,....what else is there? Tell me." He could feel her heart pounding rapidly. She was clearly anxious about something.

The tears slowly came down. Opening her eyes, she found herself staring straight into steel blue eyes that showed obvious concern. Swallowing hard, she tried to find what courage she could before finally making the confession to him.

"I....I don’t know....if I...can dive again."

He looked at her, puzzled at her statement. "What do you mean, you don’t know if you can dive again? Of course you can. You’re more than fit to dive, Karen. Dr. Jamison cleared you to dive."

Looking away from his stare, she realized that he hadn’t understood her statement. "Harry,...I’m....I’m afraid to go back in," she finally admitted to him. "I honestly don’t know if I can dive." The tears had started to stream down her cheek now. She finally looked at him and waited for his reaction.

He stared at her, trying to comprehend the meaning of her words. He suddenly realized what she was saying. The accident had finally cracked that impenetrable amour and struck at her very being. She was now totally terrified of diving. He had seen this reaction before in many men. But she was the one person that he never expected to see it in. She was always so in control, so calm, so collected. Now he understood. She had been fighting her own fears and she needed him now more than ever. Whether she wanted to really admit it or not.

"Karen, I don’t know what to say. There’s no shame in being afraid...," he found himself saying.

"Harry, I’ve been afraid before.  Hell, that’s what keeps me alive in the air and in the water. You don’t realize that every time I fly…every time I dive I ...we ...risk being killed. I’ve lived with that every day since I came in the Navy. It’s not that ..I wish it were that simple ….No, it’s not that."

"Then what is it? How can I help?" He reached out for her hand to bring her closer to him but for some inexplicable reason she pulled it away.

"Harry, you have a right to expect your officers to give you 1000 percent. And right now, I can’t do that. I can’t even give you ninety percent. You give me an order to dive right now and I couldn’t obey it."

"Karen, you can’t mean that. You’ve always given everything you have and more. Your team would follow you anywhere, anytime. You know that."

"Harriman, didn’t you hear what I just said?! I can’t dive!!!...," she told him in a constrained, hushed tone. Then, in a near whisper, she said, "I won’t dive."

Nelson looked at her in amazement. After all this time, she finally had let the fear win out. This was definitely not like her.

"What do you mean you won’t dive? Karen, you can’t let fear win out here. You..." he told her.

"Harry, you don’t understand, do you? Your head Dive Officer can’t dive because she’s afraid to go back in the water! I’m no good to you...or to Seaview!" Her reserved calm had finally broken. The barriers had crumbled and she had finally bared her very soul to him.

Standing there, he watched her as she totally lost her composure. It was as if every fiber of her being had been stripped away. He finally reached out and took hold of her. Resisting at first, she finally gave in and let him wrap his arms around her. They stood there for the longest time, him holding her, no words being said. He felt her breathing and heartbeat slow. It was only then that he loosened his grip on her.

He raised her head slightly and bent down and kissed her lightly.

"Karen, the one thing I know about you is that you are not a quitter." He smiled slightly and continued, "I’ve been on the receiving end of your ‘tenacity’, remember? Admitting our fears is three fourths of the battle. The other fourth is dealing with them after that."

"Harriman, I can’t..."

"Yes, you can and you will. Now that I know what is really wrong, we can work on it together."

Karen looked at him and wondered to herself if she could really do what he was asking her to do. She would have to try. Her very being depended upon it. Resigning herself to his wishes, she decided to try it his way.

"All right, Harry," she sighed, reconciling herself to the fact that he now knew but she felt he didn’t really understand. She would have to deal with the actual problem herself….if she was really able to.

 

σσσσ

 

That evening, dinner was a bit strained between them. She felt a bit uncomfortable now with him. For some inexplicable reason, she felt extremely self conscious now, unsure of herself. He watched her, observed her. Caitlin was right! She has given up. It’s as if someone has broken her very will, her very spirit. He decided that staying there an extra day would not be necessary now. They would leave Sunday as planned. What had to be done now could be handled back at the Institute. And he could now enlist Caitlin’s help. I just wish she hadn’t kept this from me. Lord knows what she’s been going through!

Later, after dinner, they went for a walk. Reaching the gazebo they stopped to talk but in fact did very little of it.

He held her as he had the night before. However, this time, he decided not to pressure her. His ultimate goal, to get her to open up, had been obtained. But there was something decidedly different about her. In actuality, she spoke very little. It was what she didn’t say that spoke volumes.

As they walked back to the house that night, he felt her distancing herself from him. Thinking maybe he was imaging it, he put it in the back of his mind and decided instead to make this last night memorable for the both of them. Stopping underneath a huge oak tree, he suddenly drew her close to him and kissed her passionately. But even in that, he felt that she lacked the fire and passion she had always shown. Something else was wrong, but he didn’t know what it was and even though she had finally told her about her fears and nightmares, he knew that this wasn’t the end of it. All he could do now was hope for the best and that she could deal with what was bothering her.

 

σσσσ

 

Sunday morning, the sun hung midway in the sky when they woke. A slight knock at the door had awakened Karen and she silently got out of the bed and went to see who it was. Opening the door slightly, she found Maggie Prescott holding a tray with coffee, bagels, and cream cheese as well as muffins and some butter. Karen motioned her to place the tray on the large round table in the sitting room. Before Maggie left, she looked at Karen and then asked quietly, "Did you tell him?"

Karen closed her robe, sat down on a chair, and nodded. "Yes, for what good it did. Maggie, somehow, I don’t really think he understands. He says he does, but somehow...I just don’t know."

Maggie touched Karen’s arm and smiled. "Give him a chance, Karen. He does understand. Far more than you know."

"I hope so, Maggie. I really hope so."

 

σσσσ

 

That afternoon, Karen Davis and Harriman Nelson said their goodbyes to Maggie and John Prescott and headed back down the center of California to Route 1 and the coastline toward Santa Barbara. Conversation was constrained, but amiable and pleasant. Some good had come out of this trip at least, he thought. He now knew what was troubling her and what she had been facing. It still had to be fully reckoned with, but he now had a handle on a possible solution. Driving back, he wanted to try to talk a little further with her about it, but somehow could not keep his mind on the subject after seeing a black Ford Bronco shadowing them since they had let the Prescott’s. At first he thought he was imaging it. Seeing things that weren’t there. But after about an hour of looking in his rearview mirror and seeing the same vehicle, he began to wonder. Then all of a sudden, the Bronco was gone and instead there was a green 4 door sedan in its place. Nelson put it out of his mind, looking back only occasionally. Then there was the funny occurrence that the green sedan disappeared and the black Bronco showed up again.

This is odd. Very odd. If only I could get a license plate number for Security to run after we get home.

He tried slowing down, but the other vehicle at first refused to take the bait, then all of a sudden, passed him in a rush. Nelson quickly made a mental note of the California license plate, AES-7153. He would have to remember to have Security run the tag as soon as they got home.

Something just doesn’t smell right here but I can’t put my finger on it.

Karen had been watching all this transpire without making any comment. She had enough just enough covert training to recognize the look he conveyed when he suspected they were being followed. Silently, she watched him as he maneuvered the Mercedes smoothly around the mountain curves near the shoreline. Never once did she feel threatened nor uneasy, just curious as to what was going on. Then, without comment, she saw the black Bronco pass them and afterwards saw Nelson exhale a small sigh of relief as he apparently saw no one else behind them. Maybe it was a fluke, but then again, maybe it wasn’t. Whatever it was, it was enough to cause him a bit of concern and he didn’t like that at all.

Nothing was said about the incident. Making a mental note to check with security once they were back, he settled into driving the picturesque Route 1 highway from south of San Francisco down to Route 101 heading into Santa Barbara. Just prior to Route 101, he turned off onto a smaller paved road that headed toward the Institute.

If anyone’s following now, I’ll definitely know it. The only ones that should be on this road are persons who have business here.

The closer they got to the gate, the more he was now convinced that no one had followed them since the turnoff. Once they reached the security gate and pulled up to the guardhouse, Nelson relaxed. But he still wanted that license plate run as soon as possible. There was something funny about the whole thing.

 

σσσσ

 

The next two weeks passed calmly and without much incident. Caitlin had decorated the apartment elaborately then she and Karen had made the trek to a tree farm to hand pick their Christmas tree. They then decorated the tree with a hodgepodge of ornaments collected from years past.

On Christmas Eve, Karen and Caitlin hosted an elaborate dinner party. The 2 women had spent most of the day cooking and wrapping packages. At 1700 precisely, Harriman Nelson walked through the Davis’s front door to a flurry of activity. Caitlin was finishing the table with its elaborate antique china, silver flatware and crystal stemware. Karen was still in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on the dinner as the final dishes were placed in the oven for baking. She hadn’t even had the chance to take a shower. She came out of the kitchen to find him standing near the tree, gazing at the lights and deep in thought. Caitlin shot her a look and then quietly exited the room, leaving the two of them alone.

"Penny for your thoughts," she spoke softly.

Startled, he turned around and looked at her.

"Hmmmm,…I’m sorry…..What did you say?"

"I said, ‘Penny for your thoughts’...Looks like you were in such deep thought….The tree is beautiful, isn’t it? Caitlin and I had a wonderful time decorating it. I’m amazed each year that we have so much stuff that we never get to use."

"The tree is definitely beautiful," he agreed. Looking around the apartment, he smiled. "Caitlin did a wonderful job."

"Yes, she did." Karen moved over beside him and slipped her arm through his. Raising up a bit, she kissed him softly on the cheek. He shifted slightly and turned her action into a full blown kiss. Holding her, he smelled the wonderful array of aromas of what she had been doing mixed with her personal perfume.

"Now what was that for, Captain?" he smiled and asked, teasing her as he held her.

"Well, I just wanted to thank you for that wonderful weekend we had."

"It was my pleasure, Karen, you know that." He slipped his arms around her waist and pulled her into him. She looked up at him and grinned, then softly kissed him again, but this time, he wouldn’t let her out of the embrace.

They stood there before the lighted tree, locked together. They were so involved that they didn’t notice Caitlin standing in the doorway with a dishtowel.

"Hum...uh," she coughed, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. "Will you two break it up?! I need Mom in the kitchen, Admiral."

Karen caught herself and then shot her daughter a sly grin. "Caitlin, really! Your timing leaves much to be desired. I thought I taught you better than that."

"But, Mom, you did! You know, I could come back later, but we do have to get finished here before everyone else comes. I’m sure that the Admiral would understand that if he wants to eat dinner, the cook has to be able to finish cooking it."

Nelson found himself amused at this little domestic scene. Actually, he suddenly found himself quite comfortable in it, and that amazed him. Slightly releasing his hold on Karen, he spoke directly to Caitlin.

"Young lady, I most humbly bow to your wishes. From what I smell, dinner should be absolutely delicious." He then kissed Karen on the cheek and released his hold on her.

"Well, sir...dinner is actually almost ready. Now...if the other guests will get here..." Karen replied as she returned his smile and started to wander back to the kitchen.

Caitlin remained behind in the living room. She had been looking for a chance to speak to Nelson for the last several days, but could never find the time to talk to him. Once she saw that her mother had gone back into the kitchen, she walked over and stood beside him as they looked at the tree.

"I wanted to thank you for helping Mom, Admiral."

Nelson turned slightly. In a low tone, he asked, "Do you think it’s done any good? She’s still edgy around the diving lab. At least now we know exactly what’s wrong. But we can only do so much." Suddenly turning dead serious, he continued, "Caitlin, I have to be honest with you. If Seaview goes out, and she refuses to dive for other than a legitimate reason, I will have no other choice but to remove her as head of the team."

Caitlin stared at him. She knew he was right; he was doing what was best for everyone. But she also knew what such an action would do to her mother if that happened.

"Have you told her  that?"

"No, but she knows that her actions affect the team. She basically told me so herself. She also told me that she won’t dive. If she does that…if she deliberately disobeys orders…I’ll have absolutely no choice."

Caitlin’s bright blue eyes stared into his. Her face suddenly showed the sadness she felt. Although she was 19, she was mature beyond her actual years. She nodded in agreement at his statement. In a hushed tone, she replied, "Please don’t bring it up tonight, Admiral. Mom seems to be coming back to her old self on her own. I don’t want this holiday to be spoiled for her."

"Neither do I, Caitlin. But I am just letting you know in case it should happen. I certainly hope it doesn’t."

"Well, Admiral, it’s Christmas. A time for miracles, I do believe," she stated quietly and then left him to contemplate the decorations on the tree.

 

σσσσ

 

Later that evening, laughter filled the Davis’s apartment. Lee Crane and Chip and Matty Morton had joined Nelson there. Although Caitlin had offered to babysit Robert Crane and Alexandra Morton, the offer had been graciously refused so that she could enjoy her time at home playing hostess for her mother. Karen had outdone herself that evening by preparing a bountiful and exquisite dinner consisting of Cornish Game Hens cooked in White Wine and Herbs, Virginia Ham with a pineapple and raisin sauce, wild rice stuffing with chestnuts and oysters, corn pudding, broccoli casserole, green beans almandine, sweet potato casserole, homemade bread and to finish it off, an Irish Cream cheesecake.

Karen had decided to pull out all the stops for the dinner. During the preparation, she stopped ever so often to remember that she had confessed all to Nelson. She also ever so often got a small ache in her stomach that she knew she would soon have to face her nightmare somehow.

Dinner went smoothly enough. In fact, they lingered over the dinner table so long that Karen finally looked up and saw the clock said 10:30. Had they really sat there for nearly four hours eating, drinking, and laughing? It certainly hadn’t seemed like that long.

At 11:00 pm, Lee Crane and the Mortons decided to call it a night. Matty quickly helped Caitlin clear the table and put away the food, leaving Lee, Chip, Karen, and Nelson in the living room. As soon as all was squared away, they bid Karen and Caitlin a Merry Christmas and left. Now, only Nelson remained. Caitlin decided to leave him and her mother alone for awhile so she busied herself in the kitchen with the final cleanup.

Karen walked out onto the balcony with Nelson following her. Slipping her arm through his, she placed her head on his shoulder. It was a cool, crisp moonless night, yet the stars seemed unusually bright, as if they were diamonds hanging against the blackness of the sky.

"I have something for you," she whispered.

"Oh?!" he replied, slightly amused, yet curious.

"Hold on for a moment. I’ll be right back." And she left him standing alone on the balcony, gazing out onto the vast expansiveness of the ocean. He looked sideways a bit and saw her retrieve a small elaborately wrapped package from underneath the tree. Turning back around, he placed his left hand in his trousers pocket and felt a small box there.

She again slipped her arm through his and then handed him the box.

"Merry Christmas, Harriman," she said softly as she kissed him on the cheek. "I know it wouldn’t be too kosher if a subordinate gave her commanding officer this gift, but considering our relationship, I felt that this was in order."

"Karen, you didn’t have to…."

"I know, but I wanted to. Besides, it’s something that you needed anyway," she remarked.

He slowly unwrapped the package and opened the box. Inside was a beautiful man’s watch with two LCD displays.

"It’s beautiful, Karen. And you’re right......I did need this. I couldn’t believe I was so careless last week in the lab."

"I know. After you told me about breaking the other one, I knew exactly what to give you. And this one is very special. A friend of mine made it up on short notice. It has a couple of special features that I’d better let you in on that actually might prove useful to you in the future."

He examined the watch face and was amazed to see not one but two separate display areas. She pointed to the bottom one.

"I knew that you absolutely hate to wear a digital pager so the bottom part here is actually an alpha-numerical pager display. It takes the place of your regular pager. The messaging system is voice activated and will display the voice message here," she told him, pointing to the display area. "The other ‘little’ feature is a homing signal which can be activated by pushing the two buttons together three times. It’s on a special high frequency ban that is assigned especially to you and you alone." She looked at him and smiled. "Who knows, if you ever get lost, shot down, or God forbid, kidnapped, all you have to do is activate the signal and we’ll know where to find you."

"Well, hopefully, I’ll never have to use that feature. It’s beautiful, Karen. Thank you." He kissed her, slowly at first and then passionately. "Now, I have something for you. Actually, I wasn’t sure what to get. It’s been a long time since I’ve done this, so I hope you like it." He pulled the little box from his pocket and handed it to her.

Equally elaborately decorated, the small box resembled that of a jewelry box. She carefully unwrapped the package and peered inside. Her eyes widened as she looked at the beautiful broach which lay on a bed of black velvet. The broach was a small gold replica of the Seaview; its bow was that of small diamonds with a ruby sat where the bow search light would be located.

"Harry, it’s beautiful!! Where on earth did you find this?" she exclaimed, taking it out of the box and pinning it onto her dress.

"A friend of mine in Boston made it for me. I’m glad you like it. When I went looking, I really couldn’t decide what to get you. Then Levi Marston, the friend of mine, suggested this. So he made it for me and sent it by special courier last week

"Well, it’s beautiful. I love it. Thank you so very much." She returned his kiss with one of her own.

Inside, the antique mantle clock softly struck midnight.

It was Christmas.

 

σσσσ

 

For all intents and purposes, the Nelson Institute of Marine Research was on Christmas vacation until after the first of the new year. Most of the Seaview’s crew was on extended leave with their families and those that remained at the Institute saw light duty at best. Karen kept busy by continuing the tests on the newest camera lenses in her diving lab. She still had trouble going to the lab, but she forced herself to go, hiding the fact of her fear to any and all who worked around her. Somehow, she even managed to fool Chip Morton, who usually could spot her moods easily when no one else could.

One day in the middle of January, the Institute received a request for its DWD team to help find and retrieve the components of a missile that had mysteriously blown up in the mid-Pacific area just east of the Hawaiian Islands during a test flight. The component package had gone down in about 5000 feet of water and was emitting a homing signal. Karen and her team would be responsible for bringing up the ‘black box’ that would provide the mission control personnel with the reason that the missile when haywire. Some salvage personnel would term it trying to find a needle in a haystack at that depth and terrain, but Seaview’s DWD teams were becoming used to it. Not a very exciting assignment, but it paid the bills and kept the Admiral happy.

Seaview arrived at the drop coordinates and proceeded to track the homing signal to within a 1000 square meter area. Once down on the bottom, it was then the DWD’s responsibility to find and retrieve the components of the missile. Lee Crane guided Seaview to a soft landing on the ocean bottom next to the search site.

The teams readied themselves. Sophisticated metal detectors combined with a special sensing device would help to guide them to the missing equipment. Down in the missile room, Karen slowly approached the specialized diving gear. Tom Johnson, Mike Thompson, and Chip Morton were present when she entered to start to suit up. Chip watched her closely without trying to be too blatant about it. He had already talked to Nelson and had been apprised of the situation.

She fingered the gear and felt the fear grip the pit of her stomach. Glancing over at the other divers, she nervously picked up the gear and headed to the staging area.

Can I do this? Can I really go back out there? Or am I fooling myself? She kept asking herself these questions as she grabbed her swimsuit and went to the changing area that had been set aside for her. With each passing second, her fear became greater and greater. She kept holding the suit in her hands, frozen in place and unable to move, staring into nothingness. Chip saw her standing there and slowly approached her.

"Karen?" he almost whispered her name.

She looked up at him and he couldn’t believe what he saw. Her face was entirely drained of color, her expression frozen in a contortion of fear.

"Karen.......are you okay?" he softly asked her.

She couldn’t speak. A few seconds later, she simply laid the suit down in from of Morton.

Looking at him with a glassy eyed expression, she replied in a monotone voice, "Chip, take over the dive. I’ll monitor you from my cabin." And she walked out of the missile room, went to her cabin, and closed the door.

 

σσσσ

 

Chip Morton couldn’t believe what he had just witnessed. Karen Davis had simply walked away in fear. Shaking his head and with much regret, he walked slowly to Admiral Nelson’s cabin. Pausing outside the door and dreading to go in, he drew in a deep breath and knocked on the door. A muffled gruff ‘Come in’ came from within.

Opening the door, Chip found Nelson and Lee Crane in conference over charts that were spread out on Nelson’s desk.

"Ah, Chip, yes…what’s the problem?" Nelson waved him in with one hand.

"Sir…ah…I think we have a problem with the Team."

Nelson noted the tone of voice in the Exec’s voice. Instinctively he knew what that problem was. He had been dreading this; hoping in fact that it wouldn’t happen.

Leaning back in his chair and putting down his pen, he looked at Chip and pointblank asked, "Captain Davis?"

"Yes, sir. She was supposed to suit up for the search. She came in, picked up a suit, then put it down and told me to take over the dive. That she’d monitor the progress in her cabin. She then walked out and I haven’t seen her since."

Nelson leaned up against his desk. "Damn!!! I had really hoped that this wouldn’t happen. I really thought she had this thing beat."

Crane looked at him and saw anguish in his face. Not only was he angry at her but he was angry at himself for not forcing her to deal with the problem. Now he was faced with the one decision that he had no choice but to make.

Lee turned to Morton and asked, "She didn’t give any explanation?"

"None. Just put the suit down and told me to take over. Then she left." He turned to Nelson and in a formal tone remarked, "Sir, something has to be done with regards to Captain Davis. She’s in no shape to dive at this point and could very well prove to be a danger to the Team."

Nelson looked at Morton and knew exactly what he was saying. "Very well, Chip. Take the DWD Teams out and find those components. We’ve got a job to do here. As of right now, you are in charge of the DWD Teams until further notice. See to it that the team is notified of the change."

"Yes, sir."

Crane looked at his mentor and friend. The task he faced now was not going to be an easy one, but it was one that had to be preformed. This woman was not only Nelson’s employee but had also become his lover. And that was going to make this all the harder. But Lee also knew his resolve in handling the matter. Nelson would do what was absolutely necessary get things done. And if that meant removing Karen Davis from the team she had built, then that’s exactly what it meant.

Nelson looked up at his two senior officers. His facial expression hardened and his lips thinned.

"Gentlemen, you’re dismissed. I will handle this matter from here on out."

 

σσσσ

 

Down in her cabin, Karen Davis sat in silence with her back to the door and waited. Waited for Harriman Nelson to come storming through the door of her cabin, raising hell and ordering her to make the dive. She had tried to warn him at the Prescotts, but he apparently either didn’t want to or wouldn’t listen to her. Now the deed was done. She knew what lay ahead.

She was disgusted with herself. Ashamed. Never in her career had she ever walked off an assignment the way she had just done. And she knew the consequences that would have to be paid.

A loud knock at the door brought her back to reality.

"Come."

The door swung open and in walked a silent but furious Harriman Nelson.

She turned around to face him. Karen could see he was absolutely furious with her. Enraged.

"What the hell do you mean by walking out on this dive? You have a job to do, Captain Davis, and I damn well fully expect you to do it," he roared. Wheeling around to fully face her, he stared into a blank face. "Well…Karen, what’s it going to be?"

She quietly stood up and faced him. Using the desk as support, she leaned into it and then said, "Chip Morton is more than capable of heading this dive. I will monitor all progress from here. There is no need for me to go out with the team at this time."

Nelson leaned across her desk and faced her. "That’s a crock of bullshit if ever I’ve heard it, Captain." He knew exactly what the problem was and that she wasn’t going to face it so his hands were now tied.  Controlled and pointed, Nelson then issued her a direct order and an ultimatum. "Captain Davis, you will make that dive or you will be removed as head of the DWD Team effective immediately."

Straightening herself and slowly exhaling, she glared at him. Knowing damn full well that he was right did not make the truth any less easier a pill to swallow.

"Very well, Admiral. Commander Morton is quite capable of handling the duties of team leader. He’s very good and will make you an excellent coordinator as well."

The two stood toe to toe across her desk. She was trying to salvage what dignity she had left and he was trying desperately to allow her to. And yet, he was so incensed by her actions.

"Captain, as soon as we dock, you will see to your duties dockside. You will handle all administrative matters wherein Commander Morton will handle the day to day activities of the teams. Do I make myself clear?" he advised her quite pointedly.

"Yes, sir!!!"

"Good!!…You’re dismissed, Captain." And he stormed out of her cabin, slamming the door behind him.

She sat down in silence and stared at the door. For a long while, she just sat there. Then, slowly, a single tear fell from the corner of her eye.

 

σσσσ

 

Back in his cabin, Nelson stalked in and slammed his cabin door.

Damn!!! Damn!!!

He pounded his fist on the desk. He was furious with her. She had deliberately disobeyed a direct order, without any explanation, without just cause. He had always hoped that it would not have come to this.

Damn it, Karen! Why?!

He sat down behind his desk and leaned back in the chair. Swiveling back and forth, he was trying to let his anger settle before going to the Control Room. How dare she defy him on this! Their relationship was one thing, but this....this was another thing entirely. In the nearly three years he had known her, both professionally and personally, he had never known her just walk out on an assignment. Caitlin was right about her mother. She had given up. Given in to the fear. Now, he was in a quandary as to what to do. He had removed her as the active head of the DWD team. He had ordered her to the Institute after they docked. What he could not order her to do was to come to her senses. He had never had to do something as painful as what he had just done. It was now that he began to question the wisdom of becoming romantically involved with her. There was absolutely no doubt in his mind or heart how he felt about her. But the wisdom of it was what he was now second guessing. Jiggs Stark had always warned him about getting too close to his officers.

Wonder what Jiggs would say about this mess? Why Karen? Why?!

 

σσσσ

 

Down below in the Missile Room, Commander Chip Morton had informed the teams of the personnel changes. Immediately following the announcement, there was a barrage of questions from the men. What had happened? What was going to happen? Chip tried to answer them all as best he could, but he disliked delving into the specifics of the changes. It was enough, he told them, that the change had been made and would remain effective for however long the Admiral so deemed it. He then made the team assignments for the present job and issued equipment. Suiting up himself, he led Team 1 out on the search for the missile components. After about three hours and two teams later, all components were found and brought back aboard. Then after all gear was stored, the divers safely in the decompression tank, and the Admiral was satisfied that they had retrieved everything they had been sent for, the Seaview then headed for back for the Institute.

Upon docking back at the Institute, the crew disembarked for restrictive shore leave. Only the senior officers and a skeleton crew was left on board when Karen Davis finally came out of her cabin and headed for her apartment.

A few hours later, Nelson walked slowly to her cabin and knocked on the door. Receiving no answer, he opened the door and looked in. The cabin was spotless; every thing was in its place and in order. It was too quiet. He suddenly felt as if there were no life in that cabin, as if no one actually lived there. He closed the door and walked to the control room to check on the final shutdown procedures before going to his office in the Administration Building.

 

σσσσ

 

Once inside her apartment, she dropped some clothes into the washer, turned it on, and then wandered aimlessly through the rooms. Looking at all the family photographs scattered throughout, she came upon a new one that sat on her dresser in her bedroom. Caitlin must have had the picture developed and framed. It was of Karen and Harriman sitting in front of the Christmas tree in the apartment less than a month before. Picking it up and looking at it, she then walked over to the telephone next to the bed.

What have I done?!

Picking up the phone, she dialed a phone number for a memory long past. Gazing at the photograph, she waited patiently for the phone to ring and a man to answer. Hearing the man’s voice at the other end of the phone, she spoke in a strained but controlled voice.

"Hawke, I need to ask a favor. I’ve gotten myself in a bit of a fix here and I need to come up to the cabin to think for a couple of weeks, if you don’t mind." Upon hearing the response she needed, she said goodbye and then started to pack a small suitcase. She threw in several pairs of jeans, sweatshirts, sweaters, and other assorted clothing. She then up the phone again and dialed her office.

"Terri, I’m going to be going out of town for a couple of weeks so put me on administrative leave. If you need to reach me, you can contact me on my cell phone. You’ve got the number."

Terri Styles, Karen’s secretary, replied, "Yes, ma’am." Hesitating a bit because she had already heard what had happened aboard Seaview, she asked, "Captain, where are you going in case I…we…need to get in touch with you?"

Karen continued to look at the picture of her and Nelson. Her voice was laced with strain. "Terri, you have my cell phone number and that’s all you really need. I’ll be in touch. If Caitlin calls, tell her…tell her that I’ve gone to the cabin.

She then hung up the phone, walked into the laundry room, placed the wet clothes in the dryer and then went back to her packing. Shortly, she brought out her bag and picked up a couple of other things, then walked out the door and went down to her Jeep Cherokee. Driving off the compound grounds and onto the access road, she then turned southward onto Route 101 headed toward Santa Barbara and then onto VanNyes and the airport near there. She would then take a helicopter from a private service up to Big Bear Lake to an isolated mountain cabin where she would always go to think when she had a troubling problem.

 

σσσσ

 

Harriman Nelson walked into his office and found Angie Pierce waiting him with a handful of messages. She knew from his demeanor not to even ask about Karen Davis. She had already heard by way of the grapevine what had happened. And she could tell by his mood that the O.O.M. was definitely not in the best of spirits.

Taking the messages from her, he grunted a short ‘Thank you’, walked into his office and slammed the door.

Shortly, Angie came in and looked at him. She had been his secretary for several years, having inherited the position from Cathy Conners Crane, who, after her marriage to Lee Crane, had gone on to head up the Ships Stores Division of the Institute. Therefore, she felt that her familiarity with him gave her a little leeway in speaking bluntly with him. Terri Styles had called her and told her that Davis had left the Institute grounds for parts unknown and that he might want to know about it. The growing relationship between Nelson and Davis had become well know around the Institute, therefore, the two secretaries kept each apprised of their bosses demeanors and moods.

Nelson was not pleased to see Angie standing there in front of him.

"What do you want?" he snarled, looking up from the pile of messages and paperwork she had handed him.

"Well, if you’re interested, Captain Davis left the Institute grounds 15 minutes ago. Destination unknown. All she left was her cellular phone number and told Terri to place her on administrative leave. One of the guards at the motor pool saw her put her bag in her Jeep and drive out. Never said a word to anyone except for Terri."

"She didn’t tell Terri where she was going?"

"No, sir. Just told her that she could be reached by cell phone. However, she did say that if Caitlin were to call for her, to tell her that she went to the cabin. Terri has no idea where that is."

"Well, that’s entirely up to her. I can’t be running off and going after her if she refuses to help herself. I thought she had this thing licked. Apparently she had all of us fooled." He got up and looked out the window at the ocean. Turning back around, his features had softened somewhat. "Angie, I don’t know what else to do. She’s got to come out of this. I’ve tried all I can. Now the rest is up to her."

"I know, Admiral. We all know that," she replied as she headed back to the door. Softly, she opened the door and let herself out, leaving him to contemplate the situation alone.

 

σσσσ

 

Late that afternoon, Karen Davis was landing at a makeshift helipad on a pier on the lake down from a mountain cabin at Big Bear Lake. The older man who shuttled her up spoke briefly to her as he helped her get her luggage from the chopper. Karen hugged him and then waved as the helicopter lifted off. After picking up her bags, she walked slowly up the path to the cabin. Once inside, she unpacked her things, build a fire in the fireplace, poured herself a glass of wine, and then sat down on the couch and stared directly into the roaring flames.

 

σσσσ

 

That afternoon, Nelson retrieved his car from the motor pool and drove to the deserted stretch of beach where he would go to think when he needed to clear his head. He sat on one of the rocks in such deep thought about what he had had to do that he failed to notice movement behind him. Hearing a slight rustling from behind, he turned around to see three men dressed in some sort of green military fatigues standing there. One of them displayed a semi-automatic 9 mm pistol in his hand. The other two men wore side arms as well.

"What the devil?!.......What do you want?" Nelson exclaimed.

One of them, a dark haired man well over six feet in height, answered, "You, Admiral Nelson. You’re what we want. You are now a prisoner of the First American Militia. So, if you will come quietly, you won’t be harmed."

"First American Militia!! What in the hell......?" and before he could get another word out, one of the other men stepped quickly forward and struck him viciously across the face, dropping him to his knees.

The man with the gun took a harsher tone of voice now. "Lesson One of a prisoner of war, Admiral. You will speak only when spoken to. NOW, you will come with us!"

The one who had struck him and the third man came over and grabbed him by the arms, forcibly carrying him to a waiting black Ford Bronco. Nelson’s eyes widened as he looked at the license plate on the vehicle’s back. AES-7153! The same one that had followed Karen and him back from the Prescotts. He fought with them, kicking one in the groin and putting him out on the ground. He was engaged in a fight with the second when the one with the gun struck him across the back of the neck, knocking him unconscious. They tied his hands and feet, gagged him, then loaded him into the back of the Bronco. The man with the gun then placed a large yellow envelope in the driver’s seat of the blue Mercedes and then the Bronco drove off with its prisoner.

 

σσσσ

 

The next day, Angie Pearce alerted Institute security when Nelson didn’t report in for work. She had tried his home with no luck and then called Lee Crane. Knowing the events that had taken place the day before, Crane half wondered if his mentor and boss hadn’t gone after Karen, but after Angie told him that no one except possibly for Caitlin knew where she was, Lee knew something was wrong. He called Caitlin at Virginia Tech to check to see if Nelson had talked to her. Confirming that he had not, Lee was now very worried. This wasn’t like the Admiral. He didn’t usually go off without telling someone. And if he hadn’t informed Angie, then it could only mean that something bad had happened.

Several hours later, Chief Petty Officer Francis Sharkey came to Crane in Nelson’s office. His facial expression alone told Crane that the news wasn’t good. Sharkey handed him a large yellow envelope.

"Skipper, they found the Admiral’s car about 5 miles from here parked near a place that leads down to the beach. I think he sometimes goes down there to think. Anyway, they found this on the driver’s side seat."

Crane’s expression told Sharkey all he wanted to know. The skipper was worried. Hell, they were all worried.

Crane opened the envelope and withdrew the piece of paper that was inside. Quickly scanning the message, he then looked at Sharkey, a look of horror spreading over his face.

"What is it, Skipper? What’s it got to do with the Admiral?" Sharkey asked.

"He’s been kidnapped. This a ‘ransom note’ per sec, Chief. Only they’re not asking for money," Crane answered. He turned to Angie and ordered, "Get me Admiral Starke immediately!"

Sharkey knew now that something was definitely wrong. He hadn’t seen the Skipper so worried in a long, long time. "Sir, what’s wrong? What’s in that note?"

Crane looked at him and answered, "He’s been kidnapped by some right wing radical militia that calls themselves the First American Militia. They intend to use the Admiral to prove to the President and the Congress that they’re serious about ‘abuses’ of power that they see happening and that they intend for the present government to step down and then they will install the ‘rightful’ government of the American people."

By this time, Chip Morton had joined them in the Admiral’s office. He had overheard Lee’s explanation to Sharkey so he picked up the note and read it for himself.

"What do they mean that they’re going to use him to prove a point?" Sharkey was asking.

"They intend to kill him unless the President, Vice-President, and all members of Congress resign within the week," Morton replied, looking up from the paper. "They’ll then replace them with representatives from militias from each state and install their own government. The ‘rightful government of the American people’, they claim."

Angie called into the inner office. "Admiral Starke’s on line 1, Captain."

Crane quickly grabbed the phone and explained the situation to Starke. Jiggs Starke was the admiral in charge of ComSubPac and one of Harriman Nelson’s oldest friends. Lee quickly explained what had happened and read the note to him. The two men agreed that the FBI as well as NIS (Naval Intelligence Services) should be notified. The FBI would have any information on the various radical militia groups operating within the internal boundaries of the United States. NIS was being notified because of Nelson’s status with the Navy.

Before the two men ended their conversation, Starke tersely inquired, "Has Captain Davis been informed of what has happened?"

Crane stiffened. The fact that he’d asked indicated he knew of the relationship, but obviously Starke hadn’t heard about the incident the day before aboard Seaview.

"No, sir. Captain Davis has taken some administrative leave and can’t be reached except by cell phone. We’re in the process trying to contact her now."

"Well, you’d better get hold of her quick. If I know her, she’ll want to be there when they bring him home,” came the gruff reply.

"Yes, sir. I’m sure she will," Crane replied, looking at both Morton and Sharkey. He hung up the phone and looked at the two men. "Well, let’s do what the man says. Find her!"

Angie got on the telephone with Terri who in turn advised that she had tried the cell phone number numerous times without a reply. She then got back on the phone to Caitlin at Virginia Tech. If there was anyone who might know where she would be, obviously she was the one.

Lee Crane was angry. Angry and worried. Angry that Nelson had been taken right from underneath their very noses. Angry that Karen couldn’t be found. And worried because of the tone of the note found in Nelson’s car.

Surely to God they wouldn’t harm him? He’s no threat to their cause, why grab him?

Lee couldn’t help but wonder to himself. Looking up at the clock in the Admiral’s office, he made a mental note to himself that it had been probably more than 24 hours since he was last seen.  "Angie?!!!" he yelled. "Have you gotten hold of Caitlin yet?"

"No, sir. She’s in class right now. You have to remember that there’s a three hour time difference between here and Virginia. I remember her saying at Christmas that she had a late afternoon class so it stands to reason that that’s where she is. I left a message, though, with her roommate and stressed that it was absolutely URGENT that she contact us ASAP!" Angie replied.

"Damn.....damn it!!!! Where in God’s name could she have gone? And she didn’t say anything to you or Terri?"

"The only thing she told Terri was ‘the cabin’. But not where it was. Terri asked, but she refused to say, only that we had the cell phone number."

Crane was about at his wits’ end. All he could do at this point was wait for the FBI and NIS to do their preliminary investigations and let him know the results.

 

σσσσ

 

High up in the upper California Sierra Nevada Mountains, deep in the forest, was an encampment of survivalists. To the outside world, these were people who believed that the world was going to come to a crashing end and they wanted (and needed) to be ready for any and all possibilities that might arise. They had build shelters, bunkers, laid in stores of supplies of non-perishable goods that could be kept indefinitely. In-ground sealed water tanks dotted the grounds, as did the entrances to the underground bunkers.

What was not seen were the stores of guns and ammunition that was stored in the underground bunkers as well as missiles and the rest of the firepower that the First American Militia had accumulated. There were well over one hundred men, a lot of them survivalists, some of the mercenaries that lived at the camp. They had extensive machinery and vehicles, enough to outfit a small army.

The man in charge of all of this was a former ex-Marine who was known only as the "General." He stood about six foot five inches, had salt and pepper close cropped hair and a hardened physique to go with the title. One look at him and you could tell he was ex-military.

The three men in the Black Ford Bronco had brought their unconscious prisoner to the one room holding building and dumped him on a cot in the corner of the room. They then took his arms and pulled them up over his head and chained them to the headboard then manacled his legs to the corners of the footboard. It was in this position that Nelson found himself when he came to.

Slowly his eyes adjusted themselves to their surroundings. He had limited range of vision because of his non-mobility.

Where in God’s name am I? Who the hell are these people?

The last thing he remembered was being on the beach…the three men behind him…the gun…and being struck in the face with a gun butt. Slowly he also remembered struggling with the men before…blackness sat in. He tried to pull his hands free but realized that his restraints were very tight handcuffs and shackles.

Suddenly the door to the building opened and a large male form stood in the doorway. With the bright light shinning in from behind, Nelson was unable to see anything but a human outline.

"Who are you and what do you want with me?" Nelson demanded of the form.

There was no answer.

"Damn it, answer me!! Who the hell are you and what do you want from me?"

The form just stood there in the doorway, unwavering, unanswering. Then the door closed and he was left alone.

 

σσσσ

 

The heat was excruciating and the flies were horrible. He had lost track of how long he had been on the bed; of how long it had been since the form appeared in the doorway. Looking around, he studied each inch he could possibly see in the building. Then, he remembered something. His watch!!

Good!! They didn’t take it!

He struggled to remember Karen’s instructions about the homing device. Contorting his hands and fingers, he pushed the two buttons on the left side of the face three times in unison. The homing signal was activated, and if what Karen had said was true, help would be on the way shortly.

God, I hope this damn thing works!

 

σσσσ

 

It was near dusk when the form again appeared at the door. This time it spoke.

"Good evening, Admiral Harriman Nelson. I trust we’ve afforded you with ‘reasonable’ accommodations and that you’re ‘comfortable’."

Nelson turned his head toward the form and the voice emanating from it.

"Who the hell are you and what do you want from me?" he demanded.

"Tsk, tsk, Admiral......Really, now. Is that anyway for a guest to act?" the voice mocked him and moved closer, out of the back light and into the more subdued lighting where Nelson could finally see. When he finally did see the form more clearly, what he saw amazed him. In front of him at the foot of the bed stood a ramrod straight ex-Marine General, dressed in full battle fatigues, military decorations, and a sidearm strapped to his waist. Straining to look at him, he thought he recognized him but wasn’t sure. There was something awfully familiar about him, but Harry couldn’t place the face or the voice.

The General moved to the side of the bed and looked down on his captive. He surveyed the Admiral as if he were an hungry wild animal looking over its prey.

"You don’t remember me, do you, Admiral? Well, just as well. I was one that was generally non-descript. Kept to myself, never sharing my views with anyone. They never saw my brilliance. Never could see it. They were always too interested in who could play the most politics. More interested in who could scratch whose backs rather than who had the more brilliant tactical mind in the Pentagon. Well, they’re soon coming to realize who’s going to have the very last word. And that someone is going to be me!" The voice was now sinister, menacing. He leaned down and came within inches of Nelson’s ear. Harry could feel the man’s hot breath in his ear. It was making his skin crawl.

"You, my dear Admiral, are going to be the one that gets their attention. You’re going to be my ‘example’ to this corrupt government of ours. A government so stinking putrid that it makes me want to puke every time I see something in the paper or on the TV. Yes, the great Admiral Harriman Nelson will be the first sacrificial lamb that this ‘great government’ of ours will offer up before they see the errors of their ways," the General sneered.

Nelson struggled with his hands to free himself.

"It’s no good, Nelson. You can’t get loose. Furthermore, my men are going to have a good time interrogating our first ‘prisoner of war’ as to the whereabouts of strategic sites of underwater missile silos and you will ALSO provide us with the means of boarding Seaview."

"Never!!" Nelson spat out and into the face of the General.

The General stood up and calmly but forcefully backhanded him. "Oh, but I think you will. Miles!!! Get your ass in here!! Our prisoner needs some ‘persuasion’!"

Another man appeared at the door and slowly walked in. In his hand was a hard rubber baton. The General leered at Nelson and remarked, "Admiral, I leave you in the capable hands of my able interrogator, Miles. He’s very good at what he does. Aren’t you, Miles?"

"Yes, sir, General, sir," the man remarked.

"We’ll see if you are willing to tell me what I need to know after you and Miles become acquainted. See you in the morning, Admiral." The General then looked at Miles and remarked, "Don’t ‘dent’ him too badly. We need him for the video tape. I want just enough to show without him being unrecognizable."

Miles grinned and replied, "Oh, they’ll be able to see who it is all right, but they’ll also see how much you mean business."

"Good. Good. Then I’ll leave you to your work." Walking to the door, he turned and said, "We’ll talk again in the morning, Admiral…after you’ve had a chance to understand the situation. Good night."

The General was half way across the compound before he heard the first scream of pain from inside the building. He allowed himself a smile.

Yes, they’ll sit up and take notice this time. Even if I have to dump his ass on the White House lawn to prove I mean business. They won’t ignore me any longer.

 

σσσσ

 

Karen heard the phone ring several times, but refused to get up and answer it. She knew the voice messaging system (voice mail) would kick in and take care of the incoming messages. Right now, all she wanted was to be alone. Alone with her thoughts, her feelings, and her fears.

For the next several days, she puttered around the cabin, talking to the owner’s blue tick hound that stayed there. She sat for hours on the dock by the lake and fished. And she cried. And she finally came to terms with herself. Karen decided that she had given in too long; that she was not going to be beaten down any longer.

The owner of the cabin truly was a unique person. He had built this huge rustic log cabin and decorated it with Old master paintings and an extensive wine collection. Karen had known him for several years and had come to rely on his friendship and wisdom. The day she showed up at his hanger at the VanNyes Airport, she explained the entire situation and why she wanted to come up here to his cabin. This was not something unusual for her to do. She had housesit for him on numerous occasions, as well as being his houseguest. But this time, it was different. Even he could tell that. So his partner ferried her up to the cabin in one of the business’s helicopters and left her there until she was ready to come back. Now she was ready to do just that.

Picking up her cell phone, she noticed that she had several messages on her voice mail. Punching in her access codes, she started to play back the recorded messages. Suddenly the color drained completely from her face. She quickly deactivated the voice mail and dialed the Institute. Angie answered the phone in the Admiral’s office.

"Angie, this is Karen. I just got the message. What the hell’s going on?"

"Captain?!! God, am I glad to hear from you. Wait, Captain Crane’s here and needs to talk to you," Angie hurriedly said. She in turned handed the phone to Lee Crane.

"Karen, where the hell are you? We’ve been trying to find you for several days!!!"

"I’m up here at Big Bear Lake, Lee. At a friend’s cabin trying to sort things out. What’s going on? What’s happened to Harry? Angie’s and Caitlin’s messages said something about him being kidnapped?"

"Yes, but I’ll explain everything once you get here. The FBI and NIS are here and have been conducting investigations. How fast can you get back here?"

"Well, I’ve got to call my friend for a chopper to get back down to VanNyes to the airport where I left the Jeep and then drive back to Santa Barbara. It’ll probably be late afternoon."

"Forget that, Karen. I’ll send Sharkey up in the FS1 for you. Is there a landing site nearby?"

"Yes, there’s a dock extending out onto the lake. Lee.....is he okay? Have you heard anything?"

Crane didn’t want to lie to her, but at the same time she needed to hear the truth. "Karen, the people that have him intend to kill him."

He heard a sharp intake of breath from the other end of the phone. "Who is it, Lee? Who has him?"

"Karen, all we know at this point is they’re a radical right wing militia group called the First American Militia. He was taken a few days ago from down on the beach. His car was found abandoned there and a note left on the driver’s side seat. Listen, I’ll fill you in on the rest when you get here. Sharkey’s on his way down to the hanger now to get the FS1. He should have you back here within a couple of hours. Just be ready to go when he gets there." He wanted to sound annoyed but was more relieved than anything that she had finally turned up. Giving her a piece of his mind was something he would reserve until after she was back at the Institute.

"I’ll be ready. Oh, and Lee.....I’m sorry that I up and disappeared. I’ll explain it all in a bit."

"You damn well bet you will, Captain Davis!" He now sounded annoyed and he hung up before he said something he might later regret.

 

σσσσ

 

Up in the camp, Nelson was being dragged from the building he had been held in to the main building where the General had his headquarters. He was slammed into a seat in front of a video camera and bright studio style lights were turned on, blinding him.

"Ah, Admiral Nelson. How good of you to join me. I see you and Miles have become very well acquainted," the General remarked.

He could hardly see. There was blood running down from the corner of his eye and the corner of his mouth There were bruises starting to form on the side of his face and on his arms. And that didn’t even take into consideration the possibility of internal injuries or any broken ribs. Miles had indeed done a very good job, however, he had failed to convince him to share any of the information that the General so desperately wanted.

"Well, Admiral......are you ready to talk to me?"

Nelson slowly turned his face toward the voice and in a raspy slow voice replied, "Go to hell!"

The retort brought a sharp backhanded slap from one of the General’s men.

"Shame, Nelson. Oh, well....mores the pity. I guess the President will just have to see you the way you are then," he remarked harshly. "Turn his face to the camera. I want that SOB in Washington to get a good look at him so that he’ll know I mean business."

The video camera zoomed in on Nelson and stayed on him for about 30 seconds then panned to the General. Standing in front of a giant map of the United States with an American flag to his right, he addressed the camera.

"This is to the ‘person’ who is the current inhabitant of our White House. Hear me and hear me well, you putrid piece of crap! You and all 435 members of that so-called congress of yours will, in one weeks time, resign your posts so that the rightful representatives of these American peoples can take their place and put this country back on track where it belongs. As you have seen, I currently have in my possession one Admiral Harriman Nelson of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research. This said retired Admiral will be executed approximately 1 hour past the deadline I have just given you if you do not comply. His body will be deposited on the lawn of the White House for all to see. You and your ilk have until one week from today at this hour to comply with my terms or Nelson will be but the first to be sacrificed for the good of the return of our government to the rightful owners."

The videotape then rezoomed on Nelson and faded out.

"Good," the General stated. "Take him back to the barracks and then deliver the tape by special messenger." He looked over at Nelson and flashed him a sickening grin. "Well, Admiral, you now have one week to live."

Harry looked at him when the realization hit him. "You never intended to let me live, do you?"

The General threw his head back and laughed. "Of course not, dear Admiral. Why would I? The cause needs an example. I don’t expect that filth to concede to my demands on the first go round. You’re but the appetizer. Something to wet the appetite."

"You bastard! You’re insane!"

"Maybe, Nelson. Maybe. But I’m by far saner than that piece of shit that’s in Washington. We haven’t had effective leadership in this country for the last 50 years. It’s time for a change and we’re going to give the American public what they need."

"But not what they want. That’s it, isn’t it? They don’t want the kind of ‘leadership’ you offer, do they? No!! And never will. What you ‘offer’ them is a dictatorship. Your brand of government. Not what’s elected as mandated by the Constitution."

The General came around and faced Nelson. "Elected? Ha!!! That’s a joke. At best, only fifty percent of those eligible to vote ever do so. The rest sit on their fat asses and figure the rest of the people will do it for them. No, Admiral. The American public don’t want ‘elected’ government. If they did, they would be showing it. No, what they need is effective government. Someone who will get things done…and by force if necessary,"

Harriman could not believe what he was hearing. This man had been a Marine General; someone who had sworn to uphold the United States Constitution at any cost. He had taken virtually the same oath that he had years ago. Now, this madman threatened to kill him in order to make a ‘point’ and try to blackmail the President into resigning. He knew that the General’s goal was not obtainable. The President and Congress would never even think of bowing to the demands of this madman. Not even to save Nelson’s life. No, he was totally expendable and he knew it.

God, I hope Karen’s homing signal works soon. It’s got to!!

They dragged him out the door and back to the outbuilding where he was again chained to the bed, But this time, he had a longer leash. He could at least get up and move around a bit, although not far from the bed…about a 4 foot radius. He looked at the second LCD display on his watch. Nothing. Were they even looking for him? Hell, yes, he reasoned. He knew his people. They would stop at nothing to find him. He sat down on the bed and his mind wandered to the last week. To Karen. God, what he would give to look into her eyes again. He had to remember her face. Her blonde curly hair and brown eyes. Even with all that she was going through, he still missed her smile. Her gentle Virginia accent and her laid back attitude about everything. Would he ever see her, the Seaview, and the Institute again?

 

σσσσ

 

The video arrived by special courier and was shown to the President, Joint Chiefs of Staff and the heads of both parties in both congressional houses. They were horrified at the sight they saw. Harriman Nelson beaten to a pulp and paraded before the camera like some sort of trophy. This madman who called himself the General. Several of the Joint Chiefs recognized him as one who had been forced to resign several years before because of misconduct. The Chief of Naval Operations, Charles Norwood, called Jiggs Starke himself to let him know exactly what was going on. A copy of the video tape was downloaded at the Institute for viewing.

When Karen walked in the door to Nelson’s office, she found Lee Crane, Chip Morton, and Angie Pierce in the inner office discussing the video. The three of them turned and looked at Karen. For some reason, there was something slightly different about her. Not one of them could pinpoint it, but it was definitely there. Lee shot a look to the other two and they left quickly.

Now only the two of them was left there in the office. Lee looked up at her and then stood up from behind the Admiral’s desk.

"Captain Davis, may I ask where the hell you have been the past several days? You left a phone number but refused to acknowledge messages that were left for you. Urgent messages!!!!" Lee was furious with her. His cool, calm rage seethed as he tore into her. "I want you to see something, Karen." And he turned on the video tape.

Ten minutes later, she reached over and turned off the TV and the tape. Her face was now drained of all color. She looked at Lee as tears rolled down her cheeks.

"Karen, that madman is going to kill him if he doesn’t get what he wants…and you know that the President and Congress is not going to resign just to save the Admiral’s life. The FBI has no clue as to where he is. It’s like he’s vanished off the face of the earth."

Karen looked up at him and her expression started to change. Lee Crane would later say that he swore it was as if light had gone on behind her eyes.  "Well, maybe they can’t find him, but it’s very, very possible that we can. Let’s get down to communications. Now!!!!"

She tore out of the office and ran as fast as she could down to the communications section of the building. Lee Crane and Chip Morton (who had been waiting outside with Angie) followed in stunned close pursuit. When they entered the section, Karen was already rapidly giving instructions to Brenda Michaels, the head of the Institute’s Communications Division, about monitoring a special high band frequency. The specialist in charge sat down and began her search. For fifteen minutes, she tried but failed to receive anything. Then after a little more fine tuning, a very weak signal could barely be heard.

Karen looked up at Lee and beamed with relief. "Got him!!!" Looking back down at the specialist, she asked, "Can you triangulate?"

The woman sat trying to home in on the signal but was unable to do so. Shaking her head wearily, she sighed, "I’m sorry, ma’am. The frequency’s too high and the signal’s too weak, and it’s very possibly being shielded in some way. I can’t get a fix on it other than to tell you it’s very possibly up in the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. And that’s a lot of territory up there to cover."

Lee slumped against a piece of equipment. The mountains? How is God’s name would they ever find him there in time? Granted, this was more than what the FBI had been able to come up with, but still…

Karen looked at Lee and Chip then straightened up. If ever there was a time to call in markers, it was now!! And she knew just who to turn to in order to get exactly what she needed.

Looking at Crane and Morton, her voice changed.  "Ya’ll come with me to my office. I think I know a way to find him and get him out."

Lee looked at her and saw a change. Her demeanor was different. Her voice. It was as if a light switch had been flipped on and the old Karen had returned.

"What do you mean…you think you know how to find him?  We’ve got some of the most sophisticated equipment in the world, Karen. If they can’t pick it up, then no one can. What kind of frequency is this anyway?"

"It’s a very special frequency, assigned to him and him alone.”  She appeared to chastise herself in continuing, “I should have let communications know about it but it slipped my mind. I never thought this would ever happen…I just never thought… Come on. I want you two in my office when I make a phone call. I’m going to call in a few favors and get some special equipment."

She started out of the communications section and headed back to her office, with Morton and Crane close behind. Entering her outer office, she found Terri Styles there.  "Terri, we’re going in and no one, and I mean no one, is to interrupt us until we come out. Is that clear?"

"Yes, ma’am."

"Good," she replied and then ushered the two men inside. Sitting down at her desk, she directed the two to sit opposite her. "What you’re going to hear goes no further than this room. I have certain access to certain equipment that I’m going to get. I have to make a phone call to get that access. I want you two here to witness that conversation. You are not to say one word. Let me do all the talking. Understand?"

The two men looked at each other. Crane then asked, "Karen, what the hell are you going to do? Who the hell are you calling?"

She held up her hand to signal silence. "Look, I can’t answer too many questions…all I can tell you is that for all intents and purposes, this ‘equipment’ does not exist. All right?"

Karen picked up the telephone and dialed a number she swore she’d never use. Turning her back to Lee and Chip, she gazed out the window and focused on a particular spot on the horizon. Deep breaths, centering herself, before the coming confrontation. The ringing in her ear indicated that he had not changed the number. On the 4th ring, a man answered.

"Briggs, here."

She drew in a sharp breath at the sound of his voice.

Oh, god, he still sounds so damn sexy.

Even after all this time and the problems between them. Steeling herself for the conversation ahead, she hardened her resolve.  "Michael, this is Karen," was all she said. She deliberately said no more in order for it to sink in.

There was silence for a few seconds. Then the smooth voice came over the line.  "Karen, how are you?!  Where are you?!"

"I’m now at the Nelson Institute of Marine Research in Santa Barbara…but something tells me you already knew that. Michael, let me get to the point. I need the ‘Lady’ and I need her now!"

Karen turned around to face Morton and Crane. She made a motion for them to stay quiet as she then placed the phone on the speaker mode.  Silence again.

Then, "Karen, I have no idea what you’re talking about. What’s the ‘Lady’?"

Karen’s face hardened. She clenched her right hand so hard that the knuckles went white. She was now so focused that she did not see the expression of surprise on Lee Crane’s face as he recognized the voice on the other end of the phone. She also did not see Crane silently motion to Morton that said acknowledgment.

In a very tightly controlled voice, she said, "Michael, I don’t have time to waste. You know that Harriman Nelson has been kidnapped by an extremist right wing militia group known as the First American Militia. I’ve just seen the videotape of their demands. I want the ‘Lady’ here in six hours, fueled and ready to go. I happen to know her primaries are unavailable so I want a backup pilot for the weapons systems. I’m going in to get him out and bring him home."

Again, there was silence…longer this time.

Feigning a sound of shock, the voice of Michael Coldsmith Briggs III again declared, "Karen, I was really sorry to hear about Nelson. We don’t know anymore than you do at this point. I really wish I could help you with whatever it is you need, but I really don’t know what you’re talking about."

Somehow, Karen expected this reaction from him…but she was in no mood to play cat and mouse with him. Calling on her training at Miramar, she then calmly but coldly replied, "Michael, I have no time for games. Six hours. Fueled and ready with Cait as my backup. Now…if the ‘Lady’ isn’t here within that time, the next phone call I make will be to the President. And then he will make one to you and Zeus. And then he’ll want all the details about the ‘Lady’ and it’s budget with regards to your section."

Lee Crane watched her as she sat talking into the phone’s intercom. A sudden coldness seemed to have descended upon the room the minute she started to speak to Briggs. Her facial expression and her total body language changed in front of him and became pure ice and hardened steel. It was as if another person, someone so cold, so totally devoid of emotion, suddenly had inhabited her body.

Lee listened to Michael’s voice. He knew him and also knew what he, too, was capable of. He had done work for Michael’s section of the Firm (aka the CIA) through his association with ONI. And he knew that Michael would not be pushed easily into something he didn’t want to do or acknowledge. But listening to this conversation, Lee could plainly tell who had the upper hand.

"Karen, I really don’t know what......."

"Michael, cut the crap! The ‘Lady’ in six hours. Or you, and the Firm, go down. And the blood on that white suit will be yours, my friend, not mine! Oh…and Michael…you know me. I don’t make threats!"

There was silence. Deadly deafening silence. This was a game of wills, and Karen had no intention of losing. Lee looked at Chip and Chip looked at him. They both in turned looked, in total shock, at the person behind the desk. Neither of them suddenly recognized the woman that sat there. Oh, it was Karen Davis all right. But her tone of voice and facial expression was harsh and cold. Deadly. An involuntary shutter went down Crane’s spine. He’d heard her use various tones and inflections in her voice before. But never like this.

There was a slight cough at the other end of the phone and a rustling of papers. Low speaking voices that could not be distinguished. 1 minute passed. Then two minutes.

Then Michael’s voice came back. "Karen, apparently you were right. The First American Militia is who has him. We’ve got a possible general location."

"Good. Now....I’ll be ready to fly when Cait sets down with the ‘Lady’."

Again, Michael feigned ignorance of the subject.

"Karen, I really don’t know what you’re talking about. Now if you need help getting Nelson back...."

Karen got up and stood at the edge of her desk nearest to the phone. Leaning over she came within inches of the speaker. Her voice, so calm and so cold, that the speaker could have frozen.

"Michael, listen to me very carefully. The next phone call I make will be to the White House. I know her primaries are not available because I’ve just come from the cabin at Big Bear. Now, believe or not, I’m qualified to fly her and I want her here in six hours ready to go…so, the choice is up to you. Either way, I’m going in and bringing him home. Whether you live through this is entirely up to you."  And she clicked off the receiver button and sat back down in her chair.

She neither saw nor acknowledged Crane and Morton as they sat opposite her. Not one word was said between them. Approximately three minutes later, her telephone rang. She let it ring three times before hitting the speaker button.

"Yes, Michael?"

A small gasp would be heard across the line.  "How?!" his voice was now one of resignation and exasperation. "You always did manage to get what you wanted, didn’t you?  All right, Karen. The ‘Lady’ will be at the Institute in six hours. Cait will back you up. But I’m going to co-ordinate everything else, is that clear?  I’ll set up the other necessaries."

A smirk crossed her lips as she acknowledged her ‘win’. "You’ll handle the refueling times for me?"

"Yes, as well as ground troops if you need them."

Karen smiled to herself in triumph.  "I believe I have all the manpower I need right here," she replied, looking at Morton and Crane. "Karen, I honestly didn’t know you knew how to fly her. And how in God’s name did you learn how?!"

"Another time, Michael. Another time. Right now, I want you to send me all information you have on these idiots. Everything you have and don’t have.....and are supposed to have."

"Will do. The coded information will be coming over to you in about five minutes. And Karen…. "

"Yes, Michael?"

"Be careful, will you? These people are not nice."

"Michael, you can rest assured that I will be careful and that I will bring Nelson out of there alive. And I don’t give a flying rat’s ass how many of them I have to take out to do it!"

There was a low voice in the background and then Briggs said, "Karen, I’ve just gotten some more information on the First American Militia. You’re not going to like this. From what my people have just been able to find out, they’ll very likely do what they say. And if they’ve threatened to kill him, God help you…and him…because they’ve been known to carry out their threats."

Karen’s eyes narrowed and her face hardened even more.  "Michael, make sure the systems are completely armed. I’m going to take Crane and Morton with me to bring him out. And I swear to God, no one had better get in my way!"

Michael hesitated then replied, "You’ll have everything you need, Karen. Cait’ll be there shortly. Good luck."

Karen clicked off the receiver and leaned back in her chair. She still had not spoken one word either to Crane or Morton. It was as if she were in some sort of world of her own. Swiveling around to gaze back out at the sea, she was strangely quiet. Lee stood up and motioned Morton to likewise. He intended to quietly leave and leave her with her thoughts. Actually his first inclination was to get out of there. Though it was really very warm in the office, the attitude was colder that an Arctic blizzard. He and Morton had reached the door when she spoke.

"Lee, if you intend on rescuing him…make sure you and Chip are ready to go in five hours. What I told Michael was true. I want you two with me." She swung the chair around so that she faced both men. "You two are going to get him out. I’ll provide all air cover and weapons backup, but you two will go in and physically retrieve him."

Lee Crane got a very good look at the woman sitting behind the desk and was astonished at the transformation that had taken place. He studied her and was frightened by what he saw. The dark brown eyes had suddenly grown cold and unforgiving. There was suddenly an air of ruthlessness to her.

"Karen, we don’t even know where he is. Hell…he could only give us a general area. We’re going to need specifics."

"We’ll have them as soon as we get airborne.  I can guarantee you that. What you and Chip do not know is that the onboard computer in this craft is so sensitive that it’ll pick up his high frequency homing signal where, for some reason, the Institute’s equipment couldn’t.  That’s a problem that’ll have to be rectified in the near future."

"Homing signal? What the hell are you talking about?"

She kept looking at him, but not seeing him. Her speech sounded totally detached from the situation.  "Do you remember the watch I gave him at Christmas? The one to replace the one he cracked in the Lab?

"Yes, but..."

"That was no ordinary watch." She finally shifted her line of sight to his direction. She locked eyes with Crane and went on. "The watch was equipped with not only an alpha-digital LCD pager readout, but a special frequency homing signal as well. You know how he hated the pocket pager. So…I replaced his watch with one that had the pager built in. Had it especially made for him. When I gave it to him Christmas Eve, I laughed and told him about the homing signal. Said that if he ever got kidnapped or crashed somewhere, we’d always be able to find him. Little did I know we were going to be tested so soon. As soon as we get airborne, the triangulation system in her on-board computer will give us the exact location. Exact enough, in fact, to be within 50 square feet."

"Karen, you keep referred to the craft as the ‘Lady’. What on earth is it?" This time the question was from Chip Morton.

"You’ll see, Chip. Let’s just say it’s a very special aircraft that Mr. Brigg’s section at the FIRM developed a few years ago. Just both of you be ready to go in about five hours. You’ll definitely need side arms and the rest will be supplied to us. Now, gentlemen, if you don’t mind, I’ve got a lot of things to do before my co-pilot gets here." And she swung the chair back around, its back now facing the two men. She needed the time to get ‘psyched’ as they called it. If these people were as bad as Michael had indicated, she needed to be in a particular frame of mind when she went in against them. It had been a while since she had flown that helicopter. But, as Hawke had so often reminded her, once you had truly flown her, you would never, ever forget how.

She got up and went to her apartment. Unpacking her clothes, she came across a small brass ornament that he had bought for her in Williamsburg the year before. The image of him in that video haunted her. Why? Why would these people take him? He was a marine scientist. One of the good guys, for crying out loud!

Karen opened up a dresser drawer, rummaged around in it until she found what she was looking for. A pair of old jeans and a t-shirt. Then she went to her closet and found her flight boots in the back. Laying these out was somewhat of a ritual to her. Quietly, somberly, each piece of clothing was laid on the bed. The only thing left was the flight suit and that wouldn’t be here until the helicopter arrived. For her, there was only one other thing that she needed to do to complete the ritual, so she headed for the bathroom. Turning on the shower, she turned the temperature up as hot as she could stand it and then stood under the hot, pulsating stream of water. She let it massage her back and shoulders. It was absolutely necessary for her to be totally relaxed, to be totally in sync with every muscle, every fiber of her very being when she climbed into the cabin of the helicopter. She knew what lay ahead, and any and every mental and physical edge she could get, she would take.

After about twenty minutes in the steaming hot water, Karen emerged as rested, relaxed and mentally prepared for the task ahead. Looking at the clock, she counted four hours to go. Sitting her alarm clock, she laid down for about a three-hour nap.

 

σσσσ

 

Karen’s alarm went off approximately three hours later. Slowly lifting herself up, she went in and washed the sleep from her eyes, then quickly dressed in the jeans, t-shirt, and flight boots. From the shelf in her closet she withdrew a 45 cal automatic pistol and fabric holster. Grabbing a couple of ammo clips from her gun box, she placed them in the special compartments on the holster.

Taking a quick look around, she then left the apartment and headed down to the Institute’s heli landing pad. Lee Crane and Chip Morton were already there, waiting for her. Both men were dressed in fatigues with side arms strapped to their waists. They looked at her as she strolled across the pad and stood with them.

"So, what’s this ‘special equipment’ you’re bringing in, Karen?’

She looked skyward and out onto the horizon, not answering them.

Lee was getting a bit impatient. "Well?!" He could see nothing but a bright blue cloudless sky.

Karen looked around, straining her ears.

"Karen?"

"Shhhhhh, Lee. Be quiet!!" She looked toward the horizon and then turned around facing the hills. "Listen!"

Lee and Chip both strained to listen. Slowly, softly there was a sound growing that could only be described as a shrill or shriek. It seemed to grow with each passing second. Then suddenly, from what Lee thought was nowhere, a black streak flew overhead from the hillside part of the Institute grounds. It flew past them at a deafening roar and headed straight over the cliff and out over the ocean. They watched as it turned gracefully around and headed back to the heli pad. The landing crew readied stationary blocks that would be used as braking blocks to keep the big helicopter from rolling. About 50 feet off the ground, landing gear was lowered and the chopper slowly and effortlessly descended to the ground. Crane and Morton stood in total awe looking at this magnificent piece of machinery. Painted black and silver, she was a modified Bell 222 Jet Ranger jet helicopter. To say she was modified was a total understatement. Not only did it have a turbo jet engine, but that engine provided it with the ability of speeds up to near Mach 2. There were two gun turrets, one under each wing, as well as a full accompliment of Sidewinder and Stinger missiles. There seemed to be only one occupant. The craft was one of the sleekest, most deadly helicopters Lee had ever seen. The pilot performed the shutdown procedures and when the rotor blades had ceased to turn, the door to the cabin swooshed open and the pilot stepped outside. Clad in a gray flight suit and wearing a black helmet with a tinted visor, the pilot removed the helmet to reveal a beautiful red haired woman in her early 30's. She walked over to Karen and hugged her.

"You ready to go?" she asked.

"Yes. Cait, this is Commander Lee Crane and Lt. Commander Chip Morton. They’re going with us. They’re going to need flight suits and helmets. I assume all the other side arms are in the compartment in the cabin?" Karen said and acknowledged the woman’s affirmative nod. Turning to Crane and Morton, "Guys, this is Caitlin O’Shaunessy. She’s my co-pilot and works all the computer weapon systems."

Caitlin shook hands with both men and let them over to the open hatchway of the helicopter. The first flight suit she handed out was to Karen. Her helmet, though, was different. There was a double visor on it. She then handed Crane and Morton a flight suit identical to the one she was wearing as well as an identical helmet. The three of them suited up and then climbed in the helicopter. Caitlin took her place in the back right with Karen directly in front of her in the pilot’s seat. Chip was in the back with Caitlin and Lee up front with Karen.

Karen looked over at Lee and then again at Morton. When she was satisfied that everyone was secure, she hit the startup switch. Slowly the overhead rotor started to gyrate and the tail rotor started as well. Gradually, the two built up speed until both were going at liftoff speed. Karen gently pulled back on the stick and she expertly worked the foot petals with her feet to give them more height. The sleek helicopter edged its way over the edge of the cliff toward the ocean and the suddenly it came around and shrieked past the landing crew.

"Cait, have you been able to get me a triangulation on the signal?" she asked.

"Feeding it through the computers now. Should be any moment now," was her reply. Her fingers worked the computer board like a magician doing slight of hand.

Chip was watching all of this and taking in the whole composition of the interior of the aircraft. Amazing, truly amazing.

"Lee, as soon as we get a fix on the computer, I’m going to try something. Part of that watch is an alphanumeric pager. We may be able to tap into it and send him our own little message." Karen told him. "He won’t be able to answer us back, but maybe at least we can let him know that help’s on the way"

"That might help more than you know," he agreed.

Cait cut in on the conversation. "The information’s coming through. Got one vector......two.....THREE!!! I’ve got’em! Feeding the coordinates into the computer for a virtual map!”

Chip watched as a virtual holographic map took shape on the flat part of the keypads.

"Looks like the signal is coming from around Relief Peak near the edge of Yosemite. Elevation there is a little over 10,000 feet, Karen. Dense vegetation and forests. We may have to switch to infrared scan."

They were now halfway across the center section of California. Another 20 to 30 minutes would put them over Yosemite National Forest. Karen was pushing the graceful helicopter’s speed to full without going supersonic. She didn’t want to eat up valuable fuel. Lee watched her as she effortlessly handled the chopper and glided it at treetop level over the forest below.

"Why so low? Wouldn’t it be better to gain some altitude for better observation?" he asked.

She casually looked over and continued at her present height. "I told you. For all intents and purposes, this craft does not exist. I don’t want to attract any undue attention from any military radar in the area, so it’s better that we run stealth for a while. When we get closer to the area, I’ll take her up so that we can scan with the thermal and infrared scanners."

Lee now understood her tactics. Not only was she avoiding their own military radar, but any possible detection from the militia’s as well. Ten minutes later, he heard her ask for Caitlin to activate the rotor silencer. A few seconds later, the rotor sounds quietened…became almost muffled…as if someone had magically placed the engines in an enclosed box and closed off the noise. They were obviously coming within range of the area that Cait triangulated.

As soon as Cait verified that they were getting within range, Karen ordered a message sent over Nelson’s pager.  "Send the following out: ‘Help on the way. Stay Alert’" she dictated, and then as an added thought, "Cait, sign it ‘KLD’"

"You got it! Transmitting now."

"Keep on transmitting until we get near the area. Have you been able to pinpoint anything yet?"

"Not yet. Still working on it. Why don’t you give me some altitude? Let me run the infrared scanner? Go up about 1000 feet; that ought to do it."

"You got it. Going up," Karen replied and gently pulled the throttle toward her to give her the altitude she needed. Leveling off at about 1500 feet, she kept the chopper’s speed at a steady pace. She knew it was only a matter of time. The problem was, she didn’t want to take too much time. The image of him on the video tape kept haunting her, driving her on. She was even more determined now more than ever to find him and get him out of there.

About 15 minutes later, Caitlin called out, "I’ve got a fix!! Coordinates are 20 degrees north by northeast of us at a range of 10 miles!"

Karen looked over at Lee. "You and Chip need to get ready. Cait, I need a visual as quickly as you can get it. Pinpoint where he is. We’re going to do a little recon before we go in."

She edged the helicopter up higher by about 500 feet so that Cait could get a better view with the scanner. From that altitude the necked eye would not be able to distinguish anything but forest canopy. But with the helicopter’s sophisticated infrared scanners, the trees disappeared and human figures appeared. Buildings became outlines and the entire camp was exposed to the computer camera’s eye. Human figures were seen moving around at various points. There were occupants of the various buildings. Adjusting the tuning to compensate for Nelson’s frequency, Cait was able to home in on the precise building where he was being kept.

"I’ve got him. The building in the southwest corner of the camp.  Right now, looks like he’s the only occupant. No guards stationed outside. Four guard towers, one guard in each, on each side of the camp. Several vehicles. Several bunkers. I’m seeing one building with weaponry stored inside. One building that seems to be larger than the others. Looks like the communications equipment is in that one. Got three, no, make that five occupants in that building."

Karen looked at the small screen to her right and saw what Cait was describing. "Cait, can you give me a body count, excluding his?"

"Hold on!" Cait did some quick computations with the computer images and then said, "Looks like in the vicinity of about 50 right now. And, Karen, they’ve got SAMs, so be careful."

"Understood." She started to lower her altitude. "Gentlemen, are we ready?!" She looked at Crane and then back at Morton. Seeing that they had their weapons out and checked and readied, she lowered the black chopper even more. They were soon coming down on treetop level. Cait was counting off the distance to the target. Karen was now in total concentration. The two men were tensed as the deadly craft roared over the encampment and sudden shouts and gunfire erupted. Swinging the chopper around in front of the building that Cait had found Nelson in, Karen started by laying in a round of gunfire to clear a path to the door of the building.

The helicopter hovered dangerously close to the ground…barely three feet separated it from land. Crane and Morton quickly opened the door and jumped to the ground. A bullet ricocheted near Crane’s head, making him instinctively roll to the opposite direction. The camp was awash in mass confusion; gunfire erupted from every possible direction.

As soon as Karen saw that her two passengers were on the ground, she turned her attention to a guard tower on her right. Cait sat silently in the back seat, furiously working the computer boards to bring all weapons systems on line for instant call up.

The two women worked as one. Karen moved the throttle to the right and pointed the deadly craft straight at the tower. Bullets bounced off the hull and windshield.

Karen drew a short breath, edged the bird’s nose slightly upward, and pushed a red button on the throttle. A burst of rapid gunfire exploded from the two machine gun turrets located under each wing and the tower’s guards were both killed. Karen then quickly turned the helicopter around to once again face the building that was their primary target. Providing sufficient coverage, she had to give them as much time as possible to get Nelson out of there safely. Placing the black and silver bird between the door and any possible hostile fire, she jealously hovered for an infinite amount of seconds before she suddenly saw Crane cautiously edge inside the doorway. She watched him suddenly kick the door in and he and Morton rushed inside.

Armed with an uzi machine gun, Crane swiftly rolled inside and found Nelson chained to the bed in a half conscious state. Lee wasn’t sure at first whether he was even alive, then he saw his face turn toward him and he heard him softly speak.

"About damn time somebody got here," he weakly but gruffly remarked.

"Sorry about that. You okay?" Crane quickly said as he pulled Nelson down to the ground after using a miniature laser torch to cut open the handcuffs. Morton popped in right behind him, protecting his flank and making sure no one came near the building. He waved and made the prearranged signal to Karen that they had the Admiral.

"I...don't know.  Don’t know if I can stand..."

"That’s okay. We’ve got first class transportation out of here. We’ll get you home, don’t worry."

"Good...What’s…going…on out there?  I hear… gunfire…” Nelson remarked and then slipped into an almost semi-conscious state again.

Lee quickly glanced up… “That’s our way out…I’m almost through…”  When he finally burned through the metal, he motioned Chip over.  The two men carefully helped him to his feet. Barely conscious, Nelson scarcely knew what was going on. Morton hurriedly looked out the door, gave Karen the signal and they appeared in the doorway with him between them.

Quickly, she whipped the chopper around and the side door slid open. The two men hurriedly helped their CO and employer into the front seat, belted him in, and quickly placed the helmet on him. Karen turned her head and got a full view of the injured man sitting next to her. He apparently had no clue as to who was piloting the craft. What she saw shocked and angered her. From what she could see through the clear visor of his helmet his face was badly bruised and had small but deep gashes over his left eye and right cheek; his left eye was nearly swollen shut and his lips showed signs of dehydration. His hands showed signs of heavy bruising and there were raw marks on his wrists where shackles had been placed. His khaki uniform, what was left of it, was stained with dried blood and dirt, evidence of a rather severe beating. Her heart broke in two as she surveyed the damage they had inflicted on him. Her eyes narrowed at the sight of him and she had to quickly turn away. A tear formed at the corner of each eye and then just as quickly, her eyes and soul turned to stone. Inside her brain, a primal scream of anguish was welling up, ready to burst forth at any given moment.

Those bastards will pay for this. I swear before God, They will pay!

Lee climbed in the back about the time that another burst of machine gun fire erupted around them

"Damn!" Morton shouted in a cry of pain as Lee pulled him inward toward the middle and the jump seat.

"Chip! What happened?!" Crane yelled.

"I’m hit." Morton yelled as his left hand went to his right arm. Bloodstains suddenly were appearing and started to spread in an ever widening circle. Lee quickly pulled the door closed and then tapped Karen on the shoulder to let her know they were secure. The two men quickly put on their helmets and strapped themselves in.

"To the right. Three of them!" Cait yelled. Karen again swung the helicopter around quickly and let loose with another round of gunfire. The three men were standing atop a HumVee equipped with a stationary machine gun. The sudden burst from the chopper took out two of the men. A bullet hit the gas tank of the vehicle causing a massive explosion and killed the third man. Gunfire erupted from every direction. Then, just as suddenly, Karen guided the graceful craft upward. Deciding to get a little distance between her and her target, she flew off about 500 yards to get stabilized and for everyone to get settled. But then she took a quick look at the man in the seat next to her. Cold hatred rose to the top of her throat. She slowly pulled the throttle stick to the left and the helicopter swung slowly around and headed back down toward the compound. Smoke could be seen bellowing up from the numerous fires created when several jeeps were rattled with the gunfire from the aircraft’s chain guns.

"Wha....what are you doing? We’ve got to get out of here!" Cait called out over the microphone. "They’ll have anti-aircraft missiles out after us if we go back."

Karen remained silent. Her facial expression was stone cold now. She cared about only one thing at this time. Wiping out the entire encampment and leaving no one or nothing alive or standing. They will pay!

"Stores?!" she yelled back to inquire as to what weapons were available to her.

Cait’s fingers moved quickly over the keyboard and brought up a diagram of the chopper with all her weapons stores displayed. Morton leaned over and was totally amazed at what he saw. He had previously calculated that her machine guns ammo was low and she had only a couple of missiles left. But what he saw truly amazed him. She had far more firepower than he would have ever imagined. "Stingers and a full compliment of countermeasures are available, Vulcan guns are half full, and heat seeking Sidewinders are fully armed and ready," she replied.

"I’m going after the encampment. Ready guns. On my mark!" Karen coldly remarked.

Cait looked up and then over at Crane and Morton. The three had noticed the change in tone of voice coming from the front. It was flat, dispassionate…completely and utterly devoid of emotion.

Crane and Morton sat in the back next to Cait. Morton, sitting in the jump seat between the two main back seats watched Cait as she worked the intricate computer keyboard and touch pads. Had he not been hurt, he would have been mesmerized by the precision with which she worked. Her hands moved over the keyboards so fast it was dizzying.

Stingers. On my mark!" she directed her co-pilot. Men below were furiously trying to put out fires before the camp blew up. But Karen had other ideas. Targeting the fuel dump she had found, she flipped a red switch on the console and then maneuvered the craft for point blank range hit. Slowly squeezing the red button on the throttle, the craft shuttered slightly as the two stinger missiles fired and then quickly found their mark. There was a tremendous explosion and bodies were thrown everywhere. She then turned and targeted the buildings where he had been held. Another shutter and another missile found its deadly mark. Finally, she moved the chopper in front of the largest building. She hovered there for a few seconds and then saw the burley man run from the doorway. Judging from his uniform and insignias, he was obviously the one in command. Karen instantly recognized him from the video tape. Moving the chopper down she confronted him, hemming him in against the building. Every move he made, she matched it in the helicopter. It was almost like a cat toying with a mouse before the kill. He could see Nelson strapped in the front passenger seat. Drawing his gun, the General fired several rounds at the windshield. They all bounced off.

Karen moved her hand and flipped another switch, opening a loud speaker to the outside. Speaking in a tight controlled voice, she told him, "Put your weapon down! NOW!"

He stood defiant. Again he fired at the helicopter that held him hostage against the outer wall of the building.

Again, she repeated her demand. "Put your weapon down now!!"

He again defied her, mouthing a round of unheard obscenities and repeated the gunfire to the cabin of the helicopter. Karen decided that enough was enough She had given him two chances; there would be no more.

"Have it your way, you goddamn son of a bitch!" And she calmly opened fire with the chain guns. She saw him raise a fist in the air before a bullet found its mark. Go to hell, you bastard! She hovered nearby for a few seconds to ensure that he was dead and then edged the nose upward and passed over the outer perimeter of the camp. Turning around for the last time to survey the damage, she found it totally engulfed in flames. A sadistic smile slightly formed on her lips as she slowly inched the throttle away from the camp and pointed them toward home. She looked at the chronometer and noted the time for the refueling meet that Michael had arranged.

Chip saw the computer monitor suddenly start to change as the radar showed an incoming blip. Another monitor suddenly jumped into action and aircraft silhouettes started flashing onto its screen.

"Boggy at twelve o’clock! Looks like a Blackhawk!" Cait shouted.  "How the hell'd they get hold of a Blackhawk?!!!"

Karen swung the chopper 180 degrees around to face her adversary head on. Sure enough, a modified Blackhawk helicopter came screaming toward them with chain gun turrets opened and ready to fire. As it screamed past with guns blazing, Karen again quickly turned the powerful craft around and gave pursuit.

Cait’s attention was brought back to the screen by a small alarm. "The Black’s turned and coming back. Looks like he’s loaded."

Karen looked and saw the attack helicopter rapidly approaching. Her right hand went to the panel in front of her and she flipped open a small clear plastic cover that covered a red toggle switch. Activating the switch, she then lowered a black screen over the clear visor of her helmet.

"Targeting system activated," she calmly announced. What she had done was activate the internal targeting mechanism for the chopper. The tinted visor acted like a tone lock mechanism, only more along the lines of a virtual reality system. Scanners located all over the skin of the black and silver helicopter allowed her to fly virtually blind and seem like she was in the brightest part of the day. Maneuvering the chopper out of the Blackhawk’s way, she allowed him to go past and then she again wheeled around and then pursued him.

The Blackhawk weaved in and out of the mountainous area with Karen in hot pursuit.

"This guy’s good, Cait!" she remarked. "But he has to slow down sometime."  Weaving in and out of the canyon, she followed him.

"We’re coming to the end. Radar has walls narrowing and coming to a dead end. He’s got to come up shortly."

Suddenly, a sheer rock wall appeared and Karen instinctively pulled up on the throttle. As soon as she topped the edge, the other helicopter was waiting. A sudden burst of gunfire came raining down on them. However, because of the protective coating on her skin, the ‘Lady’ was unscathed. Upon seeing no penetration, the attack chopper turned and ran again. Karen hung back a bit to allow some room to maneuver. Her thumb was softly touching the red fire button on the top of the throttle. Her eyes were transfixed on the computer display that had appeared once she found her target.

It was shaping up to be somewhat of an aerial battle…the question was, who would survive. The two helicopters seemed to dance gracefully in the air. Avoiding, taking shots at one another; skimming the ground at dangerously low altitudes and then making twists and turns that would normally kill other pilots.  Finally…Karen decided to end the charade.

"Fuel?"

"You’re ok. Got plenty. Plus Archangel’s got a refueling scheduled for 1430 or thereabouts."

With her left hand, Karen flipped another switch on the console.  "Stand ready to shut rotors down and activate the jet engine. I’m going to get some distance before I blow this SOB out of the sky. On my mark! 3....2....1...Mark! Shut down!"

All of a sudden the craft slowed and almost stood still, both rotors deactivated, and then there was a sudden burst of speed forward. Karen had activated the jet engines and they were now almost approaching Mach 1, putting more distance between them and Blackhawk each passing second.

"Ready missiles!"

She disengaged the engine and simultaneously reengaged the rotors. Whipping the ‘Lady’ around, she had the incoming adversary on her virtual screen. The targeting system was tracking the opposing helicopter and suddenly caught and tone lock bells sounded.

"Gottcha, you son of a bitch!!" She softly squeezed the red button and the craft shuttered slightly. A Stinger heat seeking missile was fired from its home underneath the right wing of the craft.

"Stinger’s away. Locked on target!"

Karen watched on her virtual screen as the missile homed in on its target. It weaved in and out among the clouds, winding its deadly way to the other chopper.  Turning her head to fully look at him again, she was glad he had no clue as to who she was. He seemed to be watching her with grave intensity yet gave no outward sign of recognition. Given his injuries, she was amazed that he was still conscious. She couldn’t look at him for long without a cold hatred welling up in her throat making her almost want to gag. As she guided the deadly craft downward toward the canyon, an explosion lit up the sky as the missile found its target.

"Bogey’s down and destroyed," Cait pronounced. There was no acknowledgment from the front. Cait shrugged her shoulders and looked at Crane and Morton.

There was no further conversation between the five occupants of the helicopter as Karen wound her way through the canyon. In the distance, smoke clouds could be seen rising from the camp. She pushed the black chopper to the maximum speed without the jet engines being engaged.

Again she looked over at him. Now just barely conscious, he was slumped in the seat, the shoulder straps and seat belt holding him in place. She was glad that he apparently did not know who she was. She didn’t want him to know what she was truly capable of when she was cornered.

Lee and Chip sat watching the scenery rapidly pass before them. Then just as suddenly, they heard her commands to Cait.

"Contact Michael and advise him mission accomplished, package recovered and en route to the complex. Then contact the Institute and request SickBay be standing by to receive two wounded as soon as we land."

"Acknowledged."

Karen felt a hand reach around and touch her lightly on the shoulder. Glancing over, she saw it was Lee Crane. She put her hand on top of his and tapped it a couple of times in acknowledgment of his attempt to show her his acceptance of what she had just done.

 

σσσσ

 

Three hours and a refueling rendezvous later, the black and silver helicopter was slowly descending to the tarmac outside the Administration building on the Institute grounds. Will Jamison and several medics stood by to receive Nelson and Morton and quickly transport them to the SickBay. Karen landed the craft softly on the helipad and she and Cait performed the shutdown procedures. For Cait, it would only be a temporary stay. She had to ferry the ‘Lady’ back to her ‘lair’. Karen climbed out of the cockpit and quickly unzipped her flight suit. The two men had been placed on gurneys and were being made ready for transport to SickBay. She approached Nelson, and placed a gloved hand on his shoulder. Though still slightly dazed, he looked up at the person in the gray helmet. He couldn’t see through the tinted visor. Slowly the hands went up and the figure removed the helmet. His eyes widened with recognition as he suddenly recognized the person inside. She again placed her hand on his shoulder. But this time, his own went to hers and pulled it to his bruised mouth. Kissing her hand softly, he mouthed words she could not hear but understood. He had said, ‘Thank you. I love you.’

She stood and watched as the medics put both men in the ambulance and drove off.  Turning to Cait, she embraced her. "Thank you so much for this."

Cait nodded in the direction of the ambulances. "I hope he’ll be all right."

Karen looked at her and for the first time since the ordeal had happened, let the tears freely fall from her eyes. "So do I, Cait. So do I. Tell Michael…’thanks’ and I’ll be in touch. And tell String and Dom that I appreciate everything and that I took good care of their ‘Lady’."

"Sure will. Be seeing you, okay?" Cait called out as she climbed into the pilot’s seat. “Hey…get yourself over to that hospital…you need to be there when he wakes up.”  She closed the hatch and gave Karen the thumb’s up signal.

Karen watched as the deadly, graceful helicopter lifted off and then slowly disappeared over the terrain, then climbed into a waiting security car to go to SickBay.

 

σσσσ

 

In SickBay, Chip Morton was receiving medical treatment for his gunshot wound when Karen and Lee Crane walked in. Nelson had been taken into another part of the medical facility for further evaluation.

"Chip, how’s the arm?" inquired Karen, looking at the corpsman as he bandaged Morton’s injured arm.

"Could be worse, I suppose," he replied, watching the corpsman bandage his arm "Ouch!! Hey, watch it, will you?!"

The corpsman’s face expressed regret at the slight indiscretion and conveyance of pain.

Crane watched the aide and then asked, "What about the Admiral? Where did they take him? How is he?"

"Sir, they took him over to the emergency facility. That’s all I know," the corpsman told him.

Lee looked over at Karen, who immediately headed for the door. Before he could say a single word, she was out and gone. Crane started out but was caught by Morton’s free hand.

"Lee, leave her be. Let her go by herself."

"But...."

Morton looked at his friend and shook his head. "No, Lee, let her handle this. She needs to be alone with him right now. This is between them and we have no right to interfere."

Crane looked at his long time friend and acknowledged that he was right. There would be time enough for him to go see his mentor. Right now, Karen was the one person Nelson needed to see and have with him.

 

σσσσ

 

In the emergency section of the SickBay facility, corpsmen attended to their injured leader. When Karen walked through the door, she saw him lying there, bare-chested, on a gurney, a hospital sheet pulled up to his waist. IV’s were attached to his right arm and slowly dripped their solution of glucose, antibiotics, and nutriments into his weakened system. Will Jamison hovered over him, issuing orders to the medical corpsmen who, in turn, instantly obeyed.

Jamison caught sight of Davis out of the corner of his eye but did not acknowledge her presence. He had much more important things to occupy himself with…mainly a complete assessment of the Admiral’s condition.

Karen watched from the doorway, not wanting to get in the way of what needed to be done. Silently, she watched and listened as they made him comfortable and then bandaged the cuts and placed his wrists in cushioned air casts. She could tell that he was not conscious. There was no sound from him nor any movement that she could detect.

Finally after about 35 minutes, Jamison left the table and came over to her.  "Let’s go outside, okay?" he said as he pushed open the door to the ER part of SickBay.

They walked outside and sat down in a small waiting area. Jamie went over to the water cooler, took a cup and filled it.

"Jamie, is he going to be all right?"

He took a long drink of water, crumpled up the cup, and threw it into the nearby wastebasket.  "Yes, he’ll be all right. He’s been pretty badly beaten. His wrists are fractured. He’s dehydrated. They evidently withheld fluids for an undetermined amount of time. He’s lost weight; he’s got cuts, contusions, and lacerations. Those can be easily treated. The dehydration has caused some delirium but fluid replacement will soon take care of that." He looked at her and could see that the answer he had given her was not what she sought. "He’s so weak right now that I can’t give you a good assessment. That will have to wait until at least tomorrow. But I will say this.... .it’s a damn good thing you got him out of there when you did. Much more of this treatment and he’d be dead."

"When will he be conscious, Will? Can I stay with him?"

Jamison looked at Karen and remembered a similar situation nearly a year ago. Then it was she who was hurt and Nelson who refused to leave her side. He looked at her, studying her. She looked completely worn out yet calm on one hand and anxious on another.

"He’s probably going to be out of it for several hours due to the sedative I’ve given him. But yes, you can stay with him. Personally, I don’t think I could keep you away from him even if I tried to. It probably would be a good thing for him if you were there when he woke up. A friendly face so to speak." He started to walk away, but then turned and faced her. "Out of curiosity, how on earth did you find him? I had understood the FBI couldn’t even find where he was."

She walked over to him and led him back into the examining room where Nelson lay sleeping. Going to the tray that held his personal effects, she picked up the wristwatch that lay there. She pushed the upper left hand button at the 10 o’clock position and activated a slight pulsating light and then handed it to Jamison.

"This is what brought him home."

Jamison looked at the watch and then looked at Karen, a puzzled look on his face.

"The blinking light indicates that a high frequency homing beacon has been activated. Communications here couldn’t pick it up here since it’s on a very special ban width and they had not been apprised of it yet." She looked at the watch and then looked over at the man sleeping on the table. "I gave it to him as a Christmas present. He broke his other one in the lab about two weeks before Christmas. I had this specially made for him. I didn’t know how quickly we’d end up and put it into use."

"Lucky for him you did give it to him. Else, he’d be a goner by now for sure." Jamie looked at the watch intently and then handed it back to Karen. "All in all, Karen, he’s damn lucky to be alive! I’d like to get my hands on the people who did this."

Karen fingered the watch gently, looked up at Jamison, and then replied in an almost whisper, "They won’t be doing this ever again, I can guarantee you that. Not to him; not to anyone!"

Jamison looked at her face and saw a flicker of something in her eyes that suddenly sent cold chills down his spine. Deciding that it would against his better judgment to ask what she meant, he let the matter drop. Instead, he looked over at his patient laying on the table.  "We’re going to move him into the private room so you can stay with him there. I’ll have a cot set for you to sleep on."

Karen looked up at Jamison and her eyes suddenly glowed with warmth again.  "Thanks, Jamie. I appreciate it."

"You know, this is not a great habit you two have developed here."

She looked at him, puzzled.

"Well, look at it from my perspective. First, he saves you and I have to end up saving your life. Now…you go in and save him and now I’ve got to put him back together. You know, some people might say that you two are brutal on each other."

Just then, another voice boomed in the room.  "Brutal?  Hell, they're too much alike."  Jamison and Karen turned and saw Tony Rennalt standing in the doorway.  The tall, lanky Texan strolled in and enveloped the woman in his arms, hugging her close.  Whispering in her ear, "I heard you were back.  Glad to see you finally got your pretty ass in gear and found him.  You ok?"

Karen nodded and she linked her arm through his as she turned and walked over to Nelson's side where he lay perfectly still on the table. A soft hum was barely audible from the IV machines as they dispersed their much needed liquids into his bruised and battered body. Her hand softly and lovingly touched and ran down the length of his arm and then his bare chest. Laying the palm of her hand over his heart, she felt his chest rise and fall against it and his heartbeat pulsate under it.

"I can't lose him now, Tony.  Not now," she quietly said.

"You won't, hon...you won't.  Harry's got too thick a damn hide to let some idiot group keep him down.  Jamie here can vouch for that.  He's patched him together too many times," he responded, putting his arm around her shoulder.  "Look, if you want to go change, I'll stay here..." noting her flight suit.

"No...I'll be ok.  I'll call Luisa to bring over some things in a bit.  I want to stay with him."  She hesitated a moment and then looked up into Rennalt's eyes.  A tear fell silently down her cheek.  "I know he can never forgive me for what I made him do.  It was all my fault..."

Tony slowly turned her around and wiped the tear from her cheek.  "Hon...everybody's afraid at some point in their lives.  He was angry because he knew you were better than that.  And he was angry at himself because he felt that maybe he pushed you too quickly and he just didn't see what you were really going through.  The fact that you finally came to terms with yourself and the fact you helped get him out of there...something tells me he loves you too much..."

"Yeah, but Tony...I can never undo what I've done..."

"No...but you can show him that you're better than you were.  But right now...we've got to get him better.  The rest...well, that'll fall into place if it's to be."  He kissed the top of her forehead as she turned back toward Nelson.  "Call me if you need me, ok?"

Davis nodded and picked up the Admiral's hand, gently holding it in her own.  She stood like this for what seemed to be hours. Never wavering, never moving from his side...always watching him for any signs of recognition. Corpsmen soon arrived to move him to a private hospital room in the facility. There he would receive round the clock nursing until Will Jamison deemed it unnecessary.

Lee Crane and Chip Morton suddenly appeared as they were preparing to wheel him to the room. Looking at Karen, Crane could see the concern in her face.  "Karen, how is he? What did Jamie say?"

She suddenly looked so very tired. "Physically, he’ll come through it okay. It'll take a while for the injuries to heal. Apparently they must have done a very good job at torturing him." She looked at him as they were wheeling him out. "At least the son of bitch will never do this to anyone ever again." Looking at Crane and Morton, cold hatred shone in her eyes. "How in heaven’s name could a person like that inflict that on another in the name of freedom is absolutely beyond me. I’m glad that bastard is dead and may his damn body rot in hell for what he did to him!"

Chip Morton stood there listening to her, his arm bandaged and in a sling, She looked up at him in a bit of a surprise when he said, "He was there for me a long time ago. Watched me as I was tortured by a madman. He’ll come through it. He did before and he will again. Only this time, he has you by his side. Just like I had Matty to help me. That’s going to mean more than you know."

Karen looked at Chip and Lee Crane. Tears had started to form. "God, I hope you’re right, Chip. I hope you’re right." She squeezed his good arm and then smiled at Lee before she went through the door to follow the corpsmen with him.

Crane and Morton watched as she disappeared through the swinging doors and walked down the hallway.

"You know, if ever there were two people made for each other, it’s those two," Morton remarked. "I just hope they both realize it soon."

Crane leaned against the wall, his head resting on cool hospital tile.  "You know, Chip, I believe you’re right."

 

σσσσ

 

The next seventy-two hours became hazy ones in Karen’s memory. She ate, slept, and lived at SickBay. Terri Styles, her secretary, brought over fresh clothes for her as well as her makeup bag with all her personal effects. She never left the hospital room. Fortunately, it was equipped with a full bathroom so she was able to shower and change clothes without ever leaving the suite. If she wasn’t asleep on the cot, then she was in the chair beside his bed, reading to him, talking to him, trying to bring him around. His bruises were slowly fading. The swelling of his eye had decreased and Jamie had said that his wrists were not as bad as the first feared. Color had begun to creep back into his skin and he did actually look a bit better than when they first brought him into the medical facility.

On the fourth day, Will Jamison came in with his charts and motioned for Karen to join him outside. Together they walked toward his office. Entering, he asked her to sit down and then he closed the door.

Karen looked at the face of the man who served as both the head of the Institute’s main medical facility and as the Seaview’s medical officer. What she saw did not please her.  "Ok, Jamie, let’s have it. How bad is?"

Jamison flipped open his chart, looked over it, closed it and put it back on his desk.  "Captain, we’ve treated every possible physical injury he has. We detected several psychotropic drugs in his system and have counteracted those. Frankly I’m amazed he’s still alive. But at this point, he should be coming out of his coma. And that’s not happening." He got up and came around the desk in front of her and leaned up against the edge of it. "Karen, I don’t know why he hasn’t come out of it. We’ve tried everything we know how to do. Right now, it’s in someone else’s hands."

"Does he stand a chance, Will?" Karen looked up at him, fear showing in her brown eyes for the first time.

"If we can get him to come around, yes. I’d say full recovery. But....and that’s the key....he’s got to come out of it."

"What can I do then, Will? How can I help?"

"By doing exactly what you’re doing now. You know, when you were the one lying in that bed, he did exactly what you’re doing right now. I’m a firm believer in the fact that he can hear you somehow. That he’s trying to come back but he’s not quite there yet. The brain scans we’ve done are encouraging. There’s definite cortex activity and I really believe it’s only a matter of time…but the longer he’s in this state, the longer it will be for him to fully recover. I want you to see if you can shock him into waking up."

She looked up at him in surprise. "Shock him?! How?!"

Jamie had a look of exasperation on his face. "Hell, I don’t know. Cuss at him, scream at him, threaten him, cajole him. Anything. Make him mad enough at you that he’ll come out fighting. Look, I know that you two had a ‘falling out’ before he was kidnapped. But I remember all too well the way he was with you last April when you were almost killed. Maybe this is not my place to say so, and you can most definitely tell me to mind my own business...but the man loves you and needs you right now. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we need to step outside the normal realm of things and try something a bit drastic. Sort of extraordinary means for an extraordinary man, so to speak. Wouldn’t you say?"

She surveyed his face. She knew he was right. They were doing everything they possibly could. The Institute’s SickBay could boast of some of the best medical facilities in the world. On its staff were some of the best doctors, psychologists and medical researchers. Heading the facility was Will Jamison. And if Jamie believed that this was the way to go, then she could not question his methodology, strange tho it may seem.

"Ok, I’m game. I’ll see what I can do. Obviously what I’ve been doing hasn’t been working so I’ll change tactics."

"Good, and we’ll see what that does."

Karen left out of Jamison’s office and walked slowly back to the private suite. Stopping at the doorway, she looked at him as he lay there. Taking some deep breaths, she walked in and sat down beside the bed.

"Ok, Harry. You’re going to listen to me whether you like it or not. I know you can hear me. I remember all too well being in this same predicament and hearing your voice trying to get me to wake up. You were right to take me off the team. I didn’t deserve to be there. Certainly not in the condition I was in." She sat back in the chair and drew her legs up underneath her. "Harry, you’ve always had such high expectations of me…of all of us. And you have every right to. I certainly never expected to fall in love with you. I know that’s what made your decision that much harder and I’m sorry for that. I guess I really should have confided in you. Let you know exactly how I felt…but I was afraid of how you would take it…afraid that you’d be disappointed in me. I know I should have trusted you but I didn’t. I was a fool, Harry. A total, absolute fool!"

She got up and stood at the bottom of his bed. Placing both hands on the footboard, she looked at him, lying there motionless in front of her.  The constant beep of the machines kept track of his heartbeat.

"Harriman, dammit, you’ve got to wake up. You can’t do this to me. Not now! I lost Robert to a goddamn drunken fool. By God!… I’ll not lose you to a madman!"  Her voice, once filled with warmth, now grew suddenly cold. "By the way…that son of a bitch won’t be torturing anyone from now on. I’ve put him and his men out of the militia movement permanently. They will never kidnap anyone ever again. I took him out, Harriman. Him and his band of so called First American Militia." She slowly moved from the foot of the bed back to his side and took the back of her hand and stroked it against his cheek. Her voice lowered again to just above a whisper. "I’m sorry about what I had to do, Harry. But that mad man had to be stopped. He had to be stopped forever. I don’t think you would necessarily approve of what I did and how I did it. I know I’m not exactly happy with it myself, but it had to be done. People like that don’t deserve to live. Only God can judge what I did…because no one else besides Lee, Chip and Caitlin O’Shaunessy will ever know how, when, or who did it…or care about it, either."

She sat back down in the chair, holding tightly onto his hand. She was so tired. So very tired. Putting her head down on the bed, she drifted off to sleep.

 

σσσσ

 

Somewhere in the stillness of the room, a sound was uttered. Weakly at first, then slight movement from the hospital bed. Harriman Nelson felt himself propelled from darkness toward an ever brightening light and a woman’s voice.

"Karen," a whispered voice called out.

He fought harder to approach full consciousness and finally, his eyes fluttered and slowly opened.  It took a few moments before they focused on a distant object across the room.  Turning his head slightly, he suddenly realized that he could only see from one eye. There was a woman’s form by the bed. Her head was resting near his side.

"Karen?" his voice called out again. His tethered hand, moved slightly upward to touch her hair. Consciousness became clearer and he realized that there were some sort of encumbrance around his arms. Moving his head slightly, he saw the casts on his wrists. His mind was clearing even further. He started to remember the past couple of weeks. The day he was kidnapped and the beatings. The man known as the ‘General’.  The endless torture at the hands of his ‘lieutenants’. All for the sake of proving a point to the President that they were right about their goals of bringing down a ‘corrupt’ federal government (in their view alone). They intended to make an example of him, that he was a symbol of that corrupt government even though he had dedicated his very life to the preservation of humanity.

He moved his head further and looked down at her as she slept. Hazy memories were coming back now. He slightly remembered Lee and Chip breaking in and unchaining him. Then there was some sort of a black helicopter that they put him in. He vaguely remembered the pilot and their eyes. Warm at first and then stone cold. Then the memory cleared and he saw the pilot removing that same helmet and revealing Karen’s face before he was taken away to the SickBay. His hand slowly stroked her soft dark blonde hair. She had come after him. She had piloted that chopper that got him out of that hellhole. And now he remembered, although he wasn’t sure how, that she had obliterated the camp from the face of the earth.

His fingers picked up strands of her soft hair and he clumsily played with it. A smile slowly came to his lips as he realized that she had finally conquered her fears long enough to rescue him. That she was, hopefully, back to her old self again.

She started to move. "Hmmmmm…what?… who?… " she sleepily murmured and then her eyes sprang open as voice recognition sat in. "Harriman? You’re awake."

He struggled to find his voice and when he did, he whispered, "Yes, have been…for a while…I didn’t…have the heart…to wake you. How long…have I been…here?"

"Four days. We brought you in four days ago. Let me call Jamie. He needs to know that you’re awake."

His hand went up to stop her. "Wait… a minute. I need…to know…something."  He weakly caught her hand in his and pulled her back to him.

"What?  What do you need to know other than we found you and got you back here?" she gently chastised him.  “Let me go get Jamie…”

“How…did you find me? I kept trying…that homing signal…no one came." he asked rather gruffly now, his voice slightly growing.

Noting the strengthening in the tone of his voice, she inwardly smiled. He’s getting better. He’s getting a bit grouchy. That’s good.  Very good.  "Well, Admiral, the reason no one came at first was that the homing signal was on a special frequency that, unfortunately, I hadn't told the Communications Center about.  That was my fault. I should have informed them, but, honestly, Harry, I never in my life thought we’d be putting it in action that quick. However, once I got back here and found out about what had happened, I brought in some special equipment that had the instrumentation to trace it."

“…the black helicopter…where…did…that come from?"

She didn’t want to tell him the whole truth…he couldn’t know.  "Harriman, let’s just say that I called in some major markers to get that chopper. And I had to do a bit of…persuasion…in the process. It’s nothing for you to worry about."

There was a weak smile.  "Why is it…that I worry…about that last statement?”  His eyes narrowed somewhat and he asked, “Why were you piloting it, Karen? I didn’t know you were qualified."

She held on to his hand, her fingers lightly caressing it.  "Well, I am qualified. Really, Harriman! All you need to know right now is that we got you home. And from what I see right now, you’re going to be fine. Grouchy as ever, too, I see.  Now, let me go get Jamie so he can look you over and tell me I’m right."

"Karen, you didn’t answer my question. Why were you the pilot?"

She looked at him lying there, tubes coming out his arms, casts on his wrists, and bandages on his face. He was a mess. However, there was an unspoken authority about him, even now. He was demanding an answer that she wasn’t quite sure she could give. He didn’t need to know the how or the why, only that she came for him.

She took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, then gently explained.  "Harriman, I requested, and got, a specialized piece of equipment from a highly specialized group of people to get you out of there. At this point, that’s all you need to know, and all I’m allowed to tell you. I’m qualified to pilot that chopper. If you doubt my ability to fly her, ask Lee and Chip yourself whether or not I knew what I was doing. They were there; they got you out of the building and into the chopper. I simply got us out of there."

He looked at her dead on with his good eye and then whispered, "And destroyed the camp after you were done."

She looked at him in silence. So, he had heard her after all.  Softly, she replied, "Yes, I did. And I didn’t leave anything, or anyone, standing."

"I know. I heard you tell me, somehow," he remarked, equally as soft. "The ‘General’?"

Looking at him was painful enough as she recalled four days ago. "Dead."

He closed his eyes for a moment and then opened them, the look of gratitude evident there.  "Thank you," he whispered in a constrained, tight voice.

There was a strange, eerie silence between them. Almost like an unspoken understanding that the subject would never come up again. Suddenly, the door opened and Will Jamison walked in.

"Admiral Nelson?! Well, well, looks like you’ve decided to rejoin us in the land of the living." Jamison exclaimed. He came over and rang for a nurse to come to the room. Turning to Karen, he remarked, "Captain, I know you’d like nothing better than to stay, but I’m going to ask you to step outside for a while until we can assess the Admiral’s condition. After that time, you can come back in and stay as long as you want."

She nodded agreement and started to leave but Nelson would not let go of her hand and held onto it firmly.  "Doc, I want her here. Anything you say to me, you can say to her." He looked at her and smiled. "The lady saved my life and that entitles her to be here."

She looked at him in surprise, bent down, and kissed him softly. "No, Harriman, you need to talk to Jamie alone. Thank you anyway…but it was Lee and Chip who got you out of there. I just provided air support.”  Her fingers moved a lock of his air gently off his forehead.  “I need to go to my apartment and change clothes anyway. That’ll give you plenty of time to talk to him."

"Karen, I…"

"Shhhh….now…listen to the good doctor, will you? I’ll be back later." She retrieved her hand from his and started for the door. Turning back, she addressed Jamison, "Don’t let him buffalo you, Jamie. He’s still pretty weak."

Jamison grinned. "Captain, I’ve been patching him together since before you went into the Navy. He knows he can’t fool me."

"Good. Well, I’ll be back later. Bye." And she walked out the door, leaving doctor and patient alone in the room.

 

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Jamison started his assessment and some 45 minutes later, he had finished.

"Well, Doctor? What about it? When can I get out of this blasted place?" Nelson irritably asked.  He hated SickBay and everyone knew it.

"You want it straight, Harry?"  The doctor now stood at the foot of the bed and glared back at him.

"Yes," he gruffly replied. He knew Jamison well enough to know that he would give an honest answer and not sugar coat it.

"Ok, in a nutshell. You’ve got two broken wrists, cuts, contusions, your eye is swollen but the vision should return in a week or so as the swelling goes down. I’ve managed to counteract the various drugs in your system. All in all, Harry, you’re one lucky man. Had Captain Davis not found you when she did, you might not have lived another few days."

Nelson attempted to set up in bed but found it very difficult due to the IV in his hand as well as the various other tubes attached to him and the casts on his wrists. Voicing his displeasure to Jamison, he was assured that they would most likely be removed in their entirety by the next day.

"Harry, I want you to listen to me, ok? You’ve been through a lot in a short amount of time. You’ve got to allow your body to heal itself. I’ve done as much as I can do; the rest is up to you and nature. I want you to take it easy for a while." Jamison clutched a clipboard containing results from the various tests run on Nelson the past few days.

"I’ll be able to rest as soon as I get out of here," Nelson replied. "Will, how long has Karen been here?"

Jamison looked at him. "She’s been here the entire time. Brought you and Chip Morton in by helicopter and she’s stayed with you the whole time. She ate, slept, and has lived in this room with you for the last 4 days. Even had her secretary bring fresh clothes to her. She had her meals delivered to her in here, too. To tell you the truth, I really don’t think she’s hardly set foot outside this room from the time she entered until just a few minutes ago."

Harriman Nelson looked at Jamison as he related Karen’s movements the last few days. He realized that she had apparently returned from wherever it was she had gone to after he removed her from the DWD team and found out what had happened to him. He remembered the incident and his eyes clouded. He made no apologies for his decision to remove her from the team. He had to do it. Looking back on it, he had no choice. She had refused to dive when ordered and refused to give him a valid reason as to why she wouldn’t. He realized he had let his temper get in the way a bit, but she had left to go lick her wounded ego. But she had come back and she had been here with him all along. From what he had seen of her today and from what he had been told, whatever demons she had been battling were now gone.

 

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Harriman Nelson slowly healed over the period of the next few months. The FBI and NIS debriefed him about the First American Militia. They asked him every conceivable question about any other militias that might have been mentioned or that he might have seen representatives of at the camp. By late spring he was back in ‘full harness’ as Jamie called it and was putting in full workdays. Nothing could keep him off Seaview and out of the middle of things.

In the meantime, Karen Davis drove herself obsessively to prove to him that she once again could head the DWD team. Eventually, quietly, and without fanfare, she resumed her duties as the Seaview’s dive master and active head of the team. During the passing months, she accompanied the team on numerous practice dives and then on assignments, including a couple that took her well below the 5000 foot depth mark.

Spring passed into summer. Caitlin joined her mother for the summer as she again interned at the Institute. She observed her mother and was extremely pleased that she had finally come full circle and was her old self again. But at the same time, she also observed the tension that existed between her mother and Nelson. Their working relationship had repaired itself, but the personal one was different now and there was a strained ‘civilness’ between them.

One afternoon in mid-August, a week or so before she was to head back east, Caitlin Davis was out running on the beach when she came upon Nelson as he sat on one of the boulders near where he had been kidnapped. She jogged in place until she felt that her legs would not cramp up, then sat down near him.

"Good run?" he inquired, not really looking at the girl.

"Not bad. I usually do about 10 miles when I’m here. I remember the first time I came by here a couple of years ago and you were sitting up here on this same rock."

He smiled just a bit.  "I remember.  You had a, ah, very unusual way of introducing yourself."

"Yeah, well...I've grown to love it here. I usually run up to here, sit down and think for a while, then go back. That way, I get my 10 miles in and have a peaceful time out here to boot."

He looked at her. He had her father’s blue eyes, but the smile and manner was all Karen's. Her pale blonde hair was pulled into a ponytail and she wore an Institute white t-shirt and blue gym shorts.  She was, in fact, dressed a lot like she was the very first day they ever met.

Caitlin looked out at the breaking waves and was silent for quite a while. It was as if she no longer knew what to say to him. Finally, she looked up and softly remarked, "I’m glad you’re okay now. You had all of us worried for a while. Including Mom."

"Thank you. You know, this is the first time I’ve been back here since the day it happened?" he replied. Finally, he turned and asked, "How’s your mother doing, Caitlin? How is she really doing?"

She looked up at him and studied his eyes. "She’s fine now. I don’t know what happened up at that cabin, but whatever it was, Mom’s back to her old self again." She then lowered her voice, and in a near whisper, added, "...except for one thing."  His puzzled expression said volumes.  "She misses you. She loves you, you know that.”

At first, he didn’t seem to understand, then a slight smile crept across his face. Slightly nodding his head in acknowledgment, he simply replied, "And I love her, too, Caitlin…I just don’t know…"

"Well, then, Admiral Nelson, if you love her as much as what you say…what in the hell are you waiting for?  After all, it wasn't her love for you that got screwed up...  Are you going to take another couple of years before it finally sinks in that she deserves another chance?" was her final reply as she got up and then started back down the beach toward the Institute.

As he watched her disappear from sight down the beach, he was left wondering the same thing himself.

 

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Fall approached and became entrenched. Karen had sent Caitlin back for her junior year at Virginia Tech. Around the first of October, Harriman Nelson walked into Karen Davis’s dive lab in Building B. Looking through the observation windows from the office area, he saw her talking with Kowalski and Tom Johnson, two of the DWD team members. Tapping on the window, he motioned for her to him.

"I wanted to know if you were free this evening?" he asked her as she came out to greet him.

Taking off her lab coat and hanging it up on at coat hook, she replied, "Yeah, as a matter of fact, I am. What did you have in mind?"

He looked at her and the tiniest bit of a sly grin showed itself. "That’s a surprise. Just be ready around 1900. Oh, and dress very casual...and bring a light coat."

His casualness piqued her interest. "Now, just where are we going? You’re being awfully mysterious about this."

"That’s my surprise. You just be ready."

"Yes, sir!"

And with that, he turned around and left, lightly whistling as he walked out of the building.

 

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That evening at 1900 hours, Harriman Nelson picked up Karen Davis at her apartment. Driving down the access road toward Route 1 then veering off toward the beach, he stopped at the entrance to the beach where they often went to walk and to talk.

"Come on. I’ve got a surprise for you," he told her as he helped her out of the car. Leading her down the path to the beach, he steered her to a secluded area near the cliffs. There, she found a campfire that had been built and ready to be lit, a huge picnic basket, and an enormous blanket close to the campfire. He bent down and lit the campfire and within about five minutes, it was radiating its warm and providing them with light on this moonless night. He motioned her to sit down on the blanket, then proceeded to empty the basket of its contents. There was a bottle of cold champagne, two glasses, Cornish game hen and a couple of assorted pasta salads, as well as French bread, cheese, and chocolate fudge brownies for dessert. And as he pulled out the last containers, he looked a bit puzzled. There was a container of strawberries, a container of whipped cream and of chocolate. Funny, I don’t remember asking for these to be included. Oh, well. Doesn’t matter.

"It looks wonderful! Who did all this?" she exclaimed.

"Actually, your daughter was the inspiration for it. I had Cookie make and pack it for us." he explained as he handed her a glass of the cold champagne.

"Well, my utmost compliments to the chef then," she replied, lightly touching her glass to his.

They feasted on the delicious meal and kept close to the fire as the temperature slowly dropped.  As Nelson tended the fire, Karen refilled their glasses with more champagne and opened the containers of strawberries, whipped cream, and another one of chocolate sauce.

"I didn’t ask for those, but I figure we can eat them anyway," he told her as he sat back down on the blanket.

Karen looked over at him, and in a somewhat wicked grin, commented, "Oh, I know how we can definitely make use of them.....By the way, Harriman, do you know the proper way to eat strawberries and whipped cream?"

He looked at her in the firelight. She was holding a rather large berry that she had dipped in the whipped cream. Watching her closely, he saw her slowly touch it to her lips and lick a small bit of the cream off, then take a small bite out of it, leaving the remnant of whipped cream on her mouth. Karen leaned toward him and slowly but passionately kissed him. He tasted the tanginess of the berry with the sweetness of the cream in her mouth.

She broke the embrace and seductively looked at him. Putting the rest of the berry to her lips, she slowly rubbed it over her mouth then kissed him again. This time, his hands slowly found themselves pulling her to him and wandering down her back and inching up underneath the sweater she was wearing. She leaned back on the blanket as his mouth hungrily sought hers. The cool night air and the warmth of the campfire mixed with the heat of their restored passion provided them with ample reason to renew their love for each other. His hands wandered over her body, tantalizing her, teasing her, urging her on to higher passionate satisfaction. There in the firelight, as the waves broke lazily on the shore, they made love on that blanket. He pulled another blanket over them as she grabbed another berry, this time dipping it in the chocolate. She then took it and slowly traced it down his chest as she followed it with her kisses. He found her intoxicating. Maybe they’d had too much champagne. Maybe they hadn’t had enough. No matter. It was extremely erotic. And later, as he entered her body for the second time that night, he knew that he wanted no other from now on.

They slept entwined together under the blankets until the first rays of dawn. The fire had long since died out. The tide had come in and was now receding slowly. Harry awoke first as the cries of a distant seagull awakened him. Looking down, he gazed on her as she slept peacefully. There had been no nightmares that wonderful night. Only wonderful erotic dreams come true.

His hands moved under the blanket and his finger traced a line along her side and then around each breast. As he watched her sleep, he began to want her more than he had the night before. Before he realized it, he was arousing her as she slept. She was slowly waking as she felt the stimulation of her body by him. Moving her hands slowly but methodically down his body, she drew him to her, pressing him against her body as she felt his rising passion. She then came astride him under the covers and they made love again as the sun broke its rays over the horizon.

Lying there under the blankets, he kissed her forehead and then her lips.  Well…it has to be now or never.  Sitting up and reaching into the picnic basket, he pulled out a small wrapped box.  She was lying there under the blanket looking up at him. Upon seeing the box, she sat up and held the edge of the blanket around her.

"I’ve wanted to give this to you for some time. But with what all that's been going on, I thought it a bit more prudent to wait until it was right..." he explained as he handed her the small box.

Karen looked at him. It was a just a bit chilly and he was putting on his shirt as she held the box in her hand. "What is it?" she asked.

"Open it and find out," he answered as he then pulled on his trousers and went over to rekindle the campfire.

Clutching the blanket around her nude body, she slowly unwrapped the box. Inside was a small black velvet box. Taking that out of the box, she opened it slowly and gasped.

"Oh, my God!! Harry, it’s beautiful," she exclaimed as she pulled a diamond solitaire ring from within the box. It was a 2 ½ caret oval white diamond solitaire set in yellow gold. Looking at it further, she saw that the shanks of the ring were slightly flatter near the base of the prongs. There was engraving on both sides - on one side was Seaview’s crest and on the other, the Nelson family coat of arms. Sitting back down beside her, he took the ring from her hands and then took her left hand in his.

"Karen, there’s been no one else in my life for a very long time and quite frankly, I can’t imagine anyone else beside me for the rest of it.  We've had our ups and downs lately but, if I remember right, that's all part of it.  So.........will you marry me?"

She looked at him and tears streamed down from her eyes. After all they had been through, after all that had happened, he wanted to marry her!!!  For once in her life, she was speechless.

He slowly slipped the ring onto her finger then looked at her. She hadn’t given him an answer and he was becoming a bit concerned that the answer would be ‘no’.  Looking at her, he remarked, "Well? Will you?"

Somehow, somewhere, she found her voice and whispered, "Yes, I’ll marry you. Oh, my God, yes," as she threw her arms around him and kissed him passionately. They lay there together under the blanket as the sun drew higher in the morning sky. Finally, she looked over at him and said, "You know, we’d better get back. They’ll be wondering where we are and when they can’t find us, Angie or Lee will send a search party out for us. Besides, I do believe I need to get some clothes on here."

Leaning over to kiss her again, he smiled. "I know, you’re right. However, this time, it’ll be very interesting to see what will happen when they find out about us."

"Well, Admiral, some will probably say that it’s about time. And some will probably say that we’re crazy as hell. But you know what?" she asked as her arms went around his neck. "I don’t give a flying rat’s ass what anybody says."

"Well, Captain, neither do I. And personally, I think the sooner we announce it, the sooner we can get started on any details that need to be ironed out."

She turned over and scoffed at him. "Ironed out!!!? My dear Admiral Nelson, you have no idea what planning a wedding entails."

"Really," he laughed. "And just how long do you need?"

"A minimum of six months."

Softly kissing her, he replied, "Six months it is then. This is October. We’ll be married in April. We can take a look at the calendar in my office when we go back in and pick a day."

"Hmmmm, that sounds good. That’s definitely workable…A spring wedding…Ok, I can definitely handle that. Oh, and it will be formal, too," she remarked as she sat up and started to find her clothes.

He laughed softly as he watched her. "All right, a formal military wedding. Although I will warn you, I absolutely hate that white formal jacket. Damn thing chokes me every time I wear it."

"Awww, but you look so handsome in it.  Just be glad it's the FDWs and not mess dress...or shall we argue the point?" she giggled. "Come on, we need to get back." And both of them gathered up the blankets and picnic basket, then headed up the path for his car.

The drive back to the Institute took on a surreal feeling that morning. She hadn’t felt this way in a long, long time. Looking over at him, she realized that in six months time, she would be Mrs. Harriman Nelson!  For him, he had finally found someone he could share his life with. Someone who would understand his passions and his worries, his work and his pleasures. Yes, his life had been finally renewed.

The End

(but to be continued.....)

 

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