Prologue – Waters off République du Isle Petit Bijou
The deck watch called into the Control Room of the SSRN Seaview. “Mr. O’Brien, there are two gentlemen topside requesting permission to come aboard. They're from the government of Île Petit Bijou - the Governor, Monsieur Jacques Vioget, and Commandant of the Military, General Michel Panault, and they've presented papers and send their compliments, sir. They request to see the Admiral and the Captain.”
O’Brien picked up the mike, “Mr. Haber, hold them at the deck until I can get the Skipper and the Admiral.”
“Aye, sir,” Haber replied sharply and the mike clicked off.
Nelson and Crane were in the Admiral’s quarters, as the boat sat in the waters off the Republic of the Seychelles, one of a group of several island nations. They were preparing reports to be sent on to Washington after the completion of a diplomatic mission to Port Louis, Mauritius. This part of the Indian Ocean tended to be calm waters, and lying at the surface near the Seychelles seemed like a good idea at the time.
The two men had been on the nearby island republic, Île Petit Bijou, at the time when there were deep political troubles in the new nation. The result had been the banning and disbanding of the Societe Démocratique. Both men had made some serious enemies in the tiny country, but with ONI and the local government itself promising them that the insurgents had been taken care of and that neither one of them need be concerned, lying in the waters not that far off the small island seemed to be in good faith, if nothing else. They had acted at the bequest of the legitimate government at the time, and only done as they had been requested, with the support of the US State Department, and other US government branches as well. Yet it still niggled at both men each time they heard of the difficulties Île Petit Bijou was having maintaining its independence.
Nelson's phone beeped, and he picked it up.
“Admiral?” the voice on the other end asked crisply.
“Yes, Mr. O’Brien?”
“Sir, there are two officials and their escort on the deck, looking for you and the Skipper. They'er from Île Petit Bijou.”
Cradling the handset next to his ear, Nelson arched an eyebrow and looked up at his Captain, who was perched on the corner of the older man’s desk, tip of the pencil tapping lightly on his temple, as he worked a few figures on his clipboard. “Lee?”
“Mmm, yessir?” Crane put the pencil in the top of the clipboard and looked at his boss.
“Feel up to entertaining a couple of locals? Seems we have visitors who are demanding our presence.”
“Demanding, sir? What'd we do to get them to pay us a visit this time?”
Nelson humphed. “I don’t know of anything. You sure you're not holding something from me?”
Lee grinned crookedly, “I’m innocent, Admiral! I swear! Maybe one of the men…? But we haven’t been in these waters long enough to even grant any leave.” He stood, putting the clipboard on the desk. He straightened his tie. “Okay, I’ll get Chip and you tell O’Brien to bring them into the Nose. That’ll diffuse whatever they’re coming aboard to complain about.”
“Sounds good to me. The only possible thing I can think of is that we're in violation of some kind of local environmental law or so. They've got some stringent ones here, considering the number of rare species on these islands, and I don’t know of any off hand that we may have run afoul of, but I’ll take a minute to check. You and Chip make them comfortable. I'll be down in a few minutes.” Nelson spoke softly into the phone and then put the handset back on the cradle.
Lee took the few steps toward the door of Nelson’s cabin, opened the door, and turned back toward the older man, “Anything else, sir?”
Already intent on finding out what he could of the local environmental laws, he waved Lee out, “No, no, nothing. I’ll meet you and Chip in the nose ASAP.”
“Aye, sir.” Lee replied, and closed the cabin door, as he stepped into the companionway of Officer’s Country. He moved down the companionway to the Exec’s cabin, and knocked on the door. “Chip?”
A muffled ‘umph’ was followed by, “Damn!” then “Come…” Lee opened the door, to see a shadow in the doorway of the head.
“Everything all right in here?” Crane asked, concerned about his friend and XO.
Chip stuck his head out of the small compartment, dabbing at a cut on his chin. “Damn, Lee, don’t surprise a guy when he’s got a razor in his hand. It makes his face start to look like chop-meat!”
Lee peered at the cut on the face of the Exec, “Hmmm, doesn’t look all that bad. I think,” he continued as he plopped on Morton’s bunk, “that you are overstating your injury, Mr. Morton.”
Chip came out of the head, wiping the rest of the shaving cream off his face, then dropping the towel around his neck. Lee had his long legs extended from the edge of the bunk, his arms crossed on his chest.
“What’s up, Skipper? Riley’s music getting to Sharkey again?”
Lee laughed aloud. “Nothing as easy as that! We have a couple of locals, from Petit Bijou requesting permission to come aboard. The Admiral and I don’t know them, but they apparently know us. They want to ‘talk’ to us, so I need you to meet them with us. United we stand, etc., etc...you know the routine. Bobby has the watch, so he can bring'em aboard and then hold the Con.”
“Sounds simple enough,” Morton replied as he snagged his shirt from the back of his chair and shrugged into it. Buttoning it, tucking it into his trousers, he pulled a tie from the back door of the head, and in a short time, presented himself to the Captain of the Boat with a huge grin. Snapping to attention, he saluted, “Lieutenant Commander Morton, reporting as ordered, sir. Any further orders, sir?”
Lee stood, laughing, clapped Morton on the shoulder, “You idiot! C’mon, let’s go and meet these locals and get it over with.”
The two friends walked out the door, laughing.
Minutes later, they arrived in the Control Room and found Nelson there, waiting for O’Brien to bring the ‘guests’ aboard. Two men followed the Second Officer through the Control Room to the Observation nose, Nelson’s ‘Front Porch’.
Governor Vioget was a short, plump man, round of face, balding and sweating profusely in spite of the coolness of the air in the sub. His white suit was rumpled, and he held his large, Panama hat close to his chest. He was nervous and ill at ease in the great sub, his thin moustache twitching all the while he stood, waiting for his companion to join him.
Commandant of the Military, General Michel Panault, was tall and elegant in a white uniform that was covered in braid, gold trim, and two chests full of medals. He carried his cover under his arm, and with his light grey-blond hair, in a pompadour style, looked an arrogant, egotistical military man. He had an aquiline nose, hawk-like eyes, and he seemed to order the tepid little Vioget around, in spite of the fact that Vioget held the title of Governor, and in theory, was Panault’s superior.
Panault saluted Nelson, Crane and Morton smartly. “Thank you for receiving us, gentlemen. We come on behalf of the new government of Isle Petit Bijou. We would like to invite you to dinner this evening at the Governor’s home in our Capital, Couronne du Bijou. The governor’s home, Coeur du Bijou, is lovely, as I am sure you will remember from you last visit to our small island, Admiral.” There was a grin, but it was more cold and formal, lacking any real emotion.
The jumpy little governor nodded nervously, “Yes… yes… please… please come to my home for dinner. You will find nothing lacking… We… we are quite civilized here.”
Nelson looked at the odd pair, hesitant to go, and yet hesitant to offend the government of the tiny island. He smiled back at the two men, “Welcome aboard, gentlemen. My officers and I do deeply appreciate your invitation, but I’m afraid that we'll have to beg off of your kind invitation. We have to conclude our tests and then be on our way. Unfortunately, we have some rather tight deadlines to meet. However, we do appreciate your thoughtfulness.”
He extended a hand in an attempt to encourage them to leave, but neither man budged from his position.
Panault cleared his throat. “Admiral, I really must insist you and your officers come to dinner this evening. It would be bad form to decline, and worse, it would seem as if you are snubbing us. Our people are very proud and this wonderful submarine of yours in their waters begs attendance by you to our dinner at seven this evening . You and your officers must come.”
Lee looked at Nelson and Chip, and made a quick decision, hoping it would be an acceptable compromise to these men. "General Panault, perhaps the Admiral and I can come to your dinner. I’m afraid, however, I will have to decline for the rest of my crew. We need Mr. Morton here when we aren’t on the boat, and Mr. O’Brien is needed here to assist him. We still have our test results to compile and send out, and Mr. Morton and Mr. O’Brien can continue the work for a few hours in our brief absence. As the Admiral stated, the finished reports are on a short deadline. After all, gentlemen, our job is primarily that of Research, isn’t that right, Admiral?”
“Yes, Lee, absolutely. “ He looked at the two men, feeling distinctly uneasy with them, “You do understand, don’t you, gentlemen, that we do have a great deal of work to do here. We won’t be able to stay more than a few hours, but we would be happy to join you for dinner. Thank you for your kind invitation.”
It seemed to Chip Morton that the two visitors heaved a visible sigh.
Vioget wiped his round sweaty brow once more with his sleeve, making the sleeve even more grimy. "I… I will be most pleased, Admiral, to welcome you to my home… And I can promise you a splendid meal. My cook is wonderful, isn’t he, General?”
The taller man looked down at the Island’s governor. If Nelson and Crane read him right, he just about sneered at the little man. “Oh, yes, Monsieur Governor, he is. Too bad that he has very little opportunity to show his talents.” He swung his face to Crane and Nelson, “At least this evening, he will have ample opportunity to display them.” He snapped his cover more tightly under his arm. “We, of the government of Isle Petit Bijou are pleased to entertain you this evening. Admiral, Commander, gentlemen. Until this evening…” and he turned on his heel and retraced his steps to leave the boat, followed by the shorter, fatter governor.
Once they were out of sight,
being escorted the rest of the way out, Lee looked at Nelson, “Talk about a
strange pair. Panault, he was a leader in the revolution that overturned
Governor Rene, right?”
”Umm, yep. We never ran into him, but he seems awfully cordial to two men who helped keep him out of power for several years.” He sighed, “I thought that Rene’s government was a stronger one. We lost on that count. But, well, it will be a change to say the least.”
Lee laughed, “Don’t let Cookie hear you say that. He’ll be offended.”
Nelson laughed, “Right, and then he’ll find a way to keep all of us from getting his Chocolate Chip cookies! And a man who lives on coffee needs his cookies!”
The three men laughed aloud. Lee stood, and moved to the plot table, where Chip immediately joined him. The two leaned heads close, and began to go over the data on the plot table. Nelson reached for a pile of papers and flipped through the files until he found one he was looking for. The steward came down the gangway, carrying a tray with coffee and said chocolate chip cookies, and placed it next to Nelson. He looked up and nodded thanks to the man, then proceeded to pour a cup, as he sat and worked on his ‘Front Porch.'
Isle Petit Bijou - Coeur du Bijou
Captain Lee Crane and Admiral Harriman Nelson waited for the door to be opened for them. The Governor of the island had sent a car to meet them where they docked the FS-1. Both had discussed their ambivalent feelings about attending this dinner. Neither man wanted to be the cause of a diplomatic issue, yet neither felt comfortable being entertained by this new government. The former government members had vanished as quickly as the coupe d‘état had taken control, and both men wondered at the fate of the men they had befriended several years earlier.
The driver came to the door and opened it, first Crane, then Nelson, getting out. Waiting to greet them was an older man in a formal tuxedo, who then asked them, in heavily accented English, to follow him inside.
They followed him up the steps and through the main hall, heels clacking on highly polished marble. Neither man spoke, both of them deep in their own thoughts about the new governor and government. There were too many unknowns for them to feel at ease with the situation.
The maître’d of the Governor’s home gestured to a door on their left and then opened it. A grand dining room presented itself, filled with about a dozen or more couples, none of whom were recognizable to Crane and Nelson. All had come to power in the coupe and were thirsty for information about the Seaview, as the boat was lying in their waters. Under normal circumstances, the owner and the Captain of the boat would be more than happy to talk about her. But in this circumstance, they were, at the least, reluctant. Panault moved toward them, his hand extended, indicating that their escort take their covers, and put them with coats, etc. They gave them over, reluctantly, and equally reluctantly shook Panault’s hand.
“Admiral! Captain! Welcome!! Governor Vioget is unable to attend our little soirée. He has been taken ill with a stomach ailment. If you had not noticed,” he said conspiratorially , “the governor is somewhat a nervous little man. He has always had a bad stomach and it has gotten worse since we freed our little nation. The doctor is with him now and he has been ordered to bed rest. So I will be your host for the evening.” He took Nelson by the arm, “Admiral Nelson, let me introduce you to the rest of the guests.” He steered them toward the group gathered by the tall windows. As they passed, he signaled a waiter, who came toward them with glasses on a tray.
Panault smiled at his guests. “Forgive my presumption, but I remember reading that you, Admiral, like a good scotch, Glen Livet, I believe. And you, Captain, on the rare occasions, I understand you prefer a bit of Kettle One. Please, gentlemen, enjoy.”
The waiter stood and waited until both men had lifted their drinks from the tray.
“Jean-Claude will see that you have whatever you need this evening. He will take very good care of you.” The waiter nodded ever so slightly, and slid into the shadows. Panault maneuvered them to the group and began the introductions, as waiters moved subtly among the guests with appetizers.
For an hour, they were introduced and questioned by the members of the new cabinet and their spouses, until it was announced that dinner was ready to be served. In that time, never once did the glasses they held go below three quarters full. Both men, drinking spartanly, still found themselves feeling somewhat relieved that they wouldn’t be driving back to the boat. Eyes met from time to time across the room, as it seemed they were being deliberately kept apart from one another. All the time, Jean-Claude remained quietly attentive, seeing that their drinks were filled, along with plates of the delicacies that were being served.
When they were seated at the table, Lee was sitting between two women, the wives of the Minister of Travel, and the Minister of the Mint. Both were younger women, married to men who were much older, and who saw the young Captain of the Seaview as a way to alleviate some of the boredom in their lives. Nelson, on the other hand, was seated next to the Minister of Science, and Panault, himself, who, seated at the head of the table, truly acted as the one who ruled the country, which was, perhaps, closer to the truth than anyone present realized at the time.
Sometime around 2330 that evening, all the guests had left except for Crane and Nelson. Neither man had had an excessive amount to drink or eat, yet the both of them were feeling less than well. After finally talking to one another for practically the first time since the evening started, they decided to call for the car to return then to the dock, and the FS-1. Even if neither felt comfortable taking it back to Seaview, she could at least be secured until one or the other was ready to undertake piloting the brief trip. Nelson went to stand and send the waiter for the car, when the room swayed around him and he grabbed for his head. Crane tried to move to grab him but found his legs refusing the orders he was trying to give them. He nearly fell out of the chair he was sitting in, Panault’s quick grab preventing him from hitting the floor. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the waiter grab and hold onto Nelson.
Panault’s voice seemed to come at him, from the end of a long tunnel, with his vision blurring, and focusing becoming difficult.
“Easy, Captain Crane. Allow me to help you to a room. We will notify your submarine that you and the Admiral will be staying here this night. It seems that you both have had a bit too much to drink and eat…” he sighed, in apparent tolerance of someone indulging too much.
Lee, in spite of his sudden disability, not trusting the man, yet unable to do anything about it, watched as the waiter helped the Admiral to his feet, and he allowed Panault to help him. The part of his mind that was trained to observe noted that both he and the Admiral seemed to be having the same sort of problem with muscles not listening to the orders that their brains were trying to send. Lee knew at that moment that they had been drugged, he didn’t know if it was going to be fatal or not, but he saw in Nelson’s eyes the same realization, as with much (almost too much?) fanfare, they were escorted to guest rooms in the guest wing of the governor’s mansion.
Reality was becoming more and more blurred, more and more out of focus, by the time he was put on a bed in a large room. Hands removed his watch and ring, and placed them on the night table, along with his tie and tie tack. His jacket was draped on a valet, his shirt unbuttoned, his shoes removed and a light sheet dropped over his unresponsive body. The last thing he remembered was wondering if he was about to die.
Nelson was treated similarly. Deposited in a large room, he too found watch, tie, tack removed and placed on the night table, jacket on the wooden valet, shoes on the floor and covered with a light sheet. He, too, wondered, as darkness claimed him, if these were his last moments, and if so, why did it have to be in a place like this…
SSRN Seaview – Later that night -2400
Art Wilder looked at the paper in his hand. It was his copy of a transmission from the President of the Island republic that the Captain and Admiral had gone to dinner with. He’d just taken the message and now had the unpleasant duty of giving it to the XO. He wasn’t going to like it. The OD, Mr. O’Brien, wasn’t going to like it, but, well… He shook his head as he rose from the chair in the Radio Shack. His lanky frame hunched over as he moved toward the Plot table, almost trying to make himself invisible in the scheme of things and avoid the incoming ‘missile explosion’, that would be the Exec’s temper.
He stood, waiting for Morton to finish his work and his throat tightened as Morton turned to him.
“Yes, Sparks, what is it?”
Unable to get the words out, he shoved the paper at the XO rapidly retreated to the Radio Shack.
Morton watched him go, then looked down at the paper he’d been handed.
Wilder was wise to get away. Chip Morton was about to explode with anger. Why the hell did they have to go to that place! Damn politics! The scientists weren’t going to be happy with this news…Hell, I'm not happy with the news… But hey, the Admiral's the Admiral, and he makes all the rules…
Île Petit Morte - DAY ONE
They pulled him roughly from the back of the truck. Panault pushed him roughly forward and he moved with staggering steps toward a large stone arch. Whatever drug they had given him, it had been quite effective. He was just now coming to grips with idea that he was a prisoner of the man who the night before had been his host at dinner. He couldn’t help be desperate for word of the Admiral, but at the same time, he didn’t want to give away that concern to his captors. So he said nothing, waiting for his chance to attempt escape. He had to wait until he was fully aware before he made a move, for right now, he had no idea where he was.
The arch, in which was carved the words ‘Une fois par cette porte, la seule évasion est la mort’ (Once through this gate, the only escape is death) was supported by two stone pillars that supported identical iron and wood gates. One of the gates was slightly ajar, and an armed guard stood behind it. Seeing the small party, he pulled the gate back further, to allow the men to enter the compound.
Lee had never seen a more depressing sight in his life. Several small buildings, made of stone surrounded a larger one, obviously the center of activity in the compound. The smaller buildings were all exactly that, small, perhaps five foot by seven foot. They had iron barred doors on one side, no other visible windows, and connecting all of them was a catwalk above them. Looking more closely, Lee realized that there were no roofs on them, that they must have an open ceiling so that the guards could look into them from the catwalk above.
He had no more time to look, as he was pushed into a large room in the central building. Seated behind a large mahogany desk was a slender, brittle looking man with a slight moustache and long, boney hands. On his desk was a small plaque, with a name, Etienne la Roche, and a title, in French, ‘Geôlier pour la vie morte’.(Jailer of the Living Dead). He looked...sepulchral...and Lee shuddered, seeing in his eyes a pleasure in taking in a new prisoner.
“General Panault, welcome. It has been a long time since you graced us with your presence.” He extended a hand to the other man, who took the hand and shook it perfunctorily. With a nonchalant look, “Whom do we have here?”
“A newly recovered but old enemy of our new republic. He aided and abetted that traitor Rene when he was in power. He and his commanding officer were here during that revolution. He is a trained American agent and our new government has classified him as in need of the ‘special’ treatment all traitors are. He is to be confined here for the rest of his life, as the traitors before him were. His government will not be able to remove him, for they have no idea where he is. He has disappeared from sight, now that he is here. There are no records, my friend. All there is from now on, is his number. Any files on the mainland have been destroyed, the escort that brought him here is assigned here, permanently, as you know, since they came to get retrieve him at my request to you, and I am the only one that will know where he is. As far as the government goes, you and I know that this facility does not exist. You are simply a line on a budget for ‘maintenance’.”
The Geôlier of the prison nodded. “He joins an elite group of prisoners, Michel. However, I regret to say that he will be the only one here, as the last two residents that were here, died last month. However, we will be able to focus on giving number ten-three-seven-three our complete attention… My friend, will you be staying for dinner? My chef would be pleased to fix a special meal to test his skills. He has so few opportunities.”
“I had hoped you would ask. I have brought a fine wine with me, Etienne, to share with you. After we get our charge ‘settled’, I would love to dine with you. I will stay overnight and take myself back to the city in the morning. I do hate to try and maneuver the shoals in the dark.”
The commandant of the prison came around the desk, facing Lee. He was about the same height as the Captain, bald, wearing a grey linen suit, with a white shirt and green tie. When he smiled, he looked like a skeleton head on a mannequin. His conversation with Panault had been in French, which Lee now deeply regretted he did not have facility in.
Now he spoke to Crane in soft, accented English. "Welcome to your final home, Île Petit Morte. It will be your home for the rest of your life, ten-three-seven-three. We exist here for one purpose and one purpose only - to see that you are properly punished for the crimes you have committed against our citizens. You are a prisoner of our country, a prisoner of the worst kind. You are an enemy, of the people and the republic; as such, you were tried and convicted of crimes against the state, in absentia; all proper and legal according to international law, with confinement awaiting you, if you ever entered our waters. Unfortunately for you, you did, and now, you are here and you are mine, to do with as I see fit, according to your crimes.”
He grabbed Lee’s chin between his fingers, holding his face close to his own. “We have a way of doing things here. You see, we are most democratic and you will be treated exactly as everyman who has walked through those gates has been treated.” He fingered Lee’s collar insignia, the silver maple leaf somewhat incongruous in these surroundings. “Commander, is it? Well, Commander, this will be the last time you are addressed as such. My men will call you by number. I will call you by number. You are now, no more than ten-three-seven-three!”
With those words, he tore the collar pin from Lee’s Khaki shirt, and stepped back from him. He had the guard in the room remove the cuffs that had held his arms behind his back these last hours, and gave Crane a minute to restore circulation to his arms. Then he said, slowly and quietly, “Strip.”
Lee looked at him, not quite believing the command and having a hard time reacting because of the drugs still in his system from the night before.
Because he was too slow, a rifle butt slammed him in the stomach. He doubled over, stunned by the pain. Etienne la Roche waited patiently for Crane to regain his composure. “You will not disobey again, ten-three-seven-three, or the punishment will be worse. Now, strip! You will not need that uniform here.” Slowly Lee, staring at the prison commandant, removed his uniform and socks. He paused and then la Roche chuckled. “You don’t seem to understand do you, ten-three-seven-three? Take off everything!”
Lee removed his undergarments and stood, naked, in front of the two men.
“Good, very good, ten-three-seven-three.” He walked around Crane once. “Yes, we will get some good work out of you… before you die. There is a stand of trees that need to be taken down and they will be your work.” He nodded and the guard moved toward Crane, metal and chains clanking in his hands. The guard pulled Lee’s hands in front of him, and placed metal shackles with a short bar between them tightly, on his wrists, first making his right hand face upward, while the left faced down. Then he placed shackles on Crane’s ankles, connected by a short chain. He moved around to face the Captain of the boat, raising a device towards Crane’s face, when he was stopped by the General.
Panault was smiling at him, as he took the device from the guard. He stood in front of Lee, holding the metal and leather object in front of his prisoner.
“Do you know what this is, Captaine”
“Well, it’s our version of, how do you say this… a museau.” He thought for a brief moment, wanting Lee to get the total impact of the next word, “Ah, yes. In English, I believe it is a muzzle, like for a dog. You will be fed and watered through it, like the animal you are, and you will not be able to speak, and barely make a sound. It is what we like to think of as the final insurance for prisoners like you … You see, we know who and what you are. You and your Admiral interfered with our government some years ago, shut down our beloved party, Societe Démocratique, and you cost us greatly. It has taken us several years to regain what we lost, and to do it ‘democratically’ so the nations of the world will not see us in a bad light. We cannot dare harm or accuse him, but you… well, you have now, officially disappeared… forever. No one on the main island knows where you are, no one there knows that our lovely little prison here even exists. It is for the worst of the political prisoners, the traitors, and those that help them.” He fingered the device in his hand, almost a perverse leer on his face. “Any last words, ten-three-seven-three?”
“You won’t get away with this… The Admiral, my men, my boat, will find me.”
Panault laughed. “Believe whatever you wish. I know that they won’t. There is no way to trace you. I have seen to that. You will slowly realize that. Now, open your mouth.”
Not wanting to get another rifle butt in the stomach, Lee did as he was told. The device, a metal half mask was placed on his face, over his mouth and chin. In his mouth, a metal funnel, with the width of a man’s fist, attached to the frame by several bolts, forced his teeth to bite into it, caused him to gag as the end of the funnel reached the back of his mouth. The opening of the funnel had a door over it, which was closed for now. Panault pulled at the leather straps tightly, so Lee felt the metal bite deeply into the flesh of his face. Swallowing was immediately difficult with the object in his mouth, and Panault was right, as the only sound he seemed able to make was a soft, grunt.
“Good, very good, ten-three-seven-three. Your guard here will take you to your new home. Get used to it. You will finish your life, here on Île Petit Morte. ‘Il n'y a aucun espoir ici, seulement votre mort’ There is no hope here, only your death.”
As he was prodded out of the office, and into the early evening light, he heard the two men talking and laughing, and he could only wonder how he was going to survive in this place.
He was pushed to the first of the small cell-buildings and forced to stand as the guard unlocked it. Shoved into it, he was pushed to the center of the cell, the guard bending down, pushing his legs apart, and forcing him onto a low, wooden bench. His ankles were spread far apart and locked into place on the bottom of the bench. His arms were then taken and fixed to the bench above his head and the mask fastened to a lock behind his head. Then the guard left, only to appear again, in the company of a second guard, above his head, on the catwalk, above the open, wired ceiling. He could not move. This was how he was to sleep. He tried to begin to condition himself to this place, to hope for rescue, since it was obvious he would be unable to escape, at least for the near future. A myriad of feelings crept into his consciousness, washed over him, but he would not allow the despair, the hopelessness, to eat away at him. The Admiral would find him. Somehow…he hoped…
Panault’s last words to him, ‘There is no hope here, only your death,’ began to eat at his being. The aura of death did truly seep from the walls, the generations of tortured souls leaving their disturbed and destroyed spirits behind in the walls and air of Île Petit Morte.
SSRN Seaview – Evening of Day One –
Art Wilder shook his head, again. Another message for the Exec, this time from the President of the Republique. Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane were going to remain for another night at the Palace of the President. There were several key scientific men who were waiting to meet with the Admiral in the morning, and the president had requested that the two senior officers remain another day.
‘It must be pretty important for them to stay another day. A little odd that they didn’t report in, but, if the Admiral’s in the midst of a big meeting, and the Skipper is with them, well they may not have had the time to make contact. It wasn’t as if they were on a mission, or in any danger…’
Île Petit Morte - DAY TWO
He was awakened by a sharp jolt of pain in his side. He opened his eyes to the face of a guard with a cattle prod. It was just getting light. The early dawn light was just filtering through the heavy tree cover. As soon as his eyes opened, the guard released the bolt on the back of the mask, and his hands. He touched Lee with the prod again, so he would sit up. He started to look up, and as he caught a glimpse of a guard on the catwalk, the guard in the cell struck him in the chest with the handle of the cattle prod. He immediately gave his attention back to the guard in the cell with him, the realization that he was being watched at all times, even as he was sleeping, and locked to the bench, just at that moment making full impact. The guard released his ankles, and pulled him to his feet. He swayed, slightly, then steadied. The guard indicated a bucket in the corner, for him to relieve himself, if needed, and he did so, awkwardly. Perhaps that was the worst of all, the fact that he was allowed no clothes, and no privacy for anything.
The guard then prodded him toward the door of the tiny cell, and out into the courtyard of the prison. He was led to a pole in the middle of the yard, and the guard took his wrists, securing them to the pole above his head, then left. Lee looked around, seeing the lush jungle outside the confines of the gate, trying to gauge the possibility of getting off the island if he could get free of the shackles and the guards.
The sun was now hot, and the air, hot and humid. He could feel the sun beginning to burn, especially those parts of his body that were never exposed to sun. He craved a drink of water. He had no food or water since the dinner the night before last. The dryness in his mouth was torture in itself, the taste of the metal permeating his being. As he stood there, the sun and humidity making it hotter and hotter, he began to perspire. Then the gnats and the small jungle flies began to be attracted to his body, landing, biting all over, and adding to his misery.
Finally, the guard returned. He opened the small door of the mask and poured water down it. More water wound up on Crane’s chest than in the funnel, and down his throat, it didn’t relieve his thirst, but at least fluid was being poured into his body. Then the man poured some kind of paste down the funnel, followed by another liquid. Swallowing as quickly as he could, so as not to choke, he assumed that that was his ‘meal’ for the day, and he knew he needed to get as much as possible in order to survive. Once again, as much of the mess wound up on his chest as he was able to swallow, but at least some nourishment was received.
The guard finished feeding him, then took his hands down from the pole, linked two chains thru the wrist shackles, and proceeded to lead him back to the office. Both Panault and la Roche were there, seated and talking as they brought him in, and they were looking rested, and comfortable.
“Well, ten-three-seven-three, I trust you had a good night’s sleep. You will be very busy today, the beginning of the the rest of your days.”
Panault rose from his seat, and came to stand close to Crane, leaning close to Lee’s face. “I know you have your tricks, ONI man, but they will do you no good here. You will not be able to escape. Your restraints will never be removed. You will have no way to do anything, even relieve yourself, without being watched. You do not know where you are. No one knows you are here. You will die here. Remember that punishment is strict if you break the rules. And you have nowhere to go, and no way to get out, if by some chance, you were to escape from your guards. Enjoy the rest of your life, ten-three-seven-three. It will be a short one.” He turned to la Roche. “Etienne, again, what work is he going to be doing?”
“He will be working in the stand of trees outside the compound. They need to be removed, we need the wood for the cooking fires, and to keep warm on those wet nights we occasionally have. He will take down three trees a day, clean the logs and chop them up as well. He will work some18 hours of hard labor a day. Enough to keep him busy.”
He then directed his comments to Crane, “You are going to be chopping down trees, and chopping them up. Good, hard labor, something that I’m sure you are not familiar with in your soft life on your submarine. You will be given an axe to use, and you will be watched by several guards at all times. I will not see you again, ten-three-seven-three, unless you need disciplining. If not, then the next time I see you, you will be dead.” He waved a hand at the guard, “Take him away.”
The guard took the chain and led him out of the compound. Lee’s feet were being cut and bruised by the rock and stones in the yard. Once out of the compound, the ground was gravel, and the walk all the more painful and difficult with bare feet. The guard led him to a deep stand of trees, where two other guards were waiting. The chains were removed from the hand shackles, and wound into the chain between his legs. He was led to a large tree, the diameter of which was about four feet. The chains at his feet were spiked into the ground. He was handed an axe, and by several gestures, shown what he was supposed to do. Awkwardly, he swung the axe, it hit the tree trunk, and he began to chop down the tree, as the guards watched.
Michel Panault sat at the table, looking at the remains of the elegant breakfast he had shared with Etienne la Roche. Picking delicately at his teeth with a toothpick, he smiled at his host. “Etienne, I cannot understand how you remain so thin. Your man prepares food fit for a king!” He patted his stomach. “I would be three times my size if he was cooking for me!”
“We do not dine as grandly everyday, Michel. Although what I am paid is generous, I cannot afford this luxury all the time. As much as I would like to. It would relieve the monotony of this place.” He took a sip of the champagne that had accompanied the meal.
“Ahh, I do understand. I will see that your needs are better met with the next delivery. Do you need anything in order to keep ten-three-seven-three?”
“No, we have enough to keep him and the guards. The women that you provided the guards with take very good care of their men; there is little hard work for them to do, and the men who are here, enjoy their work. The women get their occasional trinkets, they all eat and drink well. No one wants to leave. They also know the penalty if they do. Since they all were once criminals themselves, they know better. They have a good life, as they see it, and want no more.”
“Yes, our little system works quite well. Those last two, seven-zero, and seven-two, when did they die?”
“Both died on the same day and we burned the remains, scattered the ashes, smashed the remaining bones and tossed them into the ocean. There is no evidence that the prime minister and vice president of the old regime were ever here, or, for that fact, that they ever existed, after the coup.”
“Good. I want seven-three to be disposed of the same way.”
“I have already begun that. His clothes were burned last night, the metal of the collar insignias and belt buckle melted and made into some bullet casings for the guards. There is nothing left of them.”
“Good. For a few moments, I had a concern at my home about his ring, but I left it in the room he was assigned to with the rest of his personal belongings. It looks like he just disappeared. His Admiral will wake with quite a hangover, one of two days keeping, and not even remember when he went to bed. He won’t remember much of the dinner either. And as much as he will insist, and he will, that his Captain wouldn’t do such a thing, he will, simply, be gone. Vanished without a trace.”
Panault rose from his chair, “… and with that, my friend, I will take my leave. I must return to my home before the Admiral awakes. I will be in touch with you within the week to see how seven-three is adapting.”
The two men shook hands, and la Roche watched as the General made his way to the truck that would take him to the dingy he had left on the shore. There were no docks on this island, no safe or natural harbor. No where was a boat stored. Once the general left, they were again isolated, save for the radio that they maintained. And even that was carefully hidden, and when contact was made, they had rolling frequencies, so that never was any message sent or received on a regular signal that could be traced. While this island was only several miles from the main one, it was as good as if it were on the other side of the planet. The miles in between were deep enough for a large freighter to pass through, but were filled with a variety of deadly fish, that would kill anyone trying to swim for the mainland. It was the perfect prison for men who would not be returning to society. It had been patterned after Devil’s Island, and the men who used it were even more successful than their predecessors in doing away with their prisoners.
Ile petit Bijou – Day Two – Coer du Bijou
Harriman Nelson woke slowly, the soft warm breeze of a tropical day sending billowing white curtains floating aimlessly inward, brushing his sleeping form with soft, wispy tendrils of gossamer. He wakened with a headache the size of the state of California. He hadn’t felt this bad since he was a Firstie at the Academy, and his classmates had taken the still too young Harry Nelson for a first beer. That night had wound up being one of unabashed drunkenness that he had regretted for many days afterward.
He snorted, and then regretted the sound, as it made his head pound loudly within his skull. He turned, and in turning, brushed his hand against his night table. He grunted, pulling his hand close to his body, and slowly opened his eyes. He closed them quickly, the bright sunlight streaming into the room causing him to, suddenly feel nauseous. He lay still for a moment, and then slowly opened his eyes. The sunlight didn’t seem quite so overwhelming this time, as he was ready for it. The nausea fought upward, bile rising in his throat, but he fought it back as best he could. Taking a deep breath, he slowly sat and then waited for his stomach to further calm, and the room to stop shifting at odd angles. There was a glass of water on the bed stand, and he was extremely thirsty, but he hesitated to take a drink. Last night’s dinner had had a disagreeable ending. He knew he hadn’t had that much to drink, yet he had felt overwhelmingly drunk and Lee had looked as bad has he, Nelson, had felt. As his head cleared, he found himself believing that they had been drugged. In the entire time Lee Crane had been his Captain, he had not seen the younger man lose control at a function but once. And that was not because of drinking. It was another cause altogether. For that matter, he, himself, hadn’t tied one on since… Katherine… but that was another time and a different reason. No, he was now, as he was becoming even more lucid, convinced that they had been drugged. Slowly, he got off the bed, standing with exquisite care, then realizing that he had to bend back down to don his oxfords.
Regretting his haste in rising, he lowered himself back down to the bed, slid his feet around the floor looking for his oxfords, and slid his feet into one, than the other. He then stood again, and slowly moved to the door. He reached the hall, and looked down the wide hallway, that had at least a half dozen doors on it. He stood, trying to remember from the fragments of the night before, which one Lee may have been taken to. He closed his eyes and tried to get a clearer picture, hoping to be guided to Crane’s room.
Finally, he moved to the door at an direct angle across from his room. He knocked, and called aloud, “Lee!”
With no answer, he knocked and called again. Receiving no answer a second time, he tried the doorknob. It was open as he tried the knob, and opened the door. He called again, “Lee!”
Silence was the only response to his call, and he looked around the room, seeing Crane’s watch, ring, tie and tie bar, and apparently, his wallet. The bed looked slept in, Lee’s cover and jacket were still on the valet. He hoped that the younger man was in the bathroom, so he called again, “Lee!”
Still no response, so he checked the bathroom, and looked in. The room looked untouched. Nelson was puzzled. Something was very wrong. Lee wasn’t here, yet his personal things were here… where in bloody hell was Lee Crane?
It was two hours after dark that Lee Crane finally saw the cell that was now his home. Restrained or not, all he wanted was sleep. He was dirty, his hands bloody and blistered, his feet bloodied and torn. His body was burned by the sun, and burned in places by the cattle prod his captors used on him to keep him working. He had had water poured down his throat once during the day, but he craved more. He was hungry, but did not believe that the ‘food’ poured down his throat that morning would be given again at night.
He was pushed into the cell and positioned in the center. The leg shackles were attached by chains to two rings in the wall, spreading his legs far apart. A chain was dropped from the mesh in the open ceiling and attached to the back of the mask. Another chain was attached to the shackles at his wrist, and that was attached to a ring next to the door, extending his arms completely out in front of him. And then the guard left. Another took position above him, on the catwalk. He had to stand. There was no way he could do anything. Moving anyway would choke him. Even nodding his head caused the device in his mouth to trigger the gag reflex, and after one session of retching he kept his head up. Only his ONI training enabled him to remain standing for the next two hours.
A new guard entered the cell, and released the chains that held his arms out, allowing his arms to fall in front of him. The guard had a container of water, that he then poured down ten-three-seven-three’s throat quickly, spilling more on him, then allowing into him. He then released the leg irons, and the chain on the mask, tightening the mask when he released the chain and pushed Crane onto the bench, fastening him to it, as he had been the night before. All the while, the guard stood above on the catwalk, simply observing, preventing any attempt by ten-three-seven-three to escape. Again, as uncomfortable as it was, Lee forced himself to sleep, knowing his battered body needed to rest, at least a little if he was to survive until rescue. And he would be rescued. He was as sure of that as he was of the Admiral.
Île Petit Bijou - DAY TWO
Harriman Nelson was tearing up the halls of government of Île Petit Bijou. Now in the company of both Morton and Sharkey, he raged, bellowed and talked to everyone and anyone that would listen. His Captain and friend was missing, his things left in the bedroom of the government house they had stayed in, and no one, at any level, knew anything.
There was, by agreement with the last government, a satellite tracking station on the Island, maintained by the US Air Force. This new government had demanded that the men stationed there be removed and the site be made an automatic one. There was no embassy on the Islands, and the closest one was in Madagascar. Therefore, with demands to the United States being made, it was up to Nelson and the Seaview to transport the small force back to the States, ASAP, and the boat and her crew were told they were, as of 1500 the day after Crane had disappeared, persona non grata on the Island and to take the force from the small base and leave. The fact that Seaview's captain was missing was now of no concern to the Government.
Crane’s disappearance had been reported to the US Embassy, to ONI, COMSUBPAC and the SECNAV, but that not withstanding, the Seaview and her entire compliment were ordered to San Diego as rapidly and directly as was possible. In fact, when reporting the disappearance to Admiral Jiggs Starke, head of COMSUBPAC, his old friend had reminded Nelson once again of that warning long ago, that his friendship with Crane would cause him endless grief. Nelson told Starke to go to hell and slammed down the phone, after telling the other man what he could do to himself.
Nelson was getting nowhere with the locals, raging at his own government, and was in total disbelief at the lack of help that he was receiving from anyone, be it military or otherwise. He refused to believe that there was no trace of Crane after he retired on the night of the dinner at Michel Panault’s home. Resignation was beginning to take hold that no help seemed to be coming from any angle at all. Therefore, being the Military man he was first and foremost, following orders he received from the highest levels of his own government, he had Morton prepare to sail, knowing that once underway, he and his crew would make plans to find their Captain.
Île Petit Morte - DAY THREE, Early morning
He was wakened in the dark, dragged to his feet, and positioned as he had been earlier in the cell. He was then left with only the solitary guard above him, watching his every move, his every breath. No one spoke, no one interacted with him unless it was necessary, and that was by the prods and by pushing. Not that he could have answered them. The device in his mouth and on his face was becoming more and more painful. Each time he was moved and rechained, the mask was tightened further, pushing the punishing metal and leather deeper into his face. Not being able to eat and drink was beginning to wear on him. The whole experience, designed to dehumanize and destroy the prisoner, was chipping slowly away at his reserve and training. He had been through many things, but the absolute degradation of this situation was something entirely new in his experience. There was absolutely nothing he could do; there was no way that he could effect his own escape. That in and of itself was a new concept to him; there had always been some way to escape, someone to help in one way or another. But he had been, literally stripped of all that. Every movement was watched and carefully controlled.
The shackles on his wrists and ankles were so tight that when he moved, they eroded the skin and he bled from the erosions. His wrists were bound in such a way that he could not touch fingertip to fingertip. The device on his face and mouth prevented speech and impeded swallowing. He was naked, kept that way in order to prevent escape, as well as to totally humiliate. A basically modest and fastidious person, this part of the treatment was already breaking down his sense of self. He knew he had to harden himself against the negative feelings, but it was hard, very hard and growing harder with each indignity. He tried to concentrate on his boat, his lady, and bring the closeness he had with her and his men to the front of his mind, concentrating on them, in order to fight the feelings of negativity the situation was bringing to his mind.
Some time later, he had no idea of how much time passed, a guard returned to the cell, released him from the standing position and fastened him to the bed once more, leaving him alone yet again, save for the solitary sentry. He drifted into a semblance of sleep, his body craving the rest, his mind hoping that the nightmare would suddenly end when he woke, yet knowing the reality was much too grisly not to be true.
He was awakened again with the cattle prod, several sharp shocks being directed to his groin. He instinctively tried to cry out in pain, but a muffled grunt was all that came out. He couldn’t open his mouth to cry out, couldn’t move his body away from the painful jolts, all he could do was take them. His jailer seemed to enjoy inflicting further pain on his prisoner, and jolted Lee several times after he was awake. He smiled as he used the prod, turning up the level of shock until the man on the bench was writhing in pain. Then, as suddenly as he began the torture, he stopped, releasing his prisoner to a sitting position, and then to standing. Lee was finding it difficult to walk, pain radiating from his groin, his feet sorely damaged from the day before, his legs so numbed with pain that they were refusing to follow even basic orders of one foot in front of the other. The guard, taking his inability for reluctance to comply, used the prod to make him move. He was allowed to use the bucket to relieve himself, then prodded to the compound center, where he was again fastened to the pole in the center and left. Again, after an indeterminate period of time, a guard returned, and poured water and some other food down his throat. Afterward, the guard shut the door on the mask, and left him there, in the sun, for another indeterminate period of time.
Every joint of his body, every bone, screamed in pain. His muscles stiffened and refused to work to allow him even the slightest attempt at movement. The parts of his body where the cattle prod had been used burned as the sweat from his own body bathed the raw areas. The guard finally came, and took him down from the pole. He could barely walk, but the guard kept poking him with the prod, sending volts of electricity thru Crane’s body at every opportunity.
This time, they stopped in the middle of the compound, near a layer of gravel, with several pikes fastened into the ground. Standing on the other side of the gravel was Etienne la Roche. Lee looked puzzled. La Roche smiled at him, the skeletal face looking more and more as if it stepped right from the grave.
“My dear ten-three-seven-three, in my enthusiasm when you were welcomed here, I forgot to inform you that on Sundays, you get a day of rest from your labors. That is not to say that you don’t work at all, but you do get four hours of prayer - to pray for the redemption of your soul. You get to pray here, in the open of the yard, with the Lord’s sky above you.”
He motioned to the guard, who pushed Lee slightly forward and then forced him to his knees on the gravel bed. Again, the cry of pain trying to escape sounded more like a grunt. The guard released the bolt of the wrist shackles and pulled his arms far apart, running chains from them to the pikes in front of him. It forced his body to grind down on his knees, deep into the gravel, breaking skin and tearing into muscle and tissue. The guard then staked each of the ankle shackles deep into the ground, forcing his legs deeper into the gravel bed. Finally, he ran a chain through the back of the mask, and pulled it backward until Lee was staring straight up into the sky. He struggled for breath as the funnel in his mouth shifted to cover most of his throat. La Roche stood above him, leering into his upraised face.
“Four hours here, ten-three-seven-three. To contemplate your sins against the government of this charming island. Sunday is a day for prayer. When you are done praying, you will go to work in the field today. There are a dozen logs that need to be brought to the compound and since we have no horses to pull them in, you will do it. And you will not get to rest until you finish bringing all of them here. Pray well, ten-three-seven-three. Pray well.”
He cracked his crop across Lee’s throat, causing ten-three-seven-three to gag and wretch, pulling on his bonds, not trying to, but unable to stop the convulsive response to the pain. His knees and legs were ground deeper into the gravel, and he tried to cry out, but was unable to…he was about to give up, to give into the despair. Suddenly a vision of the boat, the faces of friends, raced across his conscious mind, and he clung to them to drag him out of the deepening well. The memory of their faces offered a rope that he clung to in the midst of deepening darkness around him.
Four hours later, a guard came to him carrying a jug of water that he poured down ten-three-seven-three’s throat before he released the mask from the pike that held his head bent backward. Lee’s head slowly moved upward, the fluid giving him some respite. The guard then released one arm shackle and brought it to the other, connecting them before he released the second chain. With that release, Crane fell face forward into the dirt of the compound. The guard then released the ankle shackles from their pikes, and waited for ten-three-seven-three to move. He didn’t, so the guard took the cattle prod, and held it to his ribs, releasing several consecutive jolts to ten-three-seven-three’s chest. He still didn’t move, and the guard signaled another one of the guards to join him. They dragged the man they referred to as ten-three-seven-three to a nearby tub of water, and immersed the semi-conscious man in the water. That seemed to revive him somewhat, and he was dragged from the tub, and stood up His legs were macerated and bloody. He could barely walk, from the pain, still, they drew two chains thru the wrist manacles and pulled and prodded him out of the compound and into the jungle.
Some twenty minutes later, they reached a small clearing with a large pile of some twelve logs, trimmed and ready to be hauled to a finishing plant. He was shoved onto the pile, and made to crawl to the top, to push the highest log down. He struggled, tearing skin, leaving a bloody trail from legs and arms on the wood. He managed to get the log to the bottom of the pile, and somehow, climb down. They pushed him to the head of the log, and fitted him with a rope harness, that ran around his shoulders and back, and fastened to a belted waist. The rope was rough, not well made, and it was tightened to the point where it drew blood. His arms were fastened to the harness in front of him, and the log attached to the back. Then, with the guards using the prod and a riding crop on him, he pulled the log back to the compound.
By the time he reached the compound, everywhere the rope had been tied was torn and bloodied skin mixing with the rope fiber. He was dirty, bloody and in pain beyond any measure he had ever known. Yet he knew he had to continue doing what he was ordered to, or the consequences would be beyond even his imagination. So he forced his body to move, forced it to do the work of animals, until, near midnight, he was finished.
He was taken to his cell, and then he was forced to stand for another four hours. At four in the morning, as the false dawn of the tropics was beginning to show, he was locked onto the bench, locked into the cell and left alone. The guard above him stared down, watching him breathe, just waiting for him to do something, anything that would allow further punishment.
The guard was to be disappointed. Crane did nothing, but allow his abused body to try and get some rest, before hell began over again.
SSRN Seaview – DAY THREE
Harriman Nelson stormed around his boat. He was angry, frustrated, and if Jiggs Starke or anyone else had asked him how he felt, he would have, quite simply, killed them. He had little tolerance of fools, and anyone asking him such a stupid question would be immediately considered a fool by him, and he would have had them walk the plank, and then, if they survived that, he would have had shot them out a torpedo tube!
They had not been able to find Lee on the Island nation, had not been able to find out anything. It was as if he had literally vanished. And vanished leaving all his belongings behind. And that was not Lee Crane. Nelson was worried, frantic if the truth be known. He did not trust the ‘new’ government of Île Petit Bijou They came across more like thugs than politicians. He was uneasy with the idea that the members of the old regime, men he had known, were, simply, gone. They had vanished, once the new government took over. Much like Lee. His enquires had come up against a wall of people who knew nothing. They knew the Captain had been with Nelson at the dinner, but no one had seen him leave, no one had heard any noise, no one knew where he went or when he left. Crane’s disappearance was a mystery without a solution.
All of the Admiral’s inquiries, the overt as well as the covert had turned up nothing. He had been force to leave, by orders of his government, and the one on the Island. He was following orders, as he had done all of his life, but for the first time, he was questioning them. He picked up the mike next to the desk in his cabin, “Mr. Morton?”
“Aye, sir?” Morton’s voice was terse and brittle with his Admiral. He didn’t understand how Nelson could take the boat and leave Lee behind, because Chip knew in his gut, that somehow, Lee was back in that Island Nation, not at his choice.
“Change course, Mr. Morton, set her for Pearl, at flank. Give me an ETA ASAP, then report here at 1900. Also, have the FS-1 made ready. I'm going to fly out ahead of you.”
Nelson looked around the cabin, at pictures of him and Lee and Chip Morton at various events over the years. “I will find you, Lee. We will, wherever you are!”
Île Petit Morte - DAY FOUR
The guard returned a scant two hours later, which would be giving ten-three-seven-three barely enough time to even begin to recover from the work of the day before. The light of the day was beginning to penetrate the cell, and the guard took a good look at ten-three-seven-three. He was disgustingly dirty, but that was not something he was unused to. All prisoners here quickly became that way. They were all going go die anyway, so there was no reason to waste water to allow them to clean themselves.
La Roche often worked to prolong the lives of prisoners as long as possible. He enjoyed his work. The guard shrugged, and moved to the bench. As he looked at ten-three-seven-three, he saw that the man’s legs were swollen and puffy, as were his feet, and hands. Burns, bruises, cuts and deep, raw wounds covered his body. His exam of ten-three-seven-three was merely cursory. He didn’t care about the man, he was simply doing his job. The guard left the cell, knowing that ‘seven three’ would not even be aware that he had been in the cell. He knew too well how the bodies of the men imprisoned here adapted quickly to taking rest when they could, and blocking out all but the necessary sounds around them.
He walked across the compound, to the office and entered. Early as the morning was, la Roche was seated at his desk, dealing with what looked like a pile of paperwork.
La Roche looked up, “Yes, de Bec?”
“Seven-three seems to be getting ill. His legs, feet and hands appear to be infected. They are swollen and discolored, and some of the wounds seem to be giving off a discharge.” There was no concern or emotion in the man’s voice. He had long ago, like the other guards here, lost any care about their prisoners. They were well paid and well cared for, and, as former convicts themselves, they knew that to get involved with prisoners bode no good for them.
The commandant looked up at the guard. ”Hmm, well…Wake him, and get the salt baths ready. After he is fed, put him in the bath, for several hours, then just back to his cell. Sleep and stand him for fourteen hours. Make the periods irregular, so by the time night falls he has no idea of time. Then bed him, wake him and bed him twice more, before tomorrow. I want him working in the tree stand before daylight, as he will have a day’s work to make up, so keep him at work until all the work for both days is current. Advise me of his progress, if there is a need. I don’t want him to die just yet. Our country owes him a great deal of pain and suffering for his support of the old tyrants.”
The guard merely nodded, and left the room. La Roche moved to a large armoire, and opened the door. Inside was one of the radio transmitters in the prison. Carefully, he picked a frequency, and began to send a message to Panault. The two men had worked out a code, based on the old Morse code to send messages back and forth. They had determined to keep the messages short, but the code itself was a complex one, added to the fact that they would send it in different languages. Neither man used the same receiver more than once in a send/receive cycle.
The message read, “Michel, seven-three has developed infections. Am treating with salt baths. Send word if you wish more done.”
He closed the radio inside the cabinet and went across the compound. Arriving at the building used as a kitchen, he entered, and strolled at a leisurely pace through the Dining Hall, and into the kitchen proper. The stone room had a stairway to the left of the entry that wound itself to what was sarcastically called ‘The Grainery’. La Roche climbed the circular stairwell, and at the large, solid oaken door at the top, took a key and opened it.
Inside was a fairly open and large sitting room, furnished, absurdly as it may seem, with white wicker furniture and blue rugs and wall hangings. It resembled a sunny retreat from reality. La Roche liked the room and spent many hours here, reading. He walked over to a small tapestry on the wall and moved it aside. Behind the tapestry was a door, which he used another key to open. Behind the door was another radio transmitter. He turned it on, and then sat, waiting for Panault to respond to his missive.
Crane was awakened with the cattle prod by the guard. The man shocked him three times before he acknowledged that ten-three-seven-three was awake. The routine was the same as it had been since the first morning of Lee’s imprisonment. He was released from the bed, and brought to his feet. This morning, however, blinding hot pain drove him back onto the bench. His feet were swollen and oozing fluid and blood, as were his legs from the knees down. He took his hands to attempt to wipe something from his face, and found himself looking at hands swollen to twice their size, the torn palms also oozing a sour smelling discharge. He, in all truth, could not stand, much less walk. Unable to speak to the guard, he waited to see what the man would do. The guard came over to him, and using the prod, forced him to his feet. Each step was agony, and by the time he reached the cell door, he was near collapse. It was at that moment another guard joined them, and when Lee began to fall, he grabbed at one arm, the other guard taking the other. He was dragged to the pole, and fastened to it. All he was aware of was the blinding red pain raging in his feet and legs. Standing on his feet was agony beyond description. The pain in his hands and wrists was pounding as he was fastened to the pole by his wrists. He wanted to vomit, to retch with the pain, but the mask prevented that. He shivered with fever, and yet sweating in the sun with the heat of it as well as from the fever. He could barely focus on anything, and at that moment, he wished for a swift death to put an end to it all.
The guard returned with the food and water and proceeded to pour it down ten-three-seven-three's throat. Finished with the feeding, the guard closed the door of the mask and left him alone again. The sun beat down, burning already seared and damaged skin. The fever from the infections raged. An hour later, two guards came to take the now unaware prisoner off the pole. They then dragged him across the compound to a small building. The stone building had no windows and a solid door. There was no solid roof, only a mesh covering as the other cells had, and it was connected to the rest of the buildings by the catwalks. One of the guards opened the door, and they dragged their prisoner into the cell-like room. In the center was a large pool, four feet deep, four foot wide, and at present, was dry. In the walls on the side were several pipes, open ended, that emptied into the pool. In it was a bench with rings and chains. They dragged their prisoner into the pit, locked his ankles to the bench, his arms each to a chain on the bench, and his head pulled back, by the chain in the back of the mask. This left him stretched tightly to the bench, while sitting on it. . Then they got out of the pool, and went to the side of the small cell, and turned two large valves, sending gallons of water surging into the pool.
Lee was minimally aware of being taken from the pole and dragged across the compound. He had no ability to fight or resist. He had lost most of the desire to. The only thing keeping that small flame of desire to live alive were the thoughts of the men, the boat, and his friends. He did want to see them again. He wanted to see his boat, his lady. But the agonizing pain throbbing throughout his body was making it harder to think, to even simply be. It would be much easier to give into it and let go. Yet something prevented him from that total surrender, even when the pain was being multiplied, as the salt water began to wash over his legs and arms, burning the open wounds, soaking into his body; while the wet felt good, it was also cold, and made his teeth chatter against the metal funnel in his mouth. The burning of his wounds and cuts intensified, as the water filled the pool to the bottom of his neck. It was ocean water, but with so much salt added to it, you could smell it. He knew, on some level, that it was an attempt to cleanse the wounds, decrease the infection. He knew that salting wounds did prevent further infection, but this was almost beyond bearing. He was burning all over, and he couldn’t move, couldn’t do a thing to stop it. Eventually, he stopped struggling, knowing there was no relief, no release. He had to keep awake and aware, keep his head above water. He dearly wanted the water, wanted to drink, but there was no way to get any water, the mask prevented it, and the salt content of the water wouldn’t make it palatable in any form. He was thirsty, dry, in the midst of water he couldn’t drink…
Two hours later, the water began to drain from the pool. As the level went down, he began to shiver with cold, as his body chilled with the loss of the insulation of the water. Once the pool was completely drained, the guards climbed in, and released the chains at his ankles, wrists and mask. They rejoined the chains at the ankles, and placed the others on the wrist shackles, pulling Crane to his feet. He moaned in pain, the pressure on the still injured feet intense. He was pushed to the small steps out of the pool, each guard pushing and pulling him out of the pool, and out of the small building. After all the time in the dark, the light in the compound was blinding. It made his head pound, as he was prodded across the compound to his cell. He was confused, delirious with fever and exposure. He had lost all track of time, and had no idea what was next expected of him.
In spite of his intense pain, he was grateful when he was chained in place in the cell, standing in the center. At least he wasn’t being forced to chop down the trees or drag the logs. Chained in place in the center of the cell, he stood. Fever, heat, humidity, insects and pain all took their toll as the long day progressed. He was chained to the bed, then back to standing so many times, he lost count. Finally, with the after the fall of darkness, a guard came into the cell, and released him from one more time from standing, fastening him to the bench. He immediately gave over to the unconsciousness. At least, asleep, he felt nothing. Nothing at all.
Etienne la Roche sat, reading a book, drinking an iced fruit drink, in the bright airy room, as he waited for the response form Michel Panault. He enjoyed this room; he found it relaxing to be up here, above the lush rain forest. It was high enough to hide the rest of the prison compound from sight, and high enough to see the ocean and the rocky coast of the island, with out any of the ‘distractions’ of the prisoners below. His small, battery-operated record player played a record of classical music, and the soft strains of a Hayden piece drifted over the sound of the jungle. Were it not that he were waiting a response on the radio, he could easily lose himself in the aerie he had so carefully created, in sharp contrast to the horrors inflicted on the poor creatures he so carefully tortured to their deaths. He needed beauty for his soul, and he had it here.
He sighed as he turned another page of his novel, he disliked waiting under ordinary circumstances, but it did give him time to enjoy this room. He tried to lose himself in the book, but his attention was distracted by the sounds of the animals outside. A man of his tastes and culture shouldn’t be condemned to this place, as exotic as the island was. He deserved much more, but he was lucky that his ‘sponsor’ had saved him from the prison he had been consigned to more than three decades ago. That sponsor had connected him with Panault and his movement on the Island. He had been able to secure the position of Commandant of the prison, and he kept his place, increasing his personal wealth, enabling him to do as he wished, regardless of the regime in power. The bottom line was that all the politicians feared him, and his knowledge. He could bring down any or all the political parties he chose, but this kind of power was better. His ‘sponsor’ had taught him well, to use them all, to further whatever his own agenda was. He didn’t want power, just wealth, and this way he was able to secure it, use it as he pleased, and enjoy his work.
Having been on the inside of prison treatment, la Roche had refined it to a level that few men survived. And those that did were never the same. In the last two decades, no prisoner had left the island alive. And no evidence of their time on the island existed, save in a small book, in la Roche’s safe, hidden in the post of his bed. Everything else, including the bodies, were destroyed as the prisoners died.
Layers of dirt were systematically replaced by the prisoners, all biologic materials mixing so no trace would ever be able to be found. Metals, restraints, feeding masks, anything used by the prisoners were melted down and recast, forever destroying physical evidence of a prisoner’s presence. Any of the guards with the slightest hesitation to an order was killed, as was the woman who was his companion, and they too were burned in death, and their articles similarly destroyed. The small group that manned the island was true to the death with the secret of its existence.
In reality, Etienne la Roche was a king with his own kingdom to do as he pleased. And he did, with the support of whatever regime was in power.
He sighed again, more of habit than boredom. He turned the page, and as he did, the small buzzer on the radio went off. A small strip of paper came from the tiny printer in the radio, the language, an obscure Hindu dialect, the code their own.
Do whatever you need to keep him alive. Ten-three-seven-three is to be our ‘guest’ for as long as possible. I want his superiors to be guessing about his disappearance for months. And I want him to know every possible type of pain and suffering you can inflict on him, short of killing him outright. Yes, do what you must to keep him alive and in extreme pain. For what he and his government did to our government, he deserves it all…
Etienne la Roche absentmindedly nodded to himself. He took the message to a small bowl, lit the paper and watched it burn. Once it was completely fine ash, he added water to it, poured it into a container, and added some soil from a nearby planter. Mixing them together, he then put the mix into a large planter, added some seeds, and watered it again. There would be no trace of the note. And he was also confident that no one picking up the signal would have any idea of what was said. His work and relaxation done, he left the room, locked the door, and returned to his office. He had some plans for his prisoner. He had to facilitate them. If Michel didn’t want him to die just yet, he would have to see that ten-three-seven three survived. Unfortunate for ten-three-seven-three, but there were means of extending his life, longer than the man could ever imagine.
At a remote CIA listening station on Madagascar, Brian Toole picked up the radio transmissions that passed between Panault and la Roche. They were coming from and going to what the 'analyst' thought of as an unimportant little republic and one of its’ ancillary islands. The makeup of the message itself was pure gibberish, something he felt too complex to even bother with, given the source of the transmissions. He printed out the transmissions, and placed them in a file folder, marking it – Petit Bijou, and filed it in the file cabinet to be sent to Langley later in the week as was normal procedure for non-priority items.
Île Petit Morte - DAY FIVE
Any hope of respite was quickly taken away. Three times during the dark, he was roused from sleep, and stood for indeterminate time periods. After the third time, he was led out in the still darkness, fastened to the pole, and fed, then led out, still in the dark to chop down six trees, before he could claim any attempt at rest. Hours later, after a long day in his personal hell, working and being treated like nothing more than an animal, and once again in the dark, at the end of the days labor, he was led back to his cell, to begin the sleep/stand night that he was now expecting to experience.
His mind began to go to a hidden place, one that he had formed long ago, in the event of a situation he couldn’t cope with. His ONI training had taught him to go there, to mentally hide from the torture they might be subjected to. He decided to go there, with the knowledge that he may never return, but also knowing that it was better than where he was now. How long he lived would merely depend on how long his body could survive.
SSRN Seaview - DAY FIVE
Once at Pearl, the Seaview quickly discharged her passengers, took on cargo, and prepared to sail at the Admiral’s orders. Nelson had arrived hours before the boat and was at COMSUBPAC HQ, storming at Jiggs Starke, on the phone with the SecNav, the CNO, the head of ONI, the Chief of Staff for the President...yelling at anyone who would listen to him, regardless of whether they wanted to or not. When he finally decided that the yelling would do no further good, he stormed back into Jiggs Starke’s office, and handed the four-star admiral several manila envelopes.
"What the hell is this, Harriman?" Starke asked, looking down at the envelopes in front of him.
"Let's just say that I'm sick and tired of having my goddamn hands tied, so I'm untying them. I've had enough of this bullshit! I'll find Crane on my own." He snatched up his cover from the edge of Starke's desk.
"Harriman, you can't do what I think you're trying to do..."
"The hell I can't. Just watch me," and he started toward the door.
Morton and Sharkey had been waiting out in Commander Jackson's office, just outside Starke's, and when Nelson came storming out, the two men quickly picked up their covers and hurried out after him. The Admiral went down the hall shouting to no on in particular where Starke could go and precisely how to get there. Before Starke could say anything else, Nelson was in the base jeep and back at the boat. Exactly ten minutes after his visit with Jiggs, the Seaview was preparing to leave her berth and sail back towards Île Petit Bijou.
As he angrily entered his cabin, he quickly removed his tie and threw it on the bunk. He unbuttoned his sleeves and rolled them up slightly, then sat down heavily behind his desk. Harriman Nelson had handed Jiggs his removal from the Reserves, the removal of the Seaview from the Reserves, and papers making all of his officers and crew civilians, once and for all. There would be no more government crap for him or his men and boat! As an independent owner of the boat, he could go where he wanted and do what he wished. The only regulations he would now adhere to would be those imposed by the Federal Maritime Commission and they did not govern what he wanted to do - to find Lee Crane.
His captain and friend had been missing too long, and no one that should be doing something, was doing anything. There was no trace of the Captain; he had vanished, and so now, Nelson was going to take the bull by the horns and do it himself. And to do so, he had to call in the one favor that he knew he would need but hated to use. The CIA had been a silent partner in the boat since she had her keel laid. It was the only way that ‘Nelson’s Folly’ was able to get launched. The agreement was that the CIA could use her when she was needed. And that she could get help from them as needed. To Harriman Nelson, this was an ‘as needed’ circumstance.
He gave Sparks a number to reach and told him to place it in his cabin. He then ordered Chip Morton to his cabin and left the bridge in Bobby O’Brien’s hands. He was sitting at his desk, and Chip Morton was leaning against the bulkhead, arms crossed on his chest. Chief Sharkey was sitting in the chair at the side of the desk. Lee’s ‘perch’ was deliberately clear. Nelson was smoking his third cigarette in five minutes, when Sparks called into the cabin.
“Admiral, your call has been scrambled and is ready.”
Nelson placed the cigarette in the ashtray, looked at the men in his cabin, and then picked up the phone. “Briggs, I need your help. My Captain has vanished, and no one knows anything…”
Île Petit Morte - DAY SIX – Late Evening
Etienne la Roche finished his dinner. The china, silver and linens were pristine in the small dining room that glowed in the light of the many candles. The small, battery powered record player played soft, gentle music. La Roche was content. The small game bird in the rich sauce, with potatoes, green beans and rich, buttered rolls had filled him, his appetite being somewhat Spartan, and he had left at least half the meal in remnants on the plate.
He took the coffee cup that his cook brought him, holding it to his nose and inhaling the heady aroma of the rich beverage deeply. One of the joys of his life was the deep flavor of well-brewed coffee. He savored the first sip, rich with heavy cream and sweet sugar. He put down the cup and paused for a few moments, then cut into the rich raspberry tart that was on his plate, covered with sweet, whipped cream. He took a piece into his mouth, rolled it around his tongue and slowly swallowed the sweet treat. His chef was one of the best money could buy considering the situation, and the man had done extraordinary work on this dinner. La Roche sat and enjoyed the soft music. He took another bite of his tart, then stood and went out of the dining room to the front of his rooms, where the office for the prison was. Standing in the office was ten-three-seven-three and his guards.
He looked at his prisoner, taking in the results of the week of imprisonment on ten-three-seven-three. As he saw it, he was being very successful in destroying the man. He was filthy dirty, his hair matted, dirt, grime and blood mixed with fresh scars and blood all over the man’s body. His legs were swollen, probably with a well-seated infection in the many cuts and gashes. The flesh around his ankles and wrists was bloody and swollen, and looked as if the metal was becoming one with the flesh. His week’s worth of beard was growing around the metal and leather on his face. But it was his eyes that the commandant of the prison wanted to see; The amber-hazel eyes that had been so full of anger and defiance, that had been so sure of rescue. He looked into those eyes now and was pleased with what he saw. Instead of fire and anger, he saw eyes that were listless, that lacked anything close to fire or rebellion, they looked as if they had given up hope, and were resigned to his fate, his impending, horrible, slow death. He felt as if he already was successful with ten-three-seven-three, but he didn’t want to celebrate quite yet. There was still plenty of time. He nodded at the guards, and they prodded their prisoner forward. As Crane stood close, la Roche took out a scented handkerchief and held it over his mouth and nose.
“My, ten-three-seven-three, you really smell quite badly. But I don’t suppose you would notice it. Step back.” The guards pulled on the chains at the wrist shackles to pull him back from la Roche. The commandant dropped the handkerchief. “That’s better, the stench isn’t so bad with you there, ten-three-seven-three. I see you have been working hard… that is good. Hard work is good for men like you. Scum like you, who interfere in another country’s politics to make them synchronize with your high and mighty ideas. You are learning a good lesson here, ten-three-seven-three, although you will never share it with anyone. You are learning that in a country like ours, your morality doesn’t apply.” he laughed a harsh laugh, “Look at you! You are nothing more than an animal, treated like an animal. The only thing you are good for here is to be a beast of burden, to do work that no educated, no refined man does. The insects in this jungle have a better existence than you do. And your life will only get worse. There is so much more for you to do before you die.” He paused, “And here you will die, rest assured.”
He went to the dining room, and brought the coffee and dessert to his desk. The strong aroma from the coffee seemed to rouse ten-three-seven-three from his stupor. He stared at the coffee that la Roche held in his hand. His eyes hungered for the drink. “Oh, you would like some of this, wouldn’t you, ten-three-seven-three? Shall I tell you how very satisfying it is. How sweet the cream is, how rich and flavorful the taste?” He took the cup and held it to his lips, slowly sipping the coffee. Then he took the tart, broke off a piece, and held it as it dripped juice over the plate, “ And let me tell you how succulent the raspberries in this tart are, how juicy and plump. And the crust is so sweet and buttery. Would you like some?”
He held out the forkful of tart to ten-three-seven-three. Held it close, and brought it to the door of the mask, tapping the mask with the fork, then pulling it slightly away, and laughing, while he held the tempting morsel under the nose of ten-three-seven-three, so he could smell the inviting fragrance of the dessert. La Roche tapped at the small door of the mask, and laughed again at his prisoner, “Oh, but you can’t have any. You can’t chew it, and the coffee would only make you ill after the slop you’ve been fed.” He turned and put the plate and fork on the desk. “you know, that is what you are being fed, don’t you? Pig slop, ground up and poured down your throat. Well, your good friend, Michel has decided that you need to be better cared for, so I’ve called you here to tell you what changes will be made in your confinement. You will be fed three times a day, and watered as well, but we will be increasing your work load. You will be working twenty hours a day. And you will be standing in your cell for an hour before and an hour after you rest. Two hours a day of sleep. And no day of rest. Tomorrow is Sunday, and I would like for you to pray, but you have much work to do. Four days of hauling the logs, four days of lumbering. Evenly divided. No day of rest. A good schedule of work, after all, you are going to receive three times as much food, as disgusting as it may be, so we have to increase the workload.”
He paused, and looked directly into Lee Crane’s eyes. “You will not be rescued. Your Admiral and your boat have been ordered out of the waters of our country. They are gone and they are forbidden to ever return here . Your flying submarine will be shot down if we see it in our skies, and if it comes into our waters, it will be destroyed. There is no American Embassy for hundreds of miles, and they are only on the continent. All English speaking people are persona non grata in our country as of a week ago.” He paused. “So you see, the search for you is ended, and no one will ever know where you are or what became of you. When you die here, as you most surely will, your body will be cremated, your ashes cast in the sea, the larger bones crushed and thrown in as well. There will be, literally, no trace of you here. So, ten-three-seven-three, you are, for all intents and purposes, already dead. Your friends will grieve, but they will move on with their lives, and you will be forgotten.” He turned to his desk, picking up his coffee and dessert, and moved into his dining room. Turning back to the guards, and their prisoner, he said, “Take him to the logging area now. Get him started hauling. You can manage in the dark. Oh, and tighten his harness, will you? There’s too much play in it, as I’ve watched him pulling the logs, and he’s not pulling hard enough. Do what you need to do to make him work harder.” He turned back, and entered the candle lit room, put his cup and plate on the table, and turned the music up, as the guards led their prisoner out to the logging area.
Île Petit Morte – DAY SEVEN – Near Midnight
He was returned to the cell to stand for an hour before he could seek the oblivion of unconsciousness. All of his body was a mass of raw, bleeding tissue, torn by the harness, slashed by the crops of the guard, burned by their cattle prods. They had thrown buckets of salted water on him in the middle of the blistering hot day, but that made things worse, not any better. The salt tore into the open, bloody tissue, searing pain part of the ‘treatment’. And, finding that he tolerated it, they did it three more times, as he was pulling the logs back to the compound.
His body continued to function but his mind, accepting and registering the enormity of the pain, the complete degradation of the body and mind, slowly went deeper and deeper beyond any recognition of the circumstances. Once sure he would be found, would be rescued, that surety gradually receded. Listening to la Roche last night, made him believe that he would, indeed die in this hell… and that death was looking sweeter with the passing of each horrific minute, would be a welcome place.
An hour later, the guard came in, released his hands, and proceeded to fasten him to the bed, making sure that the ankles and arms were fastened particularly tight. The guard above on the catwalk watched with interest, as the guard in the cell then proceeded to torture the man on the bed with the cattle prod, concentrating all of his efforts on the genitals and head. By the time he finished, the man on the bench was beyond reach, the deep-seated unconsciousness something that the guards would pay for later. This latest abuse added more burns to a body that was slowly becoming a massive wound, raw skin being burned off, deeper layers of skin being exposed. The guard in the cell left, and the guard on the catwalk continued to watch ten-three-seven-three, doing as he had when he drew the catwalk duty.
CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia - DAY SEVEN
The seventh day after Lee Crane’s disappearance, Michael Briggs put his current projects aside and turned the energy of his section of the intelligence agency to find Crane. Briggs had a theory as to where the Seaview’s Captain was, particularly after he found out where he and Harriman Nelson had last been, but he needed to do the research, to check all the possible sources, to see if they could locate the man, be he living or dead.
Nelson was convinced that Crane was alive, but Briggs wasn’t sure of that and didn’t want to offer any hope to the man, under any circumstances; If Crane had vanished to a place that Briggs knew of, he was, very likely, dead. Not many men survived imprisonment there. And if Crane was being given the treatment reserved for political prisoners, and traitors, there was little, if any hope. The only problem with Briggs’ idea was that it would take time to confirm, and it was time he worried that Crane, if he was indeed alive, did not have.
CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia – DAY THIRTEEN
Michael Briggs slammed the desk phone down, cursed to himself and then called out loudly, “Marella!!!”
His long time assistant moved quickly into his office, and came to his side of the desk. "Sir?"
He looked up at her, his eyes narrowed, part from anger and part from disbelief. “The Madagascar station. There was a report of a transmission from Petit Bijou, nine damn days ago. It was filed away apparently as unimportant. I want a copy of it on my desk, completely decoded, within the hour, or I swear before God, I'll have somebody's goddamn head!. We just may have found Crane!”
SSRN Seaview – DAY FOURTEEN, Midday
Sparks knocked insistently on the Admiral’s door, concerned that he didn’t answer, but for the first time in two weeks, feeling at least a little hope.
“Admiral!! Admiral Nelson, sir… Please… please open the door!” The designer and owner of the Seaview hadn’t been seen by the crew or her officers for the last two days. He had holed up in his cabin, not answering any calls, and only having contact with Commander Morton. The men’s mood was dark, and so was the boat's. She was sluggish in her responses and Morton swore that she was missing her Skipper. He wasn’t saying it lightly either. While he was a plank owner, Crane had become, since taking command, her heart.
Morton came up, his off watch paperwork being disturbed by Sparks trying to get Nelson to the door.
“What’s the problem, Sparks?” The normally sharp and precise XO looked less sharp than usual. His tie was absent, and there were dark rings under his eyes, that rivaled those of Captain Crane’s. His usual demeanor was also changed. He was doing his job, and the Skippers’ and trying to help with the search for Crane as well. He was sleeping less than four or five hours in a 24 hour cycle, and he looked, and felt like the losing end of a 12 round boxing match.
Sparks looked at the Exec and Chip saw the man’s hand was trembling. He reached out, putting a hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “Art, what is it?”
“There’s a message, for the Admiral, Eyes Only from POTUS. And the another is from Langley. I think it may have something to do with the Skipper, sir. And the Admiral, he needs to get these.. if they’ve found him, sir…”
With a sudden gentleness for the
younger man, Chip said, “Give them to me, Art. I’ll see he gets them. You go
and get some rest. Get Perkins to cover the Radio Shack.”
“That’s alright, sir. I’d rather be there to help in whatever way I can.”
“Art, this is an order. Stand down. I know that you’ve been at the radio 24/7 for the last three days. And probably more than that. You need to rest. The Skipper wouldn’t want you to get sick on his account. And if this is good news, well then, you want to be able to celebrate it with the rest of us.”
The radioman looked the exec. “Yessir, I do.”
“All right then, to your quarters. I’ll see that the Radio Shack is covered for the next watch and I’ll give these to the Admiral right away.”
Wilder turned and walked down the corridor towards his quarters and Morton turned towards the Admiral’s door. He knocked sharply three times and waited for a response. When there was none, he knocked again saying, “Admiral, it’s Morton. You have to open the door, sir.”
Chip stood listening. Finally he heard movement. Hands fumbled at the lock It finally clicked open. A disheveled Harriman Nelson answered. The older man looked like he had been with weeks without sleep, when it had been only days. The cabin was smoke filled and smelled of alcohol and cigarettes.
“Admiral, may I come in?”
Nelson looked at him puzzled then reluctantly stepped back, opening the door for Morton. to enter. Once Chip was in the room, Nelson shut the door and moved back to his desk. “What do you want, Chip? I don’t want to see another status report, science report or anything unless it has to do with Lee.” He held his head in his hand, pulling a drag off a cigarette already smoldering in the overflowing ashtray. He followed it with a gulp of scotch from a water glass on the desk. From the look and smell of the cabin, the Admiral had spent the last two nights with his scotch and cigarettes, and his sense of guilt about Lee’s disappearance. Morton knew that Nelson blamed himself for whatever it was that had happened to Crane. And Chip had to admit that he was blaming himself as well, although he was burying himself in his work, not cigarettes and scotch. They both had their share of guilt about Crane’s disappearance, but both were too stubborn, or too embarrassed, to talk to one another about it. Each sought their own solace in different ways. But now, well now they may have to talk, with word from Washington in Morton’s hands.
“Admiral, Sparks got two messages for you… one is from Washington, the other from Langley.”
Nelson’s head popped up, the blue eyes, initially dull, now sharp and piercing. He held out his hand, and Morton passed them to him. He literally tore the first almost in half, so anxious was he to open it. He read it quickly and then passed it to Morton, who took it as he opened the second.
A rush of emotions paraded across the older man’s face. The final one was one that Chip recognized well. Anger.
“Who the hell does he think he is giving me orders? Who the hell does he think he is telling me that I can’t participate in a rescue of my Captain.? Who the fucking hell does he think he is?”
Chip assimilated the news in the two messages. They thought they had found Crane, they thought they knew where he was, and Michael Coldsmith Briggs of the CIA was going to oversee, as well as participate in, the rescue. Two crewman and Seaview's doctor would be needed along with the Flying Sub, and neither Nelson nor Morton would be permitted to participate.
Nelson continued to bluster, and as upset as Morton was that they wouldn’t be part of the actual rescue, at least they had found Lee and they were going to get him. They were going to rescue Lee!
SSRN Seaview – DAY FOURTEEN- 2200
Three men sat in Harriman Nelson's cabin. One man, cool and collected in white, was in stark contrast to the other two, a simmering red head and a ready to explode blond.
“'Are you telling me that someone in
your organization had information about Lee nine days ago?" Morton could
barely conceal his anger. "And nothing was done about it?!"
"Hold on one minute, Morton... Nelson, you didn't even contact me until he was missing for five days. This message came through and was appropriately filed, since before your call, we didn't know he was missing! Or, rather, I should say, we'd heard some unsubstantiated rumors to that effect. Your call confirmed them. And from that point on, the situation was handled appropriately.” He paused. ”The operator who originally intercepted it sent it to Langley with the weekly reports as was normal procedure under the circumstances. There were no alerts out for anything in the region for him to do otherwise. If there had been, things would have been expedited. Once it got to Langley, someone filed it without it being thoroughly decoded. That’s why it took me so long to get a handle on things... I used a few, um, 'back doors' to find the messages and have them decoded. Once we realized what they were... let's just say that the person who filed it away has been disciplined. End of the story."
"Like hell it is! Your people screwed up and it may very well have cost Lee Crane his life. Now, I intend to go with you!"
Calmly, Briggs replied, "No, Admiral, you won't. This is my decision and backed up by both Zeus and by POTUS. We can’t risk you. The reason they didn’t take you in the first place was because of your notoriety. They didn’t want any harm to come to you. They couldn't risk it. Appearances, you know.. That’s why they went after Crane. They knew that it would be a much less notable disappearance. Your presence in a ‘rescue’ gone bad could create major problems, diplomatic and otherwise. Mine, on the other hand, would not, given my position in the scheme of things. In addition, I know the Island and I know the situation there... Realistically, I don't know if Crane is alive or dead, and I don't want to have to deal with you and any scenario regarding him in that hellhole should the worse case scenario be true. .. No, you and Morton will remain here on Seaview. You will give me two men to pilot your Flying Sub and you will send Dr. Jamison with us as well. We'll keep you informed after the fact."
He then handed a map to Chip Morton. "I want you to bring us to that rendezvous point, and we'll take the Flying Sub from there. I believe that your doctor will need a full med setup, IV’s etc. If he's still alive, and if we can get him, I think he's going to be in very bad shape. I want your doctor to be fully prepared...or at least as much as he can be, under the circumstances."
Nelson snorted. "I'll bet you do, you sonofabitch. And how many of your own people have wound up there?"
Briggs looked coldly back at him. "One too many, Admiral." He looked at both men and rose. "Now, I need to see the men who will be taking my men and me. I have to go over equipment and strategy with them."
Chip nodded curtly. He was angry at being excluded from the rescue itself, yet the practical part of him understood completely. His concern for his friend and Captain was what was making him so angry with Briggs. "I'll set you up in the Missile Room with equipment and anything else you need. Let me know if there's anything missing..."
Briggs smiled thinly. "But of course..."
Île Petit Morte – DAY FIFTEEN
At four a.m., the guard entered ten-three-seven-three’s cell. The guard above stepped back on the catwalk and stretched, as the guard inside went through his morning ritual of torturing the ten-three-seven- three awake. He had learned that the cattle prod produced results, no matter how bad the condition of ten-three-seven-three was. Three nights ago, on the order of the commandant, the position on the bench of the ten-three-seven-three had been changed to make him sleep on his stomach. His ankles were still locked into shackles that spread his legs far apart on the bench. His arms were still fastened above his head, pulling his whole body taut. The way that he was positioned, led his face to lie between his arms, held in place by tightly fastening the ring on the back of the mask with a chain to the same ring that fastened his hands to the wall. That way, the position of the face was pushing the mask deeper into ten-three-seven-three’s face, with the metal and hardened leather cutting deeply. Most mornings, there was blood oozing from fresh wounds on his face, beneath the beard, that dripped onto his chest, mixing with the matted dirt, blood and other things that covered his body. When they doused him with the buckets of salt water, they made sure that the salt content was high, so that when the water dried, the salt in the wounds then burned and itched with the drying salt. His body often took on a dusty, dirty cast, from the drying salt, as it covered the layers of dirt on his body.
The guard prodded him with the prod, waiting for the movement that indicated wakefulness. This morning it was taking longer than they expected. Finally, ten-three-seven-three moved slightly, and the ritual of day started. Crane was pulled to his feet, shoved toward the bucket in the corner, and then prodded to the yard, and the pole. In the dimness that was the early morning, the pre-dawn made the yard look eerie. The air was heavy with humidity, everything reacting to the heaviness in the air. They had reduced by an hour his time of ‘rest’, giving him an hour of standing on his return to the cell, two hours on the bench, and then back to the work. He was shoved and dragged to the pole, fastened there, and left, until the guards would return for feeding. His mind was blank. His body was going on, functioning, keeping the spark of life alive. His mind, his being, was far-gone. Buried deeply within his sub-conscious, Lee Crane was no longer in that body. His connection was a thin tendril, barely there, becoming thinner and thinner as the hours and days of abuse continued. At one time, in the first days, acknowledging his situation; then realizing that there would be no rescue, since they had made him vanish without a trace, his persona buried itself deep within the subconscious mind, leaving function of the body as its sole duty. And without cognitive awareness, the body could function for an indefinite period of time, as simply a body going through the motions of living, if that was what you could call his condition.
The guards returned and poured the water and food down his throat. Once finished, he was released, but the guards drew the chains through the shackles, and led him to the logging area. Today he was to drag a dozen logs to the finishing area, and when that was done, he was to chop six of them into usable size for the kitchen of the guards, and la Roche. The shell that had been the Captain of the Seaview was pushed and prodded to the pile of logs, forced to climb to the top of the pile, and roll one to the bottom. He was then fastened into the harness, and prodded and pushed on the way back to the compound area.
By the third trip, the sky was rumbling with thunder, the humidity was oppressive, even the animals were listless and quiet. His body was struggling to put one foot in front of the other, struggling to move, with the hundreds of pounds of dead weight that he was forced to pull. His body was reaching the end of its endurance.
Somewhere in the depths of his mind, where his person was securely locked away, was a recognition, that soon, very soon, his body would give up and end this nightmare. Wherever he was, he was at peace with that. He was content to stay where he was, since here he felt nothing of what his body was enduring. This was a safe place, where he had effectively ‘turned off’ reality. He was shut down; and intended to remain that way, until he passed over to wherever the next level of existence was.
It began to rain, the driving rain of the tropics, accompanied by thunder and lightening with a similar intensity. The guards kept pushing him to move, they wanted to return to the shelter of the compound until the storm passed. The rain quickly turned the dirt path to mud. Pulling the log became more and more difficult for ten-three-seven-three to maneuver. He and the log became more and more covered in the goo, until there was no way that he could move the log any further in the mud. Conferring for a few moments, they released the log from the ten-three-seven-three’s harness, and began to push and prod him back to the stand of trees, where they had shelter, and he could continue to work on chopping the logs already there into usable cordage. They could not bring him back to the prison until he had completed his days’ labor, and he could not move the log, so they decided to put him to work chopping wood. They reached the site, chained his legs in place, and put him to work, chopping the logs to smaller, usable cordage. Too lazy to remove the log pulling harness, they left it on him. The guards stood beneath the shelter that protected them from the rain, and watched ten-three-seven-three work in the driving rain. The thunder and lightening was as intense as the rain, as the storm moved over the island.
Then, just as suddenly as it began, the storm ended, the sun began to beat down with all the intensity of the tropics, and the ground and all around was steaming from the mix of the wet and storm. The guards sat in chairs in the shelter, watching the man struggle with each swing of the axe, watched as he was becoming weaker and weaker as the day progressed to midday, and then into the afternoon. The entire guard pool were making wagers on how long this particular prisoner would live, and all of them were, frankly, surprised that he had survived as long as he did, considering the refinements in his treatment
Realizing that it was time for the ten-three-seven-three’s second feeding of the day, one of the guards grabbed the jug of water and the crock of food. The other moved to ten-three-seven-three, and taking the axe from his hands, released the chains, and led him to a nearby tree with a large pike in it, where they attached the wrist shackles, above his head. Tilting his head back against the tree, they opened the door of the mask, and first poured water, then the food, and then more water down his throat. Unable to swallow as quickly as the water and food were poured, much of it oozed back out of his mouth, and down his chest and body. When they were satisfied that at least some of the slop had been retained, they shut the door, and went back to the shelter, where they then opened the case that held their midday meals, and slowly ate their food, as the ten-three-seven-three was forced to watch them eat.
When they finished eating and drinking, they stood and prepared to release ten-three-seven-three from the tree, to resume chopping. They had decided that it would be better to wait several more hours before they had ten-three-seven-three resume the log pulling part of the his work. They had to allow time for the mud to dry, so he could start hauling again.
They would not return to the compound until late in the night, so long as he did all he was allotted in the time he was working, and their orders were that he was to be working until the work was finished regardless of the time. Twice in the past week, he had not finished his days allotment until the time beginning the next cycle had begun, so he had been fed and continued working without any rest time, other than his feedings... In reality, it didn’t matter to the guards at all, since ten-three-seven-three was merely working until he died. And he was close, very close to that. All the guards knew that.
They went to the tree, released ten-three-seven-three’s arms, prodded him to the log he was working on, chained his legs in place, and handed him the axe. He swung it at the log, beginning yet again, the arduous task of chopping the wood. The guards moved back to the shelter, weapons on their shoulders, watching him work.
Then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed.
Three men, in jungle camouflage, crept into the back of the shelter and quietly, without a sound, silenced the guards. Ten-three-seven-three kept chopping at the log, oblivious to the end of the guards, mindlessly struggling to do what he had been programmed to do. Confirming that the guards were dead, the leader of the trio moved to ten-three-seven-three. He put a gentle hand on the man’s ravaged shoulder, trying to make contact without harming him further.. The rise and fall of the axe still continued, until the leader moved in front of ten-three-seven-three, and took the axe from the shackled hands. Ten-three-seven-three dropped manacled wrists in front of his body, waiting to be chained and led to his next duty.
“Crane?” the blond man asked softly. The lack of response from the prisoner worried the leader of the small party. The hand lifted and touched down again, the man gently asking, “Crane?”
Ten-three-seven-three did not respond. He remained standing, waiting to be pushed and prodded to the next place. Without any cognitive recognition from Lee Crane, the blond man gestured with his head to the two men with him.
“We should get him out of those things, but I don’t want to risk getting caught on this god-forsaken place. Let’s get the hell out of here and then we’ll deal with it.”
The two men looked at the leader and quickly moved to either side of the man in chains. They each took an arm and, after releasing the chains at his ankles, guided him behind the shelter to a small clearing where an inflatable boat waited. They eased the man in, then lifted the boat with the now former prisoner in it over the rocks, and to the water. Once afloat, they hugged the small island’s coast, just behind the logging area, waiting until the next storm moved through. All the while, Crane remained immobile, eyes not seeing, body not feeling, not reacting. The leader of the group watched the man they had rescued, placing his flak jacket over him, more out of a need to attempt to restore his dignity than for any other reason.
The next storm moved in shortly thereafter, and as the sky darkened, the small vessel moved out to the open sea. The small motor was pushed to its limit as it headed for a seemingly endless ocean. Fortunately, this side of the island faced the sea and not the larger island, and in the storm, it would be undetected. The little dingy, buffeted by the waves, persistently headed out to the seemingly boundless ocean. The men three men hunkered down in the boat, still heading to what seemed to be an infinite sea. Then, suddenly, five miles out from the island, the surface began to bubble and foam, and from it, a large, yellow ray shaped vehicle emerged. The craft, buffeted by the waves from the storm, attempted to balance itself, and allowed the dingy to pull to the rear access door. Several pairs of hands reached out to help the men lift the body of ten-three-seven-three into the yellow craft, and then to aid the men in the dingy in. The hatch closed, the dingy sat on the waves for a few moments, and then a small explosion sent it to the deep. The craft slid beneath the water and the ocean continued to roil and boil in the storm.
DAY FIFTEEN – Inside the Flying Sub
The atmosphere in the Flying sub was silent and extremely tense. On the seabed, where the craft silently lay awaiting the passing of the storm, one man moved wordlessly around the still form on the sole bunk. Will Jamison was afraid to open his mouth to tell anyone what he was feeling about the horrific condition of the Captain of the Seaview. When Crane was brought aboard, Will was, at first, stunned into silence and inaction. Lee Crane’s naked, ravaged body, still clad in chains, shackles, and mask, presented him with a sight that stretched even the limits of his comprehension. Disbelief at the Captain’s physical condition gave way to the fury at the people who had done this to him. Moving into action, he had signaled for two of the men who effected the rescue to lift Crane into the bunk. As they lifted him, the jacket slid off, and Jamison was confronted with an additional reality. He looked to the leader of the group.
Through clenched teeth, the man answered the unasked question, “They keep the prisoners naked. It deters possible thoughts of escape and makes for cheaper housekeeping. However, the real purpose is to dehumanize and degrade - need I go on?”
As Jamison began to work on Crane, the group leader stood next to him, explaining the prison as the doctor observed the deeply unconscious man.
“Be extra careful when you're removing the shackles and that mask. They fasten them on their prisoners so tightly, that when the skin begins to heal itself from the rubbing, it starts to grow around the metal. That mask on his face - inside the mouth is a funnel that they pour water and some kind of food mash down into, usually about once a day. Again, it's designed to degrade and dehumanize. You can’t feed yourself or do for yourself. They put them in cells, lock them to their beds, wooden benches actually. The cells have open ceilings, catwalks above them, and the prisoners are always watched. There's absolutely no privacy. They don’t let the prisoners sleep more than a few hours a night. They wake them, make them stand in the cells for hours, then back to the beds to wake them up again in a few hours more. Makes them lose all sense of time and reality. They put them to work in the dark, work them through the day, and return them to their cells in the dark. From the beginning of their imprisonment, the men are told they are nothing but a number, that the only reason they are there is to die there.”
Jamison touched the rope harness that encircled the gaunt body in the bunk as the man further explained, “They treat them like work animals, make them pull logs to an area where they then have to chop the wood into usable cordage." He shook his head. "Most men don’t survive more than a week, ten days tops, once they're incarcerated there. He made it for fifteen. Amazing."
“But at what cost?”
“That's just it, Doctor. Too high a cost,. Way too high." The man sighed heavily. "Unfortunately, that’s the way they treat political prisoners and traitors in this lovely little jewel of a country.”
Jamison started to remove the rope harness, as gingerly as he could. He looked at the team leader. “Can you give me a hand here?”
Silently, he took the scissors offered him and began to carefully cut away the rough fiber. As the material fell away, Jamison got a better look at the extent of the damage to the shoulders, chest and waist. At the same time, he saw all the burn marks from the prod and the welts and wounds from the crop. He touched one particularly raw spot on Crane’s lower abdomen.
“Cattle prod,” the group leader said, matter-of-factly.
The next thing Jamison wanted to do was remove the mask, but it, like the shackles, would need special care. He didn’t know if he had the materials he needed here on the FS-1; he hadn’t been prepared to find Lee in such hideous condition. The chains, metal, and dried leather were so tightly affixed to Lee’s face, he was afraid he may do more damage, than good by removing it.
All the while he was working on Lee, Jamison was struck by the lack of response from him. As he searched his medical bag for something to help him remove the mask that was so deeply imbedded in Lee’s face, the mission leader looked at the medic, and as he eased some of the rope from beneath Crane’s body, said very quietly, “He isn’t here, you know.”
Jamison looked over at him, startled that the man could verbalize what he was thinking.
“He’s a good man and a good agent. He knows what to do and when to do it. In order to attempt to survive a situation that seems unsurviveable, he was trained, just as we all are, to go 'away.' And how deep he is will determine just how quickly, if ever, he comes back.”
Jamison looked at him, understanding immediately what the man was saying, “If…? " The medic shook his head sadly, as he gently removed the mask and funnel from the Captain’s face and mouth. “This… this is barbarism!” and he dropped the device on the deck.
“Yes, Doctor, it is. And quite effective too. Preventing someone from eating food, feeding themselves, drinking by themselves, preventing speech … adds to the sense of hopelessness, and increases the humiliation. You'd better do a thorough exam of his mouth. There's a history of that thing causing some awful wounds in the mouth, from the rubbing and moving in the soft tissue. He may not be able to speak for a while.” He looked the doctor in the eye, “You know that he even had to relieve himself in front of the guards?”
Jamison shook his head sorrowfully. “He had to find that an additional humiliation. He’s such… a private person… do have to do something like that…”
“The sad part of it, Doctor, is that Captain Crane was not the first victim of such horrendous treatment. However, he just may be the last.” Michael Coldsmith Briggs, III looked carefully at his watch. Pausing just a moment, “In less than a half hour, that Island, and whatever or whomever is left on it, will cease to exist." Then in an emotionless, calculating tone, "And you and I know nothing about it. As far as Crane’s disappearance is concerned, he was on a mission for the CIA, which no one but myself knew about. That’s the word that's going to be put out. It'll explain his disappearance, as well as his return." He then looked back at the Captain of the boat, whose face was finally free from the device for the first time in two weeks. “I think there’s a long recovery ahead here for the Captain. And for everyone involved. However, at least we can’t be accused of any political improprieties, since the Island prison doesn’t exist as far as the government is concerned. And believe me, this hell-hole, this Island of Little Death, has been in existence for over two hundred years. It has survived every regime. It’s not going to do this to anyone, anymore. Be assured of that!”
“Mr. Briggs, I know you and
the Admiral aren't on the best of terms, but I want to thank you for this… for
bringing Lee back to us, and to the boat. I know Harry... the Admiral...will appreciate it, even if
he doesn’t say so.”
Briggs merely nodded and continued to help Jamison as he tried to remove the shackles from Lee’s wrists and ankles. When they finished, unfortunately there were further wounds from the way that the metal had adhered to injured skin. The one thing that Jamison couldn’t do on the FS-1 was to clean the body of the Captain. He didn’t have the things necessary to do so, and from what Jamison saw, he would need a lot of things to do it properly. For the time being, he would have to be satisfied with the removal of the mask, and the shackles, and he would be able to keep the Captain covered. Once in his own Sick Bay, he would see that Crane was well taken care of, but here, all he had to do was make sure he was stable and safe and then he would take care of the rest on the boat.
Jamison cleaned an area of Crane’s arm and inserted a hep-lock. To that, he attached a bag of saline and a shot of a broad spectrum antibiotic. He had seen enough of Lee’s legs to know that there was a deep-seated infection raging there. He also had seen the condition of Lee’s hands and feet, and knew that, although conservative, the initial treatment was enough to make the doctor sure that Crane was at least stable.
Using the FS-1 as a rescue vehicle had created the need for four additional seats to be added to the interior of the small ship. Jamison took the only free one left, right next to the bunk. While they all waited for the storm to pass, there was little or no talk. These men, on this mission had no small talk. That wasn’t the nature of their lives. Briggs and his people only did what they had to do when they had to do it, and there was no room for idle talk and gossip. They went in, got it done, and left, with whatever results that they had planned. They very rarely failed, and never talked about such. Yet, Jamison could see that beneath the cool façade, Briggs was, at the least, someone who cared about right and wrong, even if it was shaded in grey. His willingness to help Nelson indicated to Jamie that the man with the eye-patch had many layers, maybe too many for them to understand.
The conditions of the rescue mission had been quite plain. Briggs had located the Seaview’s Captain, and considering the diplomatic issues, it was decided that the CIA would run the mission, with the help of Nelson and company. It had also been decided by the powers that be that none of the NIMR men or officers would participate, except to provide transport to and from the ‘recovery’. One of the reasons that both Nelson and Morton had been ordered to remain on the boat was Briggs’ knowledge of the prison, as well as the fact that he truly did not know if Crane would still be alive when they reached the island prison; and knowing the close friendship of the three, he didn’t want to risk any actions from the Admiral or the Exec that might jeopardize his plans. Since he was not a friend of the man, he would be able to act without emotion. The other advantage was that Briggs knew Crane from a mission early in the Captain’s ONI career. So, Nelson and Morton stayed on the boat, one of the FS-1 certified crew flew her, and another took the co-pilot’s seat.
Briggs had to respect the way the Seaview’s men handled themselves. The devotion of the men on the boat to their Captain was legendary. Yet both men maintained a reserve that was clearly an effort for both. The man at the Controls, Briggs had heard him called Riley, had stolen glances at the Captain as they brought him aboard, and settled him in; yet he remained steadfast in his control of the small sub. He had detected a slight nod from the doctor to the pilot, and the set of the man’s shoulders relaxed somewhat. Now he watched as the crewman's hands moved about the controls.
Riley turned slightly in his chair. “Doc, the storm’s over. We’re going to get the Skipper home. Everyone make ready.” He engaged the engines and the little sub began to slowly move through the water. He addressed Briggs, “How far out do I take her up, sir?”
Good man, thinking before he acts! “The tracking devices of the Republic are only good for a ten-mile radius from the tracking station. They’re primitive to say the least.”
“Very well, Mr. Briggs. Another five miles underwater, then we’ll break the surface and make for the boat. ETA – 20 minutes.”
Briggs nodded, and looked at Jamison, who was trying to tend to Lee as best he could under the circumstances..
The doctor looked over at his patient and sadly shook his head. “At least we got Lee out of that Hellhole. At least…”
“He’s a strong man, Doctor.”
“Yes, Mr. Briggs, he is. However, even strong men have a breaking point. His body, I can do my best to make that heal. His mind… well, that’s another scenario. And while we both know that we have access to the best of the best in that case, we also have to consider the damage done to the man. That’s an even greater concern of mine.”
Briggs nodded in acknowledgement. “Knowing Nelson, I doubt if he'll settle for anything less than a full recovery, and he'll do everything that he can to effect that.”
The doctor nodded in affirmation. “Whatever Harry wants, Harry gets… but not always, as you also well know.”
“Regardless of the outcome, Doctor, Nelson will have to understand that he did his best.”
“You and I know that, Mr. Briggs. However, getting Harriman Nelson to believe it, well, that's an entirely different issue.”
Michael Coldsmith Briggs III merely grunted, and then eased back into his seat, doing his own mental exercises to control the pain that was omnipresent in his damaged leg.
The thunk of the docking locks indicated the FS-1 had berthed in her womb on the Seaview. Jamison waited to hear the activity at the topside hatch before he began to wrap Lee Crane in layers of blankets to be transported to the Sick Bay. First down the access ladder was Chief Sharkey. He nodded to Riley, as he finished the docking sequence and shut down, with a hastily murmured, “Good job, kid!” as he sped to the bunk, where the Captain lay.
“Doc?” The look of shock
on the COB's face was unmistakable.
Jamison knew immediately what reactions the sight of Crane would bring about. He didn't have time to console or coddle. “Just get me two men to transport him. At least he’s alive. We have to work from there.”
”Ski and Rod are waiting for the FS-1 to empty, then they’ll be down. We were hoping that you wouldn’t need them, you know.”
“Chief, at least he’s alive. From his condition, that’s more than we could hope for. Now, let's get him out of here and to Sick Bay," the doctor reiterated.
“Okay, Doc. Just give the guys a few.” He turned to Briggs, who was standing in the shadows, leaning on his cane. “The Admiral sends his respects, Mr. Briggs, and requests that you meet him in his quarters upon disembarking.”
Briggs nodded, “Thank you, Chief. I’ll just wait here until you take care of your Captain.”
Sharkey nodded, and waited at the foot of the ladder for his men to come down and get the Skipper. As they descended the ladder, Jamison fussed over Crane’s form, covering him so that he could barely be seen. Briggs watched and understood the Doctor’s actions. The two ratings came down the ladder, and moved to the bunk, opening the stretcher and set it on the deck. Kowalski looked at the man in the bunk, and let out an anguished cry, “Doc, what the fuck did they do to him? Oh, God!!! We shoulda found him sooner!”
“Kowalski,” Jamison’s voice was sharp, almost harsh, “Snap to! Now’s not the time to fall apart. I’m gonna need you…He’s gonna need your help. Now, let’s get him to the Sick Bay, ASAP.”
“Aye, sir.” The rating’s voice was shaky with emotion, seeing his Captain in such state unsettling him.
Gently loading the still form onto the stretcher, they strapped him on, and lifted it. Jamison put a hand on ‘Ski’s arm, “We’re going to do all we can for him, ‘Ski. You know that.”
The rating nodded mutely, and bent, as Rod did, to pick up the stretcher. Sharkey undogged the rear hatch, using that exit as easier to get out with the stretcher. The men took the Captain, followed by the doctor, as quickly as they could travel, to the Sick Bay.
Sick Bay – Moments later
Word of the Captain’s condition passed quickly through the boat, and by the time the stretcher arrived, there was a line in the waiting area offering blood and whatever other body parts the Skipper needed. Frank Lerner and John Warner were hard-pressed to take down names of volunteers and then usher them out of the area. All of the men pressed forward to see the stretcher of the man who was their Captain and had been missing for more than two weeks.
With respect and concern, the men of the SSRN Seaview watched as Lee Crane was carried into the inner room of the Sick Bay. Will Jamison closed the folding doors, turned to the men, gathered there, and spoke, gently, “All right, men. Get back to your stations. The best thing you can do for the Skipper is continue to do your jobs, and do them well. You all have given Frank and John your names, and if we need you, we'll call…that I promise you. And you all know that this old Sawbones has never broken his promise to any of you, right?”
Murmurs of affirmation rippled through the small room. One by one, the men began to reluctantly leave. As he left, one of the younger men, a relatively new man, who reminded everyone of Stu Riley when he first came aboard, turned around, his eyes shining with unshed tears, “But… he will be okay, won’t he, Doc? I mean, he’s not gonna die or anything, is he?”
Jamison pulled himself to his full height, and smiled at the young man, “Not if I have anything to say about it, McCormick. Now, go on, get back to your station.” The young sailor smiled weakly at the Doctor and trailed out of the hatch, several of his buddies circling around him. Jamison turned and closed the Sick Bay door behind him. He leaned against the door, took two deep breaths and prepared himself for the maelstrom that would soon follow.
Frank quietly approached him, “Doc, the Admiral and the XO …”
“…are waiting for me. Where?”
“They were in the treatment room, when you brought the Skipper in… The Admiral, sir… he’s not doing so hot. Mr. Morton's trying to keep him calm. He was yelling something about blowing the island to hell and back. I sent them into your office.”
“Good. Go to the drug cabinet and let's see see if you can slip him a Mickey Finn in his coffee. And I want the XO to stay with him. Actually, on second thought, see if you can get one into the XO's cup, too. I’ll get to them after I get the Captain settled and that'll be awhile, Frank. And when you’re done in there, come and help me.”
“Okay, Doc.” Frank disappeared into Jamison’s office, as the CMO headed to the Treatment area. Under John’s guidance, Kowalski and Rod had settled the Captain on the gurney, under the light. The three men standing there, were waiting for Will Jamison to tell them how to proceed. He approached the table, unsure for the first time since treating the boat’s Captain, if he had the skills he needed to help him recover.
John handed him a surgical gown and gloves. He slid into them, and then told the corpsman, “Get these for ‘Ski and Rod. We’ll need their hands to help.” As John got the gloves and gowns, and helped the men into them, Jamison began to remove the blankets he had wrapped around Lee. He shook his head, as the bright light of the treatment room revealed the Captain’s devastated body. He indicated to John to get rid of the now filthy blankets that had come with him from the Flying Sub. Ever so gently, he began to exam the Captain. He was appalled at the layers of mud, dirt and blood that were everywhere. Looking at the men around the table, he began to give orders. When Frank softly entered the area, he merely slid next to the table, and did as the doctor told them.
Swallowing hard, “First, let’s get him cleaned up. We need to bathe him, so let's use the antiseptic soap and lots of clean water. Go gently on his face and head - that mask contraption did a lot of damage to the tissue on the face. I see a lot of tearing and scabbing on his face, under that beard. We can’t shave him just yet, it could make matters worse. Once we get him cleaned up, then we can see what else we need to do. Frank, set up a series of blood tests, the standard stuff, and anything else that you think we need to do. He’s severely dehydrated, you may have to find a vein in his legs if you can’t get one in his hand or arm. There’s lots of tissue damage here. He seems fairly stable for now. Okay, let’s bathe him and then proceed.”
A table with several bowls of warm water was placed next to the gurney by Warner, along with warm, wet washcloths, and bottles of antibacterial soap. Each man took a cloth and began to clean Crane's body. As quickly as they worked, the water in the bowls became dirty, and were just as quickly replaced by fresh water.
Almost an hour passed before Jamison was satisfied that the patient was as clean as they could possibly get him. They had gently washed his hair and beard several times, the filthy condition making Kowalski inwardly seethe. He knew, perhaps better than anyone other than Jamison, what a private, fastidious man Lee Crane was. And he also knew that this type of treatment, the lack of privacy, the dirt and filth would hurt him mentally more than anything else could.
Jamison had Frank save vials of water from each bowl to test later on, and from all the materials that had covered the body and the wounds on it. That would give him a better idea of what the Captain had been exposed to and living in. Covering Lee with several blankets, he looked at the two ratings that had been helping him. The looks on their faces told Jamison all he needed to know. “Go on, Ski, Rod. You’ve been a huge help. Get some coffee and then get back to duty. Tell Mr. O’Brien I sent you back.”
Both men removed the gloves and gowns, Kowalski never taking his eyes off his Captain’s face. Then, looking briefly at Jamison, he asked, “What did they do to him, Doc? He looks, he looks like they treated him like some kind of animal. All that dirt, his body, all the rips and tears on his skin… his face… Geez!!”
“We don’t know just what they did, ‘Ski. Mr. Briggs has some knowledge, but I don’t think it's something I want to share with you, nor would the Skipper. Just know that he’s home now. We’ll do our best to get him back to himself. But it may be a long haul, and he’s going to need the support of all of you.”
“Yeah, well, you know he’s got that!! Just let me know what I can do, sir. You know….”
Jamison smiled at him, “Yes, I know.” He looked at Rodriguez. “What is it, Rod?”
“The Captain’s tags? Were they lost?”
“Why, no, I believe the Admiral has them…Why?”
“His medal, of St. Christopher. He wears it with his dog tags. He should have his medal, Doc.”
“I’ll see he does, Rod. And if he can’t wear it just yet, I’ll see its pinned to his rack, okay?”
“Yes, thank you. I … I know that the Saint will protect him, as he always does.”
Jamison nodded. “Now, the both of you, to the mess and then duty. You can check back here after your watch.”
“Thanks, Doc.” The men murmured as they left. John and Frank were standing next to the gurney.
“Okay, let’s get X-rays, blood work, set up another IV line. Once he’s situated, we’ll schedule any other procedures we think he’ll need. I’ll need your help, Frank to do an assessment of his external injuries, while John gets things set up.”
Both men set about their tasks. Ever so gently, Jamison and Lerner now went over Crane’s body more thoroughly. There wasn’t any skin that didn’t show some type of damage; from scrapes and burns, to gouges, lesions and sections of skin severely abraded away. His hands were a mass of blisters, bruises, and unhealed cuts. His feet were deeply torn and cut with stones and debris imbedded in the skin in a manner that would require surgical procedures as soon as the doctor felt he could tolerate it; His wrists and ankles were missing large sections of skin that had stuck to the shackles. There was gravel, of different sizes, under the skin in his legs, where he had been forced to kneel in the gravel. His upper torso was severely abraded from the raw rope harness. And there were burn marks all over his entire body, even the groin and on his genitals. His entire body showed deep sunburn, which would further complicating healing.
And then there was his face and mouth. Will was feeling deep guilt of his own, for in removing the mask and feeding funnel, he had added to Lee’s suffering when the tissue in his mouth, long dried out, tore and bled as the funnel was removed. Jamison found sores inside his mouth as well. And his face bore the cuts and tears from metal and leather tearing into his face. His lips were dried out, cracked and bleeding, and he would not be talking or eating solid food for a long time. In general, his body was covered in sores and blisters; he was in dire need of massive bandaging and care. His legs were swollen to twice their size, the cuts on them oozing pus and fluids. They gave off a terrible odor, and the infection had to have taken a strong hold on the emaciated body.
With their usual care and efficiency, the trio of medics worked on the body of the Captain. His legs, feet and hands and wrists were wrapped in soft bandages. A layer of antibiotic and gauze were laid on his chest and back, to aid healing of the abraded skin. A layer of antibiotic was eased onto his face, in spite of the heavy growth of beard. Jamison put a salve on the dried out and bleeding lips, and washed the mouth with an antibiotic wash. The level of pain in that ravaged body had to be beyond belief, but at no time, did Lee react to any of the ministrations. Jamison was hesitant to give him any type of pain reliever, considering the depth of non-reactivity, but the healer in him knew that if realization returned, relief from the pain was necessary. Since Lee was on IV antibiotics, fluids and plasma, it was simple enough to add mild pain medication to the mix, but Jamison was determined to monitor him carefully.
That, in addition to all the other tubes and wires, save the respirator which was unneeded, were attached.
Through all of this hours of handling of his body, Crane did not move, did not stir, did not react. Jamison ordered Frank to run a brain scan after the Sick Bay was quiet, and the activity had stopped. One final gesture, on Jamison’s part, more for his own mind, than Crane’s for now, he had Frank ease a pair of scrubs pants over the bandaged legs, at least, in Jamie’s mind, restoring some dignity to a man who had been stripped of it.
Finally, leaving Frank to watch the Captain, Jamison returned to his office. Both Nelson and Morton were seated in chairs, their heads fallen forward on their chests. ‘Finally sleeping’, he murmured, as he slid into his chair, wearily taking Lee’s chart to write out the initial assessment.
“Not actually," the blond replied softly. Chip raised his head, rubbing his neck, “I’m too with it to fall for the ‘mickeied Coffee’ trick. The Admiral's usually too distracted to realize what you’re doing, but I’m not. How’s Lee?”
“Alive. No more than that right now, Chip.” He took the clipboard with the chart, and handed it to the Exec, “Here, you read it, and then tell him, when he wakes up. I don’t think I can repeat it all.”
Morton scanned the sheets, turning them slowly, his face becoming more and more distressed. “Jamie…” he finally choked out, “What…”
“From what Briggs told me, horrific doesn’t even begin to describe the treatment. They keep them shackled, masked, naked, and make them do physical labor beyond normal capabilities, while limiting sleep, food and water. They are watched 24/7, allowed no privacy, and the way they're constantly restrained, they're treated as if they're numbered beasts of burden.”
“Naked?” Chip’s face had gone white when he heard that word. “Naked?... Lee?... Chained? God! I can’t imagine… How is he? How did he...?”
“Briggs said he’s ‘gone away’, a
technique spooks are taught. He says that if he comes back...depends on
just how far
he’s gone. He was a political prisoner, held in a place that he would die in,
not from a gunshot or by hanging, but by the complete and total destruction of
body and mind. Briggs said the fact that he lasted fifteen days is amazing in
itself. From what he told me, most ordinary men don’t make it to ten days.”
“Can I see him? Sit with him?”
“In a while, Chip. I want his body to get used to gentle treatment again. If Briggs is right, we’re going to have to coax him back to us, over time.” He ran his fingers through his thinning hair, “It ain’t gonna be easy!”
“No, Will, it's not.” Harriman Nelson lifted his head. “Thanks for the coffee, but I didn’t drink it. I also know you too well. Chip and I worked this little scam out on you. I figured you wouldn’t want to tell me all the details on Lee unless I pushed. So I let Chip get it from you the easy way. Now, at least I have the full picture.” Nelson’s eyes, bright blue and full of pain for his friend and surrogate son, looked at his CMO with a penetrating gaze. “What are his chances of full recovery, Will? Full recovery. I want him back here, on the boat, running her and her missions. What are his chances of doing that? I need to know, before I go talk to Michael Briggs.”
“Harry, I honestly can’t tell you that. Right now, physically, as bad as he is, he’s been worse shape. I can make his body well, over time. But I don’t know about his mind. Briggs said he’s not in there, and I have to agree with him. I never gave him a sedative in the FS-1. I didn’t give him anything here until we were almost finished working on him. There was no response, Harry. It’s as if he isn’t there at all. There's no reaction to moving him, cleaning him, bathing him… no reaction. Normally, even injured, he’s protesting, telling me he’s all right. And any person reacts to pain, even on some kind of subconscious level . But he’s not reacting at all.”
“Do you think a psychiatrist is the answer?”
Jamison sat back in his chair and sighed. “I think Mr. Briggs may have a suggestion as to who and where and how to bring him out. He knows this game far better than we ever will.”
Nelson rose and nodded. “Umm, yes, well, in that, I think you’re right, Will. I've had him cooling his heels in my cabin since he left the FS-1 so I would assume he’s just a bit pissed off with me about right now. But frankly, I don't give a shit whether he is or not.” He ran his fingers through his auburn hair. “Jamie, we tried to find him, for two goddamn weeks! If only…”
”Harry, he wouldn’t have kept going this long, under those conditions, if he didn’t believe somewhere, that you and the boat would be coming for him. That’s what gave him the spark to keep alive. That’s why he’s here now, and not in some graveyard or worse. Let’s be grateful for what we have, and not worry about what we didn’t or couldn’t do.”
“Can I see him…?”
Jamison nodded and rose. Morton and Nelson followed him into the treatment area to the gurney. Seeing the devastation of Crane’s person, now that he was looking cleaner and more comfortable, hurt Nelson more than seeing him on the stretcher when he had been brought aboard. He stood next to the gurney, looking at the still, bearded figure, and trying to convince himself that this was, really, Lee. his Captain, his friend and surrogate son. He looked at Jamison…
“Where can I touch him? Without causing pain?”
“Just lay a hand anywhere, Harry. He’ll know the touch…you too, Chip. Don’t worry about hurting him, you can’t.”
Each man took a side of the gurney, leaning over and looking at the face of their friend, barely recognizable with the beard and the damage from the mask. Both men were seeking amber-hazel eyed filled with fire and life, and the general joy of just living. Both men also knew that that was a distinct impossibility at this time. Nevertheless, they each laid a hand on a shoulder and an arm, and began talking to Lee, telling him that he was home, he was safe, and they weren’t going to let him die without a fight. Nelson left, reluctantly, to go meet with Michael Briggs, and Chip Morton, ever the faithful friend and XO, stayed at his friend’s side, talking softly. Frank Lerner brought him a stool, so he could begin another vigil, yet again.
It was a less than contentious Harriman Nelson who entered his cabin from the Sick Bay. He had spent the previous few minutes walking there deep in thought. He was not looking forward to talking to Briggs, but right now, that wasn’t as important as the man who was lying on the gurney in Sick Bay. He sighed, closed the door, and looked around the cabin. In a corner, wearing a white shirt, slacks and shoes, sat Briggs. There was a coffee pot and two cups on the edge of the desk, one of the cups in use. Nelson sat heavily in the chair, took the pot, and poured coffee into the empty cup. He wrapped his hands around it, as if to ward off the inner chill, sipped some and stared into the cup.
Briggs sat, saying nothing for a few minutes, then quietly, “How is he?”
Nelson looked at the man in white, as if seeing him for the first time. The quietness of his response bore both his anger and his extreme fatigue - he hadn’t slept much since Lee had vanished, and when he had, his sleep had been restless, full of memories and much, much more. He was angry, disheartened, tired, and so much more. He rubbed at his eyes, and replied, “How do you think he is? Jamie says he’ll recover, he hopes, over time, but that you may hold the key to his returning to the boat. Do you?”
There was a moment of silence and then, “Frankly, I don’t know. All of us, with all of the training we receive, learn certain ‘tricks’ to survive. Crane was one of the best students of that. He was one of the best agents I ever worked with.”
“Is, Briggs. He is the best… He’s not dead!”
“No, he’s not. My apologies, Admiral.” He paused a moment, “To continue my answer, if your good doctor does need further assistance with him, there are several men I can recommend to him who are specialists in the field.” Michael leaned forward resting his chin on his hands that now sat on the head of his cane. “For what it’s worth, you’re lucky to have him back. Others…others have gone there and never been heard from again.”
Harriman Nelson simply glared at the man across from him, the bile rising in his throat. “We could have had him back sooner if your people hadn’t screwed up…”
Michael nodded slowly. “Unfortunately, I know that. And that matter has been addressed, that I can assure you.”
Briggs sat back in the chair, his left leg outstretched, a constant reminder of his own injuries from an incident long past. “This may come as a surprise, but I do understand. Far more than you can possibly realize.”
“I just bet you do…” Nelson quietly seethed.
“Yes, well…” and Michael cleared his throat, and then quietly placed a slim white folder on the desk. “Right now, however, there are other matters to be dealt with here, Admiral. Namely you and your 'agreement' with my agency.” A look of pure hatred emanated from Nelson’s eyes toward the other man as he smugly sat back and continued. “Those are the papers that you handed…actually, according to Starke, you threw at him. For your information, he didn’t accept any of them then and he won’t accept them now. He's refused to allow you out of the Reserves or to take this boat out of the Reserves. You see, Admiral, you are needed by the government, and by us.”
Standing, furious because he knew in his heart that Briggs was right, Nelson quietly, but angrily, responded. “Damn you, damn all of you to hell and worse. My Captain," and there was slight hesitation, “My friend is in the Sick Bay of his boat because of a mission that he was sent on with me several years ago, at the bequest of ONI and you! You and that goddamned agency of yours! That mission was a failure - the government couldn’t keep it together. And I think you knew it would happen all along. The ‘bad guys’ came to power, and we just happened to be in their waters, years later, when they decided to come after us. Not me, mind you. No, because that would have caused too much of a furor. But they go after and kidnap my Captain, make him ‘vanish without a trace’, put him in a hellhole of a prison, and convince him that he’ll die there, since no one knew where he was. They degrade him, abuse him, treat him like an animal. Then, by some miracle of someone’s making, you manage to find him and rescue him. Now he’s here, he’s safe, and you and Starke and all the other goddamn bastards want me to stay with the people who caused him to be kidnapped in the first place!! Because it’s the ‘right thing’, because “the good of the many outweighs the needs of the few,”, because there are men, like Lee Crane, who put duty and honor and country above the good of self. And goddamnit, so do I and you all know it!”
Methodically, Briggs arched an eyebrow as he stroked his gray blond moustache. Calmly, without emotion, “So, I take it you’re staying in the Reserves?”
Nelson’s voice, dripping acid, coldly replied, “I don’t have a fucking choice, now do I?”
“No…actually, not at this time, Admiral, you don’t. You made your choice years when you accepted our help…my help…to build this submarine of yours…and it’s a bed that you’ll have to lie in.”
“Well, it’s one I hate, along with the partners that I have to share it with, Briggs, and you damn well know it. Not exactly the bed partners I’d choose, if I had a broad range of choices.”
“Well, in this case, you don’t…so here we are, you and I.” Nonplussed, Michael Briggs rose and moved to the desk. “Whether you like it or not, Admiral, our lives are forever intertwined because of this submarine of yours." He shifted his weight to his good leg and leaned on the cane just a bit. "Believe it or not, Nelson, we’re actually on the same side. We just do things a bit differently, that's all. You see only black and white...what's right is right and what's wrong is wrong. However, in reality, the world really exists in many shades of gray. I accept that. You don't.”
“Go to hell!”
There was a hint of a sarcastic smile that appeared on the face of the man in white. “I’ve been told that before, Admiral, in many different ways and many different languages. You’re not the first, nor will you ever be the last. Now, if you can spare someone, my team and I don’t want to impose on your ‘welcome’ any more than is necessary. You can fly us to your Institute, and we’ll take my plane from there.”
Still glaring, Nelson slapped the speaker on his desk, “Mr. O’Brien?”
“Have the Chief ready the FS-1, Mr. Briggs has pressing business on the mainland and needs to be taken back to the Institute, ASAP.”
“Admiral, the Flying Sub is ready to leave whenever it’s needed. The Chief had it readied, just in case.”
Still staring at the man before him, Nelson replied, “Very well, Mr. O’Brien. Mr. Briggs will be there in ten minutes. Have Sharkey fly them out.” He clicked off the speaker. “Now, you can go back to your people at Langley and tell them that the mission's been accomplished.” He sat down hard, and lit a cigarette, never taking his eyes off the man.
Briggs returned the stare, “Thank you. Your hospitality is outstanding, Admiral, as always… One of these days, I'd like to return the favor...at my estate. Perhaps the next time you visit DC, I can arrange for you to come down for a visit.“ He walked to the door, then slowly turned, his voice now a bit softer, almost compassionate, “For what it’s worth…anything you need…anything…to help him, it’ll be at your disposal. No one should ever have to go through this again.” He took hold of the door and opened it. As he stepped into the opening, without turning around, “And… you’re welcome, Admiral.” He then simply walked out and closed the door behind him without further word.
Ten minutes later, the FS-1 slid out from under the bow of the giant gray submarine. As he watched the yellow craft start its ascent toward the surface, Nelson heaved a sigh of relief. He hated Michael Briggs and all he stood for, the ‘shades of grey’ in the Intelligence community. That he had made his ‘deal with the devil’ with them galled him even more, even if it did allow the boat to come into existence. That, Katherine’s death, and the proverbial ‘sword of Damocles’ that hung over his head every time someone in the ‘grey’ wanted to use the boat, or worse, use the boat’s Captain. The cost, to all of them, but especially Lee, was far in excess of what he ever expected to pay for the boat. Yet, he made his bed, and as Briggs said it was one he would have to continue to lie in, for the rest of his life, like it or not.
He snuffed out what was his sixth cigarette, in as many minutes, and called to Sick Bay, “Jamie, any change?”
“No, sir. At least he’s comfortable, or he looks comfortable. I know he’s in a better place physically. As for the rest, I don’t know… I …just don’t know…”
Jamison’s disheartened tone told Nelson volumes of what he didn’t want to know.
“Tell Chip that I’ll be there shortly. I’ll sit with him. Chip needs to get some rest.”
“You both do, sir. But I’ll tell Chip.”
Nelson clicked off the mike, and lit and smoked another cigarette in order to prepare himself for his turn at the gurney.
He was surrounded by red, pulsing, pounding red. The place he was in, allowed him to see, but not feel, and for the first time in his existence, he saw his own pain. That frightened him, more than he could ever imagine. How could someone tolerate that much pain. He had chosen to leave that part of his being, had chosen to protect himself from that, because he knew he wouldn’t be able to bear it. He also knew that once his body gave up, stopped functioning, that he would move on, to a different place. He was here, waiting, because there was, in spite of what he had been put through, in spite of what they had told him, he was in this place because he hoped that somehow, in someway, the Admiral would find him, rescue him, bring him home, to his ‘Lady’ and to his friends. That was the only reason, that tiny bit of hope…
Harriman Nelson was weary. Weary in body and spirit. There was so much good that the Institute could do, did do. But it was always qualified by the existence of the ‘the shades of grey’. So many times, they had their hands were tied by the government, politicians or by the circumstances themselves. He had no problem going against them, to do the ‘right thing’, but when it resulted in the injury of his men, or damage to his boat, he questioned everything in his world.
Part of him knew that his mood was influenced by Lee’s condition and by Briggs' presence on his boat. But part of him also knew that he was constantly questioning where they were being sent and why. This was one time that something done several years ago came back, to proverbially ‘bite them in the ass’, the worst part of it being the ‘bite’ and its effect on Lee Crane. He sighed again and entered Sick Bay.
The room was dark, save the low light over the gurney. Chip Morton’s lean form was bent over, draped on the bars on the side that were elevated so the patient wouldn’t fall off the narrow bed. For the patient lying there now, that wasn’t a problem. Nelson could see that Lee hadn’t stirred since Jamison had settled him in. In a short while, they would be moving Lee to a rack, against the bulkheads, as his condition was not life-threatening. He touched Chip on the shoulder, and the blond exec turned to look into blue eyes in as much turmoil as his own.
“No change, sir. He’s just lying here. When I touch him or talk to him, there’s nothing. Jamie’s been running some checks. None of the tests show anything wrong. He’s just not there.”
Nelson’s grip on Chip’s shoulder tightened slightly. “Oh, he’s there. He just needs to be coaxed out. To come back. Briggs said it’s something they teach spooks to do in order to exist at times, and all we need to do is to find the right trigger.” He paused, “And we will, Chip. We will.”
Wearily, Chip answered, “Yes, sir. We’ll find it. Somehow… Did Briggs suggest any thing we could do to get him back?”
Nelson shook his head, “No, but he said that if we needed help, to have Jamie contact him, and he’d get someone to help.”
“Well, we’ll have to be really hard up to ask for his help again… although I’m glad he got Lee back to us. I just don’t trust the man. I think he knows more about what happened than he let on to you. A helluva lot more.” He shrugged, “Problem is, regardless, Lee’s always the one to pay the price.” He slammed a hand on the rail, “Damn him, if he comes out of this goddamned mess, the next time they ask him, if I know him, he’ll do it again!”
Nelson smiled sadly at Morton, “You’re right, of course, then again, we’d all do what we’re asked, wouldn’t we?”
“Why don’t you hit the rack for a while, Chip. I’ll sit with him.”
Morton stood and stretched. He ached all over from sitting on the stool. “I’ll go and check on Bobby, sir. See how things are going on the watch. Tell the men what’s going on, and then, I’ve a ton of paperwork I’ve been avoiding since Lee went missing…”
“All right, Chip. Go do what you need to. I’ll be here 'til you come back. Besides, I’m only 'supercargo' on the boat anyway."
Chip smiled at the older man’s comments. “Aye, sir. I’ll be back at the change of the watch.” He slid off the stool that he had been occupying, and walked slowly towards the door. He felt as he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, and then he shrugged. It wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last time… such was the vagaries of life at the NIMR. He went through the door, turned to port, and headed to the Control Room.
Nelson slid onto the stool. For a few minutes, he stared at the face of his friend, so unrecognizable from the damage done to it. He was looking for a sign, of some kind to indicate to him that Lee Crane knew he was back on his boat, that he was safe, that he was home. He laid a hand on Crane’s arm, and started to talk.
“Lee, you’re back home, on the boat, with your ‘lady’. The crew's been in, they’re checking on you, lad. Chip was just here, but he’ll be back. Kowalski and Rod helped Jamie when they brought you in. Francis has been driving Jamie crazy, coming in time and time again to check on your progress.” He stopped, and gripped Crane’s hand. “Just let me know, Lee. Let me know that you’re with us. And whether you like it or not, you’re going to have to listen to all of us talk to you, so you'll know we’ll be here.”
He shifted on the stool and continued, “I’m sorry that this happened to you. I told Jiggs it was all his fault, you know. He warned me, years ago, when McKenna held you and had you beaten. He warned me that one day I’d regret my friendship with you. Well, I don’t regret that, Lee. What I do regret is the pain that you being close to me has caused you. They came after you because they couldn’t get to me. So, because of me, you’re here. That’s the bottom line, you know. They couldn’t touch me, so they came after you. Damnit, Lee! Because you're my friend and my Captain, they came after you. And you know as well as I do, there’s no way to stop it, short of firing you. But I can’t do that. It would cripple the boat, cripple the Institute, and, Lee, son, if the truth be told, it would cripple me. I don’t want to lose you, Lee, not for the Institute, the boat, the men or myself. You have to come back, lad. Your Lady needs you. The rest of us do, too. You're too much a part of this now. Losing you to this is akin to losing our heart. This isn’t a battle like other times, Lee. You have to realize that your time in that hellhole is over. That you're home safe now, and you have to come back here because you want to. Feel where you are, Lee. Feel the smoothness of the engines, you have a sense of her, you ‘know’ her, in a way, better than I do. You’re here, with your friends, the ones who care about you. We’ll be back, at the Institute, and everyone there is waiting to see you… all the ladies in your ‘harem’… Don’t worry, I know all about it! ‘Casanova Crane’… ‘Irish’ has been filling me in on the details. She’s worried about you, too, you know…All the ladies are. And I don’t expect you to disappoint them. So, don’t let the ‘bad guys’ win, and don’t give the ‘shades of grey’ domination. They have their purpose, but, I still don’t trust them.” He sighed, heavily. “Lee, I know that you’re hearing the babble of an old man. Maybe not physically, but more mentally aged than you can believe., but old, nonetheless. Listen to me, son. Listen to everyone who wants to tell you that we all need you here, need you to come back from wherever you are…. Come back, Lee.”
Nelson rested his hands arms
on the side rail, and bowed his head, resting his head on his arms. He gave into
the exhaustion and pain of the last 15 days, of the not knowing, of having
to go to someone he did not like, nor trust, to get results; of having to go to
the ‘shades of grey’, people he despised for the way they lived their lives, and
how those lives affected everyone. He was tired, more tired than he ever thought
he could be, and he knew that at least part of the challenge was not yet over.
Lee was physically safe and with them, but how long he would take to come back
was something else.
He rested his head on his arms on the bedrail, one hand lightly touching Lee’s shoulder. And he slept.
Will Jamison looked out into the Sick Bay’s treatment area. He had watched the brief exchange between Nelson and Morton, watched as the Admiral took the stool next to the gurney, and as Nelson put down his head one his arms, said a silent prayer that the older man would at least get some slight sleep.
He knew the pressure the Admiral put himself under in the attempt to find Crane. He knew the sleepless nights that Nelson had spent, the endless days of pacing, of storming heaven and earth to get help. And he also knew what Nelson had done with Jiggs Starke, resigning the men, the boat and himself from Naval Service. He knew what it took for Harriman Nelson to do that; The very high personal cost of turning his back on his government, his training, and everything that he believed in.
In any other situation, Jamison would have told Nelson to move to a rack, to be nearby, but not right now. Nelson would be stiff, but he would be better off where he was, rather than trying to get him to move. He was, in his own way, blaming himself for what happened to Lee, and he had to work that out, before he could help Lee recover. And then there was Chip Morton. Chip, who had had a huge blowup with Nelson, right after the Admiral had called Briggs, and who, like Nelson, had had little sleep and less time for himself since Crane had vanished.
Jamison reflected on the relationship of the Senior Staff, the ‘Triumvirate’, as the men called them. Whenever one of them was hurt, in danger, or doing something out of character, the other two would circle and protect, counsel, or risk their own health and well being to help. Their behavior here was classic. Sitting at the bedside, taking turns, seeing that the boat runs efficiently and at the same time, keeping watch. The bond of friendship, forged in the Academy, hardened by service, tempered by working together on the boat seemed to grow stronger with each crisis. In a sense, it was as if, the worse things got for one or all of them, the stronger the friendship and loyalty became. That’s what made the situation so unique. And that’s what gave him all the grey coming into his sparse hair. That these men would give up their lives for one another, or for any ‘right’ cause was one thing. Picking up the pieces after such an event was another.
And as he had in the past, for all the pain, all the difficulties, all the hours of waiting, he decided wouldn’t want it to be any different, except of course, for the damage to them to be less, and the pain to be less. But perhaps, all of this made them the men they were. Perhaps, that was something that brought all of them closer, made the friendships, the loyalty stronger. Perhaps….
Chip walked the corridor to SickBay more slowly than before. Lee was here, on the boat. He was safe, and under Jamie’s care. The Admiral was with him, and he didn’t need to rush. He wasn’t critical, he just wasn’t there, in his body, as it were. That made Chip angry, sad and a whole array of emotions that he found hard to classify. He sighed again, grateful for the small things that did work out in the middle of this mess. At least Lee was here, among the friends, the family that the Admiral had built and given to everyone who was part of NIMR. At least his injuries weren’t life-threatening. At least Briggs was off the boat. At least they weren’t out of the Reserves, thanks to ‘Admiral Bligh’. Yes, thanks to that pig-headed son-of-a-bitch, they weren't out of the reserves, Nelson didn’t have to change the boat, give up the armaments, and become strictly a research vessel. As much as it took its toll on the men and the boat, being strictly civilian wouldn’t have worked for him, Lee or most of the men.
Lee…the man, his best friend, had to have the most stubborn streak of anyone he’d ever met, and he’d met a lot of people. Lee, always, even at the Academy, willing to stick his neck out for a friend, to do the ‘right’ thing. Lee, always, always finding ways to step in and take care of the Admiral, the men, the boat, even himself. And always at such a high cost to Lee. Damn those ONI people, and the CIA, and the deal the Admiral had to make. When in the hell were they all going to leave the men, the boat, Lee, and everyone alone? It didn’t seem to enter any minds from Starke on up or down the chain of command, of the human cost of all their plans and escapades. And this time, this time, Lee and the Admiral hadn’t done a damn thing. They just happened to be in the waters of a country that they had tried to help, and the help had failed and the insurgents had won. And they wanted to get even with the old government, and Lee became their victim. Because they couldn’t get to the Admiral, they chose to get Lee.
From what Briggs had told them, the place where he’d been held was patterned after Devil’s Island. That had given Chip and Nelson the deepest concern. Both knew what that hell-hole had been like. The history of the place was one that was covered in the History courses of Annapolis, and the treatment of the prisoners well documented by the International organizations designed to protect prisoners. The worst kept and best known one was, of course, French Captain Alfred Dreyfuss. They had studied the case at the Academy and all of the Midshipmen had learned what a a nightmare Devil’s Island was. That Lee was in a similar place like that, or worse, well…
Chip shivered, for even in the warmth and safety of Seaview he could not begin to even conceive, much less comprehend what Lee had been through.
He stood in the door of Sick Bay. During his watch, Lee had been moved to a rack on the port side of the bay, all attendant tubes and wires appropriately following him, as well as the Admiral, who sat next to the rack. The older man was hunched over the railing, one hand on Crane’s arm, the other on the rail. He appeared to be talking to Lee in soft tones, meant only for the man on the rack
Chip also saw the bedside table holding several items: lip lubricant, water, and what looked like several smaller bottles of meds.
Quietly, Chip walked over to the Admiral, and touched him lightly on his shoulder.
Nelson looked up, with weary, heartbroken eyes. “Your watch already up? I didn’t realize it had been that long… Jamie’s worried about his mouth and throat. There’s been some bleeding from the drying out of the membranes. He’s had me applying this,” he showed Chip a bottle of gel, “It’s supposed to help the damaged tissue and fight the drying out. His mouth is full of sores, again from the metal and drying out, and he’s treating those with different meds, because some of the sores are from the dehydration and some from the irritation of the thing in his mouth. Jamie’s afraid the combination of the metal and the generalized oral infection may affect his ability to speak. He thinks there may have been some damage to the vocal chords.” He sighed, heavily, “Just another complication...” He stood, slowly, keeping his one hand in contact with Lee’s arm. “I’ve been talking to him, about the Academy, the Nautilus, anything that I can think of, that he would relate to, that he would remember. I’m trying to bring him to remember the good things, the good times, the friends. I don’t know if I’m succeeding, but I’m trying.” He rubbed his eyes with the one hand, not wanting to relinquish the physical contact. “Will says he’s running a fever, but not a high one, and he's hoping that it’s fever related to his body fighting the infections, not a new one so he’s pumping him full of all kinds of meds."
He ran a hand through his auburn hair, still maintaining the contact with Lee, “He doesn’t know what, if any damage the residue from the funnel did internally. He has to wait until Lee wakes up and tries to eat, to see if there’s anything that he hasn’t seen, already.” He sat down again, “I…don’t know, Chip. I just don’t know.” He looked at the Exec, seeing his own pain and anguish mirrored in the blue eyes of the younger man, “I look at his face, the sores and scabs, at his body, all the damage, and I blame myself for it all. If we hadn’t taken the assignment from ONI… hell, if I hadn’t wanted this boat so badly, wanted to build ‘my dream’, then he’d be safe, and not in this condition.” He continued, “You’d all be a hell of a lot safer! You wouldn’t be bearing the scars that you’ve gained in service here, none of the men would…”
Slowly and deliberately, Chip grasped Nelson’s shoulder, “Admiral, if you think I'd be as happy as I’ve been since you rescued me from that desk job, you are wrong, sir. I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for being the Seaview’s Exec. You have given me more than I ever imagined I would have had, long ago on Commissioning Day. There isn’t one man on this boat that would chose to be anywhere else, regardless of the cost to them personally, and you know that includes Lee. We all have to make compromises, sir. You did, and you knew what you were doing when you made the agreements you did to get this ‘lady’ of ours built. And while you may believe they were the worst decisions of your life, this, and all that goes with it, is the best decision of your life. The good that you and the Institute have done far outweighs anything that has happened to one or more of us. You know that...we all do...even Lee. And if you think about it, sir, where would Lee, or I, be, or any of the men for that matter, without the family that you’ve built here. Because, that’s what we are here, a family. And in spite of everything, if Lee could tell you right now, he would. This is our family, all of us here, for good and bad. And when one or more of us is hurting, the rest of us, all of us, pull together. We’ve lost some of our family over the years, and we've hurt for for a time, but like a family, we heal, never forgetting, but continuing on.” He paused, looking deeply into the eyes of the older man, “And without you, without all of this, there would be many souls who would be alone out there, and never being able to heal.” He grasped Nelson’s shoulder more tightly, “Lee will heal, sir. We all will see to it.” He took a deep breath and looked at the clock on the wall. “Admiral, it’s my watch. You need to rest for a while. I’ll be staying with Lee. He’ll know… believe me, he’ll know.”
Nelson stood, the events of the last two weeks reflected in his face. “I’ll be back in six hours. I'll try to get some sleep.” He started to walk away from the rack and then turned, “Thanks, Chip.”
Morton nodded, as he sat in the chair. He reached out and took Crane’s limp hand in his, beginning to talk to him in a soft voice.
Nelson moved through the hatch and into the companionway, finding Seaview’s COB waiting for him.
“Did Morton put you up to this, Francis?”
”Uh…no, sir. I was, well I…was coming by to check on the Skipper. I…I’ve been down here a couple of times, and I know you’ve been with him. How is he, sir?"
“About the same. Doc says he’ll get well over time. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Sharkey’s shoulders fell slightly. He had been hoping for better news. He paced Nelson, keeping his silence. When the Admiral reached his quarters, Nelson asked him, “Anything else, Chief?”
“Uh, no… no, sir… Do you need anything, sir?”
“No, Francis.” He paused, “Except maybe a friend to share a drink and a smoke with…” He shared a slight smile, “Would you care to join me?”
"Sure...I mean, yes, sir. If it pleases you..."
Nelson smiled slightly, “Come on in, Francis. I think we both need a drink.”
Sharkey nodded and followed him into his cabin.
Nelson Institute of Marine Research – Five days later
The five days sailing back to Santa Barbara fell into a routine for the men and the boat. The Admiral or Chip Morton were always at the bedside of the Skipper. Sharkey and the crew, along with the junior officers kept things running as smoothly as Seaview could with her heart, her soul and her mind in SickBay. The men took turns, visiting Sick Bay in shifts, spending the time they had off duty, in part, with the Skipper, just to let them know that they were there, and that they cared. Otherwise, the focus of the boat was getting her and the Skipper home as smoothly as possible. In that they succeeded grandly. Seaview berthed in her home port, at her dock, and was met by an ambulance and staff, waiting for the CMO and the ship’s Captain.
Below deck, Nelson and Morton hovered in the Doctor’s office, as they prepared Crane for the move. During the five days that they took to return to the Institute, Lee never opened his eyes, never reacted to touch or talk. His body had begun to heal, but once ensconced in the MedBay of the Institute, Jamison, with all his tools at his hands, would have an absolute answer for Nelson and Morton of just what was going on with the Captain of the Seaview. Anxious to see Lee reacting and protesting against his time in SickBay, they were just as eager as Jamison to get him settled in the MedBay.
Finally satisfied that Lee would be comfortable being moved, Jamison stepped away from the stretcher and allowed Kowalski and Rodriquez to move in, and take it to the gangway and then to the deck and the waiting ambulance.
Jamison looked at Nelson and Morton. “I’m on the Ambulance with him, there’s room for one more…Harry, is it you or Chip?”
Morton spoke before Nelson could answer, “The Admiral's going with you, Doc. I've got to finish up here, and get the boat and the men squared away so they can begin their leave.” He looked at Nelson, “I’ll get there as soon as I can, sir. You should go.”
Nelson just nodded. He knew how badly Chip wanted to go with his friend, and also knew that the XO would not leave the boat until she was ready to set at her berth, waiting to be prepared for her next mission. “All right. Just let me grab my jacket and cover, and I’ll meet you topside. I can send Angie over later to get any papers I'll need.” He looked at Morton, “I’ll see you at the MedBay as soon as you get there.”
“Aye, sir.” He turned to follow Nelson out the hatch, and turned to Jamison, “Watch him, Will. Both of them…” his voice trailed off, and he slipped out.
Moments later, Jamison was topside, and the stretcher was gently lifted into the ambulance. He climbed in after it, and was followed by Nelson, who had suddenly appeared at his side, and slid onto the seat beside the medic.
The doors at the rear of the ambulance closed, and the light on its' roof flashed as it made its way to the MedBay in the center of the Institute property. Nelson watched Lee’s face for a sign of something, anything that would indicate he was going to come aware. But there was nothing. There had been no awareness of the boat, of the men, of himself or Chip, as they kept vigil. And now, no awareness of movement, of anything. His face remained calm, impassive, his body non-reactive. It was as if the shell was alive, but the being was gone. And it didn't make him feel anywhere at ease. He’d slept as little with Lee returned to them as when he had been missing. There had to be some way to get Lee back to them, to make him wake and talk and deal with what had happened, and what he went through.
Instinctively, Nelson reached out to touch Crane’s arm, leaning forward to study his face.. The beard had been neatly trimmed, his hair also trimmed. The scabs and marks on his face seemed to be fading, and a ghost of the familiar was beginning to appear, as the face had begun to fill in a bit with the addition of good nutrition through hyper-alimentation. Since he was unable to eat, and Jamison was not ready to admit defeat where Lee’s health was concerned, the hyper-alimentation was a temporary alternative. Although a procedure usually used on conscious patients who were unable to eat or digest, it was a temporary solution, justified at the very least by the condition of Lee’s throat and mouth. And it gave Jamison a viable alternative.
Nelson leaned closer, “Lee, lad, we’re almost to the MedBay. Will tells me that you haven’t been giving him your usual hard time, that you’ve been ‘neglecting’ him. Come on, Lee, we’re all waiting to hear your usual complaints and disagreements with Jamie here. Lee, please… let us know that you’re here, you are with us… “ The catch in the older man’s voice was unmistakable. Jamison laid a hand on his shoulder.
“Harry, the only way he’s coming back is if he believes he’s safe. You keep talking to him. He is here, he’s just waiting for his time, not ours. Once he’s convinced he’s safe, that he’s not alone in that wretched place, he’ll come back to us, you’ll see.”
The ride in the ambulance with Lee seemed to unnerve Nelson more than Jamison could have even anticipated. The absolute grief on the craggy visage hit the doctor hard. They all knew what Crane meant to the Admiral, the surrogate son, the psychic connection between the two was what made the partnership on and off the boat so strong. With Chip Morton as the third member, it was an almost indestructible team, tough to beat, tougher to break. But if something happened to remove Crane from them, the team would be irreparable. Will shook his head, he wouldn’t let that happen without a hell of a fight, and if he had to be cheerleader to the Admiral and Exec, so be it. He wouldn’t let them down. Not his friends, his CO, his family. No, not at all…
He left the hand on Nelson’s shoulder, hoping the shared belief in Lee’s recovery would impart strength to the older man. Nelson simply looked at him, a grateful expression on his face, knowing full well what Jamison was doing.
It was but a few short minutes from the boat to the MedBay, and once there, the ambulance became a center of activity, as the stretcher was taken out of the vehicle and taken inside, to a room, and the patient established in it.
Once Lee was settled, Nelson went into the room, taking a position on the left of the bed. He reached over the railing, and took Lee’s hand. Jamison was on the right of the bed, making notes on the chart, from the various machines and his observations, now that Lee was settled. Again, the most disturbing part, for him, was the complete lack of any reaction. He could only hope that as his body healed, so would his mind. He looked at Nelson, “Harry, once Chip arrives, the both of you need to talk. About Lee, and other things, too. With the boat berthed for now, you need to get some rest, real rest. And so does Chip.”
“We will. We’ll work something out. For now, I’m here with Lee, and Chip will be as soon as he can. I’m sure the men will be in, not to mention the staff that he knows, and you know that’s just about everyone here.” He looked at Jamison, “I can’t think of anyone that he hasn’t gone out of his way to meet, and get to know in one way or the other.”
Jamison nodded. One of Crane’s strengths, on and off the boat, is that he took the time to get to know everyone that he had any contact with, and since he ran Ship’s Stores at the Institute, there were very, very few employees he didn’t know.
Nelson stepped away from the bed momentarily, took off his jacket and laid it alongside his cover on the window ledge. He pulled a chair to the bedside, sat down, and took Lee’s hand in his once again. He looked at Jamison, but talked to Lee.
“Lee, now that you’re here in the MedBay, you’d better get your ‘best face’ on. You’re going to have a whole horde of visitors. Everyone here is worried about you, and they’re going to be coming by to see you and asking how they can help. All the people you know, starting with Angie and Cathy. There’s a great deal of paperwork that you need to catch up on, and those two are going to be bringing a lot of it here. When you’re better, we’ll get your secretary, Jenny, to come here and help you too…” he continued to talk to Crane, about the Institute, and the work that was being done, as well as what needed to be done. Jamison left, and Nelson continued to talk.
True to his word, the stream of visitors began, Angie was the first to arrive, just as Chip arrived. She said hi, kissed him lightly on the cheek, and went to the bedside, where Nelson had established himself. She touched him lightly on the shoulder, and he looked up at her. He covered her hand with his free one, “Thank you, Angie.”
“How’s Lee, Admiral?”
“No change since we brought him back to the boat. His body is healing, but for now, that’s the least of our worries.”
Cautious of how and what she said, she leaned nearer to Nelson. “Why don’t you take a break, sir? I’ll stay here with Lee, and you and Chip can go grab some coffee and a sandwich.” When he didn’t move, she pushed a little harder, “Admiral, you really need to get something to eat. Chip can keep you company in the cafeteria, and you’ll feel better for having something to eat.” She prodded a bit more. “Go on, sir. I promise, I won’t leave his side.” She slid her hand into Lee’s, dislodging Nelson’s. She looked at Chip and nodded slightly. He moved to Nelson’s side, taking him by the arm.
“C’mon, sir. We both need something. And I hear the cafeteria just got a new cook.”
Nelson smiled at him, and then looked at his secretary, “Angie, it seems that Mr. Morton and you cooked up this little plot to get me out of here for a bit.” His smile was one that said ‘thank you’. “Knowing the Exec’s penchant for good food, and also knowing how little he’s had in the last few days, I’m hard pressed to say ‘no’ to his request. So,” he patted her hand, “I’ll go with him, to prevent him from dying of hunger.”
Chip grinned, “We’ll be back shortly. You call Jamie if there’s any change.” He nodded toward Lee.
“Of course. I’m just going to sit and talk to my friend. You take all the time you need.”
Nelson and Morton left, and Angie slid into the chair that Nelson had vacated, holding Lee’s hand as lightly as she could, seeing the bandages, and realizing how badly hurt Seaview’s Captain had been. She leaned closer to the bed, and began to softly talk to the injured man.
“Well, Captain Crane, it looks like you’ve done it this time.” She sighed, “Honestly, Lee, you do put grey hairs in a girl’s head. You sure had all of us scared. No one knew where you were, or what had happened. Lee, you really had us beside ourselves.” She gently patted his arm, “But now you’re home, and you’re going to be okay. You are, you know. Jamie says you’re getting better. He’s just waiting for you to start yelling at him to let you go home. So are the Admiral and Chip. We all are. You’re being too quiet, my friend. Way too quiet. I want to see you hollering to get out of here, not lying quietly in the bed. I want to see those wonderful eyes of yours, and yes, Lee Crane, you do have wonderful eyes, I know that and so do all the ladies that work here, I want to see them sparkling when you are teasing Chip unmercifully, and giving poor Sharkey a hard time. I want to hear you joking and laughing with all your friends, and I want to see you in your favorite place, perched on his desk, giving him hell for one thing or another. I want you to get out of this bed, Lee Crane. I want to see you start living your life again, not just letting it waste away here in the MedBay. It would be a waste, you know, Lee, for you to remain in here. I won’t say for the rest of your life, because if you don’t get out of that bed, then you don’t have a life."
She stopped momentarily and looked at the still form, then began again. "Please, Lee, hear what I’m telling you. You have to get out of that bed. You have to come back to us. You have to be better than you were before. I know you went through a lot. Chip told me some of it. The very fact that you're here proves the kind of man you are. Others would have, did, give up, from what I understand. Well, you didn’t, did you? You made it back from hell, Lee Crane. And now you have to get back with your life. You aren’t alone, you aren’t going to be hurt any longer, you're warm and safe, and your body is healing. So, now you have to come back from wherever you went to.” She put her other hand on his arm, still holding onto his hand. “You’re the Skipper of the boat. She needs you like the rest of us do. When we lost John, we didn’t think we’d ever be able to replace him. Well, lo and behold, we got you." There was a bit of a smile as she remembered his early days. "If you want to know the truth, most of us didn’t think you could do the job, didn’t think that you were good enough for the Admiral and the boat. You proved us all wrong, didn't you, Lee? Why, you even won over the boat’s biggest skeptic, Kowalski! So, don’t you give up on us, Lee. We all want and need you. Don’t you dare give up on the OOM...he can’t stand that kind of hurt. It’s been a while since he lost Katherine, but he's never gotten over it. You know how much he blamed himself for her death and he's blaming himself for what's happened to you, so don't leave him, too. Don’t you dare do it!!!”
She looked at the door, and stood, leaning over the bed and placing a gentle kiss on his forehead. “The beard's different, but you know? I kinda like it, but I’ll bet the rest of the ladies here won’t. I dunno, I think it kinda gives you a different look...almost like a pirate.” She smiled. “It kinda makes me wonder, what you’d look like as one.” She smiled to herself. “I guess it's good that you can’t hear me. I’d be so embarrassed if you heard that….” She barely got the words out of her mouth, when his hand slowly made a slight grasp. The unexpected movement made her gasp. “Oh,…!”
She was suddenly upset and angry, forgetting for a moment just where she was… "Oh, no you don’t, Lee Crane!! Don’t you dare do this to me!!! Don’t you dare!” Then, grasping his hand somewhat tighter, “Lee!!! Lee!!! Please! Do that again! Please!” She waited, waited for the same sign that she had just gotten from him. There was nothing. She couldn’t have imagined it, couldn’t have thought it happened. No, he’d tried to grasp her hand. He had not only heard her, but he knew what she was saying!!! He knew. Keeping his hand in hers, she reached for the call button, “Send Doc Jamison to Captain Crane’s room ASAP.”
The disembodied voice replied, “Yes, ma’am. Dr. Jamison's on his way.”
She put the button down, and Jamie was in the room at her side before she realized it, “Angie?”
Her voice was elevated and rushed. “He heard me, Jamie. I was talking to him, and telling him things that were a bit embarrassing, and he tried to squeeze my hand. He heard me!!! When I told him I’d be embarrassed if he did hear me, his hand got tighter in my hand. And I didn't imagine it, Will Jamison! I’m not that type!”
Will was kind and gentle with
Nelson’s secretary, but still doubtful. “I believe that you believe it, Angie. I
just need to either see it myself, or, well... You do understand, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do understand, Doctor. I
understand very well… You don’t believe me. Well, let me tell you this, so
listen and listen well. I told Lee something. Something that I'd be
embarrassed to have him hear and acknowledge. And I told him that, too. And then,
and only then, did he squeeze my hand. And it wasn’t a big squeeze, and it wasn’t
a I heard you and want to embarrass you squeeze. It was slight, so slight that you could
miss it. But it was Lee letting me know that he heard me, and that at some point
in the future, he would make me pay for saying I’d like to see him dressed as a
Jamie looked at her and exploded in a huge laugh. He laughed hard and long, and when he was done, he just looked at her. Then he reached out his long arms and pulled her close to him in a hug. “Thank you! Thank you, Angie Pearce, for being you! This may just have been our first break through. And you did it because you knew the right strings to pull even if you didn’t know you were pulling them!” He did a brief exam of Crane, and came back to Angie’s side of the bed. “That’s a step. A minute one, but a step. But let’s keep it between us for now, okay? I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up. Not yet, at least. The reality of it is, it could be only a muscle spasm. But somehow, I don’t think so. I think there’s still an awfully long road ahead, but I think you witnessed the first baby step.”
“Do you really think that he heard me? I mean, everything I said?”
Jamison smiled at her, and then, patiently, began to explain, “I was told that he isn’t with us. That he went ‘away’ however it is that agents are trained to when they can’t cope with a situation. It leaves them with a functioning body, but their consciousness is tucked so far away, it can’t be reached by anyone trying to get information or trying to break a person down so that they can’t resist the interrogation or whatever it is. They remain in contact with their body by the slightest thread. They can’t feel pain, can’t feel anything, for that matter. They just do as they have to in order to survive. And that’s true to his particular situation. He isn’t here. He isn’t reacting to anything. So for him to react in any way to you is, well, you did something to bring him here, if even for a brief moment. And I say bless you, young lady. You’ve given me another hope to hang on to. My guess is that you probably made him mad.”
Still holding Lee’s hand, Angie looked at Jamison and grinned, “People don’t get mad, Will. People get angry, dogs get mad!”
“Well, my dear, angry… mad… make no difference to me. It seems, just seems that you may have gotten him to react, and if you did, then I'd say that that’s a good thing, and I would love for you to do it again. However, if you can’t, at least you seem to have started something. Now, we’ll have to see what else happens.” He kissed her gently on the forehead. “You know...if I didn’t know that your heart belongs to a certain XO, I would want to steal you for myself!”
She smiled at him, “But, just
like his Captain, his heart belongs to his boat, no one else. I already know
that Chip and I will always be close friends, but nothing else. It will take
someone different to win that XO’s heart.” She smiled at the medic, “But now,
it's not about me or Chip. Right now, our focus, as you put it, is to bring Lee
back to us. So let’s see what we can do to make him more angry, and get another
He patted her gently on the shoulder, realizing that the situation of the boat’s captain had caused her to reveal much more than she ordinarily would have. There would be time for him to talk to her about other things. He empathized with her, knowing that both the Captain and the XO had a very different relationship with the boat and the men that staffed her, and that that made it difficult for them to have long lasting relationships with the women they dated. Will also knew that this was not the place to discuss that, although it did explain why there was no ‘special’ person waiting to see Lee. His friends, and they were many, but as of now, no one special.
Morton and Nelson returned to the room, seeing Will and Angie at the bedside, moved opposite them.
Nelson reached over the rail, and laid a hand on Lee’s arm. Chip stood next to him, looking at the two on the other side of the bed, “Anything wrong? Is Lee…?” The calmness in his voice belayed the concern in his eyes.
“Nothing new, Chip. He’s the same. We just have to keep talking to him, try to pull him back. Physically, he’s healing. I still don’t like the looks of his mouth and throat, but he is healing. All we have to do is to bring him back, and then we’ll really be in good shape.”
”That’s the tough part, isn’t it. To bring him back.”
“Yeah, that’s the hard part, but then we know with our friend here, nothing in Lee’s life and the life he shares with us is ever easy.”
N.I.M.R. MedBay – seven days later
In some ways, life took on a holding pattern for the men and officers of the Seaview. The boat went out on a mission, with Chip as its ‘acting Captain’, the only way he would hold the title, even temporarily. Fortunately, it was a simple mission and they returned within five days. The first place that Chip went to was Lee’s room. Nothing seemed to have changed, in the time he was gone, and he wondered if this was going to be the pattern of his life, forever. Standing by the bed was Angie Pearce.
Nelson’s secretary was dedicated, Chip had to admit that. He and Angie, well, they were friends. She wanted more, he knew that. But he wasn’t ready to settle on one girl. There were too many to choose from. Besides, like Lee and Nelson, only one lady held his heart. And she was a jealous lady. He shrugged, pushed into the door, and made his way into the room.
Angie looked up, and stood, still holding onto Lee’s hand. She beamed at Chip, and he smiled back, giving her a gentle kiss on the cheek.
“How was the cruise?”
He tossed his cover on the chair, and dropped the work khaki jacket on top of it. He draped himself on the bars on the bed, opposite her.
“Pretty routine, actually. It seems that the Lady doesn’t like to give us a problem unless her Skipper is aboard.” He looked at Lee, laying his hand on Crane’s shoulder, forcing himself to smile at the still face. “You know, Lee, she misses you. The Admiral says that she knows that you aren’t there, and let's us all know it in her way. The mission was actually pretty calm, no mishaps. We did what we were paid to do, and got back here in record time. But the boat’s not the same without you, Skipper. She’s waiting for you to come on back.” He looked over at Angie, who had gently disengaged her hand from the way she was holding Lee’s.
She looked at Chip, and mouthed, “See you at the office…” and she smiled.
He winked back, and continued talking to Lee. It was then he saw something on the silent, bearded face that he hadn’t seen before. He called for Nelson’s secretary, “Angie, com’ere, a minute, will you?” His voice calmer than he felt in a long time.
As she came to the bedside, he pointed to Lee’s face with his free hand, still talking to Crane, while watching Angie’s face. She nodded, smiling at Chip, at the evidence that Lee had heard them, was listening to them. She reached to the bedside table, for a tissue, and gently wiped at the single tear that had tracked down Lee’s face to the top of his beard, where it was becoming lost in the dark growth. She smiled at Chip, and mouthed, ‘I’ll get Jamie’ and left the room. Chip continued talking to him in the same voice, trying to subdue the elation at the showing of a single tear.
He was fighting, finding the thread and following it back. In the timelessness of his being, he watched as the bright red slowly regressed to be replaced, in time, by orange, then yellow, then green, and now, the slow ebbing to blue. He knew, in the way you did in a place like this, where he was hiding, that the pain had ebbed. He had allowed himself to get lost in the soft touches, the softness that wrapped itself around him like a cocoon. He knew here he was safe. He knew he couldn’t be hurt, and, somehow, he knew he wasn’t alone. That was the biggest part of it, he wasn’t alone. That Panualt and LaRoche were not near, perhaps they were even gone. He sensed the boat, when they had carried him aboard. He had felt the tenderness of his men and his friends as they tried to make him comfortable, make him know he was safe and home. But his body still hurt. His body worked but he didn’t want to feel what it was feeling. He knew when Jamie took that mask from his face, and his body had registered the incredible pain on his face, in his mouth and throat, and he wanted it to stop. Somehow he knew Jamie would do his best to make him feel better, to let him sleep and rest. After all that time in that hell-hole of a prison, he only wanted to rest, to sleep, to forget. But he couldn’t forget; he couldn’t forget the pain, but more importantly, the humiliation of always being watched; of no clothes, no privacy at anytime; Of it being told that there was no hope, that he had vanished, and would die a slow, prolonged death in that place, and no one would know that he was alone. He couldn't forget being chained and locked in place for hours and being treated like no more than an animal: He couldn’t forget, even though he wanted to. But now, he knew it was time for him to let the others know he knew they were there. He wanted to let them know he knew they had been keeping watch, even if he hadn’t reacted to them. He wanted back to his lady, the gray vixen that held his heart in the way that only a boat can. He missed them all, missed her, and the security of being who he was and where he was. He knew he could have it all back, but he wondered how safe he would feel, how well he would be able to do his job. He wondered if he could lead as he had, after what he had been through. He wondered for a while… and then he decided he had to go back to them all. He had to face what he was feeling, what he had experienced. He knew he would have help to face whatever demons may haunt him, and then he would move on. So he began his search, following that very thin thread that he had left to allow him to return if he wanted to do so…
His first contact with his body was jolting. There was still a great deal of pain. For a few moments, it overwhelmed his senses. He briefly wanted to not face it, to run back to where he had been, disconnected from his body; but then he realized that he needed to feel again. And as bad as his body felt, it was nowhere near to where it had been. He also became aware of the softness around him, the softness and the light feeling within that told him that Jamie was at work, if not close by. There were people nearby, too. He could hear their voices, feel their touch. Their gentle touch; so different from the island, the prod, the crop, the chains, a very different touch. This was a touch he sought, one that he thought he would never feel again. He was home! He could face anything now, deal with anything… He was home!
Amazed, Chip and Angie studied Lee’s face for changes, as tears began to slowly leak from his closed eyes. Angie took his other hand, holding it gently, since Jamie had just, within the last day, removed the bulky bandages that had covered them, leaving them covered with a light layer of antibiotic ointment and gauze.
In the two weeks since his rescue, Lee’s body had begun to heal, and in some places the bandages were gone. As his body strengthened, Will did the surgeries, necessitated by the damage to his legs, knees and feet. Since surgeries and Lee Crane were directly, or indirectly, related, they were of the minor type - time spent removing some of the gravel and stones that had imbedded themselves beneath the skin. The only thing that Will found worrisome was the presence of the low grade fever that Lee had been running since his return. A complete spectrum of antibiotics was introduced by the medical team, and Will had hoped to beat whatever infections were quietly raging in the Captain’s body.
Unfortunately, Lee had a number of antibiotic sensitivities, and threw Jamison ‘curves’ when it came to treatment. So Jamison had decided to take a more conservative path of treatment, hoping a long, slow method would have success without any strange reactions on Lee’s part. So far, the results had been encouraging, if not an overwhelming, success. The fever was down, the swelling in the legs reduced, and when Lee woke (and Will Jamison did believe he would), he would be better able to determine the amount of work still needed to bring the Captain of the Seaview back to himself.
As Angie and Chip watched and talked to him, Lee began to focus on the voices, to let them pull him to the edge of consciousness with their voices. He was so happy to hear them, to just lie there and listen to them talk. He couldn’t help the tears that came unbidden to his eyes, and he couldn’t stop them. They were tears of joy, of the simple happiness of knowing that he was not alone, that he was in the presence of friends.
Slowly, ever so slowly, he tried to open his eyes… to see who was there… but somehow knowing it was Chip, his brother-in-arms, his brother of the heart. And also knowing if it wasn’t Chip, it was Nelson, the Admiral, mentor, commanding officer, father in the heart.
Chip watched Lee’s face as he struggled to open his eyes, and his mind shouted in relief as first, tiny slits, then more and more of the amber-hazel eyes became visible. He made sure that he was looking right at Lee. That his eyes, his face, would be the first his friend saw.
Lee’s vision was blurred, but he made out a face, saw the blond hair, and knew it was, indeed, Chip Morton on bedside rotation. Through the light bandages on his hands, he felt pressure on both, and his eyes moved to the other side of the bed. He saw brown hair, and a blurred face, and knew it was someone close, one of the women he knew… either Angie or Cathy or one of the other ladies.
Chip smiled broadly and softly said, “Hello, pal! Welcome back!”
Lee looked at his friend and XO and tried to smile. His face hurt abominably, his mouth and throat horribly sore. He attempted to speak, but no sound came as he tried to use damaged muscles. He was surprised at the pain, thinking that one of Jamie’s cocktails should have helped it. He tried again, catching the alarm in Chip’s eyes, and on Angie’s face as he now recognized her.
Seeing the concern and frustration on Crane’s face, Chip increased the pressure on Lee’s arm. “Easy, Skipper. I pushed the button for Jamie. He’s been waiting for you to come back to us. He knew you would, just like the Admiral and the rest of us did. Welcome back, Lee.”
All Lee found he could do was squeeze his hand in response. His mouth seemed to work, but no sound was coming from him. He looked at Angie, and squeezed her hand as well. He knew he should be, could be panicking, but he wasn’t. He was calm. He knew that Jamie was on the way, knew that there would be an explanation of what was wrong with his voice.
As he became re-acclimated with his body, he also became aware of the increasing pain in his legs and feet, and the soreness around his chest. The harness of rope that had been put on him to pull the logs suddenly appeared in his mind, and he shuddered…
Chip’s grip on his hand tightened. Chip didn’t know why or what, but he knew that Lee was seeing something that had caused him pain, and he wanted to let his friend know that he wasn’t going to go away, that he was here to support him. “Lee, don’t try to say anything. Wait for Jamie to get here. He’ll explain it all to you… All I Angie and I want you to know is that we are here for you. The OOM's on his way; he had a budget meeting after we docked, and he’ll be here as soon as he can. You know that he'd be here if he could be.”
Lee nodded slightly, then shook his hand from Chip’s, looking at the bandages on it. He then slowly moved the hand towards his face, feeling the beard and the longish hair, with the unbandaged fingertips and then looking back at Chip for an answer. Thankfully, Jamison arrived, and Chip gave over his seat to the Medic.
“Well, hello, Skipper! Welcome back!”
Seeing the look on Crane’s face, Jamison immediately began to explain to the patient just what was going on as he took Lee’s hand in his, more as a calming gesture than anything else. “Lee, I don’t want to overwhelm you with details, and if you want me to stop, just wave a hand and let me know. First off, don’t even think about talking. Your mouth is still full of sores, and they go all the way back to the vocal chords. I’m not going to sugar coat this - it's serious, and if there is permanent damage, well, we’ll deal with it if we need to. For now, now that you're awake, we’re going to get you started on some broth and soft foods, and see how you well tolerate that, then go from there. You’ve got bandages all over, but you are getting better. You’re still running a slight fever, but I hope to get that all the way under control in the next few days. I’ve done some small surgeries on your legs and feet, taken objects out of them. Your legs were pretty infected. They’re better now, but they still need to heal more. It’s going to be uncomfortable when we finally get you on your feet in a day or so.”
He watched Crane carefully, aware of the tears still slowly flowing from his eyes. Gently, Will said, “Here, let’s get you to sit up a bit, and orient you to the room.” He rested Crane’s hand on the bed and reached onto the side rail for the bed control. Touching the imbedded button on the rail, he raised the top of the bed to about a forty-five angle and then stopped it. Never taking his eyes off his patient, he fussed a bit with the IV, checked the Hyper-alimentation line, and made a few notes on the chart. Then he looked at Crane again. His eyes were closed and Will wondered what was going on in the Captain’s head. He would have someone come and talk to him when the time was right.
The door opened and Harriman Nelson strode in. He saw Lee more upright than he’d been, saw Chip leaning against the wall, arms crossed on his chest, watching, saw Angie at the side of the bed, holding Lee’s hand, and saw Jamison leaning on the bedrail, talking to Lee.
Obviously, Lee was, or had been, awake. Nelson looked at Chip, who smiled broadly at the older man and nodded. Jamison looked up, and also smiled, although it wasn’t the totally reassuring smile that a complete and totally recovering Crane would have indicated. It was, indeed a smile that bespoke some reservations, that Nelson knew he would discuss with the CMO later in the day.
But, Lee was awake! He was back, and no matter what, that was the best news in a month!!
Nelson moved to the bedside, next to Angie. She saw him, smiled and eased Lee’s hand into his. Looking at the Captain’s face, he saw the wet, from the tears, and looked at Jamison. A slight ‘no’ was all the shake of a head told Nelson, that at that moment, no one knew why, but no one was questioning either.
Lee felt the change in the hand holding his, and slowly opened his eyes. Piercing blue ones connected with the amber hazel, and Nelson saw, for a fleeting second, all the pain and anguish that Crane had suffered, and he knew just what he had to do, for his Captain and friend. He put as much pressure as he thought he could into the grip that he held Crane’s hand with, and spoke, softly, to him.
“Lee, welcome back to us! We’ve missed you! I’ve missed you, lad.” he smiled broadly.
Lee opened his mouth, to speak, but the pain in his mouth and throat seared him, and he shut his mouth just as rapidly. Jamison gave the man in the bed a wry look, “I warned you, Skipper. But do you listen to your old sawbones? Nope. That didn’t feel very good, now did it?”
Lee nodded ‘no’.
“Well, you can’t say you weren’t warned. Admiral, you can visit for a few moments, but then I want the three of you to leave me with Lee for a while, I want to run a few tests. Once I’m done, I’ll send an orderly to get you from the cafeteria,” Jamie nodded sharply, and Nelson acknowledged him.
Jamison stepped back from the bed, and Chip stepped in to fill his place, gently picking up his friend’s hand. He looked across the bed at Nelson, and said, “Lee, I’ll take the Admiral and Angie, we’ll go get some coffee, and come back when Jamie’s finished with you. I know he said he’d get you some broth and whatever, but how about coffee, black?” Jamie nudged him, and the younger man just grinned, “I’ll bring some back with me. We’ll let Jamie decide when you can have it!” Chip reached over to the chair, and grabbed his cover, leaving his jacket on the chair, a firm indication that he was returning. He stepped around the bed, and took Angie by the arm.
She smiled at Crane, “I’ll be back with Chip, Lee. I’m glad you’re back with us. The girls in the pool were concerned. I’m glad I’ll have good news for them.” She bent over the rail and kissed him lightly on the forehead. “But we’re gonna have to do something about that beard, Captain. As soon as possible!” He squeezed her hand lightly in acknowledgement, the edge of his lips turning upwards in a slight smile. She left the bedside, and Nelson remained.
He took Lee’s hand in his, again. “I think I’m getting the ‘bum’s rush’ here, son. Your doctor and best friend seem to want me out right now. And it looks as if I have to go. But I’ll be back.” He put Lee’s hand down on the bed, then patted it lightly, “I… I can’t tell you how glad I am,” his voice grew husky, “how very glad I am that you’ve come back to us…” he patted Lee’s arm one more time, then left the room, grateful that the man in the bed didn’t see how emotional he’d allowed himself to be. Not that it was a bad thing, but it wouldn’t have been very good for Lee at that moment. Nelson saw in the brief seconds that their eyes met, the immense psychological pain that Lee was in. He saw the relief that he was home, but he also saw, in those eyes, the doubt and pain that was still there. That was the only reason he so willingly left the room. He didn’t know if he could deal with Lee’s pain, as much as he wanted to help him, the realization of the depths that his friend had found himself in, was, at least momentarily, overwhelming.
Moments later, in the Officer’s and Doctor’s Lounge of the MedBay, the three friends of Lee Crane sat at one of the tables with their coffee. Chip looked at Nelson, and the look in his eyes said it all.
“You saw it, didn’t you, Chip?”
“Yessir. I didn’t know what to say to him. He looked… well, first he looked like he couldn’t believe he was here, that he was safe. Then, well, then the look in his eyes, it’s… like he’s, well, haunted. I… I really don’t know what to say to him.” He bent his head, staring into his coffee. “I wish it had been me…”
Angie’s hand slid on top of Chip’s. Nelson looked at him, his own eyes full of pain, for both of his younger officers. He reached across the table, and laid a hand on top of Chip’s and Angie’s. The XO of the boat looked at the OOM.
“No, you don’t, Chip. You can’t blame yourself for something that happened in the way of duty. Because that’s the bottom line. It happened in the course of duty. There was no way that you or I could have prevented this, we had no idea when we acted on that invitation to dinner that night, that this was something that was even remotely possible. I wish it hadn’t taken place at all. But we also know that we did our best to find Lee and rescue him. We did that. He’s here, he’s safe, and hopefully, he'll heal and come back to the boat. That’s all that you can hope and pray for. That we can hope and pray for.”
Chip’s blue eyes, troubled and concerned for his friend, bored into Nelson’s. He said nothing, just stared for seconds that seemed like hours. At that moment, the two men, friends, superior and subordinate, connected on a deeper level, with a sole agenda, helping their friend, recover from his experience. Neither said anything, but the new bond, forged there, began to work for Lee Crane in a way he would never know, or understand. A new understanding of their mutual relationship began and the two men gained new insight of one another, and a stronger link to their friend.
Chip dropped his eyes to the coffee. “So, where do we go from here, Admiral?”
Nelson shook his head slowly. He looked at Morton, took a drag on the ever present cigarette, and stated, “Back to our Captain’s room, and a long talk with our CMO as to what we can do.”
Angie watched the two, boss and friend, and knew that Lee had the best possible support in the two men. Not to mention the men on the boat, the people in his shore department, Ship’s Stores, and all the others in the employ of the NIMR that Lee had befriended. “Okay so, who’s gonna tell him about the food, and all the gifts at his house? I can’t get another thing into his freezer, and Cathy has started sending some of it to the food bank in Goleta. And the Great Room is full of presents. I think the Captain is going to get a lot of reading done as he recuperates.”
Both men smiled, knowing that if it wasn’t something to do with the boat, or running the boat, the systems on the boat, or something about Naval law and so forth, he wouldn’t be reading it much.
Angie grinned, “Okay, I know, I know, but the thought's there, and if someone,” and she nudged Chip playfully, “would encourage him, he might actually read something for fun!” She stood, shaking her head, as the men laughed. “I’m going to go and see Lee for a few moments, then I’ll go back to the Office. Admiral, you’ve got a list an arm’s length long of phone calls to return. Admiral Starke didn’t want to hear that you were on radio silence, he's called every day of the cruise at ten, twelve, two and four, checking on Lee, and demanding to be connected to you. He's just a bit po'd that I wouldn't put him through. Admiral Johnston from ONI called, as did Admirals Tobin, Crawford, Norwood and McKenna.”
McKenna’s name immediately raised hackles on Nelson and Morton’s necks, but they said nothing and let Angie continue.
“Three congressmen, two Senators, the Head of the Ways and Means committee, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, the SecNav…”
“And a partridge in a pear tree?” Chip piped in.
“Yeah,” she sighed, “Him, too. Seems that there's a lot of people who suddenly need to talk to you, sir. And I won’t begin to go on about the paperwork.”
Nelson smiled at her, “Thanks, Angie. This cruise has generated enough paperwork for three solid months, and I know that I left another three months worth on my desk. Do me a favor and start prioritizing it, then I'll work on it at the office and at home.” Nelson stood, stubbed out his cigarette, and picked up the cover he’d tossed on the table. “Tell me something, Mr. Morton, whose watch is it with the Captain?”
“I don’t know, sir. However, I believe that it’s your call.”
“All right, why don’t we get back there and see what Will has to say, then you and I can get something set up. I’m sure the men will all want to come by, as well as the Junior officers.”
“I’ll get Sharkey to set up a schedule for the men, and I’ll do one for the officers, and we'll coordinate the both. As far as you and I are concerned, do you want to do eight or 12 hour shifts?”
“I want to do 24-7, but Jamie'll have my head if you or I were to try that. Why don’t we do 12 and see if it works. We can always make changes. Neither one of us can afford to get sick, especially now.”
Chip also rose and snagged his cover, and moved to the door. Angie and the Admiral followed, talking about the goings on at the office during the boat’s cruise. As he walked down the hall, Chip put a call into Dorothy, and waited for his personal dragon to give him the low-down on what he needed to do now that he was in port. He held his cell phone about four inches from his ear, as Dorothy, the Dragon Lady gave him the lowdown.
When Chip, Nelson, and Angie left the room, Jamison pulled up a chair next to the bed. His exam of Crane had told him what he already knew of the physical condition. He was getting better, he was healing. There were issues, but the prognosis, for the most part, was good. It was what was going on in the Captain’s head that worried Jamison. He smiled his physician’s smile and waited for Lee to react to it. Crane hated that smile and Jamie knew it.
Lee didn’t react to it, as Jamison thought he would. He tried to smile back, laying his hand on the doctor’s. Jamison patted it back, concerned that the ‘piss and vinegar’ that Lee Crane gave him wasn’t present. “Well, Lee, it looks like we’ve a bit of a road ahead.”
Lee nodded, and raised a hand to his throat and then the beard. Jamie laughed, “I know you don’t like the beard, but it's gonna have to stay for at least another week. Your face has to heal completely before I allow a razor near it. I don’t want to have any issues with the skin. We have enough of them with your mouth.”
Lee sighed, his chest heaving once, and then the amber hazel eyes focused on the doctor. Reading what he thought was there, Jamison replied. “I don’t know, Lee. The damage to the vocal chords was pretty severe. The sores are taking a long time to heal because of the materials in the damned thing that was in your mouth.”
He looked up as the nurse brought in a food tray. She was a pretty young woman, with light honey colored hair, and grey eyes, and a bright smile. She smiled at the Captain of the Seaview, setting the tray on the table next to Jamison. “Hello, Captain. I’m glad to see you’re finally awake. If there’s anything that you need, just push the call button, and someone will come right away. Dr. Jamison says that you aren’t to speak, so just push the button on the bed, and we’ll come, ASAP.”
Lee nodded slightly, and the nurse smiled and left. Lee looked back at Jamison, who was fussing with the food on the tray. He pushed it toward his patient, gingerly.
“Broth, Jell-O and some yogurt. I know it's not what you like, but I think that you’ll take anything at this point. Be careful and try it, a little bit at a time. You might not taste too much right now, with the ointment on your tongue and in your mouth, but we need to see how well you’ll tolerate this. Consider it a test.”
He nodded, and reached for the plastic spoon that accompanied the cup of broth. His fingers grasped at the plastic utensil. He picked up the spoon, scooped into the cup, and slowly raised it to his mouth. Fighting the fear of taking it in, and fear of what could happen if it didn’t set right, and a wealth of other emotions, his hand started to shake. Jamison saw that and immediately closed his hand over Crane’s. Lee shot him a grateful look, and brought the spoon to his lips.
The scent was rich, and he
suddenly wanted to drink the whole cup at once, instead of the small spoonful.
The smell was tantalizing, but suddenly he flashed back to the night that La
Roche had tormented him with the scent of the coffee and the fruit tart, and his
hand shook so hard that the contents spilled out, and the spoon fell from it.
Tears rolled down his face, and he shook his head, ‘no’. He just couldn’t take
the broth. What would he taste, how would he deal with it if it had no taste,
and it just felt like the slop that had been poured down his throat. And if it
did have a taste, what … how would he react to that?
He pushed the tray away. He didn’t want to eat… He couldn’t eat. Jamison saw the look in his eyes, and began to bustle about the room. He used the phone, and talked in soft tones, that Lee couldn’t hear, to the person on the other end. He hung up the phone, then went to the door, stepping out into the hall. He returned several minutes later, put down the bedrail, and hiked himself onto the edge of the bed, pulling the tray in front of him.
“You have to eat, Lee. You can’t stay on the hyper-al forever and return to the boat with the tube in. You have to try this, as uninviting as it may be.”
Crane swiped at the tears on his face and tried to speak. All that came out was a croak, from lips that barely registered movement. The pain was intense, but he had to communicate with the doctor. With no sound, he tried to mouth the words, “I can’t… you don’t understand… no one …..understand….”
Desperate to know just what his patient’s tolerance and understanding of what was going on actually was, he tried. “Lee, I don’t begin to know what you went through. You and I both know you're going to have to talk to someone, when you can talk. But first, you have to eat. Even this, as unappetizing as I know it is. I’ll feed you if need be...I don't want it to come down to that. I just want to get that tube out of you, I want to get you out of here, to get you home. Whether you believe me or not, is irrelevant. But that’s what I want. I need to know that’s what you want too. I will feed you what’s on this tray, if you can’t feed your self for whatever reason. I’m trying to help, not to humiliate you or embarrass you. Harry, Chip and Angie have been told that you fell asleep. Angie’s headed back to the office, and the Admiral and Chip are waiting their turn in here with you.”
“Not hungry… sleep…” Crane mouthed. He closed his eyes and turned his head from Jamison. The doctor remained sitting on the bed for a few moments, then, rose and pushed the table aside. He raised the bar on the bed, and took the chard from the holder on the wall, making a few notes. He looked at Lee, and shook his head sadly, knowing that some of what was going on in the Captain’s head was far beyond his own ability to understand, much less comprehend. He finished his notes, put the chart back in its holder, and went back to the bedside. He laid a hand on Lee’s arm, speaking softly.
“Well, my friend, I guess it’s good you’re back with us, but I'm still very worried about you. I hope I can help you and that the decisions I’ve made are going to help you. I know that Harry and Chip are going to be on my ass because of it, but you’re my main concern right now. They’ll just have to deal with it. Someone will be in with you in a minute or two. I don’t know which one. But trust me, you won’t be alone. None of us will let you be alone.” He patted Lee’s arm several times, and then left the room.
He went outside into the corridor, to find a fuming Nelson and a slightly less agitated Morton.
“Well? Just why the hell did you tell us to wait out here?” Nelson demanded.
“Because it was for the good of my patient that you not witness what took place. I don’t care that you are his friends, his boss and Exec, or anything at all. All I care about is that he get well and recover. Finding himself safe, in good hands and being cared for, has taken a huge toll on him. Emotionally, he’s on very thin ice right now. He tried to take some of the broth I had sent for him, and he couldn’t even eat it.” When Nelson started to comment, Jamison silenced him, “For once, shut up and listen to me, Harry! This wasn’t Lee Crane saying he wasn’t hungry, that he didn’t have time to eat. This was a man who had been through a horrific experience, finding that as much as he wanted to eat, he couldn’t. Couldn’t even get the spoon to his mouth, couldn’t take the broth in the spoon in… He couldn’t put the food into his mouth. I don’t know what happened to him, but I can tell you that my gut feeling is that they used food as part of the torture, outside of that mask. That whole thing was bad enough, but there were other things, that only Lee will be able to tell us about, when he can talk to us again.”
He laid a hand on Nelson’s arm. “Look, we all know what a private person Lee is. We can all assume that this entire experience was humiliating, as well as degrading. But what we don’t know is what was going on in his head, what was being said to him, or done to him. I have to tell you that he's emotionally fragile right now, and I frankly didn’t think it would be good for him for you to see him break down like he did. I’ve taken steps to help him, some that you may not like, but, truthfully, I don’t care whether you do or don’t. I only care about what I can or can't do for Lee. He’s the patient, he’s my primary concern.”
The doctor's explanation took the fire out of Nelson’s anger, and it was replaced with the genuine concern that he had for his friend and surrogate son. “Will, anything that needs to be done for him, do it. Nothing is as important as getting Lee back to himself.”
Jamison sighed deeply, “Harry, you, Chip and I all know that he'll be profoundly changed by this. He isn’t going to simply ‘get over it’. He's going to have to deal with it, just as he has with other things, but this time, to be treated as he was, dehumanized, degraded in ways that you and I can’t even begin to comprehend...well, he needs to get the right kind of help, to get him to put this in the right place. I’ve just made those arrangements, or at least some of them. So, whomever is going to have the bedside watch should go on in and the other one should say good night and leave. He’s sleeping, or so he wants me to believe. Just let him know that you're there and don’t try to do anything else. Just let him know that he’s not alone. And that’s not a request. That, gentlemen, is an order. And it's one that you, Admiral Nelson, will not countermand in any shape, form, or fashion. You do, and I'll personally throw your ass out the door of this MedBay. Do I make myself clear? Now, I’m going to write some instructions at the nurse’s station, and then check back on him. I expect only one of you to be there when I return.”
A half hour later, Jamison stepped back into Crane’s room, to find Chip Morton at the bedside, one hand looped over the rail, the other lying lightly on top of Lee’s hand. The doctor moved quietly to the bedside. Morton looked up, nodding at the doctor’s presence.
“He still asleep?”
“So he’d have me believe. I can’t really tell, but if he is sleeping, it’s a restless one…”
“Well, real sleep is better than the state he was in prior to his waking. At least his body can begin to react normally to things around him, and force his reactions, even if they are ones that he doesn’t want us to see.” He laid a hand on Morton’s shoulder. “You should try to get some sleep, too. Being here all night, working all day, well, it doesn’t make Chip a fun person to be with.”
Morton smiled wearily, “I’ll get some rest while I’m here. ‘Sides, a cranky Exec gets a lot more out of the men working on the refit. Gets the work done more efficiently, as they don’t want to make me angry.”
Jamison patted him on the shoulder, “Well, try not to get too cranky. After all, we like to see the Exec with a smile on his face once and a while as well.”
“Don’t worry, Jamie, it's fine. We’re all used to this routine, in one way or another.”
Jamison nodded, checked the various monitors, and then moved to the end of the bed. “The nursing station knows to notify me if he needs anything. You let me know if you need me.” He looked directly at Crane, “Good night, Lee. I hope you sleep better than you have in a long time.” He reached over the footboard, and lightly touched the man on the bed, then turned and left the room. Chip slouched down in the chair, pulling a blanket he had lying nearby over him. Keeping his one hand atop his friend’s, he murmured, “Yeah, g’nite, Lee. I hope you sleep better, too.”
Sometime close to 0300, the door to the hall opened, and a silent figure slipped into the room, making his way to the foot of the bed. He saw the sleeping figure in the chair, next to the bed, and quietly moved to the man sleeping there. Recognizing who it was, he went to him, lightly shaking the sleeping man.
Years of coming awake at the drop of a hat caused Chip Morton to snap awake. Eyes unaccustomed to the dark quickly focused on the man standing in front of him.
“I need to talk to Crane. Could you leave us alone for awhile?”
Taking the blanket he had wrapped around him, Chip rolled it into a ball and tossed it to the couch on the other side of the room. He didn’t care to talk to this man, but he asked, softly, “Did Jamison send for you?”
The visitor nodded as he removed his hat and tossed it over into an unoccupied chair. Keeping his voice at little above a whisper, “I've had some experience with a place like that. He thought if I talked to your Captain...well, let’s just say I may be able to help.”
“And add another debt from the Institute to you?”
He shook his head somewhat sadly as he fixed his gaze on the man in the bed, “No, not at all, Commander. This is...personal. No debts, no paybacks. Just one agent helping another.”
shook his head, “Yeah, Lee and you… agents. Man, ya know...that really sucks, for him and
for us. You see, unlike you, there's a couple of hundred people here who
a shit about what happens to him.”
The man simply shrugged his shoulders and unconsciously pushed his glasses back up on the bridge of his nose. “It is what it is, Commander. Now, I need to be alone with him, if you don’t mind. And even if you do, well, that’s your problem, not mine, because you will leave. And that's on the orders of your CMO.”
“Yeah, well, I trust him a lot more than I do you. But, if Jamie thinks you can help, well, like the Admiral said, anything for Lee.” Chip moved to the door, and then turned back to look at the other man, now standing next to the bed, looking something like some sort of angel, all dressed in white, and hovering over the quiet figure. The faint light in the room, a product of the glowing lights on the panels around the bed, gave it an otherworldly look of the room. Morton involuntarily shuddered, a reaction to the eeriness of the sight, and then left as he had been 'requested.'
Michael Coldsmith Briggs, III stood at the bedside of the Seaview’s Captain. He knew exactly what Crane had gone through. Years ago, as an operative, he had been captured during an exchange of information on Petit Bijou, and taken to the island as a political prisoner. The difference between then and now was that there had been others on the island at that time, at least 20 others, and while the treatment had been much of the same, it hadn’t been as extreme. He hadn’t been subjected to the mask for all of his time there, just given a ‘taste’ of it for a week, as punishment for trying to escape. When the week had ended, he’d been taken back to the main Island, put in a local prison, and freed two days later. He’d found out that the agency had exercised some of its connections and gotten him freed, in spite of his attempted escape. A month of recuperation and he’d been back on the job. He’d forgotten, or better yet, filed it away, with all the other experiences, to be learned from and used. He was among the few fortunate ones, in his business, in that he did possess the ability to disassociate himself from things that happened to him.
He didn’t think that Crane was that kind of man, one that would file the experience away, not like he could. No, Crane would be the kind to deal with it, face it, and then let the experience color him further. He was the kind that once he dealt with it, he wouldn’t speak of it again, but it would influence his persona from that point on. Briggs looked at Crane carefully. The physical damage he’d seen when he rescued the man seemed to be healing. The beard, covering the damage to his face, gave him, even in his sleeping state. a look that Briggs was sure at least several of his assistants would find rakish and attractive. The thought then crossed his mind that he could use him in the mid-east if he made it through all this; he had the right look, but that would be pushing his own luck with both his own agency, as well as with ONI. Better to let the man rest and recover, and then send him in when he ‘really’ needed him. Now, however, he’d better do what he came to do, and leave before Nelson came for his turn at the bedside. He had to hand it to Nelson and his men. They were loyal to one another to a fault. He shrugged. That was useful at times, but it got in the way of business at other times. His only loyalty was to his government. It was better that way. Safer than having emotional attachments… Still…
His leg was bothering him - a dull aching reminder of why he rarely did field work anymore. He released the lock on the bed, and slid the bar down. He then sat in the chair, and in this position, he could look Lee in the face, when he turned to face him. And he would. He sat back, holding onto the cane in one hand, letting the other rest on the armrest. He hated hospitals, the sights, the smells, the sounds. And while this one, private as it was, was several cuts above most, it was, still, a hospital.
Settling into the chair, he made sure he was facing Lee, and softly called his name.
No response, so this time his tone was a bit louder and more commanding.
“Crane! Crane, wake up!”
Still no reaction in the man in the bed, so he called louder, once again, “Crane! Wake up, we have to talk.”
Lee heard the soft call, recognized the soft drawl in the voice calling him, but couldn’t think why that man would be here, in his room. He hadn’t seen him since the incident when he’d been on the Halibut, and pulled off by ONI to work for the CIA. That job had been his first after graduating from the Academy, and had been something of a thrill for the young lieutenant, who had only volunteered for ONI work, never dreaming that he’d be used, much less sent on a job for any other intelligence agency. No, there was no reason for Michael Briggs to be here. Yet it was his voice calling him to wake up. Lee reluctantly opened his eyes, looking to the side of the bed. Neither Nelson or Chip were in the room, but there, sitting in the chair, dressed in his classic white, was Michael Briggs, codename Archangel, looking quite like one, albeit not one that would appeal to Lee Crane at that time.
“Crane. Jamison called me to tell me that you’d come back. You’re a good agent. This situation was too bad. It shouldn’t have happened. Something or someone failed you and Nelson in this case.”
Lee lifted a bandaged hand to his throat, indicating to Briggs that he couldn’t talk.
“I know, I know. Believe it or not, I was where you are once upon a time.” He watched Crane’s face as his calm announcement took him by surprise. “Well, do whatever Jamison tells you to do. It took me about three weeks to get my voice back. And I only had it on for a week.”
In the pale light, Lee tried to watch Briggs’ face, but he found him as unreadable as he had been years ago. Lee shook his head to the negative, touching high on his chest, where the Hyper-alimentation tube was inserted in his neck.
“I had one of those, too, but you see, I missed the taste of food, the taste of fine wine, the pleasure of eating and drinking. Yes, it hurt like hell when I tried to take some soft food the first time, but I got over it. Once my mouth healed, well, as I saw it, it was finished, over, and I was done with it. You can be, too. You’re a damn good agent, Crane. A damn good one. You can’t let this, as horrific as it was, get the best of you, control you and your life. You can’t. You’re too good for that.”
He watched Lee’s face, as carefully as Lee was watching him. Briggs leaned closer, as Lee slowly mouthed, “You don’t understand. La Roche…”
An eyebrow arched slightly as he readjusted the glasses. “La Roche told you that you would die there, and how they would destroy your body and all evidence of who you were, and that you even existed. They called you by a number. You got maybe two hours of rest, if they chained you to the bed for that long. Made you stand in the cell for hours, chop down trees, and break them down. They told you how they were going to use the wood to cook meals over, and then described them to the tiniest detail, especially when they were pouring that slop through the funnel.”
Lee just nodded, ‘Yes’, and Briggs continued. “And you believed at first that you would be rescued, but as they kept hammering at you, at your humanity, you started to believe them. And then, you decided to go away...to be able to deal with what they were doing to you…”
Lee nodded ‘yes’ again, and the tears began to come, unbidden. He hated his weakness, but he also knew that if Briggs had been a prisoner there, then he knew…
“But your friends and family here are the ones that brought you back. I want you to know that Nelson was hollering at anyone and anything that would listen. He even handed Starke his resignation from the reserves, along with every man and officer on your boat, so they could go look for you without interference.”
Lee looked surprised, and Briggs continued. “But after a week, it really did look like you had vanished off the face of the earth. So he called me. He hated that, as I’m sure you well know, but he called. I knew about the Island, and on a hunch, we did an investigation and found that you were there. We rescued you. The agreement was that Nelson and Morton were to stay on your boat. I took some of your crew to man your Flying Sub and two of my own men. Nelson would've gotten in the way of the rescue, and besides, at that point, I frankly didn’t know if you were alive or dead. Most men don’t make seven days in the ‘special prisoner treatment’ section. You made it for fifteen. Nelson was beside himself, part of that because he had to call me. He told Morton, in front of your CMO, that he would do anything to bring you back, and once you were here, he told him that he would spend anything, do anything that was necessary to help you. So, your Doctor Jamison called me and I came back. To talk to you, help you, as it were.”
Lee was trying to take in all that Briggs was telling him, about Nelson’s efforts to find him, finding the efforts Nelson made went far beyond he would have even hoped for. Lee knew what it meant for him to have called Briggs. He studied the man in the chair. That he had been through the island was a help. It gave him, Lee Crane, hope that he would recover, become whole once again, and be back in command of his ‘lady’.
A nurse came quietly into the room, carrying a tray. She set it on the table, lit the one soft light on the night table, and just as quietly left the two men. Briggs stood and rolled the tray to the bed.
“Look, Crane, there's plenty of things that I could say to you, and a whole lot more that I can’t. You’ve been to hell, quite literally, and have actually lived to tell about it. I think, and I believe that your doctor thinks, that you can get over this and begin to get better in your mind as well as your body. I’ve been told that you're a stubborn man. Tough when you need to be. Well, now is the time to be just that. In fact, you need to be tougher than you have ever been in your life. What you… what we went through isn’t something that we chose to experience. But we have. And according to your doctor, I’m the living proof that you can get over it and go on. Do that, Crane. Listen to everything that Jamison and the other doctors tell you to do. Talk about it all, when you can. Let your friends, and you're fortunate that you have many, see how you are feeling. Don’t hide it. And do the best that you can not to let it change you. I can work with men like you, but only for short times. I admire what you do and who you are, but you're too much in the black and white for me… In spite of my color choice, I do prefer shades of grey. They're much easier to live in. Much, much easier.”
He pushed the table with the tray in front of Lee. “Eat some of this. Get the better of what happened there, of what La Roche did and said to you. For your information, the island's gone. The entire place has been destroyed. No one knows what happened to it. No one, that is, except myself, your Doctor Jamison...and now, you. La Roche is dead and can’t hurt you now. He'll never do this to anyone ever again. But if you let what he said and did control you, then he wins, and you'll be his forever, even in death. Don’t let him win, Crane. You’re better than that.”
He stood and retrieved his hat from the chair. As he placed it on his head, he looked back at Lee and held his gaze, then quietly left the room. Once outside, he walked over to Chip Morton, who was sitting in a chair that was leaning against the far wall, his eyes closed and arms crossed on his chest. Briggs stood in front of him, until he opened his eyes.
“Give him a few minutes. He may have a surprise for you when you get back in there. Tell Nelson I was here. If he starts his tirade, tell him to take it up with your CMO. He's the one who called me.” Michael Briggs turned to walk away from Chip, then he paused, and turned back, his face a baffling mixture of emotions. “I know where he is. Tell him he’s a lucky man. He’s got friends. I didn’t.” And Michael Coldsmith Briggs, III walked down the corridor, to leave the Institute before Harriman Nelson even became aware that he had been there and left.
Lee looked at the cup of broth, the cup of tea, the yogurt on the tray. He was more hungry than he could ever have imagined. He had to take some of the broth, drink some of the tea. Even if it didn’t stay in his stomach, he had to get it in. Briggs was right. Especially if the island had been destroyed, he couldn’t let a dead man control his life. Or his death. He had to be his own man. And it would start with something as simple as taking a spoonful of broth.
He took the spoon, holding it in one hand, using the other to steady it. He dipped the spoon in the cup, and slowly brought it to his lips. His hands shook, images of La Roche’s face danced in his mind, but he forced them away. Jamie’s voice came into his head, along with Briggs, warning him that it would hurt, but that the end result would be a personal victory for him. He forced the spoon to his lips, forced them to open enough to take the small amount of rich, fragrant liquid in.
The flavorful broth touched his tongue, and he shivered with the richness of the flavor, shivered again as it slid through his mouth, savored the taste, while the salted warmth at the same time burned the sores that proliferated in his mouth. As he slowly swallowed the liquid, something he had not done in a month, the pain of the sores tore through him, superseded by his personal need to win over the images that remained from the island. That one, simple act exhausted him, but he took another spoonful, determined to at least finish the small cup of broth, to win a victory over his mind, and to a smaller extent, his body. He went through the same motions again, this time, easier than the first. And as he continued, as painful as it was, he was finding it easier. It wouldn’t be pleasant for a long time, but it was easier.
Somehow, he believed, it would never be easy for him to eat. Unlike Briggs, he had never developed the taste for the finer things that Briggs spoke of. Food was a means to an end. You ate to live, and if you had to, you ate on the run. He did that more than most. Especially on the boat. He had too many things to do.
Perhaps it would have been different if, well, if he and his mother had been on better terms, after his father died. Helen Crane had gone through the motions of living, but had not really lived, for many years after David Crane’s death. She fixed food, good food, but the meals were often silent, so young Lee just bolted down enough to keep her happy and fill him, and then he would leave the table, and the silence, and retreat to his room or the athletic field. He never took the time to really enjoy a meal, never felt the need to eat much. That was part of the reason that he was always so thin, always looking somewhat underfed. It was also an explanation of why he couldn’t be tormented at the meals at the Academy. Food meant only one thing to him, and as soon as he had enough to keep him going, he was done.
Perhaps the only good memories he had of food were the times spent at the Morton home, where Clarry Morton had made it her mission in life to see that he ate, ate well, and ate a lot. His mind called up the memories of her pies and desserts, the tender sweets that were among her specialties. He shuddered as the fragrant mental links to Clarry’s deep-dish cherry pies mixed with the fragrance of the tart from that night at the prison. He had been so hungry, his body so in need of real food, and then La Roche had held the coffee and the tart so close, he could almost taste them; the blended aromas making his mouth water around the funnel, making the funnel, and the metallic taste of it, and the smell and texture of the slop all mix together; to destroy any further desire for food, to taste, to smell and enjoy it.
He wouldn’t let La Roche succeed. He would finish the broth, finish whatever was on the tray, and tomorrow, try again, each day becoming a new challenge, each meal becoming a new victory. He would win. He would.
Chip came back to the room about a half hour later. He had decided, after Briggs left the room and told him to give Lee time alone, that he needed something to eat, and he needed some coffee. So, he headed to the cafeteria. In the NIMR Medical Facility, the cafeteria never closed. All the senior staff and the doctors involved in the original design, and the subsequent upgrades, had determined that the single greatest need, outside of superior care for the patient, was care for the family and friends involved. Keeping the cafeteria opened 24/7 was indeed one of those things that could easily be handled. So a full staff was available all the time to take care of whatever the family of the patient needed. At that moment, it made Chip Morton a happy man, as he ordered an early breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit, juice, coffee and toast.
Clarry’s son had been brought up with ‘good, plain food’, but there was always plenty of it, and he appreciated it. Of course, his appetite was legendary, extending as far back as his Academy days, and some of the stories had been wildly embellished upon by his less than hungry roommate. The simple matter-of-fact was that Chip Morton enjoyed both food and the act of eating. It was, at times, almost a religious experience for him. Perhaps that was what he found so additionally unsettling in Lee’s case. To be unable to eat, not that he didn’t want to. but that he couldn’t, was so far beyond Chip’s understanding that he truly didn’t know what to say to Lee. He had a hard enough time under normal circumstances getting him to have more than coffee and cookies. But something like this… he just didn’t know…
He took a deep breath and entered the room. He didn’t know what Briggs had said to Lee, didn’t know what or how Lee reacted, but he immediately became aware of the table at the bed, and the disarray of the tray. Lee looked exhausted. When Chip came close to the bed, he saw the cup of soup and cup of tea were both empty. The yogurt was untouched, but in a sense, Chip could understand that. To his mind, it was vile stuff, even in the best of times. And if it was the texture of the stuff that had been forced down the funnel he had been suffering with, well, he could understand Lee not wanting any of it.
As quietly as he could, Chip moved the table away from the bed, and grabbed the blanket from the couch, winding it around himself. He pulled the chair closer to the bed, and reached through the railing to make contact with Lee’s hand, laying his own over his friend’s.
“Sleep well, Lee. Sleep well. It seems that you took a huge step, pal. Congratulations!!”
Michael Briggs made his way down the stairs of the MedBay of the Institute. He was fairly confident that he would be able to avoid Harriman Nelson at this early hour of the morning. He had chosen to come back to the Institute for the simple reason that Dr. Jamison had called and asked him to help Lee Crane. Some of the things he had said to the doctor in the Flying Sub had led the doctor to believe that he, Briggs, had had particular understanding of the Île Petit Morte. Jamison had believed that Michael had helped someone imprisoned there before. He did not expect that the usually impeccably dressed member of the CIA’s governing board, had been in nearly the same condition as Lee Crane was, many years ago. Jamison had struck a chord of sensitivity in Briggs, that on one hand he damned himself for, and on the other he accepted as a member of the brotherhood that he belonged to, along with Crane, the brotherhood of ‘spooks’. It was for those reasons that Briggs returned to California.
As he slowly left the building, the light, early morning breeze tugging at his grey-blond hair, he was remembering things that he thought he put aside decades ago, when the young and idealistic agent he had been, had been exposed to the ‘shades of grey’ in the Intelligence industry, and the idealism had died, to be replaced by ironic cynicism. He had reached the bottom of the steps, when he was approached by a tall, lanky figure in blue jeans, a loud Hawaiian shirt and a blue jeans jacket. The man wore his hair long, almost shoulder length, and with his rangy moustache and craggy face, Michael thought he was a most unusual figure on the grounds of an institution such as NIMR.
The voice that came from the mouth was low, gravelly, and confrontational “What in the hell are you doin’ here? Ain’t you and yours done enough? At least let Crane recover before you go and recruit him again!”
An eyebrow arched and he adjusted his glasses, then set his jaw. “Not that it’s any of your business, whomever you are, but Dr. Jamison asked me to come here. Specifically to talk to Crane.”
The man scowled. “Name’s Tony Renault…and Harry told me that he was awake. However, I don’t get why Jamison would want you to come here.”
“He, ah, needed to talk to someone who specifically knew about the place...”
“Oh, yeah… knew about the place. I just bet you did. Probably some of your own ‘spooks’ were in that Hell-hole.”
Michael leaned on his cane, at the very least, intrigued by this man who seemed to know so much, yet looked so very out of place in this environment. “Mr. Renault, it’s much more complicated than you can ever imagine. And frankly, I don’t have the time nor the desire to explain it to you.”
“That’s all fine, well and good, and I know that all of us here owe you for gettin’ him out of there. But something tells me that you and yours got him in that mess to begin with. Sendin’ him and Harry to the place durin’ the last coup, to ‘buck it up’, when you all damn well obviously knew that it was bound to fail to begin with.” Tony shook his head in disgust. “I hate your kind. Nothin’ good ever comes of anything you've got your hands into.”
Tony stood, hands jammed into his pockets, staring at Michael in the slowly growing light of early dawn in California. Neither man was going to budge in his point of view, neither was ready to give ground.
Michael looked up at the sky, the stars still clear, even in the barely growing light, “Mr. Renault, as challenging as this conversation may be for the both of us, I do have to get back to my office. My plane's waiting for me at your airstrip and I do have to go. As it is, it'll be evening before I get home. Let me say that this meeting has been rather ‘interesting’. I would imagine, under other circumstances, we might even have a civil conversation. As I recall, from your name, you’re a good friend of Nelson’s and have been here pretty much since the beginning. And I also know that you, ah, know of the nature of my ‘relationship’ with the Admiral, so I don’t wonder that you seem to intensely dislike me, not that I really care. However, we all have our place in the scheme of things, as well a job to do. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll be on my way to do mine. And I would suggest that you do whatever you intend to do at this hour of the morning.” He narrowed his eyes, “ It’s been interesting meeting you,” and he started to walk toward a waiting car
Tony watched him walk away, then suddenly called out, “Briggs!”
Michael halted, several feet from the car, and slowly turned, “Yes?”
“Crane? Did you ‘get through’ to him?”
Briggs shrugged, “I don’t know. Only you people here will know. I hope I did. He’s a good agent. One of the best I’ve seen in a long time.”
The man in white’s attitude angered Renault and he stepped forward, directly in front of Briggs. “You son-of-a-bitch! He’s the Captain of the Seaview! That’s his job! Not bein’ some god-damned spook!”
Michael coldly stood his ground. Placing himself within inches of Tony's face, he calmly stated, “He’s your Captain until we need him or ONI needs him in his other capacity. I don’t have to remind you, Mr. Renault, that he volunteered for ONI - no one made him join our little ‘club’.” He then slid into the back seat of the car, closing the door after him, before Tony could respond, and the car drove off toward the end of the compound.
Tony stared after the car, anger rising against the shades of gray. “Goddamned-son-of-a-bitch!”
He angrily pushed the door to the building open with such force that it hit the wall, causing the security guard at the desk to look up sharply. Seeing who it was, the guard quickly looked back at his book. Mr. Renault was slow to anger, but his reputation was such that you stayed clear when he was.
Tony moved down the hall to Crane’s room with more of a stride than the saunter he usually had, enraged in general by Michael Briggs, and furious at the circumstances that had brought him here, to this early morning visit to Crane’s bedside. He had spent part of the evening and early morning with Nelson, talking. There was no reason for the enormous guilt that the Admiral was feeling. Yet, as with all of the men that worked here, so diligently for the Institute and the government, Nelson carried the guilt with him. This had been one incident where no one, absolutely no one, could have anticipated that a diplomatic dinner could turn into such a horror for the boat’s Captain. Renault liked and respected Crane, as most of the people at the Institute did. He was one of the few people that Tony found was more concerned about others, than about himself. Tony also believed that the Captain would be alright, with the right kind of help. And, as much as he hated to admit it, Briggs was in part, the right kind of help.
Of course, what he hated even more was the way that ONI and others thought nothing of pulling Crane, Nelson and on occasion, even Morton, from the boat on some cock-eyed mission or another. Missions that 99.9% of the time meant that one or the other wound up in Sickbay, on the boat, or here at the Institute.
He sighed, came to Crane’s door, and quietly let himself in. He let the door close quietly, and stood, leaning against the wall, taking in the picture. Morton, the ever faithful friend and Exec, always, always at the side of his friend and CO. Tony saw how, in spite of sleeping in an awkward position, Morton managed to keep a hand on Crane’s arm. The constant touch, to let him know that someone was there, with him, keeping watch; it never failed to amaze Tony, how much that presence, and touch meant to the man in the rack, which ever one it was. They had a connection, that was certain, and Tony admired it, and on some level, was also envious of it. He looked more carefully around the room, saw the couch, the extra blankets, and decided to stay for a while, to see how Crane was doing when he woke. After all, another member of the watch couldn’t hurt. Quietly, he moved across the room, sat down on the couch, and slouched into it. Pulling one of the spare pillows behind his head, he leaned back, setting himself at a restful angle.
Chip Morton opened one eye, “Welcome to the watch,” closed the eye, and went immediately back to sleep. Tony grinned. He wondered how the Exec did that… Then again, Morton was always doing weird things like that. He had an uncanny way of doing and perceiving things, that could make you downright jumpy if you didn’t know the man.
0600 - That Same Morning –
Will Jamison walked to the Nurse’s station of the Medbay. For the first time in weeks, he had spent the night in his own bed and had managed to achieve six hours of uninterrupted sleep. That in and of itself was something of a relief. Lee had returned from wherever he had been and had at least interacted with them. That his mental state was fragile was a given, considering, but he was, at least, back. The problem that he had eating had been another matter entirely, and the call to Briggs had, he hoped, at least given him a door to enter. Jamison hoped that the elusive man in white would call him today to give him a name or two of someone who could talk to Lee. That would be an immense help, and if Harry didn’t like it, then Harry could deal with it, since the dislike was Harry’s problem, not Will’s.
He smiled at the woman at the desk, Alice Ford, a motherly looking woman, was the senior nurse on staff, well used to the comings and goings of the Senior Staff when one or more of them were in the Medbay. “Did he have a quiet night?”
“Are you serious? With all those comings and goings, no man could've a decent night’s sleep. First you all leave him, then Morton goes in, then that man in white goes in, Morton comes out, man comes out, Morton goes in, Renault goes in… A quiet night? In a pig’s eye, Doc. And from what I’ve seen come across this station, it ain’t gonna be a quiet day, either.”
“Whoa! Back up a minute, will you, Alice? A man in white? What are you talking about. You’re in a hospital here….”
“No, Doc. A man in a white suit, with a hat, a cane, and an eye patch. Said he had your authorization to go in and talk to Captain Crane. I was thinking it was a little weird, you know, coming in here at 0300, but Mr. Morton came by a bit later, said he was going to the Cafeteria, while a Mr. Briggs was with the Captain. Said that it was on your orders, so I figured it was okay.”
A small smile crossed Jamison’s face. “Yes, Alice, it was okay. Anything else I need to know?”
“Well, that Mr. Briggs, he ordered a tray for the Captain before he went in, and when the LPN went in later, the soup and the tea were finished. And I know it wasn’t Mr. Morton, ‘cause he won’t touch that stuff unless you force him to. So, I guess the Captain ate something.”
Jamison’s smile had broadened as the nurse told her tale, he leaned over the top of the nurses’ station, and grabbed her by the shoulders. “Alice, if you weren’t a happily married woman, I’d kiss you!! That’s the best news I’ve had in a month!!” He dropped his hands from her shoulders, and grabbing Lee’s chart, strode quickly down the corridor to his room. Anxious to see his patient, he walked in, unprepared for the sight before him.
Sleeping in the chair, wrapped in a blanket, his head thrown back on the back of the chair, was Chip Morton. And on the other side of the room, sprawled on the couch, was Tony Renault. And in the bed, sleeping, quietly, if not peacefully, was Lee Crane. The rolling table had the remains of a tray, and it was easy for Jamison to see the broth and tea were, indeed, gone. Will moved toward the bed, when the gravelly voice from the couch drawled, “Mornin’ Doc. Was wonderin’ when you’d be coming in. Your kind seem to like to wake up sleepin’ men. Poor men in this room need their beauty sleep!”
Jamison swallowed a snort, “Go back to sleep, Tony! Lee needs his rest, and your going on isn’t going to help him.”
“He ate somethin’, Doc. Don’t be worrying about him so much, he’s gonna be okay. Briggs had a point. Crane has friends. Makes a difference.”
“So I’ve been told. Now, go back to sleep or I'll throw you out of here!”
Tony sat up, rubbed at his eyes, and then stood, tossing the pillow that had fallen on the floor back on the couch. “Nah. I’m gonna go and get some coffee. I hate hospitals - had my fill of'em years ago. Maybe I’ll wait to see him until he gets back to his place.”
He stretched, as Jamie checked the readings on all the various machines. “Not likely to be for a while. He’s eating and that’s good, but there's other issues to settle before Lee can go home.”
“Well, I’ll see what’s goin’ on and take it from there. Man, there needs to be a good poker game to get him back on track.”
“Works for me, a real good poker game,” muttered Chip. “Morning, Will.”
“Morning, Chip. How’d you sleep?”
“Stop beating around the bush, Will. Briggs was here, He just about tossed me out. On your orders, he said.” Jamison nodded, as Chip continued. “Well, I don’t know what he said to Lee, but when I came back, the tray looked like you see it. He ate something at least. And he was sleeping.”
“And with the two of you yammering, he’ll be waking up. Now, why don’t the both of you go get coffee and I’ll join you when I finish here.”
Tony nodded and left, Chip followed, tossing the blanket on the couch, and murmuring when he passed Jamison, “The Admiral'll be here at 0730. Hope you’re ready.”
Jamison nodded, “You bet I am.”
Chip shook his head, “Better you than me, Will. We’ll have your coffee waiting.”
Jamison turned to his patient, ready to give Lee his full attention. He found the amber-hazel eyes open and watching him. Jamison smiled, “Good morning, Lee. I hear you had a visitor this morning. And I see you had some of the tray.”
‘Hurt!’ he mouthed.
“I’m sure. How’s the stomach feeling?”
Lee moved his hand in a ‘this and that’ motion.
“But it stayed down, right? That’s a good thing. Maybe you’d like to try something a little more substantial, some eggs perhaps? Pudding or ice cream?”
Crane nodded, ‘no’, and turned from looking at Jamison. The doctor moved to the head of the bed. “Lee, you’re going to have to eat more than just the tea or the broth. And we both know that you will have to battle each thing. But the step you took this morning is nothing short of major. Don’t stop now. You can do this, you will do this, because you want to get back to the boat.”
Lee sighed, and mouthed, ‘Eggs’.
“Good, I’ll order some up when I leave here. I’m assigning John and Frank to be your corpsmen while you’re here. I know you’ll be more comfortable with them. In fact, Frank's on his way over here, and he'll be reporting for duty at 0700. He’ll come in and get you cleaned up and ready for what I believe is going to be a steady stream of visitors. Chip tells me the Admiral'll be here at 0730, so that'll give Frank some time with you.” He began to examine his patient, checking on the bandages, the IV, and then started a careful exam of Lee’s face.
When he was finished, he looked at Lee, a serious look on his face. “Now, if you eat what I send you, and you don’t give Frank a hard time, maybe we can get you out of this bed this afternoon. At least, to one of the chairs. I’ll have him draw some blood, run a few tests and we’ll have a better idea of how controlled the infection is. Now, let me look in your mouth, and then the poking and prodding will be over and done with.” Gently, Jamison opened Lee’s mouth, carefully examining, and then, as gently, eased it closed. “It looks like it's healing, Lee. And the more you eat, the better it will get. Now, next and last important question, can you talk at all?”
Lee mouthed, ‘Don’t know’, then tried to say something simple, “Hurts” but the sound that came out was nothing but a garbled grunt. Lee looked both upset and disheartened.
“Don’t go there, Lee. We have to take this one day at a time.” He picked up Lee’s right hand and slowly unwrapped the light bandages. He turned the hand palm up and examined the healing skin, where the blisters and cuts had been. Most of the tissue was light pink, and while here and there was a slightly darker patch, for the most part the hand had healed well. Jamison took Lee’s left hand, and did the same kind of exam. Lee was quietly watching the doctor as he checked out his patient’s hands. He laid the left hand down, and looked at Crane.
“Okay, when Frank comes, I’ll have him clean those few spots, but I think we can forgo any more bandages on your hands, which also means that, until your voice comes back, you can write down what you have to say.”
Lee shook his head ‘no’, and turned his face from Jamison.
Jamison looked at him, knowing what each small step forward would cost him. “Lee, you have to communicate with us. And if you can’t speak, then at least you can write it down.
‘Nothing to say. Tell them all to go away!. Don’t want them here!’
“I thought Michael Briggs made a difference, helped you understand.”
’Just go away!’ he mouthed.
Jamison stood firm and crossed his arms across his chest. “Captain Crane, you’ve got a Chinaman’s chance in hell if you think I’m going to fight this battle for you. You’re the one that's got to tell all your crew, as well as your friends, that you don’t want them here. I won’t do it. Now, it's up to you.”
He tried to turn on his side, and hit the IV line, crimped it and set off the warning on the machine. Jamison let it squeal while he called the nurses station, telling them not to come into the room to shut it off. Finally, he reached over and shut the alarm. Lee stared at him, and Jamison laughed.
“Your ‘Captain’s pissed off’ stare isn’t going to get anywhere with me, Lee. You see, I know what it means, and so do you. So now, to continue with what I was saying, I’m stopping the IV after this last bag. You can eat and drink, even if it's somewhat slowly, but you can. So if you manage to eat all your meals today and get enough fluid to satisfy me, the Hyper-Al line will come out tomorrow. You’ve still got a lot of healing to do. Your torso still has healing abrasions, and then there's your legs and feet, and of course, your mouth. But I want to give you time to get one thing at a time under your belt. With the IV out, you’ll be freer to move about. And yes, when the IV comes out, so will the catheter. Frank will be in, he’ll put the ointment and other meds in your mouth, and there will be more antibiotics, for the legs, and the sores. But, things are looking up.”
Lee touched his beard, ‘This?’ he mouthed.
“Not yet, another few days, I think. I know, you hate it, but I don’t want to compromise the skin beneath it. And besides, another few days can’t hurt you. It might even help your reputation as ‘Casanova Crane’ if you look the part.”
Lee smiled slightly, and shook his head, ‘no’. He really disliked the beard, and he didn’t think that anyone else would like it either. He sighed again, resigning himself to whatever Jamison had planned. He was home, at least after a fashion. He had somewhere that was warm and dry to sleep, he had some food to eat, and if he couldn’t talk, well, so be it. It didn’t matter…nothing mattered right now. All he wanted was to be allowed to sleep, and not have people talking at him and around him. Just because he couldn’t speak, didn’t mean that he didn’t have any thing to say about what was going on. What it meant was that he didn’t care. Didn’t care to talk or interact. Didn’t care. He’d do what Jamison wanted him to, so Jamison would leave him alone. So that he could get to his house, and to his room, and sleep, and stay warm. Even now, in this Hospital room, he was cold. Not the cold that comes from low temperature, but the cold that comes from the inside. From what he had gone through. He started to shiver, and Jamison saw it and immediately pulled up a blanket to cover him. When the shivers didn’t stop, Jamison pulled up another one. He called the nurses’ station for more blankets and told them to make sure they were warmed before they were brought in.
“Lee, I want you to try and relax. This is just a reaction, you’ve had so much going on in these last few hours, we’ll get you warm and then you and I will talk some more.” A nurse entered with several more warmed blankets, and they laid them atop him. Jamison stood at the bedside, watching and waiting for signs that the blankets were giving him the warmth he needed. After about ten minutes, the shivers stopped, and Lee felt warm again. Jamison saw the look in the amber-hazel eyes change, and saw Lee relax, as the warmth pervaded his body. Jamison touched the Captain’s shoulder, to reassure him.
“Why don’t you try and sleep a bit? I’m going to finish your chart, and leave orders for Frank. I’ll be back before your visitors start to arrive.”
Lee nodded sleepily, the warmth he felt encouraging him to give over to the call of Hypno, drawing him to the soft, gentle warmth of the other side, the gentle touch of sleep.
Jamison nodded, relieved that this incident had passed as quickly as it did. It was just another incident that they would have to watch for, to be aware of. Obviously, there was a reason that Lee suddenly felt so cold, that he couldn’t get warm. Will Jamison knew it had to do with the lack of clothing, during his imprisonment, on a subconscious level. Will knew that the mind was often stronger than the body. He knew about the trauma Lee went through, and also knew that he needed to talk to someone about it. He hoped that even though Briggs had spoken to Lee, that he would also recommend someone to talk to Crane. He checked a few more things on the chart, and then left the room. When he walked out, he walked into Frank Lerner, his chief corpsman.
“Ah, Frank, I was just going to give you a call. Our patient has had quite a night. There are a few things that I have to go over with you. Right now, he’s sleeping, which is something he needs to do, without anyone keeping him company.”
“Doc, that’s not gonna happen and you know it. Between the Exec and the OOM, he won’t be alone, and then of course, there’s his ‘keepers’ and the bulldog, not to mention the rest of the crew.”
“Well, in addition to seeing to the Captain’s medical needs, we have to keep the company to a minimum. He’s just not ready to handle a steady stream of visitors. He may not be for a time. What he’s been through is an isolating experience, just to begin with.”
“Doc, I don’t want to pry into the Skipper’s business, but if I’m gonna be taking care of him, shouldn’t I know what went on. All I saw were the results of the treatment. I don’t know what happened. And John and I ought to know. You know we won’t share it with anyone, but if we’re to help the Skipper, we should know.”
“You’re right, of course, Frank. Okay, come and join me in the cafeteria with Mr. Morton and Tony Renault. We’ll talk there.”
He passed the nurses’ station, dropped off the chart, and headed to the cafeteria with Lerner in tow.
An hour later, Frank walked quietly into the Captain’s room. Waiting outside with Dr. Jamison was Admiral Nelson and Mr. Morton. Tony Renault had headed to his labs, to do some ‘tinkerin’ with a current project, promising that he would be back. What Jamison had found out, was that for most of the Seaview’s recent seven-day cruise, Tony had taken on the job of keeping watch with the Captain of the Boat. With Nelson and Morton, as well as the crew on the mission, Tony had taken it on himself to be the one who sat with Crane. Along with Angie Pearce, they had been there 24/7 in case Crane had woken up.
Frank was surprised in one way at Renault. He didn’t think the man was that kind of person, but most people couldn’t figure out how he came to be such good friends with Nelson to begin with. He just didn’t fit the image that they all had of Nelson’s ‘friends’, with the exception of the Skipper and Exec of course. Along with Edith Nelson, the Admiral’s sister, the company he kept was either Navy brass or the high society of Santa Barbara, which was nothing to sneeze at. And considering that Tony Renault was a civilian, he just didn’t seem to fit into the second catagory.
Frank shrugged. It wasn’t for him to judge, and at least the Skipper hadn’t been alone, when they were at sea. Doc Jamison had stayed behind in order to see to the Captain’s care, but he was the only one from the boat to be with the Skipper.
Frank referenced the chart, and moved to the Captain’s bed. Captain Lee Crane, of the SSRN Seaview, was sleeping, as he often did in SickBay, with on arm under his head, and curled into a curve, looking in a way, like a small child. He had pushed most of the blankets off, indicating his chill had passed. Frank did a quick visual exam, and then checked his watch. He had fifteen minutes to get the Skipper cleaned up, before the Admiral would want to come into the room. He gently shook Crane, rousing him to the point where he knew where he was, and who was there with him. With gentle efficiency, Frank changed bandages, bathed, changed, and generally made the Captain more comfortable. He checked meds, gave the Captain what he needed, and then, patiently and gently, applied the gel and topical antibiotics to the Captain’s mouth, and as far down his throat as he could without causing too much discomfort. He combed Lee’s hair, and washed his face and beard, and finally had him ready for Nelson’s visit. During it all, Lee hadn’t complained, hadn’t said a word to the Corpsman, either of complaint or acquiescence, he had just watched and did as the corpsman asked.
For the most part, thanks to Jamison, there was little pain. What there was, was more discomfort, except for his mouth and throat. Frank was gentle and efficient, saying little, and not trying to engage him in any conversation. Lee appreciated that. He knew that soon the parade of visitors would begin, and as horrible as it had been on the Island, the absolute aloneness of it all, he dreaded the visitors. He understood and appreciated the care and concern of his friends, the men and the people who worked at NIMR. But he was having a hard enough time getting adjusted to the fact that he was back here at the Institute, much less having to smile and nod at anyone who would come in. He didn’t want to be rude, but he didn’t want to be cordial either.
Jamison came into the room, and Lee thought he looked more worn than ever. He regretted giving Jamie such a hard time, all the time. He was a good man, and a better doctor. Jamison slid a pen and pad of paper on the side of the bed, under Lee’s right hand.
“In case you change your mind, and feel you have something to say… Sometime around 1400, I've got a specialist coming in to look at your throat. To see what he has to say. And Briggs just called, he gave me the name of someone I want you to talk to.”
Lee’s face clouded over, and he tried to stare Jamison down.
The doctor simply smiled
slightly and shook his head. “Won’t work, Lee. You will see
and talk to Dr. Rosenberg. He’s the one who worked with Briggs when he was rescued
from that island. He told me what you talked about. You couldn’t have a higher
Lee grasped at the pen and wrote furiously for a minute, then turned the pad to Jamison.
“I'm sorry, my friend. Captain of the Boat or not, you will see Rosenberg. In here, I'm in command, not you Not the Admiral, not Morton. Me. Now, being broody and obstinate will get you nowhere fast.” He wrote a few quick notes on the chart Frank handed him. “It looks like your wrists and ankles are healing as well as your hands did. There may be some slight scarring, but over time, I think it'll disappear. The Admiral is anxious to see you, and so is Chip. Tony said he’d be by later today. Told me to tell you that he hates hospitals, and only the fact that you're a damn good poker player will get him to come and visit.”
Lee smiled, thinking of the several all-nighters they had pulled playing poker at Chip’s. Renault was a damn good poker player himself, although the Exec usually won most of the pots. Just the memory of the games made him smile and feel better. Jamison knew. Sometimes the mundane was better medicine than all the fancy stuff in the world.
Jamison patted Lee on the shoulder. “Okay, the cafeteria's going to send up some breakfast in about an hour. I’ll get everyone out of here then, and you can eat in private.”
‘Thanks’ he mouthed.
Jamison just nodded, then looked at Frank, “You can tell the Admiral that we’re finished here, and he can come in. I’ll be back in a bit, you just stay here in case the Captain needs something."
Frank nodded, and went to the door, only to have it fly open when he stepped away, and had Harriman Nelson stride into the room, followed by a smiling Chip Morton.
Nelson moved right to the bed, nodding at Jamison, but looking long and hard at Lee. In the light of the early morning, Nelson wanted a good look at his friend. Lee still looked gaunt, but hopefully that would soon change. He noted that his hands were free of bandages. He was still having a hard time accustoming himself to Lee’s beard. In the years that he had known the younger man, he had seen him with an occasional growth before or after an ONI mission, but never with the growth of a month. He had to agree with the comments that he had heard Angie make, in that he looked like a pirate. Something that Lee wouldn’t like, but well, what you saw is what you saw.
“Good morning, Lee.”
Crane mouthed ‘Morning, sir.’
Nelson laid a hand on his arm. “Jamie tells us that things are looking up for you. That you were able to get something down this morning. That’s good news, son.” He squeezed Crane’s arm a little tighter. “I’m glad that you’re better, Lee. This whole thing...I feel like it’s all my fault, what happened to you. That I couldn’t stop it, that I didn’t see it coming… I’m very …”
Crane reached over with his other hand, and gripped Nelson’s. ‘Not your fault! No one’s, except maybe the ones who got us involved in the first place’ he scribbled furiously.
While Nelson read that, Lee wrote him another note, which, when he read it, Nelson laughed, long and hard, after handing it to Jamison.
“The status of the boat is that she’s fine, Lee. She’s fine and waiting for her Captain to return. It’s been too long… She misses you.”
Lee nodded, and wrote, ‘I miss her, too!’
Nelson gripped Crane’s arm, “You keep on making progress, and you’ll be aboard her sooner than you think.”
He smiled at Nelson, and wrote another note. ‘Maybe you can tell Jamie to let me back on her on restricted duty!.’
Nelson passed the note to Jamison, who added, “Yeah, right! In a pig’s eye I will!” He handed the note back to Nelson, and looked at Crane, “You’ve got a lot more healing to do, Captain, before you get back to your boat. And don’t be pushing your luck. I can keep you here as long as I want. I told you. In here, I'm the one in command, not you.”
‘Whatever you say, Doc.’
Nelson pulled a chair next to the bed, “I thought I’d spend some time talking to you about this last mission, Lee. Bring you up to date on the work we did. And maybe, as you feel better, you can help me with the analysis, as you also catch up on your own paperwork.”
‘No rest for the weary, sir?’
Nelson laughed again. “Not at all, Lee. Once Jamie says it’s okay, I’ll have Jenny bring some of your paperwork over, so you can start to catch up.”
Jamison nodded but cautiously added, “In a few days, Harry. Right now, all I want him to do is to rest. Nothing else.”
“Very well, Will. I’ll just spend some time with Lee, and then I’ll get over to the office.”
Nelson pulled the chair closer to the bedside, and began to talk to Crane as Jamison left the room.
That day proved to be a long one for Seaview’s Captain. He managed to get down some of the eggs that Jamison had ordered, but the rest of the food from the day didn’t get eaten. Each time he tried, memories of what had been poured down his throat were triggered by the textures and taste of the foods Jamison tried to introduce. He had two incidents of violent vomiting, which left him completely disheartened and feeling defeated. Only after he managed to keep some of the beef broth and tea down in the evening did he feel he had won a small battle. With Frank’s help, he’d gotten out of the bed, and sat, for a short while, in one of the chairs. Not that he walked, but rather, Frank eased him from the bed to the chair, without him having to stand at all. Jamison didn’t want him to try that yet, for there were a few still healing incisions on the soles of his feet, and a few more on his legs. And while he felt that sitting in the chair was good, he didn’t want to push Lee too much at once.
He’d had a steady stream of visitors, from an ebullient Sharkey to a more serious, but just as happy Patterson, along with most of the men from the boat, interspersed with Institute staff as well.
The throat specialist, Doctor Hutchinson, had examined Lee’s throat and mouth, and while he agreed with Jamison that Lee’s condition was serious, he offered a positive outlook to Crane and Jamison. He told them that while there had been injury to the throat and vocal chords, that given continued treatment and care, that Lee’s voice should return. It could take a month or more, but it should, in time, be restored. Both men were relieved with the prognosis, and it put Lee in a much better frame of mind in that evening.
In the early evening, Chip Morton had returned in the company of Tony Renault and Harriman Nelson. They brought along a deck of cards, hoping to entice Crane to play some poker with them. Unfortunately, by then, Crane was quite tired and unable to completely concentrate on cards. Instead, he asked his friends to leave early, and when John Warner came in to relieve Frank, he settled the Captain of the Seaview in for the night, and took the watch on the couch, just in case he was needed.
And needed he was. During the night, Lee had a horrifying nightmare, that he was a prisoner again on the Island, but there was another prisoner there with him. Nelson. He was dreaming that he had to watch the Admiral be subjected to each of the horrors he had been. And that he couldn’t stop them from hurting his mentor, he couldn’t do a thing, but watch it happen. He woke in a cold sweat, sitting bolt upright in the bed, unable to make a sound other than a garbled grunt, but it was enough to wake John, and bring him to Crane’s bedside.
As soon as he realized that it had been a nightmare, Lee laid back, taking a few deep breaths and then, as John came to the bed, wrote, ‘Nightmare!’ on the pad on the bed.
John nodded, then spoke, “Okay, Skipper. I’m gonna get you more comfortable, and then let Doc know. He may want to give you something to help you sleep.” John changed Lee’s pajamas, gave him something to drink and settled him back into the bed. He then called Jamison on the phone, and within twenty minutes, sleeping pills arrived, which Lee dutifully took, and tried to settle himself back down to sleep.
Half an hour later, Will Jamison was in the room, talking quietly with John Warner, as the Captain slept. He had ordered up a dosage of Valium for Lee, knowing that he would need a strong tranquilizer to allow him to sleep for longer than a few hours.
The drug was obviously working, since he and John were able to discuss what had occurred without Lee being disturbed in the least. Once he and John had gone over what had happened, Jamison left and went to the desk at the nurse’s station, reserved for Doctors to make notes, update charts, and make phone calls. Despite the hour, he put in another phone call to Dr. Rosenberg, and to his greater surprise, Rosenberg answered the phone.
“Will Jamison, Dr. Rosenberg. I’m calling from the Nelson Institute of Marine Research. I have a patient who has been recommended to you by Michael Briggs.”
There was a pause on the other end of the phone. “Briggs? God, I haven’t heard from him in, I guess...almost 20 years. He recommended me? Hmmmmm, well, then, I’d say that your patient has been a victim of some rather severe torture. All right, Doctor Jamison, tell me about him and what happened to him.”
Will began to talk to the other doctor, and to tell the story of what had happened to Lee Crane…
Close to two hours later, Will re-entered Lee’s room. He looked at the Captain, and seeing him in his favorite sleeping position, looked over to the couch. John was reading a book, a Book-Lite© perched atop the book, so as not to disturb the occupant of the bed. Looking up at the door, as it opened, he caught Will’s indication to come outside with him.
John put down the book, and followed the medic out of the room.
“Captain Crane's going to have a visitor tomorrow around 0830. I’ve got a doctor on his way to help him with some of what he went through. Came recommended by someone who knows what the situation is with him. So, if Lee sleeps through the rest of the night, wake him at 0700, and help him get settled for the day. I know that Frank's coming on duty at 0730, so the two of you ought to be able to get him ready. There’ll be a tray arriving with his breakfast, what there is of it. See if he can get anything new down. I’ll want to tell this doctor what's going on. I wanted to take the Hyper-Al tube out, but not until he’s eating more on his own. At least I know with that, he’s getting some of the nutrition he needs.”
“Well, we all know he’s not happy with that tube. But he’s, well, he seems different, doc. You know what I mean… he’s not fighting with any of us. He’s not trying to get out of here. Its’ like he’s back, but he’s not the same Skipper.”
“Did you really expect him to be the same, John? He’s been through more than most men could stand and live to talk about. Unfortunately, that’s what he’s so good at…not talking, and while he has a physical reason not to, I have to try to remedy the fact that he won’t talk. Hopefully, Dr. Rosenberg will be able to help.” He looked at the corpsman, “If you need anything for the Captain, page me or have one of the nurses come get me. I’m going to be in the Doctor’s lounge sleeping area. I don’t have the energy to go back to my place.”
“Doc, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to drag you over here.”
Jamison smiled, a tired smile, “Not a problem, John. It’s always easier to care for Captain Crane when he's on the boat. You know, all too well, how he is.”
“I sure do, Doc.” He grinned at the Doctor. “I know real well.” He paused, “That’s what’s got me worried about the Skipper. Like I said, he’s not fighting to get out. It’s not like him at all…”
“Well, John, all we can do is hope that Dr. Rosenberg can help him. We’ll see soon.”
John nodded, and turned to go back into the room. Opening the door quietly, he slid in, and moved quietly to the couch. He picked up his book, and began reading again, hoping that Captain Crane would sleep for the rest of the night…
As the sun started streaming through the blinds of the room, Lee began to wake up. He knew he’d had a nightmare, and a very graphic one at that. The Admiral was going through all that he’d just gone through, and he was being forced to observe it all. He couldn’t stop it; he couldn’t cry out to make it stop, he just had to watch. He knew he’d woken up, and tried to cry out, and couldn’t. He knew that John Warner had been at his side in a shot, and in a few moments, he had calmed down, and John had helped him settle back down. He’d given him some pills from Jamie, and Lee had gladly taken them, hoping to escape to a sleep deep enough not to dream. He didn’t dream, and he did sleep. He felt, well, he felt better than yesterday. His mouth and throat still hurt, but, well, he was home, and he was better, he hoped.
His legs were sore, but not as sore as yesterday, and he flexed his feet, and they felt better. Perhaps today Jamie would let him walk to the head, and get out of bed for a longer time. His chest and shoulders felt better, and he knew, from watching Frank and John work on his ankles and wrists that they were better too. His legs were less swollen then yesterday. He wondered how the infection was, and he guessed that Jamie would tell him about that, too.
He needed to get out, to be…free… not to have to answer to anyone. He needed time, in his home, to get to the beach, to get away and do whatever he wanted to do, whenever he wanted to. He needed to be free…yet… he didn’t want to be stuck here for an undetermined time. He also didn’t want to leave, only to have to come back for one thing or another. He wouldn’t fight Jamie this time. He wanted out, but he also wanted to do it right.
He sighed, and John was at his side in seconds. “Morning, Skipper. Looks like it's gonna be a good day. Maybe we can see if Doc’ll let us take you outside on the deck today. I know that when they designed this building, the deck was put there for the patients to use. Maybe Doc’ll let you out for a while.”
’I hope so, John!’ Lee wrote on the pad. ‘Would be nice, you know’
John grinned, “Well, Captain, between Frank and me, I’ll bet we can do it.”
‘Thanks!’ Lee wrote.
John pushed the bed control to make it rise, and bring Lee to a sitting position. “Let me look at your back, Skipper, and I’ll clean it up and put some fresh dressings on it. Then we’ll take a look at the other things.” John worked, quickly and with care, and soon he was finished with bandages, and topical meds, and had the Captain sitting in the bed, with his white pajamas and blue robe on. Looking like Lee Crane, yet unlike him, with the longish hair and beard. ”There, Skipper. Maybe tomorrow, we can trim the beard, and get you a hair cut. Doc said he didn’t want to take any chances with doing more damage, you know.” Lee nodded, already weary, and the day had barely begun. He wanted to rest but it seemed that that was not to be.
Frank Lerner came into the room, “Morning, Cap’n. Nice day. Doc’ll be in in ten. He’s waiting for another doctor to arrive. Somebody he wants to talk to you. Doc says it’ll be good for you to hear what he has to say.”
He inclined his head, “John, you’re off duty. Doc says to report back at 1900. And he said to make sure you get some sleep!”
Warner nodded at the other Corpsman, and said to Crane, “Have a good day, sir. I’ll see you later. And I’ll leave a note for Doc to have Frank here take you outside today.”
Lee smiled at him, and Frank shook a hand, promising to help the Captain get some air. He then went over the chart, checked the Captain’s vitals, and drew blood for the tests of the infections. By that time, the breakfast tray had arrived, and Frank saw Lee tense up.
As he pushed the tray toward the bed, Frank said, “Skipper, I’ll leave you be for a bit. I want to go over some things on your chart, and Doc Jamison is in the Doctor’s lounge. Why don’t you have some of your breakfast, and when I come back, we’ll see what Doc wants you to do today. I know that the Admiral, Mr. Morton, and the Chief are planning on coming in today, so I think that you’re going to be busy.”
Crane wrote ‘Thanks’ on the notepad and watched as Frank left.
Lee stared at the tray, knowing that another personal battle was about to ensue. Taking a deep breath, he slowly took the cup of coffee in his hand. Once again, he struggled to bring it to his lips, and forced himself to sip and then swallow the dark, rich liquid. The flavor and warmth once again threatened to overwhelm his senses, to send him in a dizzying spiral back to the Island, and the horror of his imprisonment. But, he willed himself to stop that ‘trip’, forced himself to take another sip, and slowly, he finished the coffee. He found himself mentally exhausted, as pleased with himself as he was. He knew that there was an even greater challenge on the tray.
He looked at the eggs. He knew, if he wanted to get on with his life, to get it back on track, to live again, he had to eat the eggs. So, he forced himself to take a forkful, forced himself to put it in his mouth, forced himself to swallow. He laid his head back against the pillow, allowing the food to go to his stomach, willing it to remain, and not come back up. When he didn’t feel a wave of nausea, he took another forkful, and once again, went through the same, painstakingly slow procedure. He believed that by the time he had taken in his fill, it would be noontime, and time to have something to eat again.
‘No, I have to be faster than that. I can’t spend all day trying to eat a small bit of food. I have to make myself eat it, or at least most of it. Then Jamie can yell all he wants… At least I'll have done with it for a while.’
With that personal decision, Lee began to eat the eggs, and drink the juice on the tray. He did it slowly, but with an intent and purpose that he hadn’t had before. Just as he was finishing what he considered an ordeal, Frank entered the room with Jamison. Looking at the tray,
Jamison smiled slightly, “How'd it go?”
Lee gave him a ‘thumbs up’ and a slight smile as he pushed the tray away. Jamison looked more carefully at it, and then asked, “Enough for now, but you’ll have to do better than that for me to take the Hyper-Al line out…I know that it still hurts a great deal, but as it gets better, you’re going to have to eat more.”
Lee scowled at him, but Jamison didn’t waver. Finally, he wrote, ‘I know’. Jamison grinned at him, and then sat in the chair next to the bed, as Frank eased onto the couch.
“Now, for something else. You’re going to have a visitor, a Dr. Rosenberg, who was recommended by Michael Briggs. He’s a specialist in working with people who've been through what you’ve been through. He’s coming here in about a half hour or so. The Admiral's already sent Sharkey for him. He’s works out of San Francisco. Briggs said he’s the best at what he does. And I guess he would know, since some of his people had been in that place.”
Lee shook his head to the negative, and began to write furiously. When he was done, he handed the pad to Jamison. The look on Jamison’s face told Lee that Briggs hadn’t told the Doctor the whole story.
“Hmmm, no wonder he knew so much about things when you were brought aboard the Flying Sub. I thought he just had had several operatives there, not that he was ever there himself. I guess I just never connected it all. Then, again, Lee. Look at Briggs, what he is, where he is… He survived it. He got through it. And apparently with Rosenberg’s help. So it looks like we’ve got the best man that we could to help.”
Lee wrote on the pad again, ‘I don’t need him. Talked to Briggs.’
Patiently, seeing the glimmer of the stubborn Captain beginning to surface, Jamison smiled slightly and continued, “That may be so, but Briggs doesn’t have a license, and he may have talked to you about some things, shared some similar experiences, but Dr. Rosenberg is the best at what he does. In other words, Briggs went to Dr. Rosenberg for help when he went through it and that's why he's coming here now...to help you through it as well. And you will talk to him, Captain, or you will not get certified to get back on the boat.” He sat back in the chair, “It’s as simple as that.”
Lee tried, very hard, to intimidate the doctor with his best ‘command’ look, but all that did was make Jamison smile more broadly, “Sorry, Skipper, but the look just doesn’t work with that beard. Somehow, I just can’t take you too seriously when you're looking like a pirate!” He stood, and leaned over the bedrail, “Don’t worry, Lee. I’ve a feeling that Dr. Rosenberg will be a big help.” He laid a hand on Crane’s arm. “Down deep, you know that I’m right. I’ll be back after I talk to Dr. Rosenberg.”
He went to the door, opened it, and a short, lean man entered. He extended his hand to Jamison, “Aaron Rosenberg, and you’re Dr. Jamison, I would presume.” He looked at Jamison over half-glasses that didn’t in any way hide the sharp perception of the grey green eyes behind them. Rosenberg had tight, curly, steel grey hair, and a long face, that didn’t seem the type to deal with the matters he dealt with. He marched to the bedside, and offered a hand to Crane.
“Humph! And you’re Captain Crane. Well, I’m Dr. Rosenberg. And from what I’ve learned about you, you don’t seem to think you need me here and you don’t want to talk to me.”
Frank left the room, leaving Lee alone with the Psychologist. As he was closing the door, he saw Crane hold up his pad. The word 'CAN'T' was the only thing printed boldly on it.
Two hours later, the door to Crane’s room opened and Dr. Rosenberg came out. Will Jamison had been waiting at the Nurses’ station, and as Rosenberg walked down the hall, Jamison approached him.
“Can I buy you some coffee, Doctor, and talk about our patient?”
The other man took in a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “That would be a good idea. It seems we have a great deal to talk about, Doctor.”
“I’m sure that we do. This way, please.” Will led the way to the Lounge, and went to the ever present coffee pot and poured coffee. He turned to Rosenberg, who answered without a question being asked, “Black, please. It seems to be the norm.”
Jamison almost lost the cups of coffee, he laughed so hard.
Rosenberg, if you only knew just what you were saying. I think that coffee runs
in the genes or something, with the Officers and non-coms I know, not to mention
the crew and staff. Sometimes, I think they inhale it." He motioned
the man to a chair at one of the tables.
Taking a sip of his coffee, he peered over his glasses at Jamison. ”Well, I do have to say that you have a very unique organization here. Non-military, but run by ex-military in a military manner. All the parameters of a military organization, but only under Military Law when you are activated. Most of your work is related to the government in some way, and your organization is loosely under the FBME. And your Admiral and Captain, both get called away periodically to do work for ONI and 'other' intelligence work as needed. Have I gotten that correct?”
“Pretty much.” Jamie nodded and sat back in his chair, slowly drinking his coffee.
“There also seems to be a unique connection with the Senior Staff here. These three men are very close friends, and there is both a strength and weakness in that. Yet all three would give their own life for the others, the men, and their country.”
“Well, after I talked with you and made the arrangements to come here, I spoke with Michael Briggs. He faxed me some material on you all, and it has made for some very interesting reading, to say the least.” He paused, took another sip of the coffee, then continued. “Now, as to your Captain. He is a very, very … challenging man.”
Jamison smiled broadly, “That’s what I’ve said about Lee since he came aboard. Having him in my SickBay or here in the Med Center, is always a challenge. Lee usually is ready to leave as soon as he wakes up, even if he’s not physically able to.”
Rosenberg was making notes as the two men talked. “He gets injured a lot?”
“That’s putting it nicely. Lee will take the risks, put himself in the ‘line of fire’ so to speak, do whatever he believes is necessary to protect Nelson, the men, the boat; to do what he believes is ‘the right thing’. He's a man who believes in ‘duty, honor, country’ at the risk of his own well being.”
“Yes, I did get that impression from what Briggs sent me, and from what I got from your Captain.” He patted a pile of yellow pages, with Crane’s scrawl across it. “He is a very strong man, emotionally, but this event, or incident as the PTB are calling it, came very close to breaking him. You said he went ‘away’, was totally non-responsive until two days ago. Then he ‘came back’.” He paused and took a swallow of his cooling coffee. “Apparently, he is having some difficulties with that. His throat was damaged during his captivity, so he can’t talk. And he is having trouble eating because of a device that they used on his face and in his mouth. I saw the marks...the scabs on his face under the beard. I assume he hasn’t been able to shave because of the healing.”
“That’s right. I wanted to throw the damned thing out, as soon as I took it off, but it's in the labs. What you need to know, what I’m sure that Lee hasn’t and won’t tell you is that he's a very, I guess the best word is, private, person. This whole experience, from what Briggs told me about it, is at the simplest, degrading and humiliating, and we don’t even know the half of it. Only Lee does, and it's going to be a ‘challenge’,” he smiled, “to get him to tell you about it.”
“Actually, Mr. Briggs gave me something of an idea of what your Captain went through. As you know, I worked with him after his own ‘experience’. He told me to look at my notes on his case, and multiply it by something like one thousand in terms of the severity of the imprisonment. Again, Crane must be an extremely strong man, to make it through fifteen days of that kind of abuse. As Briggs reminded me, most men don’t make it through seven.”
“All that I can say there, is that he's a stubborn SOB, and that's gotten him through more situations than I can even begin to tell you about. I can also tell you that he internalizes a great deal, something he learned when he was very young. And I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but that’s Lee Crane. He forced himself to eat the breakfast I had sent in. Against all that was going on inside of him.”
“Yes, well, I saw that as well. It seems to me that I should make some arrangements to stay here for a few weeks, as much as your Captain is not going to like it. Is there a nearby hotel that I can stay at?”
Jamison stood and went to the phone, “I think I can do better than that, if you don’t mind staying here on the Institute grounds.”
Rosenberg looked warily. “Here?”
“Yes. We've got some bungalows that are on the cliffs that overlook the ocean. We keep them for guests. I’ll have one opened up, and get Chief Sharkey to get you over there and get you settled. You can stay as long as you need.”
“That’s really good of you, I do have a bag that I believe your Chief has it in his keeping. Well, if I’m going to be staying here, let’s get a schedule set up for me to see Captain Crane. I was thinking one session a day, but if I’m that close, then perhaps two a day would be better. I do believe that basically he will be fine, but that there are a few hurdles he needs to get over.”
Jamison nodded, and began to speak into the phone.
The next two weeks were busy ones for Lee Crane. There were the daily sessions with Rosenberg, some therapy with the throat specialist for his throat and voice, a few days with the therapy for his feet and legs. His fever finally went down and stayed down, and Jamison discontinued the antibiotic therapy. After a week of Crane eating all the meals that were sent to the room, Jamison also removed the Hyper-Alimentation line, and set a strict diet for the Captain to follow…
Jamison was finishing the paperwork to finally release Lee from the MedBay. The Seaview’s Captain was chomping at the bit to get to his home, to get back into familiar, comfortable surroundings, Jamison didn’t want to keep him in the MedBay any longer and Dr. Rosenberg had okayed his return to his own home. Rosenberg was staying another week, to continue to see Lee at home, before giving him the final okay to return to the boat. The two doctors had agreed that if the Psychologist released Lee, he could return to the boat, initially on light duty. In the meantime, once he was home, he was to rest and take it easy until he returned to the boat.
Lee, of course, had other plans. He had been in contact with his secretary, Jenny, and had arranged for her to bring files and records to his house, after Jamison and his escort home had left. His voice was slowly returning, the sores on his vocal chords finally almost healed, as were most of the sores in his mouth. He had been able to shave just a week earlier, the red welts from the wounds on his face glaring at him each time he looked in the mirror. They would fade, the plastic surgeon had assured him and Jamison of that. But for now, he simply avoided looking at himself, except when he had to shave. He thought he looked like something out of Frankenstein’s laboratory.
Kowalski had brought him his work khaki uniform to wear home. As he put it on, he became aware of some discomfort in his back and chest where the skin was still healing, as it rubbed against his shirt. As he laced his shoes, he found that the pressure on the soles was also somewhat uncomfortable. But he was finally dressed and ready to leave. He refused the wheelchair, telling Jamison he’s been far too dependent on others, and he had to take the responsibility to get around on his own again. He stood at the window, waiting for his friends to arrive.
For a moment, he was lost in the nightmare, hearing the voices saying that he was dead to his friends, to anyone who knew him. That as far as they all knew, he had vanished without a trace, and no one would be coming after him. He had, after hearing that, after going through what he was going through, thought he would never see his friends again, his boat again, anything familiar and friendly ever again. But somehow, someway, he had been found, rescued, and here he stood, in a room of the MedBay, looking out at the Pacific, seeing his ‘lady’ in the distance, and waiting for his friends.
He shook his head, as the emotions suddenly bubbled up and came to the fore. He brushed at a wet eye, trying to prevent an emotional incident that would prevent his going home. He rubbed his fingers across his forehead, straightened his shoulders, and pushed the melancholy from his mind. He was home. That was all that mattered.
Voices at the door broke his reverie, as Harriman Nelson bustled into the room, flanked by Chip and Sharkey, followed by Jamison and several of the crew.
Nelson was at his side in seconds, “Lee!!! It’s damn good to see you back in uniform! But not a habit yet, I understand. Home and relax for a week. Doctor’s orders.”
Lee looked at the older man, still surprised at the concern he so visibly saw in his eyes. “Yes, sir, but we’ll see if it’s a week or less. Jenny's going to be at the house later, so I can catch up on paperwork. There’s a lot to be done, and I need to catch up.”
Crane’s tone was soft, and his voice hoarse, but the very fact he was speaking at all was a minor miracle to Nelson. The larger one was that he was actually standing next to him. Nelson had, in truth, called Michael Briggs because he really had believed that Lee was gone, for good, with no trace. Under any other circumstances, he would never have called the man. But this was Lee Crane, and he, along with others, needed to know where the Captain was, and how he’d gotten there.
“You and I will discuss that later, Captain. In the meantime, you have a rather large escort. Your XO here,” he grinned, gesturing at Chip, “and the Chief of the Boat elected to be the ones to drive you. And Kowalski, Rodriquez, and Riley decided to aide and abet them.” He grinned again, and caught Lee smiling back at him.
“It’s nice to be needed, sir. Very nice indeed.”
Nelson knew the truth behind those spoken words, and he saw, in Crane’s eyes, all the gratitude that he was here, about to be released from the hospital, and able to go home.
“Connors cooked up a little surprise for you at your house. Seems that there were so many people coming to your office after we got you back, with food and gifts and all sorts of things, that she took a lot of the food to local food banks, and anything she thought you wouldn’t need went to several local charities. She’s made a list, and Jenny, Angie and she have been using their free time to write out thank you’s . All you have to do is to sign them. She’s arranged a small gathering for everyone, day after tomorrow. And she’s divided up what foods she kept, and has, in your refrigerator, a week's worth of three meals a day, as per your doctor’s orders.”
Lee just looked at his CO, surprised, and immediately went on the defensive. “I can take care of myself, Admiral.”
“Well, with Jamie here going to weigh you in every day until he discharges you from his care, she figured this would be one way to make sure you actually do follow Doctor’s orders.” He chuckled, “It seems that the rumor mill has it that you don’t like to follow Doctor's orders. I wonder where that came from?” He pushed a wheelchair towards Crane. “Get in, I’m driving.”
Jamison followed it with, “And there’s no way, no how, that you aren’t leaving here without being ‘driven’. So park yourself in that chair, Captain, or you don't leave."
Lee clamped his mouth shut in a thin line, and reluctantly got into the wheelchair. Nelson bent forward, “And Connors knows that you can take care of yourself. It’s about time you let someone try and take care of you, lad.”
“Admiral, I am quite capable of taking care of myself.”
Jamison and Nelson shared a look, “Lee, with that voice, with you not being quite up to speed yet, be appreciative of what you have.”
He was about to reply, but bit the retort off before it came out. Instead, softly, he replied, “I am grateful, sir. Believe me. To be…where I was… how I was… and now, to be here… home…… well, believe me…But, sir, I really don’t need anyone to make a fuss, I’m.. I’m okay.” He coughed, the length of time speaking, though brief, irritated his throat. Jamison handed him a lozenge, wrapped in paper, with few words.
“Here, use this. They’re a prescription lozenge. They’ll help with the throat. And try not to talk too much. Use the pad. And don’t complain!”
Instead, Crane scowled at him, looking somewhat angry at the cosseting. Or at least making as if he didn’t like it. Even if Will was right, and even if, and he would never tell a soul, he didn’t mind all the fuss and feathers. It was…reassuring, after what he’d been through.
He waved a hand above his head, indicating he got the doctor’s message, and he settled back into the wheelchair, letting Nelson push it, listening to the soft chatter of Sharkey, Chip and Jamison. He was going home, to his home, and soon, he would be back with his ‘Lady’. He had his friends, he had his life, and was back where he belonged.
EPILOGUE – a week later, the Seaview’s dock
It was a bright and sunny California morning, full of the expectation of a perfect day for anything that had to do with the water. At the Seaview’s water level dock, the crew milled around the deck of the boat, basically looking for something to do. None of them wanted to go below deck. There was too much of a good reason to be above the waterline.
Morton and Nelson were on the Flying Bridge, Sharkey at the access door to the sail. The rest of the officers and men were scattered about, but to a man, were within fifteen feet of the gangway leading to the deck of the boat. All the eyes were focused, albeit surreptitiously, on the parking lot, above the dock, where the Senior Staff parked, before boarding the boat, prior to a cruise.
The phone on the Flying Bridge rang, and Morton picked it up. “Yes… yes… Thanks, Jamie. See you here in a few.” Chip turned to Nelson, grinning, “He’s on his way. Jamie just signed the final papers. It’ll be good to have him back.” Chip rubbed the edge of the coaming, “He’s almost here, Lady.”
Nelson grinned widely, “Surely you haven’t taken to talking to the boat, too. One of you doing it is enough!”
Chip returned the grin, “Lee told me to talk to her until he got back. Told me to tell her he didn’t desert her. He’s feeling real guilty about being away from her so long. So I do what my Captain tells me to do… I obey orders.” He slid his hand over the coaming again, “Besides, sir. She’s the only woman that listens to me and doesn’t talk back!”
Nelson laughed hard, clapping Chip on the back, “Your love life can’t be all that bad, Commander!”
He grinned at the older man wolfishly, replying, “And she also doesn’t kiss and tell!”
At that moment, Kowalski shouted from the deck, “Mr. Morton, the Skipper!” and pointed to the red Cobra pulling into the Captain’s parking place. Quickly, the men formed a cordon on the deck, from the gangway to the hatch. Nelson and Chip moved down the gangway on the side of the sail, to the deck, next to the hatch. At the head of the gangway, the bos’un stood.
As Lee approached the boat, reveling in her sleek lines and graceful ride on the water, he took notice of the men on the deck. At the head of the gangway, the OD saluted him.
“Welcome back aboard, sir!”
Lee grinned widely at the junior, returning the salute, “Permission to come aboard, Mr. Keaton?”
“Permission granted, Captain. Welcome home!” Then, to the bos’un's mate, “Pipe the Skipper aboard!”
The bos’un nodded and blew the whistle announcing to all that the Skipper was boarding.
Lee walked down the gangway, aware of the wave of blue and red with khaki mixed in, that was waiting on deck. He looked up and saluted the colors flying from the sail, and they looked into the sea of smiling faces as he came to the end of the gangway. Nelson and Morton had made their way through the men, and stood waiting for him.
He saluted both sharply, looking directly at Nelson, “Commander Lee Crane, reporting as ordered, sir!”
Nelson returned the salute, extended a hand, and held it solidly, “Welcome back aboard, Lee! It’s good to have you back!”
“Thank you, sir.” He turned to Chip, “Status of the boat, Mr. Morton?”
“She’s at the ready, Captain, and glad to have you back! As I am!” He pulled Lee into a firm handshake, and then muttered, “Oh, Hell!!” and grabbed him in a bear hug, pounding him several times on the back.
With that, a huge roar went up from the men on the boat, and a shout, as one, of “Welcome back, Skipper!” There was a loud cheer, and then the neat lines broke into a single mass moving towards the Captain of the boat. Lee made his way to the hatch, shaking hands with each man, thanking them for their support.
He was finally home!
©Linda Delaney, 9/10/05
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