(a WHN for The Human Computer)
Linda A. Delaney
'It was a dark and stormy night, and as the lights blinked three times and went out…' With a long slow groan, and a hard left sinker, the book went sailing across the cabin in the reader's fit of displeasure.
'Morton's still got the worst taste in books… Dark and stormy night, jeez, that's so bad…, so very, very bad… You'd think he'd read something better than that tripe!'
He sighed heavily, then pillowed his head on his arms, staring up at the top of his rack. He wondered when he was going to be released from his imprisonment, as temporary as it may be. He was bored, bored beyond belief, and nothing that anyone had given him to 'help', had helped him be less bored. As he stared at the top of the bunk, he reflected on the events that had brought him here…
That damned computer! Could run a boat without anyone aboard. Except he'd been aboard in order to prevent his 'lady' from being taken as salvage; a vessel, empty and alone at sea, prey to pirates, scavengers and the like.
Little did anyone know that there was indeed someone else aboard. A spy, from the People's Republic, or from Dr. Gamma or one of the dozen or so people that wanted the boat, the armaments, the codes or whatever the 'Seaview Special of the Week' happened to be. They didn't have the opportunity to question the man, because before he could be transported by the FIRM, he had suddenly, died. Not that Lee found that unexpected, but it certainly put a crimp in the investigation of the how and why the man had gotten aboard to begin with, not to mention who he was working for.
When the mission had ended, and Jamison had wrapped his injured ankle, Lee had walked out of Sick Bay, happy it was over and happy to be with his friends, on his boat and that all was 'right', at least for the time being. His 'right' world had lasted all but 36 hours, as at the end of that time, he had been in the stores locker, with CPO Jones, going over the most recent delivery from the labs to the boat. He was going over the final check sheet when one of the crates shifted, as the wood frame of it cracked. Curly gave a yell, and shoved him out of the way, with his own body. Both men landed with a solid crash on the deck. Curly came out of it with a bruise on his side, but Crane wasn't as lucky. The way that he fell, he twisted the already bruised ankle so badly that he tore all the ligaments on the right side of the ankle, and broke two small bones in his foot. With that, and the imminent sail time, Jamison had put him on restriction to his cabin, no questions asked, no quarter taken.
He was to remain in his bunk, in his cabin for 72 hours, or Jamison was taking him to Sick Bay, and keeping him there for the rest of the cruise. Lee protested, loudly and vociferously, but to no avail. Nelson and Chip backed up the medic and when Jamison put his foot in the black walking boot, it further let Lee believe that he would `brook no quarter' when it came to keeping him in place. The damn boot came up to his knee, was big and black, and with that on, he `thunked' when he walked, even on the crutches. Doc promised him if he kept off his foot for the full 72 hours that he would `consider' light duty, albeit he would have to sit, not stand at the plot table and take extreme care going up and down the gangways, where and if he had to.
Lee hated being unable to walk his `lady', to say `goodnight' to her at the end of a day, regardless of what time of day it was. She was still new to him in some ways, having only six months or so on her, or `with' her as he was wont to say. The Admiral was right, when he said his boat was going to be unique. She was that in every way, and in ways that Lee was discovering daily, as he made his rounds of the boat, during and after his watch. He had determined, once Nelson had given her to his command, that he would know every nut and bolt, every nook and cranny, every bilge pump, circuit and computer program that made this `lady' tick. He had set about familiarizing himself with her with a vengeance, interrupted only when missions became critical or when his own inability, due to some mishap or another prevented him from doing so.
Well, he'd be up and out of here in another day, Doc's willing acquiescence or no. He couldn't stay in his cabin too much longer or he'd go nuts. Yes, it was `his' space, but it was still four bulkheads and a head. He needed to see what was going on on his boat, and out there, in the grey-green she-demon that they sailed. The tie to the ocean in his life was so strong, that when he was surrounded by her was when he felt the most `at home'.
He laughed to himself. Admiral Nelson had shared with him the information from Drs. Winslow and Jenkins, and their theories about men being adapted to underwater living via implanted gills. `I wonder, really wonder what it would be like to have that freedom? IF they get that far, maybe I'll volunteer…" he shook his head in dismay. He'd never be able to volunteer for such a study. That would have to be long after he retired. He had too much to do here, on the boat and the Institute. `Still, maybe when we bring them supplies in a few months, I can see if they can answer some of my questions about what they want to do. Thank goodness the Admiral hasn't approved THAT part of the experiment yet."
He rolled onto his side, in an attempt to sleep, but his mind, still working at a furious pace, forbade him the rest he reluctantly sought. Finally, he sat up, looking angrily at the boot on his leg, and swinging it and his `good' leg onto the deck, he grabbed the side of the rack, and stood. Anticipating, at the very least, discomfort, he was not prepared for the lack of any feeling in the ankle. That surprised, and somewhat frightened him. He balanced on his `good' leg, and waited for what he thought was `enough' time for feeling to creep back into the leg. When it didn't, he decided to move across the cabin, grabbing first his desk edge, then around it to the desk chair, in order to navigate the space. While he was one of the first ones to be glad for the spaciousness of the cabins in Officer's Country, at this moment, he couldn't help but not be happy about it. There was too much space to navigate in the condition he was in…Not that it couldn't be overcome, but…right now, it was a god-damned-pain-in-the-ass! Landing heavily in his desk chair, he was exhausted, angry, frustrated, etc, etc, etc.
He looked around the cabin, wondering how he managed to be so lucky to command Seaview and so unlucky to spend so much of his time in Sick Bay or his cabin, with one injury or another. As bad as it all got, he had to admit that there was nothing in his wildest dreams that would have put him in this place, on this boat, at this time. Nothing!!
He remembered vividly the day he received the letter from his former teacher and Mentor, telling him the date that the keel was to be laid, and inviting him to the ceremonies. Nelson was out of the `regular' Navy, retired, but in the reserves, so the new boat would be a special berth, if anyone in the regular service were to be stationed aboard her. Nelson had been writing to him about his `dream' a lot as they continued to keep in touch long after Lee's graduation, further schooling and service on the Halibut, and then, under Nelson on the Nautilus. When Nelson had announced his retirement, Lee had been invited to the celebration of his career, at the Naval Academy. It was during the weekend he'd spent there that Nelson had shown him the final designs for the new boat, Seaview, the Admiral was calling her. And it was also then that he'd intimated to Lee that he wanted him, Lee Crane, to Captain her. He told him then that Lee was his first choice, but that there would probably be some wrangling done to get him there. Of course, that was still years in the future, since Nelson wasn't officially even out of the Navy yet. Lee had smiled, awed at the prospect of such a command, and somewhat embarrassed that the Admiral had such faith in him, even that early on.
Lee smiled to himself, remembering how hard it had been for Nelson to write him that a Captain for his new boat had been chosen. He hadn't wanted anyone but Lee, but the FBME had felt an older, more experienced man was needed, and had placed John Phillips at Nelson's disposal for the boat. Lee knew Phillips, and he also knew that his best friend and `Brother' had been chosen the boat's XO. While he was disappointed for himself, he certainly understood the reasoning in Washington, even if Nelson didn't like it. With Chip Morton as the XO, Lee also knew that he would know almost anything that went on with her construction, as Chip had been writing almost weekly `reports' from Santa Barbara since he'd arrived there. All in all, if he couldn't command her, then at least, he was `seeing her' thru his best friend's eyes. Chip had developed a good relationship with Phillips, they had spent months traveling back and forth across the country, to the boatyards in Norfolk, and back to the Institute, and the two men were working well together as the boat was being planned and built.
He also knew how hard Phillips' death had been on Chip Morton. His friend wasn't one to say much, about things that impacted him personally, , but one night, soon after Lee had taken command of the boat, he and Chip had had a `night out', away from the men, the boat and the Institute. They'd taken a cab from Lee's temporary digs, and gone into the town of Goleta, to a restaurant recommended by Nelson, and known to Morton.
The Beachside Bar and Café on Sandspit Road, in Goleta County Park was a place that wasn't fancy or even pricey, just good food and a great view, with a good bar. Chip had never taken the time to try it, but apparently it was one of Nelson's favorite informal dining places, so he urged his officers to give it a try.
They had clams, swordfish and beer, and Chip had relaxed enough to let his guard about the Phillips' affair, and how difficult it had been for him, and for the crew. He never wanted to let Lee feel that he wasn't happy to have him aboard, but the conditions of his assuming command were one of the hardest things in Chip's career. John Phillips had been a good friend, and a good skipper. Chip had been trying to sort out his feelings, of both grief over John's sudden and useless death and happiness over Lee's being aboard and felt he didn't know how to tell Lee what he was feeling, so he'd said nothing at all, even to the point of being somewhat stand-offish with Lee.
Knowing Chip as well as he did, Lee let the mission take precedence, knowing Chip and he would work it out in the end. Nelson had chosen a good crew and officers, and Chip and he worked well together. The mission had ended, the world was saved, and they now had time to catch up with what had gone on in their lives that had brought them to this place, they were able to let each other know how they each felt, and began to build the two thirds of an incredible command team, complete when Nelson was part of it. They began to forge ahead with Nelson's plans and the government (and ONI's) agendas.
Which had brought him, Lee Crane, to this moment in his cabin on his boat; ONI agenda, computer testing notwithstanding, he was, again, unable to walk his lady, unable to observe his crew, unable to…. He slammed his hand on the desk, in pure frustration, and growled… yes, growled like a panther, caged, but anxious to pounce at the first opportunity.
At that, there was a knock on his door, and it opened, without his even calling out, `Come'. A blond head poked through a small crack in the doorway, "Lee?"
"Yeah," came the unhappy reply.
"Well, can your XO enter…sir?"
"I dunno… do you have news or just want to talk? Because right now, I'm NOT in a talking mood. I'm sure you probably are, but I'm not. So if there's no news, then `No' DO NOT ENTER!"
Morton opened the door all the way, and walked in, with a tray in both hands, and a sheaf of papers under his arm. He kicked the door closed behind him.
"I bring dinner and paperwork, and you can't get out of either."
"Really….??" He purred in a voice that Chip didn't recognize…"And how do you propose to get me to do either. I don't want to eat, and I hate paperwork. That's what I have an XO for….paperwork!!"
"Humph!! Don't I know that? Anytime you want to change jobs for a day, just let me know, Buddy!"
It was Lee's turn to `Humph'. Then Chip watched as he wrinkled his nose, questioning the inviting aroma wafting from the covered food tray. Chip put the tray down on the desk, pushing it ever so surreptitiously towards the Captain, so he would continue to be tantalized by the bouquet of the food on the tray.
Crane looked at the tray with distaste, knowing Chip had an ulterior motive and not wanting to be coerced into eating something he didn't want to… Still, it did smell wonderful…it was piquing his curiosity… NO!! I WON'T! He won't win this one!
Chip was sitting opposite him, grinning broadly, as if he had already won. NOPE! You won't win, Morton!
The more stubborn Lee's expression became, the more Chip grinned, and it irritated Lee even more! Finally…
"Uh, Cap… you want the status reports?" Chip held the pile of papers in the air.
"Yes, I want the status reports, Mr. MORTON! Hand them over, please!"
Lee exploded, "What do you mean, `Unh-uh'? I said give me the reports! That's…that's an order!!" he grabbed at the air, as Chip dropped his hand with papers intact to his lap. "Can't do it, Captain. Doctor's orders. You eat, then you get the reports. You don't eat, you can't have `em. Sorry!"
Chip was chewing on the inside of his cheek as he watched Lee's face. Lee slammed his hand down on his desk, and the tray popped up slightly then down. An errant `slosh' was heard by both men.
"I said GIVE ME THE REPORTS!"
"Chip!" the voice changed, softer, more genial, "The reports, please. After all I should know how the boat and the men are doing. I AM the Captain of this boat!"
"Well, technically, I am in temporary command, due to your, unh, disability. And Doc wants you to eat to keep up your strength, so he ordered me not to give you the reports until you ate your dinner. And he had Cookie fix your tray himself. So, pal, I'm not giving you these reports until you eat what's on that tray, or both the CMO and more importantly, the cook, will be mad at me. Doc I can handle, but there's no way in Neptune's big, blue sea that I want Cookie mad at me! That means no homemade cookies, no extra helpings of his Chicken Fried Steak with gravy and biscuits, no extra helpings of his heavenly pork chops and gravy…"
"yeah, and no heart attack waiting in the wings with all that meat and gravy and biscuits!"
"At least if I die, I'll go out a happy man… as long as I don't make the cook angry!"
"Humph yourself! Just because you don't like to eat, doesn't mean a man shouldn't enjoy himself… If you don't want what's on that tray, I'll take it happily, thank you very much! And enjoy it to boot!"
His hand reached across the desk and started to pull the tray towards him. In one swift movement, Lee's right hand covered Chip's and stopped the wayward movement of the fragrant pallet, followed by a "Don't!"
Chip looked at him, "What do you mean, `Don't'? You said you didn't want to eat, you didn't want what was on the tray. Why should I let it go to waste? Cookie's food is way too good to go to waste, and besides," he grinned, "then no one will know that you didn't obey the doctor's orders."
"Hands off, Mr.Morton!"
"I thought you didn't want to eat, weren't interested in food…"
"I said I didn't want to, not that I wasn't interested, and furthermore, it's my prerogative to change my mind…especially if Mr. `Open Mouth insert food!!' is in the cabin. It's mine, and if I want to have it I can."
Chip folded into a ball, laughing at his best friend so hard his stomach hurt. Finally getting hold of himself, he spluttered, `"You sound like a spoiled child wanting his own way all the time… and if someone crosses him, he has a fit!"
Chip watched the range of expressions race across the Captain's visage; stormy rage, anger, realization... and then a very different expression…and a smile.
"You know, I guess I am acting like that… sorry, Chip. I'd say chalk it up to frustration, but I don't think that'll hold…Sorry, pal…but maybe if the reading material loaned to me was a little less predictable, I'd be a little less unpleasant…" he heaved a sigh, and reached for the lid on the tray, opening the contents to view.
Cookie had done it again. He'd left no stone unturned in preparing the Captain's tray; a bowl of light chicken broth with Orzo, a touch of carrots, and tiny morsels of chicken stood at 0100 ;(the slosh both men heard had been some of the broth spilling onto the saucer it stood on); Centered on the tray was a large dinner plate, holding a six long and thick slices of London Broil, pink in the center of each slice, and drizzled with a light covering of au jus; thinly sliced, braised baby red potatoes, and tiny baby peas, blended with tiny pearl onions. At 2300 was a rather large piece of cherry pie, large, sweet red cherries oozing from the flaky crust. A pot of coffee, smelling fresh brewed stood at the ready, next to two mugs. The entire tray would make anyone's mouth water, even the finicky Captain of the Boat. And entice him it did. He looked at Chip, grinning sheepishly, and then attacked the tray with the precision of an ONI agent on a mission. The room grew silent, Chip reviewing the reports, and Lee enjoying his dinner.
He'd finished all but the cherry pie, when he looked up again at his Exec.
"Guess I was hungrier than I thought…"
"Looks that way… whaddya going to do with the Pie??"
`"Eat it, of course. Always the best part of the meal, the dessert."
"Gonna share it??"
"Nope! If I know you, you've had your share already in the wardroom."
"Only two pieces. That's the last one. Cookie was saving it for you."
"Good of you to allow him to do that!"
"He didn't give me a choice. I reached for it, and he pulled it out of my hand, telling me that it was the Skipper's piece."
Lee almost spit out the mouthful of pie, as he got a visual for what Chip described. After he swallowed, and washed it down with some coffee, he said, smiling. "That's a scene I would have liked to have seen. The Exec and the Cook fighting over the last piece of pie!"
Chip shrugged, and then smiled, "Jamie sure enjoyed it. That's how he snared me to bring your tray in here with the reports."
Lee was cleaning the plate of the last remaining bits of the pie, and then pushed the tray to the side. Extending his hand, "NOW, Status reports, Mr. Morton"
Chip grinned, took the sheaf of papers, handed them to the captain, and pulled his chair close to the desk, ready to go over the reports and answer any questions the Captain had about the last 24 hours on the boat, relieved that at least this round with the cabin-bound Skipper has gone as well as it had…
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