secrets are no fun!!! Share your secrets with everyone…."
"R.C., secrets are what got us into this in the first place." Karen Davis Nelson, The Predator.
Lee Crane, Admiral and Captain of the S.S.R.N. Seaview, paced the hallway of the San Diego Naval Base Hospital. His wife, Caitlin, and his friends Karen and Harriman Nelson, and Chip and Matty Morton sat nearby.
His son was in surgery. ‘His son!!!!! Taking foolish chances!! In the name of ONI and the ‘right thing’!!! Damn!!!!!!! God damn them all! …How in all that is holy did Robert end up here… in the hospital…in surgery… And why hadn’t he told him that he was working for the ONI!!!’
Lee looked over at his wife. Caitlin was white-faced and fearful. She had raised Robert from his babyhood. He was her son in every way.
He went to her , and she looked up at him. "Lee…" she whispered, "He will be alright, won’t he?"
Crane shook his head silently… and said in a voice that was little more than a strained whisper, " I don’t know, Caitlin, … I don’t know!" she gripped his hand tightly, "Frank will let us know as soon as he can."
She nodded. He walked toward the coffee machine, fumbling in his pockets for change. Chip Morton came up behind him, and put a hand on his friends’ shoulder.
"Lee, you okay…?" Chip didn’t know what else to say or do for his best friend. Robert Crane was the eldest of the Senior Staff’s children. The 26 year-old Lieutenant was assigned as the engineering officer on the Prometheus and had been pulled for a mission for the ONI. None of the N.I.M.R.’s Senior Staff had been aware that R.C. was in the employ of Naval Intelligence. Lee would have tried to stop it if he knew… they all would have.
Crane turned to his friend and XO. Chip was also Robert’s godfather and he had become a good friend to the younger man in recent years. Chip was taking this as hard as if it had been one of his own children.
"What do I do if he doesn’t pull through this, Chip? How do I handle that? He’s so young…so young!!"
"And just like his old man, Lee. He’s got guts, and smarts, and a strong will. He’ll be okay!!!"
"Frank wasn’t so sure, Chip. He didn’t seem confident at all."
"I think that Frank was being cautious, Lee. Like any good doctor. Overconfidence isn’t the style of our doctors. Caution is their byword. And that isn’t with out good reason! He’ll beat this, Lee. He is your son! You’ve beaten the odds more times than I can count! He’ll do the same!"
"I want to believe that, Chip, but…" Turning from the coffee machine, he asked his friend, "Did you know that he was with ONI?"
"NO! Of course not! Don’t you think that if I knew that he had joined up with them, that I would have told you?"
"I guess you would, but… Chip, why didn’t he tell me?"
Morton shook his head. "Maybe because he knew that his father would go ballistic, and he didn’t want to handle that aspect just now. You are ONI… why shouldn’t he be?"
"This is different!"
"Really, Skipper? The only difference that I see here is that you didn’t have parent to answer to. A parent who knew all that ONI requires, when you join up. A parent who knows the cost of the commitment…
Think about it, Lee… Would you have told Helen if she knew what you were getting yourself into?"
Very quietly, he replied, "She never had a clue to what I did for them…until the day she died." His voice then became angry, "Dammit, Chip, He’s too young to make this kind of commitment!"
"Really? Let’s see, we were what, about 26 when we met up with each other in DC, after your first mission and you told me. You wound up with a broken arm after that one, if memory serves correctly."
"Robert’s 26."he said with deadly softness.
"I know," Chip said quietly, "Just like his Dad."
"God, I hope not!! There’s too much pain, Chip!"
"The Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Skipper. He’s more like you than you know."
Lee looked deeply at his friend, and then turned to the machine, quickly taking two cups of coffee, and brought one over to Caitlin, standing beside her. Morton did the same thing, standing beside Matty… the room became eerily quiet, with the tension rising, as the time passed.
Karen and Harriman Nelson had been sitting on the couch, her head leaning on her husbands’ shoulder. She was watching her daughter and Lee and wondering…wondering if she should tell them the secret that she knew, the secret that led them to this waiting room…
‘Karen Davis Nelson had been sitting in the kitchen of her home, days after the attack on Lee and Caitlin Crane by William Judd. R.C. was sitting with her. He was telling her all that he and Lee had talked about…How Lee had told him of her involvement with Judd, and how she had killed Judd’s father. R.C. had told her that he intended to get Judd, and she had gone cold, thinking that he had joined the ‘FIRM’. He had calmly informed her that Michael Briggs had indeed tried to recruit him, but that he had refused him. He had instead, joined the ONI and that he fully intended to get Judd. Karen had reminded R.C. of the ramifications of his actions, of the dangers involved, and he had put her off…asking her to keep his secret…’
She forced herself back to the waiting room, she looked again at Caitlin and Lee. Her daughter had gone through so much…so much since Judd had started his campaign against them… So very much!! And now, this! And directly or indirectly this too was because of her. R.C. had to be all right! He just had to be!!
She rose, intending to speak to Lee and Caitlin, when a short, lean man barreled into the room, and made his way straight to Lee Crane.
The newcomer was roughly 5’6" and very thin. He had the look of a caged lion. His hair was steel gray, and his eyes were coal black with flecks of gold. His face was broad, and he was smiling, but it was a smile of habit, with no warmth. He extended his hand to shake Lee’s and looking up at him, said,
"Taylor. It’s been a while…"
"How is he?"
"We don’t know!… What the hell did you think you were doing, getting him involved in one of your ‘missions’ --- getting him involved at all!"
Lee’s voice was steel hard, and rising in timbre. "How could you?" he spat. Caitlin placed a hand on her husband’s arm, and looking down at her, his voice lowered. "How and why?"
"He came to us last year - said something about scores to settle…. I’m sorry, Crane. I honestly thought that you knew."
"He never told us…" Lee’s voice spoke volumes to the ONI chief. "Why are you here, Taylor? It’s not SOP for the Chief of Operations to check on the outcome of the mission of each new operative, is it?"
"I was out here for a meeting with COMSUBPAC, when I heard that he’d completed his mission, and was hurt, so I decided to come here. What’s the news?"
"We’re waiting for him to come out of surgery… then we’ll know more."
Taylor had nothing else to say to Lee or the others. He was receiving a very cold reception, not that he expected any difference. He moved to a corner, and surveyed the room. He knew every one there, except for the Davis women. He knew who Karen was, he just didn’t ‘know’ her. And he knew very little of Crane’s wife. The operative in him looked over the room carefully.
‘No one here knew!!’ He was amazed that young Crane had told no one! ‘Keeps to himself! A good operative!’
Just as he finished scanning the room, a doctor, in surgical scrubs came through the doors, and headed straight for Crane and his wife.
Frank Lerner was feeling rather awkward. This was a first for him. The entire Senior Staff of the boat stood in front of him, waiting for his report. Usually it would be about one or more of them, but this time it was about one of their children. He addressed Lee and Caitlin.
Lee nodded for him to begin, and everyone in the room gave him their attention.
"He’s out of surgery, sir."
"And now we have to wait and see, sir. There was some pretty severe internal damage, a broken rib nicked his lung, and there was the head trauma. He needed 16 stitches just under the hairline on the right side of his head… there was swelling, and some bruising. No fracture of the skull, but we have to watch him for the next 24-48 hours to see if there’s been any swelling of the brain or brain stem… All in all, I’d say he was pretty lucky that this happened so close to home…the internal injuries, the spleen and liver damage were the most worrisome."
"As you said, Frank, R.C. was lucky that this happened so close to home." Nelson sent Taylor a withering glare. "When can we see him?"
"They’re getting him settled in the ICU. I’d say that ten minutes, and you can see him. You all know the drill… not to long and not too much noise." He looked at Crane and tried to be reassuring.
"Skipper, he’s young and strong, and he’s been in good health. He stands a real chance of full physical recovery."
"Physical, Frank?" Caitlin asked, alarmed at the unspoken implications.
"Yes, ma’am. With head trauma, we have to reserve any prognosis until the patient wakes. And in R.C.’s case, that will be at least 24 to 48 hours from now."
Ten minutes later, Lee and Caitlin went into the private ICU room that had been set up for R.C. Their hands were tightly entwined, as they approached the bedside. Robert’s color was as white as the sheets on the bed in which he lay. A ventilator clacked rhythmically, breathing for the young man. Other machines let out peeps and pings as they monitored his condition. There was no movement from the bed, the young man deep in an artificially induced sleep to aid his healing.
Lee looked at his son, staring at the still form, and the tears came to his eyes. He looked at Caitlin, and said, quietly, "So this is what it feels like…"
She laid her hand over his on the bed rail. "Yes, my love. This is what it was like…for all of us… for all of you!"
"I’m sorry," he whispered.
"For what? For being Lee Crane? For taking risks for the sake of others? No, Lee, there is nothing to be sorry for. There is nothing to be sorry for. For you to have done anything less than what you have done for the last years, would not have made you the man that I fell in love with, the man that I am still in love with. Nothing less than the most that you could do, is what you have always done, Lee."
"But what kind of example have I set for him? What kind of example that put him in here, in this condition"
"Only the best, Lee. The best kind of example… the example to do the right thing, no matter what the cost!" She slid her arm around him and held to his hand with the other, as they began their vigil.
Karen Nelson knocked lightly, and walked into the ICU room. In the hours that had passed since they were allowed to be with Robert, Lee hadn’t moved from the bedside of his son. Karen walked to his side, and smiled gently at him.
"Any change, Lee?" she asked quietly.
He nodded to the negative. She looked around and saw her daughter standing and staring out the window. She put her hand on his shoulder, softly and painfully, she said, "Lee, I need to talk to you."
He looked at her, not knowing what she had to say to him.
With a great deal of difficulty, she said, "Lee, I knew that R.C. was going to ‘sign on’ with ONI."
"You what?" he was startled. "And you didn’t tell me? Didn’t let me know?"
"He asked me not to tell anyone… In fact, he had already turned down Michael Briggs."
"Briggs? He approached Robert?"
"Yes," she calmly explained. "Apparently, Michael was impressed with him, and offered him a job at the time he was graduating. BUT, R.C. turned him down."
"I’ll bet he was impressed…So he turns down the FIRM and goes to the ONI!? I could kill Michael Taylor!"
"Lee!" She placed a hand on his arm. "Look, he only told me this after you had explained about Judd and his vendetta against us. Lee… I’m afraid he's going after Judd on his own."
"He told me that he wanted to get Judd for what he’d done to Caitlin… To his mother. Lee, I warned him against it…Told him not to get involved…but he’s your son…he’s as headstrong as his father!…he told me he was already involved."
Caitlin had been listening to her husband and mother, and was becoming more and more angry with Karen. Finally she turned and confronted her… "More secrets, Mom? What else haven’t you told us … or me?"
Lee looked at his wife, surprised at her tone, still reeling from Karen’s revelations about his son.
"How could you keep this from us, Mom?"
Karen was taken aback by her tone. "There are no other secrets, Caitlin. There hasn’t been an appropriate time, and I gave R.C. my word…"
"Your word? About something like this?"
"Besides, he's determined to avenge you, and what Judd did to you. I tried to talk him out of it, but, he is his father’s son!"
"And I am your daughter!"
"Yes, Caitlin, you are. But R.C. asked me not to tell either you or his father. I gave my word and I kept it."
"R.C. is my son, Mom!"
"I know that, Caitlin! But he's also of an age to make his own decisions…just as you did a long time ago."
"Like I said, Mom…how many more secrets?’ she questioned angrily, as she left the room, hurt with her mother’s revelations.
"There are no more, Caitlin." she said softly, watching her leave.
She touched Crane on the arm again. "Lee, I’m sorry but your son…R.C. did ask me not to say anything. I honored that request, as I would have honored anyone’s. I did warn him. I tried to talk him out of it," she smiled wanly at her son-in-law. "but he’s got his own mind. Good, bad, or indifferent, it was his choice, and his alone… and as I have already said, he is his father’s son!"
Lee couldn’t think of anything to say to Karen Nelson, so he said nothing. He was deeply hurt that Robert had not told him about ONI, but on the other hand, not at all surprised. He was also glad that Robert has chosen to confide in Karen, again not surprised that he had chosen Harriman Nelson’s wife as a confidant. What surprised him was Caitlin’s anger with her mother. He’d deal with it, but later….now he focused on Robert, taking his son’s hand in his and praying…
R.C. Crane was dreaming…strange shapes, familiar voices… people calling him and talking to him…his head hurt, his stomach hurt…it was pain that he wasn’t at all familiar with, and yet…
Lt. Robert Crane’s mission had been a simple one. He wasn’t sent out of the country, even out of the state. Naval Intelligence had received information that the First American Militia was mounting a small armada to sail to an unnamed South American country. Since William Judd’s disappearance in the last year, the F.A.M. was being even more closely observed. His attack on the Cranes at the Nelson Institute had only confirmed to the Intelligence community that the man was dangerous, and demanded a more careful observation.
I n the Bodega Bay area of California, the F.A.M. had extensive holdings on the water, and the possibility of a group of small boats leaving the area relatively unobserved, was easy to imagine. ONI had decided to send an operative to the area, to infiltrate the group. Robert had been chosen by Taylor because of his familiarity with the group.
His assignment was simple enough. Get there, join them, get the information and get out. Robert let his beard grow for a few days, changed his hair color, and became Charlie Mitchell, a disgruntled CPO, looking to keep the country safe from the politicians in Washington.
His job had been surprisingly easy, at least to him. He had been readily accepted by the group, and his cover had held for the two weeks he had been among them. He had been able to leave the group as easily as he had joined them, and he had headed back to San Diego confident in his abilities, and his now continuing connection to the F.A.M. He now would be able to come and go as he pleased, in and out of the group. And using the cover of a CPO gave him the ability to be gone from the group for long periods of time without any undo questions being asked.
The accident happened on the way back to the base. Robert had reported in that his mission was concluded, and had been a success. He had called in all his information and was looking forward to some R&R before returning to the Prometheus. He was driving a late model VW bug that intelligence felt fit the profile of the character of Charlie Mitchell.
And the amazing thing about it all was that it truly was an accident. Nothing to do with the F.A.M. or any other intelligence activities. The bug blew a tire about ten miles from the San Diego base. R.C. lost control of the car, and it went over the cliff. He threw himself out of it, realizing that the car would impact on the rocky cliffs below. His head had hit a boulder, and he knew no more…
None of Senior Staff in Santa Barbara knew that R.C.’s accident was, in all reality, a true auto accident. All any of them knew was that Lee Crane had received a phone call on the boat, that there had been an accident. Crane had taken the call, called Caitlin, Nelson and Morton, gone to the Flying Sub, and when the others and their wives had arrived, Lee had flown them, and Dr. Frank Lerner to the Naval Base in San Diego. All in all it had taken twenty minutes for him to arrive at his son’s side. He hadn’t left the young Lieutenant’s side since. The only time that he had not been with him was in surgery.
Waiting was not something that Lee was used to… most of his life, he had kept others waiting for him… it wasn’t that he didn’t have patience…he had never been called on to use it! He always had things in his time frame… he wasn’t used to being on another’s.
He stood at his son’s bedside and looking at the still form of his son, he reflected mightily. If… a word that played an enormous role in their lives….If…Karen Davis had not come to the Institute…if…Cathy had not been driving the car the day she died… if Caitlin Davis had not come into his life… if …Gamma had not shot him and almost crippled him…if… if …. If….
If the General of the First American Militia had not kidnapped Harriman Nelson, and if he and Karen Davis had not been involved with one another, and If Karen had not killed the General, and if they had all known that the man had a son, and if he, the son had not kidnapped himself and Robert, and attacked and shot him and almost raped Caitlin… Would he be standing at he bedside of his 26 year old son, and wondering if the young man would live or die?
Lee shook his head sadly, and reached out for his son… he grasped his son’s limp hand in his. As he stood there, he became aware of his wife, returning to the room, and moving next to him. She laid a gentle hand on his shoulder…
"None. I feel so helpless, Caitlin. So defeated. I can do nothing for him. Nothing at all."
"You have done more for him in his short life, than most parents do in a life time, Lee. You have given unconditional love, unconditionally. You have been there for him, given to him, and always, always shown him the way. The ‘right way’. And you have been uncompromising in the giving, asking nothing of him in return. There is nothing that you didn’t do for him. He has had the best father a man could have, Lee Crane and don’t you ever doubt yourself." He looked down at his wife, and saw in her face the loyalty and determination that had helped the two of them get through the last year. "He will make it through this, Lee, and he will be a better man, a more understanding man for it!" She smiled at him, "…After you hand him his head in a hand basket for the fool stunt of signing on with the ONI!"
He managed a weak smile back… and then cautiously asked her, "How is Karen?"
Caitlin’s face changed, ever so slightly. "We’re working at it…. I’m very angry with Mom right now…very angry. She never tried to interfere with my life until this past year. Maybe it’s a gut reaction to all that has happened… I don’t know. But not telling you… not telling us, about R.C. getting involved in the ONI, Lee, I’m finding it hard to be very forgiving."
It was Lee’s turn to give Caitlin a gentle push toward her mother. "What you just said about R.C. and me, think about you and Karen, Little Girl. Everything that you just said to me, applies to you and your mother. Don’t let one thing, no matter how upset you are with her put a wall between the two of you."
Caitlin paused in her thinking, realizing that her husband spoke the truth…"You’re right of course, Lee. I’m just angry. We’ll make it right… the only thing that is important right now, is R.C. Mom and I will be ok… we don’t fight often, but when we do it, we do it well!" She managed a crooked grin, and he pulled her toward him.
"Where would Robert and I be without you, Caitlin?"
"I don’t know, my love. I do know that I would be lost without you!…the both of you…”
Consciousness came slowly to Robert Crane. He achieved it by bits and pieces, little accomplishments…like the realization that he could hear soft voices nearby…the feel of a strong hand holding his right hand… The feel of a gentle hand on his forehead… the stunning reality that he was not breathing for himself, that something mechanical was forcing a regular pattern of breath into his body… The harsh reality of the fullness of his throat, and with it the inability to move his head or speak without pain, numbing pain …the difficulty of trying to open his eyes…the easy with which he could move his left hand… the sounds of harsh machinery…clacking, … pinging … beeping…
Then, suddenly all at once, everything collided, and he was awake!
Lee was watching as his son’s eyes fluttered open. Robert tried to move his head unsuccessfully, stymied by the ventilator tube. Lee smiled at his son, and then told him,
"Don’t try to move or talk , R.C. The ventilator is in your throat. We’ll get Frank, and see if it can come out." Robert saw Lee turn and nod to someone, and heard the door open and close. Lee turned his attention back to his son.
The older Crane ran a hand over his son’s forehead. Gently, Lee continued to speak to Robert.
"Try not to fight the machine, it will only make it worse if you do. Frank is on his way, Robert…" Lee looked at his son, trying to give him the strength to remain calm.
Frank Lerner bustled into the room, followed by the Nelsons and the Mortons. Following his parents, Sean Nelson also came into the room. Sean had just arrived home on leave from the Naval Academy and hearing of R.C.’s accident, got to the San Diego Base, ASAP.
R.C. Crane was Sean Nelson’s closest friend, and he was shocked and surprised to hear of the accident.
Frank moved to the bedside, and Lee and Caitlin stepped back to let him take his place at R.C.’s side. "R.C. , How’re you doing…don’t try to answer, that tube will prevent it. I’ll take it out as soon as I make sure all the rest of the repair work is in good shape, okay?"
Robert barely nodded his head as Frank began to examine him… "Incisions look good. Pneumothorax is very good…" he moved to the other side of the bed, checking the head wound, "I think that you must have a roaring headache, R.C., right?" Robert nodded slightly again. "Skipper, if you and Mrs. Crane will take everyone out of the room, I’m going to remove the ventilator, and make R.C. a little more comfortable here. Give me about ten minutes…" He nodded to the nurse, who herded the group out into the hall, and then returned to the bedside.
"You can all come in now, Admiral Crane…" the nurse said brightly. The draperies had been pulled open, and the sun was streaming into the room. Robert was lying in the bed, slightly elevated now, the ventilator tube and the machine now gone. The other machines continued their monitoring, but R.C. looked more comfortable, and Lee was sure that he was feeling more comfortable. Robert’s eyes were closed, but they slowly opened as his parents, and the rest of his ‘family’ came in. He smiled at them as they crowded around the bed.
Caitlin took his hand, Lee stood next to her.
"Dad…" he replied hoarsely.
Frank Lerner looked at Lee. "Skipper, his throat is going to be pretty sore for a day or so…You know how the ventilator feels… lets try to keep discussion to a minimum." He looked at R.C. "Okay, R.C.?"
The young man nodded, then looked at his father, and said very softly, "Sorry, Dad. But this really was an accident." He swallowed hard…"Really…"
"Later, Robert." Lee grasped his son’s shoulder. "We’ll talk later…Frank says that you need a lot of rest!"
R.C.’s good hand covered his father’s, and he smiled, at him, and Caitlin and at all the others in the room. "Thanks…"he said fighting the sleep that was threatening to overcome him… "Thanks, Dad…" as he drifted off to sleep…
Ten days later, a very happy group of people was leaving the San Diego Naval Base Hospital. Admiral Lee Crane was pushing a wheelchair carrying Lt. Robert Crane. Caitlin Crane walked at R.C.’s side. The Nelson’s and the Morton’s followed them. There were smiles and laughter, and a general light-hearted air. They came to the cars, N.I.M.R. cars, lined up in a row, and the drivers of the three vehicles got out and held the doors for the Senior Staff to get in. Caitlin Crane was the first one into the lead car, Lee assisting his son into the center of the back seat. Lee sat next to him. As the cars began to move, Lee turned to his son…
"Shall we talk about it now?"
Sheepishly, reluctantly… "I guess so… The mission was a success, Dad."
"And the agent almost died! You, Robert! You almost died!!!"
"I believed, I still believe that the mission was an important one! Judd has to be stopped!!"
"Not at the cost of your life!!!" Lee virtually shouted.
"Lee," Caitlin reminded him gently, "R.C. is sitting right next to you."
He nodded curtly.
"Dad, at the time, it was the ‘right’ thing to do… at least for me. I want this man, Dad. For what he did to you, to Caitlin… to us… I want him!"
"Robert…" Lee quietly told him, "we all do. But if we let him dictate what we do and how we do it, we become as bad as he is… you know that… I’d hoped that you would realize that. And not to tell me, to tell us about ONI…"
"I know. I was wrong, but at the time, there was no way that I could tell you. You know what it takes to be one of them… and this is where I want to be. I could have said no, but I didn’t want to."
Lee Crane sighed heavily. He knew just how Robert felt… just why Robert had ‘signed on’ with Intelligence. As upset and angry as he had been, he now realized that it was another generations’ turn to take the chances, and maybe, just maybe, they would have learned from those that went before, and be even more successful in assuring the safety if not the sanity of the free world…
"I’m not happy with the decision, Robert…but like others before me, I guess I’ll, no we’ll have to learn to live with it."
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