Jane Daffron & Linda Delaney
A lone figure, clad in an old and tattered khaki uniform, stood silently on the jagged black volcanic rocks as he watched the gray clouds slowly drift across the afternoon sky. A gentle tropical rain caressed his wary being, intermittently at first and then becoming the ritual downpour that would shortly wither away. His eyes scanned the horizon, just as they had done every day since he washed ashore. How long had he been now on this far-away forgotten oasis in the Pacific Ocean? It seemed like an eternity since the transport he’d been on had crashed into the sea that fateful day so long ago. Why had he been the only one to have survived? Surely someone else… But in all the time he’d spent here, and to his best accounting, roughly over eight thousand and thirty days now, he’d been deprived of human contact.
He wondered sometimes if he’d quietly gone insane and this all was just a figment of his deprived imagination. Why, if all this had been reality, hadn’t they found him? With all the technology available to them, why hadn’t they? Surely in all this time… He knew his friends would have moved heaven and earth to have searched until there was no place else left to search. The man he looked up to most of all would not have left him to die…unless…
Unless they had found the plane and recovered most everyone’s remains and then, figuring there was no hope of finding anyone else, finally relented.
The tall blond man sighed and sat down on a nearby rock, homemade spear in hand. He’d already resigned himself to living out his natural life here, isolated, in this god-forsaken place. And yet, every time he came to this particular spot, his eyes searched for any ray of hope. Any passing freighter or trawler that he could signal with smoke from the piles of wood and twigs he’d managed to collect over time. His childhood Boy Scout training, plus the survival training he had received during his years with the Navy, had served him well. And survive he had. But, as he’d often thought, at what cost? Actually, if truth be told, he’d managed fairly well all these years, living on what nature, and God, had provided him. There had been plenty to eat and he’d found an ample supply of fresh water in the nearby hills. He’d weathered storms, violent ones at times, and heat, blistering heat; yet he’d drawn strength in the faith that one day, somehow, someway, some one would eventually find him and bring him home. He’d grown lean and muscular from the hard work he’d had to do to simply provide for himself. And he’d grown tan from the tropical sun. His blond hair was now white from both age and being bleached from the sunlight.
He sighed again, feeling a nagging in his bones, knowing that he wasn’t the young man of years before, and starting to wonder now that, if he were to die today, would anyone ever know, or even care. By now, his friends, he thought, would be the same age as he. His ‘mentor’ was most likely dead by now. He’s always felt deep inside that the older man would have never given up on him, had he but known he was still alive. And his ‘brother’, his best friend. He also wondered what had happened to him. Was he gone as well? And what about the members of the crew of the great gray submarine, the Seaview? What had happened to them all…and to it?
Looking around him, he finally came to terms with the fact that his life would most likely end here, on this deserted island, rich with life but totally devoid of what he so desperately needed. Human contact.
He had never thought of himself as a ‘loner.’ Someone who would have rather been by themselves rather than be among people. Somewhere in his distant memories he remembered an old saying that there was a big difference between being lonely and being alone. He’d never really understood the true meaning of it all until he awoke one morning not long after coming here.
Maybe he should just finally accept the inevitable. Maybe then the fantasy could finally become reality and he could be at peace…
He had been on his way back from Washington, DC after attending a security meeting with Admiral Bill Johnston of ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) and a deputy director from the CIA, Tom Goynes. It hadn’t been his normal kind of extra-curricular activity for the NIMR; in fact, he wasn’t supposed to have even gone. However, when Admiral Johnston had unexpectedly requested someone from the boat who was outside the normal purview of ONI, that immediately left out Harriman Nelson himself and the Seaview’s captain, Lee Crane. Nelson then looked to his capable and efficient executive officer to take on the task. Lt. Commander Chip Morton agreed. He had decided that it would provide a bit of a change of scenery, as well as give him a bit more understanding in the inner workings of the intelligence area. Not that he wanted to enter that arena himself, but there were times when Seaview and her crew were asked to take on certain tasks pertaining to the intelligence community. And since both her creator and her captain had training in that area, he thought it best to have a working knowledge of the subject matter in case something, God forbid, ever went awry.
A Navy transport plane to Guam was all that Lt. Commander Charles ‘Chip’ Morton could get after he landed at Sand Island in the Midway Island chain. It had been a long flight from Washington. It had been too late to book a commercial flight back to Guam, and it was by luck that he’d been able to get aboard a transport. Actually, one call from Admiral Johnston’s office and the next thing he knew, he was headed to Andrews Air Force Base and hopped aboard a Navy transport plane headed to San Diego and then to Midway. Arrangements had been made for him to grab another transport to Guam from there. He kept wishing he’d been able to have had the FS-1 to come back in. It would have made things so much simpler and so much quicker. By the time he felt the wheels touch the tarmac on the Island, he was bone tired. All he wanted was to stretch out in his bunk aboard Seaview and sleep.
He walked out of the Admin building, and from behind his sunglasses, he studied his surroundings. There wasn’t much here. After all, this was nothing but a ‘gas and go’ stop for the land based aircraft who were headed to or from WESTPAC. The only other thing it was good for was as an early warning base for the Navy out here in the Pacific. But even that was slowly being replaced by the changing times. Satellites had now replaced the need for so many of these bases. He’d even heard during his time in Washington that the base was going to be shut down and turned into, of all things, a bird sanctuary. God knows, there were enough albatrosses and other birds that lived there. The only other time he’d had occasion to be here, there was so many of them on the beach that you could hardly walk. He’d been told it was nesting season and warned not to even go there, but he’d let his curiosity get the best of him. When he’d accidentally run into an ornithologist who had set up a hidden observation post in the brush, he’d been given an unceremonious ‘Get the hell off the beach!’ and quickly shown the way.
He had six hours to kill before his flight. There wasn’t even an officer’s club in sight to grab a drink in. He suddenly wished he’d waited and taken a flight to Pearl out of Los Angeles instead of the transport to Sand. At least at Pearl there would have been someplace to go, someplace to wait for the next plane. But no…he had to get back, or so he’d thought.
Walking back into the Admin office, he looked at the young petty officer sitting at his desk, a small metal fan slowly gyrating back and forth, providing a somewhat cooling respite for the hot and humid afternoon. The younger man suddenly rose when he realized Chip had returned, but the officer silently motioned for him to sit.
“What’s there to do around here to kill some time…Petty Officer Turner?” Morton asked as he notated the man’s name tag on his shirt..
“Not much, sir. Actually, it’s usually pretty dead during the day. Shoot,” he drawled, “it’s pretty dead most of the time, if ya wanna know the truth. We don’t get much action around here anymore, sir. Just planes stopping to take on fuel and then hauling ass outta here. They don’t stay long. Can’t say as I blame’em.”
The tall blond officer nodded and sprawled out in an empty chair at an adjoining desk. “Humph!” he sighed. “I don’t either. If you don’t mind, I’ll just take a short nap here. Unless I’m bothering you…”
“No, sir… Actually, I kinda don’t mind the company.”
“Where’s your CO, Petty Officer?” he asked, rearing back in the chair and placing his hands behind his head.
“Had to hop over to Pearl for some supplies from the NEX, sir. Be back late this evening.”
“You the one in command right now?” Chip slightly smiled.
“I guess you could call it that, sir…at least in here, that is,” the younger man replied. “Where you headed, sir?”
Morton sighed. “South Pacific, last I heard.”
Petty Officer 2nd Class Ronald Turner looked down at his schedule and then up at the man across from him. “Commander,” noting the gold leaf on Chip Morton’s shirt collar, “I hate to tell ya, but yer plane’s been delayed a bit.”
“Delayed?” came the suspicious reply. “How much ‘delayed’?”
“Couple of hours. She was grounded down at Guam because of a typhoon building south southeast of there.”
“Plane’s in the air and headed here. Weird thing. Storm just up and petered out. Guess it wasn’t as big of a deal as they figured,” the younger man stated with a shrug. “You headed back to Guam?”
“Yeah. My boat’s doing a research mission in the area and I’m joining it there.”
The younger man looked puzzled. Why in the world would a submarine be involved in a research mission? “Sir?”
Morton smiled. No reason that the other man would have known he was attached to the Seaview. “The Seaview.”
“Oh. That boat.”
Chip nodded and again leaned back. “So, when’s the transport due in?” He looked at his watch and silently cursed. Not that he didn’t mind being on dry land, but he didn’t like being bored. If given the choice, he’d much rather be walking the steel decking of the Gray Lady, as Lee Crane had often called her.
Turner looked at the clock. “Well, it's 1200 now, sir. They should be here about 2000, if everything goes okay. Then they’ll refuel, switch out some of the crew, stick you and some supplies on board, then head back out.” He hesitated, then, “What’s she like, sir? Seaview, I mean. I’ve heard she’s a lot different than either the Los Angeles class or the new boomers.”
“She is…different, that is. Unique, I guess is the best way to describe her.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, sir…what’s your job aboard? Engineering? Communications?”
“XO,” Morton answered nonchalantly.
There was a chuckle from the man in the chair. “That’s okay. I often wonder myself how I ended up there. But I have to say, she’s a helluva boat. And she’s got a helluva crew. I consider myself very lucky.”
For the next eight hours, Charles Phillip Morton read every out of date magazine there was to be had in the Admin office. Conversation with the young petty officer filled some of the time, but it was only so much. At one point, he walked outside to stretch his legs and looked up at the clouds overhead. He couldn’t help but think about how strange they looked and how uneasy it made him feel. Turner hasn’t said anything about that typhoon rebuilding.
Before he could turn around, Petty Officer Turner came to the door and announced, “Transport’s about thirty minutes out, sir. It’ll take’m about an hour or so to gas up and have the mechanics give it a quick once over.”
“They say anything about that storm to the south?”
“No, sir. Not a word.”
“Just wondering. Those clouds look kinda strange.”
“All they said was it had been smooth sailing once they hit the air.”
“Thanks, Turner. I guess I’d better see if I can get a message to Seaview to let them know what the holdup is. If I know the Admiral, he’ll be spitting nails that I’m not where I’m supposed to be, when I’m supposed to be. I’m gonna head over to communications and have them send it out.”
“Yes, sir…Hope you get through to’em,” and he turned and went back inside.
Morton strolled over to smaller building that housed the base’s communications with the outside world. Two men, a junior lieutenant and a senior master chief petty officer, sat playing a game of spades. Both quickly stood when Chip entered the ‘Radio Shack’.
“I need to get a message to my boat, Lieutenant. Think that might be possible?”
“Depends, sir. Where’s she at?”
“South of Guam, running a research mission. If she’s submerged, it may take a while, but I need to let Admiral Harriman Nelson know that his XO’s been delayed getting back.”
“Just see if you can reach the Seaview, Lieutenant. Let Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane know that I’ve gotten stranded here but my transport’s going to be outbound in a couple of hours. Tell’em that the trip went well and I’ll debrief as soon as I get aboard.”
“Yes, sir… Sir, if they’re under…”
“I know… Just keep trying until you get it through, okay?”
Four hours later, the DC-9 transport was skyward and southbound for Guam. They’d taken on a new, rested crew, some supplies, fuel, and several passengers, Lt. Commander Chip Morton being one of them.
He was actually surprised at the amount of room the passengers had, considering that the plane had been specially fitted to hold cargo, not the niceties of passenger travel, at least the business and First Class levels that he’d had the occasion to use, thanks to the NIMR travel agent. The seats were not the most comfortable he’d ever been in, but then again, this aircraft wasn’t exactly supposed to be for comfort. He looked at his watch and realized it was past midnight. He was tired. And he couldn’t even say that he’d done anything productive to warrant the exhaustion.
Stretching out as much as he could in one of the seats, he finally decided that if he was going to have to be cooped up here for the next few hours, he might as well try to get some sleep. Settling into the least uncomfortable position possible, he silently swore that, if at all possible, he’d never fly on another military transport as long as he lived.
He was heavily involved in a highly enjoyable dream, one about lying on the beach below the Institute, when he was jolted awake by the violent motions of the transport plane.
“What the hell!” he exclaimed as he and the three other passengers struggled to get back to their seats. “What’s going on?”
One of the other passengers, another Naval officer, yelled over, “Turbulence. Hit a bad pocket of it looks like. Never seen it this bad though.”
The four managed to get back into their seats just as a member of the flight crew walked back to them.
“Thought I’d let you all know you need to get buckled in. It’s gonna be a rough go from here for the next while.”
Morton looked up at the young Lieutenant. “Problems?”
“Yes, sir. Seems we’ve come across another storm. Appeared from out of nowhere. But I would like to let you all know that, just in case, there’s survival gear stowed in the back. Parachutes and everything.
“Humph. You don’t expect this thing to go down, do you?”
“No, sir…not if we can help it.”
A sudden yell from the cockpit area made the man turn and quickly head away. There was another violent jolt and the airplane started to lose altitude. Chip looked out the window and saw a clap of lighting and a torrent of rain. He heard rushed and yelling voices coming from the front. They were going down, and there was nothing any of them could do.
He headed toward the cockpit. Throwing aside the door, he watched as the pilot and co-pilot desperately tried to regain control of the airplane.
“Anything I can do?” he yelled.
“No, sir. Just pray,” the flight officer quickly replied. “You might want to get the survival gear out, sir…just in case. I don’t know how much longer we’ve got. Save yourself and the others, if you can… If we can’t get back upstairs, we’ll try to put’er down as easy as we can…”
In the blink of eye, Chip headed back and did what they suggested. He’d piloted the FS1 enough to know rapid descent and how to be prepared for the worst. This wasn’t the FS1, though. She would be a lot tougher. He also knew that if what he saw outside was any indication of what they had to survive through, most likely a lot of them wouldn’t.
The plane shuddered, and then it leveled. The passengers looked at each other, each expecting the worst. The cockpit door flew open and one of the crew yelled back. “Grab whatever you can to hold on to. We may have to ditch the plane. We’re trying to make it to an island that we know is in the area, but right now, just pray!”
He buckled into the seat, pulled a survival vest from under the seat, realizing as much as he didn’t want to believe it, the plane was going down, and being buckled in was safer than being tossed about the hold of the cargo plane. He noted that the other passengers had become silent, one or two of them looking absolutely terrified. He shook his head. It had to be that the FS1 and his ‘lady’ had faced so many of these ‘absolutes’ that he felt calm about it all. He made sure that the survival equipment was right next to him, observing that the others had, obviously, never been in a ‘crash situation’ before. He looked out the window, seeing nothing but rain, lightening and blackness. He said a silent prayer, for all of them, and held tightly to his seat, as the shuddering plane fell screeching into the murky upheaval that was the South Pacific. He heard, from the cockpit, the screaming of the radioman “MAYDAY!! MAYDAY!! and felt the tearing impact as the plane hit the turbulent waters, and his world went as black as the world around him
He floated. Around him swirled the blackness of the plane, dying in its final moments. Torn from the seat with the impact, he’d hit his head, and felt blood, but had scrambled to grab the survival supplies and the emergency life raft. He knew, somewhere in his subconscious, that those things would mean the difference between life and death, and he knew for certain, he didn’t want to die. He would do what ever he needed, to survive until there was rescue. And there would be. He knew that as well as he knew his name was Chip Morton.
He had no idea if he’d been afloat for hours or days when he saw the Island with its welcoming beach. He’d been the only survivor. Why, he wasn’t sure, but he’d given thanks on more than one occasion that he was alive. Somehow he’d managed to get the raft inflated and climbed in after he’d opened the door to the plane, and jumped into the inferno of the deep ocean in a storm. Part of his mind registered that the crew had said something about an Island, but he had no idea where he was, or how far the Island was from him. He remembered that the body of the plane had begun to fill with water so fast in the turbulent waters that he barely made it across the cabin as water surged in through the gash in the tail section. He had stood and was knocked off his feet by water swirling around him. Knowing that he wouldn’t survive with out it, he had sought the survival kit, and finding it attached its cable to his belt. After he had checked the other three men, finding them unresponsive, and knowing that his survival depended on getting out now, he had said a silent prayer for all of them, pushed open the door, and dove into the sea, holding onto the survival kit, because his very life depended on it.
Through several cycles of daylight and dark, he rode the waves, trying to stay in the raft and unaware of where he was or if he would find land before his refuge was swamped or torn apart. He dreamed, if you could call hallucinations that, of Seaview, her crew, his times on her, as they merged into a blur of time and adventure, each becoming one with the other, and they melded and changed in his beleagured mind.
Then one day, he thought he was hallucinating when he saw land. Furiously, he paddled the raft closer and closer until the wave motion caught hold. He finally touched sand, and dragged his body and the raft upon the shore, collapsing in the sunlight and warmth that enveloped him, caressed his body, made him want to cry for the feel of solid ground, somewhat dry earth, land as he had never appreciated it fully before. He breathed relief that he had found haven, and once recovered, set about surviving.
He built some protection, using the natural materials he found; set up a small campsite, prepared emergency signals, and then sat back to wait for rescue.
He waited. And waited. And after considerable time had passed, after he had studied the skies at night, he realized that there would be no swift rescue. He saw in the skies what was roughly his position and saw that he was far from the plane’s registered plan of travel. He knew then that his friends would keep searching, but that it would be a while before he was found, before the Admiral and Lee would happen upon this island and find him. Knowing that there would be an extended time before rescue, he made up his mind to find the best place to ‘live’ and set about preparing for a long time on the island.
He’d had no idea it would evolve into a twenty plus year odyssey. As he stood that day, surveying what had become his home all these years, little did he know that his solitary sojourn was about to end. Little did he know that on that day, his life was about to change again, for the better, and that within several days of those thoughts and surveys that he would find himself on his way home to Pearl and then Santa Barbara, and all that had been familiar, and was now to be very, very new and strange.
He stood, rising from the rock,
using the spear as leverage. Maybe this was to be his fate and he should finally
accept it. He had survived longer than even he'd imagined, alone. Besides, if
he was found, would he even be able to get 'back into the swing of things’?
Would that longed for human contact suddenly be too much?
He wondered, as he always did as he
made his way to a series of traps he was checking for his dinner. He’d often
thought of the Daniel DeFoe novel, Robinson Crusoe. The difference was
Crusoe at least had had his man ‘Friday.’ Chip Morton hadn’t been as fortunate.
Suddenly, a sound, faint at first,
made him look up. It was then that he heard the engines. Plane engines.
Close...very close... Looking around for the source, he was taken aback to see a seaplane, approaching the beach, where he had first come ashore all those years ago. Could this be his miracle? Or was it all a cruel hallucination before he finally went insane?
He stood, stunned at first, and watched as the seaplane came closer and then, instinct kicked in and he frantically began waving his arms to let them know he was there. That he was alive!
About the same time, in Santa Barbara, the lean, grey-haired man looked at the photos on his desk. Today was the anniversary of his graduation from the Naval Academy, and he was feeling, well, reflective. He ran a finger over one in particular, one with three men, two very young, one older. They were dressed in Naval Officer's dress blue uniforms, and were smiling for the camera. it was moment when the three had been happy and secure in the friendship that they had built. He ran his finger over the picture again, whispering to the wind, ‘If only he knew… if only he could have been here… if only…’
He shook his head, the memories of times past cascading through his conscious mind as if it were a tidal wave. He remembered the day that the transport went missing, and the days, weeks and months that followed, the searching, the hope, and then the crushing acceptance of the inevitable, that he was gone, with no trace, nothing remaining of the man, the exec, the brother.
His heart broke at that time, the pain of loss greater than he would ever have imagined. Making it harder than ‘just the loss of a brother’ was the loss of the exec, the man on whom he depended to run the boat, the grey lady that ruled his heart, all their hearts. There was not one man or woman, on the land or on the boat, who could replace his XO. Fortunately for all, the replacement had the good grace to tell the Captain of the boat that he didn’t intend to replace the Exec, all he would try to do was to walk next to the footsteps he had put down. That had shown amazing understanding on the part of the younger man, Bobby O’Brien, and the Captain had appreciated that, and came to develop a good relationship with him…at least, on the boat.
In his own life, he’d never been able to replace the ‘brother’ and friend that had been lost. There was a hole in his life, even today. There wasn’t a day that went by that he didn’t think of him, want to turn and talk to him, want to spend time with him. And he wasn’t there. The ache in his being always there, was exacerbated when the older man had died. Died long before his time, perhaps the friend, the ‘other son’, gone missing adding to the stress of running the Institute. That had been 14 years ago, and he was another soul that Admiral Lee Crane, Director and CEO of the Nelson Institute, missed every day.
He ran his fingers through his full, grey hair and sighed. Chip Morton had been missing all these years, and yet, every day, he hoped he would hear something, anything that would indicate that Chip had been found, or, at least, that some evidence of him had been found. He pushed away from his desk, his 70 years suddenly lying hard on him. He went to the large glass window that looked down, over the Institute and the berthing for the boats and ships of the Institute. How it had grown since he’d arrived…how it had grown since Chip had arrived…He’d written Lee how at the time it was one building under construction, two Quonset huts, an underground berth for the new boat, and assorted other constructions. From a staff of Nelson, Philips, Morton, Cathy Connors and Angie Pearce, to the hundreds of today. Morton, through it all, Chip… omnipresent, in ways that the Admiral never realized until…
Lee moved to his office door to head home to a desk in similar condition, grabbing a briefcase groaning with papers along the way. He couldn’t shake the eerie feeling that ‘something’ was about to happen, and it made him uneasy. Too many years of ONI and personal radar, and he just ‘knew’ that something was going to happen. He shrugged, trying to ease himself out of the feeling. He walked out, into Angie’s office, and looked at her, smiling. She had been here since the beginning, as Chip had been. And while she didn’t act her age, or mention it at all, she was long overdue for retirement. But she wasn’t about to leave unless they carried her out. She’d told him so, ten years ago, when his own secretary, Jenny, had retired. Angie was going to stay, until she found out what had happened to Chip Morton, or until she could stay no longer. Others had retired from the boat, reluctantly leaving the ‘grey lady’, but not the Institute. They found ways to be useful to the Institute, found ways to remain so they could wait, and hear if there was ever to be word. Ever to be word…foolish hopes of foolish old men…
“Younger men need to be doing this,” Lee said to himself, as he walked past Angie.
She looked at him. “Excuse me, Admiral?”
Startled, “Oh… Sorry, Angie, just talking to myself….” He shook his head and grinned. “I’ve got to stop doing that, or you’ll have them come and lock me up!”
“Talking to yourself is one thing I wouldn’t have you locked up for.” Laughing, “There are a lot more things we could get you locked away for, Lee.”
He ran his fingers through his hair, smiling back at her, “I guess so…A lot more…” He continued to the door, “I’m going to the house.” He lifted his briefcase. “I’ve some papers to work on. If you need me…”
She nodded, “I’ll call. Now…leave, okay?”
Lee was deeply immersed in a proposal for a new project involving the Institute labs and one of her surface research vessels. Whenever projects like this were presented, he couldn’t help but think of ‘the Admiral’ and the amazing mind that he had had. His mentor/friend/father-figure always astounded him with the way his mind worked. Since Nelson’s passing, Lee frequently wished he’d had one-tenth of Nelson’s ability. Sighing, he took a gulp of the coffee his housekeeper had left for him and plodded back into the paperwork. At that moment, the phone rang. The beeping tones startled him at first, and then he hoped that it wasn’t an emergency of the nature that the Institute was still called on to deal with. His long hand reached for the phone, pushing the buttons to make sure it was automatically scrambled to any unwanted listening ears.
“Crane here” he answered.
The voice on the other end was sobbing softly, finding words difficult, “Admiral…Lee,”
Alarmed, “Angie, what’s wrong?”
“They found him…”
“Angie… Angie, what are you talking about? …Found him? Found who? Who did we lose?” and then there was a slow dawning of recognition… “Oh, my God! You don’t mean…my God!!! Chip?” Taking a deep breath, his heart pounding in his chest, his mind instantly filled with questions, trying to calm himself, and Angie as well, “Chip’s been found! Is he …?”
Through soft sobs, “He’s alive… They said he’s alive, and he’s ‘with it’, at least as much as a 69 year old man who’s been out of touch with civilization for nearly twenty-two years can be with it…” She took a deep breath, calming and composing herself. “Admiral, Admiral Johnson is on the line. Shall I put him through?”
“Yes, Angie, put him through, and then I want you to get me a list of all the crew of the boat when Chip went missing, I want to call Sharkey, and a few of the others, so they can let the men that are still alive know before the media gets this. It’s going to be a Media circus. Also get hold of the PR department, have Dave Bennett in my office within the half hour. We want to handle this well, and be one step ahead of the media and the tabloids…” He took a deep breath himself, “And, thanks, Angie…My God! After all these years…”
“Yes, sir, after all these years….
He’s coming home…”
He held onto the phone, his mind a complete jumble of memory and planning. On the other end of the phone, a voice… “Lee?”
“Joe? It’s true? Really true?” with almost awe, “Chip Morton’s been found?? You know for a fact that it’s Chip? You’ve seen him? Seen some sort of proof?”
Joe Johnson was quiet for a moment, “Yeah, I’ve seen photos. And I briefly spoke to him. It’s him, no doubt about it. Older, thinner, full of questions… First off, he wanted to know about the Admiral, you, the boat, the men… He was overwhelmed with it all. He couldn’t stay on the phone… Lee, I don’t know what to say… The Navy failed him… We failed him. We accepted he was lost and were done with it. No one believed he could have survived… I… I’m sorry, Lee… All these years….”
Crane shook his head and stood, looking out the window of his study. “Joe, the Navy did what the Navy had to and could do. I know that; Admiral Nelson and I both knew that at the time. So did the men. We never gave up, we always hoped, but the time came when we had to move on, just like everyone else did, Joe. Don’t be sorry…”
“No ‘buts’ about it, my friend. Where is he now? When does he come home? When can I talk to him?”
“They found him on an Island in the Pacific, a long forgotten one that some reality TV show was checking out, Survivor, I think is the name of the show. Anyway, he’s at Pearl, at the Naval Hospital. Once he’s checked out there, we’ll get him home to Santa Barbara. The doctors at Pearl tell me he’s in remarkably good shape, and for his age, chomping at the bit to get home. They don’t want him to talk on the phone for a while. Understandably, it seems that the reality of it all is a bit overwhelming, along with the news about Nelson, his parents, and so on. The psychologists want to make sure he's okay before they release him. Remember, for all intents and purposes, he's been in isolation for all these years. The doctors want to make sure his integration back into society doesn't overpower him completely. They also want him to see some doctors after he's released. To make sure they head off any bouts with PTSD. But he’ll be back to you in a few days or so. Enough time to give him a proper welcome home…”
Crane hesitated, his words and voice indicating his uncertainty. “Joe, I don’t know what the proper welcome home is… Did he…is he angry with us? Did you tell him the lengths the OOM went to to find him? How we all tried, for years, whenever we could?”
“Lee, if you think he’s blaming you, everyone he knew and cared for for not finding him sooner, he’s not. At least, he’s not right now. And the Morton I knew, that you knew, wouldn’t do something like that anyway. It’s just not inherent in the man. He knew and understood the risks of living the lives you all live, and that’s the bottom line of it all… No, there was no blame in his voice when I spoke with him. He’s anxious to see you, the men, the Institute, to get home. That’s it, at least for now. We’ve got our PR people out there, on it, and they can coordinate with yours. The network that this show is on is looking to do all kinds of things, like an exclusive interview, and we’re trying to put the skids on it. They want to do a show on what it’s like to come back to ‘civilization’ after all these years, and want Chip to be the ‘star’. He wants nothing to do with it or them. He doesn’t understand the ‘need’ to have reality shows to begin with. So we’re trying to help him along there. Can’t say as I disagree with that perspective myself. He’ll be better at handling it once he’s home, of course, so we’ll expedite what we can.” Joe paused. “I can’t begin to tell you how glad I am for him, and all of you… how very glad…”
“I know, Joe. I can’t begin to tell you how I feel, because I haven’t wrapped my mind around it yet. After all these years, Chip is found, alive and well…after all these years…”
“I know, Lee, I know… Look, I’ve got to get going here. There’s a helluva lot to do, to bring a hero home. And I’m going to make sure its done right.”
“No thanks necessary, Lee…it’s just the ‘right thing’, after all these years…” The phone clicked on the other end.
All these years. How much have you missed, what could you have had, have been, if we’d found you sooner, not after all these years… Lee hung up the phone, pulled the papers on his desk into a pile, and stood, resolving to leaving everything where it was, so that he could concentrate on the most important event in the life of the Institute in the last twenty plus years, Chip Morton, Exec of the Seaview, was coming home.
Ten days later, the large transport
set down, almost gently, as if it were aware of the precious cargo it carried. A
cargo very precious to the men standing on the airstrip.
It moved slowly to a stop, and a staircase was wheeled to the front exit door. Moments passed before the door opened, and for a few, eternal minutes, there was no activity. The men on the tarmac watched and waited, anxiously. All of them, so much older now, showing age in varying degrees; All but one, out of uniform in civilian clothes.
He stood, slightly apart from the rest, partly from habit, partly because he didn’t want them, long time crew and friends to see him when he saw his ‘brother’ for the first time in over twenty years. His amber-hazel eyes behind glasses, searched the door for a sight or some sign...
Then, just as quickly, there was activity, several people, surrounding a figure, hiding him from the eyes that sought to see him.
The four men on the ground unconsciously took several steps forward as one. All were silent, anticipating something that was beyond all of their collective imaginations. After all these years, he'd been found, alive, and rescued.... they were all having problems wrapping their brains around the concept... Alive. He was alive!
As the group reached the base of the stairs, the figure in the center came to the front. He stood, straight and sharp, in the khaki uniform of a Lieutenant Commander. He looked around, at once grateful for the private airstrip of the Institute, already tired of the constant presence of photographers and reporters wherever they could find him. He looked around, his blue eyes taking in all that was at once familiar and strange at the same time. On those long, lonely nights, he would often wonder how things had changed at the Institute. He took in the new buildings, the crowded skyline to the south, the nearby new construction. He shook his head in amazement. In the last few days he’d been devouring newspapers, watching television, discovering and plundering the Internet in an endless search to bring himself up to date with all he’d missed. And he’d missed a lot, but nothing more than the people who had inhabited his world, until that fateful day long ago. He continued to survey the tarmack, his eyes coming to rest on the tall, lean figure standing, in an Admiral’s uniform.
He hasn’t changed much, grayer…full beard…otherwise…same old Lee…Sharkey’s bald… that’s no surprise…Ski’s totally gray…Riley… a little plumper…and still that smile…a California boy still in that body!!
He sighed, turned to thank his escort, then turned and headed toward Crane.
Chip Morton came to a halt in front of his ‘brother’/CO/long time friend. Neither man said a word, both overcome with the wash of emotions held tight for the years that had separated them. They each took a step toward the other, and embraced in a bear hug, holding tightly as if when they let go, it would all be some sort of perverse dream. Tears flowed, unabashed, as both men let the torrents of pent up feelings flow.
Finally, they broke apart, still holding one another at arm’s length. The strength of the friendship, the bond of brothers flowed between them, renewed.
Finding a voice he thought lost,
Blue eyes bore into amber-hazel ones still rent with unreleased grief. “Sorry for what? For stopping what was a hopeless search? For believing that I was dead? For not spending all of your days in a seemingly fruitless search?” He shook his head, “You’ve got nothing to be sorry for. You did what you had to do, when you had to do it. And then you moved on with your life. That’s the only way it could have been, should have been.”
“But you… all these years….”
“Lee, I’m here… now… I’m home… That’s all what matters in the long run. I’m home. And by God, it’s good to be here. We can talk, later… in a less ‘public’ place. For now, I’m here, and that’s all that we have to move forward on…” He turned to the three men, waiting to the side, looking ready to move toward him, but allowing the ‘Captain’ and ‘Exec’ their private, if brief, reunion. He took a step towards them, and they moved as one to him. One by one greeting them, talking to them, beginning to re-acquaint himself with them. Finally, he turned back to Crane. “Before we go any further, where’s Angie?”
“Back in the office. She didn’t want to come down. She said she’d see you when you were ready, that you had a lot of people to see and talk to before her.”
He ran his hand through his now military-shorn hair. “Seems to me that she hasn’t changed at all…Same ol’ Angie.”
Lee nodded, smiling…”Yep… she swore
to me the day they called off the search, she wouldn’t retire until you were
found, or she was dead. Told me they’d have to carry her out of here!”
Chip laughed, and the group smiled. It was a sound they’d never thought to hear again. “I need to see her… same office? She still in charge?”
“Maybe even more so.” Lee rubbed
the stars on his collar, “Especially since I got these things, and Jenny
“Jenny retired? When?”
“Ten years ago, she moved to Phoenix, to be with her grandkids.”
“Grandkids?” There was a fleeting look of regret on his face, that quickly passed. His voice grew somber, “Lee, when did the OOM?...”
“’94. Shortly after his birthday.
He had a series of strokes. It was hard on him. Finally, he just left us. He’s
buried up there,” Lee pointed to one of the rises where a flag flew at half
staff on the pole. “He’s in a better place… that brilliant mind, in a body that
wouldn’t work… He’s better off…”
“I wish… I could have at least said ‘goodbye’.”
“Since you …?”
“Yeah… how many?”
“Jamie, Patterson, Ray, Sparks, from the original crew; some just left; O’Brien’s in Santa Fe and Palm Springs, Rod left and went into Emergency services, Carl left and lost touch. Some of the others left when the Admiral died…”
“I should have been here to share the burden with you…I should have tried harder to find a way off that damned island!!”
“Yeah… great principle of
survival, if the island can support your life indefinitely, build a raft, and
sail into the open ocean where you probably would die before you could find your
way to a shipping lane. That would be the thing to do…”
Chip looked at Crane, seeing the lines in the face of his friend, seeing the burdens he carried clearly, and felt guilty about having added to his grief.
“Yeah, well I did what we were taught to do… I survived, had a signal fire ready, had a shelter, food and water… and I’m here now, and home, and I guess the rest of it is just water under the bridge. You all moved on, I guess I’m going to have to adopt a huge learning curve, and do the same. There is so much I have to catch up on.”
“Well, there are a lot of us here to help with that.” They had walked across the tarmack, and arrived at NIMR1, the extended limo that served to transport dignitaries and others at the Institute. Chip was amazed at the size of the car.
“Looks like a boat all by itself,” he joked, as he followed Crane into the lush interior of the limo. He whistled low at the appointments. “Geez, Lee!!” Crane just smiled, as Chip examined the various electrical and other gadgets in the Limo. Sharkey, Riley and Kowalski hustled inside, and the driver, a young man in a tailored khaki uniform, closed the door, and then slid behind the wheel of the car, which seemed a city block away to Chip.
He was fingering a small recorder, studying it carefully, as Crane called someone on his cell phone. Sharkey and the former ratings sat quietly, observing the man they all had thought dead for these last twenty some. He hadn’t changed much, at least as they could see. He was still inquisitive about devices, if his exploration of the recorder was an indication. He’d been glad to see them, their reunion warm. His blond hair was more white than blond, and they all wondered if it was age or the years in the sun. He seemed to move with the same ease that the Skipper still did, he didn’t seem to be slowed down at all. He was thinner, much more than they had imagined, but it wasn’t an unhealthy thinness, more that of a man living off the land and with the elements. While he had a few years on Riley and Kowalski, Sharkey was nearer to his age, in fact, older, and one thing Francis Sharkey knew was that he was, indeed feeling his age. Maybe more so, in these last few years, and particularly so in these last few days.
Finally, never one to hold his questions too long, Sharkey cleared his throat. The other four men looked at him.
“Mr. Morton, sir…Well, what was it like… I mean, after the transport crashed, you know. What happened, sir? I mean if you don’t mind my askin’, if you know what I mean.”
Chip smiled at him, a rarity on the boat, but something that the Exec was doing a lot of since he’d been rescued.
“Sharkey, I don’t know where to begin. I think I’ll have to take my time and decide what and how much I want to and can remember. For now, let’s just let me be happy I’m home. When I’m ready, I’ll talk about it…deal?”
Sharkey nodded, and the other two men said nothing, just quietly acceded to the rescued man’s request. When the XO wanted them to know about it, they knew he would talk to them first, and that was all they needed to know. He was here, with them, and they weren’t about to let him go…ever…again!!!!!
They all sat back, quiet, waiting until the short ride to the Admin building brought them to the front doors. When the car stopped, Lee got out, and waited for the car to empty. Chip was the last one out, and he came out slowly, taking in all that was around. He looked up the flight of concrete steps that led to the building, then flashed a smile at Crane. “I used to take these two at a time… somehow, I don’t think it’s a possibility now…But, let’s go… I’m curious to see what changes happened in the building, and the grounds.”
Lee joined him, and followed by the other three men, went up the stairs into the building, and into the main lobby of the NIMR Administrative offices. Chip took two steps ahead of Lee and stood on the logo emblazoned on the floor in tile. He slowly walked around it once, then smiled again.
“Glad to see that at least this hasn’t changed.” He now looked around the expansive lobby, stopping his gaze on the larger than life portrait of Harriman Nelson. He looked at Lee, who gave him a half smile back.
“Had it done after the OOM died. He wouldn’t have let me do it when he was alive. But it has to be here… none of this would be anything without him. He did his will so that the patents he held would fund the Institute for at least the next hundred years. He left plans for new boats, new flying submersibles, all sorts of things, and he’d patented all of them. We’re financially secure here, unless something dramatic happens, and it would have to be awfully dramatic.” He moved next to Morton, still talking, “Not a lot of changes…new faces, but family names are the same. Tommy Chin’s son Joe is our security chief since Tommy retired, we have another Kowalski, two Riley’s, a Jones, a Clark, and well, the list goes on.” He took Chip’s arm, steering him to the elevator, “Let’s go upstairs, we have a lot to catch up on. And there are some people who are looking to say ‘hello’ again.”
Chip looked at him sharply, and Lee tried to reassure his friend, “Look, a lot of people spent a lot of time trying to find you. They never gave up hope, never quit. Even after the official search was over, they used weekends, vacations, any time they could… for years, my friend…”
Chip stopped, and looked at Lee, blue eyes covered with a layer of unshed tears. “I can’t…I didn’t imagine…”
Lee grasped a shoulder, “Not one day passed since you went missing that we didn’t think of you, wonder about you, hope that in some way you would come back to us…” His eyes also covered with a layer of tears, “And thanks to some fortuitous, albeit ridiculous ‘Reality Show’, you have come back!” He grabbed the other shoulder of his friend, grasping him more tightly than he realized, though neither man moved or spoke for the moment. “He,” and he nodded to the portrait of Nelson. “He’d take a vacation, and spend half of it in the Flying Sub, flying again and again over the area that the cargo ship went down. He never gave up, even the day he died. He told me to keep the search going, until we had final proof, one way or the other. That was 14 years ago. I can show you the flight records, we never stopped…” He dropped his hands, “I guess we just didn’t look in the right place. Somebody compared it at one point to looking for Amelia Earhart.”
In a voice husky with emotion, “How could you know that I drifted in one of the life rafts for almost five days? How could you know that in that time, I had been carried almost 200 miles from where the plane went down, and how could you know that I would find a place that all those years of training would finally be used, not just to save my life, but to maintain it ‘til I was finally found. How could you know any more than I did about what you all were doing?”
“If you’ll pardon a very bad pun, here, it seems like we both missed the boat, to your detriment, unfortunately.”
“Well, you know as well as I do, that we have to let it go…we have to accept it and move on from it.” He clapped Crane on the shoulder, “I know I certainly intend to…”
They stepped into the elevator, followed by the three men who had stood off during the conversation. As the doors closed, Crane said aloud, “Admiral’s office,” to which a female voice responded, “Admiral Crane’s floor, arrival in 22 seconds.”
Chip looked at Crane, “Voice activated, with voice recognition. The Admiral designed it. We’ve had it running for the last 15 years, after the technology caught up with the design.” Chip let out a low whistle.
“So, what other marvels have you got in store for me…?”
“All in good time, pal. First, it’s a remeet and re-acquaint…” He leaned over to whisper in Morton’s ear, “Just remember that some of us haven’t had the years be as kind to us as they’ve been to you…” and he grinned.
The doors of the elevator slid open, and revealed the remaining members of the Seaview’s crew and the land based employees of the NIMR, who had known and worked with Chip Morton. A loud cheer, and cries of ‘Welcome Back’ assailed him. He smiled, his eyes roaming the crowded room, seeing faces he remembered, even if all of their names were buried in his subconscious. He smiled, shook hands and accepted hugs, even a drink. He smiled, accepted welcomes, but his eyes continued to search, for the one person he wanted to see, as much as he’d wanted to see Lee.
He made his way through the room, finally escaping to what he knew was now Lee’s office. As he looked around it, he noticed how little it had changed, since Nelson had occupied the same space. He went to the leather couch, near the windows, and sat, feeling finally comfortable in this place, this home that he had missed so very much. He looked at the glass, that had been placed in his hand, grateful for the drink, not sure of how the alcohol in it would affect him, after his long abstinence. He sipped, remembering the occasional glass of Glen Livet that Nelson shared with his command staff in this room. He remembered many of the arguments, discussions, and vigils kept here. He shook his head, slowly, remembering again the day he’d arrived, when the NIMR was no more than Quonset huts and unfinished buildings, and the dream of an amazing man. His one regret, that he never had the opportunity to thank Harriman Nelson for all that he’d given him; all the opportunities that he’d had, because of the brilliant scientist.
He rose and went to the windows, overlooking the ocean and the permanent berth of the boat. He couldn’t wait to get on board her again. He knew she wouldn’t be the same, but he had to walk her, at least once more. Lee said that they now had a fleet of boats, that the Grey Lady had been gracefully retired for research work and a living museum. She looked the same from where he stood. Very much the same… He lost himself in thought, and didn’t hear the door open and close quietly. He didn’t hear the soft footsteps on the carpet, so he started when a hand touched him lightly on the shoulder. He turned, and found himself looking into a pair of brown eyes, long familiar ones that he hadn’t looked into for twenty two years. He looked at the heart-shaped face, slight wrinkles in the brow and around the eyes, the hair, now a mix of grey and brown, and looked at the figure, slightly rounder, but nonetheless, still shapely. The eyes looked deeply into his, misting as they stared into the twin pools of blue.
“Chip? It’s really you, you’re back… you’re here…”
He smiled, “Hi, Angie…”
“Hi,” she replied softly.
“You look the same…”
She smiled, shyly, at a man that she had once thought to date and marry, “So do you.” She giggled, feeling like a schoolgirl on a first date. “Hair’s a little greyer than I remember.”
“Mmm, not much of a choice there… How are you after all these years? Whose the lucky fellow you married? Do you have kids?”
“Nope to both. There was a guy I cared about… He took a trip… He’s been away for a long time… a real long time…”
Chip nodded, and drew her into an embrace. “Well,” his voice was hoarse, grateful that the years hadn’t changed the feelings that they seemed to still share. “It seems he’s back… and perhaps he could use a bit of a warm welcome…”
She leaned forward, he bent his head to hers. Their lips brushed, slightly. They paused, and then touched again, this time the kiss becoming deeper, more longing. They finally broke apart.
“That was, ummm, nice… I mean… Welcome home, Chip…”
He continued to hold her in a loose embrace. “Yeah, that was nice. And nicer to know that ‘my girl’ is still my girl.” He grinned, “What do you say we leave now, and go to your place, and talk. I’m afraid that I don’t have a valid license, a car or a place to live. So I’m really in your hands.”
She eased out of his arms. “Wrong on all counts, Mister. Once they verified it was you at Pearl, the wheels got turning really quick. Remember, you were declared dead. Lost at sea. You were issued a new ID and license. Technology is wonderful these days, especially in the intelligence community. I guess ONI felt they owed you one big time. Anyway, after your picture was taken at Pearl, they emailed it and had it put on your driver’s license. You were even issued a new Social Security number. Your Jeep’s still kept in the garage at your house. The Jeep is run and serviced regularly, and your house is kept with a cleaning service from here on the grounds. It was painted two years ago, and we changed curtains and such when we heard you were coming home. The ‘frig has been stocked, linens on beds are fresh, and there are fresh towels and linens in the house. Lee even brought by some basics for you after we got the sizes from Pearl. Jeans, shirts and a few uniforms with new insignias. You were promoted, when you were missing. You’re a Captain now, sir. Anything else you need in the uniform line, we'll head down to the NEX at Port Hueneme.” She smiled at him… "Oh, and by the way, you've got a lot of back pay coming to you as well. A lot!"
He returned the smile with one of his own, “Captain, huh? Seems I’ve got a lot to catch up with on a lot of levels… Let’s get out of here, and see what I can learn in the next few hours. You will come with me, right? Or rather, at least take me to the house…”
She smiled and nodded…”Sure… let’s tell Lee, and we can leave through the back way.”
“Sounds like a plan…Let’s do it… Looks like Mr. Morton has finally returned.”
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