Command Decision

by

Beth Kauffman



Sunlight glinted off the murky green waters of the South Philippine Sea. A thousand feet below the calm, glassy surface sailed the submarine Seaview, a design masterpiece.

Lee Crane, the sub's captain stared out the huge Herculite ports that fronted the submarine and smiled in satisfaction. The mission, a simple delivery, had gone well so far. He only hoped it continued to do so. A smooth cruise would be just what the doctor ordered, so to speak.

Glancing to his side, he watched his friend and the ship's designer, Admiral Harriman Nelson, who was seated at a table and studying a pile of papers before him. He was just about to ask Nelson what was so fascinating when a voice interrupted him.

"Captain? Could you come here for a moment, sir?" With a sigh, Crane walked to the sonar station where Seaman Patterson stared in bewilderment.

"What is it, Pat?"

"I...I don't know, sir. I keep getting these strange readings. One minute, I'm getting a reading, and the next, it's gone."

Crane reached for the headphones, and Patterson glanced up at the Captain's face, eager for any sign the Captain knew what the strange readings meant.

"Can you identify what that is, Patterson?" he asked as he listened intently.

"I'm not sure, sir. I can't quite..."

Unable to resist a good mystery, Nelson followed Crane. "What have you got?" the Admiral interrupted.

A puzzled frown creased Crane's face. "I don't know. We keep picking up something…a signal, but it's erratic and keeps disappearing."

"I think it's another sub, sir," spoke up Seaman Patterson as he continued to fiddle with the dials on the sonar screen. "The few clear readings I've been able to receive profile like another sub. A much smaller sub, moving slowly."

"Course?" asked a terse Nelson.

Patterson shook his head. "I can't be certain, sir. She keeps fading. But I think she…or whatever it is, is off our port bow."

Nelson reached for the headphones and listened intently as he made minor adjustments. Pursing his lips, he slowly nodded. "I agree. I think the seamounts in this area are interfering with the readings though. Sparks! Try to raise that sub."

A few quiet moments went by till Sparks received an answer.
"Sir! I've raised the sub. She's a Chinese vessel. The first officer says they are doing research."

"On what?" asked Nelson, who had come up beside Sparks, his curiosity more than piqued.

Sparks relayed the Admiral's question, frowning in concentration at the reply. "He's hard to understand, sir. But he says they are looking for a source of pollution that has killed off a number of fish nearby."

Silence filled the Control Room as Nelson absorbed the reply, his fingers drumming on the radio console. Raising himself up, he gave a short nod. "Tell her captain they have my good wishes on their search, and if they require assistance, to ask."

"What do you make of that?" asked Crane when the message had been sent and both men had returned to the sonar station.

Shrugging, Nelson put his hands in his pockets and rounded his shoulders. "They could be telling the truth. Although I haven't heard of any fish die-offs, it is possible. We are closer to their home waters than to our own. Let me know if you hear any..."

"Sir!" Nelson's words were cut off by Sparks' urgent cry.

Nelson and Crane raced to the radio shack. "What is it, Sparks?"

"That Chinese sub, sir. She reports she's under attack!"

"By whom?" the two senior officers asked simultaneously.

"They don't know. They thought at first it was us. Then they picked up another sub. They..."

"Sir!" yelled Patterson. "I'm picking up torpedoes! Five thousand yards off our port bow and heading for the Chinese sub."

A second later, Patterson grabbed the headphones from his head and turned to Nelson. "Direct hit. She's...gone, sir," he said quietly, incredulity creeping into his voice. "Why, sir? She said she was just doing research."

Reaching out, Nelson grasped Patterson's shoulder lightly. "I don't know, Pat. I don't know. See if you can locate that other sub. I want to know who she is and what she's about."

"Aye, sir."

"What's going on?" asked Crane quietly. "First we keep picking up and losing a sub. Now there are two of them and one has been shot to pieces!"

"I wish I knew, Lee. Chip? What's our depth?"

Lt. Commander Chip Morton turned to the fathometer, squinting at the numbers. "We're in about 3000 feet of water, sir with about 2000 feet under us."

"Well, at least we have some maneuvering room. Patterson? Any luck with that other sub?"

"No, sir," the young seaman said without turning his head. "I can't...Wait a minute.... Torpedoes!" he shouted. "Heading right for us!"

"Helm, hard right rudder. Come to flank speed. Sail cameras on!" Crane's voice echoed through the Control Room. He turned briefly to Nelson who stared back, a slight smile on his lips giving Crane tacit approval.

The three officers watched via the sail cameras as the torpedoes closed in and sailed harmlessly under the submarine.

"Patterson, get a fix on where those fish came from. Mr. Morton, alert the Missile Room to ready all tubes for firing," Crane's voice was strong and confident.

"Got it, sir," said Patterson. "Ninety degrees off our port bow."

"Mr. Morton, relay coordinates."

"Missile Room reports they are ready, sir."

"Fire numbers one and three."

The torpedoes sped on their way as the Control Room crew waited for the sound of a hit.

"Complete miss, sir. Both of them," said a dejected Patterson.

"Any sonar contact?"

"None, sir. She's just...Torpedoes! Coming in again from the port bow."

"Hard left rudder. Dive! Dive!"

All hands braced for an explosion and weren't disappointed as the first torpedo slammed into a nearby seamount, causing the Seaview to rock from side to side, throwing her officers and men to the deck.

Crane picked himself up from the deck. "Get a fix on that sub!" he yelled as he reached a hand down to help Nelson and then Morton to their feet.

"I can't get a clear fix on their position. The signal keeps disappearing. They…Torpedoes!" Patterson shouted. "Coming in from the starboard!"

"Fire tubes two and four!" Both torpedoes missed.

"Lee, we can't just keep firing blindly. We need a clear target. Patterson, can't you pick anything up?"

Patterson took a deep breath and concentrated. The Admiral and the whole crew were depending on him. "I...I can't get a clear fix, sir. The signal keeps jumping around."

Crane smacked his hand into the periscope island. "Why can't we pick them up? They don't seem to be having any trouble finding us."

"Sir," Morton's voice broke through Crane's musings. "Damage control reports a few of the hull plates are buckling from that last near miss. We're taking on water in several compartments, including frame ten. The crews don't think they can hold them together for long."

Nelson, who had been intently staring at the sonar screen, looked up when he heard the damage report. "Frame ten? That's where that experimental equipment we are delivering for the army is being stored. We can't afford to lose any of that. We need to get those supplies moved now."

"Sir, crews are already working on moving the stores and shoring up the hull," replied Morton.

"I'll go down and give them a hand. They need to be extra careful. Lee," Nelson said turning back for a moment. "Find that sub. And sink it!"

With that, Nelson strode from the room.

Realizing the danger the men, and Nelson, would be in if the hull plate went, Crane searched the room till his eyes rested on Seaman Kowalski. "Ski! Go with the Admiral. Help them with the equipment."

Ski smiled slightly, knowing what the Captain really wanted was someone to keep the Admiral out of danger.

"Aye, sir."

Kowalski followed the Admiral out of the room and down the long corridor until he reached the frame in question. The Admiral was already inside, giving orders and supervising the removal of the stores.

"Careful now! Don't bump that. Easy." Nelson worked alongside the other men, moving the stores to safety.

After a few minutes, he stopped to wipe his brow and smiled in amusement to find Kowalski working beside him. No doubt, the fact Kowalski had suddenly shown up beside him when he was supposed to be in the Control Room, was Crane's way of trying to keep him out of trouble. Or danger. Or both.

Kowalski looked up just then and noticed the amused expression on the Admiral's face. He shrugged and continued working.

Suddenly, the ship lurched heavily to one side and the men were thrown about. Nelson, thrown into a nearby crate, winced and rubbed his side where the edge had gouged him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a crate, balanced precariously on top of another, begin to fall. With a start he realized it was heading straight for Kowalski.

"Kowalski! Look out!' he yelled, lunging at the younger man and knocking him out of the way.

Ski heard the Admiral's shout and felt his hands on his back, pushing him. Another explosion rocked the sub, and Ski lost consciousness briefly as another container fell from its perch. He awoke to shouting and the acrid stench of something burning.

Rising slowly from the deck, he looked about him in confusion. Containers that had been stacked carefully were now scattered about the compartment, some broken open and spilling their contents. Crewmen were helping each other to their feet and carrying the injured from the compartment.

Suddenly remembering the Admiral, Kowalski called out for him, searching till he found his body pinned under several of the large crates. He fell to his knees beside him and tried to move the heavy boxes from him, but met with no success.

"Hey!" he yelled to the others. "The Admiral's trapped! Give me a hand."

Willing pairs of hands reached out, all attempting to shift the heavy crates, but were unable to do so.

"Ski," one crewman yelled. "The patch isn't holding. The frame's filling with water. We gotta get out of here. Now!"

"I'm not leaving till I get the Admiral out."

The voice of the Captain came over the frame's intercom. "You men in frame ten! Close and dog the hatch. The hull plate's about to go!"

Ski rose quickly from the Admiral's side and raced to the microphone. "We can't, sir! The Admiral's trapped under some of the containers. We can't budge them."

His words were met with silence. Kowalski could imagine the look on the Captain's face as he realized the danger the Admiral--all of them--were in.

"I'll be right there," a taut voice from the intercom said.

"All right, you guys! Let's get this stuff moved off the Admiral so we can all get out of here." The men leaped forward, eager to do as Kowalski said, trying with all they had to budge the heavy load. Each attempt met with failure.

"Norden, get a block and tackle from stores. We may be able to attach it and shift the containers with that."

A short time after the Captain's call, Crane arrived in the frame and came quickly to their side. He stared down at the wet, still form of Nelson. "Has he moved?" he asked as he knelt and reached out a hand to feel for his pulse, relieved to feel it still beating.

"No, sir. He's been out since that first explosion."

Crane looked about him in the frame and saw the containers spilled about, the water seeping in slowly from the cracked hull. He knew the danger they all were in, yet not one man had left. All stood as if rooted to the spot, hoping he had a solution. But he didn't. Not one that wouldn't take too much time.

A noise forced him to look down and he saw with relief that the Admiral was stirring as much as he could under the debris. A low moan broke from his lips, and Lee was by his side immediately. "Admiral? Can you hear me?"

Slowly, Nelson opened his eyes and stared into the worried eyes of Crane. "L...Lee? What...what happened?"

Crane attempted to mask the worry he felt, and he gave a short laugh. "We destroyed that sub. That's what's happened. Unfortunately, she was rather close to us at the time and we...we had some damage. Nothing too serious but..."

"But?' Nelson reached about him and felt the wetness on the floor. "The hull? The patch isn't holding. Can you surface?"

Nelson's question was met with silence for a moment. "No. The ballast controls are damaged. Crews are working on, but it may take awhile."

"You've got to get the men out of here, Lee. Now."

"Not till we have you out of here."

Nelson groaned again and tried to shift his position. "Can you...lift the containers?"

Absolute quiet met his question and he knew without being told what the answer was.

"Then get out."

"No! No, sir! We're not leaving you here," an obviously distraught Kowalski protested.

Nelson looked up as much as he was able to and smiled tightly. "Kowalski, are you all right?"

"Yes, sir. But it should be me under that stuff, not you." His eyes met Crane's above the body before them. "He...he pushed me out of the way, sir. It should be me lying there not..."

"Enough," said Nelson, his voice weakening. "It shouldn't be either one of us. But since it is me, I suggest you all get out. Now!"

Crane lowered his head closer to the Admiral. "Admiral, I...I can't just leave you here, sir."

"You don't have a choice, Lee and you know it. If that plate goes with the hatch open...you will endanger the rest of the ship. You can't allow that. I won't allow you to do that. Not for one man. And before you say anything else, I won't allow you to close the hatch and stay. You all go. Now. That's an order."

Norden's return with a block and tackle interrupted anything Crane might have said. The men hurriedly attached it to the ceiling and began attempting to lift the containers from Nelson.

They had made some headway when the sub suddenly rocked once again to the side, throwing the men off balance and causing them to lose whatever ground they had gained.

"Captain, it's Morton. Frame twenty-two is now flooded. You need to get that hatch closed now!" Morton's urgent voice echoed through out the still room.

Crane walked to the mike and hesitated a moment before answering. "We can't, Chip. The Admiral is trapped under several crates. We can't budge them and the block and tackle isn't holding."

Silence met Crane's reply, and then a quiet, calm voice came over the intercom. "Lee…if that hull plate goes with the hatch open, we're going to have trouble raising ourselves. As it is we…"

"I'm well aware of what will happen if we don't get the hatch closed in time, Mr. Morton!" Crane practically shouted. Then in a softer tone he said, "I know. I'll take care of it."

"Lee." Nelson called softly. "Lee?"

Anguished, Crane lowered himself by the Admiral and placed a hand on his back. Nelson's eyes fluttered open and he stared without blinking at the man he called friend.

"Lee, get out now. You know it's the right thing to do." Crane closed his eyes and clasped his hand on Nelson's shoulder.

"Go, Lee. Before it's too late. Please. Don't make me responsible for these men's--your--deaths."

Feeling the weight of the decision he was being forced to make, Crane lowered his head, unable to look his friend in the eye. "Clear the compartment," he said in a soft voice, after a moment.

A chorus of protests was raised till Crane stood, grief etching his eyes. "I said, clear the compartment. That wasn't a request."

Kowalski stared in horror at Crane, knowing they would be leaving the Admiral to die. "Sir, please, let me stay. I can..."

"No, Kowalski," said a quiet, pain-filled voice at his feet. "Go with the others. What happened, happened. It's better this way. You...you have your whole life ahead of you."

Kowalski knelt by Nelson's side. "Sir..."

"Go. Lee, get him out of here. Get all of them out of here. And...save my boat." Nelson's voice faded as he talked.

Crane pulled Kowalski to his feet and towards the door. Looking back at the man that was closer to him than a brother, he knew he would never see him again and the thought filled him with an anguish he had never known before.

The sound of metal being stressed beyond its limits rang throughout the compartment. "Good-bye, Admiral Nelson." Crane's quiet voice shook as he said the words.

"Good-bye...Lee."

Turning on his heel, determined to do what had to be done, Crane met Kowalski by the hatch. "Let's go, Ski."

"Aye, sir," he said in a small voice. "I'll...I'll close the hatch, sir."

Nodding, Crane went through the hatch, the door closing behind him with a loud clang. The sound of the hatch being dogged rang throughout the corridor. Crane turned back to tell Kowalski there wasn't anything else he could have done, only to discover Kowalski wasn't there. Hearing the sound of a belaying pin being slipped into place, Crane realized Kowalski had stayed behind and he pounded on the hatchway. "Kowalski! Come out! There isn't anything you can do! That's an order!"

"Sorry, sir. It should me under that stuff, not him. I know I can get him out. Take care of the ship, sir and if I don't make it...tell Pat and Stu I said good-bye."

"Ski!" Crane continued to pound on the hatch but Kowalski didn't answer. Laying his head on the now dogged hatch, Crane envisioned what would happen to the two men, and he closed his eyes against the image.

"Back to your duty stations, men." Crane's voice was filled with the torment that showed on his face.

The long walk to the Control Room seemed to take forever as Crane anticipated having to tell Chip and the crew. But at last he stood by the entryway and listened to Chip give orders to bring the sub to the surface.

"Good. Ballast controls are working again. Keep her steady. Sparks, contact COMSUBPAC and let them know what's happened. See if they have any information on that enemy sub." Morton's voice was a sea of calm in the turmoil Crane felt. The ship was safe. But at what cost?

Morton saw Crane out of the corner of his eye and turned to him. "Lee. Ballast controls are working again. They're sluggish, but working. It will still take us awhile to get to the surface though. Estimates are that it will take us…" Crane's pale face halted his report. Concern showed in Morton's eyes as he took in Crane's appearance. "Lee? What's wrong?"

Closing his eyes, Crane forced himself to tell Morton and the Control Room crew that the Admiral couldn't be moved and that the hatch was dogged, with him and Kowalski still inside.

Incredulity enveloped Morton's face and he shook his head slightly as if to dispel an unwanted thought. "I...I don't believe it. I just...There must be something we can do! Lee..."

"There isn't, Mr. Morton! Do you think I would have left them there if..."

Before Crane could finish what he was going to say, the Seaview groaned and the sub rocked gently to the side. Crane closed his eyes, knowing it meant another hull plate had gone. "Which frame, Chip?"

Morton stared at the instrument before him, hoping against hope it would say something other than what he knew it would say. "Frame ten's hull plate has buckled, sir. Frame ten is flooded."

An utter stillness filled the Control Room as each crewman and officer absorbed the loss. The Admiral--their admiral--was gone. It didn't seem possible that such a thing could be true. The man who had conceived such a wondrous thing as the Seaview, the man who had willingly served his country most of his life, the man who had saved their lives more times than they could count, was dead? Something must be truly wrong with the universe for such a thing to be true.

Crane opened his eyes and straightened. He stared about him at the men he saw before him. Disbelief and grief engraved their faces. He knew these men, and he knew what each man felt at that moment. But there was no time to grieve. Not now. He had a job to do---to save Nelson's boat. "How far to the surface, Mr. Morton?" he asked softly.

Chip Morton, his own grief tightly under control looked at the depth gauges. "We...we have about 700 feet to..."

"Skipper? Skipper, this... this is Kowalski. I need help, sir."

Disbelief marked the faces of Crane and Morton as they both raced for the microphone. "Ski? Ski...how?... are you all right?"

"I...I'm fine sir. Just a little winded. But the Admiral needs help, sir. I don't think I can carry him to the Sick Bay."

Morton jumped to call Sick Bay and informed Crane that the Doc was on his way.

"Ski, Doc's on his way. How did you...never mind. I'll meet you both in the Sick Bay." And with that, he was out the door and on his way.

The scene at Sick Bay was one of frenzied activity as Nelson was brought into the room. His vitals and X-rays were taken, and while Crane watched, the still form was subjected to a battery of tests. Kowalski, however, was no where to be seen.

Probably hiding, Crane thought angrily. And well he should.

After an eternity, Doc approached Crane, a look of amazement on his face. "I don't quite believe what I am about to say but, he's going to be all right."

"But...those containers...they weigh...there were three of them on him. How...?"

"They weren't all laying on him, Skipper," said a soft voice from behind him. "One was. The other two formed a...well, sort of an A. They rested on each other but not on the one pinning the Admiral. At least, not completely."

Doc grunted. "If they had all been laying on him, we wouldn't be talking about it."

Crane turned his eyes from Kowalski, who was sitting in a wheelchair, back to Doc's. "Then he's all right?"

"Well, I didn't say he was all right. He has a few broken ribs, a concussion, a fractured left arm, more bruises than I can count...but yes, he's going to be all right. Sore, but all right. As long as I can keep him here for a few days."

"Don't worry about that, Doc. He'll stay here. If I have to post a guard, he'll stay here." Crane's voice showed the strain he had been under. "Can I see him?"

Doc shook his head. "Not just yet. I still have a few tests to run, and I need to set the fracture in his arm. He's still pretty groggy, and I doubt he would even know you're there. I'll let you know when you can see him."

When Crane didn't move, Doc sighed heavily. "I suppose you're going to wait right here till you see him, huh?"

Crane's smile gave him his answer.

"All right. Stay. No one listens to me anyway around here. But you," he said, pointing to Kowalski. "Will stay here till I tell you you can leave. Understood?"

Kowalski laughed. "Understood, Doc." There was no way he was going to refuse orders from another officer. He figured he was in enough hot water as he was.

He looked up to see Crane's eyes upon him. "Is he all right, Doc?" Crane asked, gesturing to Kowalski.

"He will be. He has some strained muscles. His right knee has some strained ligaments. His back is pretty bruised, but he'll mend. They were both lucky."

"Yes, they were very lucky," said Crane in a whisper.

Doc left the room to attend to his other patient, leaving Crane with Kowalski. A situation that left Kowalski with a very uncomfortable feeling. He tried to look anywhere but at Crane but found his eyes drawn back to the somber, silent Captain.

Finally, Crane walked slowly to stand beside the wheelchair, his hands clasped behind him. "You've been aboard the Seaview for a long time, haven't you, Kowalski?"

Kowalski nodded, then cleared his throat. "Yes, sir, I have."

"And you know what orders are, correct?"

"Yes, sir." Kowalski's voice was barely a squeak as he answered the Captains' questions.

"Do you remember how to follow them?" Crane's voice was becoming louder with each question and Kowalski began to squirm in the wheel chair.

"Yes, sir, I do, sir. I just…"

"You just…what? Willfully disobeyed orders and risked your life?"

Kowalski was silent for a moment, not sure how he should respond. "I just knew I could get him out in time, sir. I thought it was my risk to take. No one else's."

"But you were given a direct order."

"Yes, sir. I was. But, I'm not sorry I disobeyed, sir." Kowalski's voice dropped even lower.

"You're not sorry?"

"No, sir." Kowalski shook his head slightly and stared intently at his fingers, the chair, the floor, anywhere but Crane, who just stared.

Time crept on and still Crane remained, motionless and quiet.

Finally, he broke the silence. "I have just one more thing to say to you, sailor."

The tension level rose in the room as Kowalski waited for Crane to finish. He prepared himself for the punishment he knew was coming.

"Thank you."

Surprise flooded his face as he turned his eyes to the Captain's. "Sir?"

"I said, thank you. For saving him when I couldn't. And for saving yourself."

The young seaman's face flooded with color. "You're...you're welcome, sir. I just..."

Crane held up a hand. "You did the right thing, despite the fact you disobeyed my orders. That's all that matters. Now," he said drawing up a chair. "Tell me how."

A weight dropped from Kowalski's shoulders. "I...well, sir I tried the block and tackle again. This time it held. I was able to lift the first container and braced the other with my back. Then I moved the second container off him. After that, it was just a matter of moving the main one pinning him and pulling him out," he said with a slight shrug.

"Just like that?"

"Well, sir, adrenaline is a wonderful thing. When I heard that hull plate groaning like she was about to go...well, it inspired me I guess."

Crane laughed lightly. "Yes, I guess it did."

The two men sat lost in their own thoughts for a time, each reliving the events of the day: events neither of them would ever forget.

"Captain? The Admiral is beginning to wake up, sir. Doc said you wanted to be informed." Crane looked up to see a corpsman hovering over him. He hadn't even heard the man approach.

Standing up, Crane turned back to the man seated before him. "Go get some rest, Ski. And heal up. Seaview can't do without one of her best crewmen." Turning back, he marched off to the room containing the man he thought never to see alive again.

Doc Jamieson hovered over the still form of Admiral Nelson, checking and rechecking vital signs, adjusting IV lines and generally fussing over him. Looking over his shoulder, he saw the tall form of the sub's Captain. "Come on in, Captain. He's beginning to come around."

Crane approached the bed and stared down at the man before him. Covered from his chest to his stomach in bandages, he presented a picture of a man hurt far worse than he had been told.

"Don't worry, Captain. He will be all right, given some time to rest and heal. I'll leave you alone for a moment. I need to check on my other patient."

His eyes never leaving the man in the bed before him, Crane heard the doctor pad quietly from the room and gave a deep sigh. He had come so close to losing him. So close to never being able to...to what? Tell him how much his friendship over the years meant to him? How he felt closer to him than a brother? Crane snorted slightly, tipped his head back and closed his eyes. He would never say any of those things even though they were true.

"Something interesting up there?" a quiet voice before him asked after a moment.

Startled, Crane dropped his gaze from the ceiling and looked at Nelson. Smiling, he leaned over him. "Just checking for cobwebs."

"Doubt you will find any up there. Jamie runs a tight ship." Grimacing, Nelson closed his eyes against the pain that suddenly flooded his head and chest and then sighed. "I doubt I will be seeing the outside of this room for a long time, judging by the way he was looking at me when we came in."

"You...you should be glad you are even here to look forward to arguing with Jamie." Nelson looked up at the slight catch in Crane's voice.

"Lee?"

Raising himself up, Crane patted Nelson gently on the shoulder. "You need to get some rest, so I am going to head out. I'll...I'll be back soon." He turned and was almost to the door when Nelson's weak voice stopped him.

"You did the right thing, Lee. No matter what you think or feel. It was the right thing."

Crane's shoulders sagged as the words penetrated. "The right thing," he whispered. Slowly, he faced Nelson again. "It doesn't feel like the right thing. I could have saved you. I could have..."

"You could have delayed and caused the Seaview to sink with no hope of rising, costing 125 men their lives. You could have been trapped in the frame with me. And died. Or, you could have done what you did."

"If Kowalski hadn't disobeyed orders, you'd be dead now!" he said as he stalked back to his bedside.

Nelson closed his eyes and tried to take as deep a breath as possible without causing any more pain. He knew where Lee was coming from, having been there himself. He shuddered as he remembered all the times that he had been the one to give the orders that cost others their lives. Friends, ship mates, subordinates. Opening his eyes, Nelson looked into Crane's downcast ones.

"That order, the one that is going to cost someone their life, is the hardest one to make. Especially when it's someone you know. Or care about. But it has to be made. If you can't make it, then you have no place commanding a submarine. Or any other vessel." The words were forced from Nelson's throat. He had seen men that had made those types of decisions before and then couldn't stand the thought of making another. The tension in the room was a palpable thing as he watched Crane's face.

Dropping his gaze to the floor, Crane nodded slowly. "I know," he said, his voice barely a whisper.

"If there comes another time like today, I need to know that you can and will do the right thing, Lee."

Silence filled the room as Crane remained with his head down. Slowly, a small smile played about the edges of his mouth. Looking up, he asked, "You, uh...you aren't planning on there being more times like today, are you, sir?"

"Not too many more, I wouldn't think," Nelson said, smiling broadly.

Nodding, Crane reached out a hand to Nelson and gripped his shoulder firmly. "You need some rest, Admiral. I'll check back on you soon."

Nelson's rapidly weakening voice reached Crane before he made the door. "You can bring me the reports on the repairs when you come back. And I want to know who in blazes was firing at us. Alert COMSUBPAC. And bring those...those proposals from...from..."

Crane smiled as the Admiral's eyes closed slowly and he gave into exhaustion. He'd beaten the odds again. They both had. Yet, how many more times could they? Was there a finite number? Were they close to reaching their allotted number? Watching the Admiral sleep, Crane smiled. No matter how many more times they had left, at least this time, he had had one more chance.

Shaking his head, he left the Sickbay and headed back to the Control Room, whistling softly under his breath.



Copyright 2000 by Beth Kauffman
Please send comments to Beth at: BKauff81@aol.com
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