by Middie Rosie
Admiral Harriman Nelson looked in dull surprise at the pencil in his hand. He had snapped it in two without even realizing it. Throwing it down on the desk, Nelson leaned back and ran his hand through his hair. It was the third time in an hour that his thoughts had drifted. Damn it, I don't have time for this!
It was at times like this that Jack's input was so important. Jack who had been his friend since the academy. Jack who had always stood by him when others had laughed at his vision. It was Jack Phillips who pushed him when he was discouraged, who believed in him when things went wrong, who was just as responsible for the construction of Harry's dream, the USRN Seaview, as Harry himself was. And it was Jack who had given up his own life to save Harry when they were caught in a terrorist attack while driving on a lonely mountain road.
Harry clenched his jaw against the wave of emotion that threatened to engulf him. Jack Phillips had been dead for less than 48 hours, but there was no time to give in to grief. Jack was the Captain of the Seaview, the world's largest and most advanced submarine. Seaview had only just completed her sea trials when Jack was so cruelly murdered, and already there was a mission crucial to the survival of mankind awaiting her.
Even the brilliant Harry Nelson was practically overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem. A series of horrific earthquakes around the world had given seismic scientists enough data to predict a pair of devastating 9.0 earthquakes to come. These two quakes could shatter the mantle of the earth or at the very least, they could cause tidal waves of massive proportion that would inundate every major port in the northern hemisphere.
Harry had checked and rechecked the scientists' calculations, and could find no flaw in the prediction. He and his team of mathematicians from his newly formed Nelson Institute of Marine Research had proven that a precisely placed nuclear explosion would negate the effects of these earthquakes, and should also cause the recent spate of seismic activity to subside.
With Jack's death like a weight on his heart, Nelson had flown to Washington DC to inform the government of his solution. Harry shook his head at the memory. He was astonished to discover that there were some so-called 'experts' who actually disagreed with his calculations! As if mathematics was an interpretive science! He had been angered by the foolishness, but wiser heads had prevailed, and his plan had ultimately been approved.
As he left the meeting, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had casually offered him the services of Navy Commander Lee B. Crane to replace the murdered Captain Phillips. Nelson was secretly delighted at the offer and vowed not to let Lee Crane get away again. Although young for command, Crane has served with Nelson before, and the Admiral had always felt that the young officer was a good match for Seaview. Unfortunately timing had been against them, and Nelson had never been able to work a deal that would have brought Crane to him.
Under tremendous pressure to "save the world", Harry had returned to Seaview only to find that the Executive Officer of the boat, Henry 'Hank' Jensen had submitted his resignation. Nelson thought back on his initial furious disbelieving reaction. His sense of betrayal had been strong, and he had rounded on the stoic man calling him all manner of names. Jensen had just stood there taking it, with his pale blue eyes full of compassion. Nelson realized now that Hank had given him an opportunity to vent some of the emotional pressure that had been building.
When Harry had finally run down, Jensen had calmly asked if the Admiral was considering him for the captaincy. The question had caught Nelson up short. Jensen was an able administrator, and well respected by the crew, but Harry had never seriously considered him for Captain of the Seaview. As a matter of fact, he had been on the verge of requesting Lee Crane when the CJCS had offered him.
He had asked Hank to stay for just one more cruise, but Jensen, probably wiser that his Admiral, said, "Admiral, you and I both know that you aren't going to let the Navy have Crane back. I'm too old to work for that young firebrand. Morton is ready for this. Just promote the man and be done with it. You'll be happy with the result. Morton and Crane have a history together. Let them jell together, and they'll be as good a command staff as any in the Navy. I'd just be in the way."
Nelson rebelled at the thought of Jensen being too old. The man was only two years younger than Jack and that made him only five years younger than himself. But age aside, he knew Hank was right. Crane needed someone with energy, and a 'new Navy' point of view. He wasn't sold on Chip Morton, but he knew that Jensen would land up trampled under Crane's aggressive style. Nelson sadly accepted Jensen's resignation and ended up wishing him well.
Nelson looked down at the paperwork on his desk. He had been drifting again!
Disgusted with himself, he opened the bottom drawer of his desk and reached for the bottle of whiskey, then stopped with his hand on the bottle. He could practically hear Jack's voice in the air. "Harry, go easy on the hard stuff." Grimacing, he let go of the bottle, and instead turned to the coffee pot sitting on the credenza behind him.
A hard rap at the door brought Harry's head up. He had ordered Lt. Morton to report at the end of his duty shift. It was going to be a hard interview. Squaring himself away at the desk, he called out, "Come."
The door opened, and Lt. Morton stepped in, looking impossibly young. "Lt. Morton reporting as ordered, Sir." The man stood looking for all the world like a cadet on review. Nelson reminded himself that Morton was the same age as Jack had been when he had served as Nelson's Exec aboard the Nautilus.
"Sit down, Lieutenant." As the young officer sat, Nelson stared, absently tapping a pencil on his desk. As time passed, Nelson watched for any signs of nervousness on Morton's impassive face. Nelson realized that was one of the things about Morton that bothered him. The man sat as if he had all of the time in the world.
Protocol prevented the junior officer from speaking until spoken to, and as far as Harry could tell, Morton had just 'powered down' waiting for his commanding officer's words. It was absolutely eerie. Nelson, whose genius was renowned throughout the military, could not imagine ever being so... so... still. Yes, that was it! The man had a calmness about him that was absolutely alien to the constantly thinking Admiral.
Finally he said, "Mr. Morton, as you know Commander Jensen has submitted his resignation."
"Uh, until I can get a proper replacement, I would like you to take over some of the Commander's duties. I want you to work on the duty rosters, and manpower reports."
"Yes, Sir." Was there a flicker of something in those hooded blue eyes? The Admiral couldn't be sure, the change of expression had been so brief. And was it disappointment or relief? Nelson knew that Jack was very high on this young man, and had been subtly grooming him to take over Jensen's position when Jensen was scheduled for early retirement in two years time.
Now that it was being forced upon him, Nelson had grave reservations-and it was not just the age factor either. Lt. Frank Bishop had a couple of years seniority over Morton. Bishop was a loyal officer, a bit on the cold side, but a good man nonetheless. Promoting Morton would be a slap in the face to Bishop.
As he looked over at the patiently waiting junior officer, Nelson wondered if denying him the promotion would cause Morton to request a transfer back to the regular Navy. He couldn't afford to lose either man under the circumstances, and he was sure Bishop would consider Morton's promotion a mortal insult. But Chip Morton was not so easily read, and in the end, Nelson convinced himself that the junior officer did not expect promotion, and would probably be content to serve as 2nd officer.
The thought served to finalize his choice. He simply didn't have the time to break through to this officer's mind. Knowing that he could be making a mistake, Nelson decided against Lt. Morton. Bishop was the next in the chain of command. If he didn't work out, Nelson could always make a change later when there was time for proper consideration.
Feeling awkward, Nelson finally said, "That will be all, Lieutenant."
Morton stood and threw a regulation salute. "Aye, Sir. Thank you, Sir." He spun on his heel, and stepped to the door. As he opened it, he paused, obviously wanting to say something. Nelson raised his eyebrows in open invitation. With a look of sadness, Morton said, "Sir..... Admiral, I am going to miss Captain Phillips."
Harry sat in mild shock. In his own grief, he had forgotten that others depended on Jack, too. He felt as if Morton had let down some guard that Nelson didn't even recognize was there. The young officer was taking Jack's death hard, just as hard as he himself was. Gruffly, he said, "I understand, Lieutenant. We will all miss the Captain."
"Yes, Sir." replied the junior officer, and then he was gone, leaving Nelson to wonder again if he was making a mistake in going with Bishop as Exec.
Shaking his head in exasperation, Harry turned his attention back to the paperwork on his desk. He sighed as he eyed the pile of reports and requests for the Seaview's services. It had always seemed to him that the higher he climbed through the ranks, the higher the piles of unending paperwork grew. Some Admirals delegated everything to underlings, but Harry knew that if NIMR and Seaview were to be successful, he had to personally keep on top of things.
For the next hour, Admiral Nelson worked, or tried to. Despite his best efforts, the events of the past two days kept intruding, and he found himself unable to focus on the job at hand. He was relieved when he heard another knock at his door.
"Come. " Nelson called out as he tossed his pencil on his desk and leaned back in his chair. The door opened, and the Seaview's Chief of the Boat, Curly Jones, stuck his grizzled head in. "Admiral, Commander Crane has come aboard."
"Ah, very well, Chief. Have him report to my cabin once he's settled in."
"Aye, Sir. " The Chief's hesitation caused Nelson to look up.
"Was there something else, Chief?"
Jones stood in the doorway with a pensive look on his unlovely face. Nelson waited. From long experience, the Admiral knew that Jones had something important to say, but would not open his mouth until he had come upon the right words. With a silent sigh, Nelson gestured the man to a chair. Nodding curtly, Curly closed the cabin door and stepped over to the chair.
Curly Jones was the glue that was holding the crew together in this trying time. Nelson was relying on the man to keep things running smoothly until a new command staff was in place. Although Harry was always reminded of the Three Stooges whenever Jones walked into the room, he has a great respect for the man's common sense and street smarts.
Frowning, Jones said, "Sir, Commander Crane tried to sneak on board."
The Chief never flinched, just looked Nelson in the eye. "Yes, Sir, he tried to sneak on board. 'Course we spotted him on the dock with that new security camera system. Mr. Morton recognized him right off, said we'd better get up there and stop him, but Mr. Bishop said to let him make it onto the boat. "
"Mr. Bishop allowed an intruder to board my boat?" Nelson asked in a dangerously quiet voice. "Did he say why?"
Shaking his heavy head, Curly replied, "No, Sir, he didn't. Mr. Morton said it wasn't a good idea, but you know Mr. Bishop. Once he gets an idea in his head, nothin' short of a direct torpedo hit is gonna shake it. Anyway, Mr. Bishop wouldn't let me set up, and so when he finally told me to go stop him, I didn't have any time to brief the men. So when we caught him, there was a.. er... a tussle, and Ski got popped a good one."
"Crane hit Kowalski?"
"Yessir, smacked him right in the jaw."
"Is he all right?"
"Oh, yessir. You know Ski. His jaw is as hard as his head. But anyway, Commander Crane wasn't happy. Said our security was sloppy. I wanted to tell him, but he didn't seem to be in a listenin' mood."
Nelson rubbed his eyes with both hands. In his mind's eye, he could picture the tough young sailor's surprise at being decked by a mere officer. He wondered if anyone would mention to Kowalski that Crane was a Golden Gloves champion. Still, Crane should never have attempted to sneak aboard. What was the man thinking?
Nelson looked up to see Curly looking at him, plainly waiting for a dismissal so he could get back to work. "All right, Chief. I will deal with Commander Crane. You make sure that Kowalski checks in with Sickbay. And tell him it's a direct order from me."
Grinning, the big Chief stood, "Aye-aye Admiral!"
Jones started to stand when the Admiral put out a restraining hand. "Just a moment, Chief. I'd like your thoughts on a replacement for Mr. Jensen."
Curly covered a momentary look of surprise, then sat back down. Warily he said, "I thought you were going to go with Mr. Morton, Sir.
"I never said that." replied the Admiral in a tone that brooked no argument. "It's true that Lt. Morton was Captain Phillips' protégé, but I need someone with more experience. Mr. Morton is a good man, but he is far too young." Nelson wondered if the Chief realized how lame that sounded.
Curly frowned, "Admiral, he just turned 33 last month. The Skipper.... I mean, Capt. Phillips put him forward for his promotion in June. I heard through the grapevine that his name is on the lists."
Nelson flashed back to a comment Jack had made in the car that fateful day. He, too, had sources that confirmed a promotion to Lieutenant Commander was in the offing for Morton. In all of the subsequent turmoil, he had simply forgotten. Still.....
"Frank Bishop is Second Officer. To promote Lt. Morton over him would effectively kill his career. Lt. Bishop is a good man. He deserves better than that." Nelson frowned, realizing that with the promotion to Lt. Commander, Morton had already in effect been promoted past Bishop.
"I can't argue that, Sir. Mr. Bishop is a fine officer."
"Chief, they're both fine officers, they wouldn't be on the Seaview if they weren't. I have reasons to promote either one of them , but in the face of no overwhelming argument to the contrary, I must side with convention and promote Bishop."
"You'll have to promote him to Lieutenant Commander."
Waving his hand dismissively, Nelson said, "I know that, Chief. Promoting Bishop is the right thing to do. Lt. Morton will just have to wait for his chance."
"Aye, Sir." The Chief sat impassively. Nelson looked in the Chief's eyes. He hated this feeling of uncertainty. There was too much happening, too many things on his mind. What am I missing? Can I afford to be wrong here? In the end, Nelson sat uneasy, unconvinced that he was doing the right thing, but not able to pin down a better answer.
"All right, Chief, I want to thank you for your comments."
Yes, Chief, what is it?"
"Sir, I wanna say one more thing here before you make your final decision."
"Go ahead, Chief."
"Sir, Mr. Bishop is a fine officer and all that, but, Sir, the men obey Mr. Bishop because they respect the uniform. They follow Mr. Morton because they respect the man."
Nelson paused. Curly had a way of crystallizing thoughts that Nelson wasn't even aware he had. THAT was the missing thought. A hundred little offhand comments that Jack had made came together in his head. Morton was indeed the right man for the job. Slowly nodding his head, the Admiral said sincerely, "Thank you, Chief."
"No problem, Sir!"
"All right, Chief, you're dismissed. Oh, and have Lt. Morton report to me immediately."
Grinning ear to ear, Chief Jones leaped to his feet, snapped a salute and said, "Aye-aye, Admiral!"