Dinner Time

by Bruce Strong



"Down scope" Lee said perfunctorily. As he moved away the periscope of the super-sub Seaview was already descending. His crew was nothing if not efficient. He had seen to that! And thinking of that, Chip should be here to relieve him any second now.

"Night watch here to relieve you, Sir" Chip said crisply from behind him. Sometimes, Lee thought, I think he puts more starch in his words than in his uniform.

"Right on time" Lee replied. Chip's raised eyebrow was all the reply he got.

The weary Captain climbed down from the periscope and stretched.

"Anything special going on Lee?"

"Nothing special. The admiral is running some experiment in the lab and didn't want this prize invention of his bouncing around, so we're running at 120 feet down, 350 keel to bottom. The main engines are running fine and Sharkey said he'd either have the auxiliary engine's maintenance done on time or the mechanics mates for breakfast."

"Glad I'm not in their shoes!" Chip chuckled "Cookie said he'd keep some stuffed pork chops for you, but you'd better hurry. Kowalski was eyeing them pretty strongly."

At that Lee smiled and said, "In that case, I'm out of here. Patting his shirt pocket, he continued: "I was beginning to think my candy bar was going to be my only meal." With that he turned and headed aft.

Chip picked up his clipboard and started his duty tour around the control room.

As Lee headed for the galley, he decided to stop off in his cabin. Heading full speed to the door, he was caught unaware when his cabin door opened as he reached for it. Missing the handle he fell full length on the floor, his candy bar sliding out of his pocket and across the floor. Kowalski hurried over to his side.

"Are you all right sir?" Ski asks in a worried voice as he helped Crane to his feet.

"What are you doing?" Crane demanded shaking off Kowalski's help.

"The Chief said you had mentioned that your cabin door was sticking and assigned me to fix it. I just put some graphite on the hinges and was checking it out when you came flying in" he replied apologetically. "I'm really sorry sir."

"It's O.K. Ski, you couldn't have known I was coming."

"You sure you're O.K. sir?" Ski asked, bending over to retrieve Lee's candy bar. "Here, you dropped this."

"I'm fine, and thanks. Now shove off." Lee said with a grin "I haven't had my dinner yet!"

"Yes sir . . . and those chops Cookie made are delicious." Ski called as he hurried through the door.

Lee straightened out his shirt and grabbed the packet he came in for. He'd just received letters from home and had decided to read them over dinner. He slipped the envelopes into his back pocket and headed out. Lee strode to the door then stopped and gingerly grabbed the knob and turned it. With exaggerated care, he opened the door and walked through. As the door closed behind him, he noted that it moved freely and quietly. I'll have to tell Sharkey Ski did a good job, he thought to himself, but not that I almost broke my face testing it!

As Lee moved though the corridor, he could hear the familiar sounds of Seaview's activities: the throbbing of the engines, the slight hull vibration that meant about half speed, voices of his men dealing with some situation or another, the Admiral yelling "Back, damn you, back!" . . . Lee did a double take: the Admiral yelling! All thoughts of dinner vanished as he sprinted towards the lab. As he neared the doorway, he could hear the sounds of glass being shattered, water splashing, and Nelson bellowing, "Down!"

Lee charged into the room to see Nelson wrapped in two tentacles of a huge squid that was reaching out of the examination tank. It was pulling at Nelson, using its other tentacles to brace itself against the tank and the lab walls. Its four inch eyes were fixed on Nelson and its skin seemed to be flashing through all the colors of the rainbow as the Admiral struggled to keep away.

"Admiral!" Lee shouted.

"Lee, give me a hand" Nelson shouted back.

Lee started to grab a fire ax off the wall, but stopped at the Admiral's shout of "No, don't hurt it!" Crane plunged in - grabbing at the tentacles and trying to pry them off his friend. As they struggled, the squid grabbed Crane and pulled him against the side of the tank. Lee could see the creature's eye studying him with great interest.

Suddenly the squid threw the Admiral across the room sending him flying against the lab table. Glass and papers went flying everywhere as the Admiral landed amongst the rubble. Meanwhile, tentacle after tentacle wrapped itself around the struggling Captain. He could feel each of the squid's suction cups tearing at him until one tiny tip grabbed the candy bar in his shirt pocket. It ripped Crane's snack out of his shirt pocket and all of the squid's arms simultaneously released Crane, who landed on his rear, facing the tank.

The Captain watched in exhausted fascination as the aquatic fiend deftly ripped off the wrapper and fed the chocolate into its parrot like beak. The squid's skin turned green and Lee thought it had a very self satisfied look about it.

"What was all that about?" He asked, getting up and turning to see Nelson extracting himself from the wreckage.

"I've been doing some research with Lucius on this baby squid."

"Baby!" Lee interjected with a shocked voice "You call a ten foot long squid a baby?"

"Yes, baby." repeated Nelson "This is a juvenile giant squid. We've been working on inter-species communication. Lucius found that chocolate worked best as a reward. Unfortunately I ran out and it didn't believe me and started to search for itself."

"Lucky for us I haven't had dinner yet," Lee replied. "I was saving that for dessert."

"Well you can go get your dinner at least" Harriman said as he opened the connecting gate that allowed "Baby" to jet off into the main tank. "I'll tell Lucius," he continued, "that I've discovered two things."

"What's that?" Lee deadpanned, knowing what was coming.

"One, that the Architeuthis dux is a lot more intelligent than we first suspected; and two, that we need to lay in a much larger supply of candy bars!"

Chuckling to himself and shaking his head in disbelief, Lee quickly left the lab and bumped into Kowalski as he hurried down the corridor.

"Excuse me, Skipper" Kowalski apologized. Then taking stock of the Captain's appearance he said: "What happened to you, sir?"

"Lost a wrestling match with the Admiral's new pet," Lee conceded.

"Looks like you lost by a lot," Ski said grinning. "Oh, and Cookie says if you want any dinner, you'd better hurry."

"Thanks Ski, I'm headed there as soon as I get cleaned up." As Ski headed off, Lee retraced his path back to his cabin. Ten minutes later, wearing a clean, intact uniform, Lee set off for the galley once again.

As he strode down the hall, his step quickened as the thought of dinner blossomed in his mind. He could almost smell the galley when the intercom sounded.

"Engine room to Captain Crane"

Lee grabbed the nearby mike and toggled the switch "This is the Captain, go ahead."

"Skipper, this is the Chief. Could you please come down to Engineering?"

"Can it wait? I was just on my way to dinner"

"I would really appreciate it if you could come down"

Lee's stomach growled as it realized dinner was once again delayed. Lee sighed, "I'm on my way," and hanging up the mike, he headed aft. As he passed the galley he could hear Kowalski calling out "Hey cookie, any of those chops left?"

Lee hesitated a moment, then continued on. He knew if he stopped he'd end up putting the seaman in the brig for pirating a Captain's dinner. "He'd better leave me at least one" Crane grumbled.

Entering the engine room, he entered a maelstrom. Engine parts were everywhere. Crewman were swarming over the auxiliary engine like ants on a lollipop. Bellowing over the confusion was Sharkey: "I'll have you all in the brig for this! Once the Skipper sees this you'll be lucky to . . . " He broke off as soon as he caught sight of the Captain.

Crane went towards Sharkey who met him and stopped him before he could see what was behind all the lurking crewmen. "OK, Chief, what's so important that you had to keep me from my dinner?"

"Begging the Captain's pardon sir, but we've got a problem," Sharkey said.

"Well, go ahead." Crane prompted.

"You see sir," Sharkey began "the men were doing routine maintenance on the auxiliary engine when one of the crewman noticed a loose fitting inside the main power take-off unit. Now, it would take at least 5 hours to pull it apart to fix it properly and I've been riding the men pretty hard to get this work done. Well sir, the mate thought he might be able to reach it so he laid down alongside the PTO and reached in to tighten the restraining nut. It was working, too sir, but as he was getting it, Patterson started to check the rotation and as soon as he moved the shaft, he heard the mate screaming. Patterson managed to stop it before the mate got hurt, but his arm is stuck inside the drive."

"Who is it?" Crane asked.

Sharkey lead him around the drive unit. The men parted like The Red Sea before Moses to reveal a crewman lying on the floor, his right arm up to the shoulder inside the machine.

"It's Clark, sir" said Sharkey.

"Oh god, not again," Lee groaned. "How bad this time?" He asked Clark.

"It doesn't hurt too bad, sir, but I can't get free." Clark answered shyly.

Standing up Lee looked at Sharkey and said "So what does this have to do with me? I'm the Captain, not a mechanic."

"Well sir, regulations require either the Admiral's or your direct approval to go more than 4 hours without the auxiliary drive. I didn't want to disturb the Admiral in the lab and it's going to take us at least 5 hours just to get him out -- at least if we want to keep his arm attached.

Crane silently contemplated the alternative but quickly took the proffered clipboard and initialed the repair request.

"The Admiral should be out of the lab by now," Lee said, "so let him know as well. I'm going for my dinner and Clark . . . " He said turning towards the hapless electrician's mate.

Clark looked at him with all the expression of a rabbit caught in the headlights of an approaching truck.

Lee sighed deeply , shook his head and left the engine room.

"I am starving." he thought. "If I don't get something soon I'll . . . " He broke off the train of thought as he heard voices ahead.

"I'm telling you, the Exec was first in their class at Annapolis." That's Patterson, Lee thought.

"No, it was the Skipper. How else could he have gotten sub command so early?" Kowalski's voice came from around the corner.

"Look, the Skipper is off duty now, let's ask him. He should be done with the Chief by now."

Oh no, not that again! What difference does it make? Lee groaned inwardly. I'm not letting that old argument keep me from my dinner! Lee decided. Looking around he saw a nearby ventilation shaft. Quickly he swung the grating open. Jumping up, he raised himself with his powerful arms and slid in to the ductwork. Spinning himself around, he grabbed the grating and swung it back into position. He pulled it snug and slid away from the opening just as the two crewmen, one in red, the other in blue, walked by.

One of these days I'm going to have to ask Harry to explain those colors he thought It made sense at the start, alpha shift in red, beta shift in blue, but there have been so many replacements, switches, and transfers that any gathering of the crew looks like a handful of jelly beans!

By now his eyes had adjusted to the dim blue lighting in the ductwork. He could make out the id tag as HVP2-7S. Ok, he thought, consulting the detailed map of the Seaview in his memory, "This is a port side vent duct, level 2, section 7 and it's a supply duct. Nothing blocking the way, the regen filters are all in the return ducts. The galley is only 3 sections forward on the Starboard side."

Off he went, crawling quickly and quietly towards his goal: FOOD! He was grateful for the hours he'd spent memorizing the HVAC system. It had come in handy many times in the past, but never for a purpose as personal as this. He was equally grateful that Harry had never installed the intruder alert system he threatened to each time they had used it. But Lee's reminder that if an enemy seized the boat, the last thing they wanted was a system that would tip the invaders off to a guerrilla attack."

Crawling around conduit and piping, Lee counted the sections as he moved forward. 1....2....3 ok, now to take a side fork and head starboard. Turning the corner he crawled on another thirty feet and peered out the vent grate. "Yes!" He muttered "the officer's mess!" He looked out and saw that the room appeared empty Excellent! Lee thought No one will know how I got here. With a sly grin on his face, he eased open the grating, swung around to lower his legs out and stood on the table . . . smack in the middle of Lieutenant O'Brian's chili.

O'Brian looked up at the Captain. With an amused look on his face he said: "I wasn't aware that the chili came with flamenco dancers for entertainment."

Lee shook the goopy mess off his shoes and gingerly climbed down. Taking off his shoes, he wiped them off with a bunch of napkins.

"I'm sorry Bob" Lee said while cleaning up.

"You want to explain why you were in the ventilation system?"

"NO." came the terse reply.

"It's ok, I was finished anyway" O'Brian picked up the wreckage of his meal and left his Captain to his embarrassment.

Lee opened the sliding door to the galley: "Cookie, how about some of those chops, I'm starving".

"I'm sorry, sir" Cookie replied. "Kowalski just took the last of them. Said he know where they were most needed."

Lee's spirit dropped. "I have some chili left." Cookie offered hopefully.

Lee sighed. His favorite meal gone. "No thanks, I'll just have a sandwich and a cup of coffee."

"Right away sir!" the cook answered and scurried off to try to make a sandwich that would make up for the lost chops. Lee sat down to wait.

At last Cookie came out with his meal, but despite the chef's best efforts, Crane looked at it disdainfully and said, "I'll eat in my cabin," and took the tray and left.

Halfway back to his quarters the intercom sang out with Chip's voice saying, "Dive, dive, all dive!" closely followed by the duty klaxon. Lee turned to head for the bridge just as a blue suited crewman ran out of the companionway. He collided with Lee's arms and sent the Captain's dinner flying. The tray crashed to the floor, sandwich fixings sliding everywhere, and steaming coffee dripping down the wall.

"I'm sorry sir" the crewman stammered out.

Lee stared at the remnants of his dinner. "Just clean this up and get to your station."

"Aye sir!" the crewman replied and snapped to the task. Lee wondered: What did I do today to deserve this? and headed for the control room.

"Chip, what's happening?" he said, climbing through the water tight door.

"See for yourself, Skipper" Chip replied indicating the bow windows.

At the bow, Nelson and Lucius were gazing out the herculite windows. Lee moved forward to see what had their attention.

The ocean was crystal clear, with an azure hue rarely seen these days. With Seaview only 90 feet down, sunlight from the surface glittered off the plankton, adding to the jewel-like feeling of the water. Suddenly a huge dark shadow crossed just ahead of the bow.

"What was that?" Crane asked.

"Physeter macrocephalus" replied Lucius "an entire pod of them. Aren't they magnificent?"

"Sperm whale, Lee" Nelson offered "They're playing around us and we nearly hit one. That's why the sudden dive."

Chip came along side his friend and pointed to a pair of shapes off the port side. "A mother and calf," he said. "I spotted them originally and adjusted course to intercept so the Commodore could observe them. I didn't realize it was an entire family!"

Lee grinned "Your concern for marine biology has cost this biological specimen his dinner."

"You still haven't eaten?" Chip asked "What have you been doing?"

"Don't ask," Lee groaned, "don't ask."

"You still have two hours before you're due back, go get something. That's an order, mister!"

"Yes sir" Lee saluted his friend smartly with a smile. Chip raised his left eyebrow at him and returned to the observation of the whales with the Admiral and Commodore.

Lee left the control room and headed for his quarters. He had a small stash of snacks there and his own coffee pot. He was tired and frustrated. It would do.

Entering his cabin he pulled the packet of mail from his pocket and dropped it back on the desk. It landed alongside a food tray. Lifting the cover off the main dish he was greeted by the aroma of stuffed pork chops, still warm. Gazing in amazement, he sat down to eat and spied a note slipped under the dish.

He picked it up and read: "Knew you were busy and didn't want you to miss you're favorite meal." It was signed "Kowalski"

Lee shook his head laughing and started to eat.

EPILOGUE

Chip was standing, clip board and pen in hand, waiting for Lee to step through the door to the control room. Lee entered and the Exec said, "You're two minutes late."

"Sorry, I was reading a letter from Kathy. She writes like she talks, beautiful words, but doesn't know when to stop."

Chip chuckled remembering their last double date. "So that's why the mailbag was so heavy!"

Lee took the proffered checklist and pen and said "You're relieved, Mr. Morton."

"I stand relieved, sir," Chip replied. "The whales left about a half hour ago, so it should be quiet sailing for now."

"Thanks, Chip" Lee turned from the Exec, who took this as his cue to depart. Crane looked around the control room and spied Kowalski at his usual post at the sonar screen. He walked over and leaned against the console facing the crewman. "Thanks for the room service."

"No problem, Skipper" Ski answered smiling. "I figured I owed you one, besides, I know you love them as much as I do!"

"I appreciate it" Lee said as he gave the seaman a friendly squeeze on the shoulder and moved forward to stare out the bow windows. Seaview was cruising at the surface, her bow wake frothing phosphorescent in the evening light.

"God, I love this boat" Lee thought taking a deep breath. Then he turned away, lifted the clipboard and began his next watch.


The End



Copyright 1999 by Bruce Strong

Please send comments to: bruce@solaraquatics.com

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