In the Line of Duty

by Chris Allen



The snowcat ploughed its way through the drifts of freshly fallen snow, skirting around the larger mounds of hard packed ice until it finally reached the small research station, barely visible behind large wind-swept drifts of snow. Captain Lee Crane shut off the engine and turned to his copilot, Chief Sharkey. "Looks deserted, Chief."

Sharkey nodded in agreement as he glanced towards the station. "Look at the door, Skipper, it's wide open!"

Crane looked to where Sharkey was pointing. The front door was banging open and shut in the high winds of the worsening storm.

Crane and Sharkey pulled up the hoods of their thick winter coats and put on their gloves. Even though they were dressed in full arctic gear, they could feel the bite of the wind as they left the snowcat and headed toward the station. They only had to walk twenty yards but it felt like two hundred as they scrambled over the huge snow drifts to the entrance. They reached the doorway and, as the Chief grabbed hold of the swinging door, Captain Crane entered the living quarters of Professor John Roberts and his wife, Sarah.

Chief Sharkey blew a soft whistle of surprise at the state of the room. "What happened, Skipper?" The entire room was in shambles. The windows had been blown out and furniture and belongings were scattered everywhere. Snow had drifted in through the open door and broken windows and the Professor's notes were blowing around in the wind.

Crane surveyed the room. His eyes came to rest on a mess of tangled metal. "Looks like the propane heater exploded, Chief. But where are the Professor and his wife? If they were in this room when the explosion occurred . . . ."

"Over here, Skipper!" yelled Sharkey. He was in the far corner of the room, bending down and pulling at a large sheet of plywood that had fallen from the ceiling.

Crane rushed over to help. The two men struggled together to lift the wood. Under the debris they discovered the bodies of John and Sarah Roberts.

Sharkey checked for any signs of life. "They haven't been dead very long, Skipper. It must have happened some time this morning."

Crane looked at Sharkey and said, "You better call it in, Chief."

"Aye, sir." Sharkey didn't relish the thought of telling the Admiral the news. Admiral Nelson had been good friends with the Roberts. They had been doing research for the Institute for a number of years and this latest assignment in the Antarctic was to be their last for a while. They had been living alone at this research station for just over a year and the Seaview was coming to pick them up and bring them home.

"Sharkey calling Seaview. Sharkey calling Seaview. Come in Seaview."

"This is Seaview, Chief," responded Sparks, "Go ahead."

Sharkey hesitated before asking Sparks to contact the Admiral. Crane noticed the Chief's hesitation and quickly took the walkie talkie from the Chief. "Sparks, get me the Admiral," ordered Crane.

"Aye, sir," answered Sparks. In a few moments, Crane heard Nelson's voice on the walkie talkie.

"Admiral," Crane began, "I'm afraid I have bad news."

Nelson hesitated for a moment and then said, "Go ahead, Lee. What's the problem?"

"I'm sorry, Sir, but . . . there's been an accident. Professor Roberts and his wife are dead."

There was another moment of silence before Nelson spoke in a quiet voice. "What happened, Lee?"

"There was an explosion, sir -- the propane heater."

"All right, Lee," sighed Nelson. " I want you and Sharkey to return and I'll send a detail out to the station to see to things."

"Aye, sir." Crane ended the transmission and looked over at Sharkey.

"Thanks, Skipper. I didn't know how I was going to break the news to the Admiral."

Crane gave the Chief an understanding nod. "Don't worry about it Chief, that's one of the Captain's jobs, isn't it?" Sharkey nodded and the two men began to give the place one more look around before leaving.

"Did you hear that, Chief?" asked Crane, glancing around the room.

"Hear what, Skipper?" Sharkey and Crane stood quietly and listened. This time Sharkey heard it too. It was a kind of whimpering sound, coming from behind a door on the far side of the room. The two men moved over to the door and listened again. Another whimpering sound!

Crane opened the door to a small room that the Roberts used as their sleeping quarters. The blast had not reached this room and except for a few pictures that had come off the walls, the room was relatively untouched by the explosion. They listened again for the sound. Nothing.

"Must have been the wind," said Crane, turning around to head back into the other room. Sharkey followed him out and was about to close the door when they heard the sound again. They both rushed back in and began to search the room to try to find the source of the sound. Crane moved over to the other side of the bed and looked down. "Chief, you're not going to believe this!"

Sharkey dashed over to where he was standing. Crane was looking down into the tiny face of a baby who was staring up at the Captain with big blue eyes.

"It's a baby!" shouted the Chief in shocked amazement. "Where did it come from?"

Crane gave the Chief a look as if to say, 'if you don't know where babies come from then I'm not about to tell you.'

"Is it O.K.?" asked the Chief. At these words, Crane carefully lifted the layer of blankets that covered the infant and checked to see the condition of the child.

"It doesn't look injured but it's soaking wet," said Crane. He looked up at the Chief. "Find some diapers and a dry blanket, quick!"

As Sharkey searched the room for the items, Crane picked the baby up out of the makeshift cradle and placed it on the bed. Sharkey handed the Skipper a cloth diaper and blanket. Crane quickly stripped the wet clothes off the shivering infant and covered it with a blanket.

"It's a boy," remarked the Chief.

"You got that one right, Sharkey," smiled Crane.

The Captain grabbed one of the pieces of towelling that were being used as diapers and held it up, studying it intently. Looking over at the Chief, Crane asked, "Do you have any idea how to do this, Chief?"

Sharkey held his hands up in a gesture of surrender. "No way, Skipper. They didn't cover "diaper changing" in any of the schools I went to."

"Come on, Chief. Let's give it a try. Here, you hold the pins."

While Sharkey took charge of the pins, Crane positioned a diaper under the baby. He managed to pin one side only to discover there wasn't enough diaper for the other side. Trying again, Crane finally managed to fasten both sides. He then picked up the baby only to have the diaper slide right off again. With a glance over at Sharkey, who was having difficulty keeping a straight face, he began again. After the third attempt, he finally managed to secure the diaper.

"Mission accomplished, Chief." Crane held the tiny little boy in his arms and looked around the small room. "It's pretty cold in here. The baby's hands and feet are like ice."

He thought for a moment. "Chief, give me a hand."

While Sharkey held the baby, who immediately started to cry, Crane started to unbutton his heavy winter coat and then his shirt. He reached over and took the baby from Sharkey, removed the blanket and placed the baby inside his shirt next to his bare skin. He then buttoned up his shirt and coat. All Sharkey could see of the baby was its tiny face as it stared once more into Crane's eyes. It immediately stopped crying.

"That should help for a while, Chief. We've got to get him back to Seaview right away." Crane grinned at the Chief. "One thing I can't do is feed the little guy."

Sharkey smiled and began to look around for some bottles. He wasn't able to find any but gathered up a few more blankets and diapers. Then he and the Captain headed out of the shelter and made their way with difficulty back to the snowcat. Sharkey started up the engines and put the snowcat in gear, then looked over at the Captain who was staring down into the tiny little face. Those big blue eyes continued to look straight up into the dark brown eyes of Captain Crane.

*************

As the snowcat approached the Seaview, Admiral Harriman Nelson stood on the bridge, watching the proceedings and feeling the loss of his two friends. They had eagerly volunteered for this assignment. The Professor and his wife were to spend one year in complete isolation except for radio contact. They had been provided with enough supplies to last for the year and were expected to keep records of their daily activities, how they felt, what their moods were.

This information would be valuable for future projects where families may spend great amounts of time isolated from the rest of the world. Nelson envisioned families living in undersea complexes and on far away space stations.

During their last radio contact, John Roberts had told Nelson that he and Sarah were looking forward to coming home and that they had a little surprise that they had been keeping a secret.

Nelson saw the door to the snow cat open. Sharkey stepped down onto the snow. The Admiral watched with concern as the Chief had to help Crane down. The Captain walked very slowly up the gangplank, holding his chest. Nelson left the bridge and hurried to meet them.

As the door to the embarkation hatch opened, Sharkey stepped inside followed by the Captain. Nelson saw that Crane was still holding his chest. "What's wrong, Lee? Are you hurt?"

Crane smiled at the worried look on the Admiral's face. "I'm fine, Admiral. Sharkey and I brought you a little something that we found in the shelter."

Crane walked over to where Nelson was standing and started to unbutton his coat. He nearly laughed at the astounded look on Nelson's face. There, fast asleep, tucked inside the Captain's shirt was a tiny baby.

It took a moment for Nelson to recover from the shock. Where on earth did Lee find a baby? Then it suddenly dawned on him what John had meant when he said that he and Sarah had a "little" surprise for everyone.



*************

Doc Jamieson was used to dealing with the varied injuries and illnesses of a crew of grown men and felt a little out of his element dealing with the needs of a tiny baby. After recovering from the shock of seeing the baby appear from under the Skipper's coat, Doc had set to work examining his little patient, while Crane and Sharkey stood nearby waiting to hear how he was.

Doc found no evidence of any injuries from the explosion. The baby was lucky that he had been in the far corner of the next room. The little fellow was in pretty good shape considering his ordeal and now that he was no longer cold he began to let everyone know that he was extremely hungry. Doc picked the baby up and tried to calm him but the crying only intensified. Doc handed the baby back to Crane. "Here, Skipper. Can you hold him a while longer until I can figure out a way to feed him?"

"Sure, Doc," replied Crane as he tucked the baby into his shirt once more. The crying stopped immediately.

"That's amazing," said Doc, seeing how quickly his little patient had calmed down. He hastily scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it to Sharkey. "Chief. Get this to the Galley on the double. It's a formula Cookie needs to make for the baby. Get back here as soon as you can!"

"Aye, sir," replied the Chief as he quickly made his way out of Sick Bay and hurried to the Galley.

Doc turned back to Crane and peered at the baby who seemed to be settled nicely in his snug spot, making slurping sounds as he tried to fit his little fist into his mouth. "He seems to have taken a liking to you, Skipper."

Crane looked down at the little bundle snuggling up to him. "Seems that way, Doc. He is kind of cute. How old is he anyway?"

"Looks like he's at least a couple of months, I would guess. He's lucky you and the Chief found him when you did."

"It was a good thing he was sleeping in the other room. With the door being shut, the sleeping quarters would have retained some heat for a while but he was still pretty cold when we found him."

"I can imagine. That was good thinking to put him next to your body to warm him up."

Crane looked down at the baby who had fallen asleep again. "Doc, how are you going to get him to drink the formula? I mean, we didn't find any bottles at the shelter."

Doc seemed lost in thought for a minute then looked over at Crane. "I think I have an idea, Skipper. Let's hope it works."

*************

Admiral Nelson found it very difficult going through the Roberts' belongings. He was looking for the journal that John had kept. He soon found it among all the other papers that the shore detail had gathered up from among the debris of what was left of the research station.

He leafed through the pages which gave a detailed account of the experiences of his two friends as they lived each day in complete isolation from the rest of the world. He stopped suddenly when he found a particular entry that John had written.

June 28 - Sarah has not been feeling well for the past few days but now we know why. She's pregnant! We can't believe our good fortune.

Another entry read: July 15 - I am trying to convince Sarah that we should return to Santa Barbara but she insists on staying here and having the baby at the station. I managed to get her to agree that if there are any complications with the pregnancy that we would immediately contact Harry and have Seaview take us home.

Nelson continued to skim through the journal. October 28 - The pregnancy is going very well. The baby is kicking now. It's quite a thrill for both of us. We have decided to keep things a secret. We can't tell Harry because he would insist that we abandon the project and return home.

Nelson sighed. He wished they had told him. If they had, they would still be alive. He continued to glance through the pages of the journal until he came to the entry of the day of the birth of the baby. John and Sarah had become proud parents to John William Roberts Jr. on January 12. That had been just over two months ago. Further entries referred to the baby as Johnny. The Professor had written how immensely happy he and Sarah were with the arrival of their son.

Nelson closed the book and laid it down on his desk. If only the Seaview had arrived a few hours earlier, he thought. He now had the unenviable task of contacting John and Sarah's families. It was not going to be an easy job.

*************

Doc was busy stirring up the formula that Sharkey had brought from the Galley. It was just the right temperature but the trick now was to get it into the baby.

Doc pulled out a surgical glove from a drawer and poked a small hole into the end of one of the fingers. Crane and Sharkey watched Doc with interest. Doc asked Sharkey to hold the glove while he poured some of the formula into the finger. Tiny drops of milk dripped out of the finger. Then Doc asked the Skipper to hold the baby in his arms while Doc placed the finger full of milk into the baby's mouth. The baby immediately pulled a face which brought a smile to the faces of the three grown men who were standing there watching the baby's reaction. Then nature took over and the baby instinctively began to suck. Doc gave a thumbs up sign and the three men smiled at each other.

Nelson and Chip Morton entered the Sick Bay at the exact moment that the baby began his first meal. It was quite a sight with the Captain sitting there holding the baby while Doc held the glove full of milk and Sharkey stood next to them grinning from ear to ear.

Chip walked over to where Crane was sitting with the baby. "Well, I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes,.... Daddy...." and then as Crane looked up and glared at him, Chip quickly added, "Sir."

Crane laughed. "I expect I may have to put up with a few comments from the crew about all this, won't I Chip?"

"I expect so, Skipper. It isn't everyday the men get to see you holding a baby. Sharkey has already told the men in the Galley how you seem to have a natural talent when it comes to looking after babies."

Crane looked over at Sharkey who seemed to be squirming a bit and avoiding eye contact with the Skipper. "Is that right, Chief?"

"Well, I might have said something like that, Skipper, but I meant it in a good way. That is, I mean.. . . . "

Crane laughed again. "Don't worry about it, Chief. But I would like you to inform the men that if I should happen to hear anyone making any comments on this subject, that they will immediately draw diaper duty for the rest of the cruise. Is that understood?"

Sharkey looked horrified at the thought, "Perfectly, sir. I'll inform the men at once."

Crane smiled as Sharkey left to spread the news. He looked down at the baby who was contentedly sucking on the finger of the glove and was slowly drifting off to sleep.

Nelson, who had been watching the baby intently, spoke to Doc and Crane, "His name is Johnny, by the way. I've been reading through Professor Roberts' journals." Both Doc and Crane knew how close Nelson had been to the Roberts.

Nelson continued, "John has no family to speak of but Sarah has a married sister who lives in Los Angeles. I've met her once. She and her husband have two small children. I expect Sarah would have wanted the baby to live with them. When we return to Santa Barbara, I'll make the arrangements."

Nelson left the Sick Bay quickly. Doc and Crane knew that contacting Sarah's sister about the baby weren't the only arrangements that the Admiral had to take care of.

*************

Lee Crane was exhausted. It had been a long day and he was looking forward to a good night's rest. Johnny had been well fed and had fallen fast asleep in his arms and Crane had taken the opportunity to leave the baby in Doc's capable hands. After completing his shift in the Control Room he had retired to his cabin to catch up on some paperwork but found himself falling asleep at his desk. He got ready for bed, climbed into his bunk and instantly fell asleep. Two hours later he was awakened by a call from Sick Bay. He was urgently needed by Doc. He dressed quickly and headed down to Sick Bay as quickly as he could.

Doc was pacing the floor with a screaming Johnny in his arms. Doc looked up as Crane entered the room.

"Thank goodness you're here, Skipper," said Doc. "He woke up over an hour ago and hasn't stopped crying. I've tried everything. He's been fed and changed so he's not hungry or wet. I even had the corpsman, Frank, try to walk with him up and down the passageway but that didn't help. I thought maybe since he sort of knows you that you might be able to get him to quiet down."

Crane looked at the exhausted doctor, "I don't know anything more about babies than you do, Doc. Maybe one of the crew could help. How about Peterson? He's married with two kids."

"That's not a bad idea, Skipper. Could you just hold him for a minute while I send Frank to find Peterson."

Doc handed the screaming baby to Crane. The effect was instantaneous. The baby immediately stopped crying and stared up at the Captain. Doc couldn't believe how quiet Johnny had become. "It's amazing, Skipper, how he reacts when he sees you."

Crane shrugged, "Well, I guess he was all alone in that research station and mine was the first friendly face that he saw. I guess he's gotten kind of used to me."

Crane looked over at Doc. "You know, Doc, I can't be looking after him for the whole cruise. It would be a little difficult trying to run things from the control room with a baby stuffed inside my shirt."

Crane could see that Doc was exhausted from trying to calm the baby. He looked like he hadn't slept in a week. "Okay, Doc," Crane relented, " I'll sit with him until he falls asleep and then you're on your own, O.K.? Maybe Peterson or one of the others can give it a try if he wakes up again."

Doc agreed with the Skipper's suggestion and hoped that it wouldn't be long before Johnny would feel more comfortable with everyone else. It was going to be a very long trip back to Santa Barbara if this little fellow didn't cooperate. Doc decided to catch up on some paperwork at his desk until Johnny fell asleep and then he and the Skipper could finally get some rest.

*************

The undersea quake that shook the Seaview early that morning was totally unexpected. The turbulent waves tossed the giant submarine around, throwing the men about like rag dolls. The night watch crew received the worst of it.

Doc was busy in Sick Bay attending to the many casualties when a call came through on the intercom.

"Sharkey to Sick Bay."

The corpsman reached for the microphone. "This is Sick Bay. Go ahead, Sharkey."

"Frank, tell Doc the Skipper's been hurt. He must have hit his head. He's unconscious."

Doc could hear the concern in Sharkey's voice. He grabbed the microphone from Frank. "I'll send some corpsmen

with a stretcher. Where are you?"

"Deck A. In the passageway just outside the Skipper's cabin."

*************

After assessing the minor damage that the Seaview had sustained, Admiral Nelson rushed to Sick Bay to check on the injured men.

Doc informed him that there were no serious injuries, just a few broken bones and a great many cuts and bruises. Captain Crane had regained consciousness. He had a couple of bruised ribs and a possible concussion. Doc had insisted that the Skipper remain in bed for the next twenty-four hours and had to resort to ordering the Skipper to stay put. Much to Doc's relief, Crane finally stopped trying to argue his way out of Sick Bay and eventually fell asleep with the help of a sedative that Doc had prescribed for him.

"You look exhausted, Doc," said Nelson. "Why don't you try and get some sleep now?" Five of the crew, including the Captain, had been detained in Sick Bay. The rest were sent back to the Crew's Quarters to rest. "Frank should be able to handle things for a while."

Doc looked at Nelson gratefully. "Thanks, Admiral. I think I will get some rest. The baby had me up for a long time last night and I had to call the Skipper to come and calm him down. It seems the baby has gotten quite attached to him and won't stay quiet unless the Skipper holds him."

Nelson raised his eyebrows but didn't comment. Doc looked over at the still sleeping baby tucked up in one of the lower bunks, supported on all sides by pillows. "You know, Admiral, he slept through that whole episode. He didn't even wake up when we were being tossed about all over the place and he still didn't wake up when they brought all the injured men in here." Doc shook his head in amazement.

Nelson laughed. "You didn't slip him one of your famous sedatives like you did with the Skipper, did you?"

Doc looked aghast at the suggestion. "Of course not, Admiral!" Then he realized that Nelson was joking with him. "Although, Admiral, I must admit I was tempted last night when he wouldn't stop screaming."

"Get some sleep, Doc. The corpsman will call you if there's anything he can't handle."

"Thanks, Admiral. Good night."

"Good night, Doc."

*************

An hour later, Doc was awakened by the sound of a baby crying and someone knocking on his cabin door. He opened the door to find his corpsman standing there trying desperately to calm Johnny, whose cries only seemed to intensify.

"Doc, I'm sorry to wake you but the baby won't stop crying and he woke up everyone in Sick Bay. He won't drink his formula and no matter what I try, he won't stop this screaming!"

Doc grabbed his robe and followed Frank back to the Sick Bay. Doc thought that perhaps the two of them together could get Johnny to take his formula. The injured men were still awake and began to grumble as Doc and Frank returned with the screaming baby. Only Captain Crane remained fast asleep, thanks to the sedative that Doc had given him.

Frank held the baby while Doc tried to coax Johnny into sucking on the finger full of milk. When that didn't work, Doc held the baby while Frank tried to get him to feed. Both men eventually gave up and tried rocking the baby and walking with him. He only seemed to scream louder.

Doc looked over at the Skipper who was still fast asleep and, in desperation, placed the baby on the bed right next to the Skipper and tucked him into the crook of Crane's outstretched arm. Johnny stopped in mid cry and stared at Crane's face in fascination. A huge sigh of relief seemed to come from every man in the Sick Bay. Doc and Frank looked at each other. It was quite an amazing thing.

*************

Doc considered it a stroke of luck that Captain Crane had to stay in Sick Bay at the very time that Johnny needed him. The Seaview would reach Santa Barbara by noon tomorrow, which, coincidentally, was the exact time that Doc was planning to release the Skipper from Sick Bay. Doc was chuckling to himself when Nelson entered the room.

"How are your patients, Doc?" asked Nelson, looking around the almost empty Sickbay.

"Everyone is released except for the Skipper, Admiral," said Doc, indicating Crane who was asleep on a bunk in the corner. "He should be ready for light duty by tomorrow."

Nelson nodded. "And how is your littlest patient?"

"He's doing very well, Admiral." Doc added, "with the Skipper's help."

Admiral Nelson looked at Doc. "Sarah's sister, Janet, will be meeting us at the Institute when we arrive tomorrow. She will be having temporary custody of Johnny until the papers are drawn up. It should be just a formality."

"I hope for her sake that Johnny settles down quickly. We haven't made much headway getting him to take to anyone except the Skipper."

Nelson continued, "When we dock tomorrow, I'll leave the baby here with you until I have had a chance to talk to Sarah's sister about the funeral arrangements. I'll notify you when we are ready to have Johnny brought to the Institute." The Admiral looked over at the sleeping Captain. "I'll have Captain Crane bring the child with him and I would like you to come too, in case Janet and her husband have any questions."

"Of course, sir," replied Doc.

*************

The Seaview arrived at Santa Barbara on schedule and as soon as docking procedures were completed, Admiral Nelson headed over to the Institute to meet with Janet and Philip Fraser.

It was a difficult meeting. Janet and Philip sat together on the couch in the Admiral's office. The three of them spent some time sharing memories of Sarah and John.

"You know, Admiral," Janet explained, "Sarah had told me before they left for the Antarctic, that she and John were planning to start a family as soon as they got back."

Nelson replied, "According to the journal, she and John were really enjoying being parents. I'm only sorry it was for such a short time."

Janet added, "It is strange what you told me about how attached the baby is to your Captain."

Nelson smiled. "I'm told he has the same affect on women, with those dark, good looks of his."

As Janet continued to discuss the arrangements, Nelson couldn't help but notice how much Janet and Sarah had resembled each other. Janet had the same long, wavy dark hair and dark brown eyes that Sarah had.

When Captain Crane and Doc Jamieson arrived, Janet was touched by the sight of the tall, dark haired Captain holding the little baby. She reached out and gently took the baby from Crane and held him in her arms. It was a tense moment as Doc, Nelson and Crane waited to hear the baby scream but little Johnny didn't make a sound. He just stared into Janet's dark brown eyes and contentedly sucked on his tiny fist.

*************

As they left the offices of the Nelson Institute and made their way back to the Seaview, Nelson turned to Crane. "Congratulations Lee for your fine efforts in averting another disaster for the men of the Seaview."

Crane was a bit confused. "What disaster would that be, Admiral?"

Nelson smiled at Doc who was listening to the conversation. "Why, Captain, if you hadn't taken over as babysitter in the Sick Bay, I might have had to find a new doctor for the Seaview because I think this one may well have ended up jumping overboard!"

"Which is very difficult to do on a submarine," added Doc, laughing along with the Admiral and the Captain.

Crane grinned at Doc and then saluted the Admiral. "All in the line of duty, sir."

And the Admiral, the Captain and the ship's doctor headed back to the Seaview, each looking forward to an uninterrupted night's sleep.

The End

Copyright 1999 by Chris Allen

Please send comments to Chris at: csrmail@home.com

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