Narodnii Institut Morskovo Issledovaniya
[People's Institute of Marine Research]
Report to the Central Council on the
Research and Development
Temporal Displacement Module
Ever since the Great Patriotic War ended early in this century, and the Peoples Republic was forged in the heat of the smouldering ruins of the great western empires, it has relentlessly pursued its goal of global leadership for the good of the people. The People's Republic now defends most of the world's populations . . .
. . . In this peaceful and harmonious world society, there is little need for the stern military presence of the past. With only a few small pockets of misguided resistors remaining to be reached and reeducated, the Central Council has turned its vast resources to research. One objective is to reach outward with its message of goodwill, harmony, and stability. It is an attainable goal of the Central Council to expand beyond the borders of this world, and into the galaxy . . .
. . . In pursuit of the goal to extend the benevolent influence of the People's Republic, one theory being pursued is temporal displacement, or time travel. The Council sees this as a valuable tool for traveling into the past and eradicating each source of dangerous ideology before its poison has had the opportunity to confuse or corrupt the mind of a single fellow citizen. Also, there are benefits to be gained by traveling forward in time. Once the process is perfected, our scientists will be able to gain the insights of future generations on such varied subjects as galactic expansion, genetic refinement, and military diversity.
Dr. Nadezhda Rossinova has developed a prototype temporal displacement module. This PTDM is
being tested now in an undersea laboratory for its ability to displace objects in space and time. Upon
successful completion of these tests, it is expected that . . .
* * 1 * *
"Skipper, this just came in from the Admiral." Before Lee Crane, Captain of the SSRN Seaview could take the paper from Chief Sharkey's hand a bell jangled over his head.
"Time and Coordinates!" he called.
"Time:16:36:14.23 Coordinates:120.343W by 05.037S," Kowalski read from the navigational computer.
Lee Crane entered the figures on a chart next to those he had taken from the elaborate monitor over his head. Turning back to his COB he read the proffered message. "Thanks, Chief. There's no reply."
"Aye, sir." But before he turned back to his duties, Sharkey hesitated a moment. "Beggin' you pardon, sir, but can I ask if there was anything in the Admiral's message about how much longer we have to stay out here playin' tag with Tinkerbell up there?" He pointed upward with his thumb to the computerized chronometer mounted on the ceiling.
Every ear in the Control Room grew three inches, as each man strained to hear the words, "On our way home." To no avail.
"Sorry, Chief, but I'm afraid we won't be leaving until . . . Tinkerbell gets over the hiccups." He smiled at the men's nickname for the sophisticated instrument. "Good news is, though, that they're getting more sporadic as we spiral out from that seamount. It may only be another couple of days."
Crestfallen, the Chief echoed, " . . . days, sir?"
"Cheer up, Sharkey," Lt. Cmdr. Morton grinned, "Where else can you add to your life expectancy every time that bell goes off? Who knows? If we stay out here long enough . . ."
His words were interrupted by another intrusion of the bell, and the Captain again calling, "Time and coordinates!"
This routine had been going on around the clock for seven days as Seaview attempted to chart and measure a temporal phenomenon that caused the chronometers of passing vessels to bounce, or "hiccup". The information recorded was sent back to Adm. Harriman Nelson. He and Dr. Nadezhda Rossinova, a pioneer in the field of temporal dynamics, were using the facilities of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research to develop a theory and working model on the cause and effects of the phenomenon. Based on their conclusions, Dr. Rossinova's team would investigate the source area in person.
After the Chief had gone back to his duties Chip Morton asked, "Lee, do you really think it will take another two days?" Crane looked up, but didn't comment. "The Control Room crew's nerves are frayed already with that bell going off constantly," the Exec continued, "and the rest of the men have next to nothing to do. Going around in circles doesn't exactly tax our skills, and there are only so many drills, maintenance checks, and cleaning assignments I can invent before I start repeating myself."
"It's getting to you, too?" the Captain grinned weakly as his Exec, "I thought I was the only . . ." Again? At this rate we'll be out here another two months!
"120.339W by 05.038S"
" . . . the only one ready to smash that thing."
"And if I hear Riley sing one more chorus of either 'Time in a Bottle' or 'The Times, They are A'Changin'' I may smash him," the Exec grimaced through clenched teeth. "Tell me again why we couldn't just let the computer do all this."
"Because that's the way Nadia . . . Dr. Rossinova wants it. 'Human reaction' and 'gut feeling' I think is how she put it."
"Good thing she doesn't want to know mine," the Exec mumbled.
"I heard that, Mr. Morton." The Captain cast a sidelong grin at his friend.
"How about increasing our speed, or widening our circles?" Morton asked. "Since we've already determined the source, all we really need is to find now is the outer boundary, right?"
"120.332W by 05.038S."
"Sounds good to me, but I don't know if it will fly back at the Institute," Crane shook his head, "especially since these things are suddenly getting more, rather than less frequent."
If someone had told the Control Room crew that there wouldn't be another alarm for twenty minutes, they would have cheered. But sitting on the edge of their seats for twenty minutes in tense anticipation of the offensive noise was almost more than they could bear. When it finally did come, three pencil points snapped, one mug of hot coffee landed on fresh khakis, and the helmsman's recoil sent a shudder through the whole boat.
"That's it! I've had it!" Crane said as he threw down his broken pencil. The Captain's outburst broke the tension in the room, and as he strode back towards the Radio Shack a ripple of hope spread outward from the Exec's hint of a smile.
Half an hour later they had their response. They were indeed "on their way home". Orders were to make one more wide circle around the seamount that was the focal point of the disturbances, then head for Santa Barbara.
The final circuit would take 15 hours, but because the Captain had increased the radius the disturbances were only being recorded every hour or so.
"The Admiral said that Dr. Rossinova is convinced that the randomness of the events indicates a natural, rather than man-made phenomenon," Crane told his First Officer after his videophone conference with Adm. Nelson. "I'm not sure the Admiral agrees, but Nadia persuaded him to bring us back, so she and her team can get started on their investigation. They'll be waiting to load their equipment when we arrive."
"No shore leave then, I guess."
"No, she's too anxious to get started." The Captain said, shaking his head. He chose not to acknowledge the sighs of several eavesdropping crewmen. "But at least we'll have something to look forward to besides cruising in circles around a locus we aren't sure of, tracking spots of empty time, so we can relay information on a phenomenon that may not exist."
Later, after the crew's attention was back on their consoles rather than their senior officers, Chip Morton quietly asked Crane, "If Adm. Nelson doesn't think this is natural, what does he think? Is there any chance this could be Pem again?"
The Captain looked up, startled. "No, I don't think so." He thought a moment then shook his head. "This isn't the way Pem works. He goes in for the bold and dramatic. Besides, he's too vain not to have shown himself before this," he grimaced. "No, the Admiral is afraid it's some kind of experimental device being tested by powers unknown for purposes unknown. And you know how he is when there are that many unknowns in one sentence."
The First Officer rolled his eyes eloquently.
* * 2* *
Seaview was steaming at full speed toward Santa Barbara when the intercom in Crane's cabin crackled on. "Skipper, this is Morton in the Control Room. We're getting an intermittent distress signal. I think you'd better come have a look at it."
"Have you traced it? Do you know the position and condition?"
"Yes, and no. It's an Automated Distress Beacon, and it's strong, but erratic. And there's something else . . . I really think you need to see this for yourself, Lee."
"All right," the Captain sighed, regarding the stack of files and reports on his desk. "I'm on my way."
When Crane arrived in the Control Room Lt. O'Brien had the Con while Chip Morton conferred with Sparks in the Radio Shack. "There it goes again, sir. Vanished."
"What have you got, Sparks?" the Captain asked the radio man.
"It's an Automated Distress Beacon - no verbal communication at all. It's strong and steady when it comes in, but it switches on and off in no particular pattern. It seems to be originating in the same general vicinity as that seamount we were circling, although I can't pinpoint it from this distance. But here's the odd thing, sir: the identifier is off. It doesn't make sense; there are too many digits, and they're not in any standard configuration."
"We've been in this area for a week and haven't had contact with any other vessels. Do you think it's fake . . . bait for a trap?"
"No, sir." Sparks hesitated. "That wouldn't make sense. Any radio operator could see right off that it was wrong. And anyone who knows enough about radios to set up a decoy beacon, would know enough to send a recognizable identifier. This wouldn't fool anybody . . . it just doesn't make sense."
"You said the transmission is erratic. Could it just be that the signal is too far away and is breaking up?"
"I don't think so, sir. When it comes in, it's clear, no static or other signs of deterioration. And it's on a bandwidth that indicates it can't be coming from that far away."
"What do you think?" the First Officer asked.
"I don't know what to say," Crane shook his head. "We can't just ignore it. Are we picking up any other ships in the area now?"
"No, sir," Morton replied. "I had Sparks check with the Coast Guard. There's no one else within twelve hours."
The Captain thought for a moment, then said, "OK, Sparks. Tell the Coast Guard we're on our way; then put a call through to the Admiral at the Institute; I'll take it in my cabin. Mr. Morton, set a course for these coordinates." As the Exec turned to leave, he added, "And inform the crew of the reason for our change."
As Crane turned to leave Sparks said, "Sir . . . uh . . . you know this may be nothing at all. It's all so strange, it could just be a faulty relay - I just can't tell."
"Yes, it could be. But it could also be someone's life. There is no choice, Sparks."
"Capt. Crane, I have the Admiral on the line for you. But, sir, I'm having trouble holding on to the signal. You may not have a very long conversation."
"Is there a problem with the radio?"
"No, sir. But the signal seems to be shifting in and out in conjunction with the distress signal. When I have one, I don't have the other. And I'm getting other garbled transmissions, too."
"I see. I'll come forward as soon as I'm done with the Admiral." Taking the warning to heart, Crane picked up the phone, and without preliminaries started immediately into his explanation. "Admiral, we're receiving a distress signal from somewhere near the center of the time disturbances. There are no other ships in the area, so we're going in to investigate and lend whatever assistance may be needed."
"Do you have any other information? The nature of the emergency? Military or civilian? And what are they doing there in the first place?"
"No, sir, nothing. All we have is an Automated Distress Beacon, and even that isn't coming in steadily. We're having some trouble with other transmissions, too, so it could be nothing more than a wild goose chase, but . . . Admiral? Admiral, are you there?"
Still holding the phone, Crane hit the intercom with his free hand. "Sparks, get the Institute back on the line!"
"I'll try, sir, but I can't make any promises. I'm getting a lot of gibberish on that frequency now."
"Very well, I'm on my way. Meanwhile, keep trying."
As the Captain hurried past the Plot Table, a surprised Morton asked, "What's up, Skipper?"
"I wish I knew, Chip." Arriving at the Radio Shack he asked, "Any luck?"
"No, sir. Nothing but muddled transmissions and some foreign nonsense."
"And you're certain it's the right frequency - "
"Yes, sir. That much I am sure of."
At that moment a shout from the Control Room caught Crane's attention.
"What do you mean - island?" Chip Morton demanded of Riley. "There's no island at these coordinates!"
"I know there wasn't an island here four hours ago, sir. But there is now. See for yourself."
Instead of 'seeing', though, the Exec shouted across the Control Room, "Mr. O'Brien, what's our position?"
"We're at 120.340W by 05.035S, sir."
"What's the problem, Mr. Morton?" the Captain asked.
"It seems as though our seamount isn't submerged any more. There've been no seismic disturbances recorded, but there it is," he concluded, gesturing toward Riley's screen.
"And you're sure these are the right coordinates?"
"Unless this equipment is in even worse shape than my wits, I am."
The Captain leaned heavily on the Plot Table. "What's happening, Chip? We've got pockets of time that don't exist, distress signals that aren't there, islands that shouldn't be, and transmissions that make no sense." He stood thus, staring at the charts in front of him for several moments before rousing himself. "How soon till we make visual contact?"
"About twenty-five minutes."
"Very well. As soon as we get close enough to see anything come to full stop, periscope depth. I want to see with my own eyes what we're getting ourselves in for."
When Crane returned to the Radio Shack the scowl on Sparks' face didn't bode well for good news. "Any contact, Sparks?" he asked.
"No, sir. I've been trying both the Institute and the frequency of the distress signal. No luck either way."
"But you're sure we're homing in on the distress signal?"
"Oh, yes, sir. There's no doubt about that. We're practically on top of it now."
"OK. Now what about these 'garbled transmissions'. How are they garbled? Are you losing the signal? Is there a faulty relay somewhere? What can you tell me?" the Captain asked.
"Not much, sir. For one thing, it sounds like all the transmissions are on the wrong frequencies - military is where commercial ought to be, amateur where I'd expect to find military. That is, if I'm reading it right, because there's next to nothing in English. If I didn't know better I'd say most of it was Russian."
"Russian! Are you sure?"
"No, sir. But that's what it sounds like." He handed a headset up to the Captain.
"You're right about it sounding like Russian. And this is the Institute frequency?"
"Yes, sir. But it's on all frequencies. Civilian, maritime, military, commercial, . . . it's all the same." Sparks sat watching the Captain's reaction as he listened to the transmissions, then remarked, "It's a shame the Admiral isn't here. He speaks Russian, doesn't he?"
"Yes, a little," Crane frowned. "But that doesn't do us much good." Scratching his head absently he murmured, "Who knew we'd need a Russian translator on a cruise to the tropics?" Then, as if idea an idea had just struck him, he asked, "Wait a minute . . . does Mr. Morton know about this?"
"I don't think so, sir. I haven't told him." The radio man paused. "Why?"
The Captain turned away from the radio console. "Mr. Morton, can you come here for a moment?"
"Aye, sir. Mr. O'Brien, you have the Con."
Crane handed the headset to Morton. "Chip, what to you make of this?"
The First Officer listened for a moment. First a slight smile of recognition, then a frown creased his face. "This is Russian, Lee."
Crane's own frown deepened as he nodded acknowledgment. "What are they saying?"
"It's been a while, but it sounds like . . ." His brow furrowed in concentration. " . . . it sounds like they're trying to raise the Captain of a ship called the Vidmorya. They're calling from the Narodnii Institut Morskovo Issledovaniya" His head snapped up in shock. "What frequency is this?"
Crane nodded to Sparks, who said, "It's the Institute frequency . . . there shouldn't be any other traffic on it."
Morton paled several shades. "There isn't," he said flatly. "This is the Institute. The People's Institute of Marine Research in Santa Barbara. And they're calling the Seaview - the Vidmorya. Problem is, 'they' are the People's Republic, and they're expecting us to reply."
* * 3 * *
"What!" Now it was the Captain's turn to blanch. There was no need to ask if his First Officer was sure; the look on his face was evidence enough. It nevertheless took him another minute to fully grasp the implications of Morton's quiet announcement. It simply made no sense - there was no hook on which to hang the slightest thread of logic.
"But the People's Republic isn't Russian," he finally managed to get out.
"No, it didn't used to be," Morton conceded. "But then, it didn't used to broadcast on the Institute frequency from Santa Barbara, either."
The two men stood staring at each other, unseeing, for what seemed an eternity. In reality, though, it was only a few seconds later that Crane asked, "Sparks, do they know we're receiving them? Have you acknowledged their transmission?"
"No, sir, not yet; they would have no way of knowing if I don't tell them."
"Chip, can you reply . . . stall . . . find out what's going on?"
"I can try, but it's been a while; I doubt if I'll fool anybody. Besides, I don't know who they're expecting to talk to, or what they're expecting to hear."
"Mr. Morton," the radio man volunteered, "I can help you with part of your problem. By moving off the main frequency by a few megahertz I can muddle the transmission pretty bad. There will so much static the guy on the other end wouldn't recognize his own mother, let alone an accent."
Morton considered the suggestion for a moment. "Sounds reasonable . . . Then you'll set up to receive on the main frequency, so incoming transmissions will be clear, right?"
"Right, sir," Sparks replied.
The Captain nodded his head in approval. "Good, Sparks," he said. "Do it."
The First Officer looked somewhat less confident. "Can you give me a few minutes? It's been over fifteen years . . . " he shook his head, then attempted a laugh, "I don't want to start a war . . . with us as the first target."
"You have five minutes, Mr. Morton."
"Sparks, get those frequencies set up."
Two "Aye, sirs" bounced off the Captain's retreating back, as Sparks went to work on his radio, and Morton hurried out of the Control Room. Five minutes later he returned with a page of scribbled notes and a battered and dog-eared paperback Russian/English dictionary.
"Where did you get that?" Crane asked incredulously.
"From my cabin," Morton answered, then added, somewhat sheepishly, "You never know."
Crane shook his head as he followed him to the Radio Shack.
"OK, Mr. Morton, I'm ready when you are," Sparks said. "The only thing you have to remember is that after they've finished speaking, wait until I give you the sign that I've switched frequencies before you start talking."
Morton took the headset he was offered, and listened a moment before looking to Sparks for the OK sign. He took a deep breath. "Eto Vidmorya . . . Eto Vidmorya . . . Shto? . . . Skazaye snova." ["This is the Vidmorya . . . What? . . . Say again."] Sparks switched back to the clear frequency while the speaker repeated himself.
When Morton felt he could delay no longer, he motioned Sparks to switch again. "Shto?" he nearly shouted. "Shto? Shto-to nye v poryadkye s nashim rahdio. Nye mozhno slishat." ["What? There's something wrong with our radio. Can't hear."] After that last phrase, he gestured for Sparks to break up the signal entirely . . . but not before arousing startled looks and questioning stares from throughout the Control Room.
"Well? What did you find out?" the Captain asked impatiently.
"Not much. They wanted to know if we 'found them'. I don't know who, I don't know where, and I don't know why."
"Could 'they' be our distress signal?" Crane wondered aloud.
"When I listen to the recording again I may be able to pick up something more," Morton said by way of an answer. "If it's OK with you, I'd like to have Kowalski listen in, too. Just as a back up. I know he doesn't speak Russian, but he understands enough of it to maybe pick up on something I miss."
"Very well. Let me know as soon as you learn anything at all."
"Aye, sir," the Exec answered as he took the recorder and turned to leave.
Chief Sharkey had just come back to the Radio Shack, and was nearly bowled over by the departing First Officer. "Excuse me, Skipper," he said. "Mr. O'Brien wanted you to know we're 5000 yards off the island now, at ninety feet."
"Very well. Thanks, Chief," he answered, hurrying forward to the periscope island.
After staring intently at the horizon for some time the Captain pulled away to face the questioning eyes of his second officer. "Mr. O'Brien, these are the same coordinates we've been circling for the past week, correct?"
"And there was no island here when we left two hours ago, correct?"
"Tell me, what do you see now?" Crane asked as he invited the younger officer to look for himself.
"There's definitely an island there, sir. And by the looks of the foliage, I'd say it's been there quite a while."
Crane massaged his forehead fiercely, wishing he had an answer to all the questions in his own mind, not to mention the minds of the men he was responsible for. Finally, he waved O'Brien aside, took another look through the scope, and said, "Take us in closer, circling the island, dead slow. I still don't see any evidence of a disabled craft, or survivors."
When O'Brien had finished implementing the Captain's orders, Crane took over the mike. He announced to the crew, in terms as solid and reassuring as he could muster, their immediate objective ( ". . . mission of mercy . . ."), obstacles they had encountered (" . . . possible problems with radio transmissions and navigation readings . . ."), and their course of action (". . . observe . . . lend aid . . . get back home . . ."). When he finished, he wished that he felt as optimistic as he sounded.
* * 4 * *
Morton and Kowalski had little success in discovering the nature of their predicament. "Here's the translation of their end of the conversation," Morton reported. "People's Institute of Marine Research in Santa Barbara calling P-L-I-A Vidmorya . . ."
"Wait - what's this 'P-L-I-A'?" the Captain interrupted. "Are they initials? What do they stand for?"
"It's the vessel's designation - the SSRN in front of Seaview. In fact I suspect it's exactly the same thing: Podvodnaya Lodka Issledovanskaya Atomnaya - Underwater Boat, Research, Nuclear."
"And you said that Vidmorya translates to Seaview?"
"So there's no question that they're calling us, and that we're all supposed to be in the People's Republic."
"Not if you believe what they're saying," Morton replied.
Crane momentarily lost his train of thought as specters of his former encounters with that malignant cadre engulfed his thoughts. Shaking off the unsettling memories, he refocused on his First Officer's words.
"Here's the rest of it. 'Where are you now? Have you found them yet? Did they get to the lab? You must stop them at all costs. Repeat: all costs.' That's it. No indication of who 'they' are, or where or what the 'lab' is."
"Then it looks like we have to find the answers for ourselves," the Captain answered.
Now, nearly an hour later, and two thirds of the way around the island, they spotted what appeared to be a seaplane. It was lying on the beach, keeled over on one broken wing, being battered by the incoming tide. A gaping hole in the fuselage, showed evidence of a fire. Nearby were piles of crates haphazardly strewn on the beach. But no people.
While still surveying the area through the periscope, Crane reached for the hand mike. "Sparks, this is the Captain. Any luck raising our friends out there?"
"No, sir. Nothing."
As he continued to scan the area he asked, "What's the bottom like here, Mr. O'Brien? How close can we get to shore?"
"This side of the reef it drops away pretty quickly. I'd say we can get to within five hundred yards."
"Take us in, then. But make sure you leave us plenty of lee-way for a fast exit."
"I still don't like it, Lee," Chip Morton said quietly. "We don't know who's on that island, what their intentions are, or what kind of weapons they might have. If we were mistaken once for this Vidmorya we can be mistaken again. If they are the ones that we're supposed to 'stop at all costs', then they must know it. And I don't for a minute suspect they're planning to go down without a fight."
"Everything you say makes sense, Chip. But what if this really is just a vacationer blown off course, and in need of our help? What if there is something wrong with our instruments, and this isn't the seamount we've been circling? What if . . ."
" . . . Kowalski and I were just imagining those Russian orders from the People's Republic?" The Exec's question, mildly as it was uttered, stopped the Captain's what-if's like a bucket of ice water.
"You're right, Chip," he said, rubbing the back of his neck, "but we have to investigate. They just might have some of the answers to what's going on. Get together a landing party: standard medical, food, and communications gear, but equip them with flak jackets, too. Just in case."
Half an hour later the Captain and First Officer watched from the Bridge as Lt. O'Brien, Chief Sharkey, and Seamen Kowalski and Rodriguez pushed off from Seaview toward the island. They were just even with the fishing boat when several people came out of the brush at the edge of the beach, brandishing weapons, and shouting angrily. The Lieutenant attempted to communicate with his bull horn, but instead of listening, the group on the beach opened fire. O'Brien made another attempt at reasoning, but when the Chief was hit, they retreated to Seaview.
"Are you all right, Chief?" the Captain asked as he helped the men back on board.
"Yes, sir, I'm fine, sir. . . just nicked me a little, is all. I'll be right as rain in no time."
"Rodriguez, see that the Chief gets down to Sick Bay."
"Aye, sir," the seaman replied, helping Sharkey down the ladder.
"Mr. O'Brien, what happened out there? Could you hear what they were saying?"
"The surf was pretty loud, so I couldn't hear much, but what I did hear didn't make much sense. It didn't seem to be English, but I can't be sure."
"How about you, Kowalski? Could you understand any of it?"
The seaman shook his head. "No, sir. I'm sorry. It sorta sounded like Russian, but between the surf and the gunfire I couldn't catch anything."
"Very well. Dismissed."
"Skipper!" Morton's shout from above sounded not only urgent, but unnerved, as well.
"What is it, Chip?" the Captain answered as he climbed back up to the Bridge.
"You'd better look for yourself."
The Captain raised his binoculars, and saw that a woman was now standing on the beach. "Nadia!" Crane sputtered. "But that can't . . . she's back . . ."
"So it is Dr. Rossinova?"
"I don't see how it's possible, but I've never seen anyone look more like . . . "
"And that guy next to her with the rifle - isn't that her assistant? Peter Zaretsky?"
Slowly Crane lowered his glasses. "I don't think we're in Kansas any more, Chip."
* * 5 * *
Long after the landing party was safely aboard, the two senior officers stayed on the bridge watching, and being watched by, the group on the beach.
"We have to figure that they don't have any weapons that could hurt Seaview, or they would have used them already," the Captain finally said. "But seeing the warmth of this reception I . . ."
"Let me go in under a white flag," Morton said. "They'll respect that, and I can communicate with them."
The Captain pondered another few minutes.
"With your permission?" the First Officer prompted.
Crane turned and nodded slowly to his friend. "Permission granted. Take three men with you."
"Aye, sir." Morton turned to descend the ladder just as Kowalski arrived with a report on the Chief.
"Excuse me, sir," he said as he flattened himself against the side of the Bridge to let the Exec pass. "Skipper, Doc sent me to tell you that the Chief is fine. The wound was clean, and he didn't even need stitches - at least not in his leg. I guess his trousers will need some repair, though." Kowalski grinned.
"Very good, Kowalski. Thank you." Crane turned raised his binoculars to study the island again, effectively dismissing the seaman.
But Kowalski didn't dismiss so easily when he had something on his mind. "Beggin' your pardon, sir, but can I ask a question?"
"Of course, Kowalski," Crane answered, glad for the respite from his unproductive thoughts. "What is it?"
"Since when does Mr. Morton know how to speak Russian, sir? We knew about the Admiral and all, but we never heard the Exec use it before."
The Captain grinned. "He never needed it before. Mr. Morton is not one to show off his talents when they're not called for."
"I guess you're right there, sir." Kowalski laughed, shaking his head. "But . . ."
"Why don't you ask him yourself? It's a story I think he might enjoy telling . . . again," he grinned slyly.
"Aye, sir." A slightly deflated Kowalski descended the ladder into the Control Room, just in time to hear the call for volunteers for the landing party.
* * 6 * *
As the raft pulled away from Seaview a second time, Kowalski was once again manning the outboard, Patterson was displaying a large white flag, while Lt. Cmdr. Morton and Chief Sharkey sat watching their reception committee. This time the raft made it all the way to the beach without being fired upon, although the number of weapons trained on the men did not promise a cordial welcome.
As Kowalski and Patterson jumped out and dragged the raft through the last few feet of surf, the petite, dark-haired woman who Chip Morton knew as Dr. Nadezhda Rossinova strode forward, obviously in command. She shouted to them, and Morton quietly translated, "Move very slowly, and keep your hands in sight. We don't want to start anything."
At her gesture, the armed men beside her searched each of the 'rescuers' as they came onto the beach. Finding no weapons, they nodded to her, and she approached to within a few yards of the party. The look on her face conveyed not only recognition of Seaview's First Officer, but also some confusion.
Morton stepped forward and began to speak. "Menya zahvoot . . . " ["My name is . . ."]
"Znahyoo kahk tebya zahvoot! Ee nye khochoo slishat tvoii lozhi!" ["I know your name! And I don't want to hear your lies!"]
As the silenced officer stepped backward toward his men, the woman continued to scrutinize the men and their uniforms carefully. Finally, seemingly satisfied, she motioned the men beside her to lower their weapons. She again advanced, and with a look of pure loathing on her face, spat at the feet of the small group. She then unleashed a tirade of such fury and bitterness upon the shocked Lt. Commander, that even though her words were incomprehensible to his men, the message was not. Finally, she stepped close enough to land a resounding slap across the man's face.
While Morton did nothing to either provoke this attack or defend himself from it, Chief Sharkey reacted by leaping at his Exec's attacker, and earned for himself a pistol butt on the back of his head.
"Chief!" Patterson cried out as he dropped to Sharkey's aid.
"Why you . . . " Kowalski yelled as he hauled off to retaliate.
"Kowalski! No!" Morton shouted, interposing his solar plexus between the seaman's fist and the armed man.
"Sir! Why'dja . . .?"
"Belay that!" Morton croaked, attempting to straighten. "Stand down, all of you!" Kowalski caught the Exec's arm to steady him, but was shaken off as Morton continued more evenly. "They have guns. We don't. We're here to get information, not to get shot! Understood?"
"Aye, sir," came back from both Patterson and Kowalski. Sharkey still lay motionless in the sand.
Only after he was sure his order would be heeded did Morton slowly turn to face their captors, being careful that his movement couldn't be misinterpreted. The woman's confusion was obviously heightened by what she had just witnessed, and after conferring quietly with one of her colleagues, she ordered three of them to escort the four men from Seaview to a spot farther up the beach where there was shade, and rocks to sit on. A few minutes later a canteen of fresh water and a clean rag were handed to Patterson, who applied them to the wound on Sharkey's head.
While Kowalski and Patterson were occupied with making the just-roused Sharkey as comfortable as possible, Morton stood staring out at Seaview, hoping this hadn't been a really bad mistake.
============================================In the year 1945 three massive powers were in a death struggle to determine which, if any, would prevail and extend its imperialist control over the citizens of the world. In June of that year technicians laboring under the thumb of the oppressive Nazi regime, and using information stolen from gifted scientists working with the men who would become the founders of our republic, were able to develop a working model of an atomic bomb. The effects of a detonation of this nature were known to be so devastating to both property and human life that our own founders had wisely chosen not to pursue any military uses of the technology involved. These noble men tried to reason with their brothers, but lust for power had blinded the Nazi leadership. So it was that the fascist government of Germany used these very instruments of destruction to ravage millions of already tyrannized subjects of the former nations of England, Russia, Japan, and the United States of America. Trampling upon the broken backs of their vanquished enemies the fascist tyrants struggled to maintain domination over their victims in these nations, and throughout the world. Their means, however, were as irresponsible as they were brutal, and their ill-founded empire soon collapsed under the weight of its own depravity.
Our founders - a cadre of dedicated men not limited by any narrow partisan or chauvinist goals - came from every corner of the world, drawn together by their common desire to improve the lot of each individual, no matter his origin, his abilities, or his past sufferings. It was therefore with profound sadness that they watched the misery of those who had so misguidedly ignored their counsel. They would not be dissuaded, however, from continuing their efforts. Even now - even to the very totalitarian despots who in their wanton quest for power had callously ignored fervent entreaties and humanitarian aid - they offered a hand of friendship and human compassion.
These benevolent overtures were blindly spurned by the downtrodden and frightened masses in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and most of Europe - those who had languished so long under imperialist dictatorships. However, the peoples of the former state of Russia raised their wearied heads and caught a shining ray of hope in the compassion of our founders.
Soon, with the joyful assistance of those first far-sighted individuals - boldly reaching upward to accept the gifts of peace, freedom, and security - the dreams, the ideals, and the goals of our leaders were infused into their national consciousness. The Russian people found themselves being raised triumphant from the ashes of their own near-destruction, and it was with eager gratitude that they embraced the principles of our founders, and reached outward in good will and charity to share them the other oppressed peoples of the earth.
Thus were the beginnings of the People's Republic as we know it today.
Nasha Respublika [Our Republic] III.A.4:19
. . . Within the People's Republic each unique society has been allowed, even encouraged, to maintain its distinctive language and culture. But, for the common good, all government and peacekeeping affairs are controlled by the Central Council, and are conducted in the standard language of that council. Each member republic has eagerly subscribed to this equitable and efficacious system, and earnestly promotes use of the common tongue, in order for its citizens to reap all the benefits available to them . . .
Nasha Respublika [Our Republic] III.B.3:27
* * 7 * *
"Sir?" Chief Sharkey ventured.
"Yes, Chief. What is it?" Morton answered, still watching both Seaview and their captors from the his perch on a rock.
"I was just wondering, sir. Did you understand what that woman was saying?"
"Some of it, yes."
"Well, what was she so hot under the collar about anyway? If you don't mind my asking."
Morton turned and regarded the Chief for a moment before fully focusing on what he was saying. "What did Kowalski tell you?"
"He asked me, sir," Kowalski interjected. "All I know for sure is that she called you a liar." At the sight of the Exec's expression, the smile forming on his lips died quickly. Straightening, he continued, "I couldn't make out most of it, sir."
"I can imagine. Not the kind of language you'd normally learn from your parents." He stopped there, but when the men continued to wait expectantly he sighed and continued. "I didn't catch all of it, either. What I did understand was terminology not included in most phrase books."
"I gathered that, sir," the Chief snorted. "But what you did catch . . .?"
" . . . was of a rather personal nature. I'd rather not repeat it."
"You know that dame?! . . .er. . . sir?" Kowalski blurted.
"Evidently much better than I thought." The Exec turned away from his confused men and resumed his vigil. Their captors across the beach were now arguing, obviously about their prisoners, but not quite loud enough to be heard over the surf.
Several minutes passed before Patterson spoke up. "sir?"
"I was wondering . . ."
C'mon, Morton, lighten up. They're probably a lot more scared than you are. Then again . . . maybe not.
" . . . Well, sir, we know Ski can understand some Russian because his family speaks Polish, but what about you, sir . . . if you don't mind my asking, where did you learn to speak Russian?"
It took a moment for Chip Morton to redirect his thoughts away from their present situation, and back to his men. He finally rewarded Patterson's question with a small grin. "It was on a dare. At the Academy."
At the word "dare" all three men perked up. Somehow the word didn't seem consistent with what they knew of their First Officer's character. This could be interesting.
"You have to remember that this was in the era that Sputnik went up, it was before Yuri Gagarin beat us into space, but the Cold War was at its height. In addition to the technology boom that was spawned, Russian was introduced into a lot of language programs, and they were pushing it hard.
"When you enter Annapolis, your courses are laid out for you, but there are a few electives. Since I tested well for languages, they put me in the language elective program . . . "
" . . . And you chose Russian, right?" Sharkey prompted. "But where'd the dare come in?"
Casting the Chief a brief scowl, Morton continued, "I chose German, because I heard it a lot growing up."
A slightly wilted Sharkey settled back with the others to hear the story in silence, as the Exec warmed to his tale. "Unfortunately, the class was full, and I had less than fifteen minutes to find another. My roommate suggested Russian. 'You've gotta be nuts!' I told him. 'Have you seen the prune they have teaching that? He's about a hundred years old, and he's not even in the Navy! The class will be joke!'
"'You're just afraid you can't cut it!' he told me.
"'What do you mean, 'can't cut it'? I've got Chemistry, Physics and Calculus, and you think I can't handle a first year language! I tell you, the only reason there is still room in that class, is because nobody would be caught dead in there. They'd be the laughingstock of the Academy. Uh uh. No way.'
"This guy was a tough case, and kept badgering while I tried to find another, decent course. The last straw was when he relented. 'I guess you're right,' he said. 'You shouldn't take it. You'd never be able to keep your average up with that class dragging you down.'
"That did it. I got right back in line and signed up for Russian 101." Morton paused and leaned back on his rock, smiling at the memory. "It was a smart move. That 'hundred year old prune' was one heck of a teacher, and to my roommate's everlasting chagrin I aced it, and kept up with it for the next three years. The Navy was happy, I was happy, and I take every opportunity to remind my friend of his error," he grinned mischievously.
By this time Chief Sharkey was grinning broadly, as if at some private joke.
"Who was your roommate?" Patterson asked. "Do we know him?"
"Of course you do, you knuckleheads, it's the . . ." Suddenly realizing he was about to stomp on his Exec's punch line again, he shut his mouth abruptly.
"You do," Morton replied, conspicuously ignoring the Chief. "It was Midshipman Lee B. Crane."
* * 8 * *
Some fifteen minutes later the Lt. Commander and his men stood as the woman and several men approached across the sand. Though still speaking Russian, this time she spoke more calmly, and Morton could understand all of what she said. "We don't know who you are, where you're from, or why you're here. Explain yourselves."
The First Officer paused a moment to collect his thoughts, in order to avoid making a costly blunder. Finally, slowly, he said in Russian, "I'm Lt. Cmdr. Charles Morton of the SSRN Seaview," he nodded toward the boat riding just off shore. "We're from the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, and we came in response to your distress signal." At this he indicated the charred seaplane lying farther up the beach.
She puzzled over this answer for a moment, turned as if to ask a question of a colleague, then reconsidered. "And you all speak English?" she asked in barely accented American English.
The gasps of surprise from the three enlisted men competed with the sigh of relief from their First Officer. "Yes, ma'am, we do. I'm the only one here who speaks Russian. And not particularly well any more."
"Well enough. And this Nelson Institute - would that be Admiral Harriman Nelson?"
"Yes, ma'am, it is." He almost added, 'Do you know him?', but thought better of it.
"And where is this Nelson Institute located?"
"In Santa Barbara. California," he added, as an afterthought.
"And in what nation is that located?" she asked.
Morton could feel rather than hear the snickers of the men behind him. His stiffened back was all that was needed to quell them. "In the United States of America," he said cautiously.
Now the men with the guns expressed their disbelief with grunts and rolled eyes. Her fiery glance stifled their amusement. "You may consider this question frivolous; I assure you it is not," she continued. "What is today's date?"
Neither surprised nor amused, Morton answered, "It's Tuesday, September 20, 1977."
At that answer there was a flurry of excited comment among the group on the beach. Morton could pick out only a few words. " . . . lying . . . impossible . . . dissolved in '47 . . . couldn't be . . ."
Up till this point Lt. Cmdr. Morton had been conducting himself very meekly. Not out of any sense of irresolution or fear, but because it seemed the most prudent way to assess the situation. Now, however, he spoke up without hesitation . "I've told you who I am, perhaps you should tell us who you are, where you're from, and why you're here."
The woman thought only a moment before nodding. "That is fair." After indicating that guns could be lowered, she beckoned one of the men to come forward. "I am Dr. Nadezhda Rossinova, and this is my brother, Mikhail Rossinov."
The slight young man didn't smile, but nodded and extended a tentative hand in greeting. "My brother and I, with the help of my research team," she said, gesturing toward the remainder of the group, "have developed a prototype Time Displacement Module, which would enable its operator to move objects or people forward or backward in time. Since it was essential to maintain complete security over this project, as well as have a large, uninhabited area surrounding our facility, we've been working on this island under the auspices of the Narodnii Institut Morskova Issledovaniya: People's Institute of Marine Research. In Santa Barbara. California. People's Republic."
If Dr. Rossinova's last statement shocked the men of the Seaview, it showed only in the worried glances they directed toward the taciturn Morton. The Lt. Commander himself, having already discerned at least part of the reality of the situation, was merely somber to have his conclusions thus confirmed. He nodded in understanding, then questioned, "And what is the date by your calendar?"
"The same as yours, September 20, 1977."
Choosing his words very carefully, Morton continued. "It appears, then, that your device has not performed as you expected." After the slight ruffle of indignation passed he added, "And why, if you're working for this 'People's Institute', did we just receive a message from them that you - we assume it's you - must be stopped at all costs?"
Suddenly the Doctor and her entire party stiffened. Guns were once again raised, and the cordiality which had just started to soften their expressions was erased by the return of bitterness and distrust.
"So! You have come here to stop us, to retrieve the TDM, and to . . . . "
Morton raised his hands quickly in protest. "No! No, we're not here for any such reason. It's true that we received that message, but it wasn't intended for us. In our world . . ." here he hesitated at having put into words what his mind was only just beginning to comprehend. He continued more softly, "in our world the People's Republic is a small but ruthless cartel, whose leaders seek only to expand their domain and increase their own power. Their vicious methods include the oppression of any kind of freedom that might limit that power. It is not a philosophy we subscribe to."
After a brief conference, the guns were lowered again. "I begin to see the magnitude of the problem with which we are faced," Rossinova said. "Neither of us finds it easy to believe what we are hearing. We also disagree with the goals and methods of the People's Republic, but you have no basis for believing our claim. Until we both present more convincing evidence, we will simply have to proceed on trust." Casting an ironic glance toward the well-armed submarine clearly visible beyond the shoals, she bade her men holster or set aside their weapons. "What do you propose, Commander?"
A welcome puff of cool air seemed to echo the collective sigh of relief. Chip Morton even allowed himself a small smile before stating formally. "Dr. Rossinova, our original intent in coming here was to aid you and your party. We are still willing to do that. In return, we hope that you will be able to help us with our . . . problem."
"We will do what we can," she replied.
* * 9 * *
Capt. Crane stood watching at the bottom of the ladder in the Control Room as each returning crewman and visitor descended.
"Sharkey, are you OK?"
"Sure, sure, sir," the Chief waved off his Captain's concern. "No problem. A little headache, maybe, but I have a thick skull. You should know that, sir," he grinned.
"Nevertheless, report to Sick Bay and let Doc make sure that thick skull is still intact."
When Crane turned back to the ladder, Dr. Rossinova had just cleared the bottom rung, and was surveying the room. "Nadia!" he beamed, grasping both her arms, "I don't know how you got here, but I'm glad we heard your message. Are you all right?" His enthusiasm was met with an icy stare, and over the Doctor's shoulder he caught his First Officer frowning and shaking his head. He released her arms, and took a step backward.
"Capt. Crane, as your Mr. Morton has already found out, I am not . . . exactly who you think I am. There are many explanations to be made, and much work to be done." With that short introduction, she conferred with her assembled team briefly in Russian, then turned back to the Captain. "I suspect you are as anxious to resolve your dilemma as we are ours, however, we have not slept in over thirty hours. Might I prevail upon you to provide space for some of my team now? Meanwhile, you and I should examine our situation and plan our actions."
No less mystified than before, Crane looked to his First Officer. At Morton's nod he said, "Of course, Doctor. Riley, get down to Sick Bay and find the Chief. As soon as he's done with Doc, ask him to arrange sleeping quarters." As Riley headed aft, the Captain continued, "Kowalski, take these men down to the Crew's Mess and get them something to eat while they wait."
"Aye, sir. Gentlemen, if you'll follow me."
"Oh, and Ski, have Cookie send some sandwiches and coffee to the Wardroom, too."
"Aye, sir. Will do."
"Mr. O'Brien, you have the con. Mr. Morton and I will be in the Wardroom."
Housekeeping arrangements completed, Crane turned back to lead the party out of the Control Room. However, when he saw the dark-haired young man standing next to Rossinova he started, eyes wide. "Mikhail?" he stammered.
"You have met my brother, Captain?"
"No," he shook his head, "but I've seen his pictures in your apartment." Seeing her reaction to those words, he stopped. Then, shaking his head, he continued, "But Mikhail died . . . nine years ago. In Prague. He was a student there when the invasion . . . " His voice trailed off in bewilderment.
Brother and sister exchanged glances, then Rossinova said, "As I said before, there are many explanations. Please, proceed."
* * 10 * *
An hour later Captain Lee Crane had heard plenty of explanations, but was no less confused. "So you're saying that the United States of America no longer exists, that People's Republic is now a world-wide government, and that working under their authority you've developed a 'Time Machine' which is supposed to move people and things around in time. But instead it seems to have invented a whole new universe . . ."
"No, Captain, it didn't invent anything," Dr. Rossinova said. "There is a theory, espoused by many physicists, that each new circumstance - each new set of choices - yields its own new reality, branching off from the former. If you accept that possibility, then you can also see the possibility that at the point in 1945 when Germany, rather than the United States, used their atomic devices to win the war, our reality and yours split apart."
"Even if I accepted that - which I'm not sure I do - what happened to this TDM of yours to make it move us from one reality to another, rather than moving you from one time to another? And how is it that we've been receiving signals from it for months, and that it has now . . ."
"Signals! What kind of signals?" Rossinov demanded.
His sister flashed an irritated look his way for the interruption, but it was obvious that she, too, was just as anxious to hear the answer to his question. "Please forgive our rudeness, Captain, but this is the first we've heard of these signals. What sort of signals, and how do you know they were from us?"
Crane explained. "Our original reason for being in this area was to investigate a phenomenon that has been occurring for the past several months: Passing vessels have reported trouble with their clocks -- they seem to jump ahead or behind by anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. There were even reports -- totally undocumented -- of losing entire days, and one of gaining a full week. I suspect we have found the source."
After hushed conference Dr. Rossinova turned back with an unreadable expression. "I believe your assumption is correct. We have no explanation for this . . . leakage. But it must certainly be connected to your arrival." Her face brightened with the beginning of a smile. "And perhaps this information will lead us to the solution to our problem. Do you have any records of the timing and intensity of these impulses? Especially just before the . . . transfer?"
Crane and Morton shrugged a wordless debate before Crane nodded. "Yes, we do. We have a computerized chronometer on board that was installed for the very purpose of measuring and recording the phenomenon. All the information we have is in there." He paused before returning to his original question. "So you're saying that you have no idea how this thing of yours brought us here?"
"At the moment, no." The Doctor shook her head, and after a brief, reflective pause continued. "But you need to understand that it did more than just bring you here, Captain," she frowned. "We have to assume that your counterpart - our Vidmorya - was also moved into your reality. They are just as lost as you."
"Do you mean to say that there is a fully armed nuclear submarine from the People's Republic roaming free in our world?" Morton blurted.
"Unless it was . . . annihilated, yes." Her suddenly ashen face was the first sign of emotion Dr. Rossinova betrayed since first seeing Morton on the beach. She recovered quickly. "But you do not need to worry about trigger-happy vandals. There are good men aboard, I assure you, and just as anxious to return home as you are."
It took Seaview's officers a moment to reconcile the two phrases, "good men," and "People's Republic." Neither succeeded. Crane again repeated his original question. "How did this happen?"
"We don't know," Mikhail said. "We were trying to destroy the module when the storm . . . "
"Destroy it? Why?" Chip Morton spoke up. "And is that why we received that message to 'stop them at all costs'?"
"Yes, that is the reason," the Doctor said. "The Temporal Displacement Module was constructed out here, far from all regular shipping lanes, to avoid detection; we were not sure of its range. The original module is still here, but a mobile unit, fully functional, was also constructed. A month ago the Vidmorya came to take that mobile unit, the TDM-2, back to the People's Institute. My brother and I accompanied it, and were to conduct the demonstration of its capabilities with Admiral Nelson, while the rest of the team stayed on the island to continue testing. While we were there I discovered a copy of the official report to the Central Council on our research and development, and it was only then that I realized what they were planning to do with it."
"And what was that?" Crane asked.
"It was their intention to use it first to travel backwards to eradicate all resistence to their regime at its source, then to invade the future to harvest its technological advances. I went immediately to Admiral Nelson. He, like me, had been unaware of their intentions, although, being more realistic than I, he had his suspicions."
"So you decided to destroy the result of years of work. Just like that." Morton questioned.
"Yes, as you say, 'just like that.' It was not a difficult decision when confronted with the potential for harm resulting from those years of work." She paused long enough to see whether her words were being accepted.
"So your Admiral Nelson sympathizes with your views? He's not just a puppet of this Central Council?" Crane's question drew a shocked look from Morton.
"Admiral Nelson? A puppet? Is that what he is in your world?"
"No, of course not, but . . . " Crane fumbled, to the poorly hidden amusement of his Exec.
"The Admiral is known to have radical views, and is constantly under surveillance. But because of his obvious genius and stature in the scientific community they cannot touch him without proof. He is a good man . . . but I think an unhappy one. If, as I believe, character runs deeper than the circumstances of our environment, then it is good to know that he also exists in a place and time were he is able to act freely upon his principles."
Somewhat chagrined, Crane continued, "So what was your plan?"
"The Admiral and I agreed that both modules had to be disabled. Our first plan was a safe one - I would simply sabotage the mobile unit so as to make it malfunction. This was much more acceptable than destroying it; no one in the People's Republic is surprised by malfunctions. Then, without arousing suspicions, Misha and I could have come back to this island - ostensibly to do more research and testing - and sabotage the prototype. Eventually, after having poured millions of dollars more into the project, the Central Council would have abandoned it, and we would have been banished to East Kyrgyzstan to design machinery for the manufacture of fertilizer." Here she stopped and shared a small, sardonic smile with her brother.
"So what happened? Did they catch you?"
"No, not precisely, although they would have, had we attempted to carry out the plan. There was one member of the Council who was most impatient to see the project underway."
"Turkevich - he is a parasite! He feeds on the work of others, and produces nothing but hot air and trouble. . ."
At a sharp glance from his sister, Mikhail Rossinov allowed her to continue. "Councillor Turkevich had contacted another so-called expert in the field of temporal physics to come and assist us. We knew this Dr. Quillary by reputation, and his credentials were worthless; his value to the Council was not as a scientist, but as a dutiful and efficient watchdog. Once he arrived we could do nothing without his notice, so we had to act boldly and without thought to ourselves. I feigned illness as an excuse for both Misha and I to postpone the demonstration. We convinced a like-minded friend -- a pilot -- to bring us back here. He had to steal a plane of sufficiently long range to make the journey, thus we all knew that it would likely be a one way trip. The Admiral was to have disabled the module we left at the Institute in the confusion that our disappearance was sure to cause."
"And did he?" Morton asked.
"We have no way of knowing," Mikhail answered. "We arrived safely, but a storm the next day caused an explosion aboard the plane, scrambling its radio circuits -- hence your distress signal -- and killing our friend, Strekis, along with any hopes of escape." After a pause, he continued. "We did our best to destroy the TDM and the lab containing all our research. We thought we had succeeded. It seems, however, that we only damaged it - somehow changing the way it functions."
"So you're what telling us is that it was a malfunction of your device, combined with your attempted demolition, that brought us here, and that we might have no way of getting back home?" Crane asked.
"Yes. That is possible," Dr. Rossinova admitted. "Let us hope, though, that the Admiral was able to sabotage the mobile unit without destroying it. If that is the case, we may be able to restore it, and -- with the data you provide from this recorder you've described -- to find a way to duplicate the malfunction, thereby enabling your return to your own reality, as well as bringing Vidmorya back to our world."
Mikhail Rossinov had been growing continually more restive throughout the conversation, but at these words he addressed his sister sharply in Russian. There followed a brief, heated debate, ending with his stalking out of the room in anger. At a nod from Crane, he was followed by Seaman Riley. "Please forgive my brother," the Doctor said, "he is prone to speaking and acting before reflecting upon the consequences."
"Of course, Doctor." Capt. Crane glanced at his First Officer to see if he had understood any of the exchange. Receiving a slow blink to the affirmative he looked down at the notes in front of him as if putting thoughts together. "Why did you shoot at our landing party?" he asked. "Especially since you told us that they were 'good men'. Besides, you had to know, whether we were the Vidmorya or not, that we had you outgunned. What did you hope to gain?"
"Time, Captain. Nothing more. We knew that with the plane destroyed we couldn't escape the island, and that it was only a matter of time before we were captured or killed. We needed the time to be sure that our destruction of the prototype, the lab, and all our research was complete. My brother and I did not intend to be taken alive, thus giving our beloved government opportunity to 'reconstruct' us - we knew too much, and there was too much chance of their success. We were only surprised that Vidmorya arrived so quickly."
"Is that what your tirade on the beach was all about?" Morton asked.
"Yes, partially. You see, I trusted that Chip Morton - the Lt. Commander from our reality - was also honorable. He had assured me that Vidmorya would develop engine trouble on its way to the island, giving us ample time to complete our mission. But when I saw you coming so quickly to capture us, it appeared that I was wrong in my assessment of his character. It was only your unfamiliar uniform that saved you from being shot before you reached the shore."
"I understand that, but," and here the Lt. Commander hesitated a moment and began to redden, "but some of the things you said . . ."
Nadezhda Rossinova blushed deeply. "I apologize. Some of the things I said were meant to be heard only by my fiancé."
As the meaning of her words began to dawn upon both men, Rossinova rose. "If you will excuse me, gentlemen, I'm afraid my fatigue is overcoming my ability to think clearly. May I rest now, and continue our planning in a few hours?"
"Yes, of course, Nad . . . Dr. Rossinova. I'll have someone to show you to your quarters."
After Kowalski and the Doctor left, Captain and Exec sat down more comfortably. "So, Chip," Crane leaned back in his chair and arched an eyebrow, "what exactly did she say to you on the beach? I saw the fight, but I had no idea it was a lovers' spat."
Morton returned his friend's grin with a baleful glare. "Maybe you should ask her for a translation. I'm sure it would be more accurate." After a moment, though - and in appreciation of the absurdity of the situation - he cracked a apologetic smile. "Sorry, Lee," he shook his head. "But I tell ya, it was like being in the Twilight Zone. I didn't know her, but she sure knew me." His complexion once again took on the hue of a flustered tomato. "I'm just glad Kowalski's grasp of the language is limited to what he learned at his mother's knee," he laughed.
Both men relaxed for a few moments more before returning to the seriousness of their situation. "Chip, what was that little argument between Mikhail and Nad . . . I keep forgetting . . . Dr. Rossinova? Did you get all of it?"
"Most if it. It seems that Mikhail thinks that getting Seaview home is our problem, not theirs. He accused her endangering their lives just to get her . . .uh . . . fiancé back. He wants to destroy both Modules and be done with it. First he wants us to blow up this island, then go back to the Institute, and destroy the mobile unit."
"And what did the Doctor say?"
"She pointed out that we didn't hesitate to come to their rescue when we heard their distress beacon, even after the first landing party was attacked. She said that they can postpone their mission long enough to come to ours now. She called it a "Komandirovka Sostradaniya" - a mission of mercy. I don't think he bought it - yet. But he may come around. I don't get the impression he's obstinate or hypocritical, just impulsive."
"Let's hope so. Or at least that the good Doctor has enough influence to sway any votes in our favor. Because without their help," he pushed himself slowly up from the table, "I don't see any way we're going to get home."
* * 11 * *
"I tell you, it is the only way we can hope to penetrate their defenses!"
Mikhail Rossinov had not only been convinced of the rightness of cooperation with Seaview, he now seemed equally convinced it had been his own idea. "You cannot hope to sneak into the Institute unnoticed, and sneak back out again. Even one man, familiar with the routine, would find it difficult. For your men, it would be impossible. The security is as high as the paranoia level."
Lt. Cmdr. Morton frowned at the neat Russian characters with which he had embellished his notes. With clipped sarcasm he said, "So you're suggesting we just drive Seaview right up to our enemy's front door, and stroll on into the Narodnii Institut Morskova Issledovaniya. And that's supposed to be safer than sending one or two . . . "
"Yes, that is exactly what I am saying . . ."
As Nadezhda Rossinova watched the ping pong exchange between Morton and her brother, her exasperated fidgeting escalated in proportion to Mikhail's volume. Finally she appealed to Crane, "Captain, my brother is right. And it is for just such a reason that you cannot send the Flying Sub, either; they would immediately suspect if you were not aboard. That vehicle is the exclusive domain of the Captain and the Admiral. No one else is allowed the privilege of piloting it."
"But how can we expect them to swallow us being the Vidmorya?" Morton asked. "You made that mistake - from half a mile away - but the guards at the institute know her, and they'll be within feet of her."
"And what about the crew?" the Captain added. "Will they be expected to speak Russian? They can't. Chip is the only officer who speaks it, and Kowalski's the only crewman who even understands it. Then there's the issue of uniforms . . ."
"Gentlemen, please. One thing at a time. Mikhail and I have some ideas that we believe are viable. If you will allow us to present them, then perhaps we can work out a plan together. It will require some subterfuge, a bit of camouflage, a little instruction in elementary Russian for you, and elementary seamanship for us, some petty theft, and considerable risk. Are you willing to at least listen?"
"Yes, of course, Doctor." Crane's stiff posture softened to something nearing apologetic. "I'm afraid we let our skepticism get the best of our courtesy. Please, continue."
"Every point you mentioned is valid," Mikhail said, looking from one officer to the other. "Very briefly, here is how we propose to address them. First, and most importantly, you need not fear that having your vessel 'make herself at home at PIMR' will arouse any distrust. We live under an authoritarian government, and everyone cowers before that authority. As representatives of that government and its authority, the officers of Vidmorya are also treated with the same fearful respect. As long as you act with confidence - even arrogance - no one will question you.
"As for the vessel herself, very minor alterations will make her entirely presentable," Dr. Rossinova continued. "From what I saw of the outside of your Seaview the paint used on military vessels in your world is little different than ours; all you will need is the Vidmorya's name on the bow, and her registry number on the sail."
"And you know that number, the style and size of the figures, and precisely where they should be placed?" The Executive Officer's attention to detail earned him a glance of disapproval. Unfazed, he waited patiently for a response.
"Yes, Mr. Morton," Mikhail answered curtly. "We may be off by an inch or two, but it will be good enough to fool overworked, underpaid workers who have been given no reason to be suspicious."
"Very well. Go on," Crane prompted, sensing re-mounting tension.
"Since Mr. Morton is the only one of you who speaks Russian, it is he who must go ashore to get the module. He will need his uniform. He will, of course, need to be accompanied by at least one familiar guard, who will also need a uniform, as will all other visible members of the crew."
This time Rossinov's pause seemed to invite questions. Crane obliged. "Where are we going to get these uniforms? And how?"
Lifting her ever-present backpack onto the table Dr. Rossinova began to rummage through it. "There is a private cove that is not patrolled, and is sufficiently large to hide your Flying Sub." Still searching, she turned to Morton. "It is quite near your apartment."
Morton nodded. "I know the place." Suddenly his eyes narrowed. "But how do you know where my apartment is?"
"I'm assuming it is the same as his." She absently threw a wallet onto the table, which opened to display a formal portrait of her fiancé in his People's Republican Navy uniform: black jacket with red epaulets over a black turtleneck. The hunt continued as she said, "My face is too well-known for me to accompany you, but one of our team members is familiar with the area, and he knows a source for the enlisted uniforms, as well. You should be able to get in and out in less than two hours."
Tearing his eyes from the sinister uniform he couldn't imagine wearing, Morton asked, "And how will I get into 'my' apartment?"
A small grunt of satisfaction escaped the Doctor as she displayed her quarry. "With my key."
* * 12 * *
By the next morning, Seaview was thirteen hours closer to Santa Barbara.
Dr. Rossinova and her brother had gone back to the island to glean as much data as possible from their decimated prototype TDM, and were prepared to analyze it in light of the information recorded by the infamous Tinkerbell.
Now, after having given the crew an update, Seaview's Captain stood in the Radio Shack and watched as her First Officer scanned his notes and gnawed the inside of his cheek, the only visible sign of his uneasiness. After hours of devising and discarding scenarios, the combined efforts of Seaview's officers and Rossinova's team had yielded a viable plan - a plan which that First Officer was about to set in motion.
"Is everything ready, Sparks?" Morton asked.
"Yes, sir. Just like before."
"OK, then, let's get started."
The operator flipped switches then nodded to Rossinova's electronics technician, Nicholas Sikora, who had been teamed with Sparks to handle the routine messages. He began the Russian transmission. "This is P-L-I-A Vidmorya calling the Narodnii Institut . . . This is P-L-I-A Vidmorya calling the Narodnii Institut. Come in please." When the acknowledgment came through, he continued. "Starshii Pomoshchnik Morton to speak to Admiral Nelson. Urgent."
Immediately after the second acknowledgment Nelson himself came on the line. While the voice was unmistakable, to hear it speaking Russian was chilling. "Komandir, what's going on out there? We've been trying to contact you for over twenty four hours."
Sikora withdrew as Morton took a deep breath. "Admiral, our communications array was damaged in our fight to capture the Time Displacement Module."
"Well . . . did you capture it?"
"Nyet, ser. The rebels had already destroyed it before we arrived."
Though they couldn't hear it, they felt the hint of relief in the Admiral's voice as he continued tentatively, "And the Doctor? Did you capture her?"
"Da. We . . . "
"Speak up! I can barely hear you. What's wrong with your radio?"
Somewhat louder, Morton answered, "We still haven't been able to repair all the damage to the radio, Admiral. We're working on it."
"What about Dr. Rossinova? Was she . . . Is she safe?"
"Da. We have her in . . . protective custody here on Vidmorya."
"And the rest of her team?"
Morton spoke in a stiff, formal voice. "The Doctor's brother and the rest of her team are dead."
"Dead!" the Admiral shouted angrily. After a pause, however, his voice was calmer, and laced with irony that even Crane seemed able to recognize through the unintelligible words. "I suppose they all died tragically, victims of their own rebellious plot."
Chip hesitated, unsure of how to interpret Nelson's tone. "Da, Admiral. Some were killed in the explosion. Others took their own lives . . ."
" . . . rather than face the shame of their crimes against the Republic," the Admiral recited bitterly.
Rather than respond, Morton allowed the pause to lengthen. Lee raised his eyebrows in question. Chip scribbled on his clipboard. Line must be bugged. Not questioning, but obviously unhappy. Told him about Dr and team. He looked up and tried a grin. You're next.
Finally breaking the silence, Nelson asked dully, "Were there any other casualties?"
"Da, ser. There were." Morton hesitated as if trying to control his voice. "Kapitan Crane was also injured."
"Lee! Of course - I should have known when he didn't call himself. How badly was he hurt? Is he all right?"
"His injuries were severe. His condition is critical."
"Critical?" Nelson rasped. "What exactly do you mean by 'critical', Komandir?"
Morton allowed his voice to falter. "The Doctor is . . . unsure . . . of his chances, Admiral."
The length of the silence that followed was evidence that in this world, too, Admiral Nelson was a man who placed great value in friendships.
"Can you transport him in the Flying Sub?"
"Nyet, Admiral. The Doctor strongly advises against moving him."
"How soon can you get back here?"
"It will be at least forty-eight hours, ser."
Nelson suddenly sounded very old. "Khorosho, Chip. Keep me informed." Instead of ending the transmission, though, he added, "Is it possible to speak to Dr. Rossinova?"
Chip gestured for Sparks to increase static. Receiving a nod, he turned to Crane. "He wants to talk to Rossinova. What do I tell him?"
Crane thought for a moment. "If Vidmorya had followed orders, then she should be in the brig. If they didn't, then the Admiral would be in trouble for condoning your 'insubordination'. Better say no."
Once the connection was marginally restored, Morton said loudly, "Admiral, are you still there?"
"Da, of course I am. What about the Doctor?"
"It would be inadvisable to bring her to the Control Room at this time, ser."
"I see." Nelson paused, as if debating with himself. Finally he asked, "How is the new man, Mitchell, working out? Any problems?"
As Morton's face registered confusion and alarm, it only took a glance for Sparks to know what was needed from him.
"Now what?" the Captain asked, once the connection dissolved into static.
"He wants to know if we're having any problems with Mitchell."
The blank look on Crane's face told Morton that his friend was as baffled as he was. "The new ensign down in Engineering? Why would the Admiral want to know about him?"
While Chip shrugged his shoulders, Lee grabbed the mike and called for Dr. Rossinova.
"Ah, I should have remembered," she responded to his urgent question. "Evan Mitchell is the political observer, assigned by the Central Council. There is one on every vessel. They are not supposed to exist, but everyone knows they do. He could be very . . . troublesome in this situation."
"Thank you, Doctor," Crane said curtly, as he hung up the mike. "So what do we tell the Admiral?" he asked Morton.
The Exec thought only for a moment before his eyes registered an idea. "Well, it's been established that we've had a battle, and that there were casualties . . ."
Seeing where he was going, Crane nodded enthusiastically. "Do it."
Nodding again to Sparks, Chip waited a moment then said rather loudly, "Admiral, can you hear me?" Getting an affirmative reply, he continued more solemnly, "About Mladshii Leitenant Mitchell, ser. I regret to inform you that in his eagerness to be of service to the Republic he disregarded his own safety, and was felled by one of the rebels' bullets."
"He disregarded his own safety? Is this Evan Mitchell we're talking about?"
"Da, Admiral. He died bravely."
After a long pause Nelson responded thoughtfully, "I see, Komandir. Keep me informed. Nelson out."
"Well?" Crane prompted.
"So far, so good. He's expecting us in two days, your absence has been explained, anyone listening in will know why they haven't heard from their watchdog, and the Admiral didn't swallow the whole story. He definitely has reason to believe that all is not as it seems." Now that his performance was over, the much relieved First Officer was overcome with a fleeting sense of euphoria. "An altogether satisfying and productive exchange for both sides," he proclaimed, straightening his tie unnecessarily. Catching the grimace on his friend's face, though, he deflated just a notch. "In my opinion, of course." Both men grinned.
* * 13 * *
"All right you jokers," Sharkey barked, "let's try it again. This time watch what we're doin', OK?"
Thirty-six hours had passed since Mr. Morton's conversation with the Admiral. Seaview's new paint job had passed inspection, and she was a third of the way to Santa Barbara. Capt. Crane had even managed to convince the Chief that, given the circumstances, the few extra dents, scrapes, and frays that had been suggested as camouflage would not unduly disturb the Admiral. Except for an odd alarm from Tinkerbell -- most likely a malfunction -- the trip had been uneventful.
Most of Rossinova's researchers were now in the Missile Room where Kowalski and Sharkey were quite literally 'showing them the ropes' on how to moor a submarine.
"I still think it would be easier to teach our guys Russian than to teach these guys docking procedure," Sharkey muttered. "They might be some kinda geniuses when it comes to time machines, but when it comes to anything useful they don't know their elbows from . . ."
"Aw c'mon, Chief. They're not doin' so bad," Kowalski said. "Besides, I'll be out there with 'em, in case they forget. You've got enough to worry about gettin' Mr. Morton and Pat back in one piece. Let me worry about these guys."
"Yeah, yeah, Ski. And who's gonna worry about you, huh? I just wish the Admiral was here, that's all. Not that I don't have full confidence in the Skipper and Mr. Morton, but I'd sure feel a whole lot better knowin' that the Admiral himself was in charge."
"You just worry too much, y'old mother hen," Kowalski grinned.
Those same thirty-six hours had seen Chip Morton immersing himself in a crash course to refresh his rusty language skills. He spent as much time as possible among the civilians, forcing himself to speak only Russian. He was amazed at how quickly it came back to him - supplied with the proper motivation.
Patterson, too, had been treated to a short course on the etiquette and jargon of a People's Republican security guard. He was not having as easy a time as his XO, however. His American tongue was having enough trouble wrapping itself around the unfamiliar Russian syllables and seemingly unpronounceable consonant clusters - let alone saying them as if he meant them. Finally it was decided that grunts and shoves were probably just as eloquent as words, and he got by with learning the basics: Ahd-mir-AL; Ko-mahn-DIR; Da, ser; Nyet, ser; and his pièce de résistance, 'You heard him. Move!': Ti ye-VO slish-AH-la. Spesh-EE!
Now both Morton and Patterson were memorizing maps and devising plans A, B, and-in a pinch-C with Peter Zaretsky, who would accompany them on their uniform raid.
"No, Pat. This time out you shouldn't need to speak any Russian," Morton assured the dubious seaman. "We just need a warm body. But for you it'll be a good dry run for your role as security guard."
"Besides, even though it's not considered politically proper, everyone speaks English, and all the signs are bi-lingual," Zaretsky added. "It's only on the Institute grounds - an official government installation- that Russian is expected."
"Aye, sir." Patterson continued staring at his notes, but the faraway look in his eye let the Exec know that his mind wasn't even in the room.
"What's on your mind, Pat? Any questions you have, now's the time to ask them."
"Sir, it's just that . . . I mean . . . I still don't know why you picked me for this assignment. It's not that I'm worried, exactly; I'm just wondering why you didn't assign Ski. I mean, he can practically speak Russian already, and . . . well . . . he's a lot better con . . . er . . . actor than I am. Heck, anybody's a better actor than I am, sir."
Morton folded his arms across his chest, and a smile flitted across his features as he regarded the honest face before him. "You know they'll need Kowalski here on board; he's the only familiar face who can handle docking procedures and understand what's being said from shore. As for the acting - you'll do fine. I don't need a Marlon Brando - or even a Stu Riley angling for Sick Call. I need a reliable backup I can depend on to get the job done and not to lose his head. I chose you, Patterson, because I wanted you."
Patterson's face registered several variations of dismay, pride, and gratitude before settling back to the familiar, easy-going calm for which he was noted. "Thank you, sir."
"Mr. Morton?" Sparks' voice crackled over the intercom, "Can you come to the Radio Shack? Admiral Nelson wants to speak to you. Mr. Sikora says it sounds urgent, sir."
Sikora was conferring with Capt. Crane when the Exec arrived.
"Problems?" Morton asked.
"Not yet," Crane hazarded.
Sikora explained, "Nelson asked who I was, and why Sparks wasn't on the radio."
Morton stopped short with his headset in mid-air. "Did he buy our story?"
"Well, he seemed pretty upset when I told him about injuries leaving us shorthanded, but he didn't question my being Lisckiewicz from Auxiliary."
A 'so-far-so-good' look passed between Captain and First Officer. "Good," Morton said as he fidgeted with the headset. "Did he say why he was calling?"
"No. Only that it was imperative that he speak with you."
"I guess we've kept him - and the rest of our audience - waiting long enough. Sparks?"
"Aye, sir. All ready, sir."
"Admiral, are you there, ser?"
"Chip, I can hardly hear you! Haven't you found the problem with that radio yet?"
"Nyet, ser. It hasn't been our highest priority. Here," Morton gestured Sparks to increase the static. "Is this better?"
"Nyet! Now I can't hear anything!"
Grinning slightly, the Exec nodded to Sparks, who brought the static back to manageable bounds. "How about now?"
"Da, that's a little better. Now, what's your status? What is so important that you can't fix the radio?"
"Just running the boat, ser. We're shorthanded, and every able body is involved with keeping us at flank. Also, the damage to the radio was mostly external. Since we're running submerged to make our best possible speed it's impossible to send out a repair team."
Throughout the exchange, Sikora interpreted for the Captain. During the pause following the Admiral's last words, Crane and Morton exchanged glances as both envisaged the Admiral's expressions as the wheels turned in his mind.
"How . . . how is Lee?"
"No change, ser," Morton said somberly. "He hasn't regained consciousness."
"How did it happen, Chip?" His voice betrayed his grief. "What went wrong?"
Morton had to turn away from the others in the Radio Shack to keep focused on the pain and rent loyalties he was fighting to portray. "He was in the first party to reach the island. He wanted to try reasoning personally with the . . . researchers." Morton spat the word, giving it the same contempt most would reserve for 'Viet Cong'. "Before he even had the chance to get out of the raft he received two gunshot wounds, both in the chest. His lungs were damaged, and one bullet is lodged against his spine. His condition is too tenuous to operate at this time."
After another long pause, Nelson simply said, "I see." In a voice taut with repressed anger he continued, "And did Dr. Rossinova give any reason for this sudden violence?"
"Nyet, Admiral. She has not spoken."
The Admiral's voice softened. "I understand that this a difficult situation, Chip."
Morton closed his eyes. What if? What if my fiancée had just shot my best friend? What if Lee were dying? After a moment he cleared his throat and answered simply, "Da, ser."
Gruffness covering whatever emotions he himself might have been feeling, the Admiral said, "Under the circumstances, Komandir, I think it would be best to keep Vidmorya under quarantine when you arrive."
With his back still turned to the Captain, Morton suddenly straightened and displayed an exuberant 'thumbs-up' sign, while calmly responding to the statement. "Da, ser. I was thinking the same thing. It seems a wise precaution."
"What is your ETA?"
"We have made better time that we hoped. We expect to arrive at the Institut at 0400 tomorrow."
"Khorosho. I'll be waiting with an emergency medical team. Do not allow anyone else on or off the boat until we have boarded. I'll leave the same orders here. Understood?"
"Da, ser. Understood."
As soon as the connection was cut Chip Morton whirled around to face an equally elated Lee Crane.
"He bought the whole thing, then?" Crane asked.
"I don't know how much he bought, but he's playing along with it," Chip heaved a huge sigh. "I just hope that Big Brother bought it, too."
"Big Brother?" Sikora looked confused.
"I guess 'Nineteen Eighty Four' wouldn't be a real popular novel in the People's Republic, would it?" Crane wondered aloud.
"If it was ever even written," Morton added.
Realizing he still hadn't answered the question, Crane clarified. "Spies, eavesdroppers, 'official observers'."
"Ah," Sikora nodded in comprehension.
"That's another headache out of the way," Crane clapped his friend on the shoulder as they walked through the Control Room. "Now all we need is uniforms, and we'll be ready for our grand entrance. When do you leave?"
"Not till 2100."
"I know this is what we all decided, but don't you think that's cutting it awfully close?"
"Not really. Any earlier there would be too much risk of discovery, and the chance that they might have time to put two and two together. We should arrive at the apartment by 2200, be out by 2230 and I'll be back on the Flying Sub by 2245. Meanwhile, Pat will continue on with Zaretsky to the laundry to get the enlisted uniforms. They should be back by 2345, giving us another 45 minutes to get here by 0030, with half an hour to spare before you have to surface for the transit into Santa Barbara. Piece of cake," the Exec grimaced.
"Yeah, maybe. If you like Devil's Food." Crane looked at his watch, "That gives you six hours - go log some rack time."
"Aye, sir," Morton replied.
If Chip Morton hadn't been a master of the fine art of catching catnaps whenever, wherever, and however he could, he would probably have still been awake when the Captain knocked at his door. As it was, it didn't take him long to regain that status.
"Come in," he called, half way to the door.
Crane entered, carrying a message slip. "Sikora just received this from the Admiral."
Morton read the terse message aloud. "Councillor Turkevich arriving 0500 to interrogate Rossinova. Be on time." He frowned at the Captain. "That about kills our margin for error."
Crane nodded his agreement. "I just talked to Rossinova. She said Turkevich will steamroll in with his complete entourage, leaving behind nothing but chaos and a bad taste. If we're not there well ahead to explain the situation to Nelson, we're dead in the water. Maybe literally." He took back the paper and re-read it. "I think you should consider moving your mission up."
"No, Lee. It's too risky." Morton was adamant. "Not only will there be too many people around to see us, the laundry doesn't shut down till 10 o'clock, and the owner doesn't leave for another half hour at least. There's no way we can get in any earlier."
"I was afraid you'd say that. It's nearly word for word what she said."
"Great minds . . . ." Chip grimaced.
Crane attempted an encouraging smile. "There is one good thing about this message, though. It's pretty strong evidence that Nelson is aware we've got ourselves a situation, and he's sticking his neck out to warn us."
"I don't know how much more good news I can stand," Chip snorted.
There was silence for a full minute as both men pondered, and ultimately reached the same conclusion. It was Morton, however, who put it into words.
"Look, Lee, let's face it: Without those uniforms there's not much chance of making this work. But, if something goes wrong and we're late, you can't wait around for us; you have to get to the Institute and somehow get Nelson's help. If he's anything like our Admiral, he's probably already guessed half of what's going on, and has theories about the rest. But if you don't get to him before this Turkevich arrives - uniforms or no uniforms - you'll have no chance at all."
Crane nodded, fully aware - as was his friend - that if Flying Sub didn't make it back to the rendezvous in time, they were not likely to see each other again.
* * 14 * *
As the Flying Sub surfaced in the secluded cove Morton, Patterson, and Zaretsky - all in civilian clothes - quietly passed out the inflatable raft, oars, and equipment. Within five minutes, the Exec was giving his last minute instructions. "It's 2145 now; as soon as we're out of sight, submerge. I should return in an hour, but don't show yourself until I signal." He indicated the radio in his jacket. "By 2345 Patterson and Zaretsky should be back; they have a radio, too. Remember: Stay hidden until we signal."
Sharkey nodded, "Gotcha, Mr. Morton."
"If something goes wrong and I'm not here, don't wait past 0015."
The Chief's broad face crumpled into a frown. "What should I do then, sir?"
"Go back to Seaview."
"Without you, sir?"
"Look, Chief - if I'm not back in three and a half hours, I doubt if I'll be back. And if you don't leave on time, Seaview will already be within the Institute's surveillance range before you catch up with her."
"But, sir . . . ."
"But nothing!" Then, taking pity on the man, Morton softened. "Don't worry, I'm not planning on taking up permanent residence."
"Aye, sir. Got your key, sir?"
Morton patted the side pocket of his slacks, "Right here, Chief." As he started up the ladder he leaned down and grinned. "I'll be home by midnight, Mom."
Sharkey snickered in spite of himself. "Be careful, sir."
"Always," he answered, climbing through the top hatch. Just before he closed it he called back softly, "Don't forget to leave a light."
"Sir, what if one of your neighbors comes out and sees you?" Patterson fretted.
As the three men strolled nonchalantly through the apartment complex, Morton looked around. "According to the Doctor, most of my neighbors are afraid of me - they don't trust anyone in the military. She said there's only one we need to be concerned about - a guy named Hoffman. Either he's not in our world, or I've never met him. Seems like he's some minor official, full of himself; he always speaks Russian to impress everyone with his loyalty and patriotism." In the dark it was easy to see the whites of Patterson's eyes. "Don't worry, though. At this time of night, I don't expect to see too many people out."
As they approached the door to #218 Morton pulled out his key - just as they heard a nearby door slam shut.
As Morton turned to face a short, balding man, he noticed that even though Patterson had paled, he and Zaretsky both turned around to smile at the speaker.
"I didn't expect to see you home so soon!" The man lowered his voice conspiratorially as he glanced at Patterson and Zaretsky. "I thought Vidmorya was still out on its secret mission."
"Dobrii vyechyer, Hoffman," Chip responded, hoping desperately that this was indeed Hoffman.
"Da, Da, good evening to you, too. Tell me, did you have success?" This sycophant's whine was so oily and his manner so obsequious that it was all the Lt. Commander could do to keep the scorn out of his own voice.
"Now you know I can't reveal military secrets right here on my front doorstep, Hoffman!" Morton laughed and clapped the man a bit harder than necessary on the back. Zaretsky also started laughing, and nudged Patterson, who followed suit, though somewhat less enthusiastically.
While Hoffman looked around uncertainly, doubtless suspecting that he was being made fun of, Morton noted Patterson's unhealthy pallor with renewed interest.
"Izvineetye, but we need to go now. My friend here," he nodded toward Patterson, "isn't feeling well." He handed his key to Zaretsky and pointed toward the door. After those two had entered the dark apartment, Morton confided, "Some men just can't hold their vodka, eh?"
Snorting in vague derision, Hoffman answered, "Da, Komandir. I understand. Perhaps we may talk again later, eh?"
"Da. Later." Morton entered and closed the door behind him and whistled a sigh.
"That was a close one, sir," Patterson said.
"Right." Tell me something I don't know! As Morton surveyed what could almost have passed for his own home, he was amazed by how it could look so familiar, yet feel so outlandishly alien to him. Shaking off the prickle at the back of his neck, he headed back toward 'his' bedroom. "I'll get the uniform. You two check for anything else that might be useful."
He had just finished folding the black jacket, shirt, and trousers into his duffle when there was a sharp rap at the door. Zipping the bag and stashing it under the bed, he strode to the front door. As soon as he saw who was there he rolled his eyes and mouthed Hoffman to the others. Patterson made for the bathroom, where he pulled the door just to. Zaretsky sprawled comfortably on the sofa.
"Hoffman, I'm afraid this isn't . . ."
"No need to worry about hospitality, Komandir." The heavy-set man pushed his way in, cheerfully brandishing a tall glass of evil-looking fluid. "I've just come to bring you my grandfather's remedy for too much vodka. I thought your friend could use it."
The distressed noises emanating from the bathroom indicated Patterson had taken his cue perfectly.
At a nod from Morton, Zaretsky bounded from his seat. "Oh ho! I think you've come just in time, friend!" he laughed. "Here, let me take it to him."
Relieving Hoffman of his burden, Zaretsky headed whistling down the hall, leaving Morton to entertain.
"Spasibo, Hoffman, it was very kind of you." . . . to come back here hoping to weasel some more information.
"No thanks are necessary, Komandir. Anything to help the men who labor to sustain our Republic. He is one of your fellow officers?"
"We . . . serve together, da."
"On the Vidmorya? And when did she get back? I wasn't expecting to see you until at least tomorrow, and here you are already celebrating!"
Before the conversation could get any more involved, they were interrupted by the arrival of Zaretsky and Patterson. Zaretsky displayed Hoffman's now empty glass, while Patterson's complexion had turned from pale to slightly green.
He's a better actor than he thinks!
Taking his cue from Morton's glance toward the door, Zaretsky said, "Chip, I think we should be going." He handed the empty glass back to their guest. "I think Pat can make it back now, thanks to your elixir, Mr. Hoffman."
"Da. Spasibo," Patterson managed.
And a better linguist!
"It was nothing, I assure you, ser." The little man was fairly quivering with glee at all the attention he was receiving from these important men.
"We'll see you early tomorrow morning, then, Chip?" Zaretsky asked.
"Da. Very early, I hope," Morton replied.
"So long, ser . . .er . . . Chip, " Patterson stumbled in Russian.
"So long, Peter. Get some sleep, Pat. Tough day tomorrow." Morton checked his watch as he shut the door behind them. 2230. Right on schedule. Now if I can just get rid of this idiot I'll be home free.
"Komandir, I have something of importance to ask you. It is about your fiancée, Dr. Rossinova."
Not missing even a beat, Morton bristled. "Nadezhda? I'm not sure that's any of your . . ."
"I assure you, Komandir, it is my business." Morton was unnerved when he suddenly realized that the ingratiating little toady was gone, and in his place stood an armed and very dangerous looking enemy.
"Further, I might ask why you are socializing with an enlisted man? Or maybe where you picked up such an interesting accent? Or perhaps why you are even here, Komandir, when your boat is not due in port for almost six hours?"
Morton stood aghast, feeling the color drain from his face. Think, man, think! It's what they pay you for. He sat down heavily on the edge of the sofa, and put his head in both hands. After a moment, and in a very small voice, he said, "So . . . you know everything?"
"I guess I'd better start at the beginning." Morton sighed raggedly. "Do you mind if I get a drink?" He got up mechanically, went to a likely looking cabinet, and was rewarded with two bottles of vodka, and a shelf full of glasses.
At 2230 Sharkey checked his radio, just to make sure it was on. He did the same thing at 2240, 2250, 2255, and at least every five minutes until Zaretsky and Patterson returned with their haul at 2340.
"You guys didn't see any sign of Mr. Morton out there, did you?"
"What do you mean, Chief? Isn't he back yet?" Patterson's elation at the ease and success of his own raid withered.
"Does it look like he's in here, Patterson? Do ya think I'd be askin' if I knew where he was?"
"No, Chief. Sorry. I didn't see anything at all. You, Zaretsky?"
"No, I saw nothing different from when we left. Perhaps we should go out and check?"
"No. Mr. Morton's orders were for us not to surface unless I got a signal. We'll wait."
The next thirty five minutes were among the longest and most difficult either Patterson or Sharkey could remember.
"Do you suppose he just lost his radio?"
"If that was the only problem, you would have seen each other coming in."
"Maybe he had trouble getting rid of that Hoffman guy."
"What Hoffman guy?"
"Just some nosy neighbor."
"You don't think he got hurt or anything, do you?"
"Of course not. He'll be here. You just wait."
"What if he ran into some kind of security patrol?"
"If the police have him, then there is nothing anyone can do."
"What, are you guys nuts? Catch Mr. Morton? No way. He'll be here."
"What time is it, Chief?"
"It's quarter past midnight."
"Didn't Mr. Morton say . . ."
"Do you want to go back and tell the Skipper that we just left Mr. Morton behind?"
* * 15 * *
"They should have been back before now, shouldn't they?"
Mikhail Rossinov stood with Lee Crane on the Bridge. Knowing Sharkey would probably skim in under radar, the Captain was adding his eyes to the lookouts' to scan the starlit horizon for any signs of the Flying Sub.
"Yes. Half an hour ago."
"Can we still make it in time?"
Without needing to consult his watch again, the Captain answered, "Just."
"Have you heard anything from them?"
"They're under radio silence."
"And you're worried about your friend, yes?"
Crane lowered his binoculars impatiently. "I'm worried about my friend. I'm worried about my men. I'm worried about your man. I'm worried about our chances of pulling this whole thing off," he snapped. Then, returning his gaze to the horizon, he repeated softly, "And yes, I'm worried about my friend."
A warm breeze whined softly through the bristle of antennas above them. The eerie sound underscored Crane's feeling of helpless isolation.
"Captain, may I ask you a question?"
Crane once again lowered his binoculars from the fruitless search and attempted a weary smile. "Of course. Go ahead."
"You said that in your world, I was killed several years ago in Prague. Can you tell me about it?"
Vaguely puzzled at the question, Crane nevertheless did his best to explain. "The nation of Czechoslovakia was under the influence of the ruling communist party in the Soviet Union . . ."
"And that is the same Soviet Union that gave birth to the People's Republic?"
"Yes, but where your Soviet Union was shattered and defeated by Germany, and later taken over by the People's Republic, ours emerged as one of the victors of World War II, and has flourished since. The leaders of Czechoslovakia wished to loosen the grip of the Soviet communists, and allow the people more freedom to pursue their own ideas of socialism. The Soviet Union and its allies were afraid these reforms would spread, and in August of 1968, after only a few months of freedom, tanks and troops were sent into Prague to crush the movement."
Rossinov took a few moments to digest the information. "My sister has a theory that character runs deeper than the environment which surrounds it, that it will not change across time or even across the boundaries of universes such as yours and mine. This seems to be borne out by what I have seen of you and your friend, Morton. So I suppose that what I'm trying to find out is . . . a little more about myself." He seemed hesitant to continue. "Can you tell me . . . did I die bravely?"
Crane leaned on the gunwale, staring into the barren night. "It was touted as a 'bloodless invasion' but there were over eighty civilian deaths in the city. Mikhail was among the students attempting to defend the public radio station, and among those who were killed there. Witnesses told Nadia that he . . . you were shielding an old woman who had inadvertently walked into the line of fire." Returning his gaze to young man before him, he continued. "To answer your question: Yes, you died bravely. But that isn't nearly so important as how you lived, and how you continue to live. A human life is much more important than a death. No 'magnificent death' can ever fully atone for a corrupt or meaningless life. Nor will an obscure death ever be able to erase the honor or the good accomplished in a life of integrity and compassion."
He stopped short, seeming to stare through Rossinov. Then, turning back to face the open sea, the Captain raised his glasses in search of his friends, oblivious to his companion's departure.
* * 16 * *
C'mon, Chief. Disobey orders. Be here.
Chip Morton checked his watch: 0029. He checked his radio: still not working. He wasn't sure what he expected when he arrived, but the empty beach and quiet cove didn't surprise him. A welcoming party with a raft would have been nice, though a bit much to hope for. He did know, however, that if he didn't act immediately, he would be taking up permanent residence in the People's Republic. Very permanent. And he also knew that his head was in no condition to be diving. In the dark. With no gear.
Well, Chief, I sure hope you ignored me, because if you didn't I expect things are going to get considerably darker in my future.
Hooking his duffle firmly over both shoulders, Morton waded into the opaque water.
If they thought the first thirty-five minutes of waiting was torture, the last fifteen had been as close to hell as Sharkey and Patterson wanted to come any time soon. Zaretsky was certainly concerned, but it wasn't his friend they were waiting for, nor was it his future hanging in the balance. At 0030 Sharkey finally admitted to himself that he may have to do the unthinkable. But he wasn't going to do it without disobeying one final order. He prepared to surface.
It was Patterson who first saw the odd flicker at the window. "What was that, Chief?"
"What was what?"
"I thought I saw something. There," he pointed.
Three men peered vainly at the window, seeing only their own reflected tension.
"Pat, douse the cabin lights," Sharkey ordered as he switched on the outside flood.
Now they saw reedy grass, a half-dozen startled crabs, and a few feet of murky water.
"Sorry, Chief. I guess it was nothing."
"Don't sweat it, kid. We're all pretty jumpy."
The three were now staring so hard at the window, that the soft swish THUMP on the upper hull made them literally jump in shock. They instinctively looked toward the sound, nearly missing the pale face and hands that momentarily came into view, quickly replaced by feet pushing off the hull toward the surface.
"Look, Chief! There! It's Mr. Morton!"
The relief that surged through the cabin was nearly enough to buoy them to the surface. With just a little help from the engines, they were soon riding on top of the water, hauling in an exhausted, soggy, and rather unsteady First Officer.
"Are we ever glad to see you, sir!" Sharkey beamed.
Morton grinned crookedly. "I sure am glad you left the light on, Mom."
As the dripping officer clung to the ladder, Sharkey's eyes narrowed, and he stepped back to inspect the Exec from head to foot. "Are you OK, sir? You're not hurt, are you?"
"Nope. Not hurt, Chief. Just a little dizzy." With some effort, he focused on Patterson and Zaretsky. "You men have any problems?"
"No, sir. Everything went smooth as silk." Patterson's face clouded with worry. "Are you sure you're all right, Mr. Morton? You don't look so good."
"I feel fine, Pat," he grinned again. "Nothing wrong with me that a little of Hoffman's elixir couldn't fix." He stared at his watch. "It's getting late, Sharkey. We'd better get back, or the Skipper'll have our hides." He collapsed into a seat. "I think I'll just take a little nap." And he was asleep.
"Captain! I think I see them! Just above the waves, at two o'clock."
A faintly glowing blur on the horizon grew steadily, then seemed to blink out.
Crane grabbed the mike and shouted, "Mr. O'Brien, prepare to receive the Flying Sub. She's coming in now." He didn't wait long enough to hear cheering that nearly drowned out the Second Officer's 'Aye, sir!' before calling upwards, "Prepare to get underway!"
By the time Crane was down the ladder, the sounds of the Flying Sub docking could be heard below the Control Room.
"Mr. O'Brien, get us underway. Same bearing, flank speed."
While the appropriate orders were given and acknowledged, Crane stood in the Observation Nose, waiting for the OK to crack the hatch to the Flying Sub's berth. Before he had a chance, though, it cranked open from the inside, and Patterson climbed out, loaded with a laundry bag and a still-dripping duffle.
"How did everything go, Patterson? What took so long? Were there problems?"
"I think everything went OK, sir." The seaman looked distinctly uncomfortable. "But you'd better talk to the Chief."
"The Chief? Where's Mr. Morton? Why . . . ?"
By this time Zaretsky was also up the ladder with two more laundry bags, but there was still no sign of either the Chief or Morton.
Unable to wait any longer, the Captain slid down the ladder. Chief Sharkey was hovering over Morton, removing a damp blanket and unfastening his harness. "C'mon, sir. Ya gotta get up now, sir. We're back on Seaview."
Crane's face fell. "Chip!" he cried. "What happened, Chief? Is he . . ."
"No, sir," Sharkey interrupted. "He's not hurt. He's just a little . . ."
Morton groaned and lifted his hand to shield his eyes. "Lee? 'Z'at you? How'd you get here?"
Squirming under the questioning glare from his Captain, Sharkey started to explain, "He's . . . ah . . . . well, sir, he's . . ."
"Spit it out, Chief!"
"He's just a little tipsy. Sir." Sharkey mumbled quickly.
"Tipsy!" Crane roared, not caring that the entire Control Room could hear him. "How did he get drunk?!"
"I really don't know, sir. You'll have to ask him that."
By this time the First Officer was fully awake, and had pulled himself together. As he stiffly unfolded his cold, wet frame from the seat - still squinting against the light and with his voice just above a whisper - he said, "Lee, if you'll stop shouting I'll explain." As alarm and irritation began to fade from his friend's face, he continued. "There were a couple of hitches, but nothing we couldn't handle. And we got everything we were after." All traces of Crane's anger were now replaced by relief - mixed with increasing mirth. "With your permission, I'd like to get into some dry clothes before I give my full report."
Having some difficulty in maintaining a straight face, the Captain answered, "Permission granted, Mr. Morton."
Morton turned to the Chief. "Sharkey, my new uniform will have to be dried and pressed." With that he straightened his shoulders, gathered his dignity like a cape, and slowly ascended to the Control Room and thence directly up the Spiral Stairs.
Fortunately for Riley, the Exec didn't hear his rendition of, "What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor?"
* * 17 * *
After a quick, hot shower, a change of clothes, a couple of aspirin, and two cups of strong coffee, Chip Morton was very nearly himself again when he knocked on the Captain's door.
"Well, Mr. Morton. You're looking a lot more . . . um . . . professional."
"And you've stopped shouting," the Exec countered.
Crane laughed - softly for his friend's benefit - and motioned him to sit. "Patterson and Zaretsky have already given their report. They got a dozen jumpsuits, and three full enlisted uniforms. They also liberated something the rest of us forgot about." Satisfied he had produced the desired cloud of confusion, he retrieved a large piece of fabric from beside his desk, and stood to snap it outward. "The latest fall fashion for Vidmorya's bow: A genuine People's Republic flag."
"I'm impressed. I suppose we could have explained its absence away, but it's nice we don't have to. Good thinking on their part."
"That's what I told them." As he refolded the cloth, Crane said, "They accounted for everything that happened up till they left your apartment at 2230. What I want to know is: What were you doing for the next two hours?"
Chip explained the change that came over Hoffman as soon as Patterson and Zaretsky left. "At first I wondered why he had waited until they were gone, if he knew as much as he said he did. Then it occurred to me that he was afraid of them - he was outnumbered. Which meant he probably didn't have any backup, or anyone waiting for his report. That's when I also realized he probably wasn't as dangerous as he wanted me to believe, in spite of the gun he was waving at me. He had plenty of information, but he didn't know what to do with it." Morton snickered. "So I decided to give him some more."
"What do you mean?" As realization dawned, Crane's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "What exactly did you do, Chip?"
"Well, first I gave him - and myself, I'm afraid - a little more of Komandir Morton's vodka than he really could handle. Then I kept his glass full, while I spilled my guts."
"You what! What did you tell him?"
"Yep. Everything. He already knew - or thought he knew - all about the time machine, about the Doctor and her brother, and about Vidmorya's mission to bring them back. I didn't tell him anything new there. But I did tell him about Seaview, and how we arrived from our universe . . ."
"What!" Crane yelped. "Chip, couldn't you have found some other way? It doesn't sound like he was very experienced; couldn't you have gotten the gun away from him? Wouldn't it have been easier, not to mention safer, to just knock him out and tie him up? "
"Yeah, a whole lot easier. But what if he had been discovered before we were safely away? That might have given credence to his report about having seen me, and given his superiors reason to believe they were on the right track." A devious glint shone in Morton's eyes. "So I figured the best way to dispose of him was to give him enough rope to hang himself."
Crane was beginning to think his First Officer was having a little too much fun. "Dare I ask, what story, and what rope?"
"The story I was telling him," Chip grinned. "Y'see, Lee, I didn't leave anything out, nothing at all." He leaned back in the chair and stretched out his long legs. "I told him all about menfish, lobster men, rock men, and plant men. I told him about our adventures with Pem. I told him about finding whole civilizations under the sea; about giant jellyfish, spiders, and whales; about radioactive werewolves, vengeful mummies, and pregnant orchids. I told him I'd seen a mermaid, leprechauns, the Loch Ness Monster, Blackbeard and the Flying Dutchman. But the icing on the cake was the account of our trip to Venus." Chip leaned forward and smiled broadly. "And he believed every word of it."
"How do you know?"
"Oh, I was very convincing. And he was very drunk. I finally allowed him to force me back to his place - he felt very important with that gun of his - where we drank a little more. When he finally passed out, I left him in a . . . compromising situation."
Crane sighed. "How compromising?"
"Earlier I had found a tube of my fiancée's lipstick, and I used it, among other things, to make it look like our little Mr. Hoffman had a very interesting - and active - evening. I removed most of the valuables from his apartment and left them at the bottom of the cove. Oh, and I left him tied to his bed."
"Tied to the . . . ? I'm not even going to ask."
"It's probably better that way."
Bureau of Surveillance and Information
Confidential MemoTo: Councillor Turkevich
From: Kom. Ali Datang
Date: 26 September, 1977
re: Status of Albert Hoffman
Albert Hoffman has been on dormant status as an informant for six years. In that time we have seen no reason to question either his ability or his judgement.
Per your instructions, on Monday, 19 September he was placed on active status due to his proximity and self-avowed friendship with Lt. Cmdr. Charles Morton, Executive Officer of the Vidmorya and fiancé of Dr. Nadezhda Rossinova.
On the morning of Friday, 23 September, responding to cries for help heard by neighbors, the local police found Hoffman in his apartment, bound hand and foot to his bed, and surrounded by empty vodka bottles and glasses, several of which were marked by lipstick. Nearby was also found his wallet, which had been emptied. Several other items of value also appear to have been stolen, including a gun.
Upon questioning, one neighbor admitted hearing Hoffman enter his apartment at approximately 11PM on the evening of 22 September. He was talking loudly to a companion, and sounded inebriated. No eyewitnesses have come forward.
While a medical examination revealed no evidence of injury or sexual activity, there can be little doubt as to the nature of the incident. The police are searching for possible suspects, but feel that this case is linked to a number of other recent thefts committed by a local prostitute ring.
During our attempt at debriefing, the only information Hoffman could offer was either too fantastic to believe, unverifiable, or provably false. He seemed confused, and was either lying to cover his activities, or suffering from delusions and memory loss due to the amount of alcohol consumed.
It is therefore our recommendation that this Bureau dissolve all ties with Albert Hoffman, and that he be placed in a Rehabilitation Facility pending complete psychiatric evaluation
* * 18 * *
After having her engines pushed harder than anyone cared to think about, Seaview found herself at 0350 being gently eased into Vidmorya's berth at the Narodnii Institut. Tying up in the dark could be a challenge for experienced men, but under Kowalski's guidance the substitutes acquitted themselves admirably. True to his word, Admiral Nelson had arrived promptly with an ambulance and medical team, and now their own tension was reflected in the Admiral's smoke-enveloped pacing.
Before the gangplank was fully secured Nelson threw down his cigarette and stamped aboard. Lt. Cmdr. Morton, clad in his unfamiliar uniform descended from the Bridge to greet him formally. "Admiral, ser," he saluted.
Barely sparing the boat a glance Nelson demanded, "How is Lee? We haven't been able to get a message through to you in over three hours!"
Morton's body stiffened as he stepped deeper into the camouflage of formality. "I'm very sorry, ser. Lee . . .the Kapitan . . . died at 0200. The Doctor did everything he could, but the Kapitan never regained consciousness. I regret that our radio malfunction kept us from relaying the information to you any sooner."
Nelson's reaction was not what Morton expected. Instead of grief, or even anger, he saw curiosity and amazement playing across the Admiral's features. First he stared at Morton, then he took a closer look at the dimly lit hull of the submarine. Finally he noticed the sailors at work on the mooring lines.
Returning his gaze to the tall, almost-familiar blond man before him he narrowed his eyes and said very quietly, "Who are you?"
With all the innocent bewilderment he could muster Morton answered, "I'm Chip Morton, ser."
"The devil you are!" Nelson bellowed. Then seeing the startled attention it brought him from the dock, he lowered his voice. "You're no more Chip Morton than this is the Vidmorya!"
"Da, ser. I am Chip Morton." To add credence to his next words, Morton switched to English. "I'm Lt. Cmdr. Charles P. Morton, Executive Officer of the SSRN Seaview, of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, in Santa Barbara, California . . . United States of America."
The stunned look on Admiral Nelson's face lasted only a moment, quickly replaced by dawning illumination. "Then the theory is true . . . it is possible . . ." he murmured. Turning slightly, he stood staring at the deck in deep thought, hand on the back of his neck. Slowly he looked up, surveying his surroundings - and his Exec - more carefully. Finally he spoke, in English. "That would certainly explain a lot of things." Another pause. "And Lee Crane?"
"The Captain is below, sir." Morton allowed himself to relax imperceptibly. "He's waiting with Dr. Rossinova to talk to you."
"Why isn't he up here? Why the story about his injury and death?"
"He doesn't speak Russian, sir."
"Ah," the Admiral grimaced, "that would be a handicap. And Dr. Rossinova?"
"The Doctor is from your . . . world. We picked her up from the island."
"Along with her very much alive research team, I see." The Admiral glanced toward the 'crew'.
Without another moment of hesitation he said, "Well, let's not keep them waiting."
The Admiral started toward the hatch when Morton stopped him. "Excuse me, sir, but what about the medical team? It would be . . . awkward if they were to come aboard. That was another part of the reason for the story about Lee's death."
"Of course." Nelson trudged back down the gangplank, grimly informed the waiting men of Crane's death, and dismissed them, leaving only his security guards.
Chip Morton's descent into the Control Room only further inflated the bubble of tension that had been steadily growing since Seaview docked. But as the men followed his gaze upward and saw Harriman Nelson, Admiral of the People's Republic - clad in the enemy's black uniform, inquisitive, and apparently unconcerned about the possibility of a trap - that bubble reached its breaking point and burst in a brief flare of resonant sighs, whispers, and chair-squeaking.
For his part, upon reaching the bottom of the ladder, Nelson simply stood and gazed about him in undisguised wonder. His scientific curiosity aroused, he seemed to lose himself temporarily in the living variations on his own theme. Visibly pleased by the familiar faces, sounds, and equipment, he seemed - if possible - even more entranced by the unfamiliar.
"Sir, we really need . . ."
"Yes, yes, of course, Mr. Morton." Nelson waved a hand past his head as if to brush away his own distraction, then turned to leave the Control Room. Catching himself, he quirked a crooked grin at the Lt. Commander. "Perhaps I should let you lead the way." For the rest of the short trip to the Wardroom Morton watched as the Admiral continued his wide-eyed scrutiny of the Seaview, apparently filing observations for future analysis.
Upon entering the room Morton realized he should have warned the Admiral about Dr. Rossinova's appearance. In light of the surely-intercepted radio transmissions, they had decided that the Doctor needed to look the part of a despised and defeated prisoner. But even Morton was surprised by the realism of her efforts. The black eye that Doc had helped her to simulate, the now torn and tattered clothing, and the grime she had artistically distributed over all made it appear that 'neglect' would have been a rank euphemism for her treatment.
It was in this condition that Nadezhda Rossinova jumped up and grasped both of Nelson's hands. "Admiral!" she smiled, " It is so very good to see you safe." Seeing outrage begin to cloud his face she gave a hasty Russian explanation of the ruse. So hasty in fact, that Morton only caught a few words.
As wrath reluctantly gave way to relief, the Admiral finally nodded. "I see. A sensible precaution."
As she slid back into her seat, giving him room to join them, she switched to English in deference to the Captain. "Were you able to sabotage the mobile unit?"
"Yes, I just had time to rearrange a few circuits before Quillary arrived. After you were discovered missing, I told him that I didn't have enough knowledge of its workings to even begin to find the malfunction. He had to accept the lie, because he was utterly lost himself. So, yes - it's safely disabled, just where you left it five days ago, at least for the time being."
"And do you remember what you did, so that it could be reactivated?"
"Why, yes, I suppose so. But why would you want. . . ." He stopped mid-sentence, and in seconds his face lit with comprehension. "Is that how it happened, then? The TDM opened a passage to another reality? What happened to Vidmorya? Is it . . . there?"
"Yes, Admiral. When we tried to destroy the unit, we somehow disturbed the temporal landscape causing our Vidmorya and this Seaview to slip past each other, and emerge in their alternate realities." A shadow of pain flickered across her features. "At least we hope that Vidmorya is safe in their world," she added, nodding toward Morton and Crane.
Up to this point Mikhail Rossinov and Seaview's two senior officers had been silent observers to the conversation. It was evident, however, that the Admiral had not neglected his study of them. "Captain Crane," he asked, "what sort of plan have you and Dr. Rossinova come up with?"
If Nelson seemed to suffer none of the disorientation the others had felt upon discovering that familiar faces didn't belong to quite the same people they knew, it was because his own meticulous observations had confirmed their account of the situation. As he accepted and addressed each man with the same confidence he would have accorded to their counterparts, his straightforward manner seemed to produce a similar ease in them.
Crane answered, "The Doctor and her brother are fairly certain that if we can get the mobile unit of the Temporal Displacement Module and return them to the island with it, they can duplicate the conditions that produced the disturbance. We're operating under the assumption that the Vidmorya will have remained close to her original coordinates. If they haven't . . . ." His voice trailed off as they each considered the possibilities.
"I know those men well, and if you've figured this out, then so have they. They won't be doing anything to jeopardize our chances," Nelson stated confidently. His next words were not so reassuring. "I'm sure you're aware however, that if something has happened to Vidmorya - or if your attempt fails - and you cannot return, you won't merely be stuck here, you'll be hunted like criminals . . . or lab specimens."
"Yes, sir," Crane answered somberly. "We know." To call it a flinch would have exaggerated the tiny flicker of pain that passed across the Captain's dark eyes as he looked downward. But he allowed himself just that instant of hesitation before continuing. "As you can see, we've secured uniforms, thanks to our Russian-speaking First Officer," he nodded a brief grin toward his friend. "And our camouflage job should be good enough for most people in the middle of the night. But we're going to need your help to actually get the unit from the lab. Only Dr. Rossinova or her brother can safely disassemble and pack up the unit, but she's a high-profile outlaw at the moment, and he's 'dead'; with Turkevich watching there's no way to get her -- or it -- back on board. We could find our way around the grounds, but not around the guards. Besides I'm also 'dead', and of our crew, only Chip speaks the language."
At that last statement the Admiral lost the battle with the grimace he had been trying to conceal.
"Is my accent really that bad?" Morton asked, crestfallen.
"No, Chip. It isn't bad at all," Nelson assured him. "In fact, it's perfect. Too perfect."
Intercepting the Exec's pained look of accusation, young Rossinov interrupted to explain. "We didn't tell you before, Commander, because we knew there was nothing you could do about it in the short time you had, but you speak with perfectly accented Muscovite Russian. The Chip Morton we know has a distinctly mid-western American accent."
"Why didn't you tell me? Hoffman spotted it right away, and so did you, Admiral. Don't you think you could have at least warned me?"
"You could have done nothing," Mikhail said. "Our telling you would only have made you self-conscious and tongue-tied - an additional handicap you didn't need."
"I think you've underestimated my First Officer," Crane defended. His stern accusation melted into a chuckle, however, as he confronted is friend. "Guess that old prune taught you a little too well, eh Chip?"
If Nelson cared that the joke sailed over his head, the only indication was a furrowed brow - and that was more easily attributable to his impatience. "So what you need is a means of transportation, and a diversion."
Crane recovered his professional manner. "Yes, sir."
"And Admiral," Dr. Rossinova rested her hand tentatively on Nelson's arm. "I'm afraid we'll need you, too. To show us how to repair the device."
Nelson's eyebrows arched in amusement. "And did you think you could keep me away?"
Nadezhda Rossinova smiled her gratitude and relief.
After a few moments' thought, and a brief conference with the Doctor, the Admiral said, "I think I can help you out on both counts. Turkevich has already issued orders that he wants the mobile TDM packed up and ready to move to a 'more secure facility', along with Dr. Rossinova. I think that packing should be our first order of business. Oh, and there's a bit of good news: after I sent you the message, I received word that he wouldn't be arriving till 0530. Seems there was some problem with his security arrangements." He thought another moment. "How quickly can you get underway once you have the device and the Doctor back on board?"
"Without anyone on land knowing what we're doing?" Crane inquired.
"Yes. We can't give Turkevich or his henchmen another reason to suspect us. The death of Mitchell was just a little too convenient."
After exchanging it-was-a-good-idea-at-the-time looks, Crane asked Morton, "What do you think, Chip? Fifteen, twenty minutes?"
"No less," Morton advised.
"That will be tight." Nelson shook his head. "We may have to risk using a radio to let you know we're on our way."
After scribbling a few more notes on the pad in front of him, Nelson asked, "I don't suppose there is any official Narodnii Institut stationary around here?"
The question was greeted with blank, apologetic looks from both officers, but Dr. Rossinova brightened. Once again hauling her backpack up to the table, she searched until she came up with a folded, bent, and everything but spindled envelope. Removing the contents she said, "No paper, but here is a blank envelope. It was my 'suicide note', exonerating you and the Institute concerning the destruction of the TDM." She looked up. "I'm glad I don't have to use it."
Nelson arched an eyebrow and nodded his agreement. After drafting a lengthy message, he sealed it in the envelope, which he addressed it to his secretary. "One of my security guards outside can deliver this, then I'll need to use your radio." His face crinkled in a mischievous grin. "I want to make sure Turkevich hears at least part of the plan."
* * 19 * *
The somber party that left Vidmorya ten minutes later consisted of Admiral Nelson, Komandir Morton, Patterson, and Nadezhda Rossinova. The latter was in leg-irons and handcuffs locked to a chain around her waist. If anyone had looked closely they would have seen that she bore the marks of a lengthy and vigorous interrogation.
As the procession moved slowly through the pre-dawn gloom, an observer might also have noticed a peculiar reluctance on the part of the guard to prod his prisoner to greater speed. What was odder still was the fact that he seemed to be watching Admiral Nelson at least as closely as the shackled prisoner. But that was surely just an illusion brought on by the poor lighting, because as they approached the guard station at the entrance of the main research lab, he shoved the woman roughly toward the steps.
"Speshee!" the Komandir snarled at the woman. "We don't have all night!"
At a glance from Morton, Patterson once again nudged her with his rifle. "Ti yevo slishala. Speshee!"
"Petty Officer Johnson!" Nelson barked at the momentarily distracted guard.
"Da, ser," he snapped to attention.
"The Doctor here will be assisting me in the lab for a while." While Nelson's voice was strong with authority, he allowed his eyes to flit to and fro, as if seeking to convey some silent message. If the guard noticed, though, he didn't acknowledge. "We'll be packing up some equipment for Councillor Turkevich. When his truck arrives, call up to us on the phone. Komandir Morton will come down to escort the movers."
"There will also be another truck loaded with coffins for the . . ." Nelson's voice faltered rather dramatically, " . . . for the casualties from Vidmorya. Just wave them around to the loading dock in the back. They need to pick up some additional supplies for the post-mortems"
Word had traveled quickly about the death of Kapitan Crane, but it wasn't until his very moment that Petty Officer Johnson realized who the prisoner was, and what part she had played in that death. His realization was marked by a look of cold hatred directed at Rossinova. But his voice was soft as he answered the Admiral. "Da, ser. I'll take care of it, ser."
"Khorosho, Johnson." After another furtive glance toward the main road, the Admiral rejoined the strange procession - he and the shackled prisoner, bracketed by Komandir Morton and the armed Patterson - as they entered the building.
Safely inside and out of sight Patterson wilted visibly, while both Morton and Rossinova heaved sighs of relief.
"That was quite a performance, sir," Morton said. "If Johnson didn't notice it, he needs to be sent for an eye exam."
"I just hope he doesn't start putting the pieces together too quickly, or our acting ability will land us in the fire. Just remember not to overdue it. It can't be too obvious yet that I'm in trouble."
As soon as they reached the secure lab on the second floor Nelson began handing down assignments. "Patterson, release the Doctor so she can get to work on the device. Chip, help me get this crate out into the corridor," he indicated a packing crate about the size of a large file cabinet with the inscription: CEKPET -Narodnii Institut Morskovo Issledovaniya. Patterson joined them in a moment, taking over the Admiral's share of the load.
"Good. You two fill this crate with anything you can find. Pack it good and tight, then seal it up." Seeing Patterson's quizzical look he explained briefly, "This is the crate that the mobile TDM arrived in. Turkevich won't think to question its contents. Now get to work. We only have, " he checked his watch, "forty five minutes before he arrives at the gate." As he disappeared back into the lab, Patterson began to carry out lab stools, books, empty cartons, files, and the contents of every waste can he could lay his hands on.
"Sir?" He asked Morton as they nailed down the cover.
"What does that label say?" He indicated the Cyrillic characters.
"SECRET - People's Institute of Marine Research," Morton answered.
"Do you think it will really fool this Turkevich guy?"
"You'd better hope so." The response didn't do much to allay the seaman's misgivings. "From everything I've heard, though," the Exec snorted, "Turkevich's ego is bigger than his intellect." His grimace turned to what he hoped was an encouraging grin. "People like that are generally pretty easy to fool."
"I guess you're right about that, sir. What do we do now?"
"We wait for the delivery truck," Morton answered, as they re-entered the lab.
As if on cue, the phone rang. "Da . . . Da, Johnson. Komandir Morton will be right down. Has the other truck arrived yet? . . . All right, let me know as soon as it does. One more thing, Johnson. My secretary, Angie Hamilton, will be bringing some files from my office. Let me know when she arrives. . . .What? Nyet, don't send her up. Someone will be down to escort her."
At Nelson's nod, Chip and Patterson turned to leave. Patterson stayed in the hall, trying his best to look menacing as he guarded the door to the lab. "You won't have to say anything, but no matter what, don't let anybody through that door, Pat."
"Da, ser!" Patterson barked in his best accent, while mimicking, the "Heil Hitler" salute he'd seen Johnson execute earlier.
Morton's look flowed from shock to amusement to appreciation in less than an instant. "Ochen khorosho, matros," he grinned. "Very good, sailor." He returned the salute, then disappeared around the corner.
No sooner had Turkevich's truck departed with his prize, than the second truck arrived. While Rossinova continued to organize her apparatus and notes, the Admiral and Lt. Commander went down to the rear loading dock. Inside the truck were eight simple coffins. Working in complete darkness for fear of observation, the drivers man-handled first one, then a second dark, polished box up the back stairs and to the second floor lab as Nelson supervised nervously, and Morton stood by with Patterson's rifle cradled casually over one arm.
Tensely watching the clock, Rossinova, under Patterson's apparent scrutiny - not to mention his .45 - started packing Seaview's only hope into the coffin: a box that was the symbol for the death of all hope. The irony did not escape either of them. By the time the drivers carried in the second box, she was securing the lid.
"All right, men," Morton ordered - in Russian, "take this one back down to the truck." Handing Patterson the rifle and a small radio, he said, "Keep an eye on these gentlemen, and escort them back up when we call you."
"Da, ser." Patterson nodded curtly, and brandished his rifle toward the door, obviously hoping he wouldn't have to say much besides those two words in the next five minutes. The two workmen, up till now only vaguely confused, exchanged wary glances. But unwilling to stand up to an admiral and a rifle, they silently obeyed.
"Chip, where is that syringe?" Nelson asked as soon as they were gone.
"Right here, sir." Morton produced a small case.
"And Doc showed you how to administer it?"
"Yes, sir. It will act almost instantaneously if I can get it into her vein. But even injected into a muscle it will work within minutes."
"We don't have minutes." Nelson reminded. At the mention of time, all three looked up just as the digital wall clock registered 05:00:00.
"Yes, sir. I'll keep that in mind, sir."
"And are you ready, Nadezhda?" he asked.
"As ready as one ever is to be sealed into a coffin." Her smile was sincere, but weak. She had already begun replacing the shackles on her wrists and ankles, while the Admiral sat down and handcuffed himself to the leg of a heavy lab table.
"By the way, how will Patterson know to bring the men back up?" she asked. "You'll have to speak Russian, and he can't understand a word."
"Don't let Patterson fool you. He knows a lot more than he lets on," Morton answered. "But all he'll need to do is say 'Da, ser' when I come on, and 'Da, ser' when I stop talking. If plans change," he grinned, "I'll just have to resort to English."
"Ah, I see."
Any further conversation was interrupted by Johnson calling to say that Miss Hamilton had arrived. As Morton left, he turned back and winked. "Break a leg!"
It was obvious that Angie Hamilton had not only been up around the clock, but her puffy eyes and smeared make-up showed that she had been crying recently. When she caught sight of Morton emerging from the building, the tears threatened to overflow again. "Oh Chip, I'm so sorry to hear about Lee."
Now in the presence of someone who obviously knew Komandir Morton, Lt. Commander Morton was acutely aware of the shortcomings of his accent. His only answer was a nod and a bitter "Da" through clenched teeth. Her comforting hand on his arm was shaken off, and they proceeded to the second floor lab in uneasy silence.
Although somewhat confused by his behavior, Angie attributed Chip's coldness to a stoic manifestation of his grief. She therefore had no misgivings until she reached the lab, pushed the door open, and was confronted with the reality of Nadezhda Rossinova - who had at one time been a friend - shackled, beaten, and demoralized.
Warring emotions played across her features as a kind of hard pity fought with brittle hatred.
The conflict went unresolved, however -- abandoned completely as the Admiral's handcuffs registered in her mind. "Admiral! What . . ." Whirling in confusion toward Chip, she turned directly into the barrel of Morton's drawn pistol. "Chip! I don't understand! What's going . . ."
"You don't need to understand," Morton said in his best Muscovite Russian. "All you need to do is obey."
Her panic suddenly focused on his voice. Then, staring in disbelief at the man before her she stammered, "Why . . . you're . . . you're not even . . ."
"Very perceptive, Miss Hamilton," Morton congratulated with an insolent smile. "Now hand over those files."
She looked desperately to the Admiral. "Do as he says, Angie," he responded. "We have no choice. I'll explain later."
"Oh, I doubt that very much, Admiral," Morton laughed maliciously. After unshackling Rossinova he shoved her toward Angie. "You two -- strip, and switch clothes." Seeing the horrified looks of both women, Lt. Cmdr. Morton realized what he had just asked them to do. His own basic decency fought with the character he was impersonating . . . and won. Waving his gun towards a door he said, "Over there, in the storage room. And don't even think of trying anything, because I'll be right here with this gun aimed at your beloved Admiral," he sneered. With one foot on a nearby chair, he leaned forward comfortably, resting the pistol on his upraised knee, scant inches from the back of Nelson's head.
Whether it was Morton's threat or Rossinova's panicked explanation and pleas, something stirred Angie Hamilton to comply, and they were back out, transformation complete, within two minutes. Since their build and hair-color were nearly identical, even Chip had to look twice to confirm that they actually had exchanged clothes.
"Ah, very nice. Now Doctor, since I don't trust you any more than I trust your Admiral, allow me to keep you out of harm's way." Deftly handcuffing her to the opposite end of the Admiral's table with his left hand, while keeping the .45 trained on the secretary with his right, he then waved her into a chair. "Put these on." He threw Rossinova's shackles into her lap. She didn't move. "You have two choices, Miss Hamilton," Morton explained, allowing a hint of genuine impatience to color his words. "You can fight me and make this very difficult, or you can cooperate and save us all a lot of pain. Especially you."
Angie looked again for guidance from Nelson. His mouth forming a thin, tense line, he closed his eyes and nodded once, and she obeyed.
Morton nodded his own approval. "Very wise move, Admiral." He picked up the syringe.
"Look here, that isn't necessary!" the Nelson protested. "You have what you want, just leave her here. What harm can she do?"
"What harm can she do?" Morton widened his eyes in mock innocence. "Oh, come now, Admiral. You know better than that. But, if you insist, I could just leave her here . . ." He raised his gun to her head. " . . . dead."
Nelson's shock was genuine. "You wouldn't!"
Cocking the weapon, Morton smiled. "I wouldn't?"
Every nerve and muscle in his body sagged with defeat as Nelson turned to his secretary. "I'm sorry, Angie. I should never have dragged you into this. Do as he says; right now he's holding all the cards."
"All right, sir. If that's what you think is best." The sadness and trust in her eyes told him much more. But when she turned those eyes to her captor, the look was one of calm defiance and clear, cold disdain.
Lt. Commander Morton couldn't look into those eyes. He quickly pulled a length of rubber tubing out of his pocket, tied it around her upper arm, and injected the sedative into her vein, all the while hoping that no one else could see how badly his hands were shaking. The effect was immediate, and at ten minutes after five Angie Hamilton fell into a dreamless sleep.
Almost before the secretary's chin hit her chest, Chip had both Nelson and the Doctor free. He called down to Patterson to bring up the workmen as the Doctor stepped into the coffin. Morton dragged the chair around so the workmen couldn't get a clear view of the woman sitting in it, and the trio walked through the door just as Nelson finished sealing Nadezhda Rossinova into her coffin.
"All right, men," Nelson waved them over, "take this one back down, and get the whole load over to Vidmorya. Komandir Morton will accompany you to see to the arrangements there." As the men jerked the box roughly off the floor, Nelson nearly exploded. "Not that way, you fools! Carefully! There's . . . delicate equipment in there."
Scowling in suspicion and resentment the men obeyed, and with dramatic huffing they got the coffin onto the hand-truck, through the door and into the hall. Morton started to follow, but the Admiral beckoned him back.
"They'll be busy for a few minutes - at least until they get down the stairs. Now Chip, as soon as those coffins are safely aboard, make all preparations to get underway. That way we won't have to risk the radio. Oh, and don't forget to take care of the drivers."
"Aye, sir. I won't. But what about you?"
"There's a jeep downstairs -- probably Johnson's. I'll tell him that Angie went with you to Vidmorya to take care of arrangements there, then Patterson and I will use the jeep to get our 'prisoner' over to the security building and into a cell. We still have," he checked his watch, "twelve minutes before Turkevich is supposed to get to the gates, and I sent word to Angie in the note to have the guards stall him as long as possible. That may give us another ten minutes -- if we're lucky. Besides, he won't be coming toward the dock anyway. I'm sure he heard my message that the Doctor would be at the security building by 5:30 -- and that's the opposite direction from the gate," he grinned.
"Sir?" Patterson looked dubiously at the sleeping form in the chair. "Are you sure Miss Hamilton will be safe? I mean, just leaving her that way?"
"It's the safest thing we can do for her. Turkevich will recognize and free her immediately, and when she finally comes out of it -- several hours from now, I hope -- she'll be able to truthfully tell him everything she saw: someone impersonating Komandir Morton, with the Doctor and I as his prisoners. She won't have to lie to protect anyone; she'll be regarded as just one more victim of the criminals who stole the device. Also, her testimony -- along with that of Johnson and those two men," he nodded toward the stairwell, "will be the best evidence Dr. Rossinova and I have of our innocence in this whole affair." Turning to Chip he asked, "Any questions?"
"Then get going, we haven't much time."
* * 20 * *
The crew of the Seaview somberly lined up six coffins on the asphalt just above the wharf, to await the remains of the slain rebels. However, out of respect for the noble sacrifices of Kapitan Lee Crane and Mladshii Leitenant Evan Mitchell, their coffins were lowered into Vidmorya's cargo hold, so that their bodies might be laid in place privately by the grieving friends and fellow officers of the submarine in whose service they died.
"Kowalski!" Morton beckoned the seaman to the hatchway as the last coffin was lowered into place.
"Where are those supplies?"
"Right here, sir." He reached around the corner and pulled out two coils of rope and a roll of silvery tape.
"Good, get Zaretsky and follow me."
As the two drivers climbed into the back of the truck to prepare for their next delivery -- and to discuss all they'd seen and heard that night -- three figures entered behind them. When those three figures emerged there seemed to be nothing in the truck but a few misshapen rolls of padding. After Komandir Morton had carefully locked the back doors, he quite clumsily dropped the keys into the murky water of the harbor.
"Chip! Are you all right?" Lee Crane caught his First Officer's arm as he slipped off the ladder and into the Control Room.
"I'm fine. Now. It's just my knees that haven't heard the news yet," he grinned crookedly. "Remind me of this incident if I ever make noises about wanting to be an actor, OK?"
"I'll do that." The Captain chuckled as he looked expectantly up the ladder. "Where's the Admiral?"
"He's on his way. He and Patterson left for the Security Building at 5:18. His said to make all preparations to depart. If all goes well they should be here," Morton consulted the chronometer, "in about ten minutes."
As orders were passed aft and repeated forward throughout Seaview, her engines rumbled obediently to life, no doubt surprised at such a short rest. A detail was set to cast off moorings as soon as Nelson and Patterson were in sight.
Then they waited.
At 0545 a very much cleaned up Nadezhda Rossinova came forward to the Control Room with Mikhail. "No word from him yet?" she fretted.
"Has there been anything on the radio?"
"No," Crane answered, "but that's good news. If there had been any kind of alarm we'd have heard it about it."
At 0524 Nelson pulled the jeep up to the side door of the Security Building. Mladshii Leitenant Ktoto, the duty officer, stepped out and saluted smartly. "Admiral, Councillor Turkevich told me to expect you. Is this the prisoner?" he nodded to the form slumped in the front seat.
"Yes, she . . ." Nelson glanced nervously toward Patterson's rifle, which was pointed nonchalantly at his head. " . . . she collapsed at the lab. Help me get her down to a cell."
Ktoto looked curiously from Nelson to Patterson, but before he could say anything about calling for a doctor, or about an admiral working while a lowly matros looked on, his thoughts were cut short by Nelson barking, "Don't just stand there, Mister, give me a hand! We haven't got all night! Turkevich is on his way!"
At 0528 the cell door clanged shut on the woman -- whose face had been carefully turned toward the wall. Not even daring to exchange looks, Patterson followed Nelson and Ktoto up the stairs toward their waiting jeep. Plenty of time, he thought. Too soon.
"Admiral! I expected to beat you here, but I see you've been very prompt." The speaker stood at the top of the stairs. He was a short man, with a pasty complexion and a fringe of mousey gray hair that had grown too long in a futile effort to disguise its meagerness. Nor did his ill-fitting suit disguise years of gluttony and inactivity. "I took the liberty of bringing along the crate which you so thoughtfully packed, so we can transport both it and the prisoner as soon as we're done questioning her."
"Councillor Turkevich, didn't you get my message?" Nelson lied nervously. "I'm afraid that your arrival is premature. The prisoner won't be ready for questioning for several hours."
"Several hours! What's the meaning of this? I specifically told you I'd be here at 5:30, and it is now 5:30. Would you like to tell me why I've come all this distance at this insufferable hour, only to be told to wait?"
"I'm very sorry for your inconvenience, but the prisoner . . . collapsed in the lab. I was about to send for the Doctor, but it may be several hours before she awakens."
"Awakens? You mean she is sleeping? I think we may be able to wake her up, Admiral," Turkevich mocked. Turning to his guard he asked, "Don't you Mazier?" Not waiting to see the malignant smile spread across the guard's face, he started down the steps.
With Turkevich, Mazier, and Ktoto standing above them on the narrow stairs, there was no escape possible. "As you wish, Councillor," Nelson said.
At Nelson's signal, Patterson backed carefully down the stairs, never taking his eyes off the Admiral or Turkevich. Though not understanding a word of the exchange, he had quite understood the meaning. Moreover, he was astonished to have seen Admiral Nelson so . . . contrite. I wonder what he's up to? As they reorganized themselves in the narrow hallway outside the cell block, Patterson arranged to be the last one in -- closest to the exit.
"You see, Councillor," Nelson said, indicating the prostrate figure, "she is unconscious. I'm afraid her interrogation aboard Vidmorya was quite . . . thorough. Perhaps when the Doctor arrives he will be able to rouse her enough to question again."
"Then I will simply wait here with you," the Turkevich announced. "Guard, open this cell door so we have a place to sit."
As Ktoto obediently opened one of the three empty cells, Nelson seemed to come to a decision. He looked directly at Patterson and . . . winked? As if in answer to the unspoken question, the Admiral's eye twitched again, and again, until finally he rubbed it, giving the impression he had a speck of dust lodged there.
Satisfied he had gotten the seaman's attention, Nelson gave an order in Russian, of which Patterson could only pick out his own name and the words "Vidmorya" and "speshee". He's telling me to go back to the boat. . . .If I do that I'll get away, but as soon as they see who's really in that cell, his cover will be blown, and he'll be as good as dead. Patterson came to his own decision.
"Nyet," he answered.
The reaction to this insubordination was immediate: Nelson's face darkened to scarlet, while Turkevich's brightened like a fresh-cut beet. Both started blustering at once, but since Patterson couldn't make out a word either one of them said, he was unhindered by their attempt at intimidation. The rifle which had been so casually cradled over his arm was suddenly aligned with Turkevich's chest. Seeing that he now had everyone's full attention, Patterson said in English, "Everyone put your hands on your heads."
It took Nelson two full seconds before he realized what was happening. When he finally did, he started to protest, first in Russian, then in English, but Patterson's hand remained as steady as his voice. "Admiral, I don't have much time. Neither do you. And if you don't shut up, neither does this pig." Nelson shut up.
Taking his eye off Turkevich for an instant, Patterson glanced at Mazier. "You. With your left hand put your weapons on the floor, then step back against the wall. Now you," he said to Ktoto. "Admiral, pick them up -- one at a time, two fingers only -- and pile them over there in the open cell. When you're done, lock it."
The weapons safely disposed of, Patterson continued, "Mr. Ktoto, drop your keys and handcuffs on the floor, and kick them toward Nelson." Without taking his eyes or his gun off Turkevich, Patterson extended his left hand. "Admiral, give me the handcuffs, then lock these men into the cell next to the woman."
As the door clanged shut, Patterson wilted ever so slightly with sheer relief. Not yet, you idiot! They're still watching you.
"Nelson! Over here! Give me the keys and put your hands behind your back!"
After clasping the cuffs audibly over thin air, Patterson shoved the Admiral roughly through the door, and without a backward glance slammed it shut behind them. If the prisoners were listening, they would have heard Nelson stumble and Patterson swear at him several times before they reached the outside door.
"What kind of an idiotic stunt was that?" Nelson exploded. "I'll tell you what it was: It was a damned stupid thing to do!"
"Yes, sir," Patterson mumbled as he slumped against the jeep. "I know, sir."
Nelson's thunder softened to a chuckle in view of the seaman's dissolving composure. "And one that showed amazing courage and quick-thinking. Your Mr. Morton was right about you." He extended a grateful hand. "Thank you."
Both puzzled and bolstered by the praise, Patterson straightened, and shook the hand of this Admiral who was so like his own. "You're welcome, sir," he nodded shyly. Looking eastward he saw that the hills were just becoming visible as silhouettes against the paling sky. "What time is it, sir?"
"5:45." Nelson dropped the handcuffs in the front of the jeep. "Maybe I'd better drive, eh? To keep up appearances," he grinned and slapped Patterson on the shoulder as he got behind the wheel. Patterson climbed into the back once again, and kept the rifle aimed in the general direction of Nelson's head.
As they pulled out around the truck containing Turkevich's worthless crate, another jeep pulled in. "Blast it all!" Nelson muttered, speeding up. "I'm willing to bet that's Ktoto's relief. We're about out of time."
"Captain, we have something on the radio," Sparks called out. As Crane covered the distance to the Radio Shack in three long strides, Sikora was listening intently and scribbling notes on a pad.
Searching for Admiral -- abducted by man impersonating guard -- spoke English -- Patterson?
Before Crane had a chance to react, another message came down from the deck. "Skipper, this is Kowalski. There's a lot of commotion up here. Sirens, cars racing around, guards running everywhere. What should we do?"
"Just sit tight, Kowalski. Is there any sign of the Admiral or Patterson yet?"
"No, sir, not . . ." His last words were drowned out by the sound of voices shouting. "Wait a minute, sir. I think they might be coming now. Zaretsky says he saw a couple of shadows moving around behind that truck."
"As soon as you're sure it's them, cast off."
"Chip, stand by for a quick getaway -- and I mean quick!"
They didn't need the intercom to hear shots being fired on the wharf. Soon there was the sound of scuffling at the top of the ladder, incoherent shouting, and bullets ricocheting off metal.
"Go! Go! Go!" Kowalski shouted unceremoniously down the shaft. "The lines are all off -- Get us outta here, Skipper!"
Seaview began to move immediately as the crew under Morton's orders guided her away from the wharf and into the harbor.
Zaretsky was the first man down the ladder, followed by two more researchers, then Nelson. As soon as Crane saw the blood spattered on the Admiral's head and uniform he leaped to help him. "Admiral, you're hurt! Sharkey, call Sick Bay. Get Doc . . ."
"No, Captain," Nelson protested. "I'm fine. It's his blood."
They both looked up to where Kowalski was supporting Patterson. Blood flowed freely from an open wound on his lower leg, and there was a spreading stain just above his left shoulder blade. It was all he could do to hold on, while Kowalski did the work of moving them downwards. Jamieson had already arrived by the time Patterson was eased into the safety of Crane and Nelson's up-stretched arms. He smiled weakly and tried to speak, but instead sank onto the litter, and into oblivion.
"They got him about halfway across the parking lot," Nelson explained as they carried the seaman away, "but he wouldn't let me help him. He just kept pointing that infernal rifle at me and yelling, 'Speshee!'" Nelson shook his head in wonder. "His concern about me ruining my cover story very nearly cost him is life."
* * 21 * *
It wasn't easy, it wasn't comfortable, and it certainly wasn't safe, but as soon as Seaview -- there was no point in pretending she was Vidmorya any more -- had cleared the harbor, she bounced, rolled, and vaulted over the surface at flank speed, leaving a wake as broad and inviting as the Yellow Brick Road heading west, then northwest around Point Conception.
"Captain, we've got company," Lt. O'Brien called down from the Bridge.
"What, and how many?" Crane replied.
"There are two cutters converging on our wake, and two aircraft."
"Range and bearing?"
"The cutters are gaining slowly from bearing 110 and 250. Range on both about 3000 yards. The planes are approaching from bearing 175, range 5000 yards. Closing fast."
Morton was monitoring the duty stations, and nodded his confirmation of the visual sightings.
Crane turned to Admiral Nelson. "What do you think? You know the way their minds work better than I do, will they attack?"
"I very much doubt it," Nelson shook his head. "They want the device and Dr. Rossinova intact. I suspect their orders are just to keep an eye on us until the Navy can get underway to intercept."
"If we submerge we can make better time," Crane thought out loud, "but in these shallow waters it'll be tricky. And we'll need to stay close enough to the surface that they won't lose us . . ." His thoughts continued in silence for a minute, then he resumed his conversation. "Do you think we've left a long enough trail?" he asked the Admiral.
"I think they've got the idea," Nelson nodded in amused agreement.
"Mr. Morton, prepare to dive."
Within minutes, Bridge cleared and all hatches sealed, Seaview was cruising just deep enough to make good time, but not so deep as to lose their airborne escort.
"How far till we hit deep water, Chip?"
Morton verified their position on the charts. "About five miles. At this speed that should make it . . . just under twenty minutes."
"Make sure it's a nice, noisy dive, Chip," Crane said. "Blow all ballast -- churn it up good. I want it to look like a Jacuzzi out there. That ought to muddle their sonar for a good forty-five minutes."
The Exec grinned. "Aye, sir. A Jacuzzi it is."
Ten minutes after Seaview dove, she made a deep, slow, silent turn to the south. She wove in and out of the ridges and valleys in the foothills at the edge of the continental shelf, tiptoeing back past Santa Barbara.
Half an hour later, Crane walked back to the Radio Shack and asked quietly. "What are you getting on the radio, Sparks?"
"Lots of conflicting traffic. Sounds like they're in a real flap."
Nicholas Sikora was listening intently and frowning at the rapidly filling notepad in front of him. Crane looked over his shoulder, but was dismayed to see that the notes were all in Cyrillic characters. Rather than disturb him, he walked back to the plot table. "Admiral Nelson, we could use your help back here."
The "enemy" Admiral had changed out of his blood spattered uniform and into khakis borrowed from Chief Sharkey, thus making him that much less distinguishable from "their" Admiral. As he entered the Radio Shack, Sparks handed him a headset, and Crane pointed to Sikora's notes, "Can you tell us what's going on?"
First Nelson scanned the notes, then put the headset up to his ear. A slow grin crept across his face. "It looks like your ruse worked, Captain. From the sounds of the fallout, it must have taken them a while to get organized, but Turkevich has sent half the Pacific Fleet north after you. There's been a rumor of a good-sized resistance group based in either the Yukon or Alaska, so I suspect they'll chase your phantom all the way up the coast."
"Anything coming our way?" Crane asked.
Nelson consulted in Russian with Sikora, who shook his head.
"Doesn't sound that way, but I wouldn't discount the possibility."
"Understood," the Captain nodded. "We'll just keep it slow and quiet for a while." As he started to leave, Nelson asked Sikora another question, of which Crane caught only the words "Angie Hamilton". He stayed to listen for the response.
After their brief conference, Nelson answered Crane's questioning look. "She's fine. Sikora heard two messages that she was taken to the infirmary, and that she was questioned there and released. They must have accepted her story, or they'd be holding her."
When Crane returned to the plot table Chip Morton looked up. "How're we doing?"
"Seem to be fine, so far, thanks to your orchestration of that little water ballet."
"Why, thank you, sir." The First Officer inclined a mock bow. "Perhaps I should consider a change of career?"
"Perhaps you should consider a change of clothes." The sternness of Crane's voice was belied by the twinkle in his dark eyes. "You're out of uniform, Mister!"
Morton looked down and with a start realized he was still wearing the black turtleneck and pants of Komandir Morton.
Crane looked at his watch. "And by my count you've only slept four out of the last 40 hours. I think you're about due."
"What about you? You haven't had any more sleep than me," Morton reminded him.
"Maybe not. But I did take a couple of cat-naps while Mr. O'Brien was on watch, and I did not go swimming, impersonate an officer, impersonate a terrorist, commit burglary . . . or get plastered." Lee Crane was pleased to see that his needling produced a twinge of embarrassment in his friend. "Go. And report back here in four hours. By that time I think we should be ready to quit this pussy-footing and come up to full speed."
"Aye, sir." Crane saw a satisfying mixture of resignation and gratitude on Morton's face as he turned to go. But a few seconds later he was back. "I forgot to ask, Lee. Is there any word on Angie?"
"I almost forgot -- yes. Sikora heard that she's been treated at the infirmary, questioned, and released. It sounds like she -- and the Admiral's reputation -- are both in the clear."
"Good," Morton's tired face relaxed into a smile. "That was the one part of this whole plan that I didn't feel comfortable with. Maybe I'll stop by Sick Bay and let Patterson know, too."
As he returned from the Radio Shack, Nelson caught end of their conversation. "Captain, with your permission, I'd like to join Mr. Morton. I haven't had a chance to properly thank Patterson for saving my life the second time."
With my permission? Crane realized he had nearly forgotten that this man was not . . .not who? Not the Admiral? Not my friend? But he's just risked his life to prove that he is . . .
"Lee, are you all right?" Chip was standing right in front of him, all signs of fatigue replaced by concern.
The Captain blinked once. "What? . . .Yes. I'm fine, Chip." To the Admiral, he said. "Of course, sir. I'll know where to find you." The two men left the Captain gazing after them, pondering the mysteries of the universe . . . or universes.
They found Patterson lying pale and quiet, arm in a sling, and left leg heavily bandaged and elevated on a small mountain of pillows. His eyes fluttered open once when they entered, then closed again.
Jamieson hurried in from his office shaking his head. "Right now he's still pretty groggy from the painkillers; I can only let you speak to him for a minute or two."
Nelson nodded his agreement, pulled up a chair next to the seaman's berth, and began speaking quietly. Patterson's eyes opened, focused, and a drowsy smile appeared when he recognized his visitor.
Giving the Admiral time alone with Patterson, Morton asked the Doctor, "How is he doing?"
"One bullet grazed his shoulder, leaving a long, nasty wound, but not too deep. The other passed through his leg, rupturing the peroneal artery -- which explains the tremendous loss of blood. It's fortunate that he was so near when it happened. I was able to staunch the flow, and repair the damage before his condition was seriously compromised -- no thanks to that rough ride you gave us." His accusatory grimace turned to a teasing grin when he saw a flicker of reproach behind the Lt. Commander's impassive countenance. "He's out of danger, and we're replacing blood now." He nodded in the direction of the IV bags hanging over Patterson's head.
"The bullet also grazed the tibia, producing a hairline fracture. As soon as the inflammation goes down I'll have that in a temporary cast and he can start moving around a little." Jamieson smiled reassuringly. "Over all, I'd say he was remarkably lucky."
Morton nodded slowly. "Overall, I'd say we all were."
As the murmur of voices died away, Chip moved over to the patient's bedside to add his own thanks and good wishes, but it was Patterson who spoke first. "That's good news about Miss Hamilton, isn't it, sir?"
"You're right, Pat, it sure is. I just wanted to tell you . . ." As he spoke, he saw that Patterson's eyelids had once again surrendered to gravity. Morton glanced toward the now-frowning Jamieson, " . . . that you should get some rest," he chuckled softly. Nodding toward the Doctor, he left Sick Bay with the Admiral.
* * 22 * *
Patterson was probably the only person aboard to get any rest.
Crane had just sat down on the periscope island to shut his eyes for a few seconds when Riley called out, "Skipper, I've got engines approaching! Fast! Two, maybe three propellers." Before the Captain had time to react Seaview was wrenched by a terrifying sound: she was being strafed by active sonar from above.
He grabbed the mike. "All stop. Repeat, all stop," he said firmly and quietly. "Rig for silent running. Repeat, rig for silent running."
In his cabin, Morton had just shed the Komandir's uniform, and now reappeared in the Control Room in his own khakis, shirt unbuttoned, and shoes in hand. Admiral Nelson was not far behind.
Crane looked up from the charts just long enough to acknowledge their arrival. "I don't know for sure how many are up there, but we need to find a safe spot to set her down. Depth isn't a problem, but the bottom is too rugged." He ran fingers through his hair. "And we're losing maneuverability fast. If we don't find something soon, we'll end up crashing into one of these cliffs."
Nelson was checking fathometer readings against the charts, while Morton monitored the nose camera. Both spoke at the same time.
"A plateau just ahead to starboard," Chip continued, "bearing 020 degrees, range 500 yards."
Both rudder and planes had to be operated manually, but ten anxious minutes later Seaview settled gently on the shelf. The sonar lashing had receded and returned several times, but never stopped. They were still being pursued by at least two vessels, maybe more.
Crane turned to the hydrophone station. "Riley, anything more definite on those propellers?"
"No, sir. At least two, maybe three, maybe more. They just keep comin' and goin' so I don't know if I'm counting the same one over and over again or not. They're all similar, so it's hard to keep 'em straight, sir," the seaman apologized.
"They no doubt suspect that we're here, but if they were positive, or had pin-pointed our location, they'd have already started dropping depth charges." Nelson's reassurances did little to ease the stress of the incessant, nerve-wracking noise.
Crane thought a few moments, then beckoned Chief Sharkey over. "Chief," he said quietly, "pass the word: I want all Battle Stations manned and ready. Don't use the intercom -- send runners to all departments."
"Aye, sir." Chief Sharkey called two seamen over, gave them whispered instructions, and set off after them himself.
"I want to be ready to move out," the Captain said to Morton and Nelson, "because if they should decide to attack, the bubbles from the charges will make their sonar useless. We might be able to sneak out under their own cover."
"If we're still in one piece," Morton muttered.
Suddenly, the assault stopped. The ominous silence was, if possible, worse than the previous bombardment. In the uneasy stillness men started streaming into the Control Room to man extra stations for full alert.
And they waited.
For one full hour they waited.
"Riley, are they still up there?" Crane stood right over the man's shoulder.
"As far as I can tell, sir. I don't hear any engine noise, but we would have heard them move off."
As if to answer the question, the sonar lashing began again.
Crane walked back to the Radio Shack. "Have there been any messages at all that would indicate who, and how many, are up there?"
"No, sir." Sparks shook his head. "No one has communicated with the Institute, and if they're talking to each other, they must be using semaphore . . . or tin cans and a string," he grinned.
Crane's tense frown relaxed also. "Very good, Sparks. If there's any change let us know right away."
Admiral Nelson had spent the better part of the previous hour working in the Missile Room, where Dr. Rossinova had begun to set up the module. As soon as the maelstrom of noise erupted again, he returned to the Control Room. "I think I may know who this is, Captain," he offered when Crane returned to the plot table. "Adm. Walter Tobin has a reputation as a tough, smart bulldog, who hates to admit defeat. He often shoots first and asks no questions."
Morton and Crane exchanged knowing glances. "We know the man," Crane said. "We know him as 'Trigger-Happy Tobin, Scourge of the Seven Seas'."
"Ah, then you do know him," Nelson chuckled. "We call him 'Tobin the Terrible'."
"And you think this could be him?"
"I'd bet on it. Only he would be bull-headed enough to come this far on what is obviously a hunch, and sit this long, waiting for us to make a mistake so he can pounce. And he's less interested in his reputation than he is in getting the job done. If I'm right, there's two things we can be certain of: his patience won't last much longer; and we're going to have a devil of a time getting away."
"Do you have any suggestions, Admiral?" Crane surveyed the drawn faces of the men in the Control Room. "I don't know how much more of this the men -- or I -- can take, just sitting here playing Chicken of the Sea inside a pipe organ."
"I told you he was smart. He isn't using that sonar to look for us; he thinks he's found us. He's using it to intimidate us. He'd rather catch us alive, to get back both the device and Dr. Rossinova. But make no mistake: he won't hesitate to destroy us if we don't cooperate."
Morton had been silent throughout the conversation, but from the look on his face, Crane could tell he had not been idly eavesdropping. Now the First Officer spread his arms apart on the plot table, leaned forward, and began speaking very quietly. "What if we attack him first? We could manually arm and load torpedoes, set the range and distance as close as we can, send just one sonar ping to pinpoint them, readjust, and let fly with a wide spread. We probably wouldn't sink them, but we would give them something to think about. Even if they do begin an attack, it should still give us enough time and cover to get away."
While Crane was still digesting the possibility, Nelson quashed it. "No, Commander. That's out of the question. First of all, we can't be certain that we could even launch before they caught on to what we were doing and attacked. Second, there's no guarantee that even if we do hit something we could get away from them in time -- that they couldn't track us on sonar and either follow or send others. Finally, we just might be too successful. In spite of our differences in perspective and methods, I know Walt Tobin to be a decent, honest man. They do exist, even in the People's Republic," he reminded, "and I'd hate to risk eliminating even one of them if there was any other way." He paused long enough to observe the dampened hopes displayed on the faces of the two officers before he added, "And I think there is."
In the moment before this last phrase registered, both Crane and Morton's spirits sank as low as they had been in the three days since they were snatched from their own world. But the words did sink in, and both men simultaneously lifted their heads in eager anticipation of the miracle they had just been offered.
"Contrary to evidence shown, the Time Displacement Module really does work. If Dr. Rossinova and I can get it set up and modified in time, we believe we can send Seaview back in time twenty four hours, which by my calculations would put about 400 miles between us and that ship." He pointed upwards. "And it would put us there yesterday morning -- long before anyone was even thinking of searching for you."
Crane was dumbfounded by the simple elegance of the plan. But his mind immediately started throwing up warning flags . . . not, however, before Morton -- whose job description included a clause on "Finding Flaws in Foolproof Plans" -- could begin voicing those same misgivings.
"But if we're sent back in time, won't we just be going back to square one? Twenty-four hours ago we didn't have either the device or you. And wouldn't this time machine just pick up everything in the vicinity and take it all back with us? Wouldn't Tobin still be right on top of us when we got there? We were over fifty miles away from the island when it caught us the first time . . ."
Nelson cut him off. "No, Commander. You wouldn't be starting over; the entire boat -- all personnel and equipment intact -- would be transported in a sort of temporal envelope." He drew his hands around an imaginary sphere. "And if we decrease power and tighten the focus, we should be able to make that envelope small enough to only include Seaview -- plus a few stray rocks and fish."
Morton still wasn't convinced. "But what about the 'us' that was there then? What happens to them? For that matter, what about the 'you' that was waiting at the Institute? Where will he be?"
Nelson sighed, not in exasperation, but in frustration. "I wish I could explain all that, but I can't. I'm not the expert in this field, Nadezhda and Mikhail are, and I admit I don't come close to understanding the theory involved. Maybe I should let them explain it."
Mikhail Rossinov chose this propitious moment to walk into the Control Room. Chief Sharkey escorted him to the plot table. "Excuse me, Skipper, but he says he has a message for the Admiral."
"Thank you, Chief."
"Admiral, we are ready now. All that is needed is the power connection." He looked younger than his years under the penetrating stares of Seaview's senior officers.
"Mikhail," Nelson began, "Captain Crane and Mr. Morton would like a little more information before they agree to this experiment." He outlined their reservations, hoping that this young man was as articulate as his sister.
"It is very difficult to explain in lay terms," he started, "but what will happen is that for a very brief moment, we will . . . become . . ." he sought for the right words, "the people we were yesterday. But the moment will be so fleeting as not to even register on our consciousness. Then we will simply move away, leaving them to follow their course, while we follow ours."
"In other words, we'll be able to look out the window and see ourselves?" Morton asked.
"No, it's not that tangible an existence. The instant we materialize in that time, they will appear to dematerialize. In reality -- in their reality -- nothing will have changed. They won't even have been aware of our presence. And in our reality, we will neither see nor feel them. And as long as we do nothing to interfere with them, they will never know that we were there."
"How do you mean, interfere?"
"If we were to send them a message, or drive this submarine directly into their path, or in any way deliberately try to get their attention or change their actions, then they would become aware of us. That would change our own history in a way that I cannot begin to predict. I would not advise it."
Subdued by this warning, the Captain was nevertheless encouraged. Even so, this time he didn't forget that it was not his Admiral who was making this 'proposal'. "If you'll give us a minute, sir, Mikhail."
"Of course," Nelson replied, and the two moved away toward the Observation Nose.
"Chip," Crane asked, "what do you think? Is it worth the risk?"
After a brief, hushed conference Crane strode forward to ask Nelson, "If you can move us back twenty-four hours, can you move us back forty-eight? That would put us another day closer to the island, a day farther from Tobin . . . and that much nearer to going home."
Nelson turned a questioning look toward Rossinov. "I do not see any reason why not," Mikhail replied. "The extra distance should not pose a problem."
Crane gave a thin smile. "Good. And how long do you think will it take to rig this all up?"
Nelson nodded a terse acknowledgment of the Captain's confidence, and started for the Control Room hatch as he said, "The TDM is ready now -- except for your time adjustment. That was the message Mikhail came to deliver. All we need is your permission to run a connection to the reactor, and some tools to fashion a regulator, to control the amount of power."
Crane stopped in his tracks, causing Nelson to stop, turn and face him in confusion. "What's wrong, Captain?"
"So you three had this planned all along . . . and you didn't tell us?"
"Not at all! We only thought of it when I went back to the Missile Room after the first round of sonar. It took us that long to get the device reassembled and recalibrated. As soon as we had some assurance that we could make our idea work, I was 'elected' to come tell you. But even then we knew it was not our place to make the decision; only you could do that."
Just like the Admiral! He knows what he's doing. But once in a while I wish he'd let me know what he's doing. "Very well, sir." Crane called Chief Sharkey into their conference. "Chief, go with the Admiral and help him find anything he needs. He's going to be making a connection to the power from our reactor."
"Aye, sir," Sharkey nodded. With young Rossinov trailing behind, the two men, Admiral and Chief, left the Control Room deep in conversation.
Crane caught his friend staring after them they walked past the plot table. Shaking his head, Morton commented, "Some things never change, do they?"
* * 23 * *
An hour later the unrelenting sonar pinging was still rising and abating like a slow-motion version of waves breaking on the shore. There was nothing the officers and crew could do but bide their time in impotent silence, waiting for deliverance from the maddening noise, be it in escape or in battle. Most would have welcomed even the feared depth charges -- some real force they could fight against -- to the insidious noise.
Through this taut atmosphere Chief Sharkey carried his message to the Control Room. "Skipper, the Admiral and the lady Doctor wanted me to tell you that everything's ready. All they need is your go-ahead."
First Officer and Captain's eyes met for a significant instant. "Mr. Morton, you have the Con. The Chief and I will be in the Missile Room."
What Lee Crane was expecting to see even he couldn't have said . . . an antique pocket watch, maybe? . . . but it was not the mundane console with its rather ordinary array of dials and switches. The only remarkable aspect of the entire setup was the size of the power supply cable.
"That's it?" he asked.
Sensing his disappointment, Dr. Rossinova smiled. "Not very impressive to look at, is it? But I can assure you that you will be impressed by its performance."
"Can you tell me exactly what will happen when you activate it?"
"I doubt if I could explain to you in three weeks exactly what will happen, Captain." Her patient smile didn't waver. "However, I can tell you what you and your men will experience: Nothing. There should be no sensation of movement at all. One instant you will be here and now, the next you will there and then. Your instruments will register your new time and location, and that will be the extent of the disruption. You didn't feel anything before, did you?"
Crane tried to think back over the eons that had passed since this 'adventure' began. "No, we had no idea anything at all had happened to us."
"It will be the same this time."
Quite an improvement over Pem's bumps and lurches. "And you're sure that you can take us, and only us, back to that point without disturbing our history at all?"
"No, Captain," she shook her head, "I cannot guarantee anything. But I will tell you that I wouldn't try it if I didn't think it would work. It simply would not be worth the risk."
Seaview's Captain continued to mull his final decision. "One more question: What will happen when the other Seaview -- the one we were two days ago -- comes around to tomorrow? Will they be caught in the same situation, and have to perform the same operation, and will this become some kind of endless loop?"
The Doctor's smile broke into a laugh. "No, Captain. They -- you -- have already lived that history. We will only be visiting it, and no one will be repeating it."
Crane's brow furrowed as he looked from the Admiral -- is he really as principled as I'd like to believe? As our Admiral is? -- to the Doctor -- She's certainly a lot more credible than Pem ever was. But can we really trust her any more than we could him? . . . On the other hand, if I don't trust them now, what's the sense in even going back to the island?
"Captain," Nelson interrupted, "we need to act quickly. With each moment that passes the risk of attack increases. Even if this boat is not destroyed -- even if Tobin manages to 'rescue' the Doctor, the device, her team, and myself -- you and your men will lose any chance of returning to your own lives. So will my men."
The decision was made. "You're right, of course," Crane said quickly. "The department heads have all been briefed. Give me ten minutes to allow them to tell their men, then go ahead." He gave instructions to Chief Sharkey, who headed out the door in one direction, while the Captain turned the opposite. Within nine minutes every man on the boat knew what was about to happen.
The expected silence didn't materialize.
The violent sonar lashing was instead replaced by the jangling of an over head bell. Even though he hadn't heard that sound in three days, when the computerized chronometer sounded off -- Tinkerbell my foot! More like the Wicked Witch of the West -- Morton automatically called for time and coordinates, and took down the chart on which to record them.
To his surprise he found that an entry had been made in the Captain's scrawl for the same time and location precisely forty-eight hours earlier. So that's the "malfunction" Lee was talking about. It was us coming back to this point. And here we are again. He carefully noted the time and coordinates again, almost forgetting to subtract the two days that had just been swallowed by the time machine. Maybe I should put both dates? He snickered to himself . . . and then initial it H.G. Wells . . .
"Mr. Morton, the surface is clear. Nothing out there but a few lovesick dolphins," Riley reported from the hydrophone station.
"Wish 'em luck, Riley," the Exec grinned, then shook his head to chase his irrelevant thoughts. It wouldn't do for Lee to come back and find me in Never Never Land. "Kowalski, I think it's safe to switch on active sonar, just to make sure we don't have any other visitors."
"Aye, sir," he replied. Once again the Control Room was filled with the sound of sonar pings. But instead of the reverberant pounding they had been subjected to, this was the soft, almost comforting echo of their own equipment. "Nothing, sir."
As Morton turned back to the plot table, Crane descended the spiral stairs. "Ready to answer bells, Skipper," he reported.
The Captain beamed. "Mr. Morton, get us under way and headed toward the island again."
"Aye, aye, sir," the Exec replied with a nod and a broad smile of his own.
As orders passed from Con to Helm to Engine Room and back, the submarine turned once again toward the small, uncharted island due south of Santa Barbara, and just north of the equator. Within half an hour routine prevailed as if it had never been broken.
"Lee, why don't you give it a try this time," Morton suggested blandly. "I didn't have much success."
"What? What are you talking about?" Crane tried to read his Exec's expression, but found it to be as informative as a bowl of oatmeal.
With a wounded what-do-you-mean-you-don't-know-what-I'm-talking-about look, Chip Morton clarified. "Sleep," he said simply. "I at least got to change my clothes a few hours ago. Now it's your turn to tempt fate." Crane appeared to waver. "Look, O'Brien will be coming on watch in about fifteen minutes. As soon as we get everything squared away, I'll hit the sack myself." He grinned fiendishly. "And I'll leave orders to wake you if anything goes wrong."
"I do have all those reports still sitting in my cabin since Tuesday morning. And even though that was only yesterday . . ."
"Let's not get started on that. Is it a deal? You'll get some sleep?"
"It's a deal, Chip." He turned to leave, "See you in a few hours."
* * 24 * *
"Mr. O'Brien, what's our ETA?"
"Good evening, sir. We should arrive at 0800 tomorrow." With a final check of his charts he looked up, "Another fifteen hours."
Capt. Crane looked around the Control Room and noted with satisfaction that all stations were manned, and the tense silence of a few hours earlier had been replaced with the comfortable undercurrent of light banter. Lt. Cmdr. Morton returned to the plot table after having made a brief inspection of all stations.
"Chip, have you eaten yet?"
"Nope. I just woke up half an hour ago. You?"
"I just finished. Why don't you go grab something now?"
"I'm not really that . . ."
"That was an order, Mister!" Crane folded his arms across his chest in his best imitation of severity. "Mr. O'Brien, I have the Con. Please see to it that Mr. Morton gets to the Wardroom and eats his dinner."
"Aye, sir," the younger man grinned.
"By the way, I can heartily recommend the Three Bean Salad. It tastes just like . . ."
" . . . just like what you'd expect -- dead vegetables swimming in embalming fluid!" Admiral Nelson's sonorous dinner review heralded his entry into the Control Room. It was met by the concurring snorts and grins of every man present. And his even more expressive facial critique was the straw that broke the Captain's act. Morton and O'Brien were thus dismissed by a very relaxed and cheerful captain.
"You know something, Captain?" Nelson said quietly when he reached the plot table, "I think I'm going to miss your boat. I'm going to miss it a lot."
"How's that, Admiral?"
"You and your men enjoy a good bit more . . . security than I'm used to. You can relax and indulge in such occasional small pleasures. I would never have witnessed such a scene on Vidmorya; life is much too serious. One never knows when a comment or a joke may be misconstrued and reported as a threat to the Republic, so the safest course is simply not to talk, and especially not to joke." He looked around the room once more. "Yes, I'm definitely going to miss this."
Crane pondered a few moments before he found the words to respond. "I wish there was some way we could bring you -- all of you -- back with us. But . . ."
"No, no, Captain," Nelson shook his head. "That would be impossible. But just the same, don't think I haven't considered the idea." His eyes took on a faraway look as he rested his elbows on the table. "Just like I've considered dropping this whole pretense and joining some rebel group - of which there are many. But I am doing some good here, and I'm in a position to hamper a lot of evil. If I were to turn outlaw, my options would be severely curtailed, and my opportunities for good would be limited to Robin Hood hit-and-run tactics."
After a long pause, during which both men seemed to be pondering their distinct existences, Crane spoke softly. "I've hesitated to ask this, Admiral, but . . . what are we like? In your world, I mean."
Nelson's piercing blue eyes sought the darker ones of this alter ego of his own friend. Appearing to find within them a spark he recognized, a smile flitted across his own features as he looked away. "Lee Crane and Chip Morton are both dedicated servants of the people, and of the government of the People's Republic -- as long as that government is acting in the best interests of those people. When it is not, they do as much as conscience will permit. Lee Crane is a courageous, compassionate, pragmatic leader. Chip Morton is the definition of steadfast integrity and rock-solid reliability," he sought the dark eyes again, ". . . the same qualities I see exhibited in this world, as well. I would have expected no less."
Unsure of how to react to the Admiral's words, Crane let the silence lengthen to the point where it seemed less like silence than communion. Finally he asked, "But what if they, and you, are asked to go beyond what your consciences will permit. What then?"
Nelson's entire being suddenly seemed to shift gears from introspection to humor. He leaned closer to Crane and -- a roguish smile obscuring his former seriousness -- he jabbed the plot table for emphasis. "Then, my dear Captain . . . then we resort to subterfuge!" He laughed aloud. "Do you think our little play-acting this morning was the first time Turkevich has had the wool pulled over his eyes? Angie and I are really quite experienced at this -- although this is the first time she has had to play her part without benefit of a script. The officers and crew of the Vidmorya have had their share of thespian adventures, too." Lowering his voice conspiratorially, he added, "Although I never knew Patterson had such a flair for it."
Shocked by the sudden change in mood, and conscious of the startled looks of eavesdroppers, Crane was again at a loss for words. The Admiral was not. Returning his voice to a conversational level, he continued. "Look, Captain, I don't want to leave you with the impression that this world, this universe, this dimension is either all good, or all bad. Just like yours, we have our injustices, our nobility, our opportunities, our villains, and our heroes. Yes, I would love to visit a while longer, but this boat is not where I belong, any more than this . . . this world is where you belong. Our task now is to get everyone back home . . . and get that Pandora's box destroyed."
Finally presented with an opening to ask the question that was taking up most of his conscious thought, Crane said, "And how is that going? Do you and Dr. Rossinova still think you'll be able to reconstruct and reverse the original incident?"
"Yes, she is optimistic. They have done as much as possible in the way of research and analysis, and there is nothing more to be done until they reach the island. At that time they'll take the information you've provided, combine it with whatever else they can discover from the prototype, and program the mobile unit to duplicate both the malfunction you described, and the power surge that occurred when their explosive charges destroyed it. It will be tricky, but there's no reason to believe that it can't be done."
"How long does she think it might take?"
"It could be hours, or it could be as much as a couple of days." Seeing a cloud of worry shade the Captain's features, Nelson continued, "But thanks to your suggestion we have a full forty-eight hour lead, not to mention being a day and a half closer to the island. Essentially, we'll arrive at the island before they even pull away from the dock."
"Y'know, Admiral, I was wondering about that, too." Crane crossed his arms and leaned his hip against the plot table. "If the Doctor could put us back forty-eight hours, why couldn't she put us back another forty-eight, before the transfer took place? Couldn't she prevent the accident from ever happening?"
"You forget, Captain, that this mobile unit is functioning correctly. If she took us back to before the accident, you would still be in this world. That would mean not only that Seaview and Vidmorya would be coexisting, but Dr. Rossinova would somehow have to confront herself and reverse the effects of an accident that had not yet happened." His eyes widened with genuine horror that illustrated his conclusion: "The possibilities for catastrophe would be endless!"
* * 25 * *
As Thursday morning dawned -- again -- over Seaview, it found her once again approaching shore of the small island. The senior officers and guests were cheerfully crowded shoulder to shoulder for breakfast in the Wardroom.
"What are you going to tell Turkevich anyway?" Capt. Crane asked over the last of his toast and coffee. "I know your cover story about being kidnapped is intact, but it still leaves a lot of loose ends."
"We've been working on that for the last day or so," Nadezhda Rossinova said, "and I think we've come up with a believable piece of science fiction for them."
Mikhail began the recitation. "You see it was all a plot to steal the Temporal Displacement Modules. A large, well-organized rebel group recruited our so-called friend, Strekis, to kidnap us from our apartment in Santa Barbara. He met a regrettable end, however, once we got to the island."
Sikora continued. "This rebel group had a mole at the Institute who provided them with enough information on equipment, rosters, and schedules to outfit a rogue submarine to take Vidmorya's place." He nodded to the next man at the table who continued the tale.
"Then they hired look-alike actors to impersonate Komandir Morton, and a few key crew members."
Sikora picked up the thread. "And using coercion, beatings, drugs and the threat of murdering the rest of us, they forced Dr. Rossinova to play along with them."
Morton and Crane were both shaking their heads in amazement. Crane asked, "A great yarn, but isn't it a little far-fetched? Do you think they'll really believe it?"
Nelson laughed bitterly. "Of course they will. And they'll believe it precisely because it is so outlandish. These people are paranoid; we'll just be tickling their ears by feeding them their own preconceptions. And the bonus to all this is that our loyalty will emerge unscathed!"
Crane was still skeptical. "But what about the Vidmorya? How will you explain its disappearance, absence during the past 48 hours, and reappearance?"
"For that we'll give them a half-truth," the Doctor answered. "Since we didn't want the prototype TDM to fall into the rebels' hands, we attempted to destroy it. This somehow put the Vidmorya into a time loop from which they didn't escape until we also destroyed mobile unit upon our arrival here. So, seeing that there was nothing left for them to steal, the rebels blew up our lab, and escaped before Vidmorya could arrive."
"Lee, I'm beginning to believe in fairy-tales," Morton confessed. "I don't think Dorothy, Alice, or Peter Pan have anything on these guys."
"But what about us?" the Captain asked. "Won't they question the fact that -- assuming all goes according to plan -- your rebels just disappeared without a trace?"
"Of course they will!" Nelson slapped the table in gleeful satisfaction. "And that's the beauty of the plan: Once again, we're playing to their paranoia. The search for this 'Phantom Rogue' will keep the intelligence community busy for months -- maybe years! It will take the heat off of some of the real rebel operations."
The intercom crackled to life as Bob O'Brien's voice was heard. "Capt. Crane, we have the island in visual range, and we're making our approach."
Crane took the handmike that Morton handed him from the wall. "Thank you Mr. O'Brien. I'm on my way." He squeezed out of the tight quarters, then turned to his First Officer. "Chip, go down to the Missile Room to make sure Sharkey has everything under control."
As the Wardroom emptied, Chip Morton found himself walking aft to the Missile Room with Nadezhda Rossinova. "Is there anything you need help with, Doctor?" he asked.
"I don't think so. Chief Sharkey is very efficient, and everything is secured and ready to be loaded onto the rafts."
Sensing hesitation in her answer, he asked, "And how about you? Are you ready?"
She looked up at him as if to ask what he meant, but seeing the concern in his clear, blue eyes, she knew. "The equipment is ready, the men are ready, and I suppose . . . "
Wondering at the interruption he looked down, catching a glimpse of her eyes brimming with unshed tears. She turned quickly away, apparently forbidding them to spill over. He didn't press her, and presently she continued.
"No, Mr. Morton, I'm nothing like ready," Now her words were coming in a rush. "I just keep wondering what will happen if this doesn't work. If Vidmorya isn't just waiting safely for me to bring her back. If I can't return you to your world. If . . ." She suddenly stopped again, and looked up. "I'm sorry. This is worse for you than it is for me . . . and me voicing my guilty fears doesn't make it any easier, does it?"
Morton answered with a grimace that tried to be a smile, and they continued in silence for another few moments, until she was ready to complete her thought. "I guess it's just that being around you makes me realize how much I miss . . . them." The distant expression on her face said as much as her words.
Attempting to lighten her mood -- which he somehow felt responsible for ruining -- Morton said, "Well hey, lady -- I like that! I knew we suffered by comparison, but you don't have to be insulting." As soon as the palest ghost of a smile began to influence the corners of her mouth, he ushered her into the Missile Room muttering something about, "It's the XO's lot in life to get no respect."
Seeing her now secure in the presence of her brother, he asked again, more pointedly this time, "But what about you? What about your work?"
Mikhail answered. "We'll probably follow the original 'safe' plan. Once the furor has died down, we'll plead for more time and money to complete our research. By the time they get fed up with the waste, perhaps we will have thought of some more useful pursuit."
Even though the Doctor's eyes were still glistening, her smile turned to an uncharacteristic giggle. "Yes, and I may have already found a project, Misha!" She put one arm through his and one through the Lt. Commander's, walking them across the room, as she took them into her confidence. "Together, Misha, you and I, we will invent a new alarm clock -- when it goes off, you don't have to get up, just press a button, and you'll go back in time for another hour of sleep. Much better than the manufacturing of fertilizer, da?"
"How's it going, sailor?"
The Admiral's booming voice startled Patterson to the point of almost making him lose his precarious balance on the awkward crutches.
"Fine, sir. Just fine." He frowned as he tried to negotiate yet another knee-knocker.
"Are you sure?" the Admiral frowned, "you look a little unsteady there."
"Well, almost fine, I guess," he admitted. "Just a little light-headed if I stand up too long; but Doc says that will pass quickly. And I won't have to be on these things for too long, either -- just two or three weeks." He looked up and smiled. "Other than that I'm OK -- good as new. And you, sir?"
"I'm fine, too, Patterson." Nelson reached out as if to give the seaman one of his patented backhands on the arm, then seemed to think better of it, considering the instability of the victim. So he contented himself with keeping the man company as they made their way from the Crew's Mess to the Control Room, where Patterson was about to start his first abbreviated watch. As they neared their destination, he spoke again. "I just came from the Captain's quarters, where I wrote you up for a commendation. He'll have to sign it, of course, but I don't imagine that will be a problem."
Patterson halted his painstaking progress. "Thank you, sir. But compared to all you did, sir . . ."
"What I did? Why, my whole act was just an exercise in self-preservation, young man. You, however could have easily saved your own skin, but you chose to save mine instead. And for that, I think you deserve more than just my gratitude."
At a loss for anything more profound, Patterson simply repeated himself. "Thank you, sir."
Just then Kowalski came whistling around the corner, nearly plowing into both men. "Oh, sorry Admiral. Hey, Pat, you'd better get a move on. You don't want to be late for your first watch. Mr. Morton'll have you swabbin' the decks, crutches or no crutches."
As the two seamen continued on, Chief Sharkey walked up with a black jacket and shirt over his arm. "Here's your uniform, Admiral. We got it cleaned up the best we could, and I figured you'd want to change before you went ashore."
Nelson appeared momentarily confused, then reached out to accept the clothing. "Thank you, Chief." He looked down at his borrowed khakis. "And I suppose you'll be needing these back, too, won't you? I'd rather gotten used to them," he grinned ruefully. "Thanks for the loan. I'll leave them in your quarters."
The Chief hesitated a moment, then said, "If you really want to keep them, sir, I'd be honored . . ."
Nelson pondered the offer, but shook his head. "No, Chief. It might be nice to have a souvenir . . . something to remind me that you really do exist, but I don't know how on earth I'd explain it! No. You keep the uniform, and I'll keep the memory."
Sharkey's face was split by a grin. "Aye, sir."
The Missile Room was buzzing with activity as the coffin containing the mobile TDM was hoisted out the top hatch, and men were scurrying to and fro, making sure nothing vital was left behind. There would be no coming back.
"Capt. Crane, may I have a word with you?" Mikhail Rossinov caught up with the Captain as he headed out the door.
"Of course, Mikhail," he stopped and smiled. "What can I do for you?"
Eyeing the noisy Missile Room behind them, he said, "Perhaps we could walk?"
As the two men entered the corridor, Rossinov's courage failed him, and he didn't seem able to say what was on his mind. Finally, after nearly a minute of silent walking, he said, "Captain, I've been thinking about what you said."
Puzzled, Crane stopped and looked for a clue on the young man's face. "About what?"
"About living, and dying, and which is more important." He began walking again, and as Crane followed, he continued. "I wondered if you could give my sister -- the one in your world -- a message."
"Yes," Crane said slowly. "What is it?"
"Please tell her . . . Please tell her how I have lived. Let her know that I have done some good in this world, and that I hope to do more." His voice was choked with emotion, and the words were difficult in coming. "Tell her that even though her brother never had the chance to say good-bye, I will do it in his place." His now-steady gaze found the Crane's eyes. "Captain, I have always loved and respected my sister, and I think she would want to know that." He took a deep breath. "Will you tell her for me, Capt. Crane?"
With a sincere smile, Crane reached out to shake Rossinov's hand. "Yes . . . yes, I will, Mikhail. With pleasure."
* * 26 * *
Almost sooner than they wished, the malfunction had been traced and duplicated, the mobile unit had been programed to duplicate the prototype's settings, and a power surge had been engineered to mimic the one caused by the original explosion. Sharkey and Kowalski had provided the explosives and the instructions for destroying the lab when the transfer was complete.
Now Harriman Nelson, and Nadezhda and Mikhail Rossinov stood on the beach talking with Lee Crane and Chip Morton. Farther up, a few enlisted men bid farewell to the technicians.
"Thank you, Captain, for allowing me the opportunity to see another possibility." Nelson extended his hand, which was readily accepted by the younger man.
"So long, Admiral, and thank you for your help in allowing us to return to that . . . reality."
The two of them turned toward the sound of Nadezhda's laughter. " . . . and what else did you destroy in his apartment, Commander?"
"I didn't destroy anything," Morton protested indignantly. "I've given you the complete inventory. You already have his uniform and key. The vodka, unfortunately, is long gone. And your lipstick . . . hmmm . . . I forgot about that. I'm afraid it has probably been impounded in a police investigation of prostitution."
"What!" she cried in horror.
"Don't worry. I was careful to wipe off all your fingerprints. I think. If I remembered." The Exec's bland expression was no match for this woman who knew his counterpart so very well. Her laughter once again bubbled to the surface as Crane and Nelson joined the group.
Amidst smiles and continued banter the five people shook hands all around one last time. Then, quite suddenly, as if in response to an unseen signal, the forced mirth evaporated as they realized what they were about to attempt. Each felt the conflicting emotions of wanting the moment to last -- uncomfortable as it had now become, and wanting to get back to their own lives; of fear of the ramifications of possible failure, and an urgent desire to get it over with. So, rather than run the risk of allowing those fears or sentiments to gain an upper hand, they resorted to the time-honored tradition of restating facts they all knew by heart.
"You have the coordinates?" Mikhail asked.
"The course is already laid into the navigational computer," Morton replied. "120.324W by 06.019."
"And the time?"
"We should be in position and waiting at 1330. Which is in," Crane checked his watch, "two hours and thirty-five minutes. And you're going to give us an extra half-hour just in case of a problem. Right?"
Mikhail nodded. "I wish we could just use a radio to confirm all this."
"But our radio was destroyed in the explosion, the seaplane's radio is not functioning, and if any other radio was to be found on the island, it would cast suspicion on our story." Nadezhda explained again, knowing that everyone present had already agreed to the plan.
As the five thus edged lamely toward their departure, the sound of laughter made them look with some envy on the small knot of men farther down the beach, who were indulging in what sounded like rather raucous gallows humor.
Shaking off the mood, Crane nodded a final, curt farewell and whistled to get the attention of his COB. Within ten minutes they were back aboard Seaview, and ten minutes after that they were already submerged and gone.
"120.325W by 06.020," Kowalski read from the navigational computer.
Crane checked the chronometer himself: 1320.
Arriving ahead of schedule, they had already been waiting fifteen minutes. Hovering at a depth of 200 feet, they not only duplicated their position of four days ago, but also avoided the worst of the conflicting surface currents. They kept constant check on their location, to be sure of not drifting away from what the men were now referring to as "Ground Zero".
Another fifteen minutes passed, and yet another. At 1400 every man tensed for a sensation they had been told not to expect. They felt nothing. Because nothing had happened.
Another fifteen minutes of silence.
The tension was beginning to turn into something else, something not nearly so manageable. Crane and Morton, neither of whom was immune to the feeling, held a whispered conference with O'Brien, reasoning out possible explanations. Finally, after one crewman accidentally sent a clip-board clattering to the deck, and a second responded with uncharacteristic profanity, Crane reached for the intercom to attempt a reassuring message to the crew.
He didn't make it. The formerly infuriating jangle of Tinkerbell's alarm made everyone jump as if electrified.
"I'm getting engine noises, sir. All around us," Patterson reported.
"Sonar is picking up three surface vessels, Skipper," Kowalski called out. "Two destroyers . . . and . . . a carrier!"
"Periscope depth, Mr. O'Brien!"
While the Captain waited impatiently for Seaview to rise the necessary 110 feet, he fought the urge to cross his fingers. Unable to wait any longer, he jabbed the "Up" button, and drummed his fingers on the rail as the periscope made its interminable way up.
"Chip, take a look at this! Have you ever seen such a beautiful sight?"
Morton took his turn sweeping the horizon. They were indeed surrounded by naval vessels -- all flying the Stars and Stripes.
"Mr. O'Brien, take her all the way up," the Captain ordered. How the Second Officer ever heard the order over the cheers and laughter of the crew was never ascertained.
The decks were still awash when Riley cracked the hatch and Crane climbed out onto the Bridge. "Skipper," Sparks called over the intercom to the Bridge, "I'm getting an incoming transmission, and it's in English! It's Admiral Nelson calling from the Coral Sea."
"Pipe it up here, Sparks." Crane held the mike in one hand, while scanning their escort with binoculars in the other.
"Admiral! . . . Yes! . . . No, only one injury, not serious . . . No, no damage . . . Yes, sir . . . We're ready to receive you . . . Need? . . . No, sir, nothing, nothing at all . . . now that we're home."
" . . . of course, once Tobin got wind of the Russian transmissions to the Institute -- and especially when the People's Republic was mentioned -- he had to send in the cavalry."
Nelson and Crane had been at it non-stop for the last four hours. They talked in Nelson's cabin as Morton led Seaview through the ponderous ballet of maneuvering four large vessels into a northward-heading convoy. They talked in the Wardroom over dinner. And now they continued over coffee in the Observation Nose. When Morton was relieved at the end of his watch, he saw that a dinner tray was waiting for him there. He arrived just in time to hear Nelson's last sentence. At the mention of Tobin's name neither Captain nor First Officer could resist exchanging a grimace.
"Am I missing something?" Nelson asked. "Or was that on general principles?"
"Let's just say we've had recent dealings of our own with 'Tobin the Terrible'," Crane said. But it was just one more example of the scatter patch of explanations that would take much more than four hours to clarify.
"So how did you end up on the Coral Sea, Admiral?" Morton asked between bites of baked potato.
"Well, you didn't think I was going to let Tobin call the shots, did you? I hitched a ride on a helicopter out to the carrier, and all three ships arrived where you found us only a few hours ago, although there have been fighters doing fly-bys for the past day and a half."
"How much does he, and the rest of the world, know about all this?" Crane asked.
"The rest of the world? Nothing. As far as any of the men on any of those ships out there are concerned, this was just another exercise. Tobin knows about as much as I did when I came aboard. As you'd expect, he sees the whole incident as a scouting mission in preparation for a major invasion," he scowled. "He has a lot of questions, and he'll soon have a lot more, so look forward to a thorough debriefing with him as soon as we reach Santa Barbara." The disgusted sighs of his officers prompted him to add, "Just be thankful he isn't here now, gentlemen. It was only through some very creative reasoning that I talked him out of coming with us."
The three chatted companionably for another hour, covering the subjects of time-travel, loyal secretaries, bureaucrats, character, and dramatic performances. Tomorrow would be time enough for detailed reports, analyses, and recommendations.
"Speaking of performances," Morton said, "I need to get the paperwork started on that commendation for Patterson. Not to mention the rest of the reports, files, requisitions, and schedules that have been piling up for the last four days." He pushed his chair back. "So if you'll excuse me, Admiral, I think I'll get in a few hours work before my next watch."
The two men left at the table stared into the beauty of the free ocean outside the window. But, truth be told, neither one of them even noticed it was there. Nelson's mind was attempting to sift and digest the incredible stories he'd been hearing. Crane was contemplating the capriciousness of time, the endurance of character, and the value of friendship. It was he who eventually broke the silence.
"Y'know, Admiral, as nerve-wracking an experience as it was, and as much as I do not want to repeat it, it was very enlightening."
"First, I got to see what life might be like if we let down our guard and allow noble sounding speeches to obscure the malice behind them. But more importantly, I got to see Chip, and you, and Nadia Rossinova, and our men in a completely different perspective."
Nelson leaned back in his armchair, resting his chin on an open fist. An open invitation to continue.
"Dr. Rossinova -- Nadezhda Rossinova from that world -- has a theory that character runs deeper than the environmental influences which would try to shape it. That being the case, I saw you in a very different environment, and you were the same. I saw you dealing with very different kind of foe, yet you were still passionate in your pursuit of knowledge and justice. I saw Chip function under extreme pressure as a man he'd never met, yet whose basic nature he shares. I heard the tale of Patterson setting aside his own nature and taking up another, so that he could, with his own quiet heroism, save the life of a man he'd only just met, but who was the embodiment of your character."
Nelson nodded slowly, not so much because he understood the theory, or even the examples, but because he understood the man.
Crane sat up straighter in his chair, and the look of faraway reflection was replaced with a warm smile. "I guess my point is, that I realize now more than ever just how privileged I am to know each of you."
Bureau of Surveillance and Information
To: Councillor Sajid Kharabe, Chairman, Central Committee
From: Kom. Ali Datang, Chief, BSI
Date: 30 September, 1977
re: POTSDAM: Preliminary recommendations
Per your request, please find outlined below our findings thus far in the incident code-named POTSDAM:
Based upon comprehensive investigations of all facilities, intensive interrogations of all parties involved, and careful evaluation of all evidence and testimony received up to this point, we make the following preliminary recommendations:
You will be kept apprised of any and all additions or changes to these facts and recommendations.
* * Epilogue * *
It was nearly half a year later that Seaview once again approached the Equator at 120 degrees west longitude. They had taken a slight detour en route to assist a British research effort on Pitcairn Island.
The location brought back memories and questions. Those who had worked most closely with Rossinova, Admiral Nelson, and the others halfway expected - hoped? - to hear Tinkerbell's signal. Anything that would let them know that the people in that 'other place' still existed, still worked, still hoped and dreamed. But today there was no such herald. There was only the empty space above the plot table where the sophisticated chronometer had once been mounted.
The coffin in which Nadezhda Rossinova had arrived was long gone, as were her scattered notes, her worn back-pack, her island . . . and her brother.
Six months earlier Nadia Rossinova had listened to the relayed message from that brother with tears streaming down her cheeks. Tears of sorrow, at the reminder of what she had lost; tears of frustration, that she could not have been there to see and hear him; and tears of joy, that he did still live . . . really live . . . not just in her pictures and memory. After a few days the tears were replaced by the contentment that could not have come before the grieving was past.
Soon afterward, she moved on to continue her work at a university, there being no reason to continue researching a phenomenon that had ceased to exist.
Now Lee Crane, Harriman Nelson, and Chip Morton hung their elbows over the gunwale of Seaview's Bridge, simply watching the setting sun linger above the empty ocean. There was a red-gold carpet leading from beneath their feet to the point on the horizon where it would eventually disappear. For the present, thought, it appeared to hang stationery, as if it were as lost in thought as the men watching.
"I wonder what they're doing now?" Morton murmured.
"If Turkevich and the Central Committee believed their story, they're probably right about . . . there," Crane pointed to a spot midway to the horizon, "wasting the bureaucrats' money on endless research to find non-existent problems on devices that will never be allowed to work properly."
"It seems like such a waste of talent," Nelson commented sadly. "There's so much good they could be doing."
"I wouldn't say that, Admiral," Crane said. "Just because they're not accomplishing anything on the project they're being paid for, doesn't mean they're not accomplishing anything at all. The Dr. Rossinova you know, as well as the one we knew has far too much integrity for that. You can be sure that while she's busy sabotaging the Committee's efforts to use her work against the people, she's just as busy doing her own research for the betterment of those same people."
Again the easy silence lengthened, time passing unnoticed.
"Do you suppose there are others?" Crane asked.
"Other . . . worlds? realities? universes?" Nelson questioned.
"If you accept the Doctor's theory, then there could be an infinite number of them," Morton said, his eyes still captivated by the spectacle before them.
"I wonder what they're like." Nelson mused.
After the sun had finally slipped completely below the horizon, and stars filled the eastern sky like diamonds on velvet, the three officers descended to the Control Room to make preparations to submerge and continue their journey.
Any lingering peaceful thoughts were scattered, however, by the sound of Chief Sharkey dressing down a red-faced Kowalski just outside the aft hatch.
"Is there some particular reason why you chose to show up a half hour late for duty?"
"Whad'ya mean, Sharkey? I'm right on time!"
"Oh sure, sure. You're right on time. And I'm the King of Siam," he raised his voice. "Tell me this, Kowalski: Since when does this watch start at 1830? Did somebody change the schedule and forget to tell Mr. Morton? Huh? Because he has you down for 1800. Maybe you should go enlighten him."
When Nelson, Crane, and Morton reached the bottom of the ladder, they glanced at each other, silently drawing straws. Crane lost. "I'll go," he sighed.
While the two winners headed for the plot table, Crane waded into the dispute. "What seems to be the problem, Chief?" he said as lightly as he could manage. Judging from the color of Sharkey's face his blood pressure was well into the danger zone, and Kowalski's complexion now matched his jumpsuit.
Sharkey jumped at the voice. "Sorry to bother you with this, sir." His embarrassment at having been caught with his watch in disarray momentarily overcame his anger.
"It's no bother, Chief. What's going on?"
"Well, sir, as you know, the watch changes at 1800. Kowalski here just now waltzed in, claiming to be on time."
"Kowalski," Crane frowned, "what do you have to say about this?"
Letting out the breath he had been holding in hopes of controlling the last vestiges of his temper, Kowalski said, "Sir, I don't understand the problem. When I left the Crew's Quarters, it was 1750. And it sure didn't take me any forty minutes to walk here. Sir."
"Skipper?" Morton called.
Annoyed at the interruption before he'd accomplished anything at all, Crane whirled around. "What is it, Mr. Morton?"
"Check the time." Morton pointed first to his own watch, then to the large digital clock above the sonar station.
The Captain looked at his own watch, then at the display, then at the bemused expressions on Nelson and Morton's faces. Turning back he asked, "What time is it right now, Chief?"
"Well, I'm not sure exactly," he started fumbling with his pen and clipboard, trying to get at his watch, "but it was 1828 when I went looking for Kow . . . " He stopped mid-word as he stared at his watch in disbelief. "It's 1803, sir."
The vindicated Kowalski magnanimously chose to forgive the Chief. "Don't worry about it Sharkey. It could happen to anybody." To Crane he said, "If you'll excuse me, sir. I'm late for my watch."
Crane nodded his dismissal as Kowalski sauntered away.
"But . . . but . . . I could swear my watch said 1828!" Suddenly his face brightened. "Wait a minute. If it's only 1800 now, how come these other guys have been on watch for over half an hour?"
"I don't know, Chief, let's ask them." Crane guided the muttering and bewildered Chief toward the duty stations. "Patterson, what time did you come on duty just now?"
"1800, sir. Give or take a minute or two."
"And how long have you been here?"
"I'm not sure, sir. But in spite of what that clock says, it seems like it's been a good half hour," he admitted apologetically.
Crane frowned. "And you, Riley?"
"'Bout the same story, Skipper."
Now that the Chief was also acquitted, there only seemed one possibility left. The men looked at each other, then at their officers. Crane and Morton looked at the Admiral.
"Let's get out of here, gentlemen," he laughed, lightly backhanding both Crane and Morton on the arm
as he walked past them. "And let's not come back to investigate!"
* * The End * *
"Time in a Bottle" by Jim Croce 1973
"The Times They Are A'Changin'" by Bob Dylan, 1963
1984 by George Orwell, 1949
Copyright 1999 by naloma
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