This story is dedicated to the memories of the characters of both Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Bonanza and to my primary editor, Elisa. This tale is better because of her efforts, both in editing and hitting me over the head when I wrote something that really didn't fit. Thanks also to the magnificent editors at Bravo Zulu. I used 99% of your suggestions. We'll talk about the other 1% over a beer (you're buying). Copyright of these characters remains with the rightful owners. This is a work of fiction and no infringement is intended. Someone at a chat night challenged that there was no way to get Lee Crane and Little Joe together, and I do so love a challenge. I hope you enjoy the results, Mrs. S!

Bruce

Western Waters



By Bruce Strong

The sun shone brightly on the super submarine Seaview as it cruised north from Santa Barbara, its manta-like prow cutting through the ocean with the ease of a dolphin. Standing tall on the deck, the executive officer, Lt. Commander Chip Morton gazed at the horizon, breathing in the salt air with satisfaction.

This is what I live for, he thought as the sea breeze ruffled his blond hair. All the rest is worth it just for this!

Looking to his left, he saw a five foot long piece of conduit left by the electrician's mates leaning against the sail. The immediate thought of reprimanding the crewman responsible was quickly banished by the realization that he was completely alone above deck. With a graceful half turn, he danced across the deck, grabbing the conduit as his partner and waltzed around the bridge in a magnificent series of spins and steps, lightly leaping over the closed deck hatch. Completing the full circle, he returned the conduit to its improper resting place, bowed to his "partner" and turned once again to contemplate the advancing horizon, just as the deck hatch opened. Knowing everyone else to be occupied, he said, without turning, "Clark, if you leave scrap like that laying around again, I'll have you on report!"

"Sorry sir, I was just coming for it," the embarrassed electrician's mate replied.

Morton kept a stony silence with his back to Clark, his unseen grin covering his face.

How does he do that? Clark wondered as he scurried back below, the offending pipe in his hand.

Chip glanced down at the deck of Seaview. Its hull glittered from the combination of salt water spray and the complex silver pattern that had been painted about her as if she was being prepared for a Celtic ritual. Satisfied all was well, he turned and descended into the body of the sub .

Inside all was calm, except for the aft missile room. Massive pieces of equipment were strewn all over the area. Huge cables ran from each piece to the main electrical conduits connecting to the reactors. Crewmen scurried about performing important but indiscernible tasks. Several men were waist deep inside control panels. All the while, a lab coated, gray-haired man ran around them giving directions. "Hurry, hurry! Now, I want those connections tightened to 32 foot-pounds -- no more, no less," he told one of the electricians mates. Before the crewman could finish the job, something else caught the old man's eye.

"Careful!" he yelled, charging across the room. He careened off three men trying to get to his destination. Waving at his two assistants, he continued, "that houses delicate instruments! Be careful!"

Moving unimpeded through this maelstrom was Admiral Harriman Nelson, the genius behind the modern miracle that was Seaview. He had assembled the most able people in the world to crew his submarine, regarding the Navy as his own private employment agency. It was this collection of skills that allowed him to now move untouched through the orderly chaos occurring around him. Reaching his goal, he placed a gentle but firm hand on the older man's shoulder. "Relax Russ," Nelson said: "we'll have your system ready to test on schedule."

Dr. Russell Palmer's exasperated voice cut through the din. "The system must be assembled perfectly the first time, Harry. I can't just stand by and watch!"

"I understand, but you must keep out of the way," Nelson replied. "That is why I insisted on such detailed drawings and specifications when you came to me. Believe me, they know exactly what needs to be done and will do it correctly. All you need to do are the quality checks."

Shaking his head and sighing Dr. Palmer said, "Time is nothing to take chances with Harry. That's why I wanted Seaview. If something goes wrong, there's less chance of a disaster out at sea than on land. But I don't want my work put in jeopardy just because someone forgot to tighten a wire nut!"

Nelson smiled at his colleague and replied, "I understand. Just don't get hurt."

Captain Lee Crane entered the room and stood for a moment in the hatchway to survey the scene before him. The Captain's piercing eyes took in every detail of the room. A quick look was all he required to know that all was proceeding properly. Finally locating the Admiral, he moved toward him.

"We're almost at the coordinates you ordered, Admiral."

"Good! Tell Chip 'All stop' when we reach them, and then assume station keeping," Nelson answered.

"Aye, sir," Lee went to the intercom mike nearby. "Captain to Control Room"

"Control Room, aye," Chip's voice sang out from the speaker.

"Confirm 'All stop' at the coordinates, and assume station keeping."

"Assume station keeping, aye, sir."

Lee hung up the mike and returned to Nelson, who was now looking over a set of plans. "If you don't mind my asking sir, just what is all this supposed to do?"

Nelson looked up at his captain and friend, smiled, and said, "The basic idea is to send an oscillating electromagnetic field through the circuitry painted on the outer hull. If Dr. Palmer is correct, this will open a portal in time through which we can view the past."

"Not just view, Harry," Palmer interrupted, "but also pass through with the final design."

"Amazing," Lee replied with his patented half smile. "And you think it will work Admiral?"

"I wouldn't have committed Seaview if I didn't," Nelson said with a wry grin.

One by one, the crew finished their tasks. Palmer watched in amazement as the coordinated efforts of Seaview's crew came together like a well orchestrated ballet. Final connections were made as panels were snapped into place as if by magic. Within an hour, Lt. O'Brian, closely followed by Palmer's two assistants, presented Dr. Palmer with a clipboard with every item checked off as installed, checked, and tested.

Newfound respect crept into Palmer's voice as he said, "Harry, if I hadn't just seen this with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it possible!"

"I told you they were the best," Nelson replied with his best poker face.

Chip's voice cut through, announcing, "Bridge to Captain. We've arrived at the coordinates and are at station keeping."

Lee grabbed the mike and keyed it, "Very good Chip. The Admiral and Dr. Palmer are on their way." Turning to the Admiral he said, "I'm going to stop at the reactor room to make sure Sharkey has that end completed as well."

"Very well. We'll see you on the conning tower."

Lee walked into the control room and headed for the plotting table. "Chip," he said, "did the Admiral talk to you about the importance of keeping Seaview steady during the experiment?"

"Aye, sir," was the XO's quick answer. He lowered his voice slightly and said more casually: "Lee do you have any idea what is going to happen?"

"Not really, Chip, but I think it's going to be very interesting."

"Good interesting or bad interesting?" Chip raised an eyebrow.

Crane just chuckled and gave him a pat on the back as he walked away. "We'll see Chip, we'll see."

He took a quick look around to assure himself that all was well and proceeded to the access ladder. He climbed up through the conning tower and came out on the upper deck at the top of the sail. Nelson and Palmer were already there, along with a couple of crewmen who were making some last minute adjustments to a control box. The four men filled the small area. Lee's entry made it a crowd. The box was a plain gray unit with four switches, each with a pair of tell-tale lights and one larger red button beneath them. The sea was calm, with a gentle breeze blowing across the deck. It barely ruffled Nelson's red hair as he turned to Palmer and said, "Ready and on schedule as promised."

Palmer practically cackled with glee, "Just you wait, Harry, just you wait. This is going to be the most impressive thing you've ever seen! Not even the launch of the Seaview will compare to this!"

Lee stared at Palmer for a second and shook his head, thinking to himself, Oh brother, here we go again. Why is it that all these visiting scientists have delusions of grandeur?

The electricians stood up from the control panel, told Nelson that everything was ready, then disappeared through the deck hatch.

"Whenever you're ready, Doctor," Nelson said to Palmer.

Palmer picked up his clipboard and made a couple of last minute notes and announced, "Here we go!"

Pressing the far left switch, they could hear the Seaview's nuclear reactors come on line. The men could feel a gentle throb through the deck of the sub. "Stage One initiation," Palmer said. He then looked at Nelson and Crane. Seeing Lee's questioning glance, he couldn't resist the temptation to lecture. "Basically all this does is turn all the equipment on and the computer readies the reactor for the demands we're about to make on it."

He pressed the second button. Now the hum of the reactors grew louder and louder as the system charged up, while the Seaview continued to sit placidly on the ocean's surface.

"All that power is being directed into the circuitry painted on the hull below us," Palmer explained.

The silver lines began to glow, first faintly, just a slight sheen on the metal, then stronger and stronger with each passing moment, the glow pulsing in harmony with the sound of the reactors.

"Next we engage the temporal field oscillation units," said Palmer as he hit the third button, its tell-tale green light joining the two to the left of it.

Everything began building towards a crescendo. Nelson stared at the tracery on the deck, watching the lines appear to leave the hull and float a few inches in the air above it.

"There! There!" cried Palmer, pointing at the air ahead of the sub.

Nelson's gaze came up. One hundred feet ahead of Seaview was a sparkling in the air, like thousands of silver fireflies hovering about a single point. The field danced and sparkled, practically hypnotizing its observers. "We'll hold here for fifteen minutes to allow the field to stabilize." Palmer announced, his voice breaking the spell. "I think we've done it, but we won't know for sure until we go to full power."

Crane broke his attention away from the spectacle in front of him. Raising his binoculars, he scanned the horizon, sweeping from the bow across the starboard beam, then aft. As his gaze fell on the air to the rear of the sub, he dropped the binoculars to see the full sky. What he saw was a wall of black clouds moving rapidly towards them. Beneath these clouds, the gray veil of rain could be seen, illuminated by flashes of lightning. The faintest rumbles of thunder could barely be heard beneath the eerie wail of the time generators.

"Admiral, we've got severe weather approaching!" Crane warned.

Nelson spun around, then saw the onrushing storm. "Why the devil didn't radar warn us!" he thundered. "Palmer, we've got to shut this thing down. There's no telling what will happen if we get caught in heavy weather with this machine running!"

"No, no, no, no, no!" said Palmer excitedly. "Just a few more minutes. Just a few more minutes! We've almost got it!"

Suddenly the winds hit. What was once a gentle breeze became a gale force wind. The sky continued darkening as the front began to pass over them, making the sparkling energy field in the air show up more clearly. Lee could see the rain line only a few hundred yards behind Seaview.

"Doctor!" Lee yelled above the increasing roar of the storm. "We've got to shut this thing down and get below! As soon as the storm passes, we'll surface and begin again!"

"No, you don't understand!" Palmer protested. "We've gone this far, we can't stop just yet! We just need a couple more minutes to prove its full potential!"

Lee started to reach for the large emergency stop button.

"No!" Palmer yelled and batted Crane's hand away. "We've got to do it now!" and he slammed the fourth button home.

The circuit tracery was glowing so bright that it almost seared their eyes with the image. With a tearing sound, the dazzling point of light in the air expanded into a circle almost three hundred feet in diameter. Through it, another ocean could be seen, dark and calm.

"There!" proclaimed Palmer. "There! The time portal! It works, Harry! It works!"

Nelson bellowed back at him, "Shut it down Russell! We've got to get below before . . ."

He didn't get the chance to finish his sentence as lightning struck the Seaview. There was the buzzing sound of an electrical arc while the bolt of lightning played along the hull, as if trapped by the glowing circuitry painted there. Then it was gone. In its place was an instant of silence followed immediately by a deafening clap of thunder!

The men hunched over and covered their ears against the intense noise. As his ears recovered from the assault, Lee looked up to see Nelson's hand coming off the red override button. There was almost total silence. The reactor had shut down to normal levels. There was no wind, no storm, no rain -- just the sound of the ocean gently lapping at Seaview's sides. It was still dark, as dark as it had been in the storm, yet there was no storm. Everything was dead quiet.

Nelson looked over at the doctor. Barely able to control his rage he said, through clenched teeth, "The next time I tell you to shut something down, damn it, you will jump faster than a first year cadet! Do you understand me!"

"O.K. Harry," whispered a subdued Palmer as he looked up, very obviously shaken by the event. "O.K. I just got a little carried away, I'm sorry. But," he said, brightening, "no harm done and it worked! It worked! Now, since the storm has passed we can reset, and continue with the test." A pause, then, "Why is it still so dark?"

Crane studied the sky above in reply but all he could see were the dim outlines of the clouds above them. He grabbed the mike and pressed the talk button. "Chip, what's our status?" he asked.

Down in the control room, Chip Morton grabbed the mike near the periscope and answered, "All green now, Skipper. Did we get hit by lightning or something? We've had sparks flying all over the boat."

"Yes," came the captain's voice through the intercom. "Get a damage control party up to the aft deck to check out the strike's location. Why didn't you warn us about the storm?"

"Aye, aye, sir," said the Exec. He double keyed the mike and called out, "Damage control to topside aft deck, on the double. Patterson! Didn't you see that storm front on radar?"

"No, sir!" Patterson reported from his post at the radar screen, "All I can figure is that as soon as that device went on, radar was blocked. It's all clear now."

Morton keyed the mike, "Skipper, it looks like Dr. Palmer's device jammed the radar."

Back on the conning tower, Nelson nodded and gestured at the hatchway. "Gentlemen, let's get below. This may be only a short lull in the weather." The three men climbed down the ladder, Palmer, then Nelson, followed by Crane.

In the control room, Sharkey was gazing up the ladder and as soon as he saw the Admiral called out, "What happened up there?"

Nelson responded, "It appears our experiment worked, but we came close to being fried by lightning."

"Really, Admiral, you've got to be more careful."

Nelson grinned and said, "I'll take that under advisement," giving the Chief a pat on the back.

As he jumped off the ladder, Lee called out to Kowalski and Patterson, "Anything on radar or sonar?"

"Radar's clear now, sir," came Patterson's reply.

"Nothing on sonar either, sir," said Kowalski.

"Then where the devil did that storm come from and go to!" Crane demanded.

From the radio shack came Spark's southern drawl interrupting the Captain's ire. "Captain, Ah've got nothin' on the radio."

"Define 'nothing,'" Nelson interjected before Crane could answer his radio operator.

"That's just it, Admiral, Ah don't hear anythin' but static. Ah was trying to make our hourly check-in with the Institute and got no response. Ah tried contactin' COMSUBPAC and no response from them either. Ah've been searchin' all the bands and there is just nothin' out there. Nothin' on radio, nothin' on the television bands, microwave bands are dead. Ah've got a couple of faint Morse code transmissions on the AM bands, but other than that, all Ah get is an earful of static."

"Did you check your equipment?" Crane asked, rushing over to the radio shack.

"Did that fust thing," Sparks responded. " Ah just don't understand it."

The Admiral nodded. "I'm beginning to think I do," he said. "Lee, set course for San Francisco harbor."

"Aye, sir." Moving forward, Lee looked at the charts on the plotting table then called out, "Chip, come to heading 027 mark 3. All head flank."

"Aye, sir, 027 mark 3, all head flank," Chip answered.

"Take her down to periscope depth as soon as the damage control party is below," Lee continued.

The Seaview came to life under the direction of her masters. Soon the deck began to vibrate slightly as she got underway. Crane walked over to the Admiral, who, with Palmer, was examining the computer printout. "What do you think happened, Admiral?"

"I prefer to keep my suspicions to myself for the time being," Nelson said. "Just let me know when we reach the bay."

"Aye, sir" Crane answered. After all his years with the Admiral, he knew he'd get nothing further and moved on.

As the Seaview cruised along, Chief Sharkey and the repair crew checked in and reported that the weather was beginning to deteriorate again. Chip asked, "Are all your party below?"

"Aye, sir," replied the Chief.

Chip grabbed the mike. "Prepare to dive," he said into it, his gaze fixed on the "Christmas Tree" -- Seaview's status panel. One by one, all the red lights went green. As the last one changed, Chip called out: "Dive, dive, all dive," into the mike.

"Take her down to ninety feet."

"Ninety feet, aye," came the planesman's response as the helm went through the familiar routine.

*****

As they neared the bay, Lee and Chip consulted the harbor charts and the sounding data they were receiving via sonar.

As they stood side by side, Chip queried "Lee, what's going on?"

"I haven't a clue, Chip, but I'm not sure Dr. Palmer's experiment was the total success he's crowing about."

"We may to be able to see the Golden Gate by now," said Chip.

"Up scope!" Lee called out as he mounted the periscope platform. The smoothly moving mechanism rose up, Lee dropping the side handles as it came. Outside the Seaview section after section of the unit telescoped out until the very end rose a foot above the water. Gazing through the 'scope, with his hands loosely on the handles, Lee scanned 360 degrees. "Nothing visible Chip, we're socked in by fog. Better keep close to the channel. We'd probably hit the bridge before we saw it tonight. Down scope. I'm going to the nose to catch up on some of this paperwork," he said picking up a pile of folders. "Call me if anything interesting happens."

"Aye, sir," Chip replied. "Ski, pipe the fathometer readings directly to the helmsman."

"Aye, aye, sir," came Kowalski's response. A moment later, he asked "Mr. Morton, would you come look at these readings?"

"What's up?" Chip asked, crossing over to the sonar station.

"I was sure the last navigational briefing said that the dredging at San Francisco was complete. If we're as close to the bay as you say we are, I ought to be getting depths of 200 feet or so. Instead I'm only reading 30 feet keel to bottom!"

"Slow to one quarter!" the Exec called out. "Planesman, keep an eye on those soundings. It may be a sandy bottom here, but we don't need to give the hull a scraping!"

Fifteen minutes later, Chip informed the captain that by all reckoning, they should be in the middle of the harbor, but that sonar was picking up only whale song. No sounds of shipping traffic at all.

"Fog must be worse that I thought," Crane mused, "to have shut down all sea traffic. Take her up, Mr. Morton. I'll be right there. Admiral to the bridge!"

"Aye, sir. Surface, surface, blow all ballast. Six degrees up bubble on the planes!" As the Exec called into the command mike, he tripped the alert klaxon twice.

Slowly, majestically, the titanium hull of the super sub broke the surface, until almost the entire 400 feet of her could be seen, water cascading off the superstructure to splash on the deck on its way back to the sea.

No sooner had all the water drained out of the conning tower, than the hatch wheel spun and rose up. Crane and Nelson climbed through it to stand in the cool California night. All signs of the storm were gone, but the fog lay heavy on the water. Shore lights could be seen dimly, but they were far fewer in number than the officers expected to see in a modern port. While Nelson used his binoculars to scan the harbor, Lee keyed the mike and asked "Sparks, anything yet?"

"No, suh," Sparks' voice came through the loudspeaker. "Still nothin'."

"Well keep trying," Lee told him. He looked at his watch. It was late, but there should still have been twilight about them. He started thinking hard about this and was coming to a conclusion when Nelson put down his binoculars and said "Lee, take a landing party ashore. See what you can find out."

"Aye, sir," said Lee. "Admiral, I have to go along with Palmer. Why is it so dark? Maybe there's been a blackout or solar flares."

"Maybe, but be prepared for some surprises. Everyone to go armed, sidearms only. Avoid contact at first until you're sure of the situation. I'm not positive what you'll find out there, but I have a suspicion you'll be surprised." Nelson instructed the captain.

"I'd be disappointed if we weren't, Admiral," Lee answered, smiling.

*****

Crane and his shore party headed off in the raft. The admiral looked at Palmer, "Let's get below. I want to go over those computer printouts with you again."

Lee, Kowalski, and Patterson rode the raft into the harbor. Lee kept looking around expecting to hear something, the sounds of a busy seaport, the sound of metal on metal, or even a couple of drunken sailors. That sound did soon reach his hears, but he could hear nothing else that was what he expected.

Eventually, through the fog, he could see faint outlines of ships, but they were much smaller than he expected.

Could we have wandered into a private marina? Lee wondered.

As he got closer, he suddenly realized that what he was looking at weren't freighters laden with land/sea containers, he wasn't seeing oil tankers lying low in the water. What he was seeing was an assortment of schooners, sloops, square riggers, barques, clippers. . .wooden sailing vessels!

"What the. . .?" Patterson started.

"Belay that!" Lee ordered sharply. "Let's keep it quiet."

"This has got to be like a movie set or something, doesn't it, Skipper?" whispered Kowalski.

"I don't think so," Crane told him. "I'm beginning to believe that Palmer's time experiment may have worked after all."

As they got closer, they could hear the sound of a honky-tonk piano and smell the coarse odors of civilization: roasting beef and open sewers. Voices of men and women could be heard through the night.

"We're in the old west!" Crane whispered hoarsely.

"N-no, that's not possible!" stammered Patterson.

Lee looked around. "It may not be possible, but if what we find on shore matches what we're seeing now, that's got to be what happened."

They beached the raft underneath one of the wharves. "Let's keep it nice and quiet. The one thing we don't want to do is answer any questions here," Lee said. "And if it is the old west, they'll ask those questions with a six-gun! Speaking of which, check your side arms."

Each man drew his weapon, checked for clips, then chambered a round and holstered his gun.

"We only shoot as a last resort. We don't know what kind of damage we could do to the time stream if we really are in the past," Crane ordered.

"Skipper, you're really starting to scare me," said Patterson.

Kowalski looked at his shipmate and said, "Don't worry, we've got the Admiral and the Skipper on our side. They'll get us out of this."

"I appreciate the vote of confidence, Kowalski," Lee said, "now move out! Keep together and in the shadows. Act as if we were in the People's Republic. If we get caught, we'll have a lot of explaining to do!"

*****

Nelson's office looked more like a college professor's studio apartment than a submarine's cabin. Mahogany paneling and plush carpeting covered the steel hull and floor plates. One wall was occupied by an oversized bunk and the door to a private water closet. A second was completely taken up by his books and video monitor. A drafting table was bolted to the floor, with a set of the plans for Seaview spread out across it.

Behind his desk, a large map of the world dominated the wall. Along side his desk, a dining trolley held a coffee service with two half ignored cups sitting on it. On the desk were a phone, ashtray, Rolodex, and a magnificent glass desk lamp in the form of the earth, each secured by an ingenious set of practically invisible clamps, designed by the Admiral himself. Right now this desk was covered with the computer printouts that Nelson and Palmer were pouring over.

"Look at that power surge," said Palmer. "That's the exact moment we were struck by lightning."

Nelson worked his slide rule and announced, "1.2 gigavolts surged through the system."

"But none of it back-fed into the computer system or any of the control circuitry!" Palmer said incredulously.

"No," answered Nelson. "With your crono-magnetic system in place and operational, it was the path of least resistance. What must have happened is that instead of having a low powered portal for viewing, we pumped all that energy into the time portal, which then enveloped the boat."

"What?" disagreed Palmer. "No, no, no. It doesn't work that way. If you were to overcharge the portal, it would simply expand to a larger portal."

Nelson countered, "And that's exactly what it did. Remember time and space have four dimensions, not just two. It expanded to a much larger diameter, and it got "deeper." Instead of lying in front of it, we ended up inside it. Then its extension into the 4th dimension sent us back here. It's the only explanation as to why the storm ended so suddenly, the radio shut down, and there's no visible shipping in a busy harbor."

"You're right, of course. I spent so much time on the 4th dimension, I forgot about the first three! So, let's see if we can calculate how far back we went," Palmer grabbed the slide rule from Nelson and started skimming through the computer printouts.

"I'm hoping that Lee will be able to answer that for us," Nelson said.

"It's always good to have the ground truth to back you up," said Palmer, "but this is an unparalleled opportunity. We can get the correction factor right off the bat. Then we can plug the computer data in to the tau factor and get a precise picture of how much energy we'll need to return to our own time!"

Palmer feverishly calculated, grabbing sheet after sheet of computer paper, jotting down the numbers, making calculations on his slide rule. Nelson watched over his shoulder, double checking Palmer's work, correcting the occasional error. As they worked together, Palmer's respect for the Admiral increased with each passing minute. He had always thought that the Seaview had been a fluke, a lucky first try for a novice naval architect.

Now he realized that it was the finished product of a magnificent mind. "You know, Harry, you're wasting yourself spending all your time in this submarine of yours. You should come back with me to the university. Together we could work out the rest of the problems of time travel in a few months!"

"No," Nelson shook his head fervently. "I've tried the researcher route. I find that it is too sterile an environment. That's why I started NIMR. This way I have the land based support facilities that I need, and the freedom of the oceans to keep my mind fresh. That and the tax break."

Palmer looked up at him. "I'm sorry I got carried away, but I will get us back!"

Nelson grinned, "You'd better. I have a dinner date next week that I have no intention of missing!"

While they continued working, Nelson reached across the desk and pressed the intercom. "Nelson to Chief Sharkey!"

"Aye, sir," Sharkey's voice came back at him through the intercom.

"Chief, when the damage control party surveyed the deck, did they note the condition of the experimental circuitry?"

"One moment, sir." Fifteen seconds later the Chief continued, "No sir. They checked for structural damage, but didn't make a detailed report on the stuff we painted on the deck."

"Have Mr. Morton make sure all's clear above, then surface. I want a detailed report on those circuits. Map out every inch, and report to me as soon as it's completed."

"Aye, aye, sir!" came the snappy report. A moment later, the Exec's voice came through the boat calling for the great craft to surface.

"Do you think there was much damage, Harry?" queried Palmer.

"I'm afraid there may be," Nelson replied. "Now, look here, these readings . . . ."

*****

As Captain Crane and his men skulked into the town, they were careful to stay in the alley ways, the dirt of the streets muffling their footsteps. Lee looked out from one alley. It resembled the old westerns he had watched as a boy -- dirt streets lined with wooden boardwalks. Weathered boards showed gray on most of the buildings, though a few were painted. The more successful looking businesses were fully painted and had gas lamps visible through their windows.

Across the street from them, he could see the Golden Nugget Hotel. Loud music and laughter came through the swinging doors that let patrons in and out. There was a fair amount of traffic on the street, mostly riders on horseback, but the occasional buggy or buckboard as well.

"What are we going to do sir?" asked Kowalski. "This really is the old west!"

"Carry out our mission," Crane answered. "We need to find out exactly where we are, but more importantly, when."

A voice growled from behind the seamen. "You're in 'Frisco, it's August 10th, and about 5 minutes from your funerals".

Crane spun around starting to reach for his .45 but froze when we saw what he faced.

Three armed men dressed in denim and khaki with drawn revolvers pointed at them. "My, don't we have us a sight," laughed the leader of the bandits. He pushed up the brim of his black battered hat with the barrel of his Colt. "Just what are you dudes dressed up for, anyway?"

"Now we don't want any trouble," Lee said. "We just need some information."

"The only information you're gonna be gettin' will be from the inside of a pine box!" the bearded bandit lowered the barrel to take aim on the Captain.

Just then something huge hit the bandit leader from behind. He plowed into the dirt of the street and lay unmoving. In the next instant, a silver haired man cold-cocked the second hombre with the butt of his pistol. The third outlaw turned to draw on the large man who had taken down his leader, but that was all the opening that Crane needed. He launched himself at the bandit. Forcing him to the ground, Lee rendered him unconscious with a quick right to the jaw.

"Nicely done," said the older rescuer.

"Thanks for your help," said Lee. "Who are these guys? And whom may I thank for rescuing us?"

"I'm Ben Cartwright. These are just a part of the Connors gang. Since they don't much care for us, we figured anyone they disliked, we should help," he said, extending his hand to the Captain.

"Lee Crane," replied the captain.

"This is my son, Hoss."

"Howdy," said the big man, with a tip of the white 10 gallon hat he wore. "What are you fellers doin' here?"

"We're just here to find out where we are. We're from a research vessel out in the bay and our navigation is off. We spent several days in a huge storm and we're not even sure what day it is. Our Admiral sent us ashore to find out where we were and the date.

"Y'all are in San Francisco," said Hoss, dusting himself off. He picked up one of the unconscious bandits and lightly dropped him on top of a second one who was making small movements.

Crane stared at the bill posted against the alley wall. It was an advertisement for a new singer at the Golden Nugget, next Saturday, August 16, 1873.

Ben looked at him warily. Just then from the end of the alley Kowalski called back:

"Skipper, more people coming."

Patterson moved aside to let Ben see out into the street.

"It's more of the gang," Ben announced. "Hoss, we better get out of here."

"You're welcome to come with us," Ben said, "unless of course you'd rather stay and meet the rest of the gang?"

"Thanks, I think we'd better be getting back to our boat, though."

"Pleased to make your acquaintance. Any time you want to come into town a little more openly, I'd be happy to buy you a drink. We're staying at the Golden Nugget, room 310. Hoss, let's go."

Crane looked at his men and said, "We've gotten what we came for, let's get out of here! Ben, Hoss, thanks for your help."

"Don't mention it. Come on, Paw, we'd better skedaddle," said the big man, who turned and led his father down the alley.

The seamen stared in amazement that a man that big could move so easily. Shaking his head in wonder, Lee ordered, "We'd better get out of here too, back the way we came, on the double."

*****

Back aboard the Seaview , Nelson was pacing the control room. "Any word yet?"

"No, suh," came Sparks' reply.

"They ought to be here by now," Morton answered. "But the tide's turned, so they're probably having a harder time paddling out."

Just then Sparks called out, "Ah have contact, Admiral!"

"Chip, take us up!"

"Slow surface! Combat lights!" Chip called out. The lights in the control room changed from white to red. The Exec kept a close eye on the depth gauge. The moment it read 20', he was up the ladder to the conning tower, cracking the hatch. Moments later, he came back down followed by Crane, Kowalski, and Patterson.

Before Crane could utter a word, Nelson said, "Report to my cabin. Kowalski, Patterson, go get some rest, but say nothing about this mission until I give the word. Mr. Morton, take us below!"

"Aye, sir," they all chimed and moved toward to the crew's quarters. Mr. Morton began to give the commands to submerge.

Moments later in the admiral's office, Nelson dropped behind his desk and asked Crane, "Well?"

"We're in San Francisco," Crane answered as he perched himself on the admiral's desk, "but in 1873."

"We did it!" came Palmer's awed voice as he jumped out of his chair. "We traveled back in time!" his voice rose in a crescendo of glee.

"With the loss of all radio contact and the sudden darkness, I had surmised that we had traveled back through time. At least it's not as bad as it could be. Here, we're only a hundred years out of sync -- give or take a few years. I shudder to think what we would be facing if we were back in the Cretaceous."

"Yes, but we did it Harry!" Palmer repeated.

"Wonderful," deadpanned Nelson. "But now how do we go back?"

"I've told you, Harry," Palmer replied, leaning on the desk pointing to a column of numbers on the printout, "the equations check out. We can generate sufficient power with the reactors alone. The lightning strike overcharged the system and pushed us through the portal when we weren't ready. We can make a controlled passage through with our own power as soon as we get the grid repaired."

"Grid repaired?" asked Lee, "What's he talking about?"

"The lighting strike, " answered Nelson. "It blasted about fifty feet of the circuitry printed on the hull. We need to reconstruct it."

"Well, how hard is that going to be?"

"The problem is that the circuits were painted with a silver alloy with a unique refining process that Palmer developed."

"Didn't we have some spare when we shipped out?"

"Enough for a few feet," responded Palmer, "but not anywhere near enough for the damage we incurred."

"So we need silver," Lee said.

"Not just silver," said Palmer, "but raw silver ore that can be properly refined."

"And we don't have any means of purchasing it in this time," Nelson stated. "So the question is, where do we find it and how do we get it?"

After a few moments pause while each gave this situation some thought, Nelson asked Crane: "Tell me more about your visit ashore."

"Well, we did meet two men. We were almost shot by bandits and these two men rescued us. . . . umm . . . Ben and Hoss Cartwright."

"Cartwright, Cartwright," Nelson muttered going to his bookshelf and pulling out the dictionary. Looking in the biographical section he saw a listing for Benjamin Cartwright and read aloud the entry: "Major landowner and cattle rancher in expansion era Nevada. Ponderosa ranch, the largest in the territory's history. Four sons. Governor for one term. Sounds like he could be the one to talk to."

"But we'd have to give them a lot of information to get their cooperation," said Lee.

"True, but that might just be a chance we have to take," Nelson replied. "You'll have to go back ashore and contact them."

"But how will I convince them that I'm telling the truth? Bring them back here?"

"Possibly," Nelson said. "It would mean revealing a lot about the future, but I think Seaview is advanced enough to be beyond their abilities to copy. I wouldn't want to bring a naval architect on board, but we should be save with a group of cattlemen."

"OK, so I try to enlist their aid. If that fails, I bring them back here."

"And only this Cartwright fellow," Nelson admonished.

"Understood. If they agree to help us, then what?" Lee questioned.

"Let's deal with one thing at a time. Go get some rest, Lee," Nelson ordered. "Tomorrow night you'll have to go back ashore and contact these Cartwrights again and we will go from there."

"Aye, sir," the captain said wearily. "Sounds like a good idea."

Crane and Palmer left the cabin. Nelson closed the book, stared at the computer printout on his desk, looked at the book, shook his head, and sat down to recalculate the equations.

*****

The next evening, again under the protective cover of darkness, Crane, Kowalski, and Patterson set off for shore. Once they were clear of the sub, it silently slipped beneath the waves, leaving nothing but ripples on the water, as if it had never existed. They hid their rubber raft under the same wharf as before. This time, they were much more careful as they slipped into town. As they approached the road, they heard the sound of horses coming towards them. The three men dove for the cover of the roadside brush just in time as a group of horsemen went thundering by. Keeping low, the seamen strained to see through the branches.

In the dark they could barely make out the shapes of the riders on their mounts. Only those carrying torches to light their way could be seen clearly. One of the bearers slowed as he came abreast of the three hidden at men. Pulling back on the reins, he stopped and rose in his stirrups, his dead black eyes strained at the darkness. Lee recognized him as the leader of the three that assaulted them the night before.

As if warned by a sixth sense, the bandit continued looking at the roadside. Just as Lee figured they had been spotted, the horseman finally decided that there was nothing out there and sat down and spurred his mount onward. More riders went past, then all was silence as the outriders disappeared into the night, headed east.

Easing themselves from the cover they had found, the seamen headed for the hotel. Keeping to the back of the buildings, they slowly worked their way into town. Kowalski was the first to spot the hotel Ben had mentioned. Going up the back stairs of the Golden Nugget, they headed for the third floor. Opening the door to the hallway just a crack, Lee heard a woman's laughter and then a door creak open. He closed the door a bit more and watched as a man came out of the room on the right of the hall and walk away from them. As soon as he was gone, Crane opened the door and the three men headed for the room the Cartwrights were staying in.

Pausing before the door, Ski asked, "Should we knock, Skipper?"

"Yes," he said as he knocked gently. There was no answer. He rapped on it again, a little harder. Still no sound from inside. Realizing that they were in more danger out in the hall, Lee reached into his pocket and fished out his burglar's kit. Looking at the lock, he almost laughed aloud when he realized how simple it was compared with the locks he usually faced. Crane took out the largest lockpick in the case and deftly released the lock.

"You do that all too well, sir," said Kowalski with a grin.

Crane gave Kowalski a dirty look and eased the door open. The room was dark. He entered and signaled for the other two to come in. He shut the door quietly behind them, relocked it and turned to face the room. Just then the lights were raised and the sound of revolvers being cocked filled the room. As the yellow glow of the gas lights came up, the submariners saw two men facing them with their weapons aimed at them: Hoss and Ben Cartwright. Ben said, "Gentlemen, I assume you have a good reason for entering our suite this way?"

"I'm sorry for the way we've arrived, but I assure you we mean you no harm."

Hoss lowered the shotgun he had aimed at them and said, "Paw, these are the men we saved last night."

Ben looked at his revolver, eased the hammer down, and placed it on the desk. "Sorry about the lack of hospitality, but we were expecting a visit from the Connors gang after last night's encounter."

Lee answered with relief plainly audible in his voice. "I don't think you'll be seeing them tonight. They passed us on the road as we came into town. Some sixty, sixty-five horsemen. They were heading east and riding pretty fast."

"I wonder where they're headed now?" Ben said thoughtfully.

"Wherever, it's for no good," Hoss said. "You fellers are new in town, and you sure look the part."

"It's kind of hard to explain," said Lee. "You see, Mr. Cartwright, we're from your future."

After the cattlemen exchanged bemused glances he went on to say "I know it's hard to believe, but it's true. I'm going to come straight to the point, sir. We're from the submarine Seaview, from the year 1978. Due to an accident with a time experiment, we were catapulted back in time to your present day 1873."

"I see," said Ben, nodding. "And that's why you broke into my room tonight?"

"No one answered when we knocked and we felt unsafe out in the hall."

"Did you think of knocking again, a little louder so that someone might hear you?"

"Well, we didn't want to attract too much attention," Lee countered.

Ben eyed Crane dubiously. "Go on."

"The accident that propelled us here damaged our equipment making it impossible to go back."

"Oh, of course," Ben said indulgently.

Lee struggled on. "Checking our historical records, we found that you owned a sizable piece of land near the Comstock lode and we need silver ore to repair out boat."

"How convenient for you," said Ben, his patience beginning to wear out.

Lee cleared his throat. "We were hoping that there was at least a small mine under your control." He was beginning to wince at the sound of his own words.

"Yes, we do. I have to say this is beginning to sound like a snake oil sales pitch. How much ore do you need?"

"About 1000 pounds."

"At the going price . . . " Ben began but was cut off by the Seaview's captain. "That's another of our problems, we have no means to pay you for the silver."

"That's right, you said you're from the future. Your money would be no good here in the 'past,'" Ben said, irony dripping from his voice. "So let me understand this. You claim to be sailors, lost in time and the only way to get home is for me to give you $1,000 worth of silver. What kind of a fool do you think I am?" he said with his temper rising as he stood and gestured towards the street. "I ought to throw you three out the window!"

"No, please listen to me!" pleaded Crane.

Just then the door burst open and in ran a handsome young man in a green suede jacket, Stetson in hand. He was obviously excited.

"Pa! Pa!" he practically yelled, "you'll never guess what I just saw!"

"Joseph, contain yourself!" Ben ordered.

"Sorry, sir," Joe replied, subdued but still very excited, running his hand through his luxurious brown hair nervously. "But I just saw a sea monster!"

A chorus of "A what!" burst from the other Cartwrights.

"A sea monster! I was coming back from seeing Elsbeth, uh, Miss Crandal, home and decided to come back by way of the ocean road. I stopped at a clearing and was watching the ocean when I saw it! It had to be twice the size of a whale! It broke the surface and just lay there in the moonlight for a few minutes and then sank out of sight!"

"Would this have been about an hour ago?" asked Crane.

"Yes," Joe said excitedly.

"And it was silver -- oh, say about 400' long and 40 feet wide?"

"At least 400 feet and bright silver, almost white, with a huge dorsal fin!"

"That's her," Lee announced with a grin. "That's the Seaview."

Ben sighed, "Mister, I just might have to believe your story."

"You don't have to take my word on it. My orders are to invite you to come out and see her for yourself. Then you can decide whether or not to help us."

"We're finished with our business here, so leaving is not a problem," said Ben half to himself.

"Then come back with me tonight. I give you my word that if you decide not to get involved, we'll bring you back here by morning, unharmed." said Crane.

"All right. Hoss, you stay here, just in case there's one or two of the gang are still around. Joseph, you'll come with me."

Little Joe looked around the room, suddenly realizing that there were strangers present and said with a hint of bewilderment in his voice, "Did I miss something?"

*****

At the water's edge, Lee signaled Kowalski and Patterson who moved quickly and launched the hidden boat.

"We're going out to sea in that thing?" asked Little Joe incredulously.

"Inflatable rubber raft. Perfectly safe," whispered Lee to the cowboys.

"Amazing," said Pa.

"If you will climb aboard, we'll be off," said Crane.

With the seamen's help the landlubbers boarded with little grace. "I'm really much better with horses," Little Joe apologized.

With deceptive ease, the seamen boarded the raft and silently paddled away from shore. The sea was calm and quiet, lit by the barest crescent of a moon. A perfect night Crane thought, allowing himself a moment of tranquility.

Strong silent strokes headed the raft into the bay. The sounds of the city followed them out into the harbor.

"So where's this sea monster of yours?" asked Joe.

Kowalski and Patterson kept paddling, each pull of the paddles moving them closer to safety.

"Keep your voices low," Lee warned. "Sound really carries across water." He reached into a pocket and pulled out a small box, raised an antenna and pressed an unseen button. "I just sent for it," he said to Joe, nodding toward the empty ocean before them. About 100 feet away, the water started to swirl and boil and then parted as the great conning tower of the sub broke the surface. Little Joe sat back on his heels, his mouth agape as the enormity that was Seaview appeared before his eyes.

"Jumpin' jehosephat," whispered Ben in a strained voice. "You must be telling the truth! I sailed the seas for 18 years under Captain Stoddard and never saw anything like that!"

"I did say it was rather large," Crane said with pride in his voice.

The two seamen paddled the raft over to the glistening submarine. As they approached, two men appeared on the deck. Patterson threw them a line, and the raft was made fast to the sub. The submariners helped the Cartwrights to climb up onto the deck and then joined them.

Once the captain was standing, one of the men said, "The Admiral is waiting for you below, sir."

"Very good," replied Crane and indicated the direction for the cowboys to go. "This way please," he said to Ben and Little Joe as he headed for the tower.

As they reached the hatchway, a crewman moved out of their way and suddenly a red glow appeared from below. It gave the doorway the appearance of a gateway to hell. The two cattlemen hung back a moment until Lee entered and then beckoned them in. Joe took a half step back, staring at it. Crane smiled, "Night lighting, don't worry."

He went down the ladder first. Then carefully, almost gingerly, down the ladder came Ben Cartwright, followed by Little Joe. After Kowalski entered, Patterson came in, closed the hatch and dogged it down.

"Deck hands are going into the after hatch, sir," Crane nodded. He opened the lower hatchway where bright white light came streaming up. They climbed down in silence. As Joe came down and stepped off, he stared around in wonder.

Once all five were in the room, Lee said, "Mr. Cartwright, I'd like you to meet my boss, Admiral Harriman Nelson. Admiral, Ben Cartwright and his son Joseph."

"This is amazing!" Ben stammered out.

Nelson extended his hand. "Gentlemen, welcome aboard the Seaview. I'm sorry to have to meet you in this fashion, but I am honored to meet you."

"The pleasure is ours, Admiral," said Ben shaking his hand.

Joe shook Nelson's hand and with a nod of his head said, "Admiral."

Smiling, Nelson said, "Welcome aboard, Joseph. If you'll follow me?" and the Admiral led the way to the observation nose that would serve as a conference room.

As soon as they cleared the area, Chip walked over to the captain, "Skipper, the deck crew reports all secure."

"Take her down, Mr. Morton. Seventy feet."

"Aye, sir," Chip replied, snatched up the mike and went through the familiar routine.

"Dive, dive, all dive! Level off at seventy feet and hold."

*****

The Seaview silently sank in the darkness. The bubbling water covered her as she slipped beneath the waves. Some 500 feet away, a whaling vessel was gliding by on the gentle breeze. Her captain, Angus MacPherson, stalked the deck with a scowl certain to send any crewman speeding off to do some forgotten chore, rather than face his captain's mood.

"Six months," Angus muttered. "Six months and damn little to show for it! If there's something left to go wrong this trip, I don't know what it is! Only half full of oil, two boats lost! Still can't believe that the hull would break just as they put the harpoon to the whale and a shark just below them!"

He continued pacing, a shudder passing through his frame as he remembered the screams of his dying men.

"Starboard Ho!" sang out the lookout.

"Where away?" called Angus rushing to the rail and peering out into the gathering darkness. "I don't see anything."

"Right there, sir, 10 points off the starboard beam! It was huge, biggest bloody whale I've ever seen!"

"No sign of her now. Helmsman, head in to port. It's too dark to pursue her now, but if she's that big, she won't be moving too far off too quickly. We'll find her and add her oil to the hold!" the captain called out. The last part brought a short cheer from the crew as the whaler moved toward the harbor.

*****

Aboard the Seaview, the men of the past were being treated to the amazing sight of the submarine's bow windows. Nothing could be seen except for the faint phosphorescence of plankton. The admiral gestured to the coffee service on the small table along the port wall of the sub.

"Due to the late hour, I had coffee brought up," said Nelson. "Would you care for some?"

"Thanks," said Ben. "I believe I will."

In the end, everyone took a cup of coffee before taking their places around the table. While carefully sipping his coffee from the china cup, Little Joe found it hard to resist the temptation to gaze around at the setting. He saw hundreds of flashing lights, men sitting at their posts gazing back at him as if he were a specimen in a zoo.

Come to think of it, that's kinda how I'm looking at them he mused. He was brought back to reality when Nelson said, "Let me begin by saying we are here by accident. It's difficult to explain our presence here, but we suffered a lightning strike in the middle of a scientific experiment in time travel. When the dust cleared, we found ourselves transported about 100 years before our time. I'm not asking you to take this solely on faith. Just look around you -- there is nothing like this in your time."

"I spent a number of years at sea myself, and my old shipmates would think I was crazy if I told them about this ship," Ben said with a chuckle. "Even Laffite wouldn't have believed it."

"You knew Jean Laffite!" Nelson said admiringly.

"I was just a boy when I met him. An impressive man. He's one of the reasons I went to sea."

"I envy you that meeting," said Nelson.

Ben almost blushed. To cover it he asked, "Your captain mentioned that you needed some help. What can we do?"

"We've gone over the data from the event that sent us here. It will be difficult, but we can recreate it, and then return to our own time. However, the accident destroyed a portion of the circuitry we need. It was painted on our upper deck with a mixture of rare elements bound up in an alloy of silver. We have to replace it. To do so, we're going to need 800 to 1000 pounds of silver ore. Now ordinarily we'd just write a check for the amount -- however I don't think it would clear the banks."

Ben smiled, "No, I doubt your draft would be very good. So you need 1000 pounds of silver ore, and you have no means of paying for it."

"That's about the size of it," Nelson replied.

Ben said, "Well, I think maybe we can work something out. Our ranch is about a three day ride from here. The Ponderosa does have a small silver mine on the property. I think we can persuade the mine foreman to let you take out a few hundred pounds of ore."

"Will it be hard to convince him to let us have it?" Crane asked.

"Not if he wants to keep his job. Adam may be the foreman but he's still my son. He's been trying to teach the Paiute how to mine silver for themselves," Ben explained. "Then they could mine their own from their lands and support themselves. That way, they'll be able to pay their own way and hopefully cause less friction with the white settlers."

"How long would it take to get that much ore from the mine?" asked Nelson.

Ben rubbed his chin in thought and said, "Most of the hands are here in 'Frisco. It would just be us, so probably a couple of days to mine it, then four to five days to haul it back here. What worries me is transporting that much material with the Connors gang out there looking for a chance to get even with us."

Morton asked, "What did you do to them?"

"Not much," said Little Joe. "Just stopped them from robbing a bank, killed two of their men, and got their leader jailed."

Lee shook his head, realizing he wasn't the only master of understatement on board.

"I think we can handle transportation to your ranch a bit faster than two days," said Lee.

"Is that so?" questioned Ben with a smile.

"Aye, sir," Crane said with a grin. "I believe we can."

"Well then, perhaps we should start planning," Ben answered.

*****

As the men aboard Seaview made their plans, the whaler's captain and his lookout were still going on about the day's sighting in town at the local seaman's hangout. The wharf side bar was dark and smoky. The walls were festooned with old fish nets, floats, and here and there, a harpoon driven deep into the wood. The long bar supported a variety of drinks and drunks equally. The room had a dozen rough tables scattered about, most occupied by two or three sailors between voyages. At the bar, one seaman was in the face of a crewman from another ship.

"I tell you, it was the largest thing I ever saw! 800 feet, if it's an inch."

"Well knowing you, it was an inch," came a call from further down the bar.

"Ah you're daft, man," said Angus. "There's no whale ever been born that big."

More hooting and cat calls came from around the bar.

"Besides, that tub of yours could never handle a real whale," came the call from a competing crew.

MacPherson took that personally, "Well, I'll show you, Svenson! In the morning we set out and when we find this monster, we'll catch it, and when you see us coming in to port towing that beast behind, you'll all be eating crow!"

MacPherson tossed back his drink, stood, and walked out into the night, his lookout following close behind.

*****

Nelson spread a map over the conference table while Joe kept nervously looking at the hatch and bow windows: "Don't worry, laddie," said the Admiral with a chuckle. "Those windows are solid Herculite and are just as strong as the hull of the boat." Joe sort of half cocked his head and smiled. Nelson redirected his attention to the map on the table.

"Can you show me where your ranch is on this map, and exactly where the mine is?" asked Nelson.

Ben moved over alongside the Admiral and picked up a pencil, then began to sketch a rough outline, "This is the Ponderosa."

Chip whistled, "It's huge!"

Ben said, "I've heard that comment before." Making two marks on the map he continued, "This first one is the main house, the second is the mine site."

"We can make that trip in about an hour," said Crane.

"An hour?" Ben said incredulously. "You can bring this giant of a ship to the Ponderosa in an hour?"

Lee smiled, "No sir. The Seaview is a lady of the oceans. We have auxiliary craft for surface travel."

Cartwright shook his head at the wonders he was encountering.

"What's the terrain like?" asked the Admiral.

"Lots of trees and scrub brush, with large patches of prairie between and a few little houses," answered Joseph.

"Good, then you should have no trouble hiding FS-1 once there. Lee, you, the Cartwrights, and Kowalski will go to the Ponderosa mine. Take whatever equipment you need. If it appears you'll need more help you can come get as many men as you need from the crew."

"Aye, sir."

"Well, Admiral, you certainly have captured my imagination. I think we have a plan. You'll provide transport to the mine and with your Captain and a helper, we'll mine the silver you need over the next few days. You're sure we can get there that quickly?"

Crane nodded the affirmative.

"Well I must say, I look forward to this little adventure. However I do need to clear up a few matters before I can leave, without arousing suspicion," said Ben. "Do we have to go now, or could we postpone it until tomorrow?"

"As far as I can tell," said the Admiral dryly, "we have all the time in the world."

"In that case, if you can get me back to town, we can be ready by sundown tomorrow."

Lee stood up and gestured back towards the ladder, "We'll be at the surface momentarily and I'll have you taken ashore." He nodded at Chip who picked up the mike and called out, "Surface, surface! Deck crew, break out the raft."

*****

The next morning, with the bright California sun shining through the opened curtains, Ben came out of his room to find breakfast already served in the sitting room. Little Joe was sipping his coffee, and Hoss was eating what appeared to be breakfast for six men: pancakes, bacon, biscuits, and ham piled high on a plate. He was polishing off what must have been a dozen eggs as Joe said, "I'm telling you Hoss, this was unbelievable! We climbed down inside this huge metal ship. Lights flashing everywhere. Guys staring at us, men wearing stuff on their heads and telling me that they can tell what's on the surface just by the sounds they make."

"Joseph," Ben warned, "we have to be careful who we talk to about this."

"Yeah, they'll think you're plumb loco," said Hoss around a biscuit.

"It's not just that," his father said, "the knowledge they could give us might have an enormous impact on the future. But I do have to agree with Joe that that is a ship unlike anything else ever to float on the oceans. I can tell you I wouldn't mind shipping out on a vessel like that! To be able to sail the world at the bottom of the oceans! The things you could see. Whales feeding, maybe even the giant squid Capt. Stoddard used to tell me tales of."

Ben waxed romantic, his old love of the sea coming on strong. "Well, enough wool gathering. According to Crane, the Connors gang left last night. I want you two to try to find out where they went. Don't get tangled up with them, but we need to know where they are, or at least where they're headed." His gaze told the boys that this was serious business.

"Sure, Pa," said Joe draining his coffee cup. The two young men got up from the table and started to leave.

Hoss turned around and grabbed another biscuit, ripped it in half, placed a huge hunk of ham on one side, and closed it up. "I only had a part of my breakfast," he said apologetically as Little Joe pulled him out the door.

Ben eyed the destruction on the table and shook his head. Laughing, he grabbed a biscuit and he quickly busied himself with the papers on his desk.

Stepping out into the daylight, Joe and Hoss paused to take in the scene. Despite the early hour the dusty street was crowded with buggies and horses. Hoss put a hand on Joe's shoulder. "Come on, little brother. We got us some riding to do." And headed off toward the livery. As they walked Hoss finished his breakfast, Joe walked at his side, matching his gargantuan brother stride for stride.

At the stable, their horses were quickly brought out, each man caring for his horse like his best friend. Soon the horses had their saddle blankets smoothed, the saddles in place, and the girths cinched up. Joe pretended to adjust his saddle bags then suddenly gave the girth a hard pull, gaining a foot of strap. Hoss tightened up the girth on his horse and looked at it. "Come on!" he said to the horse, who looked around at him. Hoss pulled on the strap. It came only an inch.

"I'm not havin' you stick out your ol' stomach so's my saddle slides off. All of it!" he said glaring at the huge brown eyes of his mount. The horse exhaled explosively through its lips and Hoss pulled another foot of strap to snug the saddle into place.

"That's better," he told the horse with a small nod of his head. For its part, the horse looked adequately remorseful. Mounting with ease, the two men rode out of town at an easy canter.

The sun was shining brightly on the two riders as they trailed the outlaws. They quickly left the town behind the blue cloudless sky providing magnificent backdrop to the lush forest they had entered. Neither paid any attention to the profusion of nature's beauty, staying completely focused on the task at hand. Where the trail was clear, they rode at a gallop. Where it was almost missing, Joe would dismount and lead on foot, finding the clues that led them on: a hoof print here, a scrap of fabric there, or just an upturned rock, dark amongst its neighbors.

"Hoss, they're making a bee-line east nor'east. If they thought they were being followed, they'd be moving around." Joe stood up from the trail and looked off in the distance. "Where ever they're going, they're in a rush to get there."

"I reckon you're right. We'd better get back to town and tell Pa. I don't like it, Joe, I don't like it one bit. They keep a'goin' that way, and they'll run straight into the mine and Adam."

"All the more reason to get back to town!"

With that, Joe mounted his horse, pulled on the reins to turn his horse around and with a cry of, "He-yah!" headed off at a full gallop, leaving Hoss to follow in his wake.

Around two in the afternoon, Joe and Hoss returned to the hotel. They came into the room, still covered with the dust of the street and reported, "Pa, it looks like they've headed out northeast without stopping"

Hoss added, "I don't like it, Pa. You might almost think they was headed straight for the Ponderosa."

Ben paced the room. Finally he stopped, his mind made up. "That settles it. If they're headed for the ranch someone needs to warn Adam. Hoss I need you to help me to pack up things here, then make arrangements to leave town by rail. Get all of our stuff loaded on the train. You'll have to go with it. That way no one will wonder where we are. Joseph, I want you to send a wire to the station master in Los Gates and have horses ready for Hoss so he can bring our things overland back home." Ben gave his instructions to his sons like a commander going into battle.

"Yes, sir."

"And tonight, we'll go see how fast our new friends can get us home."

*****

Nelson looked up at the ladder of the control room and watched as a pair of booted feet descended from the deck. "Mr. Cartwright, welcome back."

Ben turned and shook his hand: "Call me Ben. We're all set and ready to help. You said you could get us back to the Ponderosa in a couple of hours?"

"That's right," said Lee, grabbing the mike from the periscope landing. Keying it, he asked, "Chip, how's it look out there?"

On the flying bridge, Mr. Morton continued his sweep of the horizon. "All clear."

Nelson and Crane led the Cartwrights over to a hatchway in the floor of the observation nose. Little Joe looked at it and said: "Isn't there just water down there?"

"This hatchway leads to our little flying fish," said Lee with a grin.

Just then the hatch opened, and Chief Sharkey popped out. "She's all ready, Skipper."

"Thanks, Chief."

"Gentlemen, have a safe trip," Nelson said. "Lee, keep in touch."

"Will do, sir," Crane replied. "If you'll follow me?" he said to the Cartwrights, and headed down into FS-1. Ben and Joe followed closely, but not without some obvious misgivings.

Inside, Kowalski was already sitting at the copilot's station, doing a final checkout.

"Ben, Joe, you've met Seaman Kowalski," Lee said.

Kowalski looked back from his chair and nodded a greeting as Lee pointed to the two rear seats and gestured for the two cowboys to be seated. While they were trying to fasten themselves in, Lee reached overhead and dogged the hatch. He then made sure that each of the Cartwrights was properly secured.

"All set, Ski?"

"All set, Skipper," came the confidant reply.

Lee dropped down into the pilot's chair and buckled himself in. He adjusted the zipper on his black leather combination flight suit/parachute/life-jacket and attached the throat mike around his neck. Triggering the throat mike, he said, "FS-1 to Seaview, we're ready for launch."

Nelson's voice came back through the speaker, "Seaview to FS-1. Releasing mooring clamps. Have a nice trip!"

Suddenly the flying sub shook gently from side to side and began to sink out of the landing bay. Joe's eyes opened up wide. He looked over to his father who was also wide-eyed. Ben gestured to Joe not to panic. Through the forward windows of FS-1 they could see the Seaview disappearing above them.

As soon as they cleared the docking bay, Crane started taking them forward. As they began moving, there was just a gentle whisper from the nuclear powered turbines. Slowly the mechanical manta slid underneath the nose of Seaview and began rising towards the surface. As she climbed, the turbines began to make themselves heard as Crane applied more and more power.

"It's a good thing it's dark," he said. "This way, no one will see us taking off."

"Taking off?" questioned Joe.

"FS-1 stands for Flying Sub One," Kowalski answered over his shoulder with a smile on his face.

Slowly, Crane increased the throttle until they were almost at flight speed when they broke the surface. Looking like a dolphin tail walking, the flying sub skipped along the surface for about 100 feet until with a blast of her jet turbines, she leaped into the air.

Now free from the thick medium of the ocean, she climbed rapidly into the atmosphere. Lee kept the angle of climb high so that in mere moments, they were thousands of feet above the surface of the ocean and hidden by the clouds. He climbed until they were above the cloud bank and leveled off at about 30,000 feet. Putting the flying sub into a gentle banking turn for a full 180 degrees, Lee brought the craft around until heading northeast and launched her like an arrow towards the Ponderosa.

"According to the coordinates you gave us, we should be at your ranch in about half an hour at this speed," Lee announced.

As they streaked through the skies, Joe and Pa nervously assured each other that they weren't scared at all. Listening in, Crane and Kowalski just grinned.

"You may as well sit back and enjoy the ride, gentlemen. You're in a mode of travel that won't be invented for quite some time yet."

Ben forced a strained chuckle, "I know there are folks out there working on all kinds of contraptions, but this is incredible!"

"Well, I don't want to say too much," Lee answered, "but there's going to be an explosion of new technology that will change the world as you know it."

As they flew through the night sky with the muffled whine of the atomic turbine droning on behind them, the four men sailed toward the Ponderosa. Little Joe craned his neck to see through the windows like a small child, marveling at how fast the darkened countryside flashed beneath them.

"Can you see people from this far up?" he asked.

"No," said Crane. "We're at 30,000 feet, and if anyone looked up in daylight, all they might see is a nondescript point in the sky. That's why this is such a good time to travel. Even if someone were looking for us, they'd never find us."

Consulting the charts, they flew on.

*****

While Ben, Joe, and Hoss had been visiting San Francisco, Adam was at the Ponderosa mine, busily teaching the Indians how to mine for their own mineral wealth. "Here," he said, his voice echoing slightly in the cavern, "this is good ore, this bluish rock. Over here," he said moving slightly and pointing at some stone on the wall, "this is worthless. Can you see the difference?"

The Paiute looked at him, his expression never changing. Adam repeated it in Paiute.

The Indians pointed to the blue rock then at the black ones giving each a different name.

"Exactly," said Adam. Then, grabbing a steel star bit and a five pound sledge hammer in his hand, Adam began to drill a hole in the mine wall. Adam showed them how to chip into the rock, each twist of the bit digging deeper and deeper into the stone, spreading the natural crack in the rock wider and wider. Once he had a two foot deep hole, Adam prepared for the day's excitement.

"See, it's easy," he said slipping one end of a six foot long pry bar into the crack. "Normally we'd blast this, but I don't want people afraid you'll use the explosive on them. We can do it the hard way just as well." Putting his weight into it he began pry the stone from the wall.

Two of the Paiute braves came over and added their strength to Adam's. In moments, the large chunk of cave material dropped to the floor with a heavy thud. In the space left behind, the sheen of pure silver was revealed.

"That is how you follow the vein of ore. Now we get rid of the waste rock," Adam said, pointing at the large stone they had just cut out of the mountain.

Smiling, the Paiute picked it up and carried it out, followed by Adam. As he stood up in the clear mountain air, he stretched from his toes to his head. Looking up at the sun he noticed that a good four hours had gone by. "Not bad for a day's work," he said to himself.

The Indians were showing each other the treasures that they had dug from the earth. One of the Paiutes approached Adam, "The Great Spirit sends many blessings. It is good that we are learning to use this one."

Adam grinned, "All blessings of the earth should be shared, not just taken by whites."

"We go now. Return in morning." He and Adam gripped forearms and parted. The Indians mounted their ponies and galloped off into the approaching dusk.

Adam walked away from the mine entrance to his campsite. He stirred the smoldering remnants of the afternoon's campfire and was rewarded with a wisp of smoke. A few minutes of coaxing and fresh firewood soon had a fire blazing again. As the light quickly faded, he looked at his small stash of provisions. He had hoped Hop Sing would have made it out here in time, but it looked like beans for supper again. Hours later, he lay on his bedroll, contentedly gazing at the stars through the clear Nevada skies.

His reverie was shattered by a sound, almost like thunder, but different in some subtle way. He looked around. There were no clouds overhead. Then from behind the mine, there came a sound of a tornado mixed with unending thunder. To Adam's ears it sounded like the end of the world! Adam took to his horse, heading for the sound, pulling his rifle from its scabbard as he rode through the dark.

On the other side of the hill, oblivious to the terror they were causing, the pilots of the FS-1 slowly settled her to the ground, her re-directed jets kicking dust up into the air. The small landing gear lowered from the recesses on the underside to lock in a tripod arrangement. As the sub came down, the wheels touched, and then driven by her mass, settled deep into the ground, until it appeared that the ship was resting on her belly. The whine of the turbines rapidly lowered and vanished. In the resultant silence, it looked as if the sub had always been there. Moments later, the rear hatchway cracked open, and out stepped its passengers.

"Well, this is as close as I felt we could set down," said Crane, continuing a conversation from inside the craft, "and not be seen, but I'm sure they heard us!"

"I don't mind the walk. I worry that the noise would be too much for the Paiutes," replied Ben. "I just don't want to scare them off. They're very suspicious of us, and something like this could really set them off."

As they stood there, they could hear the sound of a galloping horse approaching. The horse broke from the trees and its rider dropped from the saddle to lie in a covered position, his rifle trained on the newcomers. As he swung the rifle along, he took a careful look at his prospective targets in the moonlight and said, "Pa?"

Ben called out, "Hello Adam! Put that gun down, these are friends."

"Pa, why aren't you in San Francisco?"

"I was, an hour ago."

Adam walked over, lowering the gun, but looking at FS-1 warily and eyeing the two strangers with his father and brother. "You and Pa OK, Joe?" he asked.

"You're not going to believe this one," Joe answered. "This," he said, patting the hull, "is a flying submarine."

Adam nodded, "You're right. I don't believe you. Pa, what's going on? How? Why?"

Ben clapped his son on the shoulder, "Don't try to think about it, Adam. We'll explain as we go along. But Joe and I are fine."

"If you can give us a hand hiding this ship? We don't want it being discovered," said Lee.

"Sure," said Joe and Ben, who started grabbing branches. After a moments hesitation, Adam joined in, still in awe of the ship he was helping to disguise.

Kowalski excused himself and ran back in to the ship. He came out in a moment with a couple of portable flood lamps and one large pack, about two foot square and a foot thick, and two smaller ones. Stepping away from the flying sub, he turned the lights on, giving them plenty of light in which to work.

The sudden entrance of artificial light brought the Cartwrights to a standstill. While Adam stood in silent awe, Ben and Joe walked over to him.

"Amazing, isn't it, son?" Ben remarked quietly.

"Is this our future, Pa?" Adam asked.

"Yes, son, it is," he said, patting his son on the shoulder, "It is."

Kowalski took the pack, undid the straps and started pulling out netting. As soon as he had it clear of the packaging, Crane picked up an edge and the two started draping the camouflage netting over the hull as the Cartwrights came back with the first load of brush.

"Fantastic," breathed Little Joe as the high tech netting completely obscured FS-1.

Crane said, "Those branches will make this camouflage perfect!" He grabbed a few branches and started jamming them through the netting. By the time they were done, from ten feet away all that could be seen was a large bush. "As long as no one actually bumps into it, we should be perfectly safe leaving it alone."

"Let's head into camp, then, and you can explain everything to Adam," Ben suggested.

Adam said, "Let me go first and make sure it's safe." Picking up the packs and the floodlamps, the group moved off in the direction of the mine. As they came around to the mine opening, Ben held up his hand for them all to hold up. Through the leaves, they could see that Adam was alone. Ben stepped clear of the trees and waved to Adam. Adam signaled for them to all come down. The four men hiked down into the encampment, sliding slightly on the loose rocks. They kept looking around as they approached Adam.

"Don't worry," Adam said to Ben, "the Paiutes left just before sundown."

"How come?" said Ben.

"Well, we just succeeded in bringing out the first big piece of silver ore, and I guess they felt that was enough for one day. Funny, at first they were excited that they were receiving a blessing from the Great Sprit, but as they stood here, they seemed to become uneasy again. Good thing they left before you got here. They might have decided that it was the Thunderbird's displeasure."

Ben continued: "Well, let's get on with this, then. Adam, this is Captain Crane of the submarine Seaview. They're anchored in San Francisco harbor."

"Pleasure, Captain. I have to admit I'm impressed with your mode of transportation."

Lee smiled, "It gets us where we need to go. This is Seaman Kowalski," he continued, completing the introductions.

Ben said, "I'll fill you in on the rest of it later, Adam. Right now, we need to get some ore for these gentlemen. I promised them one thousand pounds of high grade silver ore. How much do we have?"

Adam shook his head, "As I said, we just took out our first piece of ore today. It's about 50 pounds and I want to leave it for them. There's plenty of ore in there, we can get at it easy enough now, we just have to dig, maybe blast a spot or two. With all of us working, it should only take us couple of days."

Crane asked, "Do you have enough supplies for all of us for two days?"

"No problem. Hop Sing is due out in the morning. I told him to bring the chuck wagon and provisions for myself and the six braves who are working with me. So unless you all eat like Hoss, we should be fine."

That sentence sent a grin through all the men. "Well," said Lee, "we're no strangers to hard work."

Looking up at the stars, Adam said, "We should all get some sleep, then. We have a full day in front of us tomorrow." He stirred the fire, banking the embers for the morning's cooking.

With that, they all walked off to their bed rolls and were asleep within minutes.

The next morning, the sun rose, promising heat and a long day. One by one, the men awoke. Adam had made coffee, and each helped themselves.

Ben broke the morning silence, "Well, since Hop Sing hasn't shown up yet, why don't we get to work?"

Adam bowed grandly and gestured towards the entrance of the mine. "Gentlemen, grab a lamp and head this way." Adam led them through the timber-shored opening of the mine. Inside it was damp and fetid. The smell of burning kerosene from the lamps inside made the air thick and hard to breath. "The ore near the mouth is O.K., but if you want the good stuff, we have to go further in," said Adam.

"We need the best you have," Lee responded.

"As you wish," and Adam continued leading them further into the mountain. Every ten feet, they passed timber shoring.

As the group proceeded, Kowalski eyed the roof warily. "I don't mind cramped quarters, but I don't like the thought of all this rock above me!"

"This is it, gentlemen," Adam's voice echoed in the darkness.

"This looks like plain old rock," said Ski.

"It is. The ore we're after is behind it. See this vein here?" Adam pointed. "It should thicken as we go."

"Behind it?"

"Yep. When they started mining out here, all they had eyes for was gold. Took them three years to realize that this 'worthless rock' was in fact high grade silver ore."

"So what do we do now?" asked Lee.

"Grab a pick and start digging it free of the rocks. Once we have a few holes drilled, we can blast a lot of the cover off."

There was a bit of scuffling as each of the men looked around in the dim light for the tools of the trade. It didn't take long for them to realize that it would indeed take much time and energy to pry sufficient material out of the mountain. Fifteen minutes with the star drill had Kowalski wish aloud for a laser, or at least a pneumatic jack hammer.

"No way to bring enough power, Ski." Lee commiserated "but at least we won't have to rely on blasting oil."

Kowalski caught the gleam in the Captain's eye and smiled. Another half hour of labor had Adam calling a halt.

"You've done great work," he told the men from the Seaview. "Are you sure you haven't done this before?" His smile deflected the scowls he received. "Joe, run out and bring in the keg of blasting oil from the wagon."

Lee spoke up "Hold up Joe. Adam, if it's all right with you, we've brought some explosives that might work a bit better."

Adam looked pensive "I don't know. We want this blast to just shear off the covering rock, not pulverize everything."

"Just show me what you want done."

Adam shook his head, but Ben said "Let them try, Adam. If it doesn't work, they're the ones who will have to clear out the mess."

"True. O.K." Adam pointed to the main wall, around which they had been drilling. "What we want to do is peel this away."

"Piece of cake," answered Crane. Opening his pack, he pulled out what appeared to be lumps of clay and a metal cylinder with wires at one end.

"That's it?" asked Joe incredulously.

"I've got enough in that bag to bring down this entire mountain."

Taking a lump the size of an apple, Lee slammed it into the wall. The Cartwrights dropped to the ground, expecting a huge explosion. Lee smiled.

"It's perfectly safe, unless one of these blasting caps is attached or it's on fire."

"What happens when it's on fire?" asked Adam.

Kowalski answered, "Normally it just burns. Heck, you can cook on it. But if you try to stomp it out -- boom."

Lee set the blasting cap and attached the wires. Waving everyone ahead of him, they made their way out of the mine. Lee attached the wired to a small silver box, inserted a key and twisted it. A small red light came on indicating 'armed'.

"Ready?" he asked. All nodded the affirmative. Lee pressed the button with his thumb. A low rumble shook the ground, then the blast roared out the opening of the mine shaft, sending debris cascading down the mountainside. Slowly the dust settled. Adam looked over at the captain.

"Impressive , but is anything left?" he asked.

"Lets go look," Crane replied.

The group made their way back into the shaft. Arriving at the blast site, Adam could see that the explosion had run along the vein, stripping off the waste rock like the peel off an orange.

"Fantastic. Now we clear up the mess and start pulling out ore."

Two hours later, as the five tired men came out for a break, the arrival of the chuck wagon brought a halt to the mining. The submariners vowed they weren't going back in the mine without the powerful floodlights from the flying sub instead of the dim glow of the kerosene lamps.

Hop Sing had indeed arrived with enough provisions for thirty men.

"Just in case Mr. Hoss come," he said in his heavily accented English. He was somewhat shocked to see his employer, but being the pragmatic man he was, he simply said, "Ahh, Mr. Cartwright, breakfast ready in two shakes."

Crane looked at his watch and said, "If you'll excuse me, I have to check in." With no further explanation he moved away from the group.

Once away from the noise and bustle of the creation of breakfast, Lee pulled out his pocket walkie-talkie, extended the antenna, and cupping his hands around the unit, spoke carefully into the mike: "Crane to Seaview, Crane to Seaview, over."

A moment later, "Seaview to Crane. How's it going Lee?" came the Admiral's voice.

"Slow, but we'll have it done in another day. We'll have pulled out 100 pounds of ore before this morning is over. It's hard work, but do-able and we are getting better at it.. With the rest of today and a full day tomorrow, provided the vein holds out , we should be able to get the job done."

"Good work, Lee," said the Admiral. "We're working on getting ready to go home. We'll be ready for you as soon as you can get the material. Seaview out."

"Crane out," Lee answered. Closing the walkie-talkie back up, he returned to the campfire.

"The Admiral sends his regards."

As they ate, Ben explained the Seaview's predicament to Adam. Adam wasted no time debating, especially after the sight he had seen earlier. "Oh, and we may have the Connor's to add to our troubles."

"You sure?" asked Adam.

"Hoss and I trailed them out of 'Frisco yesterday. They were headed due east. If they are headed here, they could be here by tomorrow," said Joe.

"We'll have to post a watch then, " Adam decided as Hop Sing called out, "Coffee ready".

*****

Working in the mine was backbreaking. The only good thing was that the heat of the day did not penetrate into the depths of the mine. Working by the combined light of kerosene lanterns and the two portable floods from FS-1, the men toiled. Leaning against the side of the excavation, his face and body caked with the blue clay that carried the silver ore, Kowalski called over to his Captain, "You know Skipper, you should have brought Patterson instead of me!"

"Why's that, Ski?" asked Crane. "Too much work for you?"

"Because this muck wouldn't have shown up against his uniform!"

Lee looked at his shipmate. His usually red coveralls were caked with stone dust. Normally, the silver rich dust turned everything a pale blue, but under the piercing light of the Flying sub's portable flood lights, Kowalski became a vivid azure. Caked by the sweat of his labor, he looked like a purple gnome.

Crane laughed, "I suppose we could get you a blue pair like Pat's!"

"Nah, then how would you tell us apart!"

"You'll do anything to get out of KP won't you!"

The both laughed and with their spirits raised a bit, they returned to the work at hand. Noontime found the five men sprawled out in the shade of the shaft entrance, trying to make the most out of the slight breeze. Hop Sing had brought over some cooled drinks and light food for lunch. The food was as yet untouched. They were more interested in catching their breath and rehydrating than eating at the moment. As they were making small talk, Adam continued to watch the hills around the mine, searching for signs of the return of his Indian protégés.

Looking north, he saw the Indians on the ridge observing him As he scanned to the west, he saw a movement in the brush. It was just a small branch moving, but the scarce wind did not reach that far -- it couldn't have moved that branch that much. He stared at the area and soon saw more movement among the trees.

Without changing his expression or position, he said in a low voice, "If you can, without making any sudden moves, I'd advise you all to get your guns and head back into the mine. I believe we're about to have some unwelcome visitors."

Crane and Kowalski's .45's were sitting beside them, as they had kept them close to avoid excess curiosity. They simply picked them up in a bundle with their shirts, and headed back towards the mine shaft. Little Joe and Ben had to work a little harder, but managed to pick up their gun belts without raising an alarm as they went to join the first two.

Adam's revolver was close at hand, but his rifle was leaning against the chuck wagon. Getting to his feet, he brushed the dust off his pants and carried his food plate over to the wagon. He knew the hidden bandits would not attack until they were all in position. Hopefully, that was a little while off still. Right now a diversion, any diversion, would slow them and buy much needed time to get to the mine, to safety. When he got to the chuckwagon, he whispered to the cook: "I think we're about to be attacked. I want you to walk over to the fire, pick up one of the plates then walk to the mine, yelling in Chinese."

Hop Sing looked worried at first, then smiled, "Hop Sing know what Mister Adam want, you watch!" The old Chinaman waddled over to the fire and picked up two dishes. Raising them above his head, he began shouting Cantonese at the mine entrance. He kept waving the dishes and shouting as he walked slowly to the mine. Adam watched until Hop Sing was only a few feet from the mouth of the mine. He then turned, picked up his rifle, grabbed the boxes of cartridges off the chuck wagon and bolted for the mine. He leapt over the remains of the fire and ran at full speed for the safety of the mine, reaching it just as the first shots rang out!

Hiding in the relative safety of the mine shaft, the six men were kept pinned down by a steady hail of gun fire. Every time one of the Cartwrights peeked out to snap off a few shots, they could see the bandits moving closer and closer.

"It's the Connors gang!" shouted Little Joe as he ducked for cover. The Cartwrights continued returning fire as bullets zinged and ricocheted around them. "There were 60 or so when we saw them ride out of San Francisco!" said Crane. "Is there anyway we can get some reinforcements? What about your Indian friends?"

More bullets zinged and pinged off the mine walls as Adam answered, "They'll probably just sit there and watch. They tend to leave whites fighting whites alone, and then move in to clean up what's left over!"

Ben called out, "Hop Sing, stay low!" as his cook crept near the mouth of the cave to see who was shooting at them. "What was that you were yelling as you came up here?"

"Recipe for pressed duck."

Ben smiled in spite of the situation.

Kowalski looked at his commander, gestured with his service automatic, and said, "Sir, isn't this an acceptable time to use these?"

Crane thought a moment. He knew that if something didn't happen soon, they were all going to die. "Kowalski, take this!" Lee said, tossing his pistol over to Kowalski. "Cover me -- I have an idea!"

Kowalski peeked out of the cave, marking his targets in his mind and yelled "NOW!" Crane bolted from the cave. Kowalski jumped into the middle of the cave opening with both .45's blazing. Thirty-six shots blazed out in fourteen seconds. In that incredible fusillade, 20 of the bandits dropped, never to rise again. The Cartwrights added their shooting to Ski's as Lee sprinted around the cave and disappeared through the brush behind the mountain.

Both clips spent, Kowalski dove back to the safety of the mine walls. The remaining bandits kept a continuous rain of lead headed into the mine.

Suddenly, a high pitched whine could be heard in the distance over the bandits continued attack. As the whine got louder and louder, the bandits slackened, then stopped their onslaught, wondering what was the source of this strange noise. The sound got louder, then started to fade. Ben looked at Kowalski. "Did he go back to your ship for help?"

*****

Lee sprinted from the cave mouth, skirting loose stones and scrub brush, grateful for the practice in broken field running he earned from dodging opposing linemen on the football field at Annapolis. As he covered the ground, bullets kicked up the stones all around him as the bandits tried to pick him off. He found himself wishing only for his favorite blocker from those academy days, but Chip was already busy guarding the Seaview in his absence.

Reaching the relative safety of the woods, he paused to catch his breath, but ducked and began running once again as bullets whined past his head. Coming out on the other side he dropped into the shadow of a boulder. Ahead of him he could see the pile of brush and camouflage that hid FS-1. Behind him he could hear the sounds of the gunfire. Quickly and expertly, he scanned the surrounding for signs of flanking bandits. Seeing none he sprinted straight for the rear hatch. As he ran, he kept expecting to feel the sledgehammer blow of a bullet in his back.

Reaching the flying sub, he ducked under the netting, unlocked and opened the rear door, slamming it shut behind him. Crane practically flew across the cabin to the pilot's chair. Firing up the engines and buckling up at the same time, he shoved the throttles up to full and launched her straight up, ripping free of the ground with an enormous roar. Lee headed away from the mine, climbing as fast as he could, the landing gear retracting automatically as the sub left the earth. FS-1 accelerated and climbed faster and faster as Lee kept the throttles at maximum. "I'll give them something to shoot at," he murmured to himself.

As he climbed, the netting broke away, tearing itself to shreds as the sub flew through the air. At 15,000 feet, he threw the flying sub into an Immelman turn, rolled again to get the rest of the netting to peel off and dove straight at the mine below. Faster and faster the sub tore through the air: 500...600...800 knots, timing his acceleration just right, he slammed the controls hard to the left and up and pulled 10g's in a snap turn just as he broke the sound barrier! The resultant shock wave was a "super boom." With the turn at the moment of breaking the barrier, not only was it 10 times louder than an ordinary sonic boom, but he was actually able to aim it at the center of the bandit attack! The result was a sonic blast that deafened the bandits and threw their attack into disarray.

Lee took the flying sub almost straight back up into the air, spinning as he went, trying to make it as flashy as possible. At the top of his climb, he held the sub against the sun in a hammerhead stall. On the ridge, the gathered braves of the Paiutes screamed their approval! They shook their spears and rifles at the sky and filled it with their war cry! Crane let the sub drop over backwards and realigned himself with his target. He repeated the supersonic attack with a hard turn to the right at the nadir of his flight, sending a second superboom right into the midst of the bandits.

After the second blast, Adam looked up at the ridge and saw what looked like the entire Paiute nation descending upon the encampment. For a moment the Cartwrights and Kowalski wondered if they now had two enemies, but this was quickly dispelled as the Indians swept over the bandits like a tidal wave, striking them down with rifle, lance, and knife. The bandits beset from both sides gave up the battle and now sought only to escape. Many went down with the lead charge, their screams of terror being abruptly silenced. Here and there, the desperadoes managed to bring down one of the warriors, but it was obvious who would be the victor in this battle. The bandit leader succeeded in reaching his horse, but as he struggled to mount, Little Joe took careful aim and struck him down.

As the Indians attacked, Crane circled the camp, adding a majestic watchful presence. When the rout was complete, he circled once more, climbed high in the sky, stalled with it silhouetted against the sun. He held the pose as long as he could, then let the sub nose over to the right, leveled off and disappeared with another thunderclap into the distance.

The Paiute rode up to Ben, and raised his hand in salute.

"Greetings, Ben Cartwright," called the Chief of the tribe in both Paiute and English.

Ben replied in both languages as well, "I am honored by your presence."

"When we saw the Thunderbird, we knew which side of the battle to join. It is good to know one's enemy!"

The warriors shrieked their battle cry, brandishing their weapons. Kowalski watched in wonder as the Paiutes plundered the bodies of the outlaws. Even the wounded braves helped gather up the rifles, pistols, and horses. The air was heavy with the smells of gunpowder and blood. The Chief turned to Adam and continued, "My braves will return here tomorrow to continue their learning."

Adam nodded and said, "We are in your debt."

The Chief shook his head. "This settles the debt that already existed between us. You are showing us how to gather for ourselves. In our father's time we hunted the buffalo. Now we hunt rocks!" The chief laughed. "But if it will let our people live in peace, it is worth it!" Raising his rifle to the sky, the Chief let loose with his war cry and spun his horse around. Digging his heels into the sides of his mount, he rode off as fast as the wind, closely followed by his warriors. Kowalski could do nothing but watch in fascination as the Indians rode off.

As the dust settled, Ben said: "Well, let's get to work cleaning up this mess!" And they began the unpleasant task of dealing with the deceased outlaws. As they started to dig the mass grave for the bandits, the high pitched whine of the flying sub was heard from behind the mountain. It increased in pitch as she came over the ridge and the roar became deafening as Lee set the craft down in the middle of the camp. Sand and dust blew everywhere before the powerful blast of the engines. The landing gear again was forced into the ground as the turbines shut down. Before the engines had completely stilled, the rear hatch opened and Captain Crane stepped out. He walked over to the gathered men, spread his arms wide and asked: "How's that for an entrance?"

"Magnificent!"

"What a machine!"

"Great idea, Skipper!" said Kowalski as he joined the group.

"Great shooting, Ski!" he answered. "Well, now that that little problem is taken care of, I suggest we get back to the job at hand. Kowalski, coffee break's over, lets get back to work!" Lee said with a smile.

Ski did a double take and mouthed the words "Coffee break?" to Little Joe. Joe started laughing and raced after the retreating back of the Seaview's captain.

The five men quickly dealt with the burial of the bandits and returned to the backbreaking labor of hauling the silver ore from out of the mine, while Hop Sing started piecing his chuckwagon back together.

That night, Lee's report to the Admiral was a simple, "Sir, we had a minor altercation with the locals, but everything is fine."

"We had a bit of a run in of our own," replied the Admiral. "How much longer do you think you'll be?"

"We should complete loading tomorrow afternoon and be ready to take off an hour or two after dusk."

"We'll be ready for you. Seaview out."

*****

While the men labored in the mine, Seaview had been busy as well.

Palmer had spent the first morning working with his two assistants and the boat's electricians going over every piece of equipment, cable, and programming for the time portal equipment. When he reported to Nelson that all that was needed was to redo the paint job, Nelson had put him out of his immediate thoughts. He started to lay out a plan to make use of the situation. Going up to the bridge, he said to the Exec, "Mr. Morton. I think the crew has had quite enough time goldbricking!"

Somewhat taken aback, all Chip could manage was, "Sir?"

Smiling, Nelson continued, "Rather than just hang around here, how about using Seaview as she was meant to be used?"

"Just what do you have in mind, Admiral?"

"We have the perfect opportunity to do a baseline survey of the ocean's quality in the 19th century. I want to start running a search pattern of the Pacific, centered on San Francisco harbor. We'll be taking water samples every hour. As long as we are in shallow enough water, at every sampling stop, we'll send divers our to collect samples and do a descriptive report on the health and population densities. Now I've worked out a survey pattern," he said, giving the map to Chip.

Chip said, "I'll get right on it, sir!"

"Get dive teams worked out, and report to me as soon as the samples start coming aboard."

"Aye, sir!" The mike practically leaped into his hand as he called out, "Engine room, all ahead one third." Consulting the charts, he added, "Come to heading 135. All off-duty officers report to the control room," and the Seaview was off on Nelson's program.

The Admiral began to leave, but turned as he thought of something "Oh, Chip, what's the status of surface traffic?"

"We've modified the sonar to pick up the wooden ships better, and there is nothing on the surface within five miles of us at the moment."

"Good, keep her at periscope depth, just the same."

"Aye, sir."

With this new set of orders, the crew came alive. This is why they had all agreed to sign up with Nelson in the first place. All through the boat there was the buzz of activity. Each crewman leapt into the search for knowledge in anyway he could, whether it was reading off data from instruments on salinity profiles or suiting up and gathering samples of flora and fauna for later analysis back on board. Most of the time, Seaview's missions had been dealing with one disaster after another, or some clandestine operation for the State Department, or saving the world from an alien invasion. Rarely did they get to do what Nelson had really intended for the sub to do. Nelson noticed this increase in his crew's morale and thought that maybe this little time jaunt was just the thing they needed, provided they could get home again.

Hour after hour, the Seaview criss-crossed the harbor and the waters around it. Every half hour the periscope was raised to verify the surface traffic. Each time, there was a certain square rigger, getting closer and closer with each encounter . . . .

*****

MacPherson strode the deck, frustrated and excited at the same time. Somewhere out there, he knew was the whale he was searching for. This one would make his name. Hour after hour they had been going up and down the coast looking for it. Every so often, they'd get a tantalizing glimpse of the thing, but never close enough. She didn't spout like a normal whale, just a little ripple on the surface, but it was enough to be spotted, enough to know it was the great whale he was after. MacPherson kept walking around, trying to think of a way to outwit this thing. Suddenly he stopped pacing. He strode up to the mast and called up to the lookout: "Keep your eyes peeled for a feeding frenzy! If you see any disturbance on the surface, let me know!"

"Aye, aye!" came down from above.

"Feeding frenzy?" asked his first mate.

"Aye," answered the captain in his thick Scot's brogue. "The salmon are running, heading for freshwater. Where the salmon are, there'll be the dolphins feeding on them. Where the dolphins are, there'll be killer whales. Now I'm bettin' that this isn't a baleen whale. A baleen would be swimming at random, trying to find whatever krill it could. But this is going from one location to another and stopping at each one. It's got to be going after meat, and something this size will want a bigger meal than just a couple of fish. I'm betting that the killer whales will be just to this thing's liking."

"Yes, sir!" said the mate and MacPherson went back to pacing the deck.

An hour later from the port side a cry came out, "Mon Capitain, is this what you're looking for out there?"

"Who's that?" muttered the Captain to the first mate.

"Some French journalist we picked up in town. He wanted to see what a whaling trip was like and is paying handsomely."

"What's he blathering about then?"

The lookout, his attention focused by the call from the deck, sang out, "Captain! Feeding on the port side!"

MacPherson whipped out his spy glass and took a closer look. "Aye! That be it! Helm, take us 20 degrees to port. Take two reefs in the mainsails and drop the top gallants!"

Scanning the horizon, he saw the black fins of the orcas approaching. He laid odds that soon his prize would be following.

Under the surface of the ocean, Seaview cruised along oblivious to the whaler's plans. The Admiral and the XO were in the observation nose watching the sea life around them. Suddenly Patterson called out: "Mr. Morton, we have something ahead on the surface. Sounds fairly small, could be Orca."

"Where away?" called out the Exec.

"Bearing 298 mark 2, range 2000 yards."

"Bring us about helm, bearing 298 mark 2. All ahead one third."

Nelson turned to Chip, "You read my mind."

"If I can't start to anticipate at least some of your commands by now, sir, you'd better get yourself another Exec," said Chip with a smile.

Placing a fatherly arm on Morton's shoulder, Nelson said, "You know, lad, except for the circumstances that brought us here, the last 2 days have been fantastic. Lee's reports sound as if there've been no real problems. Palmer claims that he's ready and that we'll have no trouble getting home. Pristine ocean life. The numbers of marine life alive now simply boggles the mind. I just wish Lucius were here to see all this!" Nelson sighed softly in contentment.

Within minutes, the Seaview had approached within a few hundred feet of the whales, who were still closing on the dolphins. Nelson ordered the sub slowed to match the speed of the whales. "Aren't they magnificent?" Nelson murmured.

"Yes, sir," said Chip. "And look how the calves are sticking close to their mothers. I don't think I've ever seen so many at one time before."

At that moment sonar called out again, "Admiral, I'm picking up some kind of surface vessel."

Nelson and Chip headed back to the control room. As they approached it, Nelson called "Up scope." As soon as it began to rise, he dropped the handles with a practiced motion and began searching the horizon. Suddenly he stopped, adjusted the view and said, "Chip, what do you make of this?" and stood aside.

Mr. Morton moved to the scope and stared at the view presented. "Looks like a 19th century whaling ship. Yes, they're launching long boats, and you can see the harpoonists!"

Nelson said, "They must be after the Orca."

"Well not today. With your permission, sir?"

"Be my guest."

*****

On the whaler, looking out on the scene, Angus saw the telltale wake in the water.

"Away the long boats! There she be on the port side! Harpoonists! I'll have the hide of the man who misses!"

Two long boats were dropped off the side. The twenty foot wooden boats seemed tiny against their chosen prey, the men aboard them breaking their backs as they bent to the oars. Each sweep of the oars launching the boats another thirty feet. At the bow of each, a single man with harpoon in hand, determined to get in the first shot. Closer and closer they came to the small wake, knowing that it meant that the huge creature was right below them.

As they neared, the tiny "fin" disappeared beneath the sea. Both boats stopped. Their eyes strained for a target, the sun's glare denying them a view beneath the waves. Without warning, the water began to boil around them and the huge silvery bulk rose ahead of them. Both men let fly with their harpoons at the same moment only to watch them glance off the creature with the resounding ring of metal on metal! The upper half of Seaview broke the surface and slowly began to turn to face the square rigger.

"Back to the ship!" the sailors cried and spun the long boats around and pulled for all they were worth! Barely 300 feet separated the two vessels. Angus MacPherson stared wide eyed at the gray behemoth: "What in the name of God is that!" he exclaimed. His eyes grew even wider as this enormous monster from the deep began to advance on his ship.

"Hard a-starboard! Unfurl the sails!" he cried, the terror unconcealed in his voice.

The crew leapt to their stations to do what they could, but Angus knew with cold certainty that they would not be able to move fast enough to avoid the coming disaster. His hands gripped the rail, muscles straining so that the tendons stood out like the taut rigging of his vessel. The creature accelerated towards them, its bow wake thrusting the long boats aside like dry leaves before a storm. The huge bulk bore down on them. The crew stared in disbelief. Each man knew that in a moment they would be destroyed by the very prey they had hoped to kill. One hundred feet out, it began to submerge. At fifty feet only the huge dorsal fin showed. His face ashen, MacPherson watched as it headed straight for him.

"Hang on!" he bellowed, his eyes glued on the eminent destruction. The fin dropped like a stone and sank below the water, disappearing beneath them leaving just a roil of water in its wake. The crew rushed to the starboard rail and looked down, but there was no sigh of the creature, just a gentle rocking as its wake brushed the whaler. The passenger rushed to the captain: "Where did it go? Will you be going after her again, Monsieur?"

In the silent pause, MacPherson drew a deep breath, and let it slowly out, as if afraid that to do more would end this brief respite of life. Looking at his hands, trembling and gripping the rail, he slowly and deliberately released his hold. Still staring at the water, mockingly calm, he answered quietly: "Nae laddie. Didn't you hear those harpoon strikes? That was no whale, that were a ship! Her coming at us was to warn us off, and I'm no fool to tempt fate." He yelled at the ocean, "Do you hear me? I'll not trouble you or these whales again!"

"Pity," said the passenger, enunciating his words carefully in his French accent. "You know, my cousin would have loved to have seen this," he reflected, as he continued his note taking.

"Mr. Verne," called the first mate, coming alongside him, "let's leave the captain alone now," and gently led the Frenchman away. MacPherson continued to stare at the calm water, aware now more than ever of the wonders beneath the ocean's surface.

One hundred fifty feet below that surface, Nelson and Chip were still laughing over the stunt they had just pulled. The crew took this as a free license, and the control room rang with shouts, cheers, and catcalls!

"Oh, how I wish I could have seen their faces as we went under them!" said Chip.

"You handled that perfectly," the Admiral said, "And one thing's for sure: I bet it will be a long time before they try hunting Orca again! Now, lets get back to observing that pod of whales!"

"Aye aye, sir," came Chip's bright reply, his laughter still sounding in his voice. "Helm, hard right rudder. Bring us about to bearing 169. Slow to one third."

The Seaview came about and slowly returned to the feeding whales, using visual and sonar guidance. When the sonar operator reported that the sea above was clear, Nelson risked raising the periscope to check for their old pursuer, but the whaling ship was no where to be seen. The only ocean predators remaining were the one's nature had put there in the first place.

*****

Staggering out of the rear hatch of the flying sub, Kowalski wiped his forehead with his arm and leaned against a nearby rock. "That's all we have room for, Skipper," he announced, sagging against the support.

Gratefully, Lee dropped the bluish mass he was carrying and leaned against chuck wagon. "Ski, you'd better go get the flood lights."

"Aye, sir."

Kowalski moved off and returned shortly with the two anachronisms. The rest of the men now gathered around the two seamen.

"Ben," Lee began, "I don't know how to thank you enough for this."

"No thanks necessary," Ben replied. "That ride in the flying sub was worth any amount of silver I might have. I never dreamed I'd see something like your submarine while I was at sea, and it's a memory I'll cherish for the rest of my life. Besides, without your help, who knows what would have happened when the Connor's gang showed up."

"You needn't worry about us telling anyone of your being here," said Adam. "While most of us are capable of restraint," he continued while eyeing Little Joe, "no one would believe us anyway. They'd lock us up for sure if we even mentioned a giant submarine, let alone a flying one!"

This brought a chuckle from everyone and a "What do you mean -- 'most of us'?" from Little Joe, who gave his older brother a not-so-gentle tap on the shoulder.

"Can we give you a lift back to San Francisco?" Lee asked the elder Cartwright.

"No thanks! As much as I enjoyed the ride, once is enough for me. Besides, by now, Hoss has our gear well on its way home, so there's no reason for heading back."

"What about our little altercation here?" Crane said.

"Not to worry," said Adam. "We'll tell the sheriff all about how we and the Indians defended the mine from claim jumpers. That will be justification enough and I doubt he'll ask the Paiute about the appearance of the Thunderbird. Even if he did, he'd just write it off to too many mushrooms."

"In that case," Lee said, "we'll be on our way. Good-bye, Mr. Cartwright, Joseph, and good-bye Adam," he said while shaking their hands. "Ben, I'd have been proud to have served with you. You must have made your captain grateful for your service."

Kowalski called out, "Good-bye all, and Hop Sing, the food was great! I wish you could come with us and teach Cookie a few things!"

The Chinese cook smiled and went back to his cooking. Crane entered FS-1 followed by Kowalski who closed the hatch and secured it. The two men paused long enough to put their shirts and jackets back on, grateful for the cooled air from the purification system. Kowalski looked at the cabin. "Man, it's going to take a week to get this clean!"

Lee smiled, "I think under the circumstances, I can get the Chief to assign that duty to Patterson."

"Yeah, that will probably give him just the incentive he needs to finish getting his flight rating! Skipper I only have one question."

"What's that?"

"Have you ever seen Snow White, sir?"

"Yes," answered the captain, unsure of where the line of questioning was going.

"Well sir, can you tell me how those seven dwarfs had the energy to sing and dance?" Kowalski asked with a smile on his face.

As he tiredly plopped down in the command chair, Lee just shook his head and laughed. "I have no idea!" He could see the cowboys moving away from the flying sub in expectation of the air blasts to come. He and Kowalski began to go over the take-off check list. As they snapped switches and checked readings, the nuclear powered turbines began their high pitched whine. Slowly it increased in pitch and volume as the engines were brought up to speed. The last items verified, Crane took hold of the two joystick controls. Twisting them inward to trigger the launch routine, the engines roared as they strained to lift the massive frame of the sub against the pull of gravity. As FS-1 slowly cleared the ground, billowing clouds of dust were kicked up, completely obscuring his view of the ground.

Outside, the Cartwrights had to keep backing up and shielding themselves from the miniature dust storm. As the roar faded into the distance, the dust settled leaving only the star-filled Nevada sky and a small yellow object rapidly disappearing towards the horizon. Ben, with an arm around the shoulders of his sons said, "Come on boys. The fun's over, and we have a ranch to run!" The three moved off, back to their normal lives.

*****

Captain Crane triggered his throat mike and said: "FS-1 to Seaview, FS-1 to Seaview, come in Seaview."

Spark's southern drawl came back almost immediately. "Seaview to FS-1, we read you, Captain. Stand by for Admiral Nelson."

There was a short pause, then Nelson's voice came through, "How did it go, Lee?"

"All according to plan. We have just over 1,200 pounds of high grade silver ore on board. What's your present location?"

"Latitude 37 degrees, 67 minutes north, Longitude 123 degrees, 30 minutes west. We're just off the Farallon Islands."

Checking the onboard navigation system, Lee said, "We'll be there in 28 minutes, FS-1 over."

"We'll be waiting for you, Seaview out."

The Flying Fish hurtled through the rarefied air until it neared the Seaview's location. Crane twisted the throttles out and cut their speed to a mere 100 miles per hour and nosed the ship over. Down toward the ocean they plummeted, like a pelican after its prey. Lee kept backing down the throttle, as the ocean's surface flew towards them. Just before they hit, Kowalski muttered, "I hate this part."

The flying sub hit the water and the sudden deceleration from 80 knots to 5 knots threw both the men forward in their seats. If it were not for the strength of the safety harnesses they wore the would have been plastered against the Herculite front windows. The switch from aircraft to submarine complete, Lee swung around to line up with the homing signal from the Seaview. The view through the cabin window showed an endless blue, twinkling with plankton. With the grace of a manta, the flying sub glided through the ocean.. At the limit of their vision, the gray ghost of the Seaview appeared.

"We're still two hundred feet away, Skipper. I don't think I've ever seen this much visibility."

"Probably won't again," said Lee.

Lee nosed the boat into a gentle dive and aimed at the Seaview's middle. As they neared the hull, he gently banked her to starboard and slowed, gliding to a stop directly beneath the launching bay.

He began the docking sequence, raising FS-1 straight up into her docking bay beneath Seaview's bow. As the docking clamps took hold, he powered down the engines and put the miniature reactor into stand-by mode. Undoing their harnesses, the two seamen left their seats and headed for the overhead hatch. Crane was about to open the hatch when the wheel spun, seemingly of itself, and the hatch lifted up. He climbed up to see Chief Sharkey standing right by the hatch he had just opened, with the Admiral and Chip forming a welcoming party.

Nelson stepped forward as Lee said, "Permission to come aboard, sir?"

"Granted and gladly!" responded Nelson.

"Chief, we have a hold filled with silver ore. I believe that Dr. Palmer is waiting for it?" said Crane.

"Aye, sir. All right, you lugs," he said to the half dozen crewmen standing by, "let's get this thing unloaded! Kowalski, show them where you have it stashed."

"O.K., Chief," Kowalski said. "Come on guys, the Skipper and I put in all in here, the least you can do is carry it out!"

"Is Palmer really ready?" Lee asked the Admiral.

"He claims he is, and I've checked his calculations. If it can be done, we're going to do it. It will take all day to get the ore converted into useable material and about 2 hours to get it painted over the damaged sections on the deck.

"Great, then I have time to catch a nap before I come back on duty," Lee said with a smile.

"You can sleep all day, as far as I'm concerned," Nelson said as he clapped him on the shoulder.

The frenzy of activity on board the super sub intensified, if that were possible. Those crewmen who were assigned to the research duty worked frantically to gather as much data as they could in expectation of their return home. Carefully, all of the remote devices used were retrieved. All the samples were preserved and stored as if for heavy seas. No sense risking them after what they had all gone through to get them. The ship's inventory was carefully checked to ensure that not even a stray zip-lock bag had been left behind to contaminate the time stream.

Meanwhile, Nelson and Palmer worked on readying the boat for the time journey. After a short rest (mostly consisting of a shower, sandwich, and coffee), Lee headed for the missile room to see how they were getting along.

He entered the room, ducking slightly to get through the water tight door, to see a scene from Dante's inferno! Sparks were flying everywhere! The cacophonous clang of metal on metal rang in his ears accompanied by the deep crunch of rocks being pulverized. Smoke billowed from a small furnace. At first glance it almost looked like the boat was being blown apart from the inside! As he took in the view, however, he could see the huge exhaust tube sucking the air from the inside of Seaview, passing it through coolers and scrubbers and dumping it on the surface. There were three damage control parties with fire hoses and extinguishers positioned at strategic points around the workers so that nothing could cause any damage. Surrounded by these safety measures were four heat suited figures working around the machines.

Where did this stuff come from? Lee wondered. I've never seen anything like this onboard before"

As if in answer to his unspoken question, two of the hooded figures came toward him. As they approached, one of them lifted off the hood to reveal the familiar face of Admiral Nelson, who was smiling at him.

"Is it tomorrow already? I thought you were taking a nap," Nelson asked.

"You know I couldn't sleep with all this racket going on!" Crane responded, his face echoing his mentor's smile. "Where did you get all this equipment?"

"Ask our friend here," The Admiral said gesturing to the still hooded figure beside him. At that gesture, the hood came off and there was Chief Sharkey, sporting a grin that would get him slapped in any halfway decent bar.

"Oh, this stuff?" he said innocently "The Admiral mentioned he might be needing it, so I tinkered it up with the help of a couple of the guys."

Lee nodded, his smile still glued on his face. He would never cease to wonder at the abilities of his shipmates. "So what am I looking at?" he asked the Chief.

"Well, that crunching you hear is the ore you and Ski so kindly dug out for us, sir. We're pulverizing it so it's ready for the next phase."

Nelson took over the narrative, "We take the powdered material and heat it up in those large crucibles, over where Palmer is standing."

"Who's that with him?" Crane asked.

"Patterson," Sharkey quickly answered. "After he heard from Kowalski what he had done, I couldn't keep him from volunteering. Couldn't stand the thought of Ski having all the glory!"

Crane and Nelson both chuckled aloud, then Harry continued, "Palmer and Patterson are cooking the mixture and adding salt. Yes, salt," he repeated at Lee's shocked look. "We've been adding about a cup per pound of ore."

"At least there's no shortage of that on board," said the Captain.

"From there," the Admiral continued, "Palmer pours it out into one centimeter thick sheets," pointing to the trays racked up near the intakes of the exhaust blowers.

"When it's cool, we grind that up and mix it with a blend of alcohol, xylene, and turpentine to produce the paint. Fortunately, we have enough of those on board. I thought we loaded it so we could clean the paint off after this experiment was over. Now we'll have to get more when we return to the Institute."

"That's one set of requisitions I won't mind filling out," Crane said, watching Palmer's assistants feeding the sheets of cooled material into what looked like a giant paper shredder. He shifted his shirt collar in the uncomfortable heat.

"I had enough of this kind of heat at the mine, so with your permission, Admiral?"

Nelson grinned and said, "Go on, get out of here."

Crane threw them a snappy salute and headed forward.

*****

Two days later, all was ready. The silver "paint" had been carefully applied to the deck, repairing the lightning damaged portions and recoating a bit of the original circuit. Massive cables had been run from the reactor room to the outer hull to conduct the extra voltage they would need. Normally, they could send a charge of 150,000 volts through the hull, but this would require 100 times that amount, although only for a short period of time.

The sea was calm, with only a gently blowing breeze ruffling Nelson's red hair. He looked down at the deck from his vantage point on the conning tower. A few crewmen were walking the circuitry painted on Seaview's hull to catch any imperfection. Beside him, Captain Crane and Dr. Palmer were awaiting his approval.

Nelson looked at the sky between the newly installed steel cage bars mounted to the top of the sail. Not a cloud to be seen from horizon to horizon. Only a few birds in the distance to offset the perfect blue. He felt an odd mixture of serenity and anticipation. Excited at throwing the gauntlet of science at the universe, confident that he was right, and humbled by the majesty of nature all at the same time.

"Take a good look, gentlemen. After today, I doubt you'll see a sky this perfect again in your entire lives," Palmer said.

"If we get back," said Crane, unable to resist the jibe.

"Don't worry. I've checked and rechecked my calculations. I even let Harry go over them."

Nelson smiled at this.

"I'll get us home," Palmer finished flatly.

Nelson looked back down as one of the blue suits called up, "All finished sir! Everything is ready!"

"Good, then clear the deck and get below," Nelson ordered. He turned and looked first at Lee, then Palmer. "Well, let's get going, Doctor."

"OK, Harry," Palmer answered. "Here we go!" and he pressed the far left switch on the time control panel. Just as last time, they could hear the Seaview's nuclear reactors come on line. A gentle throb began to be felt through the deck of the sub.

"Stage One initiated," Palmer said. He pressed the second button and the reactors answered the call.

"This time, generator #1 is the only one we're using for the portal generation," Palmer said to Crane. "We're using #2 to put a 1.5 million volt spike into the hull."

The silver lines on the deck began to glow.

"Doesn't that put us at risk up here?" asked the Captain.

"No, Lee," Nelson replied. You see these steel bars we welded above the flying bridge? These complete the cage around us so now we are protected by the 'skin effect'. Any electrical charge will only run on the outer surface. No matter what the voltage, you could touch the inside of the bars and be perfectly safe."

"Since we're finished with basic electricity," said Palmer sarcastically, "we'll engage the temporal field oscillation units." As he hit the third button, the tracery on the deck glowed brighter and once again began to appear to leave the hull and float a few inches in the air above it.

"There's the portal!" called out Palmer, and in front of Seaview, the energy ring sprang into view.

"When do we kick in reactor #2?" Crane asked above the noise.

"Just after we go to full power," Nelson replied.

"Which we're doing right now!" cried Palmer, hitting the final button.

The sound of reactor #1 reached its fever pitch. The ring of crackling energy expanded to almost twice the width of Seaview.

"Anytime you're ready, Harry," Palmer said with a grin on his face. As Nelson reached for the reactor control, Lee asked: "Dr. Palmer, exactly when will we return?"

"According to my calculations, just a few seconds after we originally left. Why?"

"Oh, no!" Lee blurted as Nelson's hand threw the reactor switch. Lee grabbed the mike, "All hands brace for . . ." His words were cut off by the electrical pyrotechnics produced by the second reactor's millisecond output. The air became alive with electrical sparks and cascading sheets of energy from the portal. In a blink of an eye, all light went out . . .

. . .only to be replaced with the blue glare of a lightning flash and a deafening crash of thunder! Rain was pelting them from every angle and the Seaview was thrown from side to side as she materialized in the middle of a gale strength thunderstorm!

"Get below!" bellowed Nelson smashing the red cut-off button. As the mighty sub was hurled from side to side like a child's toy by the storm. Nelson, Crane, and Palmer struggled to get through the hatchway. Slowly, they made it down the ladder, as they were thrown from port to starboard with each shift of the boat. Gallons of sea water poured through the hatch into the sub as waves broke over the gunwale. Once all were in the small access room, Lee pulled the hatch shut and spun the wheel locking into place. The moment it had closed, Nelson grabbed the mike and ordered, "Dive, Chip, dive! Get us under this storm!"

The warning klaxon sounded almost immediately, and the Exec's voice cut though the din, "Dive, dive, full down on the plane, flood negative!"

In less than a minute, the rocking stopped and the three men were able to continue their soggy decent into the body of the Seaview.

"Chip!" Crane called out as he descended the ladder. "Level off at 150 feet."

"Aye, sir," said Mr. Morton. "What happened? Are we home?"

"I think so," said Nelson.

"I forgot that since we left in a storm, we'd return in it," said Palmer, shaking water off himself.

"But is it the same storm?" asked Crane.

Just then Sparks called out from the radio shack, "Admiral?"

"Yes, Sparks?"

"Suh, Ah have contact with the Institute. They want to know how the experiment went."

Laughing, Nelson said, "Well, that answers that. Tell them, um, tell them that it exceeded expectations. Captain, take us home."

"Aye, sir. Chip, set course for Santa Barbara, all ahead two thirds!"

"Two thirds, aye!" answered the Exec, a huge smile on his face, and the Seaview headed home.

*****

Safely docked at her home berth, Seaview lay at rest, indifferent to the ordeal she had just been through. On her deck a dozen men labored with brushes, paint stripper, mops, and paint brushes to remove all traces of her last trip.

Looking down from the conning tower, Chip feared that it would be days before the last of the silver stuff was off his boat. "Riley, you missed a spot!" he called out.

Riley pushed back his blond hair and turned around. A minuscule fleck of silver sat trapped in one of the metal ridges. "How does he do that?" he wondered as he set about getting it off.

On the aft deck, Lee and the Admiral were supervising the removal of the last of Palmer's equipment. "Easy there," came the Chief's voice from the bowels of the ship. The crane slowed as it lifted the huge time generation equipment through the hatchway.

Nelson walked over to the edge of the hatch, gingerly eyeing the equipment being lifted above him. "How's it going, Chief?"

Gazing up at his commander and friend, Sharkey answered, "That's the last of it, sir. We're buttoning up now!"

"Good work. Once you're finished, you can authorize your men some shore leave."

"Aye, sir."

Nelson turned and saw Palmer approaching, followed by his two assistants.

"Well, Harry, it has been great working with you!" Palmer said, extending his hand.

Taking it, Nelson agreed, "It has been interesting, but why the past tense?"

"Well, I've decided that perhaps at sea isn't the best place to continue my research. I'm taking the government up on its offer of a desert location. At least I won't have to worry about thunderstorms!"

Nelson grinned and said, "We'll miss you Russ. Good luck, and keep me posted."

"Will do. Thank you as well, Captain. We would never have made it back without your efforts."

"All in the line of duty, Doctor," replied Crane with a smile.

"All right then. Tony, Doug," Palmer called out to his assistants "Let's get going. We have a lot of work to do!" and the three of them headed off to a waiting limousine.

"Do you think he'll be able to control this?" Lee asked Nelson.

"Either that or he'll blow up the desert trying!" Nelson replied. "Come on, Lee, let's go see what new disasters Cathy has waiting for us." And the two men headed off towards Nelson's office.

The End

(well, sort of...)



Copyright 1999 by Bruce Strong
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