NIMR Reports is a Fan Fiction Magazine on the World Wide Web for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea starring Richard Basehart and David Hedison
A lightning bolt slashed through the night air, smashing the earth with shuddering intensity. People screamed, running from a glowing crater where moments before had stood simple homes at the south edge of the city. What in the name of Heaven? Prince Atmatal looked up into the hard brilliance of the star-studded sky. Not lightning. Something had fallen from the very heavens. A sign? Of good or ill? The temple gongs high on the western ridge rang out over the city. Fires were raging. "Heavens be merciful!" he cried, leaping down the marble stairs --
Captain Lee Crane jumped to his feet in darkness and silence. No light. No sound but the faint rumble of Seaview's mighty engines. No sensation but the soft caress of air flowing through the ventilation system. Aware of cold metal under his bare feet, Crane sat down again on his bunk, running a hand through his curly, dark hair. Some dream . . . my imagination is really running wild this trip. If only Uncle Alex hadn't filled my head with all those stories. How old was I? Seven? Eight? Atlantis, indeed!
Despite himself, Crane chuckled. Haven't seen the Admiral so happy in months. His pet project finally funded -- fully and amply funded. A colleague with the same enthusiasm -- they've been up half the night for the last week hashing over this theory and that. This cruise is doing the Admiral good -- getting away from the bureaucratic hassles of the Institute. Ah, well -- it's a living, I suppose. If a couple of eccentric millionaires allowed themselves to be persuaded by Dr. Baker and the Admiral to pay for Seaview for a couple of months, who am I to argue? Who knows, smiled Crane, maybe Atlantis was a real place after all, but --
In the darkness, an image formed before Crane's eyes: white columns, a balcony overlooking a bustling city, and . . . a woman . . . lovely. He could see the silky smooth skin of her bare shoulder, her toga accentuating her slender form. She was smiling at him. A small boy with curly, black hair looked at him with wide brown eyes and clung to her leg.
Crane shook his head and blinked hard. Only the darkness of his cabin now. Must have fallen asleep sitting up. Might as well lay down before I fall on the deck. But -- was that the cry of a gull? Could have sworn . . . Lee, you're half asleep, old boy. Might as well go all the way and have done with it.
As Crane settled back down under the covers, his last waking thought was of the woman. "Jemani," he mumbled and a slight smile curved his lips.
* * *
"Come here, Lee," beckoned Nelson as Crane stepped through the Wardroom door. "You have sharp instincts -- I want you to see these charts."
Crane leaned over the charts and papers strewn over the largest Wardroom table. "These are all you're basing your search pattern on?"
"Captain." Dr. Baker peered intently over his bifocals at Crane. "We have performed extensive research on all theories regarding Atlantean mythology -- archeology, migratory paths of ancient European tribes, systematic study of folklore -- as well as scientific analysis -- geology, plate tectonics, ocean current patterns, volcanism." Dr. Baker's precise voice adopted a lecture style.
Crane smiled inwardly, keeping his face neutral. He could imagine the old professor facing a room full of freshman. Dr. Baker continued.
"We know that Atlantis must exist in this precise area." He indicated a large scale undersea topographical chart of the mid-Atlantic basin. A section was outlined by penciled in boundaries.
Precise area? thought Crane. Must be several hundred square miles at least. He carefully studied the charts, a feeling of deja vu rising in him. Hmmm . . . that line of undersea mountains looks familiar. He mentally shook himself. It would take years to find even a large city -- it was like looking for a needle in a hay stack. His skepticism must have shown on his face, for Dr. Baker looked sharply at him.
"The difficulty we have, Captain, is in conducting a systematic search to sample the most likely seamounts and underwater mesas. Unfortunately -- "
"The area is too large for an exhaustive search, Lee," broke in Nelson. "We cannot merely perform a conventional, computerized search pattern. We need to sample likely areas. You and Seaview's senior officers are familiar with the seaports, islands and ocean topography of half the world. I want you to take this search pattern, evaluate it, and look for improvements."
"Yes, Captain," agreed Dr. Baker, "an exhaustive search would take decades. We have funding for three months. We need to refine our calculations with the special knowledge of experienced personnel."
"Yes, sir," murmured Crane. He frowned in concentration at the topographical charts, as if . . . as if he was trying to remember. "Your search pattern favors these sub-sea mesas," he stated suddenly.
"Yes, Lee. We know Atlantis once was an island, so an undersea mount is the most likely -- "
The certain statement took Nelson somewhat aback.
Crane continued in a preoccupied tone, "Atlantis collapsed from underneath -- into a crater like when they do those underground nuclear tests in Nevada -- take away all the material underneath an area, and the surface collapses downwards. We need to look for a bowl or . . ." Crane began to leaf purposely through the small scale charts.
"Interesting theory, Lee," puzzled Nelson. "What do you base it on?"
Crane did not reply at once. "Ah," he pulled out the detailed chart for an area just north of the projected target area of Dr. Baker's search pattern.
"Now, if I was going to make a guess at the old coastline, I'd say here." Crane began to sketch in a surprisingly detailed coastline, including a large bay whose narrow mouth was flanked by two steep hills, now undersea mounts: a perfect harbor . A long, bowl-shaped depression stretched "inland" from this harbor area, overlooked on the west side by a knife-edged ridge over a thousand feet high.
"That's quite a guess, Lee." Nelson studied Crane closely, noting his intense, almost manic, concentration as he continuing adding details to his sketch. "And just where would we look for signs of habitation?"
"Well, if I was going to build a city at these coordinates, Admiral, I'd put fortifications on these hills guarding the entrance to the bay." Crane sketched detailed placement of buildings and walls as he spoke.
Dr. Baker and Nelson exchanged bemused glances. This was not the sort of assistance they had expected from the former Naval officer.
Almost to himself, Crane described, "Probably a long promenade from the harbor inland to the main city -- palaces here -- market area there -- temple halfway up the ridge facing the rising sun. Port facilities here along the south bay." An architectural plan of the city grew on the chart.
"Captain Crane!" protested Dr. Baker. "Surely we cannot postulate such detailed information from the meager clues at hand. Perhaps draw analogies with ancient Mediterranean port cities, but -- "
Crane started, suddenly realizing how carried away he had been. "Oh, of course, Dr. Baker." Straightening in some embarrassment, he tossed his pencil onto the chart.
Recovering his usual, disciplined demeanor, he stood at parade rest. "However, we can quickly verify my . . . my estimate. The harbor, if it is a harbor, is just a four hour cruise from the northern pass of your search pattern, Dr. Baker. I request permission to make the course correction, sir." He checked his wristwatch and did some mental calculations. "At approximately 1400 hours."
"Sure, Lee, go ahead." Nelson's voice was quiet. "Uh, that will be all, Captain."
Relieved to return to the normalcy of the Control Room, Crane wheeled and strode out, puzzling over the mood that had seized him.
Nelson sat silently, thoughtfully tapping a pencil on his Captain's sketches. A detailed street map of a city. Lee had even made rough elevation views next to the locations of the temple, palace and harbor. Here, now, surely that ship was not to scale. Far too large for a civilization as ancient as Atlantis. What in the name of common sense had gotten into Lee?
* * *
"I do not think the making of the Great Ship squanders your gold, Father." Standing tall and proud, Prince Atmatal faced the haughty king. "Hear me, my King. If your scholars learn the secret of the Stone from the Heavens, you will command great powers. I foresee your empire extending into the great lands towards the rising sun."
"Humph. A vast wilderness peopled by barbarians. Nothing more."
"Your kingdom is mighty, but we are but a small island. We exhaust our mines. We have tilled all the lands the Heavens provide us. In the east, we can build new mines, grow great fields of grain -- we can bring order and learning to the barbarians. They will come to accept our enlightened leadership."
"They will serve us, or suffer the consequences." A light of greed shone in the King's eyes. "Yes, my son -- you speak well. So, you would carve out your own kingdom, eh?"
Atmatal remained still, allowing the King to read his own motives into the prince's words.
"Very well. I will let you keep your men, and give you an allotment of the treasury for your ship. Instead . . ." the King looked sharply at his son to forestall any argument, ". . . instead, I will cancel the repairs on your summer palace." The King knew of Princess Jemani's fondness for her home.
Atmatal merely nodded curtly in acquiescence.
"The Stone," mused the King, "soon we shall house it in a proper edifice." The King's eyes gleamed anew. "And power . . . to command . . . to destroy . . . to do with as I will . . ." The King fell silent, plans forming and reforming in his mind.
"My King," Atmatal hesitated. "Father. Is it . . . is it wise to tamper with this gift? It came from the very Heavens -- "
"Yes!" The King slapped one hand against the arm of his throne, his face darkening. He was not accustomed to having his decisions questioned, not even by his heir. "This Stone came to me -- to me, do you hear? For my use . . . for Atlantis."
"Perhaps, my King," Atmatal would not be dissuaded, "perhaps this thing should be taken to the western temple -- to be reverenced by us, not -- "
"Are your bones made of water? Is this truly my son speaking?" the King roared. "Do the wittling priests dictate to the Royal House?"
"My reverence for the things of Heaven does not preclude my strong leadership, Father," admonished Atmatal. "I need not pander to priests to recognize the sublime in the world, the worship due -- "
"Enough! I say this Stone was sent to strengthen my rule over Atlantis and extend my empire to both east and west. Go -- build your ships. I will soon have need of them."
"By your leave, my King." Unperturbed, Atmatal bowed in respect and strode purposefully from the throne room.
Crane stirred uncomfortably in his sleep. Tossing and turning, he finally woke. Vague snatches of his dream tantalized him momentarily, then faded from memory in the way of all dreams.
"Ugh." Rubbing tired eyes, he focused bleary eyes on his watch. Two hours to go before he was due on watch. His restless night had left him tired and irritable. He had a bad feeling about this whole business. Atlantis -- a fool's errand embarked on by the foolhardy. What did the Admiral and Dr. Baker think they were playing at? Leave the dead to sleep in peace. Unable to shake the feeling of deep foreboding, Crane impatiently tossed back the covers and got up.
Within an hour, he was prowling Seaview from stem to stern on an unofficial, and unnecessary, inspection.
Kowalski watched warily out of the corner of his eye as Crane left the Missile Room after an exacting and exhausting inspection. Man, the Skipper has the Navy in him turned up to flank. Why did he have to pick on me? Still, the Skipper always seems to have a sixth sense about trouble -- probably from getting into it so much. Yeah, I guess it suits me to sail under a commander with his own built-in radar. Wonder what's up this time?
Kowalski turned to Chief Sharkey. "What's with the Skipper, Chief? We expecting trouble?"
Not wanting speculation of this sort to circulate, Chief Sharkey spoke sharply. "Are you kidding, Ski? This is the quietest mission we've had in years! We're just looking for some old pots on the sea bottom or something. No big deal, right?"
An experienced sailor and the senior rating, Kowalski caught the Chief's real message: Don't let even the hint of a rumor get started. The men will take their lead from you. Deliberately, Kowalski spoke, "Yeah, Chief. I guess the Skipper must just be getting bored with all the routine, huh?"
"You said it , Ski. And the way things have been going the last few years, this boat can use all the boredom she can get!"
The two men chuckled, then Kowalski returned to refitting the starboard fire control consoles. Chief Sharkey supervised the work parties in the Missile Room for a few minutes as the sailors resumed tasks disrupted by the Captain's inspection. After a suitable interval had elapsed, Sharkey felt it was time to find out what was really what. Kowalski noted his departure with an inward smile.
Chief Sharkey caught up to Crane in the aft Stores Locker. Sharkey stood at attention, waiting to be noticed.
Oblivious to Sharkey's presence, Crane stood frowning at the manifest of special supplies for undersea excavation. Why did Dr. Baker need heavy undersea demolition gear for an archeological expedition?
Sharkey cleared his throat.
"Hmmm? Yes, Chief, what is it?"
Crane seemed still a trifle testy, but Sharkey knew how to handle his officers. Speaking low so that he would not be overhead, Sharkey began finding out just how things stood. "What's the matter, Skipper? We expecting trouble?"
"Chief," protested Crane in annoyance. He dropped the clipboard onto a nearby packing case and turned to face Sharkey full on. And hesitated. "Yes," he did not say, although he wanted to. Absently, he began to scratch the palm of his right hand with the Annapolis ring on his left -- unbeknownst to him, a dead giveaway of his inner conflict to any crew member who had been with Seaview for any length of time. Now what do I say? That I want nothing more than to give the word to head south at flank speed and just get the hell out of here? And that I have absolutely no basis for it? That I'm having -- dreams?
Sharkey waited patiently for the Skipper to figure out how to say what he wanted to say. The Skipper's revealing mannerism had not escaped him. Man, oh, man -- what are we in for this time? This just ain't my lucky day.
"Listen, Chief." Crane stopped. "You know we are looking for ancient ruins of some dead civilization on the sea bottom."
Chief nodded. "Scuttlebutt has it that we are looking for Atlantis."
Crane made a dismissive gesture. "Possibly. Something destroyed this . . . this Atlantis. I believe we may be entering a seismically unstable region -- at the very least. You know what that means."
"Oh, uh, underwater quakes, maybe shock waves. I get you, Skipper. You just want to be prepared." The Skipper must have been a Boy Scout -- make that an Eagle scout. He's always trying to figure out what could possibly go wrong with one of the Admiral's schemes. Sure keeps the ratings busy, anyway.
Crane nodded curtly, inwardly relieved to observe Sharkey relax visibly as he digested his Captain's explanation.
"Now, carry on, Chief."
"Aye-aye, sir." Satisfied for the moment, Chief Sharkey walked away, glancing back once to see Crane again frowning at the special equipment manifest.
* * *
Prince Atmatal woke in a sick sweat. Shuddering, he sat up and ran a shaking hand through his curly black hair. Taking many deep breaths, he rose from the ornately embossed couch, pulled on a silken toga and walked barefoot out onto the marble balcony. Looking across the city below, he could not shake the sense of impending catastrophe left him from his dream.
Yet, the soft summer sun caressed the bustling streets and brightly clad peasants happily bartering in the prosperous shops: just another market day. Gulls wheeled through the clear air over the harbor where an immense ship was under construction. Laughing children kicked a rag ball through the legs of tolerant adults. Priests bedecked in bells processed to the temple of Chmalte. But in his mind's eye, Atmatal saw the same scene overlaid with a vision from the Seventh Hell itself. He saw the market square, palaces and temple in ruins, all submerged beneath dark, dismal waters. He drew in a deep, shuddering breath.
"Again you slept poorly, my husband?" A tall, slender woman had come up quietly behind Prince Atmatal on bare feet. She softly rested an inquiring hand on his lean shoulder.
Atmatal's only response was to rest his strong, brown arms against the cool stone of the balcony railing. Dropping his head, he closed his eyes against the vision.
"Beloved, I see the city in death, covered by murky seas." His voice softened to a whisper. "All is in ruins." Her hand tightened slightly on his arm. Atmatal sighed, then turned and took the woman into his arms, searching her face with pleading eyes. "What does the vision mean?"
"My family is known to have some knowledge of the interpretation of dreams, my husband." She lay a slender, brown hand against Atmatal's hot cheek. Concern darkened her voice. "Your eyes are too bright. Your skin too hot. Please, come inside -- you must rest."
"No, Jemani. There is no time. I feel . . . I feel that time is slipping away."
Jemani gave a resigned sigh. "Then, what would you do?"
"The sea . . . always I dream of the sea . . . of the sea coming to the city, covering the city, roaring down the main promenade from the harbor." Atmatal set his wife firmly at arm's length, looking directly into her penetrating black eyes.
She nodded. "The sea is the key," she stated flatly. "Come, my husband. Let us seek the meaning of this dream." Leading Atmatal by the hand, she drew him back into their spacious quarters and over to her alcove of meditation. After lighting a candle and murmuring a brief prayer, Jemani took both of Atmatal's hands in her own and closed her eyes. Soon, she began to speak in a distant voice.
"You are on a magnificent ship sailing under the water. The bow of this ship is walled with the clearest of crystal. Above, you can see the underside of sparkling waves. You give orders to men and they obey you as if you were a King. Now you move deeper . . . down . . . down . . . and down into the depths of the ocean. Now, you are looking upon our city as it lays beneath the sea." Jemani opened her eyes. "This is the fabric of your dream?"
"Yes, Beloved." Atmatal regarded his wife with wondering eyes.
"May it please Heaven, this is the meaning of the dream. The city is in danger. The danger may be from the sea itself, or from an enemy across the sea. The ship is our salvation. The salvation may be to sail to other shores and meet the enemy, or to change the enemy to friend, or to spread our progeny to other shores lest this little island of our ancestors perish."
Jemani looked seriously at the Prince. "You will continue your work on the Great Ship." It was not a question.
"Yes, now more than ever. I see the time is at hand when all things rush to their endings." He disengaged her soft hands, and half turned away. "If only . . ."
"You do not agree with the King's probing into the essence of creation? He means no ill. But the Stone is strong and . . ."
"My father," Atmatal stopped abruptly. "My father goes too far, too fast. I do not think even he understands the forces imprisoned in the Stone. It is a thing not of this earth. I do not think he should strive to unlock such secrets."
"The King is the King," Jemani stated simply. "He will do as he wills, and no other. If he listens not to your counsels, then you must go forth as you feel you must. Remember, my love: the sea is the key. You must conquer it. You must never forsake it. Never."
Jemani's black eyes caught and held Atmatal's hazel ones for a long minute. Then, slowly, they rose and returned hand-in-hand to the balcony. A gentle breeze caressed the sunlit day. Irresistibly, their eyes were drawn outwards. At the edge of the city, the Great Ship took shape in the harbor. Beyond the ship, the sea was visible between the two sharp hills guarding the harbor entrance. The sea lay sparkling in the calm sunshine.
* * *
"Admiral, we're approaching the target coordinates. ETA is ten minutes." Crane stood in the Observation Nose, holding a handmike.
"I'll be right down," came Nelson's filtered voice over the ship's PA system.
"Bring her up slow and steady, Mr. O'Brien," ordered Crane into the mike. "I want us positioned directly over the crest of the seamount.
Under O'Brien's meticulous maneuvering, Seaview was soon in position. The top of the seamount was clearly visible through the transparent hull.
"What have we got, Lee?" Nelson came rapidly down the circular stairs, charts under one arm, Dr. Baker on his heels. He strode directly to the transparent hull plates and looked out -- on a tumble of rectangular blocks of white stone.
"Looks like the ruins of a fortification -- 1400 feet under the sea! Atlantis! It must be!" Nelson was as excited as Crane had ever seen him. "Well done, Lee!"
Crane nodded somewhat uncomfortably in acknowledgment. He stared out at the ruins with an unfathomable expression, as if seeing far more than was visible.
"Harriman," said Dr. Baker eagerly, "observe the regular spacing of the stones -- the geometric precision of the walls and foundation -- a great discovery!"
Crane had never imagined the precise, little professor could exhibit such enthusiasm. Baker's eyes positively gleamed through his bifocals.
"Lee, take us up one hundred feet. I want to get an idea of the layout of the site."
"Aye-aye, sir." Crane gave the necessary orders, resuming his inscrutable stance at the observation windows.
Soon Nelson was looking down on the ancient fortification.
Nelson regarded Crane a long moment, then surreptitiously opened the chart containing Crane's impossible sketches of a city. The position and layout of the fortification below Seaview's keel was precisely how Crane had drawn it in his neat, draftsman quality hand. Nelson turned speculative eyes on his young Captain. Crane was clearly unaware of Nelson's scrutiny and, in fact, looked a little sick. Looks like Lee hasn't been sleeping much lately, thought Nelson. What on earth? This has been a quiet, routine research mission. If nothing else, Lee should have been complaining of boredom by now. But he hasn't. Not a word. I wonder . . .
Crane wheeled suddenly, finding himself staring intently into Nelson's quizzical eyes.
"Admiral, are you . . ." Crane swallowed, ". . . are you sure this is such a good idea?" His voice was tense. "Atlantis, if this is Atlantis, was destroyed for a reason -- a reason that could still exist."
"Oh, Lee," dismissed Nelson. "This area has been submerged for millennia. Seismograph readings are perfectly stable -- "
"Admiral, the safety of this ship and her crew is my responsibility." Crane was urgent. "What destroyed Atlantis could destroy Seaview. We are talking about forces way beyond anything known today -- "
"Lee!" protested Nelson, "what's the matter with you? Atlantis could have sunk for any number of reasons. We have no data as yet to even postulate a theory. Surely nothing to indicate a current threat to the ship." Nelson leaned forward. "Do you have any specific objections, Captain?"
In a rare display of uncertainty, Crane looked completely at a loss. How to explain his feeling that danger and death lurked here? "No, sir," he hesitated. "Only . . . I advise extreme caution as we proceed."
Nelson resumed his normal stance. "Agreed, Captain." Nelson's face suddenly brightened. "Dr. Baker, what do you say we take a tour? Lee, bring us around and over the city -- right up Main Street! And have off-duty personnel lay off in threes to come forward and see this!"
"Aye, sir." Unhappily, Crane raised the handmike and began to carry out the Admiral's orders.
Barely aware of Nelson's and Baker's excited voices and the murmuring of off-duty crewmen, Crane gazed out over the ruined city. In the dark water, he could nevertheless make out the intricate pavements of the streets, the twisted and tilting lines of marble columns, the ruined mansions and archways. Did the stones glow a little? Must be just some phosphorescent algae. Floating over the city like this was just like . . . like looking at it from a high balcony. A balcony? Yes . . . a balcony of white marble in a palace where I once was happy . . .
Leaning one brown hand against the steel which framed one of Seaview's transparent hull plates, Crane closed his eyes tightly, feeling strangely disoriented. He opened his eyes and looked again. He could still see another view of the city, superimposed like a double exposure.
I can see birds! We're well below 2200 feet now. Don't let Doc know or you'll be hauled into Sick Bay so fast your feet won't touch the deck. Yes, gulls wheeling over the harbor . . . an immense ship there . . . seems almost finished . . . pretty ambitious for ancient mariners. Children are the same everywhere -- kicking some kind of rag ball through the legs of adults -- they don't seem to mind, though. Goodness, the priests are practically covered in bells. Of course, it's time to go to the temple. Lee sighed deeply. But no longer. All dead . . . all gone. No one will ever sing the dawn songs again . . .
"Lee! Are you all right?"
Crane started, turning his head slightly to look into Nelson's gently concerned eyes.
"I am sorry, sir." Crane tried to shake off his somber mood. "But where you and Dr. Baker see wonderful discoveries and answers to a lifetime of questions, I . . ." He gestured vaguely towards the city, and swallowed a sudden lump in his throat, ". . . I just see tragedy."
"Well, of course we all realize the inhabitants were lost when the city was destroyed, Lee -- but think of what we can learn now!"
Crane sighed again and turned away for a moment, running a slightly shaking hand through his curly black hair. "Look, sir, this must have been a city of a hundred thousand or more. Prosperous, thriving -- and now they are all dead -- wiped out in an instant. And why?" Crane spun around, ramrod straight with anger in his voice. "Because of a natural disaster? No! They died because of sheer arrogance! A man's arrogance. A man's pride."
"Lee," Nelson protested mildly, "a hundred explanations could account for what happened here. An earthquake, or volcano -- the theory of plate tectonics indicates -- "
"No, Admiral." Crane's voice was firm. "I've read all the data Dr. Baker brought. All the stories, all the folklore, all the facts -- they all point to an unnatural disaster. A manmade disaster." Crane looked out again into the dark water. "These people let loose something that was better left alone."
"All right, Lee. All right." Nelson decided to let Crane be. His Captain's pessimism was annoying given the incredible discovery beneath them, but Nelson was not ready to let anything diminish his enjoyment of this supreme moment. Atlantis! Incredible! And his submarine had made this discovery possible. His own dream had allowed him to catch another dream. And now -- Atlantis right below Seaview's keel!
"Baker -- look at that temple on the cliff top. Magnificent! See? Off to port?"
"Yes!" enthused Dr. Baker. "The structure is almost completely intact. It must have escaped the forces of the initial tidal waves." The dapper little man adjusted his wire-rimmed spectacles and turned a surprisingly piercing gaze on Nelson. "Harriman! We must go closer!"
Happy to indulge his colleague, Nelson ordered "Lee, I want you to bring us right in front of that temple. See the statue there? It must be as tall as ten story building!"
"Aye-aye, sir." Crane turned back to the Control Room, stepping through the knot of off-duty personnel watching the view unfold. Maneuvering in these tight quarters would call for some precision handling of the huge submarine.
"Mr. O'Brien! Look sharp. We going in for a closer look. Take her 10 degrees to port at dead slow . . ."
As the Captain began the delicate maneuvering required to bring Seaview's transparent nose within meters of the ancient edifice, the knot of personnel gathered in the Observation Nose leaned unconsciously forward. The Admiral did not want anyone to miss the incredible panorama. All exterior hull cameras were piping the view to the Crew's Mess and Officers' Wardroom, while simultaneously recording the imagery for later documentation and study. In the Observation Nose, all eyes strained outwards, eager for a better look.
The Admiral had chosen a good target for first close examination. He looked out at the slowly approaching columns of the building, probably a temple or memorial. The main building was set halfway up a very steep underwater ridge, and seemed to be straddled by the lower legs of a statue which was possibly carved directly from the rock of the ridge itself.
"My, God," thought Nelson. "It's huge."
"Harriman -- it must be a deity or ruling figure of the third dynastic period." Dr. Baker's voice was almost shrill in his excitement. "See the filigree carvings of the toga and ornamentation of the sandals? Ah," disappointment clouded his voice. "The head has been sheared off. Probably by the translational shock waves generated by the Atlantean cataclysm."
"Wait! Look there, Baker," returned Nelson. "The head is caught on the colonnades of the temple building itself. What is that on the forehead? A crown, perhaps?"
"Yes, yes -- we can see better now. A little closer -- perhaps a ceremonial headdress signifying a despotic ruling style as in middle European Serbia or Armenia? Confound it, we need more light! Harriman!?"
Responding to his colleague's query, Nelson picked up the handmike. "Lee, turn on all forward floodlights -- keel and sail units, too." Nelson barely glanced at Baker, then turned his attention outwards once more. Both men peered eagerly at the ancient structure. "Soon we'll have more candlepower than . . . my, God! It . . . it can't be!"
A stunned silence descended over the Observation Nose. In the absence of murmuring voices, sonar's steady tones echoed around the silent onlookers. They could clearly hear the Captain, still aft in the Control Room, asking for constant readings from the fathometer and sonar stations.
Concentrating hard at the demanding task of maneuvering the gigantic ship alongside of what amounted to a rock wall, Crane nevertheless became aware of the sudden quiet. "Must be pretty impressive," he shrugged to O'Brien.
"Finally got Dr. Baker to give his tonsils a rest, anyway," ventured the Third. It earned O'Brien a reluctant smile. Well, that was something anyway. Haven't seen the Captain in such a poor humor since that time the Admiral had us chasing Moby Dick the Second all over tarnation.
Suddenly uncomfortable, Crane glanced forward. All eyes were on him . . . on him? Not looking out at the Atlantean temple. What in Heaven's name?
"O'Brien, you have the con. Keep an eye on that drift meter, Mister."
"Aye-aye, Skipper". O'Brien watched curiously as the Captain walked quickly into the Observation Nose. And looked out. And stopped cold.
It lay at the feet of the ancient king. Right there, as big as a house. It filled the observation windows. The stone head of the statue, carved in the unmistakable likeness of . . . of himself!?
Crane blinked and scowled. This is not possible -- the light must be playing tricks. He strode right to the glass. No, the light from the forward floods is brilliant -- steady. He studied the features closely. The lines and planes were . . . were those he saw in the shaving mirror every morning. Grim and a trifle haughty perhaps. He didn't like the cruel line of the mouth. But this man could be his father. His father? Where did that thought come from?
Eyes wide and thoughtful, Crane slowly turned a dazed look on Nelson. "That's impossible!" he protested with a wave of his hand towards the statue.
Nelson laughed a bit hesitantly. "Quite a likeness, eh, Lee?"
Ignoring the extremely strange looks he was getting from the officers and crew, Crane ventured in a distant voice, "The statue of my fath--" He stopped. He turned back to the statue. He had seen this man before -- not just the face, unmistakably (and unnervingly) his own -- but that toga, crown and the braided beard as well. He could remember arguing . . . not just arguing, almost a desperate battle over . . .
"A statue of who, Lee?"
"Well, I mean . . . that is to say . . . that could be my father out there . . ." Crane stopped, completely at a loss.
"Ah, this proves my theory exactly, Harriman," interjected Baker unexpectedly. Baker's enthusiasm was plain.
Crane looked at the archeologist with unspoken astonishment. How in the name of all that's wonderful did this pert little man understand what was going on here?
Baker continued excitedly. "Ancient Atlanteans did survive into the present age of the world! Now, tell me, Captain Crane, where are your people from? The Ukraine? Montenegro? Perhaps Russia?"
Baker's implied slur on their Skipper's heritage produced an ill affect on the assembled crew. The Skipper couldn't be a darned Russkie! Who did this egghead think he was, anyway?
Crane ignored the affronted looks on the faces of his crew. "Well, Dr. Baker, my mother would hold that the Cranes practically built Boston from the ground up, but we're really an Old World family . . ."
"Yes, yes -- but which country?" urged the little scientist.
"Armenia," shrugged Crane. What had his ancestry to do with archeology?
"Aha! I knew it! Armenia. A very closed-knit ethnic group. The history of the people is clearly delineated from before the first migrations of the Visigoth period . . ." Dr. Baker droned on to himself at length about middle European migrations.
Chief Sharkey mulled over the Skipper's parentage for a moment. How in the world with a name like 'Crane' could the Skipper be Armenian? "Skipper?" The Chief's voice was puzzled.
"Armenia, Chief," chuckled Crane, slapping the Chief's shoulder. "I'm a red-blooded American boy, and 100% Armenian. Where do you think my mother comes up with those incredible cookie recipes anyway? Old World secrets." He winked.
Sharkey was not quite satisfied. His face must have showed his continued bemusement for Crane elaborated.
"Oh, the name 'Crane' was bestowed on my great grandfather by the immigration officer at Ellis Island. The guy couldn't handle Armenian spelling and asked Grandpa what his name meant. Grandpa said it meant a large waterbird, so 'Crane' it became and Crane it is still." The Skipper shrugged indifferently. He'd never sympathized with his mother's social climbing and the posturing of the high society crowd in Boston. He vastly preferred to take men on their own merits -- and insisted being treated the same. Dropping the subject of his antecedents, Crane turned back to Nelson.
"But Admiral, what does it matter where my family came from," questioned Crane, gesturing with a sweep of his arm towards the statue. "This can't be real! What's the answer?"
"Why, Lee, the identity of the man out there is very clear to me," asserted Nelson, enjoying Lee's discomfiture.
"It's clear?" asked Crane incredulously. His mind whirled, then settled on the main point. "Who?"
"Your great, great, great grandfather! Who else?"
The junior officers and crew stirred uneasily, exchanging glances.
"What?!" Crane stared at Nelson for two solid minutes while scattered memories clicked together like puzzle pieces. "I guess my Uncle Alex was right," he began slowly, "my family must go way back -- a lot longer and farther than even he thought." Crane turned to the figure outside the transparent hull plates and waved a hand. "A direct ancestor, you say?" He stopped, suddenly depressed as his mood once again darkened. His voice lowered and only Nelson heard his next words. "I guess some of them escaped, then. Not everyone died . . . a . . . remnant survived. That's something anyway."
Nelson favored Crane with a puzzled look. Why is Lee so depressed about a civilization long dead? He's acting as if his very own family had passed away. Odd . . .
"Skipper, the magnetometer is picking up some strange readings!" called O'Brien.
Wheeling, Crane forced the mystery of the statue to second place in his thoughts. He pushed through the assembled crew and hurried aft.
Striding into the Control Room, Crane quickly scanned his eyes over numerous consoles. All of Seaview's extensive array of sensing and monitoring equipment was operating and recording for this historic mission. Additional sensors had been designed and installed specifically at Dr. Baker's request. These new monitors now danced with readings. All indicated one thing: a source of enormous power had sprung to life. And it was located within the dead city.
"We've pinpointed the source of the power surges, Admiral," announced Crane into a handmike some forty minutes later.
"At the south edge of the city. Our ETA is ten minutes." Crane turned to issue appropriate orders to move Seaview into the vicinity of the power source at dead slow. He decided to approach with extreme caution. "Mr. Morton!"
"Get Dr. Baker's special equipment ready for operation. Let's do some remote sensing first."
"Yes, sir!" Clearly, Chip agreed that where Seaview was concerned, caution was paramount. The Exec headed aft.
Minutes later, Seaview was in position near the indicated coordinates. Visual examination only revealed a pile of massive marble pillars and slabs: the wreck of a great edifice. Clearly, no quick answers would be forthcoming. Only lengthy and difficult excavation would serve. The day grew old as equipment was prepared and deployed. Watches changed all over Seaview. Men awoke and men prepared for sleep. At last, even Captain Crane turned over the watch to Mr. Morton, and returned to his cabin for much-needed sleep. Crane hoped vainly that this time his dreams would forsake him. Only the two scientists seemed oblivious to normal requirements for rest: Nelson and Baker hovered in the Observation Nose, overseeing the excavation. Hours passed.
"We've found something, sir!" called Kowalski from the seabot control station.
Nelson and Baker rushed over from the Observation Nose windows where they had been supervising the excavation of the mysterious power source in the south edge of the city. Too deep for divers, specially designed deep sea capable robots, or "seabots," were being employed. Specially developed by engineers at the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, these small, deep sea submersibles were remotely controlled by human operators and capable of being fitted with excavation and remote monitoring equipment. Seamen Patterson, Riley and Kowalski manned a special remote station installed between the Observation Nose and the Control Room on Seaview's port side.
Three seabots were currently in operation. The remote camera on Kowalski's seabot gave a clear picture of the excavation. Nelson and Baker leaned over the burly seaman.
Dr. Baker's eyes shone with triumph. "See, Harriman! A curved stone surface, partially melted and showing impact stresses -- probably the entire artifact is spherical -- can't tell from just this outcropping -- a classic meteorite structure."
"You can't think a meteorite sank an entire island?" Nelson was incredulous.
"No, no," replied Dr. Baker absently, "but observe closely the white glow within the ore -- "
Nelson looked where Baker pointed. A white glow did seem to emanate from within the yards-wide portion of the Stone which was now cleared of rubble. Nelson left the remote monitor and walked alone to the Observation Nose to view the sight face-to-face. A deep glow within the Stone pulsated with a hypnotic rhythm reminiscent of the trace of an EKG machine. Nelson felt himself drawn towards the heart of the Power . . . and was struck by a chord of familiarity. Disjointed impressions flowed through Nelson's mind: an insatiable drive for knowledge . . . a determination and strength of will . . . a great curiosity . . . the knowledge of the absoluteness of power . . . the need for power . . .
"Harriman?" Baker's voice sounded muted. "Harriman, what is it? Are you ill?"
"What? Oh . . . Baker . . ." Nelson drew himself together, unaware that many minutes had passed. "It's just so -- fantastic! Yes . . . just . . . fantastic . . ." Nelson hesitated, then continued normally. "I'd bet my bottom dollar that this meteorite is 60 to 65 percent pure Carnotite -- vital for our space and energy programs! We must retrieve it at all costs . . . yes . . . at all costs . . ."
"Of course, Harriman. Refined, concentrated -- a source of almost unimaginable power. This specimen may yield well over four metric tons. Unbelievable."
"Continue the excavation, Patterson," barked Nelson, "Kowalski, keep the cameras on the meteorite at all times. Riley, tell me at once if the radiation levels vary more than two points off nominal."
A chorus of "ayes" met this avalanche of orders. The seamen were used to Nelson's passion for knowledge, and his impatience.
Watching the monitors closely, Nelson could almost feel the pulsating force of the Stone. Power! Power to harness for deep sea exploration, for conquering space, for whatever he willed. Nelson's eyes became glazed and bright . . .
Time dragged by.
"Hurry up, man, you needn't coddle it." Nelson's famous temper threatened to break over the hapless Patterson, currently in control of the main excavation seabot.
"Sir," hesitated Patterson. He was familiar with Nelson's moods and yet equally aware of Nelson's mania for 'old pots', as Chief Sharkey called them. "If we aren't careful -- take our time, y'know? -- we'll damage the building and artifacts around the Stone." Patterson wanted to make sure the Admiral understood -- Patterson wasn't about to break some old chunk of marble -- and get broken in turn by an irate Admiral.
"I am well aware of that, sailor." Nelson's voice was testy. "The Stone must be uncovered -- that is your first priority. The city has ten thousand artifacts for every one here. The few here needn't concern us."
Somewhat surprised by Nelson's scientific callousness, Patterson nevertheless kept his voice neutral. "Yes, sir. I understand, sir. But even so, it will take at least four hours to fully uncover the Stone. It's buried under pretty heavy marble slabs, sir."
"Oh, very well. Carry on, Patterson," came the terse reply.
Nelson once more settled down in the Observation Nose to watch the Stone, now almost half uncovered. Careless of his own fatigue, he desired nothing more than to stare at it -- to stare into it -- to feel the raw power. He was heedless of Dr. Baker's evaluating glance. Nelson's eyes only focused within the depths of the Stone.
* * *
The very ground shuddered, nearly throwing them off their feet again.
"Hurry! Get the Princess and my son aboard the Great Ship!" Shouting to make his order heard above the din, Atmatal shoved Jemani and his son into the litter.
"Yes, my Prince," cried the centurion and started moving out with his squad and the litter bearers.
"Atmatal!" cried Jemani desperately from the retreating litter.
"I will join you soon, Beloved! Get our son to safety!"
Forcing himself to turn away, Atmatal addressed his Captain. "You are to set sail at once. Get the Great Ship out of the harbor -- well outside. Sail south for the Chadetlx Isles. All other refugees will rendezvous with you in the boats of the fishing fleet."
"Yes, my Prince -- when shall I expect you?"
"I will first seek my father. Keep back one boat for us. The King must be saved -- do you understand?"
"I will assign your personal guard to the duty, my Prince. Is there anything further?"
Atmatal shook his head grimly.
"Then may the Heavens make your feet swift." The Captain hurried away.
Father, what have you done? What have you done? The Stone was not meant for men and now the sea . . . Atmatal nearly moaned in anguished anticipation. The earth shuddered deeply once again, staggering him. He ran.
Running, a nightmare run through an insane, rocking world. Peasants grabbing at him in terror, pleading for solace, for explanations as their very world seemed to betray them.
"Climb!" he shouted, pointing to the temple high above the city.
Perhaps the temple was high enough to avoid the sea. But in his visions, all was murky death. The boats? But there were not enough boats for the whole city -- no -- the King and his own heir -- his duty was clear.
Allowing nothing to delay his flight, he reached the edifice the King had had erected over the Stone. The thing was deeply buried, but now long, paved steps descended under the city. The earth shuddered.
"Father!" Atmatal was desperate. "Father, stop! Do not awaken the Stone!"
He had but put his foot on the first step when the bottom dropped out of his world. The remains of flagged steps slammed against his body -- he thought he heard bones break. His back? Gazing outward in shock and agony, he saw his world ending. The city was now at the bottom of a bowl. Heavens! The sea -- the sea was coming.
"Nooooo!" His last despairing cry was drowned in the roar of the tidal wave crashing down over the ruined city. The force of the waves crushed the life from him long before he could drown.
"Jemani!" Crane struggled in the nightmare. Gasping, he hauled his eyes open, clutching at the walls of the alcove surrounding his bunk. Cold with sweat, he shivered, remembering tons of water slamming into him. Struggling to get his breathing under control, Crane hit the light switch.
That's it. No more sleep for tonight. Blast -- what's the matter with me? Must be residual stress from that last mission. But that was four months ago. This cruise has been quiet!
Shaking his head to clear it, Crane stood shakily and started towards the head. Thirty minutes later, freshly showered and shaved, he entered the Control Room.
Nelson and Baker stood in the Observation Nose, energetically making plans for returning the Stone to the Institute, for refining the ore, and for harnessing the raw power it represented.
Listening to them, a worried frown deepened on Crane's face. Strange. Something's not right here. Crane struggled to put his finger on it. All he noticed was that neither Admiral Nelson, world renowned for his scientific expertise, nor Dr. Baker, equally well established in the field of archeology and Atlantean mythology, seemed to give a thought to the careful and systematic excavation of artifacts. Looking at the seabot monitor station, Crane was shocked to see the amount of damage to the archeological site surrounding the Stone. What in the world? Crane turned and looked forward.
Through the Observation Nose windows, the Stone could be seen clearly, even in the dark water of these lifeless depths. The Stone was completely uncovered. Rough and pitted, streaked by the stress marks of high velocity atmospheric entry, the Stone was yet almost spherical. Lit by a pale inner glow, it seemed an errant star had lost its way, coming to rest here in this city of the dead.
"Too big to hoist through the diving bell hatch," planned Nelson. "Have to drill it into about eight sections. Can't introduce this material into the onboard environment with these radiation levels -- storage will be a problem -- "
"Not at all, Admiral."
Nelson looked up. "Lee -- good, you're here."
Crane was shocked to see the fatigue creasing Nelson's face. And his eyes were bright -- too bright.
"Lee, what do you mean, storage won't be a problem? The toxicity levels are very high -- "
"I think you'll find Dr. Baker has thought of everything, sir. The special equipment manifest shows H2733 Shipping and Storage Containers."
"H2733's? But -- "
"That's right, Admiral. Dr. Baker thought we might need containers sturdy enough to transport nuclear reactor fuel." Crane turned accusing eyes on Dr. Baker. "Dr. Baker, you know more about this than you've let on. You expected to find this Stone, didn't you?"
"Well, really, Captain Crane."
"You loaded equipment for heavy undersea construction and demolition -- just like the North Sea oil drilling operations use. Hardly necessary for archeology. What do you know that you're not telling us?" Crane's voice hammered at Baker.
"Now, Lee," objected Nelson. He did not care for his Captain taking this tone with a respected colleague. "Dr. Baker was clearly planning for any eventuality. After all, he is a world-renowned authority on Atlantean archeology and mythology."
"No, Admiral. It's more than that." Crane would not be dissuaded. He turned, looking full at the Stone, at last recognizing in it the shape that had haunted his dreams.
"This Stone is not meant for man to tamper with. We should leave here at once -- this Stone has power enough to destroy a city. And it could destroy us."
"My dear Captain," admonished Baker. "I understand your penchant for caution, but surely you go too far. This Stone needs to be properly researched."
"But Dr. Baker, you can't -- "
"Enough!" thundered Nelson, slamming a hand against the table. "We cannot ignore this great discovery. We will not. I will not. It's as if we were meant to find it. As if it was given to me for the good of America, the world. It means power . . . to command . . . to destroy . . . to do with as I will . . ." Nelson's voice faded.
Crane looked sharply at Nelson. Nelson's face was too bright. The same . . . unholy influence as before . . . what is this thing? And what can I do . . . how can I explain? Talk about dreams and visions? The Admiral would have me relieved of command -- I'd sure do the same if my Captain talked crazy like that. There must be some way . . . but not now . . .
"As you say, sir," stated Crane formally.
Nelson did not appear to notice Crane's stiffness, or the paleness of his worried face.
"All right then, Lee," Nelson returned to his preoccupation with the Stone, the friction with his Captain fading from his concern. "Have a detail break out the H2733's. Bring in the seabots and have them refitted with cutting lasers."
"Cutting lasers?" whispered Crane, horrified.
"Certainly. We need to divide the Stone into sections in order to hoist it aboard and fit it into the H2733's."
"You're bringing it aboard?" Crane was unsuccessful in masking his appalled expression.
Nelson had had enough. "Captain Crane. We are proceeding with this expedition under my direction. Seaview and her crew will proceed as I will. You are under my command and will carry out my orders on my submarine and without further delay. Do I make myself perfectly clear?" Nelson's quiet voice was laced with danger.
"Yes, sir. I will proceed at once, sir." Crane turned and walked smartly aft, thinking rapidly. Your submarine won't do you a blessed bit of good, Admiral, if this whole sector is vaporized. I'll save one of your dreams, Admiral. I'll save Seaview. But I can't save Atlantis -- I couldn't the first time, and I can't now. I'm sorry.
An hour later, Crane stood tensely near the periscope island, closely watching the monitor as the seabots, now fitted with cutting lasers, were maneuvered into position. Crane had repositioned Seaview, ostensibly to aid hoisting the ore sections aboard. But now Seaview hovered 200 feet above the Stone and her bow faced due south. Nothing but clear water was ahead, straight through the inlet to the ancient harbor, and to the open sea beyond.
Crane glanced grimly at Chief Sharkey and Master-at-Arms Johnston. Looking unhappy, they both nodded imperceptibly. Crane turned back to the monitor, confident that the pair would back him to the hilt.
Chief Sharkey stirred uncomfortably and exchanged another glance with Johnston. Man, oh, man, this ain't my lucky day. I sure hope the Skipper knows what he's doing 'cause I'm all out of sick leave -- and the Admiral is going to be busting heads right and left. Francis, you're gonna need a long vacation after this one. Sharkey thought back to the recent scene in the Skipper's cabin.
* * *
"Chief Sharkey. Master-at-Arms Johnston. The safety of this vessel is about to be compromised."
"Skipper?" Astonishment broke through Sharkey's discipline.
"As soon as demolition begins on the artifact below us, a chain reaction will result which will vaporize this entire basin, including Seaview."
"But Skipper, the Admiral -- "
"The Admiral disagrees with my . . . theory." Crane's hard voice brooked no nonsense. "However, it is my firm belief that he has been unduly influenced by Dr. Baker." He sighed deeply. "The safety of this ship and her crew is my responsibility -- no matter the cost."
Sharkey had heard this speech before. And it was one of the reasons the Skipper had earned the loyalty and respect of Seaview's unique and special crew.
"You must understand this -- I am absolutely convinced Seaview is in great danger. I will therefore proceed on my own authority to remove Seaview from that danger."
Uh-oh. I don't like where this is headed. Why do I always get caught in the crossfire? Sharkey exchanged an anxious glance with Johnston.
"However, I need your help," continued Crane. "At the critical moment, I intend to depart this vicinity at emergency flank, and I cannot allow either Dr. Baker or Admiral Nelson to interfere. That is where you come in."
"Skipper, don't you think the Admiral -- "
"Chief -- I need your cooperation, and I need it now. Two points. First, if I am wrong, if nothing happens, I will immediately turn command over to Mr. Morton and turn in my resignation to Admiral Nelson."
Sharkey was aghast. The Skipper sure wasn't kidding about this -- not at all.
"Second." Crane's voice softened somewhat. "We've served together a long time, Chief. You know I trust my instincts. I know I'm right about this. Will you trust me?"
There it was. The Skipper was asking him personally, appealing to him and their long association. If the Skipper was wrong, he was ready as always to bear full and complete responsibility and take the consequences. But if he was right -- and surviving on Seaview this long made a man really believe in the Skipper's instincts -- if the Skipper was right it meant the Admiral's life, all their lives. Well? Did he trust his Captain?
"I'm with you, Skipper."
Crane actually looked relieved. "You'll back me up." It was not a question. Crane turned to the burly, Scandinavian security officer towering over his desk. "And you, Johnston, will you back me up, too?"
"Fully, sir," replied Johnston immediately. The huge man was intensely loyal to Seaview's Captain, especially after that near disaster in San Dominguez the year before. "What is your plan, sir?"
"Here's the way we're going to work it," began Crane.
After the hasty briefing, all three men reported back to the Control Room.
* * *
Now Chief Sharkey watched his Captain closely. The Skipper stood tense -- ready to move. Seaman Lewis had been dispatched to the Engine Room to make sure O'Brien was ready to answer bells -- clear up to and including emergency all ahead flank. The ostensible reason for avoiding the PA was to not alarm the crew or distract the excavation team. Just one more example of the Skipper anticipating all contingencies. After the missions Seaview had been through in the last five years, no member of the crew resented the Skipper's excessive caution. They trusted him to make sure Seaview was ready for anything -- all their lives could depend on this readiness -- and often had.
On the Control Room monitor, Sharkey saw the first seabot settle into position. At a gesture from Crane, Master-at-Arms Johnston moved his six-foot five-inch frame into the Observation Nose proper. Sharkey stationed himself at the controls of the crash door, the sliding panels which could close in seconds to protect the nerve center of Seaview in an emergency. And from what the Skipper had said, this was an emergency with a capital "E".
On the monitor, Sharkey could see the rapidly flashing status indicator lights signaling the seabot was coming up to full power. The cutting laser erupted into white hot brilliance, focused an inch above the surface of the meteorite. Slowly, as Kowalski worked the remotes, the beam lowered to the surface of the Stone and made contact.
A rainbow of intense brilliance flashed out, like diamonds caught in a super nova. Sharkey threw up his hands to protect his eyes.
"Now, Chief!" yelled Crane.
Instinctively following orders, Sharkey blindly activated the crash doors.
"Engine Room, this is the Captain. All ahead, emergency flank! Give it all she's got or we'll stay down here forever!"
Crane clicked the mike to switch channels. "Maneuvering. Hold her steady on present bearing. We need distance between us and the excavation site." The deck heaved as Seaview's nuclear-powered engines surged to life. Gradually, the great ship gathered momentum. By the time she reached the guardian hills of the ancient harbor, she fairly flashed by the ancient fortifications.
Unprepared crewmen all over the ship were knocked off balance by the suddenness of the maneuver, especially in the Observation Nose.
"What the devil?" thundered Nelson after disentangling himself from Dr. Baker and the conference table. He snatched up the nearest mike. "Captain Crane, how dare you jeopardize this mission! Report at once to the Observation Nose!"
Master-at-Arms Johnston had never seen the Admiral so angry. Despite his great physical size and strength, he dreaded facing the smaller man. He wished that next time the Skipper would just throw him into a school of sharks in a feeding frenzy and have done with it. Johnston braced himself.
"Admiral Nelson." Crane's calm voice filtered over the PA system. "While Seaview is engaged in emergency maneuvers, I cannot leave my post in the Control Room. We will be clear of the danger area in 15 minutes."
"Danger area? Danger area?! Lee, are you out of your mind? What are you playing at?" Nelson was incensed. Slamming the mike back into its bracket, he strode towards the Control Room, only to find himself blocked by the closed crash doors.
"Humph." Nelson turned to the bulkhead-mounted controls and found himself face-to-face with Johnston.
"Open these doors!"
"No, sir." Johnston looked pale but determined.
"What in blazes do you mean, 'no, sir'," raged Nelson.
Commending his soul to the Almighty, Johnston stated, "Captain's orders, sir. No one is to enter the Control Room until emergency maneuvers are complete."
"Preposterous!" declared Nelson, and started to brush past Johnston to the controls.
A strong arm barred his way. "I am sorry, sir. The Captain was quite clear."
Turning in a fury on Johnston, Nelson paused. Whatever Lee was up to, he had planned well. Master-at-Arms was an apt title for Johnston. Well over six feet in height, he was a muscular man whose hobbies included a fair amount of weight lifting. Nelson looked up at a veritable mountain of muscle.
"Johnston, you will stand aside."
"No, sir." Johnston began asking for the prayers of the saints as well. "Captain Crane specifically ordered me to see that you remained here in the Observation Nose until emergency maneuvers were complete."
"Oh, he did, did he?" Nelson's voice was deadly quiet.
Perhaps Johnston's prayers were heard, for Nelson was at that moment interrupted from his dire intent.
"Admiral! Look here!" Kowalski's voice was urgent. The remote monitors still received signals from the seabots. "She's going out of control!"
Nelson whirled and hurried over to the remote monitors.
Raw, flashing power seemed to emanate from the Stone. The cutting laser's beam was all but invisible in the cascading light.
"Some sort of chain reaction," murmured Nelson, his mind racing.
Suddenly, the multi-colored glow of the Stone erupted outward and the monitor went dead.
"No longer receiving transmissions from the seabots, sir," reported Kowalski uneasily as he manipulated dials and switches.
"My God, Harriman," whispered Dr. Baker, "what have we done?"
Nelson calculated rapidly, then grabbed a mike. "Lee! The meteorite has undergone a chain reaction! What is our present course, speed and position?"
"Admiral," came the immediate reply, "we are bearing due south at full emergency flank, just now clearing the harbor inlet. Making 53 knots and increasing. How do you advise, sir?"
Nelson thought furiously, judging the probable strength and velocity of the approaching shock wave. Could they clear the area in time?
Ignoring his Captain's unilateral actions for the present, Nelson hurried to the chart table and began studying the bottom topography. He unclipped a mike. "We're not going to out run the shock wave, Lee. We need a barrier -- something to divert the force . . ."
Immensely relieved to hear Nelson's rational voice, Crane gestured towards Sharkey. "OK, Chief."
Chief Sharkey immediately opened the crash doors and checked out Johnston, surprised to find the giant man unscathed.
Nelson ignored everyone, focusing tensely over the charts. "Here, Lee -- this ridge."
Crane approached and studied the map briefly, then snatched up the chart table's mike. "Maneuvering, come to course two-oh-oh. Helm, down angle on all planes. Engine Room, ready for steering maneuver: ahead emergency flank port engines, ahead full starboard engines."
Continuing to steer with rudder, planes and engines, Crane forced Seaview into what amounted to a power dive to gain the relative security behind the knife-edged ridge. "All hands, rig for shock wave. Repeat, all hands, rig for shock wave. ETA 25 seconds."
As Seaview swooped behind the ridge, Crane gave the necessary orders to level her out and moderate her flight.
Nelson watched for a moment's silent admiration. Only Crane could make the huge vessel fairly dance like a skiff. But would he be in time?
The shock wave hit.
Knocked from his feet, Crane slammed head-first into the periscope well and his world exploded into sparks. As darkness rushed down on him, he cried out in the despair of his second failure. The Stone had triumphed again.
* * *
Crane tossed and turned in a delirium, battling dreams as real as memories.
"Noooo . . . Father, what have you done? . . . Lightning, coming down on the city . . . fire from the Heavens . . . Jemani, take our son . . . flee, sail fast, escape to the sea . . . the sea, no, the sea is coming . . . "
Admiral Nelson looked anxiously down at his injured Captain, laying now on a bunk in Seaview's Sick Bay. A dawning understanding of Crane's behavior rose in his eyes.
"The Stone will destroy us . . . not for men . . . power too great . . . why . . . why did you not listen, Father . . ."
Nelson looked a question at the ship's physician, Dr. Jamieson.
"He's suffering from a concussion, Admiral. This is a normal enough reaction. Let him rest and we'll see. He just needs time."
An hour later, Crane had become calm and opened blurry eyes.
"Welcome back, Lee," smiled Nelson.
Pain thudding in his skull, Crane fought to focus on Nelson. "Ugh," he managed. Then, "Seaview? Crew?"
"Just minor interior damage -- that was quite a ride. A few of the crew were knocked around some -- you're the worst of the lot."
Crane let this sink in for a moment. Then his eyes widened. "Admiral, I'm sorry, I -- "
"You saved my ship, Captain," interrupted Nelson. "I'm the one who should apologize. I couldn't seem to think straight. I couldn't seem to think of anything but seizing the Stone -- I can't believe I didn't stop for proper analysis, or evaluation of the possible consequences of the cutting lasers' interaction with the material of the meteorite. I -- "
"The Stone . . . was not meant for man to . . . to tamper with, Admiral." Crane's gentle voice halted Nelson's self recriminations. "The Stone is not of this earth. It . . . influences men of power."
"Absolute power corrupts absolutely, eh, Lee?" Nelson mulled this over. "Well, we'll never know now. The entire basin of Atlantis is gone. The Stone is either destroyed or sunk so far into the earth we'll never be able to excavate it."
"Atlantis . . . your dream, Admiral. It's lost. I'm sorry." Crane's voice was weak and sad.
"Seaview would have been lost with all hands if not for you, Lee." Nelson put his disappointment firmly behind him. "You get some rest, son. I want you on your feet as soon as possible. After all, the ocean is full of secrets . . . secrets just waiting to be probed." Nelson gave Crane a fond pat on the shoulder.
Crane saw Nelson's face brighten with his indomitable energy as he planned new adventures for Seaview. Then waves of healing sleep washed over Crane's tired mind and he slept.
He did not dream.
Copyright 1997 Debra S. Post