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
Author's Introduction: This story was inspired by the popular episodes, The Phantom Strikes and The Return of the Phantom. Like many other Voyage writers, I have always been intrigued by the question of what Lee Crane personally experienced during his run-in with Captain Gerhardt Krueger of U-boat 444, and what the aftermath might have been. In creating this piece of fiction, I assume that you, the reader, have some familiarity with these episodes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
* * *
The dying man struggled to flee the approaching terror. He did not move. He uttered no sound. His life -- more than his life -- was threatened by the dark menace stalking him.
Voices -- familiar voices -- filtered dimly into the dying man's awareness.
"He's in deep shock," came a grim voice.
"Will he live?" came an urgent voice which -- somehow -- frightened the dying man.
A third voice spoke: "Will he?" It was the anxious voice of -- of a friend.
A pause. Then, the first voice spoke again: "I'll do everything I can. Now, I've got to ask all of you to leave -- immediately."
The dying man was vaguely disappointed at the first voice's lack of reassurance. Briefly, a wave of darkness surged over him -- he fought it back -- he grew cold . . . intensely cold . . .
The second, urgent voice came to him again. This time he recognized the Admiral. The Admiral was calling a warning.
But Lee Crane could not respond. Lee Crane lay dying, helpless on the Sick Bay bed. In his gut was a bullet -- from the Admiral's own gun -- fired by the Admiral's own hand. And Lee Crane could not flee the dark master coming to possess him.
Crane slipped further into shock, nearer to the fine line between living and dying. Slowly, he began to perceive the limbo surrounding existence -- a limbo which held captive Captain Gerhardt Krueger, former Captain of U-boat 444, dead now these sixty years. Dead, but seeking life. Seeking . . . him!
Before Crane's inner eye, Krueger gradually took shape, becoming solid while the deck and bulkheads of Seaview faded to pale outlines -- the mere suggestion of a submarine. Krueger slowly approached, a cruel smile of triumph lighting his face. Crane could only watch in disbelief as Krueger stood by the bed, smirking, and then . . . invading! An intense chill flashed over Crane. He grappled briefly with this . . . this thing that had once been a man. But Krueger had grown very strong in sixty years. Krueger was master of this shadow world at the edge of death and life.
Crane felt himself torn apart and thrown into nothingness. Noooooo! His wail was the echo of a lost soul. For Lee Crane, time ceased to exist.
Crane floated in shock for endless moments, huddled in upon himself. Around him stretched a misty emptiness. He sensed no sound -- no cold -- no warmth. Nothing. He was alone. Time moved not at all.
Silence. Stillness. The loneliness became unbearable.
Gradually, Crane focused his awareness on the shadow shapes around him. A deck . . . walls . . . faint outlines of cabinets . . . Sick Bay! He was still in Sick Bay! Slowly, he sought his own body. He found a gurney in the center of the room . . . empty. His body was . . . gone? Was he dead then? Buried at sea? Crane thought he should feel sad, but let the thought fade away.
Was Seaview in danger? Crane let this new idea revolve in his mind. It was so hard to concentrate here. Where was here? Maybe he should . . . investigate . . . yes . . . his crew . . . his ship . . . he must watch over them -- this was his sworn duty -- always.
Crane thought about the Control Room and found himself drifting along corridors and down the spiral staircase into the Observation Nose. A dim form materialized before him . . . a man. Chip! His executive officer and friend stood next to the planning table, tensely plotting a course south towards a small group of islands. Where were they headed? Crane looked through Chip's translucent shoulder. Mulayo? What was happening on Mulayo? . . . Mulayo . . . something about that name . . . wait! His body was there! He knew it! With the certainty of this thought came a tug, a gentle pull as on a thin cord tying him to something. Without conscious volition, he followed the thread of connection.
The dying man grew cold in a dark world of mist. Ancient tombstones and Polynesian idols loomed over his still form. Tropical birds shrieked through the midnight air. The moon shone coldly on Mulayo -- on the dying man and the young woman his hands had tried to kill.
A few feet away, the young woman struggled to regain consciousness, to escape the evil that had come upon her. Gasping, she raised herself on one elbow, feeling the bruises on her neck with her slender fingers. Looking frantically around the deserted burial ground, she spied her assailant laying nearby. He was an attractive young man -- tall and strangely pale with penetrating hazel eyes -- oh, why had she come with him to this horrible place? Shaking her head in negation, she drew away. Why should he try to take her life -- what had she done? Her forehead wrinkled in confusion. The man did not attack. Rather, his eyes slowly opened and he looked at her.
"I didn't mean to hurt you," the man gasped, stifling a whimper of pain. "Believe me . . . I didn't mean to hurt you."
The woman watched in disbelief as the young man lost consciousness, apparently engulfed by pain and exhaustion. Now was her chance to flee. But before she could move, she saw another man approach out of the mist -- an older man with a cruel face. "Who are you?" she pleaded. "Who are -- " The words caught in her throat. The cruel man had begun to . . . to fade before her eyes, becoming one with the mist. He lay down and . . . melted into the young man. Surrounded by evil and mist and the island's ancient dead, the girl screamed in horror, shaking her head desperately to drive out the impossible vision.
Resolutely, the woman took hold of herself -- she must flee. The young man was unconscious -- now was her chance. She forced herself to look in his direction -- and froze. He sat up, his pale features lighted with an inner evil foreign to that visage. He looked at her -- and she could not move -- could not utter a sound. With a swift leap, he seized her once again -- and the spell was broken. Her screams shattered the night air.
In the shadow world, Lee Crane gathered all his strength. He would not be torn from his body again. He would fight Krueger -- he could not let this young woman be killed. There -- Krueger approached, looking strangely insubstantial. Krueger! Stay back! This is my life -- you can't have it. You're not going to kill that girl with my hands! Go on, man! Life is over for you! Go on and follow your Path. Your Time has come and gone -- it's over, Krueger!
Krueger ignored the dying man, pausing only to gloat over his victim, the young woman he had found for his Polynesian lover, Lani. Soon all would be as he had willed. Focusing his mind on the dying man at his feet, he fully entered the limbo world.
The crushing strength of Krueger slammed into Crane, knocking him entirely into limbo. Disoriented and weak, Crane fumbled to find Krueger in the shadow world which again surrounded him. Time tumbled apart around him. He fought to focus on the insubstantial outlines of the trees and stones of the island. Dimly, he heard voices -- Krueger and the Admiral were arguing. Crane's connection to life was almost broken -- he could barely discern the thread which led to his body. Slowly he approached -- the vague outline of tombstones, and of the Admiral and Krueger became discernible. The Admiral threatened Krueger, no, Crane -- with a gun. A gun! Crane shrank in fear and confusion. No, Admiral! Don't shoot! But none heard his cry. With profound despair, Crane fell away from life, following his own Path onward into the shadow world.
Crane wandered into limbo, driven far by the fury of Krueger. I must be dead, he concluded, and continued along his Path outside of the space and time of living men. After an interval whose length was meaningless, the dim outline of Seaview's hull loomed before him. Am I destined to haunt my own ship? He approached, finding it hard to care much one way or the other.
Then the screams began. Screams felt, not heard. Shrieks without voice. The screams of men dying in agony. Crane sensed flames. Men engulfed in flames. Burning alive! The most dreaded of all killers: a shipboard fire. No!
Somewhere ahead of Crane and along his Path, he knew somehow that a compartment on Seaview had been shattered by a burning explosion. The crew members inside were dying.
Drawn by the raw emotions of the tormented souls, Crane moved through the shadow world, keeping pace with Seaview's ghostly presence. Crane sensed time sweeping by him, but leaving himself unaffected. Weeks, maybe months passed -- he did not know. The dim outlines of Seaview's corridors looked normal enough. Now Crane was close to the fire -- close in time. He could see into the Forward Crew's Quarters at shadowy, struggling forms of men. Suddenly, one form became bright and solid before him. Kowalski!
Kowalski looked at Crane, a hideous grimace on his face. Help me, Skipper, came the faint voice like the memory of a dream of speech.
A sound! Crane at last heard a sound in this limbo. He started forward, but Kowalski began to move away, following his own Path out of the shadow world. Kowalski! cried Crane's mind. No! Can't let this happen! Must warn them . . . must warn . . . who? How? I'm less than nothing here . . . no one can see me . . .
Drifting in impotent frustration, Crane abruptly felt a Presence near him. Alarmed, he turned . . . and looked into the shadow of . . . of his own face. Understanding slowly dawned. So I survive Mulayo . . . the Admiral didn't kill me . . . the Admiral must have taken me home . . .
Crane's heart ached with the longing for life and warmth and light. Crane watched his living self, puzzling over his existence. Time must have passed . . . I'm not wounded anymore . . . Time! That's it! Galvanized into action by an idea, Crane willed himself backwards along his Path, backwards in time. He saw the fire collapse inward and disappear; saw the crew once more sleeping safely in their bunks; saw himself asleep in his cabin. Drifting into his own quarters, Crane approached his living self. The sense of a Presence, of a strongly pulsating life was so powerful that Crane had to struggle to approach. Life! The life in his body was so warm it hurt -- it hurt to be a nothing in a land of mist. Is this what drove Krueger mad?
Gathering all his strength of will, Crane forced his way to his sleeping self. He touched his own mind and pictured the events that he had just witnessed. All Crane's energy went into making contact.
Abruptly, Crane was flung aside into the mist. Weak and powerless, he drifted away. In the rapidly fading vignette before him, Crane was rewarded by the image of his living self leaping out of the bunk, sheer horror on his features. The living man seized a handmike and began issuing orders. Then, darkness overwhelmed the shadow man and he saw no more.
Ten thousand years passed. Or was it ten seconds? Ten days? Crane moved forward past the fire, following his Path. He intervened again and again: some sort of electrical accident . . . a faulty turbine and subsequent explosion . . . a seriously ill crewman . . . a passenger liner breaking up on a reef near Seaview's position . . . until finally he could go no farther. Something blocked his way, and he sluggishly cast about for a reason. His mind had been growing increasingly numb as he traveled . . . had he gone too far? Had he been gone too long? The island of Mulayo seemed so far away and long ago now. Had the Admiral rescued him yet?
Pushing these musings aside, Crane gathered his awareness and focused on the faint outlines of the living world. The Flying Sub . . . yes, there were the living Crane and Kowalski en route somewhere . . . Oh, no! A surface-to-air missile! Look out! The Flying Sub occupants appeared oblivious to the threat . . . Crane willed himself forward, but was prevented by an unseen Barrier. The Flying Sub erupted in flames. Crane's Path stopped.
* * *
In a different time and place, the body of Lee Crane lay quietly in Sick Bay. Twelve hours earlier, Dr. Will Jamieson had finally had opportunity to remove the bullet that Nelson had fired into the young officer. Though only the faintest pulse of life remained in Crane after two days without treatment, the damage to internal organs was not severe and Doc had patched up Crane with expert skill.
Now, Doc stood regarding his motionless patient. Monitoring equipment gently beeped with the pattern of Crane's life, IV's dripped medication and nourishment into him, and blankets wrapped him in warmth. Doc frowned. He hadn't liked the unusual pallor and chill of Crane's skin when he was brought back to Sick Bay, returned from some uninhabited tropical island by Admiral Nelson. Crane was still abnormally cool and pale, and Doc was uneasy. Carefully checking Crane's vital signs once more, Doc shook his head, then glanced at Admiral Nelson.
Nelson was next to Crane's bed, keeping vigil with the young man whom he called friend. He had hovered in Sick Bay during the surgery and post-operative period, and refused to leave.
Nelson noted Doc's frown. "What is it, Doctor?"
Doc realized nothing but total frankness would satisfy Seaview's senior officer. Nelson was a strong man -- and this was not the first time he had kept watch over his Captain. "He's totally non-responsive, Admiral. He should be stirring by now -- starting to feel some discomfort -- starting to sleep naturally as the anesthetic wears off. And I don't like the chill of his skin." Doc's frown deepened. He hated medical mysteries and he had had more than his fair share while on Seaview.
Nelson turned grave eyes on Lee. "But you said he should heal well -- that the bullet struck no vital organs . . ."
"Yes, sir. But the Captain is far too quiescent for this stage of recovery." Doc lifted Crane's eyelid and flashed his penlight across Crane's eye to check pupil dilation and response. Then, wearing a puzzled frown, Doc walked thoughtfully back to his desk. Perhaps that reference on post-operative trauma would give a clue . . .
Nelson sat down in a chair and bowed his head over folded hands. The full reality of what he had done, what Krueger had forced him to do, sunk home. If only he had been able to resist Krueger! Now Lee's body was repaired -- what about his mind? What horror had Lee experienced in the grip of that madman? What would Lee think of him -- was their friendship forever lost?
A soft moan snapped Nelson's head up. He leaned forward anxiously. "Doc! Come here -- Lee's eyes are open." Nelson's face grew troubled. Lee's eyes were open all right, but they were dull. Nelson's gut wrenched as he viewed that vacant stare.
Doc bustled about Crane briefly, poking and prodding, listening and looking, gathering data and forming conclusions.
"Well?" Nelson's impatient voice was hoarse with tension.
"He appears fully conscious, Admiral. His heart rate is steady and strong, breathing is regular . . ." Doc faced his patient, squeezed one lean shoulder gently, and spoke firmly, "Captain Crane. It's Doctor Jamieson, Captain. You are on Seaview and in Sick Bay . . . Captain!" Doc shook the shoulder slightly. No response.
Nelson stood up, rubbing one hand over the other. "There's no one there, is that it, Doctor? Krueger destroyed Lee's mind when he stole his body." Nelson's voice shook slightly as he spoke his worst fear.
"I think it's too soon to tell, Admiral. The Captain may be in deep shock -- we don't know what he went through mentally during Krueger's possession. Crane may have withdrawn into a catatonic state as a survival tactic."
"What is your next step?"
"We need to give him time, Admiral. We need to reassure Captain Crane that he is safe and at home. We need to surround him with the familiar sights and sounds of Seaview. Even our conversation right now may be getting through to him on some level."
Nelson drew on all his self-discipline to voice the next question. "Will he recover?"
"I don't know, Admiral."
Side-by-side, the two officers looked down at the still form of Captain Crane . . . and waited.
Days passed and Lee Crane grew stronger -- physically. Morton and Nelson sat beside him at regular intervals as Seaview sailed towards Pearl Harbor, having now resumed her original mission and course. Other officers periodically joined the vigil. All followed Doc's instructions. They talked to Crane, gave him ship's status reports, told stories, discussed upcoming plans for shore liberty -- anything to get through to Crane -- to send the message of safety and homecoming. If withdrawn into a remote recess of his own mind, Doc hoped the steady flow of input would gradually draw Crane out. But as day followed day, Doc began to fear the worst -- that there was no mind behind the blank eyes -- no spark to animate the colorless features. Krueger had murdered Lee Crane as surely as if he had put a bullet through his heart.
On the third day from the island of Mulayo, Doc entered Sick Bay during the night shift and found Nelson bowed over the gurney holding Crane's body. The older man was a picture of anguish.
"Admiral?" Doc did not like the haggard face and puffy eyes, red from lack of sleep.
"We're crossing the sixteenth parallel, Doctor. Krueger wanted me to kill Lee before we crossed the sixteenth parallel. Well, I've done the deed for certain . . ." He gathered a deep breath. "Lee Crane is dead, isn't he, Doctor?" Nelson trembled as he grieved over Crane's form.
Doc sighed and picked up a sheaf of papers from his desk. "In order to pinpoint any possible neurological trauma, today I put Captain Crane through a very rigorous series of tests -- including an EEG." Doc paused, then plunged forward: "The Captain has almost no brainwave activity, Admiral . . . you are correct. The man we knew as Lee Crane is gone."
Nelson nodded dumbly in acknowledgment. "We'll be docking in Pearl in a few hours. I expect you'll transfer Lee to the Naval Hospital?"
"Uh, no, sir. To Honolulu Sanitarium." Seeing the protest rising in Nelson, Doc hurried on. "His body is healing nicely, Admiral. Physically, he needs minimal care. Mentally . . . I'm sorry . . . I'm afraid there's nothing medical science can do."
Doc saw Nelson take a deep breath, ready to violently deny that Lee was beyond reach. Doc braced himself for the explosion. Then Nelson seemed to deflate, aging a little before Doc's eyes.
"All right, Doctor." Nelson's voice was flat. "Please, leave us alone for awhile. I need to say . . . good bye . . ."
Doc nodded. "I can give you an hour, Admiral. Then I need to prepare Captain Crane for travel." Doc walked sadly back to his desk. Dear Lord, how he hated losing a patient.
Admiral Harriman Nelson stood silently above Crane for many minutes, struggling to find the words he knew he must speak. Crane remained still, though his eyes were open.
"Well, Lee, we've come a long way together, you and I. I still remember that first day at the Academy when you argued with me over my interpretation of Lord Nelson's maneuvers at Trafalgar." Nelson huffed a short laugh. "I followed your career every step of the way -- and you never allowed our friendship to interfere with your duty or your career. You earned every stripe for yourself. The last two years have been very dear to me -- you have been the finest Captain I've ever served with."
Nelson closed his eyes to shut out the blank face of the young man. "Lee, I've never told you how much you mean to me. You're like the son I've never had -- I've entrusted to you my dreams, my ship, my plans -- and you've never let me down. I've asked you to do some fairly impossible and dangerous tasks -- you've kept my crew safe and brought Seaview home time after time. And now . . . please . . . please forgive me . . ."
Nelson bowed his head. "Forgive me . . . my son . . ."
Nelson leaned one hand on the rail of the gurney, and covered his face with the other. He felt the wetness of his own tears and lost himself in an agony of remorse. That Nelson, too, had been helpless in Krueger's grasp brought no comfort, no release from responsibility. Lee was lost to him now . . . lost for all time . . .
* * *
In a different place and outside of time, a future struggle continued. In the shadow world, Crane pushed at the barrier across his Path, trying to see what happened to the FS-1. He must get help for Kowalski. Crane somehow sensed that time continued to flow forward, but he himself could not pass. Kowalski! Kowalski would die in the crash -- Crane could feel Kowalski's struggles as the sea engulfed him. Frantically, Crane cast about for a solution. Of course! Kowalski must not go -- he must stay on Seaview.
Focusing his will, Crane moved back along the Path. He felt time wrinkle and displace, saw the flying submarine return to her berth, and saw himself standing once again at the hatch. Gathering the remains of his strength, fighting the increasing numbness, Crane spoke to his own mind -- willing his living self to understand. He showed himself a vision of the crash and warned against Kowalski's presence.
But this time, the effort was too much. Crane's shadow existence lost contact and the dim lines of Seaview winked out around him. Crane felt himself falling through nothing, twisting and turning, buffeted by whirls of time and space.
The strange tugging sensation returned. Crane was too weak now to resist and allowed himself to be drawn by it. He felt a curious certainty that he had finished his task -- that he had completed his duty towards his crew and his ship. There was nothing more to accomplish in this shadow world. Crane felt himself being drawn through time and space. Shapes revolved around him in a confused passage of events.
After an interval of unknown duration, Crane arrived somewhere. Slowly, with an immense effort of will, Crane focused his awareness. He sought the shadow lines that would tell him when or where he was. He could see nothing! All was darkness. Was he lost? Was he trapped between worlds? Would he just fade away in time . . . just . . . fade away? Crane spread out his mind, seeking some clue. Time began to dissolve.
Faintly, a familiar voice whispered out of the darkness surrounding the feeble spark of life force once named Lee Crane. The voice sounded upset . . . grief stricken . . . in pain. The Admiral! Crane heard the Admiral! The Admiral was in trouble, Crane was certain of it. Where was the Admiral? Crane flung himself this way and that, then stopped, feeling his essence starting to dissipate. He must stay focused. Listen -- he must simply listen. Let the voice draw him on.
Soon, scattered words came to Crane: ". . . like a son . . . you've kept my crew safe . . . forgive . . ." Crane floated upwards towards the source of his Path, feeling the emotions in the words, the affection of the speaker, the love of a father for a son. He must not let the Admiral down . . . he must come to him . . .
* * *
In Sick Bay, an hour had passed. Doc laid a sympathetic hand on Nelson's stooped shoulder. "Admiral, it's time."
Without raising his head, Nelson nodded. Slowly and without shame, Nelson dried his face with his handkerchief and straightened his shoulders. Then, he reached out and lay his hand across Lee's forehead in benediction. "Good bye, Lee. Please forgive me . . . good bye."
Nelson took a shuddering breath and turned away, tearing his heart in two as he did so. He walked with heavy tread towards the door. Doc kept pace, sharing Nelson's loss.
A cough halted them, followed by the sounds of thrashing.
"Admiral!" The voice was hoarse with disuse. "Admiral! Where are you? Are you . . . are you all right? I . . . I can't find you . . . Admiral?"
Nelson beat Doc back to the gurney by a fraction, and seized Lee's cold hand in both his own. This time, Nelson was rewarded by a firm grasp in return. Lee's eyes were closed and he struggled as in the grip of a nightmare.
"Lee! Lee! I'm here. It's all right, son -- I'm here!" Life and warmth illuminated Nelson's voice. He willed his voice to bring Lee back.
Crane's eyes flew open and he tried to sit up. Doc and Nelson each pushed Crane back with firm hands against his shoulders.
Crane's eyes sought for and found Nelson, searching the older man's face anxiously. "Are you OK, sir?" After all the silence, words now tumbled breathlessly out of Crane. "I heard you . . . but I couldn't find you . . . I was so very far away . . . I lost my way in the dark . . . I heard you calling me back . . . I came . . ." Crane took a deep gulp of air and continued in a stronger voice. "What's the matter?" Crane's worried eyes darted back and forth between the Admiral and Doc.
"Nothing's the matter, Lee," stated Nelson carefully. He was unwilling to unleash the full force of his joy at seeing life in his young friend's golden eyes.
"But, Admiral . . . I, ugh -- " Crane fell back as piercing fire shot through his side. He lay gasping, struggling to bring his breathing back to normal. His eyes closed against the pain of his partially healed wound.
"Lee -- " The deep concern in Nelson's voice snapped Crane's eyes open once again. After a moment or two, Crane was able to speak once more. Now his voice held only gentle curiosity.
"Did you kill me, Admiral? Have I been dead?" Crane's vision had grown fuzzy and he missed Nelson's wince at the words. Crane continued without rancor. "Krueger wanted me dead. He made you kill me." Blinking, Crane's vision cleared and he turned trusting hazel eyes on Nelson.
Nelson bit his lip, shifting his weight slightly. "Lee," he began, feeling the inadequacy of words. "You're safe. You're alive and here on Seaview. Krueger's gone now."
"I know, sir," came the quiet reply. "He followed his Path. He should have gone on sixty years ago. He and Lani went on . . . home . . ." Crane's weak voice trailed off and a far away look shadowed his eyes.
Nelson quickly grasped Lee's hand in both of his own. "You're home now, Lee. And welcome back." At last, Nelson allowed a broad grin to spread across his face.
"Yes, Captain -- you've given us all quite a scare," added Doc who had busied himself checking his patient. "But it seems you've found your way back to us."
Lee looked from one to the other, then smiled gently. "Yes -- I've come back. I'm home."
* * *
After a tour at the Naval Hospital at Pearl Harbor, Lee Crane spent two months on light shore duty in Santa Barbara at the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, or NIMR. He then resumed his job as Captain of the SSRN Seaview. Surprisingly, Crane had religiously followed every medical order from Dr. Jamieson, and had therefore fully recovered from the gunshot wound with amazing rapidity. Crane had even been seen jogging three miles every morning along the perimeter road overlooking the ocean at NIMR.
When tackled on the subject by Chip, Crane merely mumbled something about needing to get back aboard Seaview as quickly as possible, and that Dr. Jamieson held the end of his leash.
"Why all the urgency, Lee?" queried the amused executive officer. "Afraid I'll get used to your job?"
Chip thought Lee's chuckle was decidedly forced, but Lee did not rise to the bait. Chip shrugged and put it down to Lee's intense desire to escape being fussed over by doctors, nurses and especially secretaries. Nelson's secretary, Katie O'Connor, was acquiring a noticeable maternal streak. Undoubtedly, Lee had had enough, mused Chip. Well, nothing like a tour of duty to put Crane truly back in shape. Chip looked forward to a return to normal.
And normal it was. Upon Crane's return, Seaview embarked upon a lengthy, but routine, resupply cruise to seven undersea laboratories operating under sponsorship of the Nelson Institute. Meanwhile, Admiral Nelson flew to Washington, D.C., at the express request of the Joint Chiefs to join a special Presidential advisory panel. Back aboard Seaview, the ghost of Krueger was exorcised at last. It was a perfectly normal cruise -- until the night of the fire.
* * *
Kowalski lay on his bunk in the Forward Crew's Quarters. Though sound asleep, he tossed and turned, whimpering softly in the grip of a nightmare. Patterson snored. Riley lay as peacefully as an angel. Silence reigned over eight sleeping sailors.
The PA speaker slammed aside the silence. "Emergency fire alert! This is the Captain. Fire details lay up to the Forward Crew's Quarters on the double. Control Room, make all preparations to surface. Move it!"
Kowalski leapt to his feet, fighting off grogginess. "C'mon, c'mon, you guys! Let's get out of here!"
The men tumbled out of the compartment, hearts pounding. Fire was a submariner's worst enemy. Kowalski and Patterson, clothed only in their underwear, grabbed fire extinguishers off the corridor wall.
"Everybody out?" yelled Kowalski to Riley.
"Sure, Ski. Where's the fire?"
Looking around himself, Kowalski had no answer. No smell of smoke was in the air. What the hey?
The PA sprang to life again with Crane's voice. "Evacuate the Forward Crew's Quarters on the double. Seal the door. Clear adjacent corridors -- make way for the fire detail."
"You heard the Skipper! Get that door closed!" shouted Kowalski at the puzzled Riley.
"OK, OK, Ski." Riley grabbed the door and slammed it closed, effectively sealing the compartment from the rest of the ship. Though not a bulkhead door able to withstand the tremendous pressures of the open sea should Seaview flood, it nevertheless made a tight seal for ventilation control -- as in the case of a fire.
"Uh, OK -- move out to the Crew's Mess -- let's get clear," directed Kowalski, growing increasingly puzzled. Where was the fire? Was this a drill?
The fire detail hustled into the corridor. They were clad in full face masks and protective asbestos suits not unlike onshore fire fighting gear.
Kowalski looked helplessly at Patterson.
Suddenly, a muffled woompf sounded from inside their quarters. Fire alarm bells began clanging as Seaview's internal sensors registered smoke and high temperatures.
"All right, men, we've got it!" declared Chief Sharkey, "clear out -- ya ain't doing nothing dressed like that!" Sharkey shooed the ill clad residents of the Forward Crew's Quarters out of the corridor and got to work.
The fire was controlled quickly, primarily doused by the built-in sprinkler system. Rerouting of the ship's ventilation system denied the hungry flames oxygen.
Within minutes, Seaview's Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Charles Phillip "Chip" Morton, had Seaview on the surface and had begun scrubbing the air of smoke.
Chief Sharkey stood in the corridor, supervising the fire detail as the men ensured no smoldering mattresses or charred blankets were left to cause a flare up.
Captain Crane entered the corridor. He was clad in his uniform pants and shoes, but without socks and with his shirt unbuttoned. He looked as though he, too, had been jerked from a sound sleep. Rubbing his hand against his stubbly chin, he asked hoarsely, "Casualties, Chief?"
"Why, none, sir."
"No one?" Crane stood with open mouth, staring at Sharkey. Then, he strode forward and put his head into the compartment. He saw charred and blackened bedding, blistered and peeling paint, a ragged rent in the back wall. The fire had erupted through an adjacent access hatch, engulfing the entire compartment without warning.
"Look at this mess!" Crane turned on Sharkey angrily. "You mean to tell me no one was injured -- they must have all been killed instantly. Horrible . . . " Crane shut his eyes.
"No, sir," stated Sharkey firmly. "You got them out in time, sir."
"Your emergency call. Everyone evacuated and Riley had the door sealed before the fire broke out."
"No casualties?" Crane's voice was weak. He ran a troubled hand over his curly, dark hair, mussing it even more.
Sharkey watched him closely. The Skipper looked awful. "No casualties, sir. Everything's under control. The automatic systems had it out practically before my detail got started."
Crane shook his head, trying to dispel the vestiges the a nightmare still clinging to his waking mind. Hadn't he heard men screaming in mortal agony, writhing in flames?
"How'd you know, sir?" asked Sharkey innocently.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, sir, if you hadn't alerted the men in time, sir, they -- "
"They'd all be dead," finished Crane. "I don't know, Chief. I was sound asleep. I guess I, uh, must have, uh, smelled smoke."
"Uh, right, sir."
"Well, I'm heading to the Control Room. Give me a full report in two hours. I want a root cause analysis on the fire's source and a rundown on our options for preventing this in the future."
"Aye, sir," acknowledged Sharkey quietly as he watched his Captain walk back to officer's country to get properly clad.
Several days passed without incident.
On the following Thursday, Kowalski wandered sleepily into the Crew's Mess during gamma watch. Glancing around at assorted off-duty sailors, he groggily poured himself a cup of coffee.
"Hey, Ski -- what are you doin' up?" queried Riley. He was busily engaged in a poker battle with Patterson, Jenkins and Rodriguez. "I thought you turned in an hour ago -- you look awful."
"Yeah, well, I guess I couldn't sleep."
"You feel all right, Ski?"
"No. No I don't."
"Just forget it. I'm OK."
"Sure, Ski." Riley resolved to keep a sharp eye on Kowalski. The last time Ski had acted like this was right before . . . before the Admiral had shot the Skipper -- right there in the Control Room. Captain Krueger -- that old U-boat -- what a mess. Riley still didn't understand it all. That was three months ago and the Skipper was fully recovered from the gunshot wound. The Skipper looked fine now. Well, maybe a bit strained. Probably just upset over that fire last week -- that was a squeaker all right. And the Skipper had practically taken the ship apart to ensure another stuck fuel valve couldn't create another accident. Yep, the Skipper sure did fuss whenever crew safety was at stake. Riley wouldn't have it any other way.
The door to the Crew's Mess opened and Captain Crane wandered in sleepily. Glancing around at the assorted crew and waving them to stay seated, he walked over and poured himself a cup of coffee.
"Can we do anything for you, sir," asked Riley.
Under the distinct impression that the Skipper had just awakened and did not really know why he was there, Riley was about to ask again.
Suddenly, the Skipper looked sharply at Kowalski, who stood uneasily against the bulkhead.
"You wanted to see me, Kowalski. What is it?"
"You wanted to see me about something." It was not a question.
"Uh, no, sir . . . I mean, yes, sir."
Kowalski and Crane looked in puzzlement at each other. Various crew members started noticing the odd exchange. Riley nudged Patterson.
"There is something, sir. I, uh, couldn't sleep. I, uh . . ."
"Neither could I. Something is not right."
"Yes, sir, that's it," agreed Kowalski. He looked at the Skipper. The Skipper looked at him.
Crane sighed drowsily and sipped his coffee, then let his tired mind wander as his eyes traveled over each sailor in the room. Silence fell as each man felt himself evaluated, then dismissed. Finally, Crane's gaze settled on Rodriguez.
Feeling eyes upon him, Rodriguez looked up from his cards to find himself under the scrutiny of his commanding officer. What had he done? What had he not done? What was the matter?
"Rodriguez!" barked Crane. "What the devil do you mean sitting there in your condition?"
Rodriguez' face held a perfect 'Who, me?' expression.
"Kowalski, get Rodriguez to Sick Bay -- on the double!"
"Aye, sir!" Kowalski leapt to obey, relieved to finally have a focus for his agitation. He practically dragged Rodriguez out of his chair and hustled him out the door.
Crane strode to the bulkhead and snatched up a mike. "Sick Bay, emergency. This is the Captain."
"Sick Bay, aye," filtered Dr. Jamieson's voice over the intercom.
"I'm sending Rodriguez to you. He's, uh," Crane faltered, his eyes focusing momentarily on something far away. "He's very sick. Listen, I want him confined to Sick Bay for the next three days. You check him every hour on the hour."
"What's the trouble?"
"Listen, Doc, I don't know," admitted Crane. "I'm not telling you how to do your job, but I am telling you when to do it. You keep that boy under observation until I tell you to stop. Clear?"
"Perfectly, sir." Doc sounded surprised. "Here he is now, Captain. I'll give you a full medical report as soon as I find anything."
"OK, Doc. Captain out." Crane slowly clipped the mike back in place, his sudden energy dissipating. He stifled a yawn.
"Sir, about Rodriguez . . ." Riley was anxious. "Is he going to be all right?"
"Hmmm? Oh, I, uh, I don't know, Riley. He's in Doc's hands now. Doc's the best there is."
"I'm turning in. Tell Rodriguez I'll check on him tomorrow."
"Yes, sir." Riley thoughtfully watched the Skipper walk out. Riley wondered if the Skipper had ever been fully awake at all.
The next afternoon, Crane sat at his desk going over ship's status reports. His door made knocking sounds at him.
Doc entered slowly. "I examined Rodriguez, sir."
"Oh, yes. Is he all right?"
"Well, no. Not now."
"What do you mean?"
"Last night when Kowalski brought him in, I gave him a thorough physical."
"I couldn't find anything wrong at first. I kept him under observation. Ten hours later, he started developing flu-like symptoms."
"He has the flu?" Crane was incredulous.
"No, sir. He was showing the early signs of a diabetic coma. It sometimes happens. Adults can develop diabetes late in life -- especially if there's a family history. The first symptoms are often mistaken for influenza. Rodriguez should have been under treatment a month ago -- but he didn't know his condition was serious. Just felt a bit under the weather was all."
"A diabetic coma? That could have been . . . could have been -- "
"Fatal? Yes, sir. I would have lost precious time diagnosing his condition if he had collapsed. And he would surely have collapsed -- sometime today, maybe; certainly sometime during the next week. It was just a matter of time."
"Is he going to be all right now?"
"Oh, yes, Captain. Diabetes is easily treatable. I have him on an insulin series now. I want to keep him off-duty and under observation until we reach port."
"Of course, Doctor."
"Oh, there's one thing I'd like to know, Captain."
"How did you detect Rodriguez' condition? I mean, his symptoms were slight. How did you know to send him to Sick Bay?"
Crane looked steadily at Dr. Jamieson for a long moment, then dropped his eyes and studied his hands, clasped on the desk in front of him. Dr. Jamieson began to think the Captain would not answer, then -- "Uh, Doc, I'm not sure. I simply saw him there playing cards with Riley in the Crew's Mess and he . . . well, he looked ill to me."
"Ill enough for an emergency alert to Sick Bay?" Doc pondered for a moment. He had noticed before that Captain Crane had a keen intuition about people in general, and his crew in particular. But this? A thought struck him. "What were you doing in the Crew's Mess?"
"Uh, I couldn't sleep. I . . . you see, Kowalski wanted me there." Crane ran one hand through his curly, black hair.
Doc was concerned to see Crane's hand shaking slightly.
"Very well, Doctor. Thank you for your report. I'll stop by and see Rodriguez a bit later."
After a long look at the Captain, Dr. Jamieson took his leave. Something was bothering the Skipper, that much was certain. Well, when the Skipper was ready to talk about it, Doc would be there.
Three weeks later, Captain Crane bent over the plotting table, deep in consultation with Lt. Commander Morton. Lt. O'Brien stood near by.
"All right, Chip -- looks like this is our best route through the shoals." Crane's voice was calm. His bearing reflected efficiency. "The Admiral wants marine samples from the inner waters as well as out in the open ocean."
"Yes, sir -- shouldn't be a problem."
"No. But alert me when we pass waypoint Bravo. I want to be on hand in case the currents are stronger than we expect. These shoals can be dangerous."
"Aye, sir," acknowledged Morton, completely at ease. Just the sort of mission he preferred -- straight forward marine research. No muss, no fuss -- Seaview was running like a charm, morale was high. They even had had a chance to overhaul some electrical systems en route -- that much less to do when they returned to port.
"OK, Chip. That's all for now." Crane glanced at O'Brien, then straightened. "Ready with the engineering reports, Bob?"
"Yes, sir. You'll see that -- "
"What the devil?!"
Crane's exclamation made Morton spin around. Something wrong in Engineering? No, Lee wasn't looking at O'Brien or his proffered clipboard at all. Rather, Lee was staring fixedly into space, his face ashen. "Lee?"
Crane stood motionless for a heartbeat, then wheeled to the periscope island and seized a mike. "Missile Room, emergency!"
"Missile Room, aye," came Chief Sharkey's crisp response.
"Stop all work immediately! On the double, Chief!"
Morton heard the Chief's bellow, sure to halt all seamen within range dead in their tracks.
"What in blazes is Patterson doing? Secure his detail. Secure all details down there. I'm coming down." Crane slammed the mike back into its bracket. "Take the con, Mr. Morton." Anger laced his voice. "We'll continue this at a later time, O'Brien." With that, Seaview's Captain stormed aft out of the Control Room, leaving a sea of bemused looks in his wake.
Sailors stood uncertainly in the middle of the Missile Room, holding tools and rags. Chief Sharkey paced before them, ready to defend or condemn his men, according to the Skipper's lead. But what in the world had set the Skipper off?
Sharkey spun around as the Missile Room starboard hatch literally slammed open and Crane strode into the room. Quickly locating Patterson, he let his fury break upon the hapless seaman. "Patterson, what in Heaven's name do you think you're doing? Do standard safety procedures mean nothing to you? Do you think I institute safety training courses for laughs? You had better explain yourself, sailor!"
"Captain Crane, sir," stammered Patterson. "I was only rerouting the wiring on the auxiliary fire control panel, sir."
"Only rerouting wiring!" blazed Crane. "Only getting your miserable hide electrocuted, you mean. Look, man -- haven't you eyes in your head?" Crane seized the screwdriver out of Patterson's hand and threw it at the open panel. A shower of sparks erupted. Patterson's eyes grew wide. The assembled sailors shifted and murmured.
"That panel is active, Patterson. And do you know why?" Crane lashed the room with his glare. "Because you sailors chose to ignore basic safety regulations." Crane stomped over to a main circuit breaker panel near where other maintenance work was in progress. He flung open the panel and pointed to a closed breaker switch -- the one that controlled electrical power to Patterson's panel. The switch that should have been open. "This breaker switch should have been locked out. This gross negligence would have had you dead, Patterson."
Patterson had never seen the Skipper so angry. He had certainly never had the Skipper so angry at him. Dimly, the senior rating realized the Skipper was not so much angry, as scared. Scared for Patterson's sake.
"Do you know what would've happened to you, Patterson? Do you?! If you'd touched that panel, twenty thousand volts would have coursed through your body, charring you from the inside out. Not a pretty sight! You listening, Patterson?"
All Patterson could do was nod dumbly.
"And then I would have had to do a job I detest. I would have had to go to your wife, your widow, and explain why your three little girls didn't have a daddy anymore. And for what?" Crane's voice exploded. "For nothing! For absolutely nothing!"
Crane gave Patterson one last glare, then swept his gaze over Sharkey and the utterly still sailors. No one dared move. No one dared breathe. The Skipper didn't blow his stack like this very often, and never without good reason. And safety and security were numbers one and two on his list of good reasons. Man, oh, man, a near fatal accident to poor Patterson -- they were history.
"Aye, sir." Sharkey squared his shoulders.
Crane's voice became quiet -- and therefore more alarming than his overt anger. "You and your men are on report. I want a full explanation of why this happened and what steps you will take to prevent such an occurrence in the future. I do not, repeat, do not want anyone's head on a platter. I want you and your men to thoroughly understand what almost happened here today and ensure no one on my boat ever loses his life through negligence. Do -- I -- make -- myself -- clear?"
"Aye, sir. Perfectly, sir," replied Sharkey formally.
"Very well, then. Carry on." Crane turned to leave and took a few steps towards the door.
"Captain Crane, sir?" ventured Seaman Patterson
The onlooking sailors marveled at Pat's courage.
"Yes, Patterson." Crane seemed tired now; his voice was without energy.
"Thank you, sir."
Crane only nodded slightly.
"How did you know, sir?"
Crane opened his mouth, but did not reply at once. His eyes flicked over the assembled sailors, over the open panels, then returned to Patterson. "It's my business to know everything that goes on in this ship," he growled.
Only Patterson realized this was no answer. "And, sir -- I, uh, only have two daughters."
"Just you wait, Patterson. Now carry on." Crane abruptly strode out.
All the sailors heaved a collective sigh, then braced for Chief Sharkey's assault.
All except for Patterson, who stood pondering. The last shore leave in Santa Barbara had been awfully nice. Maybe he could talk Mr. Morton into letting him phone his wife.
No one saw Captain Crane pause in the outer corridor. Crane leaned one arm against the bulkhead and ran a trembling hand through his hair. Taking several deep breaths, he pulled out his handkerchief and mopped the sweat from his pale face. Shaking himself as if to fling off unwelcome memories, he straightened up, squared his broad shoulders, and proceeded grimly back to the Control Room.
Four uneventful weeks passed . . .
Captain Crane made a tick mark on his clipboard, then lifted his head to address Chief Sharkey, patiently standing by. "Well done, Chief. You have the Missile Room in A-1 condition as always."
"Thank you, sir," beamed Sharkey, sharing a grin with the assembled Missile Room crew. One more inspection under their belts, and now they could get on with more routine work.
Sharkey clapped his hands together, now all business. "OK, men, back to work." He watched the sailors return to their details around the large compartment. "Anything else here, Skipper? The Engine Room is ready for you."
Captain Crane's lips curved in a half smile. He enjoyed working with Chief Sharkey -- a man he could count on. Crane allowed himself the luxury of pausing and admiring the gleaming torpedoes ready in their racks, the awesome pillars of the missile tubes, the bright indicator lights all in readiness on the fire control panels. Although primarily a research vessel, the mighty SSRN Seaview, largest submarine in the world, could leap into action at a moment's notice; she was the most powerful defensive weapon at the call of the United States government. Crane did not know what he had done to deserve such a command, but he was grateful.
Chief Sharkey felt a glow of pride as he noted his Skipper's admiring survey of the compartment. It was truly a privilege to serve under a commander who really cared. "Sir?" he prompted.
Crane brought himself back to the inspection. "OK, Chief," he smiled, turning a page on his clipboard to check his own notes. "In the Engine Room, I especially want to see the new couplings on the port auxiliary generator and, uh, I . . ." Crane's voice trailed off. His face rose until his eyes focused on something very far away. "Oh, no . . ." he whispered.
"Skipper? You all right, sir?" Sharkey was alarmed at the deathly pallor of the Skipper's face, now beaded with sweat. Sharkey glanced in the direction of the Skipper's fixed stare, but saw only the support beams of the forward bulkhead.
"Skipper!" hissed Sharkey urgently. No response. Sharkey scanned the room to see if any of the ratings had noticed. He only found Kowalski's puzzled frown and motioned the seaman over with a jerk of his head.
Kowalski hurried over, his quick brown eyes taking in both Sharkey's agitation and the Skipper's rigid body and blank face. "Chief?" he ventured.
Suddenly, Crane galvanized into action, making both men jump. "Chief, secure all weapons systems -- we have an emergency rescue operation to perform." Thrusting his clipboard into Kowalski's startled hands, Crane wheeled to the mike mounted on the escape hatch and snatched it up.
"Now hear this. Now hear this. Emergency alert. This is the Captain. We have received an emergency distress call from the passenger liner San Miguel. She's breaking up on the San Jacinto reefs. Her roster lists a maximum of two hundred passengers and crew."
Sharkey and Kowalski exchanged wide-eyed looks.
"Pssst, Chief," whispered Kowalski. "What distress call? We didn't -- "
"Pipe down, Kid," ordered Sharkey in the same low voice.
Kowalski shrugged, and both men moved forward, ready to support the Skipper.
Crane continued his avalanche of orders. "Control Room."
"Control Room, aye. This is Morton."
"Mr. Morton, set a course for the San Jacinto reefs -- all ahead emergency flank." Crane gave the coordinates and soon felt the deck surge beneath his feet as the powerful engines leapt to obey him. He clicked the mike to switch channels. "Master-at-Arms."
"Security, aye. Chief Johnston here."
"Have work parties secure all weapons systems and all classified areas of the ship. Put padlocks on all restricted areas. Issue stun guns to your men. We will soon have over a hundred frightened civilians on board. You must maintain order. Women and children will occupy officers' country. Men will occupy the Missile Room, the Stores Lockers and corridors adjacent to Sick Bay. Absolutely off limits are the Control Room, Engine Room, Reactor Room and adjacent corridors." Crane took a deep breath, while around him crewmen scurried to carry out his orders. He clicked the mike once again. "Sick Bay."
"Sick Bay here, Captain," came Dr. Jamieson's voice promptly.
"Doc -- you've been listening. What do you need?"
"Captain -- I need to draft all trained corpsmen onto our emergency first aid teams. The Crew's and Officers' Mess are as of now auxiliary Sick Bay areas. Triage will be in the Forward Stores Locker adjacent to the forward deck hatch. We'll be ready, Captain. Do you know how many casualties to expect?"
Crane hesitated and once again looked into the distance with a totally blank expression. His answer perturbed Chief Sharkey considerably. "I don't know yet, Doc. All I can see are life boats spreading out from the San Miguel and dozens of people in the water. No explosions or fires are visible."
"I see," said Doc uncertainly. "Are we at the wreck now?"
"Hang on a moment, Doc. Control Room, what's our ETA?"
"Skipper, this is Morton. We'll be at the wreck in four hours." Morton paused. "I have Sparks monitoring the emergency bands. When did the distress signal come in? Sparks isn't getting anything from the San Miguel."
"Never mind that now, Mr. Morton. I'll be there in a few minutes. I want a meeting of all department heads in the Wardroom in one hour to review our rescue strategy. And keep an eye on the weather -- we're racing against Hurricane Marilyn. We'll only have a couple of hours to recover the survivors."
"Er, yes, sir," acknowledged a puzzled Morton.
Crane turned to Kowalski and Sharkey who had taken in every incongruity of the past few minutes.
"OK, Chief. I'm afraid your spic-and-span Missile Room is about to become a refugee camp. We won't be needing any fire power for the rest of this cruise. Deactivate all weapons systems and the firing control panels. Put a lock on all access panels and disconnect the guidance controls. We'll have too many civilians aboard to take any chances. Any questions?"
His mind bubbling with a hundred questions, Sharkey swallowed and gave his reply. "No, sir. We'll get right on it."
"Good -- oh, and Chief."
"Does any crew member speak fluent Portuguese?"
Sharkey felt his head threatening to split at the seams. "Portuguese, sir?"
"Yes. The San Miguel hails out of Argentina. Most of the passengers speak Portuguese -- I need an interpreter."
Kowalski spoke up. "I think Torpedoman's Mate Rodriguez might speak Portuguese, sir."
"Good. Check on it. Now carry on." Crane wheeled and half jogged out of the Missile Room.
Chief and Kowalski stood watching him go. For a moment, they looked confusedly at each other, then hurried to obey their orders.
Three hours later, Captain Crane stood tensely behind the helmsman, willing Seaview to move faster. Already at sixty knots, the engines were being dangerously overworked. They'd need some down time at Pearl after this mad dash. Yet, with nearly two hundred lives at stake, Crane did not hesitate to abuse mere equipment.
Chip Morton bit his lip, regarding his friend and commander with a furrowed brow. He approached Crane and stood beside him. "All stations secured, sir. We're as ready as we'll ever be."
"All diving parties standing by?"
"Yes, sir. The minute we surface, we'll launch all rubber rafts and have divers in the water to bring the survivors aboard." Morton sighed and shook his head.
"I know, Chip, I know." Crane understood his friend and executive officer perfectly. "I don't like this, either. There's just too many of them -- we're running a terrible risk -- filling Seaview with so many civilians -- probably injured and terrified. We must maintain order. Just trying to feed them all -- " Crane shook his head. "Sparks raise other vessels yet?"
"Yes, sir. No other vessels of any size are within twenty hours of the San Miguel. And, uh, we do have confirmation of the weather -- ComSubPac has satellite coverage of a typhoon forming south of our target area. They had, uh, just assigned a name to the storm when I called: Typhoon Marilyn. Might escalate into a hurricane."
"Not until tomorrow. We'll just have time." Crane did not appear to notice Morton's quizzical look.
"Uh, if you say so, sir." Morton hesitated, then broached the main subject of his concern. "Lee, Sparks has received no distress calls of any kind from the San Miguel. Are you sure about this?"
Crane turned to face his friend. Morton was startled by the frantic look in his eyes. "I'm sure, Chip. People are drowning . . . dying out there. It's . . . it's horrible."
Before Morton could formulate a response, Sparks called urgently from the Radio Shack.
"Captain! Captain! We're getting something from the San Miguel, Captain!"
"Put it on the shipwide PA, Sparks. Let's let everyone know what we're up against." Crane strode to the Radio Shack and took up a mike. "Now hear this. Now hear this. This is the Captain. We're getting another distress call from the San Miguel. Listen up."
Another call? puzzled Sparks to himself as he flipped the intercom switch.
A voice crackled over the PA. All over the ship, crewmen paused in their preparations, looking upwards with concern at the speakers.
"May Day, May Day. This is passenger liner San Miguel. May Day, May Day. We have struck the San Jacinto reefs. Our engines are inoperable. We are abandoning ship. May Day, May Day --"
Sparks voice cut in. "San Miguel, this is SSRN Seaview. We read you, come in. Repeat, this is the submarine Seaview. We read you, come in, over."
"Thank God, Seaview." A new voice came on, filled with authority. "Seaview, can you assist? Over."
"Affirmative, San Miguel. What is your situation and complement, over."
Seaview's crew listened avidly as the conversation continued.
In the Missile Room, Kowalski looked up from adjusting his diving gear -- as one of the best divers on board, he would play a key role in the rescue operations. Kowalski straightened, stepped next to Sharkey and kept his voice low. "Sounds like the Skipper heard right the first time, eh, Chief?"
"Uh, yeah, Kid -- I guess so."
Kowalski would never forget the hours that followed. As soon as Seaview surfaced, he swarmed up on deck with two dozen other divers. Riley and Jenkins were in his detail, and together they piled into a rubber raft piloted by Henderson. Soon, they had left the relative protection of the submarine, and were assaulted by the heavy seas of the open ocean. As they crested their first wave, Kowalski gasped in horror. An awesome scene lay before his eyes. The huge passenger liner was clearly dying, setting high out of the water and listing sickeningly to port. She had terrible rents along her hull. The San Miguel was caught by the reef. In the background, angry clouds were building all along the horizon. Every few seconds, they lit from within as lightning arced through their dark masses. In the angry waters, small lifeboats spread out in confusion, driven by the rising winds. The water was dotted with struggling figures of men, women and children.
For the next two hours, Kowalski and his team worked relentlessly, locating survivors, lifting them into the rafts, transporting them back to Seaview's deck, and going out once again. Through it all, the wind continued to gain in strength and the seas became worse. At last, all rescue teams were recalled. The storm was about to break upon them. Just in time, Seaview sank beneath the surface and dived to safety.
And that was only the beginning. In the undersea calm, officers and crew alike worked tirelessly to care for the survivors. Gradually, order was established, the worst injuries were treated, dry clothing and hot food was distributed, and Seaview was well on her way back to Pearl Harbor. Here and there around Seaview, exhausted crew members slept . . .
Crane struggled down a dark path, filled with the distant cries of terrified souls. Flashes of anguish and fear flared up like physical flames, searing his tormented mind. Running forward, trying to escape, Crane ran headlong down the path, but soon hit a barrier. The path simply -- stopped. Horrified, Crane spun around and realized he was trapped here. He could feel the hard steel of the barrier against his back.
"Skipper, wake up, sir. Skipper!." The insistent voice gradually worked its way into Crane's dream. His eyes snapped open.
Yeoman Delano shined a flashlight into the Captain's face, looking for signs of wakefulness.
"OK, Delano. What's the time?"
"Sir, it's 0400 hours. Just as you ordered, sir." Delano waited, well used to the routine of waking exhausted officers and crewmen.
"Thank you." Crane watched Delano move off to rouse other sleeping officers for alpha watch, their recumbent forms strewn on blankets on the deck in the Observation Nose. With officer's country given over to women and children, officers now bunked in FS-1 or here in the Observation Nose. Crane counted the hours until they reached Pearl and could offload the refugees of the San Miguel. After this mission, Seaview would never be the same. Crane spotted Delano glancing in his direction and realized he had better shift. Four hours of sleep was all he had allowed himself under the present emergency -- body and soul protested the short rest.
Crane started to rise, but found his legs pinned. His left arm was also weighted down. What in the world? He looked down and found himself the recipient of an angelic look from a tiny, round face -- a little girl. On his lap, in the crook of his arm, across his legs, nestled all around him were children. What? How did these children manage to violate his express orders and infiltrate the Observation Nose -- absolutely off-limits to civilians? Crane started to frown in annoyance, then looked again into trusting, brown eyes. Oh, yes -- this little one was now an orphan. In fact, all of the eleven children surrounding him were orphans. Poor kids. What a rough night for them. Must've sneaked into the Nose when Delano wasn't looking. Ah, well. Let 'em sleep -- as long as they stay put and out of the way.
Crane gingerly slipped out from beneath the tiny sleepers, covering this one and that with blankets.
Crane summoned Delano with a jerk of his head. Whispering, he asked, "What are these children doing here?"
Delano was surprised to hear, not anger, but gentle curiosity from the Skipper. "Well, sir, I know the Nose is off-limits, but before I knew it, three of them had sneaked forward and fallen asleep next to you, and they weren't causing no trouble, sir, and they seemed so lost, sir, that I, uh . . ." Delano hardened his heart with an effort. "I'm sorry, sir, it won't happen again. I'll remove the children now, sir."
"No, no -- wait. Poor kids -- let 'em sleep. But I'm holding you responsible. If they get in the way for even an instant, remove them at once."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." Yeoman Delano grinned his appreciation. Geez, the Skipper could be human after all. And Kowalski said they replace officers' blood with ice water when they give 'em the third stripe.
As Crane supervised operations in the Control Room, fretting about his overcrowded, overloaded ship, he occasionally felt eyes on him and glanced forward. Always, one or two of the children were awake, watching him. They had the round-eyed, totally trusting expressions only possible in the very young. None of them could have been older than eight. Somehow, he felt they understood that he had come for them. He shook his head and continued to count the hours until Pearl.
Later that same day, Captain Crane embarked on a private inspection tour of Seaview. He checked all compartments and corridors, letting himself be seen by the passengers and crew. Impressing on all a sense of quiet command, he assessed for himself the status of his boat.
What chaos! Seaview was simply not designed to hold nearly three times her normal complement. Nevertheless, Crane calmly strode by stunned refugees huddled along corridor walls, offering gentle gestures of encouragement and receiving grateful smiles or hesitant handshakes in return. One elderly woman, her face heavily bandaged, fixed him with penetrating black eyes and touched him tenderly on the forehead, murmuring a blessing. Crane only understood a couple of words, "Dios Gracias." Thank God. Crane agreed wholeheartedly and nodded and smiled at the grandmama before continuing on through his disordered ship.
Entering the Missile Room, Crane merely shook his head at the sight of exhausted crew members snatching a few hours sleep in improvised hammocks slung in between the torpedo racks. But even he blinked twice at the drying shirts and socks festooning the mini-sub. Ah, well -- poor Chief Sharkey would suffer the most over this . . . this Pandemonium. Crane surveyed the throng of sitting and standing men, women and children. Sure enough, there was the Chief, eyeing the mini-sub and looking positively mournful.
Crane smiled inwardly. Who cares? he wanted to shout. They're alive! We arrived in time! Only a handful had perished with the San Miguel. He had defeated his hideous vision of scores of innocents dying, screaming as they drowned. Now, the survivors clustered around him, thanking him and thanking the crew. Miraculously, these civilians were subdued, no doubt with the shock of their ordeal. The threat to Seaview from panicked crowds had not materialized.
Along the starboard bulkhead, just opposite the escape hatch, Crane found Cookie busy with a cauldron of thick stew and a stack of bowls. Three elderly grandmamas, graying hair wrapped tidily in scarves, had shooed the orphan children into a group and were passing out the laden bowls. As Crane approached, the children immediately became silent and still, watching him with quiet eyes. Puzzled, the grandmamas began scolding, clearly instructing the children to show respect and to eat their supper.
Reacting to the awkwardness, Crane snagged a steaming bowl for himself and sat on the deck with the children. The savory aroma made his mouth water and Crane realized he had not taken time out to eat in many hours. Knowing only three phrases of Portuguese, Crane decided body language might do the trick here. Smiling in what he hoped was a disarming way, Crane spooned a mouthful of stew. Delicious. Cookie really was amazing. Crane gestured for the children to join him and continued to eat.
At first, the children just watched him with obvious amazement. Then, one by one they ventured upon their own suppers. When all the stew was gone, Crane decided to spend a few more minutes here, though other duties demanded his attention. Perhaps some conversation would be in order.
"You are all good children, yes?" began Crane brightly. "I, er . . ." he trailed off. Those wide-eyed stares were rather disconcerting. "My name is Lee." Crane pointed to himself, then repeated the sentence in Portuguese, using up a third of the vocabulary Rodriguez had hurriedly taught him. Crane pointed to the oldest child and looked a question.
The girl, perhaps eight, regarded Crane with large black eyes. Her straight black hair was wrapped in a deep blue scarf which matched the seaman's denim shirt she was wearing -- the shirt was so large on her it served as a dress. Hesitantly, she said a short sentence that ended in something like "angelina."
What? That means 'angel', doesn't it? puzzled Crane to himself. His limited vocabulary was inadequate for this. Looking around, Crane spotted Rodriguez, busily interpreting for Chief Sharkey by the torpedoes. The sailor was no doubt explaining the concept of "hands off" to a group of bedraggled yet inquisitive teenagers. Crane motioned Rodriguez over.
"Rodriguez, could you tell these children my name and help me get acquainted?"
"Aye-aye, Skipper." A few short sentences followed and Crane learned that the oldest child's name was Sofia.
Fixing Crane with her strangely intense gaze, Sofia repeated her original question. Rodriguez started in surprise and rather unsuccessfully squelched a guffaw of laughter.
Crane looked a bit taken aback. "What in heaven's name did Sofia say?"
"Ah, um . . . well, sir, she asked if you were . . . um . . . were an angel, sir." Rodriguez promptly tied himself in knots trying to stifle his amusement. The thought of angelic qualities as applied to his grim, if effective, commanding officer was just a bit too absurd for the lowly Torpedoman's Mate.
Crane chose to ignore Rodriguez' difficulties. Crane's next question was gentle, his curiosity genuine. "Ask her why she thinks I'm an angel."
Rodriguez did so. Upon receiving an answer from the serious little girl, Rodriguez sobered immediately.
"Well? What is it?"
Rodriguez explained, "Sofia says that she and the other children saw you, sir."
"Saw me?" echoed Crane.
"Yes, sir. When the San Miguel first ran into trouble, they were in the first lifeboat cast off. You know, the boat that Riley and Kowalski barely reached before it was crushed against the reef? Sofia says that she saw you standing there in the waves, urging them to hang on, telling them that help was coming -- " Rodriguez broke off as Sofia asked a question. Rodriguez' eyes grew wide.
"Well?" Crane felt prickles along his neck and scalp.
"Sofia wants to know if your side is all better."
"My side . . ." Crane looked slowly down and put his hand over his side where the Admiral's bullet had caught him. A small hand covered his own and he looked up into the small, concerned face of Sofia. "Tell her . . . tell her I'm fine . . . that I'm fully healed now."
After a wondering pause, Rodriguez did so. Crane was rewarded by the relieved smile which lit her face.
Chief Sharkey approached, oblivious to this exchange. "Skipper, Mr. Morton needs you in the Control Room."
"OK, Chief. Rodriguez, tell the children that I must go, but that they'll be all right. They have nothing to fear." Crane rose to his feet as Rodriguez interpreted.
As Crane turned to leave, Sofia answered.
"She says that they know that, Skipper," said Rodriguez. "She says you will take care of them."
Crane met Rodriguez' eyes and paused as if to speak. Instead, Crane shrugged and hurried off.
Nine hours later, Seaview docked at Pearl Harbor.
Her passengers were offloaded amidst a hubbub of reporters, television cameras and news choppers. The spectacular rescue at sea of the doomed San Miguel made quite a splash in an otherwise quiet news week.
Mr. Morton released most of the crew for a well-deserved shore liberty while Crane arranged for the onshore support teams to commence on Seaview's repairs. In addition, Crane was forced to give numerous interviews and press releases to keep the media from clogging up the port area and hounding his men. Though the crew loved every minute of the television coverage, Crane cringed to think that his face was seen around the world by millions. He blessed the start of the Board of Inquiry. He now had an excuse to disappear into the Naval Headquarters building at Pearl Harbor for hours of quiet testimony -- and no reporters.
The Captain of the SSRN Seaview stood at parade rest in full dress uniform. He faced the three-man Board of Inquiry, convened to investigate the sinking of passenger liner San Miguel.
"That's correct, Admiral Johnson," replied Crane. "We received a distress call from the San Miguel at approximately 1100 hours and immediately proceeded at emergency flank speed to the San Jacinto reefs. En route, we received additional information from the San Miguel at 1410 hours and arrived at the wreck at 1450 hours. We spent the next two hours recovering some 187 survivors before abandoning the site due to heavy seas from Hurricane Marilyn. We had no opportunity to recover bodies or to salvage equipment or cargo. As it was, it was touch and go getting back to Pearl Harbor with Seaview severely overloaded."
"Of course, Captain. You and your crew did an excellent job. If you hadn't arrived when you did, the San Miguel would have been lost with all hands given the proximity of the hurricane." Admiral Johnson paused, referring to his notes. "However, there is an inconsistency in timing that I would like to resolve."
"You stated that you received a distress call at 1100 hours."
"Approximately that, yes, sir."
"Your radioman, Lt. Peatty, recorded no such distress call. Nothing until 1410 hours -- over three hours later."
Crane's eyes darted back and forth across the faces of the Board members -- two Admirals and a full Captain. All sat waiting patiently. "I have no explanation, sir. I assure you I did receive such a call. And at 1100 hours."
"I don't understand, Captain. In the testimony of Captain Robles, he states that San Miguel's engine trouble began at 1300 hours, causing them to collide with the San Jacinto reefs in the heavy seas preceding what became Hurricane Marilyn. He did not issue the order to abandon ship and begin sending an emergency distress call until 1410 hours."
"Yes, sir, that is correct."
"Captain Crane, you mean to tell me that you abandoned your primary mission and headed for the site of a ship in distress a good three hours before said ship was in trouble?"
Crane licked his lips and shifted his weight slightly. "Yes, sir. Those are the facts."
"How do you explain this?"
"I have no explanation, sir."
Admiral Jiggs Starke, until now quiet, regarded Crane with his usual stern demeanor. Privately, this young Captain met with his approval. Headstrong, stubborn -- but a first rate commander. Probably have Starke's job someday -- Commander of the United States' submarine fleet in the Pacific. But this nonsense must stop now -- before it hurt Crane's career. And -- Jiggs had seen some strange things in his life -- inexplicable things. Events he would never share with anyone. It was time to call a halt.
"Very well. That will be all, Captain Crane. Dismissed."
Looking slightly relieved, Crane snapped to attention, turned precisely on his heels, and strode from the Board room.
"Jiggs, what's up? We have to get this discrepancy resolved. Someone has made a glaring error in his log." Admiral Johnson looked exasperated. Mysteries he needed like a ship needed barnacles.
"Oh, I don't think we have to solve every little mystery of the sea, George," asserted Admiral Starke. "The San Miguel got into trouble. Seaview arrived in time to save her. Some brilliant work there, by the way. Case closed."
An hour later, Admiral Jiggs Starke held a debriefing session of his own. Starke sat motionless behind his desk in his private office, silently regarding the young man sitting in front of him. The four stars on his collar gleamed ominously. Though the minutes ticked away on the old brass ship's clock mounted on the wall behind him, Captain Crane betrayed no sense of uneasiness. He simply waited calmly for his superior to speak. Jiggs smiled to himself -- yes, he approved of this young officer -- a very cool customer. The Captain wouldn't let Jiggs' silent treatment shake him -- any other officer of his rank or age would be squirming by now. Yes, Admiral Nelson had picked the best all right. Well, time to get some answers.
"All right, Captain Crane -- what's this all about?"
"Captain -- the time for frankness is now. I closed the Board of Inquiry because I saw it would lead nowhere. I have myself seen unexplainable events in thirty years at sea. You did an outstanding job with the San Miguel. And," Jiggs turned the full force of his piercing glare on the Captain, "I know and you know that Seaview responded before the emergency began. Lives were saved, of course, but -- I will have an explanation. Now."
Crane returned Jiggs' gaze unflinchingly. He saw no anger, but rather a commander with a need for information.
"I have no explanation, sir, but . . ." Crane raised a hand before Jiggs could interrupt, ". . . but I can report the facts."
"Facts, Captain?" Jiggs studied Crane narrowly.
Crane sighed and bent down to open his briefcase. He pulled out a sheaf of papers and placed them in front of Admiral Starke.
Jiggs looked down at the top sheet, then riffled quickly through the pile. Depositions from crew members? A fire . . . an electrical panel malfunction . . . what was all this?
"Sir," Crane took a deep breath. "This has happened before."
"Humph," acknowledged the senior officer. He began reading.
Ninety minutes later, Admiral Jiggs Starke turned over the last sheet of Crane's reports and sat back, his face unreadable. "Quite remarkable, Captain . . . quite remarkable."
"Those are the facts, sir," stated Crane.
"And you have no explanation." It was not a question.
"No, sir, I do not." Both men sat in silence.
"When did all this start? Five months ago?" asked Starke suddenly.
"You were here in the Naval Hospital then. A gunshot wound, I believe." Jiggs now saw a surprising sight -- Captain Crane restless and uneasy in his presence. "All that nonsense about the wreck of an old U-boat from World War I." Jiggs grew nostalgic, "I would have liked to have seen that wreck . . . an old U-boat."
"No, sir, you would not." Crane was emphatic.
"Bad memories, Captain? Well, no matter -- you had a near miss -- almost died from what I heard. Touch and go there for quite awhile, eh?"
"Yes, Admiral. It was . . . quite an experience."
"Well, you had a brush with violent death, and now . . ." Jiggs voice grew matter of fact. "I've been at sea all my life, Captain, and I've seen odd things . . . very odd." Jiggs gestured to the papers spread before him. "Take these with you when you go. The Navy currently has no need of mysteries." Jiggs waited, expecting Crane to rise, collect his things and be off. "Captain?"
Crane's face had suddenly gone dead white. His eyes focused very far away. Beads of sweat stood out on his forehead.
"Captain Crane," began Jiggs sternly, but Crane did not respond. Jiggs cocked his head to one side, observing Crane narrowly.
In a moment, life returned to the Captain with a rush. "No!" he shouted, jumping to his feet. Horror was written on every feature. "Admiral Starke, Seaview! Turbine generator three!"
Admiral Starke was first and foremost a submarine commander. He did not hesitate. "Come with me to the ComCenter, Captain," he ordered, rising. The two officers, young and old, ran from the room.
* * *
While Captain Crane finished up business with the Board of Inquiry, Lt. Commander Morton readied Seaview for a short excursion to shake down the new sonar array they had managed to install during Seaview's stay at Pearl Harbor. Expecting to be gone no more than three hours, Morton had recalled only one third of the normal ship's complement. The men had worked themselves into the ground during the rescue of San Miguel and the subsequent, hectic cruise back to Pearl Harbor.
Morton smiled to himself, thinking of Patterson. Pat had been totally dumbfounded to hear his wife was pregnant again -- sonograms indicated it would be another girl. Morton decided to please himself by ordering the experienced sailor ashore. "Phone your wife, Patterson. Your mind won't be on the job for awhile. Go ahead and take a flight to the mainland -- but mind you get back here by next Tuesday," he had said.
Standing by the periscope island, Mr. Morton received status reports from all stations. When all was ready, he gave the orders to put to sea. Soon, Seaview had cleared the harbor and commenced trials of the new sonar array.
"What's our status, O'Brien?"
Lt. O'Brien had supervised installation of the new gear and was in charge of running system tests. "We're done with the low speed runs, sir. Performance is quality 10." O'Brien sounded pleased. For once new equipment was performing according to the glowing predictions of onshore technicians. "Ready for high speed maneuvers. Let's see how she'll work with some serious fluid streaming over the array."
Morton smiled. He, too, was eager to see if the new sonar would allow high fidelity detection at full, or even flank, speed. "What's our next pattern, Bob?"
"Course one-seven-oh, all ahead full. Bring up full amplification on the entire sonar system."
Morton nodded and picked up the periscope island mike. "Engine Room, this is the Exec."
"Engine Room, aye."
"Stand by to answer bells. We're going to pour it on this run. Better stand by with the auxiliary generator, too. This new sonar gear really draws a lot of juice."
"OK, Mr. O'Brien. She's all yours."
Suddenly, Sparks' urgent voice broke from the PA system. "Mr. Morton! Mr. Morton! Crash priority message from Captain Crane, sir!"
"Pipe it through to the monitor, Sparks. Stand by, O'Brien."
The duty crewman leaned across the fathometer station to activate the Control Room monitor -- really a two-way videophone. Crane's harried face filled the screen.
"Chip! Come to full stop! Shut down all auxiliary power systems!"
"On the double, man!"
Morton immediately issued the necessary orders. As usual, he acted first and hoped explanations would follow. His quick response had saved lives more than once in the past. And now?
"All right, sir -- we're shut down. What is the emergency?"
Crane's tense body visibly relaxed, though he remained pale and drawn. He swallowed, then took a deep breath. "Mr. Morton, you will have a detail immediately dismantle turbine generator three."
"Lee, that generator feeds power to the auxiliary generator. Without it we can't continue with the sonar array tests."
"I know, I know. Never mind the tests."
O'Brien looked startled -- the Skipper had been on his back for the past week to ensure installation and tests went according to schedule.
Crane continued wearily. "You will find that the turbine has cracked blades -- metal fatigue in the forward support structures. You spin that turbine up to full and it'll come apart -- shrapnel will cut through the Engine Room and Aft Crew's Quarters like someone dropped a grenade in there."
"Captain. Lee -- how do you know?"
"Just carry out your orders, Mr. Morton." Crane's voice brooked no argument. "Don't inform Engineering of my . . . hypothesis. Have them make a full assessment of the condition of the turbine and probable effects of failure. I'll be waiting in Admiral Starke's office for your report. Crane out." The screen went blank.
Morton stood still for a beat. "Well, you heard the Captain, Mr. O'Brien. Hustle down to Engineering and get that detail started. Oh, and O'Brien . . . "
"Don't warn the detail what to expect. We'll just let Chief Farrell draw his own conclusions."
"Yes, sir." A very puzzled O'Brien hurried aft.
"Are you sure, Chief? A catastrophic failure of the turbine?" Morton faced the engineering detail -- all faces were grim at the near miss.
Chief Farrell replied, "Aye, Mr. Morton. It was only a matter of time. Metal fatigue in the forward load bearing members. Two blades showed actual cracks. Sometime soon, when the turbine was spun up full, those blades would have come undone and the resulting stresses would have had the whole mechanism coming apart. I saw a turbine fail like that once, sir -- on the old USS Jefferson. So much flying metal, why -- it was like a bomb had exploded -- killed everyone in the compartment."
"You mean," stated Morton carefully, "this turbine would have thrown shrapnel through the compartment?"
"Aye, sir -- and probably into the Aft Crew's Quarters as well, I shouldn't wonder. Just like dropping a bloody grenade inside Seaview."
"Well, Chief -- thank Heaven we caught it in time then. I want a full report, especially outlining a strategy for inspecting the remaining turbines and ensuring this can't happen in the future."
"Yes, sir!" The Chief was completely agreeable. "That blasted turbine would have killed us all down here. Make no mistake about that." The pale faces of the engineering crew attested to the truth of his words. And the stoic engineering Chief was not prone to exaggeration of any kind.
"Very well, Chief. Carry on." Morton turned to go.
"Yes, sir. And may I say, sir . . ."
Morton paused, waiting.
"On behalf of us all, thank you, sir. How did you know to shut us down when you did, sir?"
"It wasn't me, Chief." Puzzlement was plain on Morton's face. His words came reluctantly. "It was the Skipper. He called us from Pearl and alerted us to the situation."
"Ah, I see, sir. The Skipper was it? Of course." Chief Farrell nodded wisely to himself, apparently satisfied with this answer.
Morton debated whether to pursue this non sequitur comment, and decided to pass. He nodded shortly and headed for the Control Room.
Chief Farrell murmured to himself. "The Skipper's a regular guardian angel, he is. Wouldn't be surprised if he's got the Sight -- just like my old mater."
Morton entered the Control Room and strode towards the monitor. "Sparks, raise Captain Crane."
Morton waited at the monitor and was soon joined by O'Brien. In fact, the full Control Room complement were at their stations, including additional personnel doing routine maintenance tasks not strictly necessary at this particular moment.
Crane's face materialized immediately on the monitor. Clearly, he had been waiting for Morton's call. Crane studied Morton's face briefly, then spoke dryly. "I see I was right."
"Yes, sir. Chief Farrell confirmed the state of the turbine. Said it only was a matter of time before the unit literally tore itself to pieces -- along with the engineering personnel . . . you saved their lives, Lee."
Crane merely nodded. Morton didn't care for the haunted look in the Captain's expressive, hazel eyes. Crane sat tensely in the Pearl ComCenter, seated at a desk with his hands clasped tightly in front of him.
"Lee, how did you know the turbine was ready to fail?" queried Morton. The entire Control Room grew very still.
Crane raised one hand and rubbed his forehead slowly with closed eyes. "There doesn't seem to be any way I could have known, does there?" he asked his friend and Exec.
"Well, sir, that's the way it looks from here. I'd like to prevent similar trouble in the future, and if I only knew how you, uh -- "
"How I knew the unknowable?" Crane dropped his hand with a shaky sigh. "Sorry, Chip -- I have no explanation for you right now. None at all. I wish I did -- the whole business is just, well, impossible." Crane shook his head in frustration. "I wish Admiral Nelson was here. I need answers . . ."
"He's due back next week. He made contact with Sparks on the radio-phone while you were briefing the Board of Inquiry. Said he was finally able to pry himself loose from that special advisory committee the Joint Chiefs dreamed up."
"Good!" Crane changed the subject. "What's your ETA?"
Morton checked his watch. "If we get underway now, we'll arrive by 1400 hours."
"Good. I'll meet you at the pier. But first," Crane gave a wry smile, "I have to explain to Admiral Starke why I felt it necessary to leap to my feet in the middle of his debrief, yell impossible things about Seaview and run like a madman to the ComCenter." Crane fixed his friend in the eye. "And I have no explanation. Chip, I need the engineering report on that turbine ASAP. Crane out."
The screen went dark and Morton pondered the flat, blank screen for a full two minutes before getting Seaview underway back to Pearl Harbor.
The instant the gangway was in place, Crane came aboard. "I want to meet with the engineering detail, Chip," he demanded as soon as his head cleared the ladder well next to the periscope island. He dropped the last two feet to the deck. "I want to know why we almost lost seventeen lives today."
Morton mulled this over to himself -- odd choice of words. Surely they would have had casualties -- but why so precise? Seventeen? And why was Lee so certain of the exact nature of an accident which had never happened. Morton had no time to dwell on this thought -- Lee was already striding through the aft hatch -- the quickest way from the Control Room to Engineering.
Entering Engineering, Crane paused, feeling an unfamiliar atmosphere. All around the compartment, men stopped work and came to attention, regarding him with -- what? Admiration? Uncertainty? Fear? Crane's keen intuition sensed many emotions.
Chief Farrell came smartly forward and practically saluted. Crane knew he had earned the respect of his crew over countless missions over the last two years, but this obvious display was unusual in the extreme. Normally, Crane insisted on an easy informality which he found produced a more smoothly running ship.
"Captain Crane," grinned the normally stoic engineering Chief. "I take it you want a full report on turbine generator three then, sir? Of course, of course -- if you think that will be necessary."
Crane looked hard at Farrell. Normally, the Chief was barely civil to the command crew, wishing they would stay clear of his precious power systems -- which they regularly abused on mission after mission. Now Farrell was actually smiling at him.
"Yes, Chief, that's right. I want your expert opinion on the cause -- and your plans for the other systems."
"Certainly, Captain. Only -- is there anything else which you can tell me? Anything that I can expect . . . in the future?" he asked with emphasis on the last word.
Crane felt a chill in his guts. Farrell knew. Crane's eyes flicked around the compartment -- all eyes were on him and he saw . . . trust mixed with fear in their regard. They all knew. And, oh, they were so wrong! Crane returned his eyes to Farrell. "Absolutely not, Chief." Crane lowered his voice and leaned closer, making his voice hard. "It's not like that -- not like that at all. I have no . . . special knowledge. You must continue to work according to standard safety regulations and follow the standard inspection schedule. You can not and will not count on me." Crane pinned Farrell with his eyes. "Is that clear?"
Chief Farrell nodded sagely. "Yes, sir. It comes and goes, I expect."
"Chief -- " warned Crane.
"Yes, sir." Chief Farrell returned the conversation to normal volume. "Well, sir, we found two cracked turbine blades . . ." The Chief continued with his report, speaking matter of factly.
The eyes of his crew continued to scrutinize Crane. Chief Farrell finished at last and they discussed a few options. Crane made ready to return to the Control Room.
"All right, Chief, that about covers it, then. You, uh, you and your men all right?" His question took in the entire compartment.
A chorus of "Aye, sirs" arose from the loyal men. Surprised at the enthusiasm of the response, Crane hesitated, then nodded and strode out the hatch.
Two days later, Crane sat in his cabin reviewing the maintenance schedules for the aft power distribution systems. Hmmmm . . . perhaps a couple of these units should be moved to the top of the list. Yes, that was better. Crane reached over and flipped the intercom switch. "This is the Captain. Will Chief Farrell please report to my cabin? Captain out."
An hour later, Lt. Commander Morton stood curiously in front of Crane's desk. "Lee, what did you do to Chief Farrell -- threaten to throw him to the sharks?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Farrell is tearing apart the main aft power conduit -- going over it with a fine tooth comb. What's the problem?" Morton spoke as if he expected Crane to know.
"Oh, for crying out loud!" Crane shoved his chair back and stood, beginning to scratch the palm of his right hand with the heavy Annapolis ring on his left ring finger. Crane's unconscious mannerism was a sure sign to Morton that he was upset.
"Any trouble, Lee? Any . . . danger to the ship?"
"Chip! Not you, too?" Crane leaned his hands on the desk and fixed his friend with an intense gaze. "Look, all I did was suggest that Chief Farrell change the priority of a couple of items on the maintenance schedule. That's all."
Morton was imperturbable. "I see . . . Lee, you never change Chief's maintenance schedule . . . never. Why this time?"
"Oh, c'mon! I . . . uh . . . just thought . . . I . . ." Crane stopped, paused, and then scowled.
"Right," stated Morton as if Lee had answered. "Well, if that's all, sir, I'll go aft and check Chief Farrell's progress."
"Chip! I . . . oh, very well. Carry on." Crane's frown deepened as he watched Morton leave.
His mood completely failed to improve when Morton reported twenty minutes later. The main feedlines from the reactor were corroded -- a condition not visible nor detectable by routine inspection -- and potentially very dangerous. Crane's annoyance and frustration increased through the following days.
Crane stared into space, idly scratching the back of his neck with his pencil. Admiral Nelson was due in tomorrow. That would be a relief -- if there were any answers to this business, the Admiral would find them. The Admiral wouldn't start jumping every time his Captain walked through the hatch. This had to stop. No, the Admiral would find a rational, scientific explanation . . .
Suddenly, a voice broke his concentration, speaking practically in his ear.
"Trouble, sir?" whispered Chief Sharkey.
"What?" Crane looked at Sharkey and then around the Missile Room. He had been going over weapons readiness reports with Chief Sharkey in the aftermath of the San Miguel rescue. No signs of the occupation by the refugees remained except for Patterson and a small detail reconnecting the auxiliary fire control panel -- working with extreme attention to safety regulations, and glancing frequently in his direction. Even now Jenkins was staring at him, poised protectively over Patterson. Here and there around the compartment, sailors were eyeing him nervously. Crane realized he had been standing and thinking for at least a minute.
Oh, good Heavens -- now the crew is getting jumpy. Crane made his voice firm and strong so that it would carry around the compartment. "Chief, I was considering my report to Admiral Nelson for tomorrow. That's all." Sharkey appeared unconvinced. "I was thinking, Chief." Crane began to sound annoyed. "Now, show me the forward tube controls."
"Aye, sir -- this way."
Crane was relieved to see Sharkey relax and get back to business. What am I going to do?
"Well, Lee, I've been talking to Jiggs Starke about you," smiled Admiral Nelson tolerantly. Nelson was now settled in his cabin, seated behind his desk. He was relaxed and happy to be back aboard his beloved submarine; happy to be back in his lived-in khaki instead of the stiff dress uniform necessary for Washington; happy to be back with his Captain and friend. He was privately amused to see that Lee looked decidedly unhappy -- well, that was quite a tale Jiggs had told him. And one thing about his young friend -- Lee hated mysteries.
Crane perched on the edge of a chair at the corner of Nelson's desk.
"Perhaps you'd better tell me everything, Lee."
Crane sighed and stood up, his tension not allowing him to remain still. "It's impossible, Admiral. Simply impossible . . . it began with a fire." Crane told the entire story concisely, yet it still took time. Finally he concluded, "And now the entire crew is on edge. Watching me -- jumping at my least suggestion -- acting like I . . . I know things . . ." Crane looked anxiously at the Admiral. "What's the answer, Admiral?"
Nelson became grave. Lee had asked him that question once before. Months before when Captain Gerhardt Krueger of the U-444 had been aboard. Nelson gave Crane the same reply he had given back then.
"There isn't any answer, Lee."
He hid his amusement at Lee's disappointment -- sometimes Lee expected miracles from him. Miracles -- it was a miracle I didn't kill Lee -- and that Lee had recovered. Hmmm . . . Lee had never talked about his experience after the . . . the shooting. Nelson's gut tightened with guilt. May Krueger rot in Hades! With an effort, Nelson pushed his unproductive emotions aside. What happened to you, Lee? When asked at the time, Lee had simply claimed he did not remember -- that he had awakened in Sick Bay, surprised to learn of his injury. Nelson wondered.
"Lee. I want to get to the bottom of this, but you have to help me -- and you won't like it."
"Suppose you let me hear what you have to say first."
"All right. Tell me what happened after I . . . after Krueger . . . shot you."
Crane sucked in his breath, all color draining from his face, and sank slowly into the chair.
Nelson was concerned to see a haunted look grow behind Lee's golden eyes.
"No . . ." Crane whispered to no one, his eyes focused on something very far away.
"Tell me, Lee. Tell me what happened," urged Nelson.
Lee sat perfectly still for three solid minutes. Then taking a deep breath he started talking as if to himself. "I . . . remember . . . I . . . I saw things, Admiral . . . terrible things . . . no living man should see . . . no wonder Krueger was mad . . . he should have gone on . . . he should not have stayed -- trapped! Trapped in limbo with dying souls . . . death! Death by violence . . . sudden death . . . death unlooked for and unwanted . . . stretching out before me . . . men and children and women taken suddenly and passing on . . . passing through limbo . . . and I couldn't get away . . . couldn't make Krueger stop . . . Krueger was strong in that place . . . and I was dying, too . . . I saw Kowalski die . . . and Patterson . . . I saw how and where . . ."
Crane turned his anguished eyes full on Nelson. His voice was hoarse. "I remember! Oh, God!" He put his elbows on Nelson's desk and dropped his face into his hands.
Nelson nodded grimly to himself, as if this outburst agreed with some inner conclusion. Krueger! Nelson shuddered to think of his own personal nightmare -- walking trance-like down Seaview's corridors with Krueger's hated voice whispering to him, trapping him, making him walk into the Control Room, making him point a gun at his Captain. Nelson still had nightmares -- featuring the anguished look of betrayal in Lee's eyes as he fell from the periscope island, a bullet in his side. A bullet Nelson had put there. And now Nelson saw before him his Captain, still in pain. Nelson leaned forward and lay his hand on Lee's lean shoulder, giving wordless comfort. The two friends sat together for a long time, fighting old demons.
Several weeks passed uneventfully.
In Seaview's famous Observation Nose, the blue Pacific waters bubbled over the transparent hull plates. Made of x-tempered herculite, the special hull sections gave the uninformed an impression of glass-covered windows. Crane and Nelson studied maps spread over the conference table, their backs turned to the splendors of the sea.
"What am I looking for, Admiral?"
"ONI doesn't have an concrete information, Lee. Just suspicions. There's entirely too much ship traffic in these islands for any legitimate pursuits."
"So it could be drug trafficking or arms smuggling -- something like that?"
"Precisely, Lee. We just don't know. That's why I want you to do an aerial survey with FS-1. Your instincts are good -- you have experience with normal ship traffic and harbor activity. Keep an eye out for the unusual -- just anything that doesn't sit right. Then, we'll focus our investigation -- maybe perform some covert operations."
"Aye, sir," nodded Crane at the straightforward task. The Office of Naval Intelligence, or ONI, regularly commissioned Seaview for such "unofficial" investigations.
Wearing his black flight jacket, Crane stood up from the conference table and walked towards the Flying Sub's access hatch. Kowalski emerged from below, wearing a black flight jacket over his red jumpsuit, the preflight checklist on a clipboard in his hand.
"All ready to go, Kowalski?" asked Crane with a slight smile.
"Yes, sir. We've completed the preflight checks and she's ready whenever you are." Kowalski waved a confident hand in the air, eager to be off. Just a reconnaissance flight, but it broke the routine. Gave him a chance to get in some flight hours, too.
"Very well." Crane thought for a moment, trying to anticipate all mission contingencies. "Kowalski, go down to Electrical Stores and break out the subsurface scanner. I have a feeling we might need it."
Kowalski quickly walked aft.
"What are you thinking, Lee?" asked Nelson, still lounging at the conference table.
"Well, it worked well when you were searching for that underwater cave where that old sub, the Tetra, was marooned all those years. And if I was a smuggler in these waters, I think a subsurface installation would be ideal -- and if we do find such an installation, it won't be there for any legitimate purpose."
Nelson nodded his approval, adding to himself: Like I said, son, your instincts are good. "Well, I'm going to my cabin to work out some contingency plans should you find anything, Lee. A subsurface installation -- might be hard to crack." Musing to himself, Nelson disappeared up the spiral staircase leading from the Control Room to officer's country.
Crane walked to the access hatch. About to step inside the railing surrounding the hatch, he paused, frowning.
"Anything the matter, Skipper?" asked the attendant Chief Sharkey. Having a knack for being in the middle of things, Sharkey was nearly always present when any member of the command crew boarded or departed the ship. Now, Sharkey studied the Skipper, who had not responded to his question. With rising alarm, Sharkey noted the Skipper's pale face and his eyes focused in the middle distance. "Skipper -- what's up? Trouble?" Sharkey braced himself.
But Crane just took a deep breath and seemed to come back to himself. "Chief, I'm going alone. I don't want Kowalski along after all. When he gets back, tell him to stand down. OK?"
"Sure, Skipper -- but don't you think -- "
"The Admiral is waiting, Chief. I want to do a quick once over immediately. Then we can make plans." Crane paused, then spoke as if to himself alone, "I'm, uh, I'm all in the dark right now. I can't see my way at all . . ." Crane squeezed his eyes tightly shut, then blinked a couple of times. In a normal tone, he ordered, "Stand ready at the launch controls, Chief."
"Aye, sir." Sharkey had no choice but to obey. Clearly, the Skipper was in no mood for Sharkey's cautions.
Crane descended rapidly into the FS-1 and soon its yellow, manta ray shape rose before the Observation Nose windows, bubbles streaming in its wake. Crane was airborne three minutes later. He radioed in his flight plan to Sparks: just a standard search pattern across the cluster of islands which was the focus of so much interest at the Office of Naval Intelligence.
Kowalski hurried through the aft hatch into the Control Room. He had had the devil's own time digging out the subsurface scanner from Electrical Stores -- Electrician's Mate Fletcher had insisted on checking the calibration certification to ensure the device was still within specifications. Kowalski had grown increasingly agitated with the delay. He kept putting it down to anxiety over an impatient Captain -- even though the Skipper was perfectly relaxed today. The recon flight had no special urgency about it. The Skipper trusted Kowalski -- knew that any delay would have a sound basis. Kowalski kept telling himself these things as his uneasiness grew -- grew all out of proportion to circumstances. Consequently, he practically jogged through the Control Room with the subsurface scanner clutched tightly to his chest.
"Where's the Skipper?" demanded Kowalski of Sharkey. "Is he all right?"
"Of course he's all right, Ski." Sharkey gave Kowalski a curious look. "What's the matter, Kid?"
"Oh, nothing, Chief," relieved Kowalski. "I just had a feeling that something was, you know, going to happen." He gave a nervous laugh.
Alarm bells went off inside Sharkey's head. First the Skipper, and now Kowalski.
"Well, I'd better get aboard, then, Chief."
"No need, Ski. The Skipper said for you to stand down. He's going to just do a quick recon this trip."
"You mean he's already gone? Alone?!" Kowalski's eyes were wide with alarm. He flung himself at the FS launch controls to prove to himself that the exotic craft was not in its berth. He lowered the scanner to the deck, then wheeled to Sharkey. "Chief -- we've gotta stop him. Gotta bring him back -- now!" Kowalski clutched Sharkey's arm above the elbow, trying to force understanding into the Chief.
"C'mon, Kid -- what gives? We can't just break radio silence for no reason." A sudden thought struck Sharkey. "Listen, what's your worry? I don't know how or why, but since that Krueger joker came aboard, the Skipper's been real good at spottin' trouble before it starts, y'know what I mean?"
"Not about himself, Chief!" hissed Kowalski.
"Geez, Ski -- you don't think? Oh, man!" Sharkey began looking through the Control Room for Mr. Morton, spotting him near the Radio Shack. "C'mon, Kid -- let's move!" The two men raced through the compartment, attracting a disapproving look from Mr. Morton as they approached.
"Mr. Morton, sir, the Captain -- he's in danger," blurted Chief Sharkey.
"You've got to recall him now, sir!" Kowalski was on the verge of total panic.
Morton pushed himself upright from his leaning position against the radio console. "Now, what's this all about Kowalski?" He was extremely surprised to see the experience seaman so agitated, but Morton's face maintained its usual outward calm.
"Please, sir! I . . . I can't explain right now. But you must recall Captain Crane, sir!" Kowalski was almost begging.
Morton did not understand Kowalski's actions at all -- but he did trust his instincts. Something had Kowalski spooked -- and Kowalski did not spook easily. Morton weighed mission priorities against his experience as Seaview's Executive Officer and his knowledge of her crew. Especially his recent knowledge of Lee and Kowalski which he had gathered through his private information network. Morton made his decision. "Sparks, break radio silence. Raise the Skipper."
"Thank you, sir!" Kowalski relaxed fractionally, glancing wordlessly at Sharkey.
"You may regret those words, Kowalski," warned Morton. "Later, you're going to have to explain this to me, the Skipper, the Admiral, and the brass at ONI." Morton expected his stern words to take Kowalski down a few notches. Not at all.
"Yes, sir, as you say, sir." Clearly, Kowalski believed in this emergency. "Just let me talk to the Skipper, sir."
"Mr. Morton, I have Captain Crane on channel three now, sir," reported Sparks calmly, although the entire conversation had perplexed him mightily.
Morton picked up the mike and handed it to Kowalski. Morton's look said eloquently that this had better be good.
"Skipper, this is Kowalski. Turn back now, sir!"
"Kowalski?" Crane's filtered voice was puzzled at hearing from the seaman -- a completely unprecedented communication.
"You are in danger, sir! Take evasive action! Please, sir!"
"Very well." A pause ensued. Presumably Crane was disengaging the automatic pilot. Kowalski turned and looked anxiously across the Control Room at the radar display -- the smooth arcs of the Flying Sub's search pattern now ended in a jig-jagged line. Kowalski slumped against the radio console as tension waned. The speaker came on again.
"What is the nature of the threat?"
Kowalski hesitated, searching for words, hating what he was about to say. "I . . . I don't know, sir."
"What? What are you playing at, Kowalski?" filtered the annoyed voice.
"Sir, this is urgent. Remember Rodriguez, sir? It's just like that, sir -- believe me -- "
Crane cut in with a curse. "Some idiot has just launched a SAM at me! Morton, I am continuing evasive action -- get a radar track on the source of that missile. Crane out."
Morton pushed himself towards the center of the Control Room, issuing orders to get Seaview underway to support the Flying Sub, to track the surface-to-air missile, to inform ONI that they were dead right in their suspicions. "Sparks, get Admiral Nelson down here on the double."
Kowalski and Sharkey rushed to the radar screen, horrified to see a thin, straight line now arcing towards the jig-jagging blip representing their commanding officer -- now fighting for his life in the skies far beyond their aid. Despite jinking this way and that, the track of the Flying Sub became matched by the arc of the SAM. The gap narrowed. Morton joined them, eyes focused on the tiny green lines. "C'mon, Skipper," someone whispered. The lines came closer together, barely touched, and the screen dissolved into shimmering light.
"My God, Lee . . ." Morton whispered.
Kowalski bowed his head and put one hand over his face, while Sharkey blinked in astonished grief.
All heads turned as Admiral Nelson clattered down the spiral stairs.
"What is it, Chip?"
Morton could only shake his head, gesture towards the radar screen and say, "It . . . it was a SAM, sir."
Nelson quickly took in the shocked faces and equipment readings. A stabbing sense of loss shot through his heart, then training kicked in. He turned to the radar operator. "Patterson, what are you getting?"
"Scattered returns, sir. Falling debris. Large objects -- most likely hull sections. A large, fast one -- must be the reactor . . ." Patterson concentrated fiercely on the radar screen, his trained eye deciphering the ghostly green blips.
Morton, his face carved in stone, turned to the periscope island, picked up a mike and began doing the only thing he could. "Maneuvering! Come to course two-eight-oh. Engine Room! All ahead emergency flank." He clicked the mike. "Missile Room. Ready tactical tubes seven and eight with earth penetrators -- the Flying Sub has come under attack by a SAM. Prepare to return fire." Morton consulted briefly with Patterson and gave the target coordinates. Next, "Sparks, report our situation to ONI and advise per instructions." Another click of the mike. "All diving parties and mini-sub crews. Lay down to the Missile Room on the double. Prepare for emergency rescue and salvage operations." Morton's voice was cold and flat. His grief was for his private self alone.
Meanwhile, Admiral Nelson continued standing behind Patterson, directing the radar search. "Scan wide, Patterson -- back along the path of Crane's evasive maneuvers." Nelson's eyes bored into the screen, willing a certain shape to materialize.
"Admiral!" cried Patterson suddenly. "I have a 'chute!"
"Give me more, Patterson -- position?" demanded Nelson.
Patterson began frantically adjusting dials. "I can't, sir. We're being jammed -- I've lost the track."
If Lee landed in the open ocean, regardless of his injuries, he would surely die -- it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. "Mr. Morton, blow that installation off the map!" snapped Nelson.
"Aye-aye, sir!" agreed Morton. "Missile Room. Fire, seven and eight!" He was rewarded by an immediate double thump reverberating through the hull plates as the powerful missiles launched from Seaview's rear tubes. Conventional munitions of devastating force would soon smash through the top of the unknown installation, turning it to rubble. Looking at his wrist watch, Morton counted the seconds to impact. "Three . . . two . . . one . . . impact!"
"I've got the signal again, sir!" resumed Patterson. "Definitely a parachute -- looks like the Skipper bailed out in time."
Relieved looks spread on faces all around the Control Room.
They found Crane washed up on the shore of a tiny atoll at the extreme western edge of the archipelago. Nothing was between him and the open ocean but this tiny oasis of coral and sand.
Kowalski was the first ashore from one of Seaview's rubber rafts. The Skipper lay gashed and bleeding, his tough flight jacket torn in pieces from the coral reefs and flying metal debris of the explosion. Between his feet and the surf, the sand was furrowed where he had dragged himself out of the sea. Beyond the narrow reef, three fins showed briefly, then sank out of sight.
"Skipper! Take it easy, sir. It's me, Kowalski." Kowalski sought to comfort the barely conscious man. Corpsmen went to work, applying compression bandages, strapping the injured body to a back-board and fitting a brace around his neck. Soon, the Skipper would be secure for the trip to Seaview where Dr. Jamieson could diagnose the severity of his injuries.
While the corpsmen worked, Crane moaned in a haze of pain, his eyes flicking open for an instant. "All dark . . . I couldn't see . . . went down in flames . . . the sea coming up fast . . . Kowalski drowned . . ."
"Easy now, Skipper -- I'm here -- I'm OK."
"Kowalski? You . . . you're alive?" wondered Crane.
"Yes, sir! You saved my life -- you left me behind. You got out in time, sir -- you bailed out. You didn't crash, sir. You're alive." Instinctively, Kowalski knew the right things to say to calm the Skipper down.
"I don't see . . . anymore, Kowalski . . . all is dark . . . like before . . . before Krueger . . . no! Leave me alone!" Crane started to thrash against his imaginary foe.
"Skipper, c'mon, easy!" urged Kowalski, holding down the Skipper's shoulders and continuing to reassure the injured man.
Crane subsided at the sailor's soothing stream of words. Quiet now, he spoke: "I saw Death . . . souls dying . . . passing on . . . passing on to . . . oh!" Crane's eyes grew wide with awe. "I see . . . now I see . . ." The pain medication administered by the corpsmen over took the Skipper. His eyes closed.
"Well, you were very lucky, Captain," commented Dr. Jamieson, handing his patient a cup of water and a cup of pills.
Crane sat in a wheelchair -- under good-natured protest. Despite the swelling from a gash over his forehead, thirty-seven stitches on the deeper cuts from coral, and several solid bruises, the Skipper looked remarkably cheerful.
Leave it to Captain Crane to bounce back -- he looks more relaxed and at ease than he has since, well, since the shooting. Jamieson shook his head -- the whole incident with Krueger had had the entire crew on edge for weeks. Jamieson pulled himself back to the present to find his patient distastefully eyeing the medication. "Take it." Jamieson was firm.
"Doc, I'm fine. I don't need pills and potions," protested Crane.
"Take it," ordered Jamieson in his firmest medical voice.
With a sigh, Crane tipped the pills into his mouth and swallowed the water.
"That's better. Follow my orders and you'll be on your feet and out of here in a few days."
Crane perked up immediately.
"Only if you cooperate, Captain," warned Jamieson.
"All right, Doc," grinned Crane sheepishly.
"Uh-huh," acknowledged Jamieson, not quite believing the battles were over yet. He turned back to his desk and endless reports, smiling to himself at his patient's good progress. Remarkable. A very lucky man, indeed.
The Officers' Mess was full of the sound of a normal dinner -- men's voices rose and fell in conversation, cutlery clanked on plates, glassware clinked -- all proceeded smoothly under Cookie's watchful eye. All was well except for the Skipper. Cookie frowned from the depths of the galley. The Skipper was picking at his food, looking preoccupied as usual since the attack on the flying submarine. Cookie shook his head.
Cookie debated whether talking to Dr. Jamieson would do any good, when his attention was caught by a sudden lull in the room. Into the momentary silence, such as happens occasionally in a large gathering of people, O'Brien's voice stood out audibly.
"Now you take the future -- my great grandmother could see it sometimes. I'm not kidding, Sparks. She lived all her life in Ireland -- way out in the country. She used to see the deaths of family members, even when they were clear over in America." O'Brien's voice carried through the room.
The silence continued and Sparks kicked O'Brien under the table to alert him to his faux pas.
As O'Brien realized he had become the center of attention, the color rose in his face.
Then, the Skipper's voice cut across the silence.
"Tell me more about your great grandmother, O'Brien." The Skipper appeared keenly interested, eyes focused intensely on O'Brien. Crane appeared indifferent to the increasingly uncomfortable atmosphere in the room.
"Well, sir, she sometimes, well, just plain knew when a catastrophe was going to happen. When my uncle died -- that was in Chicago, by the way -- when my uncle died, we found that she had already gone to St. Gall's Cathedral in Shannon that very same hour and lit a candle for him. Arranged to have a Mass said, too. There was simply no way that the news could have reached her so quickly. She just -- well, she just knew."
"That's very interesting, O'Brien." Crane grew very thoughtful. "I suppose that kind of thing happens all the time . . ."
A dozen men held their breath, hanging on every word of this fantastic conversation.
"Yes, sir, I believe so. And my great grandmother was always right, too -- she said she just knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that events had happened as they had -- and she acted accordingly."
"She just knew, eh? No explaining that sort of thing, I suppose, no explaining it at all . . ." Deep in thought, Crane slowly rose from the table, motioning his officers to remain seated and finish their meal. He dropped his napkin onto his plate and strode out of the Officers' Mess, ignoring the strained atmosphere.
The officers continued to sit in silence.
"Hey, Sparks, pass the salt, will you?" O'Brien's matter of fact voice broke the spell.
Gradually, conversation resumed, cutlery clanked against plates and glassware clinked. Seaview slowly returned to normal.
Crane slowly descended the spiral stairs leading to the Observation Nose, the special domain of Seaview's senior officers. He walked up to the transparent hull and stood looking out at the sea for a long time.
Gradually, Crane became aware of someone near him and saw the Admiral's reflection beside his own.
Admiral Nelson spoke quietly, knowing as he often did what was troubling his young friend. "Looking for explanations, Lee?"
"Admiral . . ." Crane took a deep breath, ". . . how can I find explanations for the unexplainable?" This was hard -- very hard. All his life Crane had had a passion for facts, for detecting and acting on precisely what his five senses could tell him. Now he had to admit a reality beyond the concrete world he could touch and see. And yet, finally he understood -- finally he was forced to stop denying what he had experienced in the aftermath of Krueger's visit. Now he, himself, had seen both hell and heaven.
"I suppose, Admiral, that you'll say there isn't any answer."
Nelson smiled to himself at his Captain's dislike of the unknown. "For what it's worth, Lee, you're looking at the gap between science and faith."
"Faith?" This was clearly not what Crane had expected.
"Yes, Lee. For those who have faith, no explanation is needed. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible."
"I don't follow you, sir."
"Lee, what I mean is that you won't find your answers out there." Nelson gestured towards the sea and beyond, indicating all that was tangible in the universe. "For this one, you're on your own."
"If you say so, sir."
Crane sounded completely unconvinced. Nelson quietly chuckled, then studied his senior officer. Lee was clearly thinking very deeply about the entire situation. Nelson decided to give him time to think -- to ponder -- to wonder.
Nelson clapped Lee companionably on the shoulder, then walked aft. He paused at the foot of the spiral staircase and looked back once at his young friend. Under his breath, he murmured, "Ah, there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Smiling, Nelson turned and climbed the stairs.