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A MATTER OF SECURITY

by Christine Owens


Commander Chip Morton walked briskly down the Seaview's corridors on his way to the Officer's Mess. He had received several concerned reports from crewmen about a loud and heated argument involving Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane.

Morton turned into the Mess Hall corridor and heard the shouting of the two senior officers. Not wanting to be drawn into the eye of the storm, he hesitated for a moment outside the door and couldn't help but hear the confrontation.

"I gave you an order, Captain, and you chose to ignore it!" the Admiral shouted.

"I chose to question it. There's a difference," Captain Crane retorted.

"Semantics, Captain. I wanted that satellite loaded this morning. Because of your 'question' we now have less than five hours to be ready."

"I'm still captain of this vessel. In my judgement we should pass on this mission."

"If your conscience won't let you carry out my orders, perhaps you and your conscience should stay home this time around."

"It that a threat -- sir?" The Captain's words were said slowly and with an icy edge to them.

"You can take it anyway you please, Captain. But get that satellite loaded."

There was the sound of a chair moving against the deck. The Mess Hall doors opened fully and a red-faced Nelson emerged. The Admiral stalked off in the direction of his cabin.

Morton doubted the Admiral had even seen him. He cautiously entered the Mess Hall not sure of what he would find. Morton saw a tight-lipped Lee Crane standing, rubbing his class ring into the palm of his hand. It was an unsettling gesture. "What the heck happened?" Morton asked as he approached the Captain. "The Admiral looked ready to bust a blood vessel."

Crane pushed passed his second in command. "Let's just say I should have stayed in the Navy." The Captain left without another word.


In the close quarters of a submarine, scuttlebutt runs rampant. Within the hour, the story of the argument was being repeated all over the ship. Meanwhile, the Seaview was preparing for her next mission. She would be carrying a new hi-tech spy satellite. The crew had been told that the satellite would be transported to a rendezvous point in the South Pacific, where it would be transferred to a carrier, and then, conveyed to a final launch destination.

Due to the new secret technology, O.N.I. felt it was safer to use a submarine to avoid detection by foreign powers. The Seaview would be making a night departure and was scheduled to set sail at twenty-two hundred hours.

It took the Captain and Chief Sharkey almost three hours to load and secure the satellite. When Captain Crane entered the Control Room, the hushed conversation between personnel stopped, and all eyes returned to the routine checks of their duty stations. An astute commander, Crane picked up on the crew's vibes. The Captain stopped by the plot table where Chip Morton was going over a final checklist before sailing. "Chip," Crane said as he checked his watch, "why don't you turn in? We're about an hour from sailing and it's been a long day."

"What about you, Skipper? You look as if you're barely able to stay on your feet."

"I'm all right. But once we've set sail and are past the break waters, I'll turn the con over to O'Brien."

The Exec gave his Captain a worried glance but he did as ordered and left the Control Room to turn in.

Focusing his attention on the plot table, Crane found the chart he would be using to lay in a course to Seaview's destination. Using a slide rule to figure speed calculations and distances, Crane tried to map the Seaview's course so it could make the rendezvous with the carrier.

Totally engrossed in the charts, Crane did not notice Admiral Nelson making an entrance into the Control Room.

Nelson crept slowly across the room until he was standing directly behind Crane. "Captain Crane!"

Suddenly startled, the Captain whipped around to face the Admiral; the contents of the plot table scattered. "Yes, sir," Lee answered as he tried to keep his knees from buckling.

Nelson strolled past Crane with his hands clasped behind his back and stopped by the periscope island. Turning around to face the Captain, and speaking in a voice loud enough for the crew to hear, the Admiral addressed Crane. "We're scheduled to set sail. I take it everything is ready?"

"Yes, sir. The engines are already warmed up. The watch has reported and the sea detail is standing by. We can pull in the gangway and cast-off lines at anytime."

"Hmm, very good, Captain. Was this by your effort or did Mr. Morton see to the final details?"

Crane's muscles tensed and his posture changed abruptly. "It is my responsibility to see to it that Seaview is ready to sail at her appointed time," he answered in an icy tone, "not Mr. Morton's."

"Then I suggest you get us moving, Captain."

The Captain picked up a mike, and began to issue orders to sail. The gangway was pulled in, and the lines released. "Engine room, port engines ahead dead slow."

The Seaview began to move slowly away from the dock. More orders followed and the Seaview moved into the channel to make its way to the open sea.

"Who supervised the loading of the satellite, Captain?" the Admiral inquired as he neared the plot table.

"I did," was the flat reply.

"Chief Sharkey," Nelson called across the Control Room.

"Aye, sir?"

"Chief, I want you to accompany me to the Missile Room. I want to check on the satellite."

Sharkey looked uneasily at the Captain. "Sir, the Skipper and I stowed that satellite together. It's perfectly safe."

"I'd like to see for myself." Nelson left the Control Room with Sharkey in tow.

As Crane watched the Admiral and Chief leave, he was now aware that the Control Room's crew was watching him. "All right men, as you were."

The crew exchanged glances, then set about attending their various duties.

In the Missile Room, Sharkey stood by as Nelson checked the satellite. Trying to figure what was going on between Admiral and Captain, Sharkey cautiously approached Nelson. "Sir, this is probably none of my business, but don't you think you were a little hard on the Skipper."

"You're right Chief," Nelson answered, turning to look at Sharkey, "it is none of your business." Without further comment Nelson left the Missile Room and a confused Sharkey.


By zero-two hundred hours, Crane was satisfied that the Seaview was proceeding as scheduled and turned the con over to Mr. O'Brien. As he entered his cabin, he was surprised to see the Admiral sitting at the desk.

"Don't you ever sleep?" the Admiral asked as he stubbed out a cigarette.

"After that scene in the Control Room this evening I don't think I'll ever sleep again." Undoing his tie, Crane sat in the chair next to the desk. "Your performance was a bit over the top, don't you think?"

"Well," the Admiral answered while chuckling, "It's not everyday I get you at such a disadvantage. Do you think the crew believed it?"

"I don't know about the crew, but I believed it." Crane rubbed his forehead from fatigue then got up from the chair and went into the cabin's bathroom to splash water on his face

"It's late. You'd better get some rest." The Admiral got up from the desk and stood outside the bathroom door. "It's absolutely vital that the crew believes that I'm on your back."

"I know. If the leak in security is one of our regular crew, the disruption in our normal routine may catch him off guard." As he dried his face, Crane leaned against the doorway and smiled. "Would you like to apologize in advance, or wait till the cruise is over?"

"Neither," the Admiral remarked curtly as he turned and headed for the door. "Just do your job." As he stopped in front of the door, his back still towards Crane, Nelson smiled broadly. "I kind of like this arrangement. Maybe we should make this new attitude permanent."

"Get out," was the response from the Captain.


By oh-six thirty hours Lee Crane was up, showered, shaved, and dressed. After spending all of his adult life in the military, Crane had learned to make the most of the few hours sleep on which he sometimes had to exist. In true naval tradition, Crane made sure his bunk was made and cabin tidied up before heading toward the door. The Captain hesitated, with his hand on the knob, and stood quietly for a moment trying to gather his thoughts.

Yesterday's exchanges between the Admiral and himself had been emotionally draining, even if it was just for show. The Admiral's comment earlier had been accurate, it wasn't often the Admiral could get Crane at a disadvantage. And Lee's deep respect for the Admiral most decidedly put him at a disadvantage. Crane left his cabin and headed for the Control Room. When he arrived he was glad to see that the night watch was leaving, and the day crew was assuming its watch. Seaview's crew was a well-disciplined lot and Crane rarely, if ever, had to be a watchdog. Captain Crane tried to carry on with the normal routine of running the ship. Except for a few passing glances between the senior officers, the day passed without incident.

At dinnertime, Admiral Nelson took his meal in the Officer's Mess with the rest of the day watch officers. Noticeably absent from the dinner was Captain Crane. The Captain had asked for a tray to be brought to his cabin. The dinner conversation between the officers was strained, and there was a collective sigh of relief when the Admiral finally excused himself.

Tapping lightly on the Captain's door, Nelson entered without being invited in. The dinner tray was sitting on the Captain's desk. Nelson noticed that it hadn't been touched.

As Crane looked up from his paper work, the Admiral could see the strain that was present on his friend's face. "You should eat something," Nelson said as he walked to the desk.

"I'm not very hungry tonight. Is there something you needed? I have some work I want to get finished."

"No, nothing I needed. I just wanted to make sure you were all right." Not receiving a reply, Nelson continued, "The crew seems a little unnerved by the exchanges between us. Hopefully our leak will make his move soon." Knowing how his Captain would react to the next statement, Nelson paused before he proceeded. "I'm going to relieve you of command tomorrow."

Snapping the pencil he had in his hand, Crane pushed away from the desk and stood. "Well, that will be fun. Embarrassed, belittled, and relieved all in one week."

"Relieving you of command means we don't have to explain why you're not in the Control Room," Nelson said in an effort to console Crane. "You know every inch of this ship. You can slip into the Missile Room undetected and stake it out for our man." Walking to stand next to the Captain, Nelson said, "Lee, this isn't personal."

As he ran a hand over his black curls, Crane paced across the room. "I keep trying to tell myself that, but it doesn't seem to help." Crane turned to face Nelson. "And just how am I supposed to be relieved?"

Now standing with his hands in this pants pocket, Nelson expounded, "I want you to change course. Only by a degree or so, and reduce the ship's speed. That will push us off the mark, but not by so great a margin that we can't eventually make the rendezvous. I'll come down, find your blunder, and after a, shall we say, 'discussion', I'll relieve you."

"My blunder . . ." Crane's voice trailed off. "You know Admiral, according to Navy regulations, I can just as easily be relieved by striking a superior officer. Why don't we use that excuse?"

Now standing face to face, both men regarded each other for a moment and then started to laugh.

The tension of the last few hours finally broken, Nelson put a hand on Crane's shoulder. "I'd bet you'd like that right now, wouldn't you?"

"Yes, sir," Lee smiled at his friend, "I have to admit I would."

"I know this whole thing has been difficult on you Lee, and I know that having your competence questioned won't make it any easier, but try to go with it for another day or so. The crew will understand after they find out that's really been going on."

After a long sigh, Crane replied, "Aye, sir,"

Nelson walked over to the desk, picked up the dinner tray and headed for the cabin door. Looking at Crane, Nelson remarked, "I'll have the Mess bring down some sandwiches. You will eat them, Captain. That's an order."

"Aye, sir," was the only response as Nelson left the cabin.


The next morning, Captain Crane reported for duty earlier that usual. Crane wanted to make the changes in course and speed before Chip Morton reported for watch. After relieving both O'Brien and Bishop, the Captain ordered a course change of one degree to starboard and a reduction of speed from standard to one-third. An hour later, Mr. Morton came on duty. Crane left the con in the Executive Officer's hands and headed for the Mess.

The Captain mulled over breakfast as long as he could. Crane had to give the Admiral time to discover the 'blunder', a word that made him shudder involuntarily.

As Crane stepped through the Control Room hatch, he could hear the commotion coming from the Observation Nose.

"Find Captain Crane immediately!" the Admiral could be heard shouting.

Lee squared his shoulders, and prepared to walk into the lion's den. Marching directly over to the Admiral, he inquired, "Is there a problem . . . sir?"

"Problem? Do you have any idea a'tall what's going on here?" Nelson shoved a piece of paper at Crane. "This sub is off course, Captain. I came to check our position with the navigation computer and this is what I found. I presume you have an explanation."

Looking at the paper, Crane walked to the plot table and pretended to double-check his figures. "I don't understand how this could happen."

"That's obvious." Stalking over to the table, Nelson snatched the navigation report from Crane's hand. "If command is becoming a burden to you Captain, maybe we should do something about it."

"The only burden in this command is you!" Crane's body language had noticeably shifted from the defensive to the offensive. "I'm solely responsible for the lives of 125 men. Maybe if you took all those stars off your collar you could remember what that was like."

"Captain Crane! You're about a half step from outright insubordination!" Nelson bellowed.

"Half a step?" Crane circled around the plot table and stood with palms down. "Well this should complete the journey. I tried to tell you before we shipped out that I thought the crew needed to stand down for while. But I guess that would cut into the Institute's bottom line if Seaview remained in port."

"You are relieved, effective immediately! Now get out of my sight!"

With an eerie calm, Captain Crane left the Control Room.

Command of the Seaview was turned over to Chip Morton, who made the necessary changes to course and speed. If Seaview ran at full speed overnight she should still be able to make the rendezvous with the carrier

The Captain was now in his cabin. According to the ship's schedule, Crane would have approximately ten hours to wait before the night watch was due to report for duty. Crane and Nelson figured that the security leak would make his move during the nighttime when fewer crewmen were about. As the hours passed, the Captain tried to finish some paperwork or just relax.

Crane checked his clock and figured that the night watch should be in place. Since the satellite had been aboard, a guard had been posted outside the Missile Room. The Captain removed the grating from the ventilation duct and hefted himself inside. Crawling through the ducts, Crane made his way to the Missile Room and dropped silently down from the opening. He positioned himself between the torpedo tubes and waited.

He didn't have to wait long. Less than an hour later the Missile Room's hatch wheel turned and the door opened. The Captain hadn't heard a scuffle outside the Missile Room and wondered what had happened to the guard. In the night-lights of the room, Crane could make out a figure, but could not identify which crewman it was.

The figure circled the satellite and a clicking sound could be heard. Microfilm, was the Captain's assumption. Moving from the torpedo racks, Crane stealthily made his way around the flank of the intruder. With a sudden rush, the Captain tackled the crewman and a struggle ensued. Crane was finally able to get some leverage and he knocked the man to the deck. After jogging across the room, Crane hit the button for the claxon alerting the Control Room of an emergency.

As the Captain turned his back to the intruder, he suddenly felt a sharp pain, and the warmth of his own blood running down his side. The intruder raised his arm to strike again, and Crane tried to fend off the attack. A glancing blow hit him, cutting through his uniform sleeve and forearm. Before the attacker could strike again, the Missile Room hatch opened, and the Admiral rushed in followed by a security detail.

"Drop the knife!" ordered the Admiral.

The crewman was surrounded and disarmed by security. Admiral Nelson rushed to assist the Captain, who was leaning heavily against the escape hatch.

"You're wounded," Nelson observed, as he helped lower his friend to the deck.

"He has . . . a microfilm camera on . . . on him." Crane held his side as a crimson stain spread across his khaki shirt.

Nelson gently removed Crane's hand from his side, to see how severe the injury was. Turning with alarm, he yelled to Chief Sharkey. "Sharkey, call Sick Bay, get two corpsmen down here. Move it! On the double!" Nelson was kneeling on the deck, trying to support the Captain. Crane's breathing was labored, and his skin was becoming clammy as he started to slip into shock. "Lee,"' Nelson said, "Lee, try to stay with me. The corpsmen are on their way. We'll have you in Sick Bay in no time."

The medical team arrived, and the Captain was lifted carefully onto a stretcher and rushed to Sick Bay.

Nelson turned to the problem of the security leak. "Fredricks. If the Captain dies, I'll see to it you hang." Addressing the guards, Nelson issued orders: "Put him in irons and lock him in the Brig. I want to make sure he's in custody when we reach port."

The Admiral turned and quickly made his way out of the Missile Room. Running down the corridor, Nelson headed for Sick Bay. When the Admiral arrived, he found Doc Jamison working over the Captain. An I.V. was already started, and the Doctor was cutting the Captain's shirt off him.

"Doc?" asked Nelson as he stood next to the gurney.

"I don't know yet, Admiral. The wound is quite deep and he's lost a great deal of blood. I'll do everything I can," Jamison said softly as he watched the Admiral. "There's nothing you can do here. Why don't you get some rest? I'll call you when I'm finished with the Skipper."

Nelson reluctantly made his way to his quarters. As he sat at his desk, the Admiral noticed for the first time Lee's blood on his hands and shirt. Fatigue had started to set in; the Admiral put his head down and tried to fight off feelings of foreboding. Crane was more than just the Seaview's Captain. He was Nelson's closest friend; the son that the Admiral never had.

Roused from his sleep by a gentle nudging, Nelson lift his head to see Chip Morton standing next to him. "I must have fallen asleep. Has something happened?" Nelson asked with alarm.

"Sir, Doc said the Skipper has regained consciousness. He asked to see you."

Nelson made his way to Sick Bay, and entered through the door to Jamison's office. "How is he, Doc?"

"All things considered, lucky to be alive. The knife punctured the right lung, and I had to give him a transfusion. But he's strong . . . and stubborn. With a little rest he should recover fully."

The Admiral breathed a sigh of relief. "Thanks, Doc. Can I see him."

"Five minutes, no longer."

Nelson entered the dimly lit Sick Bay, and sat by the bed. "Lee?" the Admiral whispered.

Crane shifted slightly, opened his eyes and struggled to focus. "Did you find the microfilm?" he asked in a voice that was barely audible.

"Yes, Captain," the Admiral answered with a small smile. "By the way, it was Fredricks. He's in the Brig and will stand trial for treason when we get back to Santa Barbara."

"The guard . . . what happened . . ."

"He'll be fine. He was apparently knocked out by some sort of -- sleeping gas."

"Good . . . I'm glad he's all right . . ."

"You need your rest. I'll see you in the morning"

Over night the Seaview made her way to the rendezvous point. The satellite was transferred to the carrier without incident. Mr. Morton was doing an exceptional job in the Captain's absence. SOP returned to the Seaview, and the crew relaxed when it found out the reason for the Admiral's and Captain's behavior. Lee Crane was resting comfortably in the Sick Bay. Admiral Nelson visited from time to time, but Doc insisted the Captain be given a chance to rest.


Several days later, the Admiral was sitting in his favorite chair in the Observation Nose, watching the water splash over the ship's bow. Hearing a sound behind him, he turned to see Lee Crane make his way gingerly down the spiral stairs and take a seat in the Observation Nose. "So, did you escape from Sick Bay or did Doc release you?" the Admiral asked as he lit a cigarette.

"Doc released me."

"And you're here instead of resting in your cabin because . . .?"

"I wanted to check on things. Off duty or not, I feel the safety of this ship and her crew is still my responsibility." Crane shifted in the chair, wincing in pain.

"I see." Nelson noticed that Crane was holding his injured side. "And what about your responsibility to Lee Crane? Shouldn't he make it safely back to port, too?"

"I'm fine, sir."

"No you're not," the Admiral answered curtly. Nelson took a drag on his cigarette then continued, "And if it interests you a'tall, if would be very inconvenient for me if you actually did succeed in killing yourself. Angie would have to set up appointments. I would have to rearrange my schedule to conduct interviews for a new captain, and you sub commanders can be a disagreeable lot. Not to mention . . ."

"Enough," Crane interrupted. "I get the picture."

"Good." Nelson put out his cigarette. "I'll escort you to your quarters. This way we can be sure you don't take any detours."

Crane caught his breath as he stood, and momentarily held onto the Admiral, who was now standing beside him.

"You all right?"

"Yes, sir," was the unconvincing reply. The Captain made his way back to the stairs as Nelson followed. "So tell me," Crane said, "if you did hire a new captain how much would you pay him?"

"Well, accounting said that we could probably pay a new captain ten to fifteen percent more than we're paying you."

"Fifteen percent! May I ask why the new guy gets more?"

"According to accounting with the money we would save on your medical insurance we could afford to pay a higher salary."

Crane laughed in spite of himself. Still holding his side, the Captain reached the top of the stairs and leaned against the bulkhead. "There's got to be an easier way to earn a living," he said.

"Not for you, I'm afraid. Higher premiums or not, you're Seaview's rightful skipper." The Admiral took Crane's arm and led him down the corridor. "Get some rest, Captain. I have a feeling you're going to need it."

THE END


Copyright 1998 by Christine Owens


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