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.


THE WISH

by Carla Keehn

 

Admiral Harriman Nelson frowned as the strains of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" interrupted his thoughts. I don't know why, he grumbled to himself, I ever let Lee convince me that piping Christmas music through the intercom system was a good idea. Unable to concentrate on the paperwork in front of him, Nelson pushed the folders aside and reached for the cup and saucer on the desk.

It was December 24th, Christmas Eve Day, and the Seaview, having just completed a difficult government mission, was heading towards Santa Barbara at flank speed. Tension among the crew was high because many of them feared they would not be able to join their families in time for Christmas.

Family . . . Nelson thought with a tinge of sadness. The only family he had was a sister, of whom he saw little. Nelson looked at the awards and certificates spread around the cabin; they represented only a fraction of the accolades he had received during his long career. My career has always been my family . . . My career and this ship . . .

A light knock on the door interrupted Nelson's thoughts.

"Come in," Nelson said in a sharp voice.

The door opened and the Seaview's Captain, Lee Crane, walked into the cabin.

"Merry Christmas, Admiral," Crane said, smiling cheerfully.

Nelson tried not to react as he eyed the dark bruise under Crane's left eye. "Oh, it's you, Lee. Come . . . come in. Everything, uh, okay?" At the sight of Crane moving stiffly over to a chair in front of the desk, guilt once again tormented Nelson. I know you're still hurting , Lee. You won't say anything, but it's all because of my stubborn refusal to listen to reason . . .

"Yes, Admiral, everything is fine. We should be making port around 1800 hours."

"That's good. I'm sure the men will be glad to hear it."

"I was just on my way to the Officer's Mess. I thought you might be ready for a break from your work."

"I don't think so, Lee," Nelson replied frowning. For some reason, the music seemed louder, more irritating. "Lee, does Sparks have to keep piping that stuff through the system?"

Crane's smile quickly disappeared. "Well, sir, it is Christmas . . . there really isn't much else available." Crane realized Nelson was not in any mood to be humored. "I'll tell him to cut the music off, sir." Crane reached for the intercom on Nelson's desk.

The Admiral grabbed Crane's hand before he could reach the button. "That's okay, Lee," he said, a false note of cheer in his voice. At the time he and Crane had first discussed it, the Christmas music had seemed like a good idea to both of them. So why is it bothering me so much now?

Studying Nelson intently, Crane remained silent.

In his mind, Nelson thought back on the Seaview's last mission. Pressed into action by the government, Nelson had ordered Crane to prepare for immediate departure. Crane had warned against leaving port because repairs to the ship's electrical system had not been completed. Nelson had disregarded Crane's advice. As the creator of the Seaview, no one knew more about her inner workings than Nelson. Too late, the Admiral realized that Crane was right. With the ship out of control and unable to maneuver, the Captain was so seriously injured, even the ship's Doctor feared for his survival. As he waited for word on Crane's condition, Nelson spent many hours reflecting on his career. He argued with himself over whether or not a friend's life was too high a price to pay in order to complete a mission.

"Is something bothering you, Admiral?" Crane asked, concerned.

What can I tell you, Lee? What can I say, except that for some reason even I can't understand, I wish that I had never been born . . . A sudden chill swept through Nelson, causing him to shudder.

"Admiral?" Crane's voice interrupted Nelson's thoughts.

"I'm sorry, Lee, I was thinking of something else for a minute."

"Yes, sir," Crane said. "Maybe Doc should take a look at you."

"Nonsense, Lee!" Nelson snapped, then relaxed. "You're right, it probably is time for a break." He stood up from behind the desk. "I'll join you in the Officer's Mess in a few minutes."

Minutes after Crane left, Nelson continued to stare at the door. He wondered how far Lee's naval career could have gone had he not been chosen to be Seaview's Captain. Maybe instead of helping him, my efforts have always held him back . . . Nelson felt overpowered by a wave of drowsiness. He shook his head to clear it. Maybe Lee was right . . . maybe I have been at this too long . . . The Admiral went to his bunk and stretched out. Rest . . . maybe if I rest for a few minutes things will seem different . . . Nelson's eyes closed and soon he was sound asleep.

Nelson tossed and turned.

"Admiral . . ." The voice seemed to call to him in his sleep. "Admiral Nelson . . ."

"What?" Nelson said, half asleep. His eyes opened slowly. Wincing at the light, he closed his eyes again. Why did the light in the cabin suddenly seem too bright? It's bright enough to light up a city block! Again he tried to open his eyes.

"Merry Christmas, Admiral," a familiar voice greeted him cheerfully.  

Recognizing the voice, Nelson bolted upright in the bunk. He regarded the older, round faced man with instant suspicion. "Mr. Pem!" Nelson exclaimed.

Pem continued to smile at Nelson.

"What are you doing here?" Nelson said. "How did you get aboard Seaview?"

"Patience, Admiral, patience." Pem motioned to one of the chairs. "Sit down, Admiral, please. I haven't come here on some wild scheme."

"Then why the devil are you here?"

"Quite simply, Admiral, I've been sent here to . . . save you," Pem replied somberly.

Nelson laughed. "Oh, come now, Pem, you don't expect me to believe that! What are you up to?"

A pained expression filled Pem's face. "Please believe me, Admiral! Your suspicious nature pains me greatly . . . especially at this time of year!"

"You're really serious, aren't you? And what, exactly, are you supposed to be saving me from, Mr. Pem?"

"I thought that you would have figured that out by now, Admiral," Pem replied softly. "I've been sent to save you . . . from yourself."

Nelson stared silently at Pem. How Pem got on board Seaview is obvious, Nelson thought, glancing at the pocket watch Pem clutched in his hand.

"I think you've been sent on a fool's errand, Mr. Pem. As you can see," Nelson continued as he gestured around the room, "I don't need your help."

"Oh, but you do, Admiral!" Pem said with a twinkle in his eye. "Earlier you made a wish. Foolishly, I might add. You wished that you had not been born. Isn't that so, Admiral? Isn't that what you were thinking before I arrived?"

"I might have thought something like that." His curiosity growing, the Admiral said, "But what difference should that make to you, Mr. Pem?"

"It makes all the difference in the world to you, as well as to me, Admiral." The small man got up from his chair, and bowed his head in a humble manner. "I stand before you a changed man, Admiral."

Nelson chuckled. "I believe you've said that before, Mr. Pem!"

"I know. But this time, I assure you, it is true. I am a reformed man: the greedy, power seeking man that I was no longer exists, Admiral."

"And because you have turned over this new leaf, you think that you're going to just march in here and save me from myself. Is that it, Mr. Pem? And just exactly how do you propose to accomplish this?"

"It's very simple, Admiral. I have been given an opportunity to prove that my reformation is real. If I am successful, my future place," Pem continued, glancing briefly upward, "will be assured."

Nelson looked skeptically at Pem. "All right, Pem." The Admiral reached for the intercom on the desk. "Maybe after you spend some time in the Brig you'll feel a little less like talking in riddles. In any case, I certainly have no intention of letting you loose on Seaview."

Just as Nelson began to touch the intercom, Pem raised the stop watch and pressed a small red button on its side. "I really don't think it's necessary for you to do that, Admiral."

"I disagree." He pressed the intercom button. "Master-at-Arms, this is the Admiral. I want an armed detail sent to my cabin at once."

"Admiral, please . . ." Pem began in a soothing tone.

Nelson waved Pem to be quiet.

"Master-at-Arms, acknowledge at once!" Nelson said, growing irritated by the intercom's continued silence. He glared at Pem. "This is your doing, Mr. Pem, isn't it?"

"Now, Admiral, the sooner you stop this nonsense and realize that my visit here is for your benefit, the better off you will be. You are wasting precious time."

Remaining silent, a hard expression on his face, Nelson strode over to the cabin door.

"I wouldn't do that right now," Pem warned.

The Admiral grabbed the knob and pulled the door open. Nelson was startled by the sight that greeted him on the other side of the door. Instead of the ship's corridor, he was blinded by an array of brightly swirling colors that seemed to be twisting and spinning as if it were part of some kind of powerful whirlpool. The ship . . . the crew . . . gone . . . it's almost as if the rest of Seaview has been suspended in time . . . Nelson turned and glared at Pem, as a murderous fury began building inside of him.

"Actually, Admiral," said Pem, "you are almost correct. The Seaview is intact in its normal time band." He smiled benignly at Nelson. "There is no need for you to worry. Neither your ship nor your crew has been harmed. It is you who have moved through time. This was necessary in order for us to begin our journey."

"I'm not going anywhere with you until you tell me where we're going!"

With a pained look on his face, Pem said, "Oh, very well, Admiral. Sometimes I find your scientific mind very tiresome! Please allow me to finish! Your wish has been granted."

"What are you talking about, Pem?"

"You, sir, are going to see the future! Just think of it, Admiral! A glimpse of the thing most men long their whole lives to see."

"I'm sorry to have to disappoint you, Mr. Pem," Nelson began with an amused smile, "but I don't want to see the future! Really, Pem, I expected more from you than superstitious fortune telling and reading tea leaves!"

Disappointed, Pem shook his head back and forth sadly. "This is not the future you might expect, Admiral. Earlier, you wished that you had never been born. Well, that wish has been granted. You are going to see the future, Admiral -- a future where Admiral Harriman Nelson does not exist!" Pem gestured towards the swirling vortex awaiting them. "Shall we go, Admiral?"

A world in which I don't exist . . . Nelson's scientific curiosity was growing. Briefly, he thought about all the things in his life: the Institute, the Seaview and her crew. "Very well, Mr. Pem, let's go."

Pem smiled broadly. "Splendid, Admiral!" he exclaimed, gesturing towards the door.

"Oh, no, Mr. Pem," Nelson said. "After you."

As Pem and Nelson stepped into the brightly swirling whirlpool, its intensity increased, until finally the two men disappeared.

No stranger to time travel, Nelson felt as if he were being pulled in many different directions. At the same time, he seemed to be spinning downward, like a man who had just jumped from the top of a great height.

When the world came back into focus, Nelson realized that he and Pem were standing on a deserted beach. After living for so many months in Seaview's controlled environment, the Admiral welcomed the feel of the summer sun.

Pem started off down the beach.

Nelson followed behind. He grimaced at the sight of the dead fish that littered the shoreline. The warm ocean breeze, heavy with the smell of decay, choked him. The brown murky water had a pungent, chemical smell. There's no life here . . . In the distance, a dense fog was hanging ominously over the water.

"You seem troubled, Admiral," Pem commented.

"I was just noticing the condition of this beach." Nelson narrowly missed colliding with a large piece of rusted metal that protruded out of the sand.

"I thought you might. All the oceans of the world are like this now; years of uncontrolled dumping have polluted them beyond reclamation. Soon, this planet will not have enough resources left to support life of any kind".

Nelson stopped walking and looked out into the ocean. "How could this have happened, Pem? I don't understand."

"My dear, Admiral, the answer is quite simple -- you weren't here."

"You're talking nonsense, Pem!"

"Am I really, Admiral? You have devoted your life to the preservation and advancement of life on this planet. You see before you the results of man's neglect and wasteful squandering of the Earth's natural resources -- all because you weren't here to stop it, Admiral!"  

Up ahead, Nelson could see a run-down shack set back from the shoreline.

Pem gestured toward the shack. "Come along, Admiral, we have business there."

As they approached the front door, they saw that someone was living there. A bucket, half full of stagnant water, stood by the door. A well used rag hung over its side, half in and half out of the bucket. Wet clothes hung from a line that ran along the side of the property. Several of the windows had broken panes of glass; the dilapidated porch was propped up by several pieces of wood. The only sound was that of the waves crashing against the beach.

Suddenly uneasy, Nelson thought, I don't want to go in there . . .

Having reached the shack, Pem opened the door. He turned to Nelson. "After you, Admiral."

Nelson looked suspiciously at Pem for a moment, then stepped into the shack. Pem followed behind.

Inside, Nelson's attention was instantly drawn to the sharp contrast between the room's simple furnishings and the pictures that lined every inch of the walls. The room was big enough for only a cot, a small dresser, and a wooden table and chair. An assortment of frames held pictures of aircraft carriers, submarines and other Naval vessels of all sizes and shapes. At the table sat a man, his skin tanned and leathery from constant exposure to the sun's rays. His head bent over, the man was working intently on a what appeared to be a model of a ship. He hummed happily to himself, taking no notice of his visitors.

"Why have you brought me here?" Nelson asked. "I don't know this man."

Pem smiled slyly. "Oh, but you do, Admiral. In fact, you know him very well." Pem directed Nelson's attention back to the table. "Watch."

As if on cue, the man looked up, almost as if he sensed Nelson and Pem's presence in the room.

Nelson looked at the man intently for moment. No . . . He struggled to recognize the man. It can't be . . . Nelson cleared his throat, then spoke hesitantly: "Chief! Chief Sharkey!"

Sharkey continued to look straight ahead for a moment, then turned his attention back to his work.

"He can't hear or see us, Admiral." Pem said anticipating Nelson's question.

"What happened to him? What kind of trick is this, Pem?"

"No trick, Admiral," Pem replied in a sad voice. "I was afraid for a moment that you wouldn't recognize the Chief."

I almost didn't. Sharkey appeared to be a shell of a man. He certainly bore no resemblance to the Sharkey that Nelson knew from the Seaview.

"The Chief was stationed on a vessel that was loading hazardous cargo. The cargo was destined for shipment to one of the government's top secret installations. Several of Sharkey's men failed to pay attention to their duties during a critical phase of the procedure. The cargo exploded. The crewmen were killed instantly; only the Chief survived."

"But surely the accident was investigated!" Nelson said. "He couldn't have been held responsible for it."

"The accident was investigated, Admiral. Chief Sharkey was found innocent of any charges of negligence. However, his conscience never allowed him to get over the loss of the lives of his men. The Chief gradually slipped into the condition you see him in today."

Frustrated with the model, Sharkey threw the piece on the table and began muttering inaudibly under his breath. As his mood changed, the muttering stopped and was replaced by short fits of laughter. Then as quickly as it left, the humming returned and Sharkey began working on the model again.

"Sharkey wouldn't have even been stationed on that ship if you had been here to build the Seaview. Sad, isn't it, Admiral? The Chief always felt so close to you."

"Isn't there anyone who can help him?" Nelson asked, angry. "The Navy doctors? Someone?"

"The Navy doctors tried for a short time. After a while, they were forced to discharge him." Pem glanced at Sharkey. "He is quite happy, Admiral. No one comes to this beach anymore. He is quite content to live out the rest of his life in solitude."

"I've seen enough," Nelson said as he turned towards the door.

"Of course, Admiral. We have other places to go," Pem replied moving towards the door. Outside the shack, Nelson couldn't shake the image of Sharkey from his mind.

"I warn you, Admiral, this is just the beginning of what is to come. There will be other visions, perhaps more disturbing," Pem said, raising the stop watch.

At that moment, Nelson could not think of anything that he might find more disturbing than what he had just seen.

In the blink of an eye, the dazzling sunlight was replaced with darkness, and the sun's warmth with a coldness that seemed to cut into Nelson's body, chilling even his bones. The air was heavy with the smell of smoke and burnt wiring. Nelson turned and saw Pem standing next to him.

"Where are we?" Nelson asked, his voice breaking the silence. He shivered slightly. Every fiber of his nerves seemed to be screaming in warning. There's death here . . . How many men died here, I wonder . . .

"Look around you, Admiral." Pem replied in a soft voice. "Where do you think we are?"

Nelson's eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness. He saw charred consoles and computer banks with wires spewing out of them, as if they had been ripped open by a great force. The steel bulkheads were shredded like paper. Before him was a gaping hole where, at one time, a periscope had rested. Nearby, a charred clipboard was tossed as if waiting for its owner to return. Nelson felt his stomach knot. Fire . . . Something that even the most experienced of sailors fear on a submarine. Nelson tried to walk, but found it difficult. The deck was littered with layers of debris and ashes. Despite the area's battered condition, Nelson recognized it as the submarine's Control Room. He looked at Pem questioningly.

"No, Admiral," Pem said, "this isn't the Seaview. There is no Nelson Institute, no Seaview. You weren't there to create them." Pem studied Nelson for a few minutes. "This ship is the Nautilus. As you can see, there was explosion and fire here recently." From out of the debris, Pem picked up a white sailor's hat which had miraculously escaped any damage. "All hands were lost, Admiral."

"I served on the Nautilus early in my career," Nelson commented.

"In another time, perhaps. But not on this ship," Pem replied. "I believe that was the first time you served with Captain Crane, wasn't it, Admiral?"

At the mention of Crane's name, the Admiral felt a warning bell go off in his head. A long buried memory suddenly flashed through his mind. There had been a fire on the Nautilus, in the ship's Circuitry Room. Nelson remembered finding Crane there, overcome by heat and smoke. He glanced around at the Control Room again. No . . . it's not possible . . . "Why have we come here, Pem? What is it that you want me to see?"

"It was important for you to see the Nautilus before we travel to our next, and final, destination, Admiral."

"Why is it important for me to see this? What are you trying to prove by showing me these images of destruction, Pem? First Sharkey and now this!"

"I warned you, Admiral! I warned you that you would find your glimpse of the future disturbing. Prepare yourself, for I fear that you will find our next destination more disturbing than this."

Again, time passed in a fraction of a second. The wind whipped around Nelson and Pem as they stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier. In front of them, Nelson saw a body wrapped in a sailcloth. The sailcloth was covered with an American flag. The men surrounding the body were wearing black armbands. The sailors were somber, for the rough sea below waited to claim their comrade.

"We brought nothing into this world," the Chaplain said, "and it is certain we can carry nothing out. The Lord gave and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."

"Tell me the name of the man who died, Pem!" Nelson grabbed Pem roughly and shook him. "Tell me! Tell me!"

Calmly, Pem simply pulled away from Nelson, directing his attention towards the funeral.  

The sailors moved the body onto the ramp. The water beat against the side of the ship furiously in anticipation. The Chaplain continued. "According to the mighty workings whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself, we therefore commit this body to the deep. Amen."

The men on deck saluted as the body slid into the water.

Nelson watched in silent horror as the water eagerly swallowed up the body. No! Not Lee! I can't be responsible for Lee's death!

"You weren't on the Nautilus to save Lee Crane," Pem explained quietly. "By the time he regained consciousness, it was too late to save the ship. I'm sorry, Admiral. Although I often found it difficult to get along with the Captain, I do sympathize with your loss."

Images were assaulting Nelson's senses as he stared into the churning sea. First, he saw the ocean; hopelessly polluted and dying. Then he thought of Sharkey, alone in his madness on the beach. Finally, he saw the charred hulk of what had once been the Nautilus, Crane's first and only command. He shuddered at the thought of his friend, trapped on the doomed ship, trying desperately to save the lives of his crew.

"Isn't it funny, Admiral," Pem continued, "how many lives we touch without even realizing it? How so many lives were changed just because you and the Seaview never existed?"

"These . . . images," Nelson said, running a shaking hand through his hair, "they can be changed? Pem? They can be changed, can't they?" Nelson's face twisted into an angry mask as his voice rose to a shout. "Tell me they can be changed!!"

"Do you want them to be changed, Admiral? Earlier, you thought otherwise, remember?"

"Yes!" Nelson shouted. "I want to live! I've got to! I've got to be there to save Crane and Sharkey! Take me back to the Seaview, Pem! Now!"

Pem smiled slyly. "Very well, Admiral," he replied, raising the pocket watch. "As you wish!"

Suddenly, Nelson was blinded by a flash of light. He looked around, recognizing the familiar surroundings of his cabin on the Seaview. Nelson jerked open the cabin door, breathing a sigh of relief at the sight of one of the ship's long corridors. He quietly closed the door and turned back to Pem.

"Satisfied, Admiral?" Pem asked.

"Yes, Mr. Pem, I believe I am," Nelson replied. I feel as if a great burden has been lifted off my shoulders . . . He knew now that he had been wrong to wish away his life -- a life that had touched so many people.

"I'm delighted to hear that, Admiral!" Pem replied. "I knew our little journey would prove successful!"

"What will you do now, Mr. Pem?" Nelson asked.

"Start again," he replied. "This new life I've chosen is not going to be easy, but seeing you has given me encouragement, Admiral."

In the corridor outside, they could hear footsteps coming closer to Nelson's cabin.

Pem held his hand out to Nelson. "I believe the time has come for me to say good-bye."

Nelson shook Pem's hand. "Good-bye, Mr. Pem. And good luck."

"Good-bye, Admiral, until we meet again!" Pem said smiling.

"Yes, until we meet again. Thank you, Mr. Pem." Nelson saw Pem raise the pocket watch, and in a flash of light, disappear. Once Pem had gone, the Admiral turned his attention to the exchange going on outside his cabin door.

"I'm telling you, Skipper, I checked and he's not in there! He's not anywhere."

"That's impossible, Chief!" Crane replied. "He has to be somewhere on board this ship!"

The cabin door opened.

Crane flashed Sharkey an angry look. "Well, Chief, I thought you said you couldn't find the Admiral?"

Sharkey stared at Nelson in dumbfounded amazement. "But, I just checked, you weren't here . . ." He turned back to Crane. "Honest, Skipper, he wasn't here."

"Chief . . ." Crane began, his temper rising.

Nelson was overcome with emotion at seeing the two men. Standing in the middle, he locked his arms around them with a tight grip. "Relax, Lee! I did step out to the lab, briefly, so I probably wasn't here when the Chief looked!"

Crane and Sharkey stared open mouthed at Nelson.

Nelson laughed heartily. He began shaking their hands ecstatically. "Merry Christmas, Chief! Merry Christmas, Lee!"

Sharkey decided that this would be a good time to leave. "If you don't mind, Skipper, I'll return to my post." He left before Crane could answer.

As they walked down the corridor towards the Officer's Mess, Crane stared at Nelson. Ten minutes ago, the Admiral had been so out of sorts, and now he was acting like he was the happiest man on board.

"Admiral, is everything all right?" Crane asked. "You seem . . . different than when I last saw you."

"Everything is fine, Lee," Nelson replied with a smile. "For a moment there, I forgot about some things that were very important. I won't make that mistake again." Never again!

 

The End


Copyright 1998 by Carla Keehn


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