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epilogue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A strange meeting with strange beings.  Will anything ever be normal again?   Captain Lee Crane certainly doesn't think so.      Chip and Doc aren't too sure, either.

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

Fog wrapped itself around his ankles like a cat begging for a tidbit; only this fog was not comforting, and it was certainly not soft.  It was cold, colder than Captain Lee Crane had ever felt before.  This cold had nothing to do with where he was, either.  The smallest of the Balleny Islands, near Antarctica—summer, but always parka weather.  However, this was a cold that made him feel that everything was lost, including his own soul. There should have been evidence of the scientific camp, but there was nothing.  It was as though the island had been scoured of everything.  A scan from the Seaview had shown only minimal life signs. That, in and of itself was alarming, considering who had sent the message. There should have been eight people on that island, along with indigenous life, such as penguins and migratory birds. If there had been trouble, Lee had thought at the time, why hadn’t they contacted Scott Station. It was closer. Scott hadn’t heard anything, though.  Not a blasted thing. 

Arrive alone at 1000 local time, direct center of island.  Need your assistance.  Code 22435.”

It came from the admiral, all right.  The code was the private one that had been developed for Crane’s eyes only.  Of course, if the admiral had been captured, brainwashed or drugged and forced to send the message, Lee could be walking into a trap. However, the island had been scanned.   Where the hell would the admiral be?  How could he and the rest of the team so totally disappear?   Seaview had been in Wellington, New Zealand, getting supplies, using dock time to work on the Flying Sub, which had been damaged on a previous mission.  Because of that and the unsuitability of the terrain of the area, Admiral Nelson had flown down with several other scientists at the request of the New Zealand government, who claimed rights to the land. The boat had been scheduled to sail down to Antarctica in a few more days anyway, but when the message had come, the first one that had indicated a discovery of vast importance and great need for Seaview’s services, Lee had cancelled shore leave and left immediately. The Flying Sub was left behind with a small repair crew, led by Lt. O’Brien. They would finish and fly down later. 

“Captain?” came the doctor’s voice. Despite the fact that the message had said ‘alone’ Doctor Jamieson had invoked his prerogative as chief medical officer to accompany him.  ‘There is very likely someone hurt out there,’ he had declared. ‘And I am not going to sit on the boat and let them die.’

The captain didn’t argue with him at all. Despite the wording on the message, the ominous nature of what the sensors found tripped his own internal alarms and he agreed with the doctor’s arguments. However, Lee had not intended to allow Doc to go in first. Jamieson was bringing up the rear, about a quarter mile back, while Lee was point. He was almost at the center of the island by now. Close to where the admiral had told him to come.  “Yes, Doc?”

“What have you found?”

“Fog and more fog. Other than that, nothing.  I promise, I’ll let you know when I find something or someone,” Lee told him.  If I find someone, he added to himself, beginning to wonder if there was anyone here. If not, then what was that sensor reading? Some kind of ruse?   Animals?  But the sensors had indicated something big enough to be human.  Lee checked his instrumentation and realized that he was now in the direct center of the island.  He stopped and looked around.  The uncharacteristic fog continued to lay like a blanket over the entire area, with occasional tentative fingers stretching up then retreating.  The idea that fog could have some kind of sentience, or awareness was disturbing.  He continued reconnoitering cautiously, about to call the boat for a confirmation of the previous readings.

Then his shoe touched something and he stopped short. Crane let his foot follow the outline of the object and then he prodded gently.  Again, he stopped short with the realization that it was a body.  Scanning the area for any kind of movement, Lee satisfied himself that there was nobody else around.  He squatted down to examine the form more closely, still keeping a wary eye on his surroundings. The air was colder the closer he was to the ground.   Lee shook his head, berating himself for his acute paranoia.  What if the form on the ground was the admiral, hurt and in need of help? 

With that incentive, Lee took his eyes off the eerie surroundings and concentrated on the person stretched out on the cold ground.  He felt the body with his hand and quickly figured that this was not the admiral.  Who?   Blast this fog, he thought irritably.  A bit more fumbling and Lee knew—Dr. Melissa Crawford, a highly rated biologist who had been out of the loop for a while due to some illness.  He felt her neck, trying to find a pulse.  Nothing—no, there was slight warmth and then he discerned a very weak heartbeat. 

Despite the fact that she could have an injury aggravated by movement, Lee still gently lifted her body up to a sitting position so he could check her out more fully and more importantly, to get her off the cold ground and out of the infernal fog.  She hung limply in his arms, barely alive.  Breath was very, very shallow and rattled slightly in her throat.  He reached for the communicator to call Doc. 

“N . . . no,” Dr. Crawford whispered, almost inaudible. 

“What?  Dr. Crawford, our CMO is less than a quarter mile back.  He can help you.”

She shook her head slightly.  “No,” she repeated, her voice a bit stronger, though still hoarse.  “No doctor . . . not yet.”

“But . . . but you’re hurt,” Crane stammered, bewildered that she wouldn’t want medical attention.  What had been wrong with her before?  He couldn’t remember.  If she was still sick, why would she be here, he thought as she gathered strength to continue.

“You were . . . su . . . to come alone,” she said and before he could respond, she added.  “No matter.  Listen to me before you call your doctor.”

Her eyes were now open, but they seemed clouded, as though dulled with pain or sickness.  Lee nodded.  “Very well, Doctor, but Commander Jamieson will be here shortly anyway.”

“That will be soon enough.”  She took a shuddering breath, but somehow seemed stronger.  Maybe it was his warmth protecting her from the chill environment.  The fog was beginning to dissipate, but a slight wind was picking up.  He could see now where a small camp had been set up about twenty feet away.  Very small, enough, maybe for one person to huddle in with a camp stove.

He sat down on the cold ground and cradled her in his lap. “That better?”

She nodded. “Harry didn’t tell you what the discovery was?”

“No, the admiral doesn’t always tell me his business,” Crane responded matter-of-factly.  “But you are, I suppose.”

“Yes.  You need to know, because I won’t be able to travel to the rendezvous point.”

“Rendezvous point?” That hadn’t been even hinted at. “Where is the admiral . . . and the others?”

“All . . . good time,” she motioned a dismissal of his questions, or rather his second question, he later found out, with her blue-tinged fingers. He held her closer.

She smiled softly.  “Thank you. Your warmth is most welcome.” She paused and then continued.  “This was the site of an alien crash landing.” 

“What??”  That had been the last thing he had expected, although, in retrospect, he shouldn’t have been surprised. Lee spoke before she had a chance, his mind whirling with possibilities.  Admiral and others gone.  Abducted?  “And there were still aliens here?  That’s why the others are gone?  The alien’s ship was repaired?”

“You are a very astute as well as a curious man….”  She peered at him more closely.  It had to be hard to recognize anyone in parkas and goggles, but she managed to.  “Understandable to see why the Admiral chose you as the captain of his boat.”

Lee wasn’t going to argue the point that he hadn’t been chosen by the admiral—at least not at first.  He waited for her to continue. Somehow, she seemed to be a bit stronger and more able to talk.

“There . . . were aliens here. Only a few.  Yes, others are gone. Teleported to another site.  I will give you the coordinates later.  The ship was not repaired, but most of the remains were also transported away to be used to work on the second landing craft.”

“Which also crashed?” Lee couldn’t help but wonder about these creatures which had problems with their landings. Dr. Crawford almost seemed to hear his thoughts. 

“There is something in the atmosphere that interfered with the navigational instruments on their scout craft.”

“So they’re only checking us out right now.”

“Captain, I don’t have much time.  I need your help.”  She coughed and drew in a deeper breath, moaning in apparent pain. 

“Let me call Doc.”

“No!  Let me finish….”  She gazed at him so forcefully, that he couldn’t do anything but nod.  “The message that Admiral Nelson apparently sent was for you to pick me up.  He also needed more help than was available here or at the other spacecraft.  He needed the resources of Seaview.

“Wait a minute!  I’ve had enough of alien entities trying to take over my boat and my men . . . as well as myself.”  He paused.  “Why would the admiral go along with these aliens?  Was he forced?”

“He told me to remind you of the time that a spacecraft visited and he, and ultimately you, were the only ones who would help them get what they needed so they could leave,” she said, settling into his arms more comfortably.  He helped her even as he remembered the aliens that had been able to assume his and the admiral’s likenesses.  They had exuded power.  He had been happy he had helped, but glad to see them go.

“My association with one of the aliens who was stranded here leads me to believe that they are not here for evil or aggressive intents.  You will have to be the judge of that.”

“What?”  He took a breath.  “Okay, what are the coordinates and then we can shove off this icebox.”

She smiled.  “One moment.”  Another pause before she continued.  “Captain, the aliens that have crashed are symbiots.”

“Symbiots?” he repeated.  Symbiosis—he was familiar with the term.   “A mutually beneficial relationship between two species; kind of like sharks and remora fish.”

“Yes, Captain, except it’s more direct that that.  The alien intelligences used less intelligent hosts, which benefited both.  When they began space travel, they found it more useful to use android hosts, which would be less susceptible to the stresses and strains of travel.”

Lee was puzzled, but some thoughts were beginning to form.  “Did the hosts survive the crash?”

Again she smiled faintly and then moaned louder. “I like you, Captain.”

“Lee, please.”

“No, Lee, the host of this particular scout did not survive too long after the crash.  Without a host, Krilore cannot survive for more than a short time.”

“Did it use the admiral?” he asked bluntly.

“No, the rescue ship, which, as I said, had difficulties, was able to transport Admiral Nelson and the others to the other site. I was supposed to follow, but the transporter failed.”

“That’s where Seaview comes in.  But what about the aliens?”

“I had volunteered to host . . . Krilore,” Crawford said before giving a soft cry of pain.

“Where are you injured?” he asked, temporarily blanking out her explosive statement. 

“I have cancer, didn’t beat it this time around, so it was no consequence. I didn’t mind hosting.  A unique experience.”  She moaned again.  “Only it’s one that I won’t be able to write about.”  She sighed and seemed to lose strength.

“This Krilore?” he asked, remembering the admiral mentioning that Dr. Crawford had been battling cancer. 

<Needs another host> came a small, distant voice, like a whisper in his head.

Crane had to steel himself to keep from dropping the dying scientist to the ground.  “Did you say that?” he asked Crawford. 

<No.  I did.  I need help.  Please>

“My neck, Lee.  Look.”

Lee looked and gasped.  Coming from inside her parka collar was a gelatinous mass about the size of a very small pancake.  It was a pale, pinkish color.  From feeding on her? he thought.  At first it appeared to be oozing like some kid’s silly goop.  Then he realized that the creature had cilia underneath.  It came out and crawled along her sleeve.  The color changed even as it did so.  Finally it rested on her cold, bluish hand. 

“Touch it, Lee,” Crawford said, her voice softer, more distant.  He didn’t think she had much longer.  Somehow, the thought that the alien, this Krilore had helped sustain her came to his mind, but he dismissed it quickly in his shock at what he was seeing.

“Wait a minute,” he began.  “You want me to touch something that has been symbiotically, um, attached to you?”

<Will not connect without your consent>  

“Please, Lee.  Trust me, if you don’t trust her.  Easier for it to communicate . . . that way.”

Her?  He looked at Crawford, her lips blue from lack of oxygen, he suspected, as well as from cold.  She was forming words, but no sound came out.  Trust me.  Trust me.   Lee took a deep breath, thinking sardonically that he was going to regret this, and then pulled a mitten off with his teeth.  Slowly, even as Dr. Crawford seemed to sag in his arms, he reached out and gingerly touched it with one finger.

 <The host is no more> 

Was Lee imagining it or did the Krilore sound a bit . . . sad?  “Her name was Melissa Crawford.  She was a great scientist and she continues to exist through her colleagues’ memories of her,” Lee said brusquely, at the same time feeling somewhat strange, talking to a thinking . . . pancake.

“Captain!  Where are you?”  Doc’s voice.  It sounded urgent.  How long had it been since his last communication?  

He pulled back from the creature and reached for his communicator.  “Where the coordinates said I was supposed to be.  Where are you?”   He continued to look at the alien.  It sat quietly, seemingly unaffected by the intense cold.  He was ready to put his mitten back on, but wanted to find out, if nothing else, where the admiral was. 

“Not sure, not far, I think, but with this fog, even with the compass….”

“Okay, Doc, I’ll leave my communicator open.”

“Did you find any . . . thing?”

“Yes, I did.  Dr. Crawford.”

“And?”

“I’ll talk to you when you get here, Doc.”  He continued to study the creature, which was still lying quietly on Dr. Crawford’s sleeve.  Somehow, Lee again got the impression of a cat, this time hunkered down and waiting.  But for what, he wondered?

<please . . . listen>   It was faint and Lee lay the communicator on the ground near Dr. Crawford’s legs.  Gingerly, he touched the creature again.   Before anything came into his head, he asked, “Where’s Admiral Nelson?”

<You need only think what you want to say or ask.  Admiral Harriman Nelson, along with the others, is near the highest point of this frozen land>

Vinson Massif? Lee thought the question. 

<I believe that is what the other humans called it>

Crane was incredulous.  That was over twenty-five hundred miles away.  Only two days ago he had talked to the admiral from this camp.  “How?” he asked, forgetting the Krilore had told him he could think his question.  Then he remembered.  Teleportation!

<Yes>  There was a pause and Lee felt a sort of cold chill shuddering up his spine.  <Captain, I cannot live long outside of a host.  Dr. Crawford was going to take me to the rest of my people and you to your people>  

As Lee understood the implications of what the Krilore had just said and began to draw back, it wrapped around his bare hand and then seemed to flatten out, elongate and then slither up inside the arm of his parka. 

<I am sorry, Captain.  I wish there had been more time> it said as Lee felt a pain so ice cold that it sucked the breath out of his body and exploded in his brain.   The cold continued up his arm, across his shoulders and then settled between his shoulder blades.  By then, he wasn’t aware of more than total, annihilating fear and the gut wrenching pain.  He heard a scream in the wind.  Then there was nothing. 

The communicator at his side erupted.  “Captain, are you still there?  Lee?   Lee!!  Come in, Skipper!”

 

 

 

Chapter Two
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Contents
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