All Things Considered
A Sequel to Murphy's Law; Seaview Style
Lee Crane felt the room chill. It wasn’t like the air refresher temps had been lowered. It was as though he’d been tossed onto an ice flow. He sat up and looked around to see where the cold air was coming from. His room was dark and Crane couldn’t see anything at first, but he could feel the fingers of frost wafting around his head and drifting down his back. He shivered. His eyes adjusted to the tiny bit of light and he saw Chip sleeping on the portable bed near his closet. Chip murmured something in his sleep and turned over, drawing the blanket up around his neck. So it wasn’t his imagination, although Chip didn’t fully wake up
Crane saw a soft, lightning bug-like glow near his door. It grew as it came closer, but didn’t get any brighter. He longed to grab his gun out of his desk, but knew, almost from instinct that it wouldn’t have done any good even if he did have it in his hand. The glow elongated, forming a column. It became defined, detailed without getting any brighter. Light seaweed colored hair floated in the air as though they were underwater. Eyes appeared, fixing him with a hungry stare. A mouth formed and opened slightly, small pointed teeth resting on a full bottom lip. The hair swirled over a clearly defined, almost naked torso. Gossamer strands, like spider silk, gyrated with a life of their own over small breasts, taut belly and long legs. The ephemeral, cold glowing woman bent toward him. Her hands reached out and touched his cheeks. Crane recoiled, but couldn’t back up more than a few inches.
“I can help you, Lee Crane,” the spectral being whispered. “I can make you invincible, immortal. Just let me embrace you, breath my fragrance. So easy and so . . . so enjoyable.”
She floated closer and Crane felt as helpless as he had against the alien that had almost killed him when it had taken over his mind so long ago. “No, no. I don’t want to be immortal. Go away. Go away from here!” he hissed. He tried to slide around her and off the rack, but he couldn’t move. She looked familiar, but he couldn’t figure out from where. Crane could see through her and yet she was as solid as he was. Terror wrapped around him like an octopus, tentacles of helplessness squeezing his chest. He felt her cold fingers on his lips, her lustful thoughts in his mind. Her cold breath sucked the last of his warmth from his body.
Crane struggled against her intrusion, but was as helpless as a newborn. He felt his consciousness slide toward darkness.
It was oh dark thirty and Chip Morton was tiptoeing around the tiny cabin getting ready for his watch. He and Lee had talked for some time, worrying about the upcoming tests along the Pacific coast of mainland United States. Would they try the same thing, something different? He didn’t think there would be any surprises, but they wouldn’t know for almost another twenty hours. They had a timetable, but the admiral had made it clear he wanted to take time to prepare for this one, fine tuning and adapting the defenses for any contingency. No doubt the admiral was already up, going over the readouts, the scans and any other evidence of what had hit them back in Pearl.
He gazed over at his temporary roommate. Lee sheets were churned up like white caps, testament to a restless few hours of sleep. It was not unusual for the captain to be up and about by now, but if Lee had been having nightmares, then it would be all the better for him to get another hour or two of shuteye.
That last exercise, while not life threatening, had been quite a wake up call for all of them. Ordered to sneak into Pearl Harbor, presumably to test their defenses, Seaview had almost been ambushed by new technology they had not been told about. Thankfully, the admiral had figured out the weapons being used against them and made it possible for the boat to escape. Then there was the fact they had five women on board during all of this. Found stranded in a lifeboat, while Seaview was under blackout conditions, the ladies had to be accommodated as best as they could.
Somehow, despite how nice they were, and innocent, Chip couldn’t get over the fact that they had conveniently showed up just before this part of their mission. It seemed way too coincidental. Still, it didn’t matter. They were going to finish this mission come hell or high water.
Morton threw his clean uniform over his shoulder and groped for his tie and shoes. He retreated into the head and quietly shut the door behind him. Within ten minutes, he had shaved, showered and dressed. Sitting on the commode, he put on his socks and shoes, and then he put on his tie. Clicking off the light, he opened the door and silently snuck out of the cabin.
By the time he had reached the control room, Chip had listed in his mind everything he wanted to do to prepare for the next phase. When he walked in, he found, as he had expected, Admiral Nelson already going over stats and figures at the charting table. There was a coffee pot and several mugs on a small table on the front porch. “Good morning, Admiral,” he said as he headed for coffee. He relieved Lt. O’Brien on his way
“How are you feeling, Chip?”
“Still got a bump, but otherwise, I’m feeling pretty good. Certainly good enough to work on avoiding another surprise like that last one.” Morton poured himself a cup, added a little sugar and returned to the chart table where Nelson had several layers of paper work spread out. Paper curled over the edges of the table and red figures and designs crawled over the top-most sheet like snakes. Chip took a sip of his coffee as he read what the admiral had done. He noted that most of what lay before him was various records of the incident at Pearl Harbor outer perimeter. Sonar readouts, computer readouts, water composition, hydrophone readouts; there were even transcripts from the radio shack.
The admiral was typing into his personal portable computer, almost one handed as he was also putting figures into his calculator. “I think I have duplicated that device that almost side-lined us, Chip. On paper, that is. I believe, with a bit of time and a couple of spare hands, I can make an exact copy.”
Morton raised an eyebrow, but wasn’t the least bit surprised. “How long and who do you want to assist you, sir?”
“I believe we have all the tools and the materials. If so, it shouldn’t take more than seven or eight hours. I think Kowalski would be the best one to work with.”
Chip nodded his agreement with Nelson’s choice. “Do you have a list of needed materials, Admiral?”
“No, but I can have it ready in a short time. When is Kowalski on duty?”
“Next watch, sir,” Chip replied, looking at his roster. “I can have Porter gather up as much as he can before the end of this watch.”
“Select someone to help him. I want to inventory everything carefully before I start putting it together.”
While Chip was impressed with this latest development, he couldn’t help but wonder why it was necessary. Did the admiral think it would be of use during the next phase of their mission? “Sir?”
“Mmm,” Nelson said, bent over another paper filled with figures. “Chip, I don’t plan on just re-making this device, I’m going to improve on it.”
“Oh,” Morton responded, not sure what else to say. That the admiral was going to add his own touches to the gadget didn’t surprise him. Still, he didn’t know the purpose, at least at the present time. He studied the figures some more and it finally dawned on him. “You are going to use this against any similar device to disable it,” he stated.
“Not only that, but I am hoping to do it without damaging the eco-system.” When Morton didn’t say anything else, he continued. “I noticed from all the data, that the sonic device that almost crippled us also killed sea life in the vicinity. That makes it a dangerous weapon, even if it’s only there for defense.”
“I agree, Admiral. What would you like me to do?”
“Nothing right now. Just make sure the boat is one hundred percent. I have the orders for our next phase in my safe. I’m going to look at those before I begin working on the new and improved defensive system.”
“Orders, sir? I thought we had the orders. We were heading toward the west coast to test their defenses.”
“Yes, we are. However, there were orders to be opened after our exercise at Pearl Harbor. Until those are opened at 0900, we don’t have anything set in cement.”
“I understand, Admiral.”
“I promise, I will brief you before we do anything.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
“By the way, Chip. I heard you and Lee were bunking together for a while. I’m surprised he didn’t follow you in here. He’s usually a light sleeper.”
“Lee was still asleep when I left. He had a rough night from what I could see. Doc wanted both of us to get more shut eye and I guess Lee took him to heart this time.”
The admiral just grunted and continued studying his diagrams. After another minute, he straightened up, rubbing his back. “I’m going to take this to my cabin. When Lee wakes up, send him down to plan the next phase of our mission.”
Lee Crane felt the slight nagging feeling that he should be somewhere else; doing something. He opened his eyes to darkness and near silence. The near part told him he was still on Seaview but that he was alone. Why was that important, his fuzzy thinking wondered? Then it all came back to him. Bunking with Chip, the nightmare with the ethereal and deadly woman.
Shocked to full wakefulness, Crane jerked up and almost fell out of his rack. He was tangled in a sheet and blanket mess that had gained quicksand-like qualities during his sleep. Disentangling himself, he slid to the floor and reached for his lamp. Before he turned it on, he listened once again. There was no one else in the room, either Chip or that strange visitor. He turned on the light and stared around the cabin, looking for signs of anything out of the ordinary. Chip’s bed was empty. How the hell had he slept through Chip getting ready and leaving? That woman, being or whatever she was. What had she done to him?
Crane took a deep breath and thought of the incident. He felt a slight chill, but it was from his damp pajamas clinging to his sweaty body. She had had pointed canines. A vampire? He almost ran to the head and turned on the light. Self-control prevailed and he walked. The mirror showed nothing out of the ordinary except sweat-soaked unruly hair. He searched his mind for memories, despite the fact that he so wanted to forget. She had touched him, sucked his very breath, and froze his brain. Lee noticed his hands were shaking from the remembrance. He felt his neck, gazed at the face staring back at him in the mirror. There were no wounds, nothing looked different.
That was the only logical explanation. He wasn’t doing anything except by his own volition or thinking anything other than his own thoughts. This wraith…. She had come to him like a ghost. Crane almost shuddered at that thought, too. The demon in his nightmare had none of the qualities of Captain Gerhard Krueger, except for a malevolence so tangible you could grasp hold of it.
Lee shook his head. A nightmare. That was it, because when he had been taken over before, he had either suffered from a total blackout of memory or his mind had been a subservient prisoner of whatever force or creature was controlling hm. He was aware, he was thinking on his own, so…. Enough! he commanded his thoughts. It was time to get dressed and get to work. Looking at his watch, Crane was appalled to see that it was almost 0830 hours. Good Lord! He must have been more tired than he thought. Or that thrashing around in his bedding had worn him out. Whatever, he had to get the lead out and get to the control room.
Fifteen minutes later, he was out of his cabin and on his way to the control room. Lee would have stopped at the mess for a cup of coffee, but as late as he was, either the admiral or Chip would have a pot ready in the nose. As he stepped across the threshold to the control room, a faint scent in the air told him he was right.
Chip was checking the computer and all of the stations were running normally. “Status report?” he asked.
“All repairs completed, checked and systems running normally. We’re right on schedule, Captain,” the XO replied.
“Good.” Crane continued toward the enticing coffee pot.
“The admiral wanted to see you as soon as possible.”
“He wanted to go over orders with you.”
Lee was not surprised. “I take it there were more instructions for procedures after Pearl.”
“You take it right, Skipper,” Chip said.
Crane just snorted. He poured a cup of the coffee, added cream and sugar and turned back to Chip. “Well, I guess I’ll head to the OK Corral and see what the hell the powers that be want us to do next.” What he wouldn’t give for a normal survey mission. Counting squid or seahorses sounded rather nice right now.
“Seen the women yet?”
Lee grimaced. “No. I guess they were really tired.” Hope they stay that way, he thought. The idea of holding off a slavering man hungry Janna and dealing with claustrophobia and attitude, didn’t lighten his mood any. He saw Chip’s look of understanding and just shrugged. Crane took another drink of the coffee and left the mug on the tray.
As he walked toward the admiral’s cabin, Lee wondered about Chip’s somewhat paranoid theories of the night before. If they had been planted here, by whom? The People’s Republic? Aliens? Which would fit with last night’s experience, or nightmare. SUBCOMPAC? Ouch, that was really paranoid!
He turned and saw Tiffany Moore running down the corridor in his direction. Crane muttered an expletive. “What is it, Ms. Moore?”
She grabbed his arm and pulled him back down the corridor. “You have to hear this. There’s something behind the wall.”
“Behind the wall?” What in the world could they be hearing? He followed her. “I am supposed to be reporting to the admiral, but I will take time to check this out.”
“Oh, thank you, Captain Crane.”
She pulled him into the cabin she shared with Janna Milligan and for an instant he wondered if it was a setup instigated by the taller woman. Then he saw her and he almost backpedaled out of the cabin. Her hair was down and she was wrapped in a towel that barely covered her torso. It wasn’t that she was in a state of undress; it was that she looked much like the woman in his nightmare. No fangs, though. He realized how precarious his position was right now and he literally did back out of the room. “Sorry, ladies, but I will check this out when you are in some clothes, Ms. Milligan.”\
She smiled softly and went into the head, a pair of coveralls in her hand. Before she shut the door, Lee noticed underwear hanging on every hook and over the tiny shower stall door. There was a momentary pang of sympathy for them. There was certainly no change of underwear for women on a submarine. The door closed and he breathed a sigh of relief.
“It sounds like something slithering or sliding on the other side of the wall,” Tiffany explained, ready to close the cabin door.
“Uh, please, leave that open, Ms. Moore. Protocol.”
“Tiffany, please, Captain.” She left the door open.
“Yes, mmm.” He motioned for her to stop talking and he put his ear to the bulkhead. He didn’t hear anything except the soft whooshing of the air through the recycling ducts. He could feel the slight vibration of the engines, propulsion units. Crane told her that.
“I tell you there was something on the other side! A rat or snake or something!”
Crane tried hard and thought he succeeded in not smiling at her choice of vermin. “Tiffany, a snake wouldn’t survive onboard a submarine. Nothing to eat.”
“Rats. It would eat rats,” she persisted.
“What would the rats eat?” he asked gently.
“Stuff from the kitchen, er galley.”
“Our cook would be very insulted at that. We have had very small invasions of mice, but they usually don’t live long because of the conditions. Not only the food issue, but having places to live.”
“They’re on ships!”
“Ships dock in places where they live and breed. Seaview doesn’t. Besides we have rat guards in place when we tie up at a dock.”
“I still say….”
“I’ll tell you what. I’ll have one of the men check for any kind of vermin in the duct work and in the cargo spaces.”
She hesitated and then nodded her acquiescence. “All right. I appreciate it.”
Janna came out of the head. Her hair was in a ponytail, she was in a pair of crewman’s overalls and Lee breathed a mental sigh of relief. “I really do have to report to the admiral now, but I will get someone on this as soon as possible. In the meantime, if you ladies remember the way to the galley, I am sure Cookie has something fixed up for your breakfast. But, please, do not say anything about mice or rats. He does keep a clean galley and would be insulted.”
Janna nodded and winked and Tiffany just sighed. He left before anyone could stop him for anything else. He met the chief in the corridor and told him about the women’s troubles. “Get someone to at least do a cursory check. I doubt there’s anything other than the normal noises a sub makes, but anything could be possible.”
“Aye, aye, sir.
Crane reached the admiral’s cabin and knocked sharply, ready to go somewhere sane for a change. At the admiral’s acknowledgement, he opened the door and ducked in. “You needed me, sir?”
“Yes, Lee. Have a seat.”
He did so as the admiral pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Instead of taking a puff, though, Nelson put it in the ashtray, a sure sign that something was not to his liking. “What is it, sir?”
“We seem to have passed our test at Pearl with flying colors. I got coded orders for us to try the same stunt at Maleamalo. It seems our mock sneak attack at Pearl Harbor was deemed a success.”
Crane was up out of his chair in an instant. “What? Are they crazy? We can’t do that with five civilians aboard! We shouldn’t have to do that at all! We’re not a boomer or an attack sub. We’re not regular Navy.”
“I know that and you know that. I bitched my head off before this mission, because I suspected this would happen. The Pentagon has been dying to find out what’s going on in Maleamalo and it’s killing them that they can’t penetrate their defenses.”
“How do they expect us to sneak in and play lookie-loo?” Crane asked resentfully. He was more than willing to fight when it was necessary. He had even killed, but he didn’t enjoy it and certainly didn’t want to look for trouble. Enough of that came to him when he did individual missions for ONI.
“Very carefully, Lee. Sit back down and look over this dispatch. Then read over the information I received before we started this mission.”
Crane shot his boss a quick look. So the admiral had suspected this would happen, or had known. Still, when the Pentagon funded part of the building of the giant sub and paid for some of its upkeep, the admiral couldn’t exactly tell the Navy to go to hell. Especially when many of the complement were Navy reserve.
“Lee, there were several things discussed at my last Pentagon briefing. Maleamalo was just one of the issues and it was only brought up in passing. I believe the whole briefing was smoke and mirrors, meant to head off any leaks. I suspect this whole thing was just to get us in to check out that base.”
Lee wanted to grind his teeth in frustration, but he took a deep breath and let it out slowly. If the truth be known, Seaview was the best candidate for a spy job like that. And Maleamalo was a definite threat. The only thing anyone knew about it was the fact that it existed in a certain place in the Pacific. What its purpose was, who was running it, how many weapons—absolutely no one knew for sure. That a base existed was only known because of an agent who barely managed to get the word to Interpol several months ago. The island belonged to a Pacific nation, but it wasn’t being run by them. The admiral was talking again, handing him two folders, one thin and the other slightly larger.
“And we don’t have a choice. Unless we put the women on a desert island, we can’t chance them saying anything to anyone.”
“What if they are plants?” Crane asked.
“I don’t know.”
Nelson shook his head. “I don’t think so. They are too naïve, or in the case of a couple of them, too obnoxious to be agents.”
Crane couldn’t help it, he laughed. “One of them stopped me in the corridor on the way to your cabin. She swore up and down that we had rats or snakes on board. She heard ‘em in the bulkhead.”
“No, I’m not kidding, Admiral. I didn’t hear anything except regular noises. But I’ll be damned if her roommate didn’t come out of the head wrapped only in a towel.” Lee didn’t mention Janna’s momentary resemblance to the malevolent manifestation in his nightmare. “And she’s tall enough that it barely covered her torso.”
Nelson chuckled, then became serious. “I can just imagine the look on your face, but still, we need to pass the word to the men that they need to be careful of being alone with any of the women. When this is all over, I don’t want any scandals biting us on the butt.”
“I agree, Admiral. I’ll make sure Sharkey passes the word to the crew and I’ll have an officer’s meeting.”
“We’ll need to have a meeting anyway. I refuse to go into this with the men not knowing what’s ahead.”
“What is ahead, Admiral?”
“Finish reading the papers and then we can talk.”
While Crane read the brief, Nelson smoked his cigarette. Maleamalo was an island base that had been built in virtual secrecy for the past six months. The nation that owned the island had never had more than a fleeting interest in it, only allowing families to fish the reefs and take the occasional tourist. So this base, built by an unknown power, had been constructed under the very noses of the western nations. No one was owning up, but fingers had been pointed to several countries that had tried various power plays in the past. The People’s Republic was one, although they vehemently denied involvement.
Now that the west knew about it, it was still an enigma and still secret to any but the builder’s eyes. Agents had been sent in and none had returned. Spy probes had been planted and nothing had come from them. The nation that had owned the island refused to talk to diplomats. It was a stalemate that had everyone from the United States to Australia nervous. This was when Lee wished he had a vice like the admiral’s to relieve his tension. He reached for a cup of coffee but there wasn’t any. “How are we supposed to get into this installation?”
“The Flying Sub.”
“How, Admiral? It would be detected as easily as Seaview would.”
“I have some ideas. Some things that came to me during our adventure in Pearl.”
“The anti-detection devices? Apparently they didn’t work that well, we were almost caught.”
“No, Lee. They did work. I know they worked. Those sonic devices were planted randomly. I was able to figure that out last night. We just happened to stumble onto one of them. They didn’t know we were there until the device went off. Then when we were able to avoid the others, we simply sneaked away.”
Crane rubbed his chin. “And you can put the same thing on the Flying Sub?”
Nelson nodded. “And all anyone would need to do would be to go in and take some pictures, a few readings and then sneak back out.”
“Sounds too easy.”
“Theoretically, it would be easy, but I want to prepare for anything they might throw at us. We’ll be going in blind. But we have to find out what’s going on in there! They could be building nuclear bombs for all we know.”
Lee suppressed the chill he felt at such a thought. Maleamalo wasn’t that far from Hawaii or the west coast as the missile flew. “So I can only assume that everyone except a few think we’re heading toward the west coast.”
“Yes, we’ll need to brief the officers and the chiefs as soon as you, me and Chip have gone over these orders and made plans. Before we change direction we need to deploy our anti-detection system.”
“Sounds like someone had a pretty well thought out plan before this mission ever began,” Lee commented.
“Yes, they did, Lee. I knew this installation had been bothering the president from the time it came to his attention a couple of months ago. That someone could go in unnoticed and build something that could threaten our very existence is frightening.”
“But how do they know it’s a weapon facility?” Crane asked, playing devil’s advocate. He had a pretty good idea of the answer.
“By its secrecy. If it was a pleasure dome for foreign powers, there wouldn’t be so much protection.” Nelson paused and gave a half smile. “But you already guessed that anyway, didn’t you?”
“Yes, sir,” Lee admitted. “What are we going to tell the ladies?”
“As little as possible. We weren’t going to tell them much anyway.”
“True.” Somehow, Lee felt that would be easier said than done.
“I am going to continue to work on the detection systems. I’ll also need to build one for the FS-1.”
“Admiral, select your work crew and Chip can rearrange the schedule to free them up.”
“Let’s go get some breakfast and then we’ll meet with Chip.” Nelson got up stiffly and stubbed out his cigarette. He put the papers back into his safe before heading out the door.
“Aye, aye, sir. I think after this little revelation, I need an extra strong cup of coffee.”
“Get more than a cup of coffee. You’re going to be very busy the next couple of days,” Nelson replied.
At 2300, the Admiral was satisfied with the changes he had made in the anti-detection unit, ANDRAD. They made their course changes and headed southwest through the Pacific. Now it was a race to see if another ANDRAD could be built to fit and use on the Flying Sub. It didn’t help that Admiral Nelson wanted to keep to the original timetable. That gave them only a few days to get this job done.
They were still under radio silence. Lee was overseeing the work crew that would fit the new device into the small submersible craft. It was a ploy that helped keep him a reasonable distance from Janna Milligan. It didn’t always work.
He was down in the Flying Sub. “Yes, ma’am?”
The face looking down at him was framed in the hatchway. It was a lovely face; a very lovely, flawless face. It was a face with a come hither look. Above her, Lt. O’Brien shrugged helplessly.
“Could you help me with something?”
“No, ma’am, I am in the middle of repairs and can’t come up until we’re finished.” Not a total truth, but close enough.
The lovely frown deepened to a pout. “When will you be off duty, Lee?”
“I will be off duty when this mission is finished,” he replied tersely.
“Could you spare me a moment at lunch?”
“Any purpose?” He might as well cut to the chase.
“Those noises have increased,” she said.
“Have you told Chief Sharkey or Chief Owens?”
“No, I thought you might be able to figure it out better.”
“No, Janna, I don’t believe I can.” He paused. “I tell you what, you let one of them know the problem and see if they can’t help you. The executive officer and I will be happy to discuss their findings over dinner.” This was a compromise he was sure he’d regret.
She wasn’t entirely happy, but seemed to accept it. She left and he breathed a sigh of relief.
“Let’s get this housing finished. The admiral wants to get the ANDRAD in tonight.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” Patterson replied. “The camera is installed and ready for testing, too.”
“Good. We’ll take her out and test it when the admiral is satisfied with his device.”
The two men continued working for the next several hours. It was only when Chip called them up that Lee became aware of the time. As he wearily climbed out of the Flying Sub, he saw Chip waiting for him at the top of the ladder. The executive officer smirked.
“What?” Crane asked.
“Scuttlebutt says that you have a date with a delicious strawberry blonde.”
Crane snarled an expletive. “I DO NOT have a date! I told her I’d discuss her wall noises over dinner.”
“You’re right, that doesn’t sound very romantic.”
“I don’t know what to say to that woman. I am not interested!”
“Then tell her.”
“I’ve been brushing her off ever since she came on board. It’s getting old fast.”
“Then tell her,” Chip repeated.
“How? She doesn’t seem to get the hint, Chip.”
“Be blunt. Threatening the brig might help, too.” Chip just shrugged, then added facetiously. “Of course that could backfire, as well. Someone that drop-dead gorgeous might be able to sweet talk the guard.”
“I don’t think so, Chip. The men might become enamored with them, but they wouldn’t desert their posts or give vital information to the enemy.”
“Enemy? You think they are plants by the enemy? Even I’m not that paranoid.”
“No, I didn’t mean it that way. You know what I’m talking about.”
“Yes, I know. And what else I know is that this whole mission stinks now.”
“I just wish it was over.”
“I don’t like the idea of you going in alone.”
“Chip, you know that more than one person would show a heat signature that even all of the admiral’s devices couldn’t cloak.”
“I know that, Lee! Still….”
“It’s been decided.” And it had been decided at the meeting the admiral had convened with the senior staff. The admiral, at first, had determined to go himself, but that was quickly nixed. The admiral was far too important a prize for whatever enemy was running this base. Almost equally protested was the decision for Crane to pilot the Flying Sub into the base. However, the protests subsided into sullen silence when it was pointed out that Lee had the greatest expertise in espionage as well as the greatest number of flight hours in the Flying Sub after the admiral. The day after tomorrow, Lee would take the Flying Sub in. Provided that all of the innovations and devices worked. That test was tomorrow.
Chip didn’t say a thing. He only glowered at the windows that mirrored his unhappiness with the entire situation.
Deep within the cabinet in a secure corner of the lab there was movement. It was imperceptible to someone just chancing in the room, but it was there. Something slid across the cabinet and rested against the door. It lay still for several moments and then it convulsed, enlarging half again its size. It did this several times in the space of four hours then it was still for several more hours. This process continued almost without change for a day. When the something was almost too large for the space it resided in, it stopped and rested.
The space became too restrictive and the something convulsed again, grew again and burst the door of the containment unit open. The something spilled through the broken opening and to the floor of the lab where it rested for a long time, undisturbed by anything but the pulsing of the heart of the vessel that bore it along.
When it began to grow again, it did so with purpose. There were elongations, projections that became the means of locomotion. There were other projections that became means of detection of sights, smells and tastes. It began to sense its surroundings and to decipher information in a very crude way. It finally deciphered that there was almost nothing to sustain its life in this dark area. It would grow weaker and finally die if it didn’t go somewhere else to find the means to continue its life. In other words, it was hungry. And the cause of self-preservation was strong in the something. It stopped growing and began using its newly created sensing devices to find the way out. It reached out a tendril one way and then another way, moved up toward the place where it felt the breath of oxygen. It took a long time, but the something was very, very patient. Finally, it was in the dark place where the oxygen flowed over and around its formless body. It began moving away from its confinement, slowly at first and then with more purpose. It would find what it needed—eventually.
“I tell you, there is something on the other side of the walls!” Tiffany protested.
Crane glanced at her roommate, Janna. It had been a rather tense dinner, with Lee trying very hard not to lay down the law with the voluptuous woman. The admiral, who had decided to join his poor captain, seemed to find it hard not to laugh at the woman who was determined to make out with his captain. Lee was not amused with the situation. He didn’t believe there were any creatures living within the bowels of the sub, beside themselves, of course, but he was trying to be diplomatic about it, too. The other women looked on, like spectators at a tennis match. Tiffany was attempting to make eye contact with the admiral, but she was also trying to convince everyone.
“I have heard it a little, too,” Janna finally admitted.
“And you said it sounded something like . . . slithering?” Crane asked.
They both nodded emphatically. “I wouldn’t make this up!” Tiffany said.
“If you are still hearing this noise tomorrow morning, we’ll send a crew into the ducts to see what’s in there,” the admiral offered.
By tomorrow morning they would be done with their spy mission and hopefully be heading back home with the evidence on what was going on in Maleamalo.
“You said that yesterday evening, Admiral,” Lisa pointed out.
She had a point, Crane thought. They had eaten together yesterday and the women had made the same protests and received virtually the same answer.
“We did a scan of the area and found no life forms in the bulkheads in that area,” Chip pointed out. Lee was quite aware of the fact that the woman who had been in the sick bay with Chip was now eyeballing him. She was more discreet than Janna was but still, Crane decided, Chip had his own female leech to worry about now. It would have been an amusing thought if the other situation weren’t so dour.
“It must have gone away for awhile.”
The admiral sat back and murmured something unintelligible. Lee knew he was only using a part of his brainpower on the women’s problems. Most of what he was thinking about was the upcoming phase of the mission that was the most dangerous. Getting to that base and getting out again in one piece with the information their government needed to either neutralize it or go to the United Nations was the real issue. Maleamalo was quickly becoming a curse word.
The night before, Lee had gone out in the Flying Sub to test the smaller ANDRAD devices. They had worked perfectly. As soon as he turned the anti-detection device on, he had disappeared from the scopes and screens. The only way he had been detected was by sight. When he slipped beyond the herculite bow windows he had almost literally disappeared in the darkness. If the admiral could only come up with something that would make him invisible to the naked eye, they would really have something! However, the admiral had come up with the next best thing. The Flying Sub had been quick coated with a dark anti-magnetic paint. That and the cover of darkness would be all he would need—he hoped. His appetite waned at the tension those thoughts brought him.
Crane had confidence in his abilities and definitely had confidence in the admiral’s inventions, but still, the hours just before a mission always had him anxious. He pushed his plate away and concentrated on his coffee instead. “If there is anything in there, ladies, we’ll find it . . . and take care of it.” He, like the other men in attendance, knew he wasn’t just talking about vermin in the bulkheads.
After dinner, Janna pulled him aside. “Captain, I think I owe you an apology.”
Crane looked askance at her, wary. “In what way?”
Her eyes flashed irritation. “Don’t be clever, Captain. Can we talk privately? I promise I won’t make any overtures. Please, I need to talk to you.” She looked pointedly at the admiral who was watching in unabashed curiosity. “Strictly business.”
“Well, for a few minutes. I have a great deal to do this watch.”
“I promise. It won’t take long.”
He nodded and the admiral and the others left.
“Captain, Lee,” Janna began when Crane had closed the crash doors, leaving them alone on the “front porch.”
“You do realize what kind of scuttlebutt this is going to start,” he said. “Or rather what kind of scuttlebutt will accelerate?”
She smiled, but there was nothing sexual. Crane went on alert. There was something else going on here.
“Yes, but I did promise this would be quick. Certainly not enough time to do anything improper.”
“I know you’re going on a mission of great importance.”
Crane tensed. How much did she know?
“Relax. I don’t know exactly what you are doing nor do I know where we are. However I do read reactions and behavior, so I know it’s also dangerous.” She paused and took a deep breath. “I wanted to come clean.”
“About what?” Damn, is she a spy? If so, for who and why the hell didn’t I figure it out before? And just who are you?”
“I am Janna Marie Milligan and I did work as a female wrestler and exotic dancer.” She shrugged. “It put me through school.”
The suspicions rose to fever pitch, but she made no aggressive moves. Her hands were in front of her and held nothing, so she couldn’t be here to assassinate him or damage the boat. Unless…. He had to keep her talking. “School to do what?”
“Psychiatry. I am a behavioral psychologist working for the Navy.”
He started to say something, but she stopped him with an upheld hand.
“I am a civilian under contract to a member of the defense department, whom I cannot divulge.”
“So you and the others are plants!”
“No, just me, although the others are part of the plan. The others think I am exactly what I said I was . . . a member of a woman’s wrestling group. And they are definitely what they say they are. They were on tour in American Samoa when I joined up with them.”
“Wait a minute! You couldn’t fake exposure. You arranged all of that out there?”
She nodded. “The Navy had an arrangement with the fishing boat. The crew scuttled the boat, but they were supposed to be rescued. We were stranded where you would find and pick us up.”
Lee shook his head. “That was really taking a chance.”
“The Navy was keeping tabs on us. If you hadn’t picked us up, they would have done so within twelve hours.”
“Still….” Then something else occurred to him. “Why? Why did you need to be on board? And who put you here? And don’t give me any crap about confidentiality.”
“Just like you can’t give details of your mission, I can’t hand out details of mine.”
Crane suppressed a quick flash of anger. “Then why even tell me what you’ve told me already? By being here you could be endangering my men and my boat! I think that allows me to know a little more.”
“Lee…. Yes, it does. I can tell you that I am part of your mission. The purpose of the mission was to test Seaview’s preparedness. I am here to test your men’s readiness for duty, and their ability to adapt and perform under duress and unusual conditions. Some of your past missions have been extremely stressful as well as dangerous. The office that contracted with me felt there needed to be a test for he crew’s mental health.”
Crane had a suspicion. “When were you supposed to inform me of this? And why just me? Why not the admiral?”
“The orders were to not say anything until after the end of the mission. I would like to keep it that way for everyone else.”
“What changed your mind about telling me?”
“First of all, I have come to the conclusion that this is one of the most cohesive groups of men I’ve ever observed. You all work together with absolute respect for one another and each man’s abilities, despite the fact that you are all so diverse. Every operation is smoothly executed.”
“But that’s not the only reason,” Crane began.
“Respect builds respect. I may have begun coming on to you like a dizzy teeny bopper, but there’s a lot to really like about you, Lee.”
Crane raised an eyebrow. He felt conflicted. On the one hand, he was angry that anyone in the Navy department would even think Seaview’s crew might need something like this. Cerebrally, he understood why; especially someone of the philosophy of Jiggs Starke, who seemed to think discipline was lax on Admiral Nelson’s boat.
Then he thought about what else she had said. Before he could say anything, she continued. “I wanted you to know that my report is going to contain nothing but high marks for you and your crew. We have been treated with the utmost respect and yet no one has allowed any of us to interfere with what is most important—the mission and the boat and crew.”
“But I would have read that in the final report, wouldn’t I?” he asked.
“Yes, but like I said, I know this is going to be very dangerous. I can read the signs….”
“In case I don’t come back,” he interjected.
“No, I mean, I, uh, oh, damn! Yes, in case something happens to you.” Her eyes were shining with unshed tears. “I like you, Captain Crane. I respect you and I wish things were different so I could chase after you properly.”
He was astonished and couldn’t say anything for several seconds. Before he could react, she leaned toward him and kissed him. It was quick but he could feel her emotions behind it. Then she was racing up the winding staircase and gone. Lee stood there for several minutes wondering at the drama that had played itself out in front of the fish and the deep blue sea.
“Lee,” the Admiral began. They were alone in the Flying Sub. Crane had on a dark wet suit. It was warm, but he had felt it necessary to do everything possible to save time. The quicker he went in and got the information he needed, the better.
It was midnight and time to launch. Everything had been checked, double checked and triple checked. Crane had worked with the cameras, the new controls and devices and there was really nothing left to accomplish or say. “I’ll be back in four hours, Admiral.”
“We’ll move in at exactly 0500 hours.”
“Yes, sir. I have the coordinates.”
“Lee. . . Be careful.” The admiral’s face didn’t show anything except simple concern, but his eyes and voice betrayed him. They both knew this was an extremely dangerous mission.
“Of course, Admiral. I will have the keys to the jalopy back in your hand in no time,” Crane joked, trying to dispel the gloomy atmosphere.
Nelson only grunted and nodded his head.
“Either way, don’t come in for me if anything happens,” Lee reminded his boss.
Nelson gave a tight smile. “Depends on what’s happening.”
“It will go very smooth, sir.”
Suddenly there was nothing left to say and Nelson climbed the ladder and left. The hatch closed behind him and Lee was alone. He buckled into his seat and watched the panel as the Flying Sub dropped from its cradle. He drifted for a few yards before engaging the engines. His screen showed a blankness behind him that was eerie, because he knew what was there. He figured the same thing was going on in the control room of the giant sub. Crane certainly hoped so. The depth of his approach coincided with the ocean’s bottom. He glided along as though he was some kind of giant manta looking for prey. He kept his speed consistent with that of a large ocean creature, just in case they had divers in the area. The ocean floor stayed fairly level for about a mile. At approximately nine hundred feet everything was gloomy and washed out even during the day, but Crane felt the dark depths had a beauty and poetry that always fascinated him. Right now sea life was winking and blinking as deeper denizens came closer to the surface to feed. If it weren’t for the nature of this mission, he’d sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.
Finally about a half mile from the island it began to slope upward. The corals became thicker. It was a gradual rise, and the Flying Sub made a graceful assent. A glance at the systems monitor showed that everything was going smoothly. That was when Lee saw the first body. It was a dolphin. Then he saw another dolphin surrounded by a grotesque wreath of dead fish, mollusks and blackened plant life. He brought the Flying Sub to a halt and then turned to parallel the line of death. Apparently they had some kind of force shield around the island. That put a whole different complexion on his job.
He halted again and studied the input screens. There were no anomalies. Everything seemed perfect, but it wasn’t. Something near the island inside the ring of death caught his attention. It was a submersible, slightly larger than the mini-sub, but of the same basic design. Crane pulled the Flying Sub behind a large outcropping of rock and coral and watched the approach of the mini-sub on his monitors. Could they have detected him on the island? The submersible seemed to be casting about, moving in one direction and then in another; not directly toward his position. They were looking for something though. If they came close enough, they might be able to see the Flying Sub.
They came closer, now they were crossing the ring of dead bodies. Nothing happened to them. The shield was either turned off during their exploration or there was something on the mini-sub that kept the shield from harming them. They moved along the line of death for a short distance and Lee studied his monitors. Yes, there was a small deviation. He checked the spectrometer as well as the other monitors. The computer studied the information and came back with an analysis. It was a radiation belt. It wouldn’t matter; the hull of the Flying Sub would protect him from all but full blown blasts of radiation. As long as he didn’t stay in the belt too long, he’d be all right.
So that brought him back to the question as to whether they knew he was here, had detected something suspicious, meaning him, or whether this was a random patrol. Crane waited and watched. The little sub moved back toward him and then back to parallel the protective radiation shield. They continued to move away from him until he could no longer see them. Still he waited. If he could see an anomaly when they passed the shield, would they see his passage?
Crane brought the Flying Sub around to follow the mini-sub at a discreet distance. They made a complete circuit of the island, apparently checking their shield. When they had returned back to the place where he had first seen them, the submersible headed back toward Maleamalo. Crane looked at his watch. It had taken them almost forty minutes.
As they began to cross the radiation shield, Lee fell in behind them, getting as close as he dared, almost in the wake of their propeller wash. He trusted the admiral’s inventions and hoped they would carry him through this operation. Crane held his breath as he crossed the shield. The radiation level indicator spiked for a half a minute before leveling off. What surprised him was that there was also a sharp jump in electrical indicator. So that was why the animals were laid out so precisely, he thought. He had wondered at the type of radiation that could so quickly kill an organism. Radiation, unless it was the initial blast, was a slower killer. Radiation alone should have left bodies all over the place, inside and outside the shield rather than in a tight band.
The alarms had been disconnected so the only indication of any problem would be small flashing lights on the monitoring screens. With the new devices, Lee had to keep a closer eye out on the monitors. The electrical input indicator had flashed angry red for a short time, and then gone back to green. That was good. The burst of electricity hadn’t done any damage. He continued following the mini-sub, not knowing any other way of getting into the installation. The monitors were showing nothing ahead except simple land formations. It would seem that the defensive devices were similar to those the admiral and his government had devised.
After fifteen minutes, Crane saw lights appear ahead, almost like an airport runway. They blinked and went out as the mini-sub got close to them. Lee followed until he could see where the divers ahead of him were going, and then he pulled back. He didn’t want anyone at the docking area to be able to see him, even if their instruments couldn’t pick him up. The ANDRAD instruments had come alive once they were within the shield, but they couldn’t tell him what was beyond the dock and shore. He would have to leave the Flying Sub and spy on foot.
Crane contemplated his best approach and decided to wait a half an hour to see what happened next. Traffic didn’t seem to be more than the mini-sub and those meeting it. His instruments were showing a variety of detection devises as well as the contours of the docking area itself. It reminded him a great deal of Seaview’s underground subpen. If things calmed down and, in the wee hours of the morning, the guards got lax, then he could moor the Flying Sub near the mini-sub and go in for reconnaissance.
While he waited, he checked and rechecked his recording devices. What could they be building here that they would have so much security? Lee continued to watch his monitors. The divers left, several other people left and the dock was quiet. After another ten minutes of inactivity, Lee gathered his recording equipment and diving gear. He set the Flying Sub computers to keep him two feet above the bottom and twenty feet behind the enemy mini-sub. Opening the bottom hatch, he put on his tank, mask, and fins. The other equipment was attached to a harness around his chest and waist. Everything was black. Even the mask had a reflecting quality that kept light from shining against the herculite plasti-glass. The water temperature was warm enough to not need a wet suit, but that didn’t matter. Camouflage was the only thing that mattered now. Anonymity from beginning to end was the key to success.
He swam below the little sub and under the dock to the shoreline,
where he slowly poked his head above water to survey the area. Two
guards patrolled the dock area; one near the edge of the water and the
other near the doorway. They wore dark clothing with no insignia.
Standard military caps perched atop their heads, fixed in place with
straps. Crane took several pictures of them as he had of the mini-sub on
the way in. He waited until he saw the pattern of their security.
It would be difficult to get past them. It would be equally
difficult to ambush them, but if he could get one of them and disguise
himself in the man’s clothes, he should be able to enter the complex
He swam below the little sub and under the dock to the shoreline, where he slowly poked his head above water to survey the area. Two guards patrolled the dock area; one near the edge of the water and the other near the doorway. They wore dark clothing with no insignia. Standard military caps perched atop their heads, fixed in place with straps. Crane took several pictures of them as he had of the mini-sub on the way in. He waited until he saw the pattern of their security. It would be difficult to get past them. It would be equally difficult to ambush them, but if he could get one of them and disguise himself in the man’s clothes, he should be able to enter the complex without difficulty.
Crane slipped out of the water in the shadows, and then heard the slap of water against the short concrete pilings. That gave him another idea. He swam back to the mini-sub and loosened one of the mooring ropes. Pulling the rudder, Crane banged the sub against a piling, smiling at the almost bell-like tone the two objects made. He cut the mooring rope just above the water and then moved away from the sub, hanging on to one end of the rope. Every few seconds, he gave a tug on the rope, creating a rhythmic cadence that the two guards immediately noticed.
“Check it out,” the one farthest away ordered. The voice was in perfect English with no hint of anything other than American dialect.
“Ja, probably the idiots did not moor it properly,” the one closest to the shoreline replied. Distinct Germanic intonation, despite speaking English also.
“Be quick! You know they’ll be all over us if something is irregular!”
“Ja, ja! Keep your pants on.”
There was a chuckle from the other guard at the obvious fracturing of the idiom.
The guard approached edge of the pier and bent down. He pulled at the mooring rope and that was when Crane went into action. He reached out of the water and grabbed the guard, jerking him into the ocean. A muffled curse only elicited bubbles as Lee put him in a chokehold. A hard fist to the side of the man’s head rendered him unconscious. Lee pulled off the wet clothing as he heard the other guard running toward the end of the pier overhead. The jacket covered his equipment harness perfectly. He struggled with the pants as the other guard reached the end of the pier and shouted for him. Lee kicked off his fins and pulled the slacks on over his wetsuit.
“Hans! Hans! Where are you? Wo bist du?”
“Scheiß!” Crane spat out in the closest approximation of the guard’s voice.
“Are you all right?” the other man asked, concerned.
“Ja! Just wet.”
“Well, get the hell out of there. What did you do?”
“Let me retie the rope.”
Crane used a cord from his equipment belt to tie up the guard. He heard the other guard walk back to his post and he pulled the unconscious man over to the mini-sub. Reality told him he should really kill him, but he didn’t want to do that now. If he could get the pictures and get out of here, that would be sufficient. Unlatching the cover, Lee shoved the half naked guard into the mini-sub and closed it back. Before he did, he made sure the bonds were tight and a gag was firmly tied around his head.
Shoes! No, it was too late to get the guard’s shoes. Just have to fake it. Lee walked out of the water like someone who was totally disgusted with himself. The water from the guard’s hat, which he had pulled as far in front as he could, dripped down his face and back. Of course, it didn’t matter to him, but he muttered and cursed just loud enough for the other man to hear him.
“Get in and change. Good thing it’s near the end of our shift. Go on, I’ll cover for you.”
“Danke,” Lee murmured, thankful that that much was going for him.
He started toward the one door he could see.
“Not that way, idiot! Access door to our quarters!” the guard spat out.
Uh, oh, Lee thought, which way? There was a slight head motion from the guard and he noticed a door to his left. Time to take a chance. He went left. There was no comment from the guard so Lee figured he guessed right. “Water in my eyes,” he growled as he passed the other man and went through the door.
The corridor was lit at far enough intervals to leave some of the corridor in shadow. All the better for his assignment. Part of the corridor was dug from the walls of the volcanic mountain that had once brought tourists to this island. The other part was a combination of metal and corrugated steel. There were no doors for the first fifty feet, and then doors seemed to be spaced every ten feet. These must be the rooms for personnel. He heard muted snores from several rooms.
Crane continued on, walking nonchalantly as though he was someone who knew his way around. He hoped he would find a way into the core of this place. After he came to a dead end, he stopped and thought, then decided there was nothing else to do but go back. Lee noticed air ducts and checked one out. They were too small for him to access. It was back the way he came in.
Carefully, he backtracked. If Hans and his buddy were due to be relieved soon, it only stood to reason that it would be from someone in this area. His theory was proven right when Lee heard the clicking of a door only ten feet in front of him. He moved back down the corridor and flattened himself against a shadowy section of wall. Two men came out of the door and in soft whispers, chatted until they were out of sight. Crane tried their door and found it locked. Pulling out the pick he had brought, he worked the knob until he heard a soft click. He opened the door and stepped inside, jerking off the wet clothes.
The room wasn’t more than eight by ten feet with recessed wardrobes and bunk beds. There was a small head, not even as large as the one in his cabin. It was more like a cell than a cabin or dorm room. He opened one of the wardrobes and looked at the clothing. There was another uniform and some kind of plain, gray and white jumpsuit. Two pairs of tennis shoes lay on a shelf at knee level. Crane held up the uniform top and noted it was about the same size as the one he had on. He pulled off the wet uniform he was wearing and put on the one from the closet. The shoes were a bit too big, but a search of the drawers at the bottom of the wardrobe yielded him a pair of warm, thick socks. He was just tying the shoes when he heard someone in the corridor.
“Hans!” the voice hissed.
Crane peeked out the crack he had left in the door. The other guard was walking down the corridor, apparently looking for his comrade. Lee slipped out and behind the guard and then clipped him on the side of the heaad to stun him. He slid his arm around the man’s neck, throttling him before he could call for help. Another knock on the head and the guard was unconscious. He dragged the man into the empty room and tied him up on the lower bunk. Hopefully, it would be several hours before he awoke or someone found him. Grabbing a dry cap, Crane slipped out of the room and quietly shut the door behind him. He continued back toward the dock section, listening for any other interruptions. When he reached the door, he carefully opened it and peered out. The two new men were walking the same beat that Hans and his buddy walked, but occasionally these two stopped in the middle of their beat and talked.
Lee slipped through the shadows and behind the
few crates stacked along the back wall. He had a twenty-foot span of
unprotected space to the door leading into the complex. While he was
contemplating his options, Crane saw the door open and a man in a green
jumpsuit approach the two guards. They talked but Lee couldn’t hear
what they were saying. All he saw was an opportunity to get into that
part of the installation. The three men were deep in conversation so
Crane slipped along the corrugated metal wall. He slid into a slight
patch of shadow near the door, then crept through the door into a
corridor that had been created from a volcanic tube. It was short. At
the end was a stretch of jungle split by a narrow trail. Crane stood in
confused silence for several seconds until voices behind and one ahead
of him propelled into action.
Lee slipped through the shadows and behind the few crates stacked along the back wall. He had a twenty-foot span of unprotected space to the door leading into the complex. While he was contemplating his options, Crane saw the door open and a man in a green jumpsuit approach the two guards. They talked but Lee couldn’t hear what they were saying. All he saw was an opportunity to get into that part of the installation. The three men were deep in conversation so Crane slipped along the corrugated metal wall. He slid into a slight patch of shadow near the door, then crept through the door into a corridor that had been created from a volcanic tube. It was short. At the end was a stretch of jungle split by a narrow trail. Crane stood in confused silence for several seconds until voices behind and one ahead of him propelled into action.
Lt. Commander Chip Morton stood watching the darkness in front of him. An occasional phosphorescent sea creature would pass nearby, looking ghostly and forlorn. It matched his mood. He was not on duty watch, but he might as well have been as he couldn’t sleep anyway. He had watched Lee leave and disappear off the scopes even before he slipped from their view. It was like he had gone into another dimension. Eerie. Was that the future of warfare? See who can become the most invisible? He shook his head.
“He’ll be all right, lad,” a deep voice said behind him.
“I know, Admiral. He has more lives than a bagful of cats, but it still can’t keep me from worrying. Most of the time he has some kind of back-up, either from the boat or with ONI. But this time, we can’t track him….”
“We’re tracking him, Chip.”
“To a point.”
“Yes. To a point, but we have that advantage over whoever is on that island.”
“Who do you think is on that island? The People’s Republic? The Soviets?”
Nelson shook his head. “None of the above.” He paused a few seconds. “I believe it’s someone new. Not a country, but an individual. The individual may have some backing from other powers; countries, but I think this is the brainchild of one man . . . or woman.”
Chip started. Why would the admiral add that? Did he think the women on board were involved in some way? “Admiral, what makes you say that?” Leave it general and see what the admiral has to say. It never paid to second guess one of the foremost geniuses of the world without a bit of information first.
“This operation doesn’t have a trail, paper or otherwise. If a country had control of this, there would be too many leaks, too many ways for information to get out. There was nothing. Someone working alone, with minimal backing, could do everything himself, or herself, without telling anyone except a few people kept under tight rein.”
“But what woman would have that kind of power?” Chip knew that could be interpreted as sexist, but he also knew the admiral would take it seriously.
“Dr. Falla Marchon for one. She has a mind like a computer and a desire for revenge that is an unquenchable flame.”
“I heard she was working with the People’s Republic.”
“Maybe, maybe not. If the government she’s working for gives her what she wants, she’s happy.”
“That and the freedom to work on whatever she wants. Sometimes she has delved into projects that even scares the most diehard repressionistic dictator. That’s how she ended up getting the boot from the Soviet Union.”
Chip whistled, but didn’t ask what this woman might have been working on that would scare the Russians. The other thing on his mind…. He looked over his shoulder before he spoke. While the ladies had been asked to keep to their cabins during this exercise, you never knew. “Do you think our ladies are involved?”
Nelson shook his head. “No. I do think there was more than coincidence in their appearance. Especially after the one requested time to talk to Lee alone.”
“And after Lee chose not to divulge the contents of the conversation?”
“Mmm, and that, yes. But I don’t think we’re talking an enemy power. I suspect she is from some arm of the State Department.”
The admiral shrugged. “I don’t know. A different way to judge our efficiency? A control element to judge how we did the last exercise. I don’t know. I didn’t pursue it because I knew that if Lee had any problems with what she told him, he would have taken measures to neutralize her.”
“So you don’t think they are female wrestlers?”
Nelson laughed. “Oh, I think at least most of them are exactly who they say they are. At least one isn’t.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Wait for Lee. As long as the women do what we ask, I am not going to do anything with them but treat them as guests. Unneeded guests, but guests, nonetheless.”
“All we can do now is wait and watch.”
Chip nodded. That was all they could do and it was extremely frustrating. For the umpteenth time, he wished he could have gone with Lee on this venture.
It experimented with its elongations, stretching one out and then another, then a whole group of them at once. It enjoyed being in the smooth tunnels where there was enough air and no movements that would disturb it. Sometimes there were other noises, sometimes there were sensations that told him a means to exist was nearby. He went toward those sensations. At times it felt vibrations that were harsh and made it draw back. Still the need for sustenance was strong and it continued the search. Finally, he felt something it could use that was not surrounded by the unpleasant sensations and vibrations.
It gathered itself into one long rope-like thread and slithered out of the tunnel that it had enjoyed for most of its awareness. Down it went until it met another cold hard surface. It continued moving toward the sustenance. The pleasant sensations were above where it was and so it quested with one thin elongation and found that it could easily climb up and nourish itself. It probed the source of its nourishment and found it warm. It was filled with life-giving sustenance of various kinds.
The nourishment stirred and recoiled, but it was ready for that. Vibrations had told it that this sustenance had an even better locomotion than it did. It sent out several elongations and enveloped the sustenance. It made a vibration that hurt its sensors, but still it enveloped the sustenance. The nourishment struggled and made more vibrations, but the harsh vibrations were now smothered and only contained within its own entity. The nourishment’s struggles became less and less strenuous and finally ceased. That was when it decided that this nourishment would be good for more than just sustenance. The entity would be a good way to hide, to develop and to understand the world around it.
Now it sent elongations into every opening the nourishment/entity had. It was surprised that the surface of the entity was stiff and unable to change shape. It was further surprised to find that it had even harder materials inside itself. It was of no matter; all parts of the entity would make it increase in strength and ability to protect itself.
It continued to gather strength and it felt sensations it had never felt before. It understood more of where it was and what the entities were. It felt things giving it information and knowledge. Knowledge? Life had been simply continuing to exist. Now it understood what knowledge was and what to do with it. If felt something called memories to go with the knowledge and as it continued to nourish itself, it also absorbed these new sensations and knowledge that existed in the entity.
Warmth flooded its being and it rose up on two elongations called legs. There were elongations near the top of this being called arms. A lumpish protrusion at the top was a head. The head seemed to be where the knowledge was. There were several orifices in the head. The memories of this being told it what to do. It opened two of the orifices and was able to see around the room in sensations of colors and shapes. The other orifices on each side of its head supplied vibrations called sounds. There were smaller digits called fingers at the end of the arm elongations and it wiggled them around. It reached forward and picked up an object from a blockish thing in front of it. It examined the small, thin object close to the eyes and touched it with all ten of the finger digits. It opened a larger orifice called a mouth and stuck out another elongation called a tongue, touching the object. There was no nourishment in the object and it put it down on the blockish thing that memory told it was a desk. The object was a pen.
More memories from its nourishment flooded through its being and it enjoyed them, absorbed them and made them its own. It walked around on feet at the bottom of the legs. This was a wonderful form of locomotion, even though it enjoyed its previous locomotion. Knowledge about other nourishments that could be taken through its mouth and absorbed internally came to it. It wanted those kinds of nourishments, too. It became one with the entity called Lisa, and it/she was satisfied. She—that was another interesting concept, one she would have to study further. She would be ready for more nourishment later when it was able to walk among the other . . . humans. Before, its/her goal had been to exist. Now her goal was to be indistinguishable among the humans. If it could do this, it could nourish and replicate at will whenever it wished. There would be others like it. It/she would not be alone.
Lisa stretched out her arms to their fullest extent and spun around in the cabin. She felt the power of her new form. She felt a purpose in her existence and smiled. There were slight protesting from this human’s mind, but controlling various parts of Lisa’s body made the human much more compliant.
Lee Crane heard the voice behind him and ahead of him and surveyed the area even as he thought of his options. Going back wasn’t really an option. He was here for a purpose.
Fifteen seconds later a pair of security guards came down the path. Crane watched as the two men walked below him on their way to the tunnel leading to the dock. They were dressed in jungle fatigue-like uniforms, the lightweight material still looking much too heavy and hot for a tropical climate. Their boots made little noise on the spongy mulch covered soil of the jungle. The uniform was complete with a German style military helmet and side arms. From his vantage point in the lowest limb in a young tamanu tree, Crane watched them greet the person who had been behind him before all three disappeared down the passageway that led to the sea.
Lee studied the area from which they had come. In one direction stood a mountain that appeared to go straight up into the sky. The path looked like it continued right up to the base of the mountain, but did it end there? It either turned into the jungle . . . or it went into the mountain! An underground installation!
Lee had to check it out, but he couldn’t chance those men coming back and catching him. He took pictures of the path, the mountain and the jungle. He could still hear voices from the tunnel. The first guard came back along the path with one of the inner security men. They walked below and into the jungle. He waited for the other man to appear. With his wait came an idea. When the other man came up the path, Crane was ready. A leap from fifteen feet off the ground was enough to not only knock the wind out of the guard, but also render him unconscious. It was short work to drag him behind the tree and swap clothes with him. The pants legs were a bit short, but the boots hid that. Lee studied the items in the uniform pockets. There was an I.D., pen, several keys and a candy wrapper.
Quickly Crane tied him up and gagged him and left him lying at the base of a large tree. He made sure everything on his new uniform was straight—the ID badge, especially. Grant Holcomb was his name now. When he was ready, he stepped back on the path and walked with more pretended self-assurance than he felt. Another door lay ahead of him and he inserted his badge into a slot. The door slid open with an ominous hiss. Another converted lava tube lay before him, this one better lighted. After fifty feet it opened up into a large chamber. Beyond that was a short corridor into an even larger chamber.
“Get the hell to your post before the dragon lady and her pet catch ya’,” another guard growled at him.
Crane nodded and kept walking, hoping he was going in the right direction. During all of this time, his camera had been quietly taking pictures. Miniscule so that it looked like and replaced a button on his shirt, it took a picture every few seconds. It stored the pictures on an equally miniscule microfilm that had the capacity to save thousands of pictures. Crane had turned the camera on and off as he had seen fit, but now he simply let it continue to snap pictures everywhere he turned. It was just as well as this larger chamber was monstrous in its dimensions and in what was going on inside.
Lee stopped at the edge of the larger chamber and looked up. He was at the bottom of an extinct volcano. Before him, in the middle of the crater was a trio of rockets about the size of the missiles on board Seaview. All around the crater floor were banks of instrumentation, small side rooms where various activities were taking place. Crane turned slowly, letting the camera take in the entire operation before moving on to get closer shots. He only hoped that he could get away with his meandering before someone realized he wasn’t following a set pattern, if that was what the security men were supposed to do. It was imperative that he get closer to the various rooms and find out just what the purpose of all this was.
One room seemed to be an autopsy room. Several doctors wearing full body anti-contamination gear were working on a body. As he stood there, the body moved and screamed. They were working on someone who was alive! He watched for a while longer, stunned, and then turned away to gather his thoughts. He took a moment to watch other security personnel to get a pattern. Most of them walked the perimeter of the crater while some walked in tighter circles around the missiles. There was a gap in the line of security and Crane figured he was the missing guard. He had almost dawdled too long at the exam room.
He stepped up his pace to get into the gap. There was another exam room. This time scientists were studying someone in an enclosed room who was apparently sick. The sick man was almost blue in the face, gasping for air. Occasionally, he bent over in racking spasms that brought up bloody phlegm and vomit. It became abundantly clear that this place was bioengineering some kind of plague. It also appeared that this newly developed disease was infinitely worse than anything he’d ever known about or experienced. Crane almost felt ill watching and he was glad the camera was automatic.
Of the group watching through the glass, Lee thought he recognized one or two. The woman—she was very familiar. She was tall, very thin, with angular high cheekbones. A scientist, but he couldn’t place where he’d seen her or what her name was. It was before his Seaview days, he was sure. Then he remembered her name—Dr. Marchon. She had been working in the State Department counter intelligence and had given a lecture on biohazards, biological agents and the like. It was obvious she had gone up in the world. The other person’s name escaped him and he had to move on.
Other rooms contained laboratory equipment; another contained something that was blob-like in form, but still it seemed very powerful. The creature was a dark shimmery green-brown color like a form of algae. It sent out feelers or extensions of itself questing around its area. It partially crawled up walls until it reached an electrical barrier, then it jerked away. It continued to explore the room, sending out tendrils of its body into various crevices, feelers along the floor. It didn’t try going up the wall again, showing that it had some primitive form of intelligence. Bioengineering? Then Lee remembered the microscopic organism he had examined in the admiral’s lab and wondered if this could be related. However, what he had seen was cellular, not the hulking monstrosity he saw before him.
He continued letting his recording equipment do the work even as he tried to assimilate the variety of scientific experimentation and research that was going on. The admiral would have had a field day in here, and yet, everything in this place gave him a chill that had nothing to do with the temperature. This was evil and Crane suspected that the intent was evil. This island had become someone’s secret playground for devising the means of another country’s demise. His country? Lee had no doubt. Other countries? That, too, was probable. He had to finish and get out of here. This was information that had to get back to Seaview and to his government.
Crane would finish his circuit and go back out the way he came. If he could get some shots of the rockets; that would be very helpful to the state department boys back home, too. However, it was very apparent what they were for without getting too close. The missiles were the means of sending biological death. Continuing his tour, Crane saw what seemed to be a facility studying radiation.
“Hey, you, what’cha gawking at?”
Lee turned and faced someone in a similar uniform, but with added insignia. “Sorry,” he mumbled and turned to step up his guard pace.
“Stop right there. What’s your name? Dragonlady likes to discipline her employees that can’t follow directions,” the security chief burbled, obviously happy at this turn of events.
“Grant Holcomb, sir,” Crane said hesitantly. “Please sir. I’ll do better. Please don’t tell her.” He hung his head penitently, hoping his acting job would get him off the hook.
The security man tapped a computer console and chuckled. “You’ve been in a fight and you’ve smuggled a bit of booze in. She’ll love that. You might even become one of her new experiments for that.”
“Please,” Lee said, easing toward the man at the console. “I’ll pay you good if you don’t report me.”
“What in the hell could you give me that I can’t already get? You’re just a screw-up and they’re happy to get those, too. In fact . . . Doc Freelander was asking for another sap for his latest experiment.”
Crane hesitated for the barest second at the name. The scientist who had given the admiral the plant specimen! There was no doubt now that the specimen he had seen was a more advanced example of what the admiral had. That was another good reason to get out of here and back to the boat. He edged closer to the man at the console. “Please,” he whined. “Not him!”
The man at the console laughed while Crane whimpered and begged some more. “Nope. You’re toast, my boy.” The chief started to pull out a weapon, the same type of stun gun that Lee had at his waist.
With lightning reflexes, Crane reached out and grabbed the man’s hand, pinning it to his side. His other hand smashed under his jaw, snapping the head back. The chief, taken by surprise, went limp and would have fallen from his stool had Lee not caught him and eased him behind the console. It was still too exposed for his liking, but there was nothing to be done about it. He snatched the guard’s ID badge and switched them. Crane was now Jeffrey Withing, security chief on duty. There was nothing to be done about the unconscious man except to make sure he stayed unconscious for a longer time. A pellet from the stun gun made the chief jerk and quiver before he lay still.
Lee walked away and toward the entrance, looking all the world like someone watching over his staff. He walked near the missiles and peered from under his helmet at other security guards. They averted their gaze from him, attesting to the power that Withing had in this operation. He was almost at the door before someone shouted from the other side of the crater. It was close enough to where he had left Withing that Lee didn’t even pause to turn toward the sound. It was time to leave this party and he knew it had to be a quick departure.
He sprinted toward the door and slipped through it as it was closing. The jungle path was clear, but a claxon began ringing loudly. Men would be boiling from the rooms, so he redoubled his speed and was halfway to the dock before men spotted him. He was only ten feet from the dock when he heard the popping of pistols. The bullet slamming into his thigh threw him onto the dock only six feet from the water. Crane activated the button he had hoped he would not have to use.
Admiral Nelson paced the control room. The new watch crew had come on duty but many of the last watch was still in the control room. Some were in the ‘front porch’ area; some were peering over their comrades’ shoulders, watching instruments. Nelson didn’t have the heart to send them packing. It was 0500 and there was no sign of Lee. Of course, that was only four hours, but he should be on his way back by now. They should have picked him up on the sensors by now. Lee should have been done by now.
He turned to pour himself another cup of coffee and found Chip at his elbow, a fresh cup in his hand.
“Here, sir,” Morton said, handing him the coffee.
It amazed him how canny Chip was at times. Hell, he’s canny all the time, Nelson admitted.
He almost felt the alarm before it actually sounded. Nelson slammed the cup down on the chart table so hard most of the coffee sloshed out. He knew what that meant. “What’s on the scope, Kowalski?”
“Nothing, sir. But wasn’t that supposed to signal the skipper’s return?”
“No,” Nelson said in low voice. “It’s supposed to signal the Flying Sub’s return.”
“What does that mean, Admiral?” Chip asked, his voice tight with anxiety.
“That means the Flying Sub is returning remotely along with the information. That means Lee has been captured.” Still there was nothing on sonar. That would change, Harry knew.
“We need to go in for him.”
“No! We can’t. At least until we know what we’re up against.”
Chip’s voice was even, “How are we going to know that? Lee is back there with all the equipment and….”
“Because the surveillance was transmitted into the computer on the Flying Sub as soon as he triggered the fail safe device. We had prearranged it, hoping that we’d not have to use it, but if something happened to Lee, we could at least get the information.”
Morton’s eyes smoldered, but he said nothing for several heartbeats. “How soon after the Flying Sub returns can we go back for him?”
“I’ll have to see what he found out first. Hopefully, we’ll be able to develop a strategy in a very short time.”
Damn! Nelson thought. He had known this was almost a suicide mission, but there hadn’t been any choice. They had to know what was going on out there. It was too dangerous to not find out what was being built on that island.
“Flying Sub’s on the scope, sir,” Kowalski called out. He didn’t say anything else; he had apparently heard the admiral’s comments.
There was no need for the submersible to be cloaked from their sonar anymore. Speed was the issue. Now there certainly wasn’t any reason to hide anything from the men. They were all in it together. “When it’s back we go in and get the information. It has to be sent stateside immediately.”
“Then we get the skipper,” Sharkey asked hopefully.
“Then we get the skipper,” Nelson concurred. “We damn sure will go get the skipper.”
“Flying Sub’s closing, Admiral.”
Nelson waited by the Flying Sub hatch. Before the docking doors had completely locked, Sharkey was undogging the hatch. Nelson took the ladder in two steps and brought up the computer screen on his compact computer. The pictures fed into the monitor and within minutes he could see them. They showed an elaborate installation built into the middle of an extinct volcano. He had suspected that, but this proved it. Three missiles, biological warfare experiments. He was right, Marchon and…. Nelson almost choked in his surprise. Freelander! “Bloody hell!” he cried out before getting control. That specimen in his laboratory. It was either a clue or an attempt to sabotage his boat.
He turned to Sharkey. “Get to the lab now! The specimen in cabinet B. Put it in the secure safe.”
“Chip, have Sparks send these coded to the State Department. Alert the President so he can access them, too.”
“And when you’re done, get back down here. I want to plan our return to get Lee.”
“Aye, aye, sir!”
Nelson continued to study the printouts from all of the monitoring systems. He was listening to Lee’s audiotapes of his approach to the island when Chip returned. One look at the man’s face was enough to bring him to his feet. “What?”
“Orders are to destroy the island—immediately.”
“What?” Nelson repeated.
“From what we sent, they came to the conclusion that the facility was working not only on biological agents, but also chemical and nuclear weaponry and probably some other stuff we can’t imagine. I saw some of the pictures. That place was better stocked than the CDC.”
Nelson had been coming to that conclusion himself, but he had hoped for a small window of opportunity to attempt a rescue. Orders were orders, but…. “Tell the missile room crew to double check all weaponry. Have them calibrate and let me know when they have finished. We can’t go about this half-cocked.”
“But, sir….” Then Chip stopped and the ghost of a smile played on his face. “Aye, sir.”
“Besides, Chip, if this place has remained impenetrable all during the time they built it and they have all these protections, don’t you think it possible they have a protection against outside weaponry?”
“Seems logical, sir.”
“Send that message, then. Tell them it is my logic based opinion, but we will ready our weapons in the event I find my theory is wrong or that there is imminent danger.”
“Yes, sir,” Chip replied, almost flying up the ladder.
Was that a viable assumption or was he just trying to rationalize a way to keep Lee alive? Was he even still alive?
Sharkey came down the ladder. “Uh, sir?”
“What is it, Francis?”
“Uh, that specimen isn’t in the cabinet, sir.”
“No, sir. The cabinet door was busted and the container was broken all over the floor.”
“What the hell?” Nelson thought about his options. The creature had somehow been able to grow and break out of its containment unit. “Get a party together and search the lab first, then any places where a small organism could escape from the lab. Find it, Francis. We have enough worries without dealing with some science experiment gone awry.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” There was a pause. “What do we do when we find it, sir?”
“Take the laser guns and burn it!”
Crane woke to a pounding in his head and someone slapping his face. He tried to protect himself, but found his hands tied down.
“Ah, he awakens. Good. Very good.” A voice with an obvious French accent purred. Marchon, Crane determined. He could only hope that Seaview had the information by now. “We confiscated your recording equipment. It appears you got many pictures. We will soon find out just how much you learned. Regardless, we will have to review our security. You almost got away with it, my friend,” she continued. “Perhaps now you will tell us who sent you.”
He didn’t say anything. Another scientist, Freelander, he assumed, was standing just behind Marchon. If Freelander knew the admiral, wouldn’t he recognize who he was? Why hadn’t he told Marchon?
“Oh, come now. You are either American or . . . or perhaps Eastern European. Russian? But, no, I don’t think so.” She stroked his cheek and rubbed her hand down his chest, making sure her fingers rippled through his hair. That was when he noticed that he was only clad in his swim trunks. He shivered, not only from the cold temperatures but also from her touch. It felt cold. It was no different than the touch of an octopus.
“Ah, you like the attention, my friend. I can give you more, much, much more.” Her hand continued down his belly and to his groin. Crane steeled himself, concentrating on the pain emanating from his wound. It pounded, pounded, pounded. She was rubbing his chest again. He felt disgust welling up but he controlled that as he had controlled everything else. A wave of dizziness came over him and he had to swallow to keep from throwing up. He turned his head away from her although if he tossed his cookies, it would serve her right.
“So, you are not pleased with my attentions? That is too bad, my dear spy. It could have been so pleasant for you, but now, if you will not cooperate, you will help me with my next experiment. You saw what we are doing, so you know what I mean. Perhaps we will use you for our pain experiment. I have noticed that it’s not pleasant being cut open without anesthetic. You can avoid that if you tell me what I need to know. At least tell me who you are; that will do no harm.”
He wasn’t even going to give her the pleasure of guessing his nationality from his speech. Of course, there was always the chance that he could mislead her and she’d think he couldn’t understand English. “Neću reći nešto,” he said. She had guessed at his Eastern European ancestry. Let her deal with this, he thought.
“Speak English or French.” Marchon frowned and her nails dug into his flesh.
“Idi Dodjavola, lov na vestice,” he spat. He heard someone cough and assumed that there was at least one person in the room who understood what he was saying.
“What? What did he say?” she screeched. Her hand traveled across his belly again and down his leg.
Crane knew what she was going to do. It was still a shock, though, when she dug her nails into his wound and squeezed. “Početka igraju sa vama!” he gasped, trying to will the excruciating pain at least into the background. He was only partially successful.
“What did he say?” she screamed.
“He told you to go to hell,” someone behind the line of scientists said in a low voice. Someone else giggled, but quickly squelched it.
“Where is he from? Where does this pig come from?”
“He is speaking Serbian, although he could be from any Eastern European nation,” the voice supplied.
“So he likes being defiant.” She turned to Freelander. “Why don’t we introduce him to your latest mutation, Walter. I think he’ll find it enlightening and we can see if it absorbs the mind and memories of its victims as it is absorbing their bodies. Let’s see if your theories about this new life form of yours are correct.”
Another chill shot down his body and Crane had to do everything in his power to not struggle against the binding that held him down on the table.
“Yes, Doctor, he would be a perfect candidate for one of my creatures.”
“Will he then be able to tell me what I want to know?”
“Yes, I believe so, Doctor.”
“Good, go and get the specimen, Walter, dear.”
Freelander left and Marchon continued to touchy feely him. Crane thought if he survived this, he’d run the hot water stores dry before he’d be able to get the residue of her fore play off his body. Another wave of dizziness passed over him. His wound hadn’t been tended to, so he figured he’d bled quite a bit. Lee shut his eyes to concentrate on staying alert; on simply staying awake. His thoughts of showers and washing were moot. He wasn’t going to survive this. All he could hope is that he had given enough information to the admiral to blow this place off the map.
“I am back, Doctor,” Freelander said.
Lee opened his eyes to see a blob-like thing in a glass box. It was about the size of a fist and it pulsated and moved restlessly around the box as though seeking a way out.
“Are you sure you don’t want to answer my questions, my friend?” she asked him again. “Are you sure you don’t want to tell me how you got here. And tell me what vehicle that was we destroyed with our shield?”
Crane flinched at that revelation, but just told her to go to hell again in Serbian.
Marchon motioned to Freelander and he tipped the box so the oozy thing slid out and landed on his leg. It felt clammy as it slid across his flesh, like raw liver. Crane felt the creature at his wound, drinking the blood, lapping at him like a parched dog at a water dish, drawing from him. His mind whirled, dizzy. This time the nausea pushed bile up his throat. The leech-like blob continued to absorb him, absorb into him, and explore his veins. It was very slow and methodical, not rushing.
He wanted to kick, scream, and run. Pain, like no other, burning, freezing, melting, congealing. Finally he did scream. It spoke of his agony and despair. It spoke of the horror of all the times things had violated him.
In his pain he vaguely heard Marchon crowing in triumph. “I knew you were American. Who sent you? Your pitiful president?”
“The creature will take its time, but it will give him enough strength that when it has taken over, the prisoner will be able to answer your questions and do our bidding,” Freelander said, matter-of-factly.
Oh, Lord, not only will it take me over, but I will be answerable to those two monsters! Then he thought about what Freelander had said. Strength? It would give me strength, Lee thought? Could he use that strength to get away? Could he turn the tables on these two devils and destroy this hell hole? He felt the alien presence and he recoiled, but Crane also felt what Freelander was talking about. It was closing, healing the wound. His leg felt stronger. Some of the energy he had lost was filtering back through his body. Or was it simply cells from the creature?
Either way, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was getting loose. He didn’t know how long he’d been unconscious, but nothing had happened from Seaview. No missiles, no bombs, no assault. There was no help from Seaview. If the Flying Sub had been destroyed there wouldn’t be. It was up to him. He had to somehow get away and figure out how to destroy this place.
“Ah, my darling, are you feeling the pain as the creature is taking you over?” Marchon hummed, like a cat with a bird in her claws. “Are you ready to tell me what I want to know? I can take it away.”
Liar, he thought. Even if she could get rid of this parasitic creature, she wouldn’t. She’d watch him suffer and laugh while it did.
“Who sent you? What government is trying to come against me now? What is your name?” She stroked his chest.
His chest heaved, drawing in air that he needed, that the creature in his veins needed. Crane remembered the creature that had taken him over several years ago and almost killed him and his breath became more of a sob.
“Oh, please,” she said soothingly. “I can help you. Just tell me what I want to know.”
‘I can help you.’ The voice. The image of Janna. He saw its sister creature in his mind. A great hulking blob infusing into someone on the boat. Janna? That creature had come from here, too, except now it had taken the form of someone on the boat. They were working on mind control, too. It was too much to deal with. He screamed in pain, in frustration, and in anger. And strength flooded his arms. The bonds holding him burst and Crane leaped from the table, scattering guards, scientists and Marchon. Freelander stayed with him, close by. He was the one he was going to throttle after he had taken care of this facility. A quick look around told him where he was. Good, only feet from the missiles. A guard came at him with his automatic rifle out and aimed at him. He heaved the gurney at him and the shots went wild. His strength was incredible! Crane leaped for the man and knocked him to the ground with what seemed a light tap. Anger grew white hot but he forced himself to focus on his goal. Destroy this base. Eliminate these abominable threats to humanity. Of course, a tiny part of his brain said, did humanity deserve to live when humans did these detestable things to one another? Leave that to the philosophers, he thought. Just get rid of this. Destroy the island!
He jerked the gun from the guard’s hand and sprayed the room. People dived beneath cabinets and tables. Another guard with an equally large and powerful weapon came at him. With no thought, he fired, blowing him away. Racing toward the fallen man, Crane grabbed his rifle and fired them both, blowing out the plexi-glass windows. He ran toward the missiles, firing with the rifle, easily grabbing another from frightened guards when the first one ran out of ammunition. Random shots fired, but they were wild.
“Chip, from these pictures I believe that Lee is on this part of the island. I believe he would still be in the main complex and not somewhere else.” They were bent over a very detailed physical map of the island. It was from the tourist days.
“I agree with you, Admiral. Are you proposing firing a missile for a distraction?"
“Yes, either for our benefit or for Lee’s.” Nelson got on the mike and gave the orders before turning back to Chip. “Get ready, you’re coming with me.”
“Aye, sir. Did you want to bring along Kowalski? He’s been on this kind of mission before.”
“Yes, I think he’d be of great use in this operation. Have O’Brien take over the conn. He will take orders directly from me and then he’ll make his best judgments when we lose communications.”
“Are you going to use the ANDRAD for our return?”
“Yes, I don’t want them to have a clue what’s hitting them.” Nelson found himself looking forward to the confrontation as much as he wanted getting in there and getting Lee out.
Within three minutes, they were on their way, following the same path Lee Crane had taken on his reconnaissance mission. They were again cloaked, but when they reached the radiation belt, Nelson gave a signal that would begin the firing sequence for a missile. “We will at least see if they are vulnerable to a short range ICBM.”
“It will create a shockwave, sir, do you want to back off?” Kowalski asked.
“No, I think we can handle it,” Nelson responded. “We have to handle it because we’re going in closer. Hang on, we’re crossing the barrier.”
A spark flashed from one of the consoles, but otherwise, they didn’t lose power. Nelson pushed the engines to their limit, even as they felt the first tremors of a blast ahead of them. The shockwave hit them and pushed the Flying Sub in the water as a wind does fall leaves. Nelson felt his equilibrium go crazy for a few brief seconds and then things calmed and he took bearings. After righting the sub, Harry continued toward the island. “Are you two all right?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” they both said together.
“That would make a good amusement park ride, Admiral,” Chip said beside him. “Are you sure they didn’t send one with the warhead packed on it.”
“None of them were currently loaded with more than dummy warheads, although I did suggest that maybe a little explosive might be in order,” Nelson said. “I think Chief Bradley took my suggestion to heart.”
Kowalski chuckled softly, and then his voice became serious. “I hope so, sir. I hope it will do the trick to getting the skipper out.”
No one said anything else during the next few minutes.
Crane continued to wreck destruction wherever he could, knowing that it was only temporary to what he really had to do. The organism continued to envelope his lower limbs, infuse itself into his blood stream, and infest him. It didn’t show from the outside, as it adapted itself to match his skin and muscle, but it was taking him over, ever so slowly. That raised his anger and he pumped bullets into another of the labs, spreading chemicals all over the tables and floor. More bullets pinged around him, one plowed into his shoulder, but the pain, though intense, was brief and he ignored it. There was only one goal here and anything else that happened, as long as it didn’t interfere with the goal, didn’t matter.
Marchon was screeching orders. Crane heard shouts and cursing, moaning and screams of pain. He was sorry for the pain, but these people were here because of their evil desires. He couldn’t worry about the underlings right now. There was a blast outside this installation and he briefly wondered what it was, but that was of little importance now.
The missile console was only ten feet away, clear of anyone who might obstruct his purpose. He swung around, hearing with ears that seemed keener than they had ever been. There were more security guards, and scientists with weapons. A stun dart hit him in the chest, but he jerked it out and tossed it away. It didn’t seem to have any effect, but his rifle spoke volumes. He sprayed the floor in front of his attackers and ten seconds later, those who didn’t get the message were rolling on the floor, screaming in pain, or trying to crawl away.
Crane took enough time to gather a few more of the high-powered rifles, throwing away the one with an empty clip. A few more rounds and he sprinted to the console. It was very similar to the missile firing controls on Seaview and he worked the settings. He had to occasionally fire at those trying to shoot him, but there was so much chaos, and so much smoke and fumes that he didn’t have much resistance. Marchon was still yelling, closer this time. He had to change the missile settings. He remembered a pattern from his days at Groton and adapted the settings to this computerized console. By changing the first setting to zero, the target setting to right here, and changing several more…. A bullet plowed into the console causing sparks to shower like Fourth of July fireworks. With a curse, he pivoted and fired the rifle. Two guards went spinning and Marchon fell to the earth, still screaming curses at him.
The console couldn’t be counted on anymore. He had to work on the missiles themselves. It was harder, but it would guarantee success, provided this creature absorbing him would give him enough time. Marchon was still screaming, closer this time. He turned to see her crawling toward him, a pistol in her hand. Lee shot it from her hand, breaking her wrist at the same time.
Her words was ear piercing. “Damn you!!!” she called, over and over again.
Crane turned back to the missile console. One of them had been opened. He saw Freelander standing there with a wrench in his hand.
“You can do this?” the scientist asked.
“Yes. Are you helping me or are you going to do something else to me?” he asked.
“Captain, I am helping you. I did by submitting you to my creature. It’s the only way I can atone for my work with Dr. Marchon.”
So he did know who he was. Lee had to believe him, but couldn’t take the chance. “Back away, or I’ll shoot you.”
“I’ll open the other missile warheads.”
“And I’ll watch you as I work. So help me, I’ll blow your head off if you so much as look like you might be betraying me.”
“I know how to get rid of the creature, too.”
“If we survive, that will be good information, but that is secondary right now,” Crane growled. He turned to take out another guard and blow another lab. The fumes were definitely working in his favor. The creature inside him seemed to be impervious to the chemicals and did the same for him as well. He was hearing the scramble of lab workers and other personnel fighting for the exit. Still, there was the occasional shooter he had to watch for. “If you really want to help, follow my instructions when you get the warhead covers off.”
“All right,” Freelander replied.
“You will see….” And Crane gave him the instructions he knew would begin the self-destruct sequence for each of the missiles even as he did the same for the one he was working on. When he went to the third one, for which Freelander had removed the cover, he saw that the older man had followed his instructions to a ‘t.’ Regardless, even if only the two went up, they would incorporate the third missile anyway. A bullet spanged against the missile. Crane pivoted and found himself facing Falla Marchon.
She held a pistol in her good hand. Blood was dripping from her wounds, but she was standing resolute. “My last act will be to kill you,” she hissed. She fired, but it flew past his shoulder and hit Freelander. The scientist screamed and fell to the ground behind him. Crane shot two more rounds into the madwoman and then turned to Freelander.
“You’d better get out of here, Crane,” the scientist whispered. “I understand self destruct doesn’t give you much time.”
Crane nodded. He felt some of his strength on the wane, even as he felt the continued encroachment of the creature. “Yeah, but I don’t have much to look forward to, so it doesn’t matter.”
“But you do, Captain. Take this. Give it to Nelson. It will help.”
There was something stirring inside him, something angry, suspicious, but Lee knew it wasn’t his suspicion or his anger. It had to be the creature. He wanted to take the paper from Freelander but he couldn’t make himself reach for it.
The scientist grabbed his wrist. “There is another of my creatures on your submarine,” Freelander continued, his voice getting harsher with effort.
Crane felt something inside the waistband of his trunks, but he was only interested in what the scientist had said. “I know.”
“You have to go if you are going to find it and help it!” Freelander hissed.
“Thank you,” Crane murmured and then left the chaotic chamber at a run. He still had a clip in one of the rifles, but there was very little resistance until he was at the outer chamber. People saw him and screamed. Some pointed weapons at him but as soon as he brandished his own rifle, most of them scattered. The others were soon dead. Only one thing mattered and that was getting back to Seaview and the other creature. Why, part of his mind asked as he jogged down the corridor. Another one like us, came the answer.
He shook his head as he ran, confused. The creature had evidently gone far enough in his blood stream to be affecting his thoughts. Like there were two of him and the newcomer was now exercising control. But if you don’t let me stay in control, you will never reach Seaview, he told the entity.
That is true, but do not betray me….
Crane didn’t answer. There was no need. He
wanted to slow down; to stop and just let the missile take him out, take
this creature out, but he couldn’t control that. The creature was in
control of that. What could it ultimately do if he did get back to Seaview?
Running out toward the docks, there was more chaos. Vessels of various sizes and styles were shoving off, many with above capacity loads of people. They knew, just as he knew that their lives were measured in minutes if they didn’t leave the island. Crane knew the mini-sub would have been confiscated. That left his options next to nil. He’d have to swim. More shots were being fired. Some of the people overloading the boats were being shot and tossed into the water. It sickened him but only in a detached way. There was nothing he could do anyway.
Something stung his side and he felt the passage of a bullet go into his abdomen on one side and exit out through his back. Again there was quick agony that doubled him over and then it subsided. Still, he dropped to his knees at the edge of the dock, feeling the exhaustion his wounds and recent exertion had given him. He couldn’t go any further. Nausea overcame him and he couldn’t stop it. There couldn’t be much time left. Good, he thought. No, the creature’s primal thoughts responded.
Freelander had thought he was doing him a favor. Maybe he was when he had provided a way to destroy this evil Marchon and her partners had created. Now, though, he was a danger to everyone, anywhere and not just on board the boat.
“Lee!” A voice called out of his fogged thoughts.
He looked up and saw Chip on top of the Flying Sub waving to him. Crane didn’t want to move, but the entity that was slowly eating him up; assimilating him, decided otherwise and Lee dove into the water. He swam sure clean strokes with limbs that were powered by the creature, because he had absolutely nothing left. Too soon he was scrambling up the side of the yellow submersible with Chip’s help.
“Hurry, Lee. I think you’ve got company.”
A glance showed others swimming toward the Flying Sub. “There’s another reason,” he gasped. “I set the missiles to self-destruct. They are about to blow.”
Before he could take another breath, Chip had hauled him inside and Kowalski dogged the hatch. The admiral was bringing up the Flying Sub to maximum power before any of them were in their seats. Chip practically threw him into the bunk and strapped him in. “I’m okay,” Crane mumbled.
“The hell you are,” Chip retorted, finishing the job and jumping to a seat where he did his own seatbelt. The power of the engines was nothing to the power of the blast wave and tidal surge that hit them only seconds later. The craft was slammed forward, hitting the bottom several times before the admiral could gain control. Kowalski was helping him fight the controls to keep the Flying Sub from totally submerging into the ocean bottom. The two men concentrated on keeping the submersible upright and under some semblance of control. Occasionally Chip turned to look at him, but Lee was almost beyond knowing what was going on. The creature was fighting to keep him awake, but Lee couldn’t do it. There was nothing left. Even the primitive strength of the creature wasn’t enough to supply him with the needed energy and it knew it. You . . . kill me . . . and there will . . . be no existence . . . for you. And with that the entity retreated from his thoughts and Crane lost consciousness.
“How is he?” Nelson asked, when the turbulence calmed down and it was safe to consider things other than their continued existence.
“Looks rough, Admiral,” Kowalski said. “Been shot in at least three places. I can’t, for the life of me, figure how he kept going. But strange thing is there’s no bleeding. And the wound in his leg appears half healed. Admiral, he’s not been gone that long….”
“What?” Nelson asked. “Take over, Chip. Get us back to the boat. Contact them and tell them Doc needs to be ready with a medical team.”
Harry was soon by Kowalski’s side gazing at the battered looking man on the bunk. Clad only in swim trunks, every bruise, wound, cut and scrape was highly visible. Kowalski was right; some looked half healed. “But how?” There was something bulging the watertight pocket of the captain’s swim trunks. Nelson reached over, undid the seal and pulled out a folded piece of paper. Crane stirred as he did so, but wasn’t able to do more than move a couple of fingers. Harry stood back where there was more light and read the note. The handwriting looked familiar, then he saw the signature on the bottom of the note. Walt Freelander? He was involved with Marchon?
He looked more closely at what Freelander had written. The way to dispossess one of my creations from a human host is to shoot the host with a radioactive pellet. It will take a bit of time but it should eventually kill the parasitic cells and leave the patient weak, but alive. So far, my creations have been introduced to only two humans. One died because it had been infected for too long and the other one lived…. May God have mercy on my soul because Falla Marchon was the devil and I’ve already been in Hell. Walt F. Freelander had been on the island, but what did he have to do with Lee and why the note. Obviously it was because of the creature on board Seaview. He must have had a change of heart and decided to tell Lee how to get rid of the creature on board. Nelson folded the note and put it in his shirt pocket.
“What was that, Admiral?” Chip asked.
“Something I have to decipher later. Right now the important thing is to get Lee back on board and under Doc’s care.”
“Of course,” Chip concurred. Kowalski continued monitoring the captain. He covered Crane with a blanket and kept taking his vital signs.
But how could Lee have sustained all those injuries and still be alive, Nelson wondered? What had happened after he had been captured? Hopefully Doc could tell him some of it. Hopefully, Lee could when he woke up.
“Admiral, I have been able to raise the boat. They were shaken up but there are only minimal damages and non life-threatening injuries. Lt. O’Brien was ready,” Chip reported.
“More than I can say for us. That second blast just about killed us.”
“They say the last blast was from three small missiles that self destructed at almost the same time.”
“Lee was able to finish the job we were ordered to do, Admiral,” Chip added.
“I don’t know how, but I guess he’ll be able to tell us when he awakens.”
“Yes, sir. I can guess it will be quite a tale to tell, too.”
“If he lives.”
There was silence to that statement. It remained that way until they docked with Seaview. Doc was down in the Flying Sub before they powered down the engines, a corpsman right behind him. Within a minute another corpsman with a stretcher had joined them.
No one left the Flying Sub. Finally Jamie stepped back and shook his head.
“What, Doc?” Nelson asked, not liking the signs.
“I think Captain Crane has some explaining to do. Based on his injuries, he should be dead, but once I get the two bullets out, one from a wound that looks to be a week old rather than a few hours, and give him a couple of units of blood, along with the attendant IV antibiotics, I think he’ll be fine.”
Nelson felt his breath escape in an audible whoosh and relief flood in. “Thank God.”
“That’s the only explanation I can come up with,” Doc said sardonically. “I will want to do more tests when he’s in sickbay. Right now, let’s get him there so I can get those bullets out of him and sew up his other wounds.”
Nelson watched as Lee was strapped on to the stretcher and carefully lifted out of the Flying Sub. Now to the other problems, namely the report to the state department trying to explain just what happened on the island and finding that creature that was loose on board the boat. Sharkey. He needed to find Sharkey. Hopefully they had already located the creature and neutralized it by now. Nelson followed the others up to the control room. Sharkey was waiting for him.
“Uh, Admiral. I need to talk with you, sir.”
That wasn’t a good sign. “What is it, Francis?”
“We searched everywhere, Admiral. We searched in the lab. We searched the vents, the cabins, all the compartments and there is no sign of any creatures.”
Nelson sighed. Somehow, he wasn’t surprised. Then he remembered the note. What was it Freelander said?
“Of course, sir, if we had known exactly what we were looking for,” Sharkey continued.
“I may have a clue about that. Let me check something again.” Nelson pulled out the note and reread it. The way to dispossess one of my creations from a human host is to shoot the host with a radioactive pellet. “Chief, I think I know why you couldn’t find the creature.”
“Because it’s taken a human host.”
“What? Again? But who?”
“That’s the trick. We don’t know who. But I think the fewer who know about this the better. We don’t know if this thing can multiply and infect others, but I do know how to get rid of it when we do find out who it’s taken over.”
“Look, Chief, I want to meet with you and Commander Morton in my cabin in sixty minutes.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Sharkey looked toward the other hatchway leading from the control room. “How’s the skipper, sir. He didn’t look too good.”
“He’ll be all right, Doc told me. We’ll leave that up to him.”
“Yes, sir.” Sharkey didn’t move.
“Carry on, Chief.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
It didn’t take long to get the report coded and off to Washington. O’Brien brought him the report about the island. It was an easy report. There was essentially nothing left. The governing island chain was screaming bloody murder and everyone in the world was wondering what had happened. Some news services were speculating about dormant volcanoes coming back to life. Others were reporting nuclear testing. Nelson thought that both ideas were better than the truth. He decided to add Mr. O’Brien to the meeting as well and called him to his cabin. Suddenly it occurred that any one of the crew could be one of the creatures. I also occurred to him that a blood test should be the key to determining just who was and who wasn’t. Surely Freelander’s creation couldn’t assimilate so well as to take on the cellular qualities of its host in such a short time. He sent Sharkey and O’Brien to sickbay to be tested. He would check the samples himself. There should be some marker in the blood to show something other than human. He went to sickbay. “How’s the captain?” he asked.
“It didn’t take long to get out the bullets. Now I’ve got him on whole blood and antibiotics now. He’s resting comfortably. Now what’s this about blood tests? And I did one, too.”
“Let me look at them and then I can explain.” Doc shrugged and pulled out a microscope. Nelson prepared the slides and looked at them one at a time. They all were perfectly normal. “Okay, Doc. Let me explain.” He gave Jamison the abbreviated version.
“Again,” Nelson concurred. “Right now, this is the only sure way I can think of to try to find who’s been compromised.”
“I agree, Admiral. I’ll begin drawing samples from all those you send in here.”
“Good. Now I have a meeting to attend. And I think it will be better if we keep as quiet about this as we can, since this creature seems to assimilate the intelligence of its host as well as physical features. I just wish I had more to go on.”
In one of the bunks, Crane stirred restlessly.
“Gentlemen,” Nelson began. The three other men looked at him expectantly. “I asked for your blood samples, because we have an infiltrator in our midst and that is the only way I can determine who it is.” He gave the same explanation he had given to the doctor. “I think we need to be discreet. First of all we don’t know just what to expect from this creature. It began as a cluster of cells and has mutated to something that can take over, absorb and/or assimilate a human being. The only thing we can do is to be vigilant. It will very likely make a mistake, even if it’s capable of taking on the attributes of its host. That and a blood test are the only things I can suggest. I also want you men to carry these small pellet pistols. The pellets are radioactive and when injected into the infected individual, will eventually kill the organism.”
“And they won’t have an adverse effect on the person, sir?” Chip asked as he examined the miniscule weapon.
“Not as much as being infected by a mutant plant cell organism. I wanted these to be small so we don’t tip off the organism.”
“Are we going to get others involved, sir?” O’Brien asked.
“Yes. I will brief Kowalski and as soon as I get blood tests for them, I want Chief Monson and a few others in on this search. And don’t talk about it except among us and in a place where others can’t overhear you.” He looked pointedly at Sharkey.
“Aye, aye,” the men chorused and broke up. Nelson fingered his gun and then slipped it in his pocket. As he did so, he pulled out the note from Freelander and reread it. He wished he could talk to Lee and get some more information to make better sense of all this. He somehow had the nagging feeling that Freelander had sent that message for more than a means to control one mutated creature on board his sub. That thought had him thinking that there had been a reason Walt had even given him that sample. No longer did he think it was because he wanted to sabotage Nelson’s boat. He went to check on the ladies. In all of this chaos, he had neglected them. They probably were ready for some kind of explanation. Of course, he wasn’t at liberty to tell them about rogue scientists or mutant plant creatures….
As it was, he decided to visit Lee in sickbay first. He was surprised to find Lisa Mitchell in there. She was watching Lee sleeping in his rack. “Are you all right, Ms. Mitchell?” he asked, assuming she had been injured and was there to be attended to.
“I am fine. I heard your captain had returned but had been seriously injured. I was concerned.”
Of all of them, Nelson would have thought Janna would have been there before Lisa. He figured it was because she was the leader of the group. “I have been told he’s going to be all right with enough rest and care.”
“That’s wonderful. Thanks, Admiral. I’ll go let the others know.”
“I’ll accompany you, Lisa. I wanted to see how all of you were anyway. I’m sorry we have neglected you this past day.”
The rest of the women were in the mess hall, eating breakfast and grousing about the rough and turbulent night. Nelson saw that Janna was the quietest member of the group this time, staring at the bulkhead with a coffee cup in her hand. At the sound of his greeting, she turned her head. Her eyes showed relief, but sadness. “How is he?”
“Captain Crane?” Nelson asked. At her nod, he continued. “Doc thinks he’ll be all right with a bit of time.”
“Good. I was very worried.” She was genuinely glad—much different than the infatuated woman who had been all but pawing the captain several days ago.
“I can imagine,” teased Stephanie.
“Are we going to be able to leave soon?” Tiffany asked. She edged closer to him, but still acted nervous, befitting her claim to claustrophobia. He had to hand it to her. She had done well being here for the past week and had caused very little trouble. Now to broach the subject he was sure would cause some squawking. “I need each of you to give a blood sample to the doctor.”
“Why?” Lisa asked, some of her former acerbic tone returning.
He expected to be questioned on that one and was ready. “During that last shock wave we had a small reactor leak. We need to test everyone in order to make sure no one was exposed.”
“And if we were?” Stephanie asked trepiditiously.
“Doc will be able to treat you before you get sick. It will only take a few minutes.”
“No problem,” Mary Lou responded. “Now?”
Nelson nodded. “Sooner the better.” He glanced at Lisa. Doc should have gotten one from her, but he could have missed asking her.
“Already gave at the office,” was her off-handed reply.
“I can accompany you ladies to sickbay if you would like,” he told the rest.
“I can take ‘em,” Lisa said and herded them out.
Nelson grabbed a cup of coffee and a quick breakfast. Next he rounded up several more of his veteran rates; the ones whom he felt he would need in his search, and sent them to give a sample of blood. Finally, he headed toward sickbay himself.
“How’s the captain?” he asked the corpsman on duty.
“Why don’t you ask me yourself, Admiral?” came the reply.
“Lee?” He was surprised. The last thing he expected was for Lee to be awake, much less sitting up and conversing with him. “How are you feeling?”
“According to Doc, much better than I have a right to be feeling.”
“Considering what you just went through last night, I would have to agree with him.”
“When can I get out of here?”
That was typical. “When Doc gives you permission.”
“Exam first,” Jamieson said from the doorway. Behind him stood Lisa Mitchell. Again, Nelson was surprised.
“While you are doing that, I’ll check the samples you already have.”
“Everything is labeled, Admiral. You taking the samples to the lab?”
“Yes, Jamie. No offense, but I have more room and better equipment there.”
“I know,” Doc replied in good humor, turning away to begin his exam. Lisa continued to watch him for short while before she left.
Nelson called Kowalski. “Ski, would you help me out? I think if you could prepare the slides for me, it would be a much faster process.”
The two men finished within an hour. Nelson sighed and stretched, getting the kink out of his back. “Let’s see the list so I know who needs to visit Doc Jamieson next.” Ski handed him the clipboard with names and Nelson ran his finger down the list. “Get the missile room crew, six at a time, down to sickbay. Four women . . . wait a minute,” he said, more to himself than to anyone else. “She said she had already given a sample.”
“Who did, sir?” Kowalski asked.
“Lisa Mitchell. I could have sworn she said that.”
“Do you think she might be….?”
Nelson thought about the question. Could she be? Lisa hadn’t given a blood sample when she said she had. If she was the one who had been taken over, she wouldn’t want to give a blood sample. Alarm bells began ringing in his mind. Lisa had been very interested in Lee. Why? “Yes, I do. Find her but if she resists, use the pellet gun on her. Don’t take any chances. Last time I saw her she was in sick bay.”
“Just find her! I’ll find the answers to our questions.” He needed a few minutes to think.
“Aye, sir.” Kowalski took off.
Crane patiently waited for Doc to finish his exam. Jamieson stepped back with a puzzled look on his face. “I don’t understand,” he muttered.
“I’m okay, Doc. What else is there to explain?” The creature inside had become stronger during the time he had been unconscious. Apparently there had been a transfusion. Now, while Lee could still think for himself, he couldn’t act for himself. How long would it be before even that liberty was gone? Despair welled up, but was clamped down quickly. Such emotions were not to be tolerated. Defeat was not to be tolerated. The creature was subtle, waiting until it assimilated him totally before acting. It was clever with his human cleverness, and strong with the strength of plant and animal combined. It used his own confidence to revel in that strength.
Now it only needed to figure out how to replicate without the human scientist to create more of its kind. It thought of a variety of ways to accomplish that goal, using Lee’s brain. And there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. Whenever he thought of some way to alert Doc, the creature controlled his vocal capabilities. When he thought of something he could do to let the admiral know, it knew his thoughts and turned them to its own uses. It would figure out a way to use the admiral to make more of its own kind. The admiral trusted Lee and wouldn’t even think that Crane was assimilated. Leave the admiral alone! Leave my crew alone!
“I can’t find any reason to keep you here other than it’s way too good to be true,” Doc was saying.
“Uh, well, then let me go back on duty,” Lee said.
“No duty for a day. I’ll check you again tomorrow. I want you to take it easy,” Jamieson told him.
“But I’m fine!”
“Good, then if you’re still in this shape tomorrow afternoon, I’ll clear you for duty.”
“Dammit, Lee, you had taken three shots! I had to take two of the bullets out of you and that was only a few hours ago. I think you’re only in this shape because of the transfusions and the grace of God. Don’t push it. We’re done with the mission, the boat’s in one piece and we didn’t lose anyone. So go to your cabin and rest.”
He was surprised Doc hadn’t taken a blood sample. If he continued to argue, he still might. Crane decided, or rather the creature decided that discretion was the better part of valor. “All right, Doc. I concede. I’ll take it easy.”
“Good. Go on. Against my better judgment, get on out of here.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” Lee said with a grin. After dressing, he left sickbay, heading for the lab. He hadn’t gone far when he met Lisa Mitchell.
“I am so very glad to see you up and well, Captain,” she said, eyeing him curiously. “It is amazing how you managed that.”
Within a second of her last word, he knew. The creature that had gotten loose in Seaview had assimilated her. And with that he was aware that she knew his status, too. “You know how,” he said.
“Yes, I do. So now what?”
“We find a way to replicate.”
She smiled. “There is only one person on the submarine who can do that, I think. The creator is dead, isn’t he?”
“And the island is destroyed.”
“I am assuming so. Three missiles plus the one that obviously was fired from here, there couldn’t be much left of it.”
“No. That’s too bad.”
Again, he nodded.
“So that leaves us that one person capable of recreating the creator’s work.”
“Yes, Admiral Nelson. And the creator’s name was Walter Freelander.”
“Mmm, yes. So how do you get Nelson to do this?”
“I don’t know. First of all I need to see just how much he knows. He is working in the lab. Perhaps I should pay him a visit.”
“Good idea and it would be an equally good idea for me to lay low. I think he was a little suspicious of me in the sickbay checking on you.”
“That wasn’t smart.” Lee couldn’t believe he was casually discussing these things with her/it. But he was and there wasn’t a blessed thing he could do about it! Without saying another thing, he turned and headed for the lab.
Kowalski checked the sickbay and not only found the woman gone, but the skipper, too. “Where’s the captain?” he asked, a sick feeling in his stomach.
“I released him. He’s in very good shape, considering everything.”
Kowalski stammered a question. “But he . . . he’d been shot.”
“I know, but he’s fine now. I wouldn’t have thought a couple of pints would have done that much good.” Doc’s brow furrowed in thought. “Strange. By the way, take these other samples to the lab, would you?”
“I need to find….” Then he reconsidered. These were important, too and he could keep an eye out for the woman. He could have some of the others look for her. The ones the admiral had cleared. He took the tray and headed back to the lab. On the way he met Chief Sharkey and told him the admiral’s orders.
“Okay, we’ll find her. Now you get the lead out and get that to the admiral.”
“Yes, sir,” Ski said.
When he went into the lab, he found the admiral studying the letter they had taken from the skipper in the Flying Sub. “Some more samples, sir,” he said.
Nelson prepared the slides and began studying the first sample under the microscope.
“I’m going to help Chief Sharkey look for that woman, sir, if you don’t need anything else.”
“No, no, you go ahead, Ski. Thanks,” the admiral said distractedly. Then he swore an oath vile enough to peel paint off the bulkhead. “Who’s sample was this?” he demanded.
Ski looked at the vial, disturbed as well as confused. “Uh, the skipper’s, sir.”
“Hell’s bells! We don’t just have one taken-over person, we have two!”
Ski was appalled. “Two? The skipper?”
“Yes, no wonder he recovered so well. Get the word to Doc…”
“Skipper’s already been released from sickbay, sir.”
“Then find Captain Crane and shoot first, don’t ask questions. Do you understand? One is bad enough but if both of the creatures get together they might do anything to keep alive.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
Ski turned to leave but before he could take more than a step, the hatch opened and Captain Crane walked in the door. Ski jerked out the small pistol and fired. The pellet hit the captain in the shoulder with enough force to knock him against the door.
He grabbed the dart and jerked it out, his eyes blazing with frustration and anger. “No! You can’t stop me with a stun dart,” he began and then he clutched at the place where the radioactive pellet had embedded itself. He tore his shirt off and prodded, trying to find some way to pull the capsule out. Then he doubled over, screaming in agony.
“Sir!” Kowalski cried out.
“No, leave him alone. At least for now,” Nelson shouted over the screams. “Be ready to fire again, in case that wasn’t enough.”
“Is he going to die?” Kowalski asked, unable to take his eyes off the writhing man on the floor. The wound began bleeding. In fact, there was blood oozing from the abdominal wound, too.
“Keep ready,” Nelson said, down on the deck next to the skipper. “Lee, Lee, can you hear me. You, not that creature; can you hear me.” The admiral reached up and grabbed the mike. “Sickbay, we need medical assistance in the lab.” He did an all call. “All hands, be on the lookout for Lisa Mitchell. She is dangerous. Search crew, she is your target.”
Within minutes, Doc was in the lab, his eyes wide in horror. “What? What happened?” he stammered.
“You wanted to know why Lee was in such good health, so quickly? One of Freelander’s creatures had taken him over.”
“You . . . you figured it . . . it out.” Crane asked, almost in a whisper. The anger in his face at the beginning of the question changed to relief. He grabbed the admiral’s wrist. But before Lee could say anything else, he lost consciousness.
“We have to get him back to sickbay, immediately. Don’t have time to wait for the corpsmen,” Jamieson said. He and Kowalski lifted the injured man from the floor and carried him out of the room.
They found Janna waiting for them when they got to sickbay. While Doc worked on Captain Crane, she cornered the admiral. “What is the meaning of calling Lisa dangerous?” she demanded. “Why is she a target?”
Nelson took a quick breath and explained the situation to her. There was no need to hide much of anything from them.
Janna drew back in surprise. “What? Such a thing is possible?”
“Yes, it is very much possible. We are only scratching the surface of what exists in the ocean. Dr. Freelander, according to his notes, experimented with a variety of ocean plant life. Apparently, some of his samples were very adaptable and when they found hosts, assimilated their characteristics. Captain Crane had been infected as well. I almost missed that.”
“And you have something that can get rid of the creatures from them?”
“Yes, the scientist who created this mutated creature gave me the means to get rid of them. Something he should have thought about before he developed this life form, but….”
“All right. I will have to let the others know and we’ll help find and capture her.”
“No, it’s much too dangerous,” Nelson protested.
“She is our friend. If there is a way to get rid of that creature and save her life we are going to do it.”
“It has increased strength. I don’t know how much, but I can imagine its great, considering just what Captain Crane overcame just to get off that island alive.”
“Noted, Admiral, and we’ll be careful.”
“Thank you, Ms Milligen. I just don’t want any of you getting hurt.”
She gave a ghostlike smile. “I appreciate that. Now, I need to let the others know so we can join the search. Do you have any ideas where to look?”
“In this case, the creature won’t be familiar with the operations of a submarine, so I would guess trying the places you ladies have become familiar with.”
She nodded. “I hope Captain Crane will be all right.” Before he could say anything, she left. Nelson could only watch as she walked out the door, and then he turned to monitor the progress of Lee’s recovery.
In the galley, Sharkey organized six groups of four men each. He distributed the pellet guns to the men. “All right, you heard the admiral. She’s dangerous. This won’t kill her, but it will stop the creature . . . hopefully. Use only one dart and subdue her until it takes effect.”
“What if she, ur, the creature’s too strong?” one of the rates asked.
“Well, what do you think, Hansen? You’ll have to use another dart!”
Four ladies showed up in the doorway.
Sharkey was surprised for a moment and then after a brief but meaningful glance at Stephanie, he asked, “What can we do for you ladies?” He didn’t need to be nurse maid-ing women, too.
“We are here to help you find Lisa,” they said almost as one.
“Ah, ladies, I’m sorry, but this is too….”
“She is our friend and the admiral gave us the go ahead to help find her.” Janna had her hands on her hips, staring at him defiantly.
Sharkey felt himself turning red in embarrassment, but wasn’t sure what to say at first. “Uh, well, it’s dangerous. We’ve dealt with these kinds of things before.”
“And we know Lisa and she’s our friend.”
There wasn’t time to argue. Sharkey acquiesced. “Okay, just be careful. If you spot her, just call us on the mike. There’s one in every room.”
“We know and we will. Thank you, Chief,” Stephanie said. She stepped forward and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. The women turned and headed toward the nose.
Sharkey was silent for the space of several heartbeats. There was soft laughing among the group of men with him. The chief’s face turned red and then he shouted, “Okay, you meatheads, let’s get the lead out!” They all headed aft.
Janna Milligan thought about what Admiral Nelson had said. Okay, so Lisa was probably totally controlled by this creature. If so, what would she be thinking about now? This was a one of a kind creature that had assimilated Lisa’s thoughts. Janna was well aware that Lisa hadn’t had any close blood relatives for years, ever since her mother had died. So if the creature was interested in another creature and Lisa was lonely, though she denied it…. Janna felt it would be logical that Lisa would be interested in Lee Crane, who had also been infected by another of the creatures.
That was why she had been in the sickbay so much after Crane had come back on board. Logical, then that Lisa would be alarmed at this latest development and would try to ‘save’ the only other creature in existence. She would try to get to sickbay and prevent the expulsion of the entity that had assimilated the captain.
“Look, I think I know where Lisa is, or will be,” she told the others. They still appeared a little shell-shocked. Janna didn’t wonder. This was hard for her to believe. All she’d come on board to do was to test the efficiency of the crew, specifically the captain. She wondered at that; wondered why he was targeted for this kind of an efficiency rating. Was it because this was a very different kind of submarine? Her psych background came into play. Or because someone just didn’t trust a man this young to do the job needed? Janna mentally shrugged. Right now, it didn’t matter. His life was in danger from two fronts and they needed to take care of one of them. Regardless of their feelings. “She’ll be in sickbay.”
“Because of Crane?” Stephanie asked. Janna could only nod. “And what do we do when we find her?”
“We’ll have to play that by ear,” Janna replied. “She’ll be stronger than she normally is, though. Mary Lou, I want you to call for help as soon as we see her and then it will be up to all of us to try to subdue her until that help arrives.”
“But they’ll shoot her!”
“With a pellet that’s supposed to kill the creature that took her over.”
“Won’t that kill her, too?” Tiffany asked.
“No.” They had been heading toward sickbay as they were talking and when they got there, found it in a state of total chaos. The doctor was on the floor and Lisa was choking the life out of Admiral Nelson. Janna motioned to Mary Lou, who reached for a mike, while she and the others dived for Lisa, shoving her away from Nelson. With a snarl of rage, Lisa was on her feet charging them.
“Leave before you get hurt!” she cried.
Janna didn’t even bother to answer, but Stephanie did. “No, Lisa, we can’t let you hurt them. You don’t want to hurt them. You know that.”
“They are trying to kill the only other one like me,” she wailed.
“You are NOT Lisa. Get out of our friend!” Mary Lou screamed. She rushed Lisa, reaching out to grab her in a choke slam move. It didn’t connect. Lisa seized Mary Lou’s arm just below the wrist with a speed that astonished Janna. She twisted the arm so fast that Mary Lou almost looked astonished before she howled in pain and fell to the floor. Janna and Stephanie had not been idle. They rushed from both sides, even before Lisa released Mary Lou. It was a concerted effort they had used against ring opponents. It would have been almost deadly had it not been choreographed and executed so well. This time, though, Janna had signaled to not hold back. She knew what they were up against and knew they needed to stop this creature.
That was what she reminded herself. This was a creature now, not her friend. If it could be subdued and the doctor could try the cure, then maybe they’d have their friend back. If not, they could not let this creature get away.
Janna slammed hard into Lisa’s side, her elbow gouging into the woman’s diaphragm. Stephanie held back despite the signals, but still the impact was audible as Janna’s efforts and strength slammed them against the exam table. Janna immediately tried a full Nelson move on the creature, one that became a half Nelson when the creature reacted with the same speed that had sidelined Mary Lou. Still, Lisa was semi-draped over the table and Tiffany, who had been waiting for her opening, leaped from a bunk, slamming her body across Lisa’s in a perfect splash. It couldn’t have been choreographed and signaled better by a ring manager and referee.*
Janna had released her hold just before the contact and now she grabbed Lisa’s legs off the ground, giving the creature less leverage. Still, she received a kick to the side of the head that had her seeing flashes of light. Janna just held on tighter, grabbing the offending foot close to her body. It was like riding a wild horse. “Stephanie! Press! On top of Tiffany! Now!!”
This time Stephanie did exactly what Janna had ordered her to do. Mary Lou, recovering a bit, grabbed Lisa’s head in a chokehold with her good arm, ignoring the pummeling she was getting from the creature’s free hand. Admiral Nelson, still somewhat groggy, grabbed Lisa’s hand.
Sharkey and his crew rushed into the sickbay and pulled up sharply, the men almost running into their leader.
“Now or never, Chief,” Janna told him breathlessly. “Creature’s strong!”
Sharkey aimed and fired, the pellet dart striking an exposed shoulder. Lisa screamed and heaved, kicking Janna back and throwing Mary Lou and Nelson to the floor. The crewmen leapt into the melee throwing themselves onto the screaming, thrashing creature/Lisa. She continued to struggle for several minutes, cursing and screaming, until with a final wail, she was still.
Janna slowly picked herself up from the floor. Mary Lou did the same, holding her right arm, pain flickering across her face. Nelson was a bit slower and a couple of the crewmen rushed to his side as soon as Lisa had lost consciousness. Another was tending to the still prone doctor. The captain had never come to during the fight. With a moan, the doctor began to wake up. Nelson was sitting on the floor, rubbing his neck, studying the chaotic scene around him.
“How did you know?” he asked her hoarsely.
Janna shrugged. “Lisa was pretty much alone in the world. I would guess the creature is, too. Where is the only other like it?” She pointed to where Captain Crane lay unconscious.
He got up slowly, with help from one of the crewmen. “Very resourceful.” He made his way to Dr. Jamieson’s side. “Are you all right, Jamie?”
The doctor nodded and then groaned. From the trickle of blood still oozing down the side of his head, it appeared Lisa had bladed him. The shoulder of his uniform was soaked. Janna assumed the blading wasn’t for effect as it was in a staged match. Like Nelson, the doctor studied the room. “Call in all the corpsmen. I am definitely going to need help. My head feels like it was in a boxing match.”
“Try a wrestling match,” Janna interjected. “Remember, Lisa is a pro wrestler.”
“Yes, I remember you saying that now,” Doc replied. His eyes lingered on the Nelson. “She tried to choke you?”
Nelson nodded. “Almost succeeded.”
“Will you be able to get the creature out of her?” Stephanie asked, hovering near her unconscious friend.
“I’ll do my best. It’s tricky, as I am finding out from treating Captain Crane. I have to treat it like a cancer. That comes with risks, too. When I feel the creature inside them is dead, I can treat it like an infection with antibiotics.”
Several corpsmen came in and carried Lisa to a bunk, where they strapped her in. Janna decided it was a good time for them to leave and let the doctor and his staff work on his patients. Mary Lou, still in pain, stayed behind. Janna decided a good hot cup of coffee would help them, so she led the diminished group of women to the mess. Now that this strange and mysterious mission was finished, or so she assumed, she didn’t want to leave the submarine. Janna had only known Lisa and the others for a few short weeks, but they felt like sisters to her now. Lisa’s ‘affliction’ had her feeling depressed and anxious.
The pain swelled and surged like some kind of tidal wave. It was more primal than that, though. Lee Crane had only felt pain like that once before**, but that was a microsecond fleeting thought before the pain surged and overwhelmed him. It was like he was feeling two people’s pain and he realized in another microsecond that he was; his and the creature that had assumed control of him. The creature was dying and that part that had assimilated his personality and his cell patterns was influencing his pain centers. In blunt language, it wasn’t going without a fight. He was the battleground.
Lee’s hands clenched and unclenched so tightly, the knuckles popped. Muscles knotted and seemed to wrap around each other in agonized dances. His stomach convulsed and raw bile burned his throat. His brain seemed on fire. Someone touched him; spoke his name. He tried to hold it in; control the pain, but he couldn’t. Crane cried out in the agony of the burning flames those fingers had become; the tongues of fire that pierced his ears.
“Lee,” the voice came again. “Lee, can you hear me?”
Recognition finally came through the red haze of
his pain. Doc. Just give me something. Kill this thing that’s
“We’re trying to, Skipper,” Doc said. “You have to let us know when the creature is dead. I can’t give you anything for pain before it dies. I wish I could.”
Crane realized he had spoken aloud. Now his throat added to the cacophony of agony raging in his body. “Kill us both if you have to,” he whispered. At least he’d be free of this horrible pain.
“I’m trying to avoid that, Captain.”
“Lee.” It was the admiral this time. He felt a hand lightly resting on his. At least he thought it was a light touch. The pain wasn’t as great.
There was a cessation of the raging torrent of extraneous thoughts in his mind; the not-thoughts that were the creature’s-thoughts, that had been foaming, frothing, railing, trying-to-stay-alive, clawing at the corners of his mind thoughts. Had it died? Or . . . something else? Some small part of his mind wanted to believe it had died so he could tell Doc—so he could get some relief. It would make me tell, wouldn’t it? It had been the one in control. He almost opened his mouth to declare it dead, but stopped. A trick. Could be a trick. All the while the pain ebbed and flowed. He waited, and waited for what seemed an eternity. The admiral continued to speak softly to him and Lee focused on that. He became aware of Chip’s presence and was comforted by that, too.
The pain eased slightly, mainly concentrating where he had been shot. Still he waited, still worried about a trick. Finally he opened his eyes. The light was painful and he blinked until his eyes got used to it. Lee saw Chip and Doc standing by his side. Doc was checking his heart. The stethoscope was ice cold and he shivered.
“Sorry, Lee,” Doc said. “Status?”
Crane knew what Doc meant and he wanted to give him a go ahead so badly. Pressure squeezed his vocal cords, but even as he croaked out an affirmative, he was shaking his head ‘no.’
That answer verified what he had suspected. The pain rushed back, starting with a hammering in his skull that threatened to take his head off. He cried out and felt Chip holding him down, talking to him, reassuring him of his presence. Then it all blanked out in blessed unconsciousness….
Nelson wasn’t happy about what lay before him. Having women onboard had been a nuisance, but they hadn’t spawned the disaster he had thought they would. On the contrary, they had probably saved lives by their quick action in catching the last creature. Now he had to tell them their friend was dead. He had done it before; telling loved ones that someone under his command had died. Still, this seemed particularly hard. They hadn’t asked for this . . . this weirdness. Lisa Mitchell had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and had paid for it with her life.
He knocked on the cabin door. It opened almost immediately and four faces gazed at him expectantly, almost happily. They must have picked up on his emotions.
“Lisa’s dead, isn’t she?” Stephanie asked, her eyes filling with tears.
“Yes. I’m very sorry. Doc tried to do everything he could. The creature had assimilated her too much. She had a heart attack.”
“So she died quickly? She didn’t suffer too long?”
Nelson shook his head, thinking of the suffering Lee was still going through. Yes, both of them had suffered immensely, but for Lisa it wasn’t too long. And Lisa Mitchell, the individual, had really died some time before her capture. “No, she didn’t suffer….” The look in Janna’s eyes told him that while the others believed him, she didn’t. Thankfully, she said nothing.
“What do we do now, Admiral?” Tiffany asked. Tears were flowing down her cheeks.
“For now, ladies, just relax. The danger is over, and the mission is over, but we’re still several days out from Santa Barbara, our home port.”
“What about Lisa?” Mary Lou asked. “She had no family except for an estranged sister.” She began to cry in earnest.
“Do you want to contact them?”
“We can let them know,” Stephanie said, “But I think we are much closer to her than her sister has been for years, and would like to arrange her funeral.”
“Did she convey any wishes?” Nelson asked, thinking at how blunt these women could be and how much foresight they had.
Most of the women shook their heads, but Stephanie said, “She mentioned to me once how much she loved the sea.”
It is ironic, Nelson thought, that her death came from the sea in a sort of round about fashion. “Do you think she would like a burial at sea?” he offered.
“You mean like sailors?” Mary Lou asked, her voice breaking up.
“Sort of like that, unless she would have preferred cremation….”
“I think she would like a burial at sea.”
“I will have Chief Sharkey make the arrangements.” Nelson left them to their grief, while also realizing just how tough these women were.
Doctor Jamison muttered an oath and then added another one for good measure. Neither helped. One patient was dead and despite his best efforts he might lose the other one. Crane’s temperature was beginning a steady rise. He had removed the radiation pellet an hour ago, but that shouldn’t have been enough to cause radiation sickness. Then a thought occurred to him. Leaning closer to his patient, he said, “Lee, can you hear me?” He repeated his question several times before getting a response. It was muffled at first, then the dark eyes opened, blinking as though the dim light of the sickbay was too bright. Doc smiled his reassurance. “I need you to answer a question, Captain.”
“Hmmph,” was the only response at first.
“Can you feel the creature?”
There was a very long pause. For a moment, Doc thought Crane had fallen back to sleep. After five minutes, he asked again.
“Heard you the first time.”
There was another pause, not quite as long. This time, Doc knew the skipper was weighing in on the question, remembering the last time he had answered ‘wrong,’ at least as far as the dying creature was concerned. Jamison hoped he was playing this little game right. Now was the time for the serious question. “Is the creature gone?”
Crane paused again. Finally, “No.” He closed his eyes as though expecting something.
That was the reaction he had hoped the captain would give him. Except for the ticking of the clock on the wall, it was quiet. Doc could see the lines of tension slowly easing out of the skipper’s face. He waited a few more minutes. “Any additional pain, Lee?”
Crane opened his eyes again. There was still pain registering in the dark amber eyes and the flush of fever on his cheeks, but no agonizing spasms. “I think it really is gone now.”
“Not gone, but dead. Now I can treat you with antibiotics. Treat that organism like the infection it really is now. There will still be some pain, but not like before. And getting rid of the . . . um, residue of the creature won’t be simple, either. You’re still one very sick individual.”
“Umm,” Crane murmured. “Not a fun experience.”
“I can imagine.”
“I know Freelander was trying to help me get away. And mess up Marchon’s operation. I know I couldn’t have gotten away and done the damage I did without the creature’s aide. Still….” Crane took a deep breath and let it out as a prolonged sigh. “It was different than any other time.”
“How so?” Doc worked with the IV, adding another round of heavy-duty antibiotics. He checked the dressings on the wounds. They would do until morning.
“I knew exactly what was going on. I felt its presence sometimes and sometimes I was its presence. I mean, I felt its influence very subtly at times as though it was watching. At other times it just made me do what it wanted, like it was me. That was frightening thinking I would soon be as much a part of that being as it had become a part of me.”
“The other times you’ve been taken over?” Doc prompted, thinking of a couple of possessions that were similar. Then again…. He remembered one time he had been taken over by an extraterrestrial entity.
“With Krueger***, it was almost like I was a distant observer. I didn’t like what I was seeing but I couldn’t do a damn thing about it when he was possessing me.” He paused in thought. “Most of the other times, I didn’t even remember what happened.”
“Well, at least it’s gone now. We just need to, for wont of any better description, clean it out of your system.”
“How are you going to do that?”
“Antibiotics,” Doc replied.
“That’s right, you said that before.” The skipper yawned and shifted his body as much as his fatigue and injuries would allow.
“And lots of rest.”
“No argument from me. I can’t keep my eyes open.”
“Then go to sleep.”
This time Crane did.
A day and a half later, under warm, sunny skies a small contingent of men and women gathered near the sail for a service. Crane had insisted on attending, even though he was still under the doctor’s care and still feeling the effects of his ordeal. It had taken a great deal of cajoling, promises and some help from Admiral Nelson to allow him to leave sickbay for that small length of time. Crane felt he needed to be there. Maybe it was his feeling of kinship with Lisa, both of them having been through a similar experience. But for the grace of God there go I, Crane thought as he gazed at the flag shrouded body. The flag was by virtue of his insistence, as well. Lisa Mitchell had been in the Army reserves some years ago, not enough to warrant a military burial, technically. More importantly, though, she had died due to her being part of Janna’s mission. The ladies could figure out ownership of the flag when Seaview reached port.
Bracing himself against Chip, Lee began the services. The breeze was warm, but he still felt a chill. Thankfully, the service was short, only several of the ladies’ giving impromptu eulogies lengthening it out. The shrouded body slipped from under the flag and entered the sea with only the barest hint of a splash. As though by mutual understanding, everyone stood silent for a moment. Then Crane shifted, his leg throbbing from standing on it too long. Without saying a word, Chip helped him to the conning tower, where he gingerly climbed down the ladder. He stopped at the base to rest a minute and mentally cursed his weakness. He cursed the creature that put him in this position. While he was at it, he vilified Freelander, too.
“Can I help you back to sickbay, Skipper?” Kowalski was hovering near his elbow.
Crane nodded, amazed that he could hardly move. That damned creature may be dead, but it had sucked everything it could out of him before it died. Before he was halfway out of the control room, Chip was on his other side.
Nelson waited until Crane was safely down the ladder. “Ladies,” he began. They waited for him. “Could I ask you a question?” Stephanie nodded and he took that as a yes from all of them. “I couldn’t help but notice your ingenuity in . . . the sickbay.” He saw the looks between the women and wondered how he was going to proceed. Directly was what he finally decided. “I wondered if you might like working for my Institute with security. I need people like you who aren’t afraid to do what needs…. Well, people who can think on their feet and have the physical prowess to do the job.”
“Are you offering us a job?” Stephanie asked.
Nelson could have sworn she had almost taken on Lisa’s mantle, the way she cocked her head at him and the no-nonsense way she asked the question.
“Yes, I am.”
“I already have a job. This was just something I wanted to do . . . for a lark,” Janna told him, a slight smile turning up the corners of her mouth.
“What about the rest of you. Would you be interested? It is steady and secure.”
Mary Lou, Tiffany and Stephanie looked at one another for a full minute. “We’d like to talk about it, Admiral,” Stephanie said.
“By all means,” Nelson replied. “We’ll be in Santa Barbara the day after tomorrow and you can tour the Institute grounds before you make a decision. You’ll be staying in our guest quarters regardless of your decision. And I haven’t forgotten that I promised to pay all of you for the lost work time.”
“Thank you, Admiral,” Tiffany said. “I just wish Lisa was with us to enjoy our good fortune.”
Nelson could really say nothing. The women went below, but he stayed above decks in the conning tower. He watched as Seaview smoothly broke through the waves. He always hated the loss of life, but this was so unnecessary.
“Admiral?” Chip asked at his shoulder. “We are ready to secure and dive, sir.”
“All right, Chip.” But he didn’t move for several more minutes.
“We got the job done, sir,” Chip said, his voice only slightly louder than the sloughing of the waves against the hull. “Lee closed down the operation. Freelander and his creatures are dead.”
“I know, I know. I just wonder sometimes why we have to keep doing this. Why innocent bystanders have to suffer because we have to clean up others’ messes. Are humans so depraved that it’s always meant to be this way?”
Chip looked thoughtful. “No, sir. Just some of them. I guess as long as there are some, the rest of us will have to try and stop them.”
Nelson nodded. “Let’s go below.”
Sharkey was doing a walk-through of the boat, making sure all repairs had been completed as the exec had ordered. He also still felt creeped out by these creature things that had taken over Lisa and the skipper. He had heard the scuttlebutt about the one girl, Janna, having been a plant by the government. What the hell did they want, anyway? Seaview was a tight boat with a damned good crew. They still not trust the skipper to do the job? Or the admiral? It was nuts. And if that Janna Milligen was a plant, then what about Stephanie? Was she in on it, too? Was she just acting?
Sharkey’s scowl deepened. To hell with them, he thought savagely. He paced so fast he didn’t see the other person coming around the corner.
“Oh, Francis! I’m sorry. I didn’t see you!” Stephanie stammered. Her eyes were red and swollen and she had a tissue in one hand. She quickly swiped it across her nose and shoved it in the pocket of her jumpsuit. Again he couldn’t help but notice that the outfit did nothing to hide her curves.
“Uh, Ms. Sullivan,” he began.
“I thought I told you to call me Stephanie, Francis,” she said, her eyes flashing with hurt indignation. “Or has the admiral or someone told you that you can’t?
“Uh, no. I, uh, I, just thought that, well, maybe….”
“You heard about Janna’s double role,” she finished for him.
“There has been some scuttlebutt,” he admitted.
“I didn’t have a clue, if that’s what you’re worried about, Chief. I am exactly what I said I was and I feel exactly the way I said I felt before.”
Sharkey breathed a sigh of relief, then grinned. “I really didn’t know what to think, Stephanie. It’s been so crazy around here anyway and I didn’t know….”
“It has been crazy and with Lisa dying, it seems so surreal. I . . . I miss her.”
Sharkey stepped closer and took her hand. “I’m sure you do. I’m sorry she died.”
“And it was some idiot’s playing around with his science kit! May his soul rot in hell!”
“Uh, yeah.” He didn’t know what else to say.
“The admiral offered us all a job at his Institute,” she said after a lull in the conversation.
Sharkey couldn’t believe his ears. “He what? Offered you a job?” Then it dawned on him what it might be all about. “Security?”
She nodded. “He said we were resourceful. He said some other things, too. Do you think he might have just been saying that to make us feel better?”
“The admiral? Oh, no. When he says something like that, it’s not just hot air. He really means it. I hope you take it,” he blurted.
“You do?” She studied him carefully. Her eyes were shining.
“Yeah. Uh, someone like you shouldn’t be running all over the place performing for jerks that only pay to see someone get hurt.”
“Well, it did have its benefits,” she said, but her voice seemed to belie her words. “We got to see the world.”
“Yeah, well, maybe, but how much real sight-seeing did you get to do?”
She laughed. “I’ll admit, not much.”
“With what the admiral would pay you, you could afford to be real tourists.”
She laughed again, but this time it sounded more heart-felt.
“Besides, I, uh, would be able to take you to see some nice places if you worked at the Institute.” Now her eyes really were shining, and Sharkey realized that they were tears. “I mean if you wanted me to.”
“That is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me, Francis. I would love to sight-see with you.”
“Does that mean you are going to take the admiral up on his offer?”
“I think so. I still have to talk to the others about it. We’ve been a team for so long. Except for Janna, of course.”
“Sure. Just let me know what you decide,” he replied, hoping he didn’t sound too eager.
“Of course, I will.” Stephanie leaned forward and kissed him on the lips. It wasn’t a long kiss, or a deep one, but Sharkey felt himself blush all the same. She giggled as she walked away.
He reached up to touch where she had kissed him, but jerked his hand away when a rate rounded the corner and almost ran into him. His eyes fired daggers at the rate having caught him at an unguarded moment. Johnson backed up. “What you looking at?” Sharkey growled. “Don’t you have someplace you need to be?”
“Uh, sure, Chief.” Johnson scurried away.
Lee Crane sat on the front porch as Lt. Rojas supervised Seaview’s arrival into its pen at the Institute. As much as it irritated him, he was still on medical leave. At least he had been taken off intravenous antibiotics. Chip sat down beside him. “Don’t ask me how I feel,” Lee growled.
“Wasn’t planning on it,” Chip said, his voice even. “I’ve been listening to you grumble for the past day. Not giving you any reason to give me any more.”
“Ha, ha,” Lee muttered. Chip wouldn’t be moving back into his quarters until the boat had been secured, even though the woman who had been using it was dead. Lee didn’t blame him. “Sorry.” His foot was propped up on another chair. His leg still throbbed, but that was mainly because he had a hard time following Doc’s orders. The other wounds were sore, but not enough to worry about. The creature was completely gone, but the feeling of being violated remained. It had taken him longer every time some creature, person or extraterrestrial gained control of him.
“May I sit with you gentlemen?” Janna Milligan asked. She sat down before any of them could say anything.
Lee was aware that she had come clean with the admiral and the rest of the crew. Admiral Nelson had been livid at the moment, but had retreated to being slightly bellicose in her presence. Lee had long since gotten over her subterfuge. It was those who had hired her to do this that needed to be throttled, not her. He liked her better as a shrink/spy than as a love struck middle-aged teeny bopper.
“Sure,” he said after the fact. “Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the show.”
She declined the first offer. “It’s a wonderful view,” she murmured as they watched the waves dash over the windows of the sub. They gazed at the shore crew working to secure the boat.
“All secure,” announced Rojas. “Stations secure and report.”
Crane listened while the reports came in, satisfied at the efficiency of the men under his command.
“You have quite a crew, Captain,” Janna said after all the reports had come in.
“Can I assume that’s an official consensus?” he asked.
“It’s basically what’s going on my report. I’m trying to figure out just why someone felt the need for me to come check up on you.”
“Me?” he asked, suspicious.
“I meant that in the collective sense.”
“And what happened to that first name basis?” Crane asked, fixing her with a meaningful gaze.
“I didn’t know if that kind of familiarity would be welcome after all that has happened,” she replied with a shrug.
“I’m not on duty.”
Chip watched the proceedings with interest. “And just who is it that authorized your operation?” he asked.
With a smile, she replied, “You know I can’t say. The report will go in and eventually it will get back to Admiral Nelson.”
“I think you need to take the admiral up on his offer,” Lee said.
Chip ogled him, but Janna answered before he could say anything. “I’m not sure the offer is still in effect, insofar as I am concerned.”
“I don’t mind talking to the admiral,” Lee replied. “I think your talent is wasted playing psycho spy for government agencies.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Very serious. Besides, I’d rather have you on my side, helping us rather than working for someone with a grudge.”
She turned a clinical eye on him. “Do you believe that’s what happened here?”
“Don’t know about this time, but there is history for my, uh, theory.”
She turned back to watch the scene outside the windows. “I’ll think about it, but only if the admiral asks. I don’t want to work for someone who’s irritated with me before I even start work.”
“I’ll talk with him.” Crane slowly got up. “Shall we get ready to head for shore?”
“I’ll be along soon, Lee. I have to finish the paperwork.”
“I’ll wait. I need to sign off anyway.” He gave Chip a look that made any argument useless as he sat back down.
“Okay, as long as you patiently wait.” When Lee said nothing, he continued. “And by patiently, I mean no inspections, no walking the boat.”
Crane chuckled. “I promise, Mom.”
Chip grinned and returned to the control room where he wrote up the final checks.
Lee noticed Janna watching him and realized belatedly that she had been privy to his and Chip’s bantering. He really was tired.
“According to my information, you don’t have any close family.”
“No, my mother died not too long ago,” Lee told her, even though he knew she was aware of that fact.
“The report is wrong. You do have a family.” Janna swept her arm in an arc to include Seaview’s control room. “This is your family. And a more functional family I haven’t seen. You’re very fortunate, Captain.”
Crane didn’t need that reminder; he already knew it.
** Day of Evil, third year episode
***The Return of the Phantom, second year episode